by Herman Melville

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Chapter Twenty-four



ALTHOUGH I had been baffled in my attempts to learn the origin ofthe Feast of Calabashes, yet it seemed very plain to me that itwas principally, if not wholly, of a religious character. As areligious solemnity, however, it had not at all corresponded withthe horrible descriptions of Polynesian worship which we havereceived in some published narratives, and especially in thoseaccounts of the evangelized islands with which the missionarieshave favoured us. Did not the sacred character of these personsrender the purity of their intentions unquestionable, I shouldcertainly be led to suppose that they had exaggerated the evilsof Paganism, in order to enhance the merit of their owndisinterested labours.

In a certain work incidentally treating of the 'Washington, orNorthern Marquesas Islands,' I have seen the frequent immolationof human victims upon the altars of their gods, positively andrepeatedly charged upon the inhabitants. The same work givesalso a rather minute account of their religion--enumerates agreat many of their superstitions--and makes known the particulardesignations of numerous orders of the priesthood. One wouldalmost imagine from the long list that is given of cannibalprimates, bishops, arch-deacons, prebendaries, and other inferiorecclesiastics, that the sacerdotal order far outnumbered the restof the population, and that the poor natives were more severelypriest-ridden than even the inhabitants of the papal states. These accounts are likewise calculated to leave upon the reader'smind an impression that human victims are daily cooked and servedup upon the altars; that heathenish cruelties of everydescription are continually practised; and that these ignorantPagans are in a state of the extremest wretchedness inconsequence of the grossness of their superstitions. Be itobserved, however, that all this information is given by a manwho, according to his own statement, was only at one of theislands, and remained there but two weeks, sleeping every nighton board his ship, and taking little kid-glove excursions ashorein the daytime, attended by an armed party.

Now, all I can say is, that in all my excursions through thevalley of Typee, I never saw any of these alleged enormities. Ifany of them are practised upon the Marquesas Islands they mustcertainly have come to my knowledge while living for months witha tribe of savages, wholly unchanged from their originalprimitive condition, and reputed the most ferocious in the SouthSeas.

The fact is, that there is a vast deal of unintentionalhumbuggery in some of the accounts we have from scientific menconcerning the religious institutions of Polynesia. Theselearned tourists generally obtain the greater part of theirinformation from retired old South-Sea rovers, who havedomesticated themselves among the barbarous tribes of thePacific. Jack, who has long been accustomed to the long-bow, andto spin tough yarns on the ship's forecastle, invariablyofficiates as showman of the island on which he has settled, andhaving mastered a few dozen words of the language, is supposed toknow all about the people who speak it. A natural desire to makehimself of consequence in the eyes of the strangers, prompts himto lay claim to a much greater knowledge of such matters than heactually possesses. In reply to incessant queries, hecommunicates not only all he knows but a good deal more, and ifthere be any information deficient still he is at no loss tosupply it. The avidity with which his anecdotes are noted downtickles his vanity, and his powers of invention increase with thecredulity auditors. He knows just the sort of informationwanted, and furnishes it to any extent.

This is not a supposed case; I have met with several individualslike the one described, and I have been present at two or threeof their interviews with strangers.

Now, when the scientific voyager arrives at home with hiscollection of wonders, he attempts, perhaps, to give adescription of some of,the strange people he has been visiting. Instead of representing them as a community of lusty savages, whoare leading a merry, idle, innocent life, he enters into a verycircumstantial and learned narrative of certain unaccountablesuperstitions and practices, about which he knows as little asthe islanders themselves. Having had little time, and scarcelyany opportunity, to become acquainted with the customs hepretends to describe, he writes them down one after another in anoff-hand, haphazard style; and were the book thus produced to betranslated into the tongue of the people of whom it purports togive the history, it would appear quite as wonderful to them asit does to the American public, and much more improbable.

For my own part, I am free to confess my almost entire inabilityto gratify any curiosity that may be felt with regard to thetheology of the valley. I doubt whether the inhabitantsthemselves could do so. They are either too lazy or too sensibleto worry themselves about abstract points of religious belief. While I was among them, they never held any synods or councils tosettle the principles of their faith by agitating them. Anunbounded liberty of conscience seemed to prevail. Those whopleased to do so were allowed to repose implicit faith in anill-favoured god with a large bottle-nose and fat shapeless armscrossed upon his breast; whilst others worshipped an image which,having no likeness either in heaven or on earth, could hardly becalled an idol. As the islanders always maintained a discreetreserve with regard to my own peculiar views on religion, Ithought it would be excessively ill-bred of me to pry intotheirs.

But, although my knowledge of the religious faith of the Typeeswas unavoidably limited, one of their superstitious observanceswith which I became acquainted interested me greatly.

In one of the most secluded portions of the valley within astone's cast of Fayaway's lake--for so I christened the scene ofour island yachting--and hard by a growth of palms, which stoodranged in order along both banks of the stream, waving theirgreen arms as if to do honour to its passage, was the mausoleumof a deceased, warrior chief. Like all the other edifices of anynote, it was raised upon a small pi-pi of stones, which, being ofunusual height, was a conspicuous object from a distance. Alight thatching of bleached palmetto-leaves hung over it like aself supported canopy; for it was not until you came very nearthat you saw it was supported by four slender columns of bamboorising at each corner to a little more than the height of a man. A clear area of a few yards surrounded the pi-pi, and wasenclosed by four trunks of cocoanut trees resting at the angleson massive blocks of stone. The place was sacred. The sign ofthe inscrutable Taboo was seen in the shape of a mystic roll ofwhite tappa, suspended by a twisted cord of the same materialfrom the top of a slight pole planted within the enclosure*. Thesanctity of the spot appeared never to have been violated. Thestillness of the grave was there, and the calm solitude aroundwas beautiful and touching. The soft shadows of those loftypalm-trees!--I can see them now--hanging over the little temple,as if to keep out the intrusive sun.

*White appears to be the sacred colour among the Marquesans.

On all sides as you approached this silent spot you caught sightof the dead chief's effigy, seated in the stern of a canoe, whichwas raised on a light frame a few inches above the level of thepi-pi. The canoe was about seven feet in length; of a rich, darkcoloured wood, handsomely carved and adorned in many places withvariegated bindings of stained sinnate, into which wereingeniously wrought a number of sparkling seashells, and a beltof the same shells ran all round it. The body of the figure--ofwhatever material it might have been made--was effectuallyconcealed in a heavy robe of brown tappa, revealing; only thehands and head; the latter skilfully carved in wood, andsurmounted by a superb arch of plumes. These plumes, in thesubdued and gentle gales which found access to this sequesteredspot, were never for one moment at rest, but kept nodding andwaving over the chief's brow. The long leaves of the palmettodrooped over the eaves, and through them you saw the warriorholding his paddle with both hands in the act of rowing, leaningforward and inclining his head, as if eager to hurry on hisvoyage. Glaring at him forever, and face to face, was a polishedhuman skull, which crowned the prow of the canoe. The spectralfigurehead, reversed in its position, glancing backwards, seemedto mock the impatient attitude of the warrior.

When I first visited this singular place with Kory-Kory, he toldme--or at least I so understood him--that the chief was paddlinghis way to the realms of bliss, and bread-fruit--the Polynesianheaven--where every moment the bread-fruit trees dropped theirripened spheres to the ground, and where there was no end to thecocoanuts and bananas: there they reposed through the livelongeternity upon mats much finer than those of Typee; and every daybathed their glowing limbs in rivers of cocoanut oil. In thathappy land there were plenty of plumes and feathers, andboars'-tusks and sperm-whale teeth, far preferable to all theshining trinkets and gay tappa of the white men; and, best ofall, women far lovelier than the daughters of earth were there inabundance. 'A very pleasant place,' Kory-Kory said it was; 'butafter all, not much pleasanter, he thought, than Typee.' 'Did henot then,' I asked him, 'wish to accompany the warrior?' 'Oh no:he was very happy where he was; but supposed that some time orother he would go in his own canoe.'

Thus far, I think, I clearly comprehended Kory-Kory. But therewas a singular expression he made use of at the time, enforced byas singular a gesture, the meaning of which I would have givenmuch to penetrate. I am inclined to believe it must have been aproverb he uttered; for I afterwards heard him repeat the samewords several times, and in what appeared to me to be a somewhat:similar sense. Indeed, Kory-Kory had a great variety of short,smart-sounding sentences, with which he frequently enlivened hisdiscourse; and he introduced them with an air which plainlyintimated, that in his opinion, they settled the matter inquestion, whatever it might be.

Could it have been then, that when I asked him whether he desiredto go to this heaven of bread-fruit, cocoanuts, and young ladies,which he had been describing, he answered by saying somethingequivalent to our old adage--'A bird in the hand is worth two inthe bush'?--if he did, Kory-Kory was a discreet and sensiblefellow, and I cannot sufficiently admire his shrewdness.

Whenever, in the course of my rambles through the valley Ihappened to be near the chief's mausoleum, I always turned asideto visit it. The place had a peculiar charm for me; I hardlyknow why, but so it was. As I leaned over the railing and gazedupon the strange effigy and watched the play of the featheryhead-dress, stirred by the same breeze which in low tonesbreathed amidst the lofty palm-trees, I loved to yield myself upto the fanciful superstition of the islanders, and could almostbelieve that the grim warrior was bound heavenward. In this moodwhen I turned to depart, I bade him 'God speed, and a pleasantvoyage.' Aye, paddle away, brave chieftain, to the land ofspirits! To the material eye thou makest but little progress;but with the eye of faith, I see thy canoe cleaving the brightwaves, which die away on those dimly looming shores of Paradise.

This strange superstition affords another evidence of the fact,that however ignorant man may be, he still feels within him hisimmortal spirit yearning, after the unknown future.

Although the religious theories of the islands were a completemystery to me, their practical every-day operation could not beconcealed. I frequently passed the little temples reposing inthe shadows of the taboo groves and beheld the offerings--mouldyfruit spread out upon a rude altar, or hanging in half-decayedbaskets around some uncouth jolly-looking image; I was presentduring the continuance of the festival; I daily beheld thegrinning idols marshalled rank and file in the Hoolah Hoolahground, and was often in the habit of meeting those whom Isupposed to be the priests. But the temples seemed to beabandoned to solitude; the festival had been nothing more than ajovial mingling of the tribe; the idols were quite harmless asany other logs of wood; and the priests were the mightiest dogsin the valley.

In fact religious affairs in Typee were at a very low ebb: allsuch matters sat very lightly upon the thoughtless inhabitants;and, in the celebration of many of their strange rites, theyappeared merely to seek a sort of childish amusement.

A curious evidence of this was given in a remarkable ceremony inwhich I frequently saw Mehevi and several other chefs andwarriors of note take part; but never a single female.

Among those whom I looked upon as forming the priesthood of thevalley, there was one in particular who often attracted mynotice, and whom I could not help regarding as the head of theorder. He was a noble looking man, in the prime of his life, andof a most benignant aspect. The authority this man, whose namewas Kolory, seemed to exercise over the rest, the episcopal parthe took in the Feast of Calabashes, his sleek and complacentappearance, the mystic characters which were tattooed upon hischest, and above all the mitre he frequently wore, in the shapeof a towering head-dress, consisting of part of a cocoanutbranch, the stalk planted uprightly on his brow, and the leafletsgathered together and passed round the temples and behind theears, all these pointed him out as Lord Primate of Typee. Kolorywas a sort of Knight Templar--a soldier-priest; for he often worethe dress of a Marquesan warrior, and always carried a longspear, which, instead of terminating in a paddle at the lowerend, after the general fashion of these weapons, was curved intoa heathenish-looking little image. This instrument, however,might perhaps have been emblematic of his double functions. Withone end in carnal combat he transfixed the enemies of his tribe;and with the other as a pastoral crook he kept in order hisspiritual flock. But this is not all I have to say about Kolory.

His martial grace very often carried about with him what seemedto me the half of a broken war-club. It was swathed round withragged bits of white tappa, and the upper part, which wasintended to represent a human head, was embellished with a stripof scarlet cloth of European manufacture. It required littleobservation to discover that this strange object was revered as agod. By the side of the big and lusty images standing sentinelover the altars of the Hoolah Hoolah ground, it seemed a merepigmy in tatters. But appearances all the world over aredeceptive. Little men are sometimes very potent, and ragssometimes cover very extensive pretensions. In fact, this funnylittle image was the 'crack' god of the island; lording it overall the wooden lubbers who looked so grim and dreadful; its namewas Moa Artua*. And it was in honour of Moa Artua, and for theentertainment of those who believe in him, that the curiousceremony I am about to describe was observed.

*The word 'Artua', although having some other significations, isin nearly all the Polynesian dialects used as the generaldesignation of the gods.

Mehevi and the chieftains of the Ti have just risen from theirnoontide slumbers. There are no affairs of state to dispose of;and having eaten two or three breakfasts in the course of themorning, the magnates of the valley feel no appetite as yet fordinner. How are their leisure moments to be occupied? Theysmoke, they chat, and at last one of their number makes aproposition to the rest, who joyfully acquiescing, he darts outof the house, leaps from the pi-pi, and disappears in the grove. Soon you see him returning with Kolory, who bears the god MoaArtua in his arms, and carries in one hand a small trough,hollowed out in the likeness of a canoe. The priest comes alongdandling his charge as if it were a lachrymose infant he wasendeavouring to put into a good humour. Presently entering theTi, he seats himself on the mats as composedly as a juggler aboutto perform his sleight-of-hand tricks; and with the chiefsdisposed in a circle around him, commences his ceremony. Inthe,first place he gives Moa Artua an affectionate hug, thencaressingly lays him to his breast, and, finally, whisperssomething in his ear; the rest of the company listening eagerlyfor a reply. But the baby-god is deaf or dumb,--perhaps both,for never a word does, he utter. At last Kolory speaks a littlelouder, and soon growing angry, comes boldly out with what he hasto say and bawls to him. He put me in mind of a choleric fellow,who, after trying in vain to communicated a secret to a deaf man,all at once flies into a passion and screams it out so that everyone may hear. Still Moa Artua remains as quiet as ever; andKolory, seemingly losing his temper, fetches him a box over thehead, strips him of his tappa and red cloth, and laying him in astate of nudity in a little trough, covers him from sight. Atthis proceeding all present loudly applaud and signify theirapproval by uttering the adjective 'motarkee' with violentemphasis. Kolory however, is so desirous his conduct should meetwith unqualified approbation, that he inquires of each individualseparately whether under existing circumstances he has not doneperfectly right in shutting up Moa Artua. The invariableresponse is 'Aa, Aa' (yes, yes), repeated over again and again ina manner which ought to quiet the scruples of the mostconscientious. After a few moments Kolory brings forth his dollagain, and while arraying it very carefully in the tappa and redcloth, alternately fondles and chides it. The toilet beingcompleted, he once more speaks to it aloud. The whole companyhereupon show the greatest interest; while the priest holding MoaArtua to his ear interprets to them what he pretends the god isconfidentially communicating to him. Some items intelligenceappear to tickle all present amazingly; for one claps his handsin a rapture; another shouts with merriment; and a third leaps tohis feet and capers about like a madman.

What under the sun Moa Artua on these occasions had to say toKolory I never could find out; but I could not help thinking thatthe former showed a sad want of spirit in being disciplined intomaking those disclosures, which at first he seemed bent onwithholding. Whether the priest honestly interpreted what hebelieved the divinity said to him, or whether he was not all thewhile guilty of a vile humbug, I shall not presume to decide. Atany rate, whatever as coming from the god was imparted to thosepresent seemed to be generally of a complimentary nature: a factwhich illustrates the sagacity of Kolory, or else the timeservingdisposition of this hardly used deity.

Moa Artua having nothing more to say, his bearer goes to nursinghim again, in which occupation, however, he is soon interruptedby a question put by one of the warriors to the god. Koloryhereupon snatches it up to his ear again, and after listeningattentively, once more officiates as the organ of communication. A multitude of questions and answers having passed between theparties, much to the satisfaction of those who propose them, thegod is put tenderly to bed in the trough, and the whole companyunite in a long chant, led off by Kolory. This ended, theceremony is over; the chiefs rise to their feet in high goodhumour, and my Lord Archbishop, after chatting awhile, andregaling himself with a whiff or two from a pipe of tobacco,tucks the canoe under his arm and marches off with it.

The whole of these proceedings were like those of a parcel ofchildren playing with dolls and baby houses.

For a youngster scarcely ten inches high, and with so few earlyadvantages as he doubtless had had, Moa Artua was certainly aprecocious little fellow if he really said all that was imputedto him; but for what reason this poor devil of a deity, thuscuffed about, cajoled, and shut up in a box, was held in greaterestimation than the full-grown and dignified personages of theTaboo Groves, I cannot divine. And yet Mehevi, and other chiefsof unquestionable veracity--to say nothing of the Primatehimself--assured me over and over again that Moa Artua was thetutelary deity of Typee, and was more to be held in honour than awhole battalion of the clumsy idols in the Hoolah Hoolah grounds.

Kory-Kory--who seemed to have devoted considerable attention tothe study of theology, as he knew the names of all the gravenimages in the valley, and often repeated them over tome--likewise entertained some rather enlarged ideas with regardto the character and pretensions of Moa Artua. He once gave meto understand, with a gesture there was no misconceiving, that ifhe (Moa Artua) were so minded he could cause a cocoanut tree tosprout out of his (Kory-Kory's) head; and that it would be theeasiest thing in life for him (Moa Artua) to take the wholeisland of Nukuheva in his mouth and dive down to the bottom ofthe sea with it.

But in sober seriousness, I hardly knew what to make of thereligion of the valley. There was nothing that so much perplexedthe illustrious Cook, in his intercourse with the South Seaislanders, as their sacred rites. Although this prince ofnavigators was in many instances assisted by interpreters in theprosecution of his researches, he still frankly acknowledges thathe was at a loss to obtain anything like a clear insight into thepuzzling arcana of their faith. A similar admission has beenmade by other eminent voyagers: by Carteret, Byron, Kotzebue, andVancouver.

For my own part, although hardly a day passed while I remainedupon the island that I did not witness some religious ceremony orother, it was very much like seeing a panel of 'Freemasons'making secret signs to each other; I saw everything, but couldcomprehend nothing.

On the whole, I am inclined to believe, that the islanders in thePacific have no fixed and definite ideas whatever on the subjectof religion. I am persuaded that Kolory himself would beeffectually posed were he called upon to draw up the articles ofhis faith and pronounce the creed by which he hoped to be saved. In truth, the Typees, so far as their actions evince, submittedto no laws human or divine--always excepting the thricemysterious Taboo. The 'independent electors' of the valley werenot to be brow-beaten by chiefs, priests, idol or devils. As forthe luckless idols, they received more hard knocks thansupplications. I do not wonder that some of them looked so grim,and stood so bolt upright as if fearful of looking to the rightor the left lest they should give any one offence. The fact is,they had to carry themselves 'PRETTY STRAIGHT,' or suffer theconsequences. Their worshippers were such a precious set offickle-minded and irreverent heathens, that there was no tellingwhen they might topple one of them over, break it to pieces, andmaking a fire with it on the very altar itself, fall to roastingthe offerings of bread-fruit, and at them in spite of its teeth.

In how little reverence these unfortunate deities were held bythe natives was on one occasion most convincingly proved tome.--Walking with Kory-Kory through the deepest recesses of thegroves, I perceived a curious looking image, about six feet inheight which originally had been placed upright against a lowpi-pi, surmounted by a ruinous bamboo temple, but having becomefatigued and weak in the knees, was now carelessly leaningagainst it. The idol was partly concealed by the foliage of atree which stood near, and whose leafy boughs drooped over thepile of stones, as if to protect the rude fane from the decay towhich it was rapidly hastening. The image itself was nothingmore than a grotesquely shaped log, carved in the likeness of aportly naked man with the arms clasped over the head, the jawsthrown wide apart, and its thick shapeless legs bowed into anarch. It was much decayed. The lower part was overgrown with abright silky moss. Thin spears of grass sprouted from thedistended mouth, and fringed the outline of the head and arms. His godship had literally attained a green old age. All itsprominent points were bruised and battered, or entirely rottedaway. The nose had taken its departure, and from the generalappearance of the head it might have, been supposed that thewooden divinity, in despair at the neglect of its worshippers,had been trying to beat its own brains out against thesurrounding trees.

I drew near to inspect more closely this strange object ofidolatry, but halted reverently at the distance of two or threepaces, out of regard to the religious prejudices of my valet. Assoon, however, as Kory-Kory perceived that I was in one of myinquiring, scientific moods, to my astonishment, he sprang to theside of the idol, and pushing it away from the stones againstwhich it rested, endeavoured to make it stand upon its legs. Butthe divinity had lost the use of them altogether; and whileKory-Kory was trying to prop it up, placing a stick between itand the pi-pi, the monster fell clumsily to the ground, and wouldhave infallibly have broken its neck had not Kory-Koryprovidentially broken its fall by receiving its whole weight onhis own half-crushed back. I never saw the honest fellow in sucha rage before. He leaped furiously to his feet, and seizing thestick, began beating the poor image: every moment, or two pausingand talking to it in the most violent manner, as if upbraiding itfor the accident. When his indignation had subsided a little hewhirled the idol about most profanely, so as to give me anopportunity of examining it on all sides. I am quite sure Inever should have presumed to have taken such liberties with thegod myself, and I was not a little shocked at Kory-Kory'simpiety.

This anecdote speaks for itself. When one of the inferior orderof natives could show such contempt for a venerable and decrepitGod of the Groves, what the state of religion must be among thepeople in general is easy to be imagined. In truth, I regard theTypees as a back-slidden generation. They are sunk in religioussloth, and require a spiritual revival. A long prosperity ofbread-fruit and cocoanuts has rendered them remiss in theperformance of their higher obligations. The wood-rot malady isspreading among the idols--the fruit upon their altars isbecoming offensive--the temples themselves need rethatching--thetattooed clergy are altogether too light-hearted and lazy--andtheir flocks are going astray.

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