by Herman Melville

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Chapter Twenty-one



ALMOST every country has its medicinal springs famed for theirhealing virtues. The Cheltenham of Typee is embosomed in thedeepest solitude, and but seldom receives a visitor. It issituated remote from any dwelling, a little way up the mountain,near the head of the valley; and you approach it by a pathwayshaded by the most beautiful foliage, and adorned with a thousandfragrant plants. The mineral waters of Arva Wai* ooze forth fromthe crevices of a rock, and gliding down its mossy side, fall atlast, in many clustering drops, into a natural basin of stonefringed round with grass and dewy-looking little violet-colouredflowers, as fresh and beautiful as the perpetual moisture theyenjoy can make them.

*I presume this might be translated into 'Strong Waters'. Arvais the name bestowed upon a root the properties of which are bothinebriating and medicinal. 'Wai' is the Marquesan word forwater.

The water is held in high estimation by the islanders, some ofwhom consider it an agreeable as well as a medicinal beverage;they bring it from the mountain in their calabashes, and store itaway beneath heaps of leaves in some shady nook near the house. Old Marheyo had a great love for the waters of the spring. Everynow and then he lugged off to the mountain a great round demijohnof a calabash, and, panting with his exertions, brought it backfilled with his darling fluid.

The water tasted like a solution of a dozen disagreeable things,and was sufficiently nauseous to have made the fortune of theproprietor, had the spa been situated in the midst of anycivilized community.

As I am no chemist, I cannot give a scientific analysis of thewater. All I know about the matter is, that one day Marheyo inmy presence poured out the last drop from his huge calabash, andI observed at the bottom of the vessel a small quantity ofgravelly sediment very much resembling our common sand. Whetherthis is always found in the water, and gives it its peculiarflavour and virtues, or whether its presence was merelyincidental, I was not able to ascertain.

One day in returning from this spring by a circuitous path, Icame upon a scene which reminded me of Stonehenge and thearchitectural labours of the Druids.

At the base of one of the mountains, and surrounded on all sidesby dense groves, a series of vast terraces of stone rises, stepby step, for a considerable distance up the hill side. Theseterraces cannot be less than one hundred yards in length andtwenty in width. Their magnitude, however, is less striking thanthe immense size of the blocks composing them. Some of thestones, of an oblong shape, are from ten to fifteen feet inlength, and five or six feet thick. Their sides are quitesmooth, but though square, and of pretty regular formation, theybear no mark of the chisel. They are laid together withoutcement, and here and there show gaps between. The topmostterrace and the lower one are somewhat peculiar in theirconstruction. They have both a quadrangular depression in thecentre, leaving the rest of the terrace elevated several feetabove it. In the intervals of the stones immense trees havetaken root, and their broad boughs stretching far over, andinterlacing together, support a canopy almost impenetrable to thesun. Overgrowing the greater part of them, and climbing from oneto another, is a wilderness of vines, in whose sinewy embracemany of the stones lie half-hidden, while in some places a thickgrowth of bushes entirely covers them. There is a wild pathwaywhich obliquely crosses two of these terraces; and so profound isthe shade, so dense the vegetation, that a stranger to the placemight pass along it without being aware of their existence.

These structures bear every indication of a very high antiquityand Kory-Kory, who was my authority in all matters of scientificresearch, gave me to understand that they were coeval with thecreation of the world; that the great gods themselves were thebuilders; and that they would endure until time shall be no more.

Kory-Kory's prompt explanation and his attributing the work to adivine origin, at once convinced me that neither he nor the restof his country-men knew anything about them.

As I gazed upon this monument, doubtless the work of an extinctand forgotten race, thus buried in the green nook of an island atthe ends of the earth, the existence of which was yesterdayunknown, a stronger feeling of awe came over me than if I hadstood musing at the mighty base of the Pyramid of Cheops. Thereare no inscriptions, no sculpture, no clue, by which toconjecture its history; nothing but the dumb stones. How manygenerations of the majestic trees which overshadow them havegrown and flourished and decayed since first they were erected!

These remains naturally suggest many interesting reflections. They establish the great age of the island, an opinion which thebuilders of theories concerning, the creation of the variousgroups in the South Seas are not always inclined to admit. Formy own part, I think it just as probable that human beings wereliving in the valleys of the Marquesas three thousand years agoas that they were inhabiting the land of Egypt. The origin ofthe island of Nukuheva cannot be imputed to the coral insect; forindefatigable as that wonderful creature is, it would be hardlymuscular enough to pile rocks one upon the other more than threethousand feet above the level of the sea. That the land may havebeen thrown up by a submarine volcano is as possible as anythingelse. No one can make an affidavit to the contrary, andtherefore I still say nothing against the supposition: indeed,were geologists to assert that the whole continent of America hadin like manner been formed by the simultaneous explosion of atrain of Etnas laid under the water all the way from the NorthPole to the parallel of Cape Horn, I am the last man in the worldto contradict them.

I have already mentioned that the dwellings of the islanders werealmost invariably built upon massive stone foundations, whichthey call pi-pis. The dimensions of these, however, as well asof the stones composing them, are comparatively small: but thereare other and larger erections of a similar descriptioncomprising the 'morais', or burying grounds, and festival-places,in nearly all the valleys of the island. Some of these piles areso extensive, and so great a degree of labour and skill must havebeen requisite in constructing them, that I can scarcely believethey were built by the ancestors of the present inhabitants. Ifindeed they were, the race has sadly deteriorated in theirknowledge of the mechanic arts. To say nothing of their habitualindolence, by what contrivance within the reach of so simple apeople could such enormous masses have been moved or fixed intheir places? and how could they with their rude implements havechiselled and hammered them into shape?

All of these larger pi-pis--like that of the Hoolah Hoolah groundin the Typee valley--bore incontestible marks of great age; and Iam disposed to believe that their erection may be ascribed to thesame race of men who were the builders of the still more ancientremains I have just described.

According to Kory-Kory's account, the pi-pi upon which stands theHoolah Hoolah ground was built a great many moons ago, under thedirection of Monoo, a great chief and warrior, and, as it wouldappear, master-mason among the Typees. It was erected for theexpress purpose to which it is at present devoted, in theincredibly short period of one sun; and was dedicated to theimmortal wooden idols by a grand festival, which lasted ten daysand nights.

Among the smaller pi-pis, upon which stand the dwelling-houses ofthe natives, I never observed any which intimated a recenterection. There are in every part of the valley a great many ofthese massive stone foundations which have no houses upon them. This is vastly convenient, for whenever an enterprising islanderchooses to emigrate a few hundred yards from the place where hewas born, all he has to do in order to establish himself in somenew locality, is to select one of. the many unappropriatedpi-pis, and without further ceremony pitch his bamboo tent uponit.

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