by Herman Melville

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Chapter Twenty-seven



I HAVE already mentioned that the influence exerted over thepeople of the valley by their chiefs was mild in the extreme; andas to any general rule or standard of conduct by which thecommonality were governed in their intercourse with each other,so far as my observation extended, I should be almost tempted tosay, that none existed on the island, except, indeed, themysterious 'Taboo' be considered as such. During the time Ilived among the Typees, no one was ever put upon his trial forany offence against the public. To all appearance there were nocourts of law or equity. There was no municipal police for thepurpose of apprehending vagrants and disorderly characters. Inshort, there were no legal provisions whatever for the well-beingand conservation of society, the enlightened end of civilizedlegislation. And yet everything went on in the valley with aharmony and smoothness unparalleled, I will venture to assert, inthe most select, refined, and pious associations of mortals inChristendom. How are we to explain this enigma? These islanderswere heathens! savages! ay, cannibals! and how came theywithout the aid of established law, to exhibit, in so eminent adegree, that social order which is the greatest blessing andhighest pride of the social state?

It may reasonably be inquired, how were these people governed?how were their passions controlled in their everydaytransactions? It must have been by an inherent principle ofhonesty and charity towards each other. They seemed to begoverned by that sort of tacit common-sense law which, say whatthey will of the inborn lawlessness of the human race, has itsprecepts graven on every breast. The grand principles of virtueand honour, however they may be distorted by arbitrary codes, arethe same all the world over: and where these principles areconcerned, the right or wrong of any action appears the same tothe uncultivated as to the enlightened mind. It is to thisindwelling, this universally diffused perception of what is justand noble, that the integrity of the Marquesans in theirintercourse with each other, is to be attributed. In the darkestnights they slept securely, with all their worldly wealth aroundthem, in houses the doors of which were never fastened. Thedisquieting ideas of theft or assassination never disturbed them.

Each islander reposed beneath his own palmetto thatching, or satunder his own bread-fruit trees, with none to molest or alarmhim. There was not a padlock in the valley, nor anything thatanswered the purpose of one: still there was no community ofgoods. This long spear, so elegantly carved, and highlypolished, belongs to Wormoonoo: it is far handsomer than the onewhich old Marheyo so greatly prizes; it is the most valuablearticle belonging to its owner. And yet I have seen it leaningagainst a cocoanut tree in the grove, and there it was found whensought for. Here is a sperm-whale tooth, graven all over withcunning devices: it is the property of Karluna; it is the mostprecious of the damsel's ornaments. In her estimation its priceis far above rubies--and yet there hangs the dental jewel by itscord of braided bark, in the girl's house, which is far back inthe valley; the door is left open, and all the inmates have goneoff to bathe in the stream.*

*The strict honesty which the inhabitants of nearly all thePolynesian Islands manifest toward each other, is in strikingcontrast with the thieving propensities some of them evince intheir intercourse with foreigners. It would almost seem that,according to their peculiar code of morals, the pilfering of ahatchet or a wrought nail from a European, is looked upon as apraiseworthy action. Or rather, it may be presumed, that bearingin mind the wholesale forays made upon them by their nauticalvisitors, they consider the property of the latter as a fairobject of reprisal. This consideration, while it serves toreconcile an apparent contradiction in the moral character of theislanders, should in some measure alter that low opinion of itwhich the reader of South Sea voyages is too apt to form.

So much for the respect in which 'personal property' is held inTypee; how secure an investment of 'real property' may be, Icannot take upon me to say. Whether the land of the valley wasthe joint property of its inhabitants, or whether it wasparcelled out among a certain number of landed proprietors whoallowed everybody to 'squat' and 'poach' as much as he or shepleased, I never could ascertain. At any rate, musty parchmentsand title-deeds there were none on the island; and I am halfinclined to believe that its inhabitants hold their broad valleysin fee simple from Nature herself; to have and to hold, so longas grass grows and water runs; or until their French visitors, bya summary mode of conveyancing, shall appropriate them to theirown benefit and behoof.

Yesterday I saw Kory-Kory hie him away armed with a long pole,with which, standing on the ground, he knocked down the fruitfrom the topmost boughs of the trees, and brought them home inhis basket of cocoanut leaves. Today I see an islander, whom Iknow to reside in a distant part of the valley, doing theself-same thing. On the sloping bank of the stream are a numberof banana-trees I have often seen a score or two of young peoplemaking a merry foray on the great golden clusters, and bearingthem off, one after another, to different parts of the vale,shouting and trampling as they went. No churlish old curmudgeoncould have been the owner of that grove of bread-fruit trees, orof these gloriously yellow bunches of bananas.

From what I have said it will be perceived that there is a vastdifference between 'personal property' and 'real estate' in thevalley of Typee. Some individuals, of course, are more wealthythan others. For example, the ridge-pole of Marheyo's housebends under the weight of many a huge packet of tappa; his longcouch is laid with mats placed one upon the other seven deep. Outside, Tinor has ranged along in her bamboo cupboard--orwhatever the place may be called--a goodly array of calabashesand wooden trenchers. Now, the house just beyond the grove, andnext to Marheyo's, occupied by Ruaruga, is not quite so wellfurnished. There are only three moderate-sized packagesswinging overhead: there are only two layers of mats beneath; andthe calabashes and trenchers are not so numerous, nor sotastefully stained and carved. But then, Ruaruga has ahouse--not so pretty a one, to be sure--but just as commodious asMarheyo's; and, I suppose, if he wished to vie with hisneighbour's establishment, he could do so with very littletrouble. These, in short, constituted the chief differencesperceivable in the relative wealth of the people in Typee.

Civilization does not engross all the virtues of humanity: shehas not even her full share of them. They flourish in greaterabundance and attain greater strength among many barbarouspeople. The hospitality of the wild Arab, the courage of theNorth American Indian, and the faithful friendship of some of thePolynesian nations, far surpass anything of a similar kind amongthe polished communities of Europe. If truth and justice, andthe better principles of our nature, cannot exist unless enforcedby the statute-book, how are we to account for the socialcondition of the Typees? So pure and upright were they in allthe relations of life, that entering their valley, as I did,under the most erroneous impressions of their character, I wassoon led to exclaim in amazement: 'Are these the ferocioussavages, the blood-thirsty cannibals of whom I have heard suchfrightful tales! They deal more kindly with each other, and aremore humane than many who study essays on virtue and benevolence,and who repeat every night that beautiful prayer breathed firstby the lips of the divine and gentle Jesus.' I will franklydeclare that after passing a few weeks in this valley of theMarquesas, I formed a higher estimate of human nature than I hadever before entertained. But alas! since then I have been oneof the crew of a man-of-war, and the pent-up wickedness of fivehundred men has nearly overturned all my previous theories.

There was one admirable trait in the general character of theTypees which, more than anything else, secured my admiration: itwas the unanimity of feeling they displayed on every occasion. With them there hardly appeared to be any difference of opinionupon any subject whatever. They all thought and acted alike. Ido not conceive that they could support a debating society for asingle night: there would be nothing to dispute about; and werethey to call a convention to take into consideration the state ofthe tribe, its session would be a remarkably short one. Theyshowed this spirit of unanimity in every action of life;everything was done in concert and good fellowship. I will givean instance of this fraternal feeling.

One day, in returning with Kory-Kory from my accustomed visit tothe Ti, we passed by a little opening in the grove; on one sideof which, my attendant informed me, was that afternoon to bebuilt a dwelling of bamboo. At least a hundred of the nativeswere bringing materials to the ground, some carrying in theirhands one or two of the canes which were to form the sides,others slender rods of the habiscus, strung with palmetto leaves,for the roof. Every one contributed something to the work; andby the united, but easy, and even indolent, labours of all, theentire work was completed before sunset. The islanders, whileemployed in erecting this tenement, reminded me of a colony ofbeavers at work. To be sure, they were hardly as silent anddemure as those wonderful creatures, nor were they by any meansas diligent. To tell the truth they were somewhat inclined to belazy, but a perfect tumult of hilarity prevailed; and they workedtogether so unitedly, and seemed actuated by such an instinct offriendliness, that it was truly beautiful to behold.

Not a single female took part in this employment: and if thedegree of consideration in which the ever-adorable sex is held bythe men be--as the philosophers affirm--a just criterion of thedegree of refinement among a people, then I may truly pronouncethe Typees to be as polished a community as ever the sun shoneupon. The religious restrictions of the taboo alone excepted,the women of the valley were allowed every possible indulgence. Nowhere are the ladies more assiduously courted; nowhere are theybetter appreciated as the contributors to our highest enjoyments;and nowhere are they more sensible of their power. Far differentfrom their condition among many rude nations, where the women aremade to perform all the work while their ungallant lords andmasters lie buried in sloth, the gentle sex in the valley ofTypee were exempt from toil, if toil it might be called that,even in the tropical climate, never distilled one drop ofperspiration. Their light household occupations, together withthe manufacture of tappa, the platting of mats, and the polishingof drinking-vessels, were the only employments pertaining to thewomen. And even these resembled those pleasant avocations whichfill up the elegant morning leisure of our fashionable ladies athome. But in these occupations, slight and agreeable though theywere, the giddy young girls very seldom engaged. Indeed thesewilful care-killing damsels were averse to all useful employment.

Like so many spoiled beauties, they ranged through thegroves--bathed in the stream--danced--flirted--played all mannerof mischievous pranks, and passed their days in one merry roundof thoughtless happiness.

During my whole stay on the island I never witnessed a singlequarrel, nor anything that in the slightest degree approachedeven to a dispute. The natives appeared to form one household,whose members were bound together by the ties of strongaffection. The love of kindred I did not so much perceive, forit seemed blended in the general love; and where all were treatedas brothers and sisters, it was hard to tell who were actuallyrelated to each other by blood.

Let it not be supposed that I have overdrawn this picture. Ihave not done so. Nor let it be urged, that the hostility ofthis tribe to foreigners, and the hereditary feuds they carry onagainst their fellow-islanders beyond the mountains, are factswhich contradict me. Not so; these apparent discrepancies areeasily reconciled. By many a legendary tale of violence andwrong, as well as by events which have passed before their eyes,these people have been taught to look upon white men withabhorrence. The cruel invasion of their country by Porter hasalone furnished them with ample provocation; and I can sympathizein the spirit which prompts the Typee warrior to guard all thepasses to his valley with the point of his levelled spear, and,standing upon the beach, with his back turned upon his greenhome, to hold at bay the intruding European.

As to the origin of the enmity of this particular clan towardsthe neighbouring tribes, I cannot so confidently speak. I willnot say that their foes are the aggressors, nor will I endeavourto palliate their conduct. But surely, if our evil passions mustfind vent, it is far better to expend them on strangers andaliens, than in the bosom of the community in which we dwell. Inmany polished countries civil contentions, as well as domesticenmities, are prevalent, and the same time that the mostatrocious foreign wars are waged. How much less guilty, then,are our islanders, who of these three sins are only chargeablewith one, and that the least criminal!

The reader will ere long have reason to suspect that the Typeesare not free from the guilt of cannibalism; and he will then,perhaps, charge me with admiring a people against whom so odiousa crime is chargeable. But this only enormity in their characteris not half so horrible as it is usually described. According tothe popular fictions, the crews of vessels, shipwrecked on somebarbarous coast, are eaten alive like so many dainty joints bythe uncivil inhabitants; and unfortunate voyagers are lured intosmiling and treacherous bays; knocked on the head with outlandishwar-clubs; and served up without any prelimary dressing. Intruth, so horrific and improbable are these accounts, that manysensible and well-informed people will not believe that anycannibals exist; and place every book of voyages which purportsto give any account of them, on the same shelf with Blue Beardand Jack the Giant-Killer. While others, implicitly creditingthe most extravagant fictions, firmly believe that there arepeople in the world with tastes so depraved that they wouldinfinitely prefer a single mouthful of material humanity to agood dinner of roast beef and plum pudding. But here, Truth, wholoves to be centrally located, is again found between the twoextremes; for cannibalism to a certain moderate extent ispractised among several of the primitive tribes in the Pacific,but it is upon the bodies of slain enemies alone, and horribleand fearful as the custom is, immeasurably as it is to beabhorred and condemned, still I assert that those who indulge init are in other respects humane and virtuous.

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