by Herman Melville

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Chapter Twenty-six



KING MEHEVI!--A goodly sounding title--and why should I notbestow it upon the foremost man in the valley of Typee? Therepublican missionaries of Oahu cause to be gazetted in the CourtJournal, published at Honolulu, the most trivial movement of 'hisgracious majesty' King Kammehammaha III, and 'their highnessesthe princes of the blood royal'.* And who is his 'graciousmajesty', and what the quality of this blood royal'?--His'gracious majesty' is a fat, lazy, negro-looking blockhead, withas little character as power. He has lost the noble traits ofthe barbarian, without acquiring the redeeming graces of acivilized being; and, although a member of the Hawiian TemperanceSociety, is a most inveterate dram-drinker.

*Accounts like these are sometimes copied into English andAmerican journals. They lead the reader to infer that the artsand customs of civilized life are rapidly refining the natives ofthe Sandwich Islands. But let no one be deceived by theseaccounts. The chiefs swagger about in gold lace and broadcloth,while the great mass of the common people are nearly as primitivein their appearance as in the days of Cook. In the progress ofevents at these islands, the two classes are receding from eachother; the chiefs are daily becoming more luxurious andextravagant in their style of living, and the common people moreand more destitute of the necessaries and decencies of life. Butthe end to which both will arrive at last will be the same: theone are fast destroying themselves by sensual indulgences, andthe other are fast being destroyed by a complication ofdisorders, and the want of wholesome food. The resources of thedomineering chiefs are wrung from the starving serfs, and everyadditional bauble with which they bedeck themselves is purchasedby the sufferings of their bondsmen; so that the measure ofgew-gaw refinement attained by the chiefs is only an index to theactual state in which the greater portion of the population liegrovelling.

The 'blood royal' is an extremely thick, depraved fluid; formedprincipally of raw fish, bad brandy, and European sweetmeats, andis charged with a variety of eruptive humours, which aredeveloped in sundry blotches and pimples upon the august face of'majesty itself', and the angelic countenances of the 'princesand princesses of the blood royal'!

Now, if the farcical puppet of a chief magistrate in the SandwichIslands be allowed the title of King, why should it be withheldfrom the noble savage Mehevi, who is a thousand times more worthyof the appellation? All hail, therefore, Mehevi, King of theCannibal Valley, and long life and prosperity to his Typeeanmajesty! May Heaven for many a year preserve him, theuncompromising foe of Nukuheva and the French, if a hostileattitude will secure his lovely domain from the remorselessinflictions of South Sea civilization.

Previously to seeing the Dancing Widows I had little idea thatthere were any matrimonial relations subsisting in Typee, and Ishould as soon have thought of a Platonic affection beingcultivated between the sexes, as of the solemn connection of manand wife. To be sure, there were old Marheyo and Tinor, whoseemed to have a sort of nuptial understanding with one another;but for all that, I had sometimes observed a comical-looking oldgentleman dressed in a suit of shabby tattooing, who had theaudacity to take various liberties with the lady, and that too inthe very presence of the old warrior her husband, who looked onas good-naturedly as if nothing was happening. This behaviour,until subsequent discoveries enlightened me, puzzled me more thananything else I witnessed in Typee.

As for Mehevi, I had supposed him a confirmed bachelor, as wellas most of the principal chiefs. At any rate, if they had wivesand families, they ought to have been ashamed of themselves; forsure I am, they never troubled themselves about any domesticaffairs. In truth, Mehevi seemed to be the president of a clubof hearty fellows, who kept 'Bachelor's Hall' in fine style atthe Ti. I had no doubt but that they regarded children as odiousincumbrances; and their ideas of domestic felicity weresufficiently shown in the fact, that they allowed no meddlesomehousekeepers to turn topsy-turvy those snug little arrangementsthey had made in their comfortable dwelling. I stronglysuspected however, that some of these jolly bachelors werecarrying on love intrigues with the maidens of the tribe;although they did not appear publicly to acknowledge them. Ihappened to pop upon Mehevi three or four times when he wasromping--in a most undignified manner for a warrior king--withone of the prettiest little witches in the valley. She livedwith an old woman and a young man, in a house near Marheyo's; andalthough in appearance a mere child herself, had a noble boyabout a year old, who bore a marvellous resemblance to Mehevi,whom I should certainly have believed to have been the father,were it not that the little fellow had no triangle on hisface--but on second thoughts, tattooing is not hereditary.Mehevi, however, was not the only person upon whom the damselMoonoony smiled--the young fellow of fifteen, who permanentlyresided in the home with her, was decidedly in her good graces. I sometimes beheld both him and the chief making love at the sametime. Is it possible, thought I, that the valiant warrior canconsent to give up a corner in the thing he loves? This too wasa mystery which, with others of the same kind, was afterwardssatisfactorily explained.

During the second day of the Feast of Calabashes,Kory-Kory--being determined that I should have some understandingon these matters--had, in the course of his explanations,directed my attention to a peculiarity I had frequently remarkedamong many of the females;--principally those of a mature age andrather matronly appearance. This consisted in having the righthand and the left foot most elaborately tattooed; whilst the restof the body was wholly free from the operation of the art, withthe exception of the minutely dotted lips and slight marks on theshoulders, to which I have previously referred as comprising thesole tattooing exhibited by Fayaway, in common with other younggirls of her age. The hand and foot thus embellished were,according to Kory-Kory, the distinguishing badge of wedlock, sofar as that social and highly commendable institution is knownamong those people. It answers, indeed, the same purpose as theplain gold ring worn by our fairer spouses.

After Kory-Kory's explanation of the subject, I was for some timestudiously respectful in the presence of all females thusdistinguished, and never ventured to indulge in the slightestapproach to flirtation with any of their number. Married women,to be sure!--I knew better than to offend them.

A further insight, however, into the peculiar domestic customs ofthe inmates of the valley did away in a measure with the severityof my scruples, and convinced me that I was deceived in some atleast of my conclusions. A regular system of polygamy existsamong the islanders; but of a most extraordinary nature,--aplurality of husbands, instead of wives! and this solitary factspeaks volumes for the gentle disposition of the male population.

Where else, indeed, could such a practice exist, even for asingle day?--Imagine a revolution brought about in a Turkishseraglio, and the harem rendered the abode of bearded men; orconceive some beautiful woman in our own country runningdistracted at the sight of her numerous lovers murdering oneanother before her eyes, out of jealousy for the unequaldistribution of her favours!--Heaven defend us from such a stateof things!--We are scarcely amiable and forbearing enough tosubmit to it.

I was not able to learn what particular ceremony was observed informing the marriage contract, but am inclined to think that itmust have been of a very simple nature. Perhaps the mere'popping the question', as it is termed with us, might have beenfollowed by an immediate nuptial alliance. At any rate, I havemore than one reason to believe that tedious courtships areunknown in the valley of Typee.

The males considerably outnumber the females. This holds true ofmany of the islands of Polynesia, although the reverse of what isthe case in most civilized countries. The girls are first wooedand won, at a very tender age, by some stripling in the householdin which they reside. This, however, is a mere frolic of theaffections, and no formal engagement is contracted. By the timethis first love has a little subsided, a second suitor presentshimself, of graver years, and carries both boy and girl away tohis own habitation. This disinterested and generous-heartedfellow now weds the young couple--marrying damsel and lover atthe same time--and all three thenceforth live together asharmoniously as so many turtles. I have, heard of some men whoin civilized countries rashly marry large families with theirwives, but had no idea that there was any place where peoplemarried supplementary husbands with them. Infidelity on eitherside is very rare. No man has more than one wife, and no wife ofmature years has less than two husbands,--sometimes she hasthree, but such instances are not frequent. The marriage tie,whatever it may be, does not appear to be indissoluble; forseparations occasionally happen. These, however, when they dotake place, produce no unhappiness, and are preceded by nobickerings; for the simple reason, than an ill-used wife or ahenpecked husband is not obliged to file a bill in Chancery toobtain a divorce. As nothing stands in the way of a separation,the matrimonial yoke sits easily and lightly, and a Typee wifelives on very pleasant and sociable terms with her husband. Onthe whole, wedlock, as known among these Typees, seems to be of amore distinct and enduring nature than is usually the case withbarbarous people. A baneful promiscuous intercourse of the sexesis hereby avoided, and virtue, without being damorously invoked,is, as it were, unconsciously practised.

The contrast exhibited between the Marquesas and other islands ofthe Pacific in this respect, is worthy of being noticed. AtTahiti the marriage tie was altogether unknown; and the relationof husband and wife, father and son, could hardly be said toexist. The Arreory Society--one of the most singularinstitutions that ever existed in any part of the world--spreaduniversal licentiousness over the island. It was the voluptuouscharacter of these people which rendered the disease introducedamong them by De Bougainville's ships; in 1768, doublydestructive. It visited them like a plague, sweeping them off byhundreds.

Notwithstanding the existence of wedlock among the Typees, theScriptural injunction to increase and multiply seems to be butindifferently attended to. I never saw any of those largefamilies in arithmetical or step-ladder progression which oneoften meets with at home. I never knew of more than twoyoungsters living together in the same home, and but seldom eventhat number. As for the women, it was very plain that theanxieties of the nursery but seldom disturbed the serenity oftheir souls; and they were never seen going about the valley withhalf a score of little ones tagging at their apronstrings, orrather at the bread-fruit-leaf they usually wore in the rear.

The ratio of increase among all the Polynesian nations is verysmall; and in some places as yet uncorrupted by intercourse withEuropeans, the births would appear not very little to outnumberthe deaths; the population in such instances remaining nearly thesame for several successive generations, even upon those islandsseldom or never desolated by wars, and among people with whom thecrime of infanticide is altogether unknown. This would seemexpressively ordained by Providence to prevent the overstockingof the islands with a race too indolent to cultivate the ground,and who, for that reason alone, would, by any considerableincrease in their numbers, be exposed to the most deplorablemisery. During the entire period of my stay in the valley ofTypee, I never saw more than ten or twelve children under the ageof six months, and only became aware of two births.

It is to the looseness of the marriage tie that the late rapiddecrease of the population of the Sandwich Islands and of Tahitiis in part to be ascribed. The vices and diseases introducedamong these unhappy people annually swell the ordinary mortalityof the islands, while, from the same cause, the originally smallnumber of births is proportionally decreased. Thus the progressof the Hawiians and Tahitians to utter extinction is acceleratedin a sort of compound ratio.

I have before had occasion to remark, that I never saw any of theordinary signs of a pace of sepulture in the valley, acircumstance which I attributed, at the time, to my living in aparticular part of it, and being forbidden to extend my ramble toany considerable distance towards the sea. I have since thoughtit probable, however, that the Typees, either desirous ofremoving from their sight the evidences of mortality, or promptedby a taste for rural beauty, may have some charming cemeterysituation in the shadowy recesses along the base of themountains. At Nukuheva, two or three large quadrangular'pi-pis', heavily flagged, enclosed with regular stone walls, andshaded over and almost hidden from view by the interlacingbranches of enormous trees, were pointed out to me asburial-places. The bodies, I understood, were deposited in rudevaults beneath the flagging, and were suffered to remain therewithout being disinterred. Although nothing could be morestrange and gloomy than the aspect of these places, where thelofty trees threw their dark shadows over rude blocks of stone, astranger looking at them would have discerned none of theordinary evidences of a place of sepulture.

During my stay in the valley, as none of its inmates were soaccommodating as to die and be buried in order to gratify mycuriosity with regard to their funeral rites, I was reluctantlyobliged to remain in ignorance of them. As I have reason tobelieve, however, the observances of the Typees in these mattersare the same with those of all the other tribes in the island, Iwill here relate a scene I chanced to witness at Nukuheva.

A young man had died, about daybreak, in a house near the beach. I had been sent ashore that morning, and saw a good deal of thepreparations they were making for his obsequies. The body,neatly wrapped in a new white tappa, was laid out in an open shedof cocoanut boughs, upon a bier constructed of elastic bamboosingeniously twisted together. This was supported about two feetfrom the ground, by large canes planted uprightly in the earth. Two females, of a dejected appearance, watched by its side,plaintively chanting and beating the air with large grass fanswhitened with pipe-clay. In the dwelling-house adjoining anumerous company we assembled, and various articles of food werebeing prepared for consumption. Two or three individuals,distinguished by head-dresses of beautiful tappa, and wearing agreat number of ornaments, appeared to officiate as masters ofthe ceremonies. By noon the entertainment had fairly begun andwe were told that it would last during the whole of the twofollowing days. With the exception of those who mourned by thecorpse, every one seemed disposed to drown the sense of the latebereavement in convivial indulgence. The girls, decked out intheir savage finery, danced; the old men chanted; the warriorssmoked and chatted; and the young and lusty, of both sexes,feasted plentifully, and seemed to enjoy themselves as pleasantlyas they could have done had it been a wedding.

The islanders understand the art of embalming, and practise itwith such success that the bodies of their great chiefs arefrequently preserved for many years in the very houses where theydied. I saw three of these in my visit to the Bay of Tior. Onewas enveloped in immense folds of tappa, with only the faceexposed, and hung erect against the side of the dwelling. Theothers were stretched out upon biers of bamboo, in open, elevatedtemples, which seemed consecrated to their memory. The heads ofenemies killed in battle are invariably preserved and hung up astrophies in the house of the conqueror. I am not acquainted withthe process which is in use, but believe that fumigation is theprincipal agency employed. All the remains which I saw presentedthe appearance of a ham after being suspended for some time in asmoky chimney.

But to return from the dead to the living. The late festival haddrawn together, as I had every reason to believe, the wholepopulation of the vale, and consequently I was enabled to makesome estimate with regard to its numbers. I should imagine thatthere were about two thousand inhabitants in Typee; and no numbercould have been better adapted to the extent of the valley. Thevalley is some nine miles in length, and may average one inbreadth; the houses being distributed at wide intervalsthroughout its whole extent, principally, however, towards thehead of the vale. There are no villages; the houses stand hereand there in the shadow of the groves, or are scattered along thebanks of the winding stream; their golden-hued bamboo sides andgleaming white thatch forming a beautiful contrast to theperpetual verdure in which they are embowered. There are noroads of any kind in the valley. Nothing but a labyrinth offootpaths twisting and turning among the thickets without end.

The penalty of the Fall presses very lightly upon the valley ofTypee; for, with the one solitary exception of striking a light,I scarcely saw any piece of work performed there which caused thesweat to stand upon a single brow. As for digging and delvingfor a livelihood, the thing is altogether unknown. Nature hasplanted the bread-fruit and the banana, and in her own good timeshe brings them to maturity, when the idle savage stretches forthhis hand, and satisfies his appetite.

Ill-fated people! I shudder when I think of the change a fewyears will produce in their paradisaical abode; and probably whenthe most destructive vices, and the worst attendances oncivilization, shall have driven all peace and happiness from thevalley, the magnanimous French will proclaim to the world thatthe Marquesas Islands have been converted to Christianity! andthis the Catholic world will doubtless consider as a gloriousevent. Heaven help the 'Isles of the Sea'!--The sympathy whichChristendom feels for them, has, alas! in too many instancesproved their bane.

How little do some of these poor islanders comprehend when theylook around them, that no inconsiderable part of their disastersoriginate in certain tea-party excitements, under the influenceof which benevolent-looking gentlemen in white cravats solicitalms, and old ladies in spectacles, and young ladies in soberrusset gowns, contribute sixpences towards the creation of afund, the object of which is to ameliorate the spiritualcondition of the Polynesians, but whose end has almost invariablybeen to accomplish their temporal destruction!

Let the savages be civilized, but civilize them with benefits,and not with evils; and let heathenism be destroyed, but not bydestroying the heathen. The Anglo-Saxon hive have extirpatedPaganism from the greater part of the North American continent;but with it they have likewise extirpated the greater portion ofthe Red race. Civilization is gradually sweeping from the earththe lingering vestiges of Paganism, and at the same time theshrinking forms of its unhappy worshippers.

Among the islands of Polynesia, no sooner are the imagesoverturned, the temples demolished, and the idolators convertedinto NOMINAL Christians, that disease, vice, and premature deathmake their appearance. The depopulated land is then recruitedfrom the rapacious, hordes of enlightened individuals who settlethemselves within its borders, and clamorously announce theprogress of the Truth. Neat villas, trim gardens, shaven lawns,spires, and cupolas arise, while the poor savage soon findshimself an interloper in the country of his fathers, and that tooon the very site of the hut where he was born. The spontaneousfruits of the earth, which God in his wisdom had ordained for thesupport of the indolent natives, remorselessly seized upon andappropriated by the stranger, are devoured before the eyes of thestarving inhabitants, or sent on board the numerous vessels whichnow touch at their shores.

When the famished wretches are cut off in this manner from theirnatural supplies, they are told by their benefactors to work andearn their support by the sweat of their brows! But to no finegentleman born to hereditary opulence, does this manual labourcome more unkindly than to the luxurious Indian when thus robbedof the bounty of heaven. Habituated to a life of indolence, hecannot and will not exert himself; and want, disease, and vice,all evils of foreign growth, soon terminate his miserableexistence.

But what matters all this? Behold the glorious result!--Theabominations of Paganism have given way to the pure rites of theChristian worship,--the ignorant savage has been supplanted bythe refined European! Look at Honolulu, the metropolis of theSandwich Islands!--A community of disinterested merchants, anddevoted self-exiled heralds of the Cross, located on the veryspot that twenty years ago was defiled by the presence ofidolatry. What a subject for an eloquent Bible-melting orator! Nor has such an opportunity for a display of missionary rhetoricbeen allowed to pass by unimproved!--But when thesephilanthropists send us such glowing accounts of one half oftheir labours, why does their modesty restrain them frompublishing the other half of the good they have wrought?--Notuntil I visited Honolulu was I aware of the fact that the smallremnant of the natives had been civilized into drought-horses;and evangelized into beasts of burden. But so it is. They havebeen literally broken into the traces, and are harnessed to thevehicles of their spiritual instructors like so many dumb brutes!

. . . . . . .

Lest the slightest misconception should arise from anythingthrown out in this chapter, or indeed in any other part of thevolume, let me here observe that against the cause of missionsin, the abstract no Christian can possibly be opposed: it is intruth a just and holy cause. But if the great end proposed by itbe spiritual, the agency employed to accomplish that end ispurely earthly; and, although the object in view be theachievement of much good, that agency may nevertheless beproductive of evil. In short, missionary undertaking, however itmay blessed of heaven, is in itself but human; and subject, likeeverything else, to errors and abuses. And have not errors andabuses crept into the most sacred places, and may there not beunworthy or incapable missionaries abroad,as well asecclesiastics of similar character at home? May not theunworthiness or incapacity of those who assume apostolicfunctions upon the remote islands of the sea more easily escapedetection by the world at large than if it were displayed in theheart of a city? An unwarranted confidence in the sanctity ofits apostles--a proneness to regard them as incapable ofguile--and an impatience of the least suspicion to theirrectitude as men or Christians, have ever been prevailing faultsin the Church. Nor is this to be wondered at: for subject asChristianity is to the assaults of unprincipled foes, we arenaturally disposed to regard everything like an exposure ofecclesiastical misconduct as the offspring of malevolence orirreligious feeling. Not even this last consideration, howevershall deter me from the honest expression of my sentiments.

There is something apparently wrong in the practical operationsof the Sandwich Islands Mission. Those who from pure religiousmotives contribute to the support of this enterprise should takecare to ascertain that their donations, flowing through manydevious channels, at last effect their legitimate object, theconversion of the Hawaiians. I urge this not because I doubt themoral probity of those who disburse the funds, but because I knowthat they are not rightly applied. To read pathetic accounts ofmissionary hardships, and glowing descriptions of conversion, andbaptisms, taking place beneath palm-trees, is one thing; and togo to the Sandwich Islands and see the missionaries dwelling inpicturesque and prettily furnished coral-rock villas, whilst themiserable natives are committing all sorts of immorality aroundthem, is quite another.

In justice to the missionaries, however, I will willingly admit,that where-ever evils may have resulted from their collectivemismanagement of the business of the mission, and from the wantof vital piety evinced by some of their number, still the presentdeplorable condition of the Sandwich Islands is by no meanswholly chargeable against them. The demoralizing influence of adissolute foreign population, and the frequent visits of alldescriptions of vessels, have tended not a little to increase theevils alluded to. In a word, here, as in every case wherecivilization has in any way been introduced among those whom wecall savages, she has scattered her vices, and withheld herblessings.

As wise a man as Shakespeare has said, that the bearer of eviltidings hath but a losing office; and so I suppose will it provewith me, in communicating to the trusting friends of the HawiianMission what has been disclosed in various portions of thisnarrative. I am persuaded, however, that as these disclosureswill by their very nature attract attention, so they will lead tosomething which will not be without ultimate benefit to the causeof Christianity in the Sandwich Islands.

I have but one more thing to add in connection with thissubject--those things which I have stated as facts will remainfacts, in spite of whatever the bigoted or incredulous may say orwrite against them. My reflections, however, on those facts maynot be free from error. If such be the case, I claim no furtherindulgence than should be conceded to every man whose object isto do good.

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