by Herman Melville

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Chapter Twenty-three



THE whole population of the valley seemed to be gathered withinthe precincts of the grove. In the distance could be seen thelong front of the Ti, its immense piazza swarming with men,arrayed in every variety of fantastic costume, and allvociferating with animated gestures; while the whole intervalbetween it and the place where I stood was enlivened by groups offemales fancifully decorated, dancing, capering, and utteringwild exclamations. As soon as they descried me they set up ashout of welcome; and a band of them came dancing towards me,chanting as they approached some wild recitative. The change inmy garb seemed to transport them with delight, and clusteringabout me on all sides, they accompanied me towards the Ti. Whenhowever we drew near it these joyous nymphs paused in theircareer, and parting on either side, permitted me to pass on tothe now densely thronged building.

So soon as I mounted to the pi-pi I saw at a glance that therevels were fairly under way.

What lavish plenty reigned around?--Warwick feasting hisretainers with beef and ale, was a niggard to the nobleMehevi!--All along the piazza of the Ti were arranged elaboratelycarved canoe-shaped vessels, some twenty feet in length, tiedwith newly made poee-poee, and sheltered from the sun by thebroad leaves of the banana. At intervals were heaps of greenbread-fruit, raised in pyramidical stacks, resembling the regularpiles of heavy shot to be seen in the yard of an arsenal. Inserted into the interstices of the huge stones which formed thepi-pi were large boughs of trees; hanging from the branches ofwhich, and screened from the sun by their foliage, wereinnumerable little packages with leafy coverings, containing themeat of the numerous hogs which had been slain, done up in thismanner to make it more accessible to the crowd. Leaning againstthe railing on the piazza were an immense number of long, heavybamboos, plugged at the lower end, and with their projectingmuzzles stuffed with a wad of leaves. These were filled withwater from the stream, and each of them might hold from four tofive gallons.

The banquet being thus spread, naught remained but for everyoneto help himself at his pleasure. Accordingly not a moment passedbut the transplanted boughs I have mentioned were rifled by thethrong of the fruit they certainly had never borne before. Calabashes of poee-poee were continually being replenished fromthe extensive receptacle in which that article was stored, andmultitudes of little fires were kindled about the Ti for thepurpose of roasting the bread-fruit.

Within the building itself was presented a most extraordinaryscene. The immense lounge of mats lying between the parallelrows of the trunks of cocoanut trees, and extending the entirelength of the house, at least two hundred feet, was covered bythe reclining forms of a host of chiefs and warriors who wereeating at a great rate, or soothing the cares of Polynesian lifein the sedative fumes of tobacco. The smoke was inhaled fromlarge pipes, the bowls of which, made out of small cocoanutshells, were curiously carved in strange heathenish devices. These were passed from mouth to mouth by the recumbent smokers,each of whom, taking two or three prodigious whiffs, handed thepipe to his neighbour; sometimes for that purpose stretchingindolently across the body of some dozing individual whoseexertions at the dinner-table had already induced sleep.

The tobacco used among the Typees was of a very mild and pleasingflavour, and as I always saw it in leaves, and the nativesappeared pretty well supplied with it, I was led to believe thatit must have been the growth of the valley. Indeed Kory-Korygave me to understand that this was the case; but I never saw asingle plant growing on the island. At Nukuheva, and, I believe,in all the other valleys, the weed is very scarce, being onlyobtained in small quantities from foreigners, and smoking isconsequently with the inhabitants of these places a very greatluxury. How it was that the Typees were so well furnished withit I cannot divine. I should think them too indolent to devoteany attention to its culture; and, indeed, as far as myobservation extended, not a single atom of the soil was under anyother cultivation than that of shower and sunshine. Thetobacco-plant, however, like the sugar-cane, may grow wild insome remote part of the vale.

There were many in the Ti for whom the tobacco did not furnish asufficient stimulus, and who accordingly had recourse to 'arva',as a more powerful agent in producing the desired effect.

'Arva' is a root very generally dispersed over the South Seas,and from it is extracted a juice, the effects of which upon thesystem are at first stimulating in a moderate degree; but it soonrelaxes the muscles, and exerting a narcotic influence produces aluxurious sleep. In the valley this beverage was universallyprepared in the following way:--Some half-dozen young boys seatedthemselves in a circle around an empty wooden vessel, each one ofthem being supplied with a certain quantity of the roots of the'arva', broken into small bits and laid by his side. A cocoanutgoblet of water was passed around the juvenile company, whorinsing their mouths with its contents, proceeded to the businessbefore them. This merely consisted in thoroughly masticating the'arva', and throwing it mouthful after mouthful into thereceptacle provided. When a sufficient quantity had been thusobtained water was poured upon the mass, and being stirred aboutwith the forefinger of the right hand, the preparation was soonin readiness for use. The 'arva' has medicinal qualities.

Upon the Sandwich Islands it has been employed with no smallsuccess in the treatment of scrofulous affections, and incombating the ravages of a disease for whose frightful inroadsthe ill-starred inhabitants of that group are indebted to theirforeign benefactors. But the tenants of the Typee valley, as yetexempt from these inflictions, generally employ the 'arva' as aminister to social enjoyment, and a calabash of the liquidcirculates among them as the bottle with us.

Mehevi, who was greatly delighted with the change in my costume,gave me a cordial welcome. He had reserved for me a mostdelectable mess of 'cokoo', well knowing my partiality for thatdish; and had likewise selected three or four young cocoanuts,several roasted bread-fruit, and a magnificent bunch of bananas,for my especial comfort and gratification. These various matterswere at once placed before me; but Kory-Kory deemed the banquetentirely insufficient for my wants until he had supplied me withone of the leafy packages of pork, which, notwithstanding thesomewhat hasty manner in which it had been prepared, possessed amost excellent flavour, and was surprisingly sweet and tender.

Pork is not a staple article of food among the people of theMarquesas; consequently they pay little attention to the BREEDINGof the swine. The hogs are permitted to roam at large on thegroves, where they obtain no small part of their nourishment fromthe cocoanuts which continually fall from the trees. But it isonly after infinite labour and difficulty, that the hungry animalcan pierce the husk and shell so as to get at the meat. I havefrequently been amused at seeing one of them, after crunching theobstinate nut with his teeth for a long time unsuccessfully, getinto a violent passion with it. He would then root furiouslyunder the cocoanut, and, with a fling of his snout, toss itbefore him on the ground. Following it up, he would crunch at itagain savagely for a moment, and then next knock it on one side,pausing immediately after, as if wondering how it could sosuddenly have disappeared. In this way the persecuted cocoanutswere often chased half across the valley.

The second day of the Feast of Calabashes was ushered in by stillmore uproarious noises than the first. The skins of innumerablesheep seemed to be resounding to the blows of an army ofdrummers. Startled from my slumbers by the din, I leaped up, andfound the whole household engaged in making preparations forimmediate departure. Curious to discover of what strange eventsthese novel sounds might be the precursors, and not a littledesirous to catch a sight of the instruments which produced theterrific noise, I accompanied the natives as soon as they were inreadiness to depart for the Taboo Groves.

The comparatively open space that extended from the Ti toward therock, to which I have before alluded as forming the ascent to theplace, was, with the building itself, now altogether deserted bythe men; the whole distance being filled by bands of females,shouting and dancing under the influence of some strangeexcitement.

I was amused at the appearance of four or five old women who, ina state of utter nudity, with their arms extended flatly downtheir sides, and holding themselves perfectly erect, were leapingstiffly into the air, like so many sticks bobbing to the surface,after being pressed perpendicularly into the water. Theypreserved the utmost gravity of countenance, and continued theirextraordinary movements without a single moment's cessation. They did not appear to attract the observation of the crowdaround them, but I must candidly confess that for my, own part, Istared at them most pertinaciously.

Desirous of being enlightened in regard to the meaning of thispeculiar diversion, I turned, inquiringly to Kory-Kory; thatlearned Typee immediately proceeded to explain the whole matterthoroughly. But all that I could comprehend from what he saidwas, that the leaping figures before me were bereaved widows,whose partners had been slain in battle many moons previously;and who, at every festival, gave public evidence in this mannerof their calamities. It was evident that Kory-Kory consideredthis an all-sufficient reason for so indecorous a custom; but Imust say that it did not satisfy me as to its propriety.

Leaving these afflicted females, we passed on to the HoolahHoolah ground. Within the spacious quadrangle, the wholepopulation of the valley seemed to be assembled, and the sightpresented was truly remarkable. Beneath the sheds of bamboowhich opened towards the interior of the square reclined theprincipal chiefs and warriors, while a miscellaneous throng layat their ease under the enormous trees which spread a majesticcanopy overhead. Upon the terraces of the gigantic altars, ateach end, were deposited green bread-fruit in baskets of cocoanutleaves, large rolls of tappa, bunches of ripe bananas, clustersof mammee-apples, the golden-hued fruit of the artu-tree, andbaked hogs, laid out in large wooden trenchers, fancifullydecorated with freshly plucked leaves, whilst a variety of rudeimplements of war were piled in confused heaps before the ranksof hideous idols. Fruits of various; kinds were likewisesuspended in leafen baskets, from the tops of poles planteduprightly, and at regular intervals, along the lower terraces ofboth altars. At their base were arranged two parallel rows ofcumbersome drums, standing at least fifteen feet in height, andformed from the hollow trunks of large trees. Their heads werecovered with shark skins, and their barrels were elaboratelycarved with various quaint figures and devices. At regularintervals they were bound round by a species of sinnate ofvarious colours, and strips of native cloth flattened upon themhere and there. Behind these instruments were built slightplatforms, upon which stood a number of young men who, beatingviolently with the palms of their hands upon the drum-heads,produced those outrageous sounds which had awakened me in themorning. Every few minutes these musical performers hopped downfrom their elevation into the crowd below, and their places wereimmediately supplied by fresh recruits. Thus an incessant dinwas kept up that might have startled Pandemonium.

Precisely in the middle of the quadrangle were placedperpendicularly in the ground, a hundred or more slender,fresh-cut poles, stripped of their bark, and decorated at the endwith a floating pennon of white tappa; the whole being fencedabout with a little picket of canes. For what purpose theseangular ornaments were intended I in vain endeavoured todiscover.

Another most striking feature of the performance was exhibited bya score of old men, who sat cross-legged in the little pulpits,which encircled the trunks of the immense trees growing in themiddle of the enclosure. These venerable gentlemen, who Ipresume were the priests, kept up an uninterrupted monotonouschant, which was partly drowned in the roar of drums. In theright hand they held a finely woven grass fan, with a heavy blackwooden handle curiously chased: these fans they kept in continualmotion.

But no attention whatever seemed to be paid to the drummers or tothe old priests; the individuals who composed the vast crowdpresent being entirely taken up in chanting and laughing with oneanother, smoking, drinking 'arva', and eating. For all theobservation it attracted, or the good it achieved, the wholesavage orchestra might with great advantage to its own membersand the company in general, have ceased the prodigious uproarthey were making.

In vain I questioned Kory-Kory and others of the natives, as tothe meaning of the strange things that were going on; all theirexplanations were conveyed in such a mass of outlandish gibberishand gesticulation that I gave up the attempt in despair. Allthat day the drums resounded, the priests chanted, and themultitude feasted and roared till sunset, when the throngdispersed, and the Taboo Groves were again abandoned to quiet andrepose. The next day the same scene was repeated until night,when this singular festival terminated.

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