PREPARATIONS FOR A GRAND FESTIVAL IN THE VALLEY--STRANGE DOINGSIN THE TABOO GROVES--MONUMENT OF CALABASHES--GALA COSTUME OF THETYPEE DAMSELS--DEPARTURE FOR THE FESTIVAL
FROM the time that my lameness had decreased I had made a dailypractice of visiting Mehevi at the Ti, who invariably gave me amost cordial reception. I was always accompanied in theseexcursions by Fayaway and the ever-present Kory- Kory. Theformer, as soon as we reached the vicinity of the Ti--which wasrigorously tabooed to the whole female sex--withdrew to aneighbouring hut, as if her feminine delicacy 'restricted' herfrom approaching a habitation which might be regarded as a sortof Bachelor's Hall.
And in good truth it might well have been so considered. Although it was the permanent residence of several distinguishedchiefs, and of the noble Mehevi in particular, it was still atcertain seasons the favourite haunt of all the jolly, talkative,and elderly savages of the vale, who resorted thither in the sameway that similar characters frequent a tavern in civilizedcountries. There they would remain hour after hour, chatting,smoking, eating poee-poee, or busily engaged in sleeping for thegood of their constitutions.
This building appeared to be the head-quarters of the valley,where all flying rumours concentrated; and to have seen it filledwith a crowd of the natives, all males, conversing in animatedclusters, while multitudes were continually coming and going, onewould have thought it a kind of savage Exchange, where the riseand fall of Polynesian Stock was discussed.
Mehevi acted as supreme lord over the place, spending the greaterportion of his time there: and often when, at particular hours ofthe day, it was deserted by nearly every one else except theverd-antique looking centenarians, who were fixtures in thebuilding, the chief himself was sure to be found enjoying his'otium cum dignitate'--upon the luxurious mats which covered thefloor. Whenever I made my appearance he invariably rose, andlike a gentleman doing the honours of his mansion, invited me torepose myself wherever I pleased, and calling out 'tamaree!'(boy), a little fellow would appear, and then retiring for aninstant, return with some savoury mess, from which the chiefwould press me to regale myself. To tell the truth, Mehevi wasindebted to the excellence of his viands for the honour of myrepeated visits--a matter which cannot appear singular, when itis borne in mind that bachelors, all the world over, are famousfor serving up unexceptionable repasts.
One day, on drawing near to the Ti, I observed that extensivepreparations were going forward, plainly betokening someapproaching festival. Some of the symptoms reminded me of thestir produced among the scullions of a large hotel, where a grandjubilee dinner is about to be given. The natives were hurryingabout hither and thither, engaged in various duties, some luggingoff to the stream enormous hollow bamboos, for the purpose offilling them with water; others chasing furious-looking hogsthrough the bushes, in their endeavours to capture them; andnumbers employed in kneading great mountains of poee-poee heapedup in huge wooden vessels.
After observing these lively indications for a while, I wasattracted to a neighbouring grove by a prodigious squeaking whichI heard there. On reaching the spot I found it proceeded from alarge hog which a number of natives were forcibly holding to theearth, while a muscular fellow, armed with a bludgeon, wasineffectually aiming murderous blows at the skull of theunfortunate porker. Again and again he missed his writhing andstruggling victim, but though puffing and panting with hisexertions, he still continued them; and after striking asufficient number of blows to have demolished an entire drove ofoxen, with one crashing stroke he laid him dead at his feet.
Without letting any blood from the body, it was immediatelycarried to a fire which had been kindled near at hand and foursavages taking hold of the carcass by its legs, passed it rapidlyto and fro in the flames. In a moment the smell of burningbristles betrayed the object of this procedure. Having got thusfar in the matter, the body was removed to a little distance and,being disembowelled, the entrails were laid aside as choiceparts, and the whole carcass thoroughly washed with water. Anample thick green cloth, composed of the long thick leaves of aspecies of palm-tree, ingeniously tacked together with littlepins of bamboo, was now spread upon the ground, in which the bodybeing carefully rolled, it was borne to an oven previouslyprepared to receive it. Here it was at once laid upon the heatedstones at the bottom, and covered with thick layers of leaves,the whole being quickly hidden from sight by a mound of earthraised over it.
Such is the summary style in which the Typees convertperverse-minded and rebellious hogs into the most docile andamiable pork; a morsel of which placed on the tongue melts like asoft smile from the lips of Beauty.
I commend then peculiar mode of proceeding to the considerationof all butchers, cooks, and housewives. The hapless porker whosefate I have just rehearsed, was not the only one who suffered inthat memorable day. Many a dismal grunt, many an imploringsqueak, proclaimed what was going on throughout the whole extentof the valley; and I verily believe the first-born of everylitter perished before the setting of that fatal sun.
The scene around the Ti was now most animated. Hogs andpoee-poee were baking in numerous ovens, which, heaped up withfresh earth into slight elevations, looked like so manyant-hills. Scores of the savages were vigorously plying theirstone pestles in preparing masses of poee-poee, and numbers weregathering green bread-fruit and young cocoanuts in thesurrounding groves; when an exceeding great multitude, with aview of encouraging the rest in their labours, stood still, andkept shouting most lustily without intermission.
It is a peculiarity among these people, that, when engaged in anemployment, they always make a prodigious fuss about it. Soseldom do they ever exert themselves, that when they do work theyseem determined that so meritorious an action shall not escapethe observation of those around if, for example, they haveoccasion to remove a stone to a little distance, which perhapsmight be carried by two able-bodied men, a whole swarm gatherabout it, and, after a vast deal of palavering, lift it up amongthem, every one struggling to get hold of it, and bear it offyelling and panting as if accomplishing some mighty achievement. Seeing them on these occasions, one is reminded of an infinity ofblack ants clustering about and dragging away to some hole theleg of a deceased fly.
Having for some time attentively observed these demonstrations ofgood cheer, I entered the Ti, where Mehevi sat complacentlylooking out upon the busy scene, and occasionally issuing hisorders. The chief appeared to be in an extraordinary flow ofspirits and gave me to understand that on the morrow there wouldbe grand doings in the Groves generally, and at the Ti inparticular; and urged me by no means to absent myself. Incommemoration of what event, however, or in honour of whatdistinguished personage, the feast was to be given, altogetherpassed my comprehension. Mehevi sought to enlighten myignorance, but he failed as signally as when he had endeavouredto initiate me into the perplexing arcana of the taboo.
On leaving the Ti, Kory-Kory, who had as a matter of courseaccompanied me, observing that my curiosity remained unabated,resolved to make everything plain and satisfactory. With thisintent, he escorted me through the Taboo Groves, pointing out tomy notice a variety of objects, and endeavoured to explain themin such an indescribable jargon of words, that it almost put mein bodily pain to listen to him. In particular, he led me to aremarkable pyramidical structure some three yards square at thebase, and perhaps ten feet in height, which had lately beenthrown up, and occupied a very conspicuous position. It wascomposed principally of large empty calabashes, with a fewpolished cocoanut shells, and looked not unlike a cenotaph ofskulls. My cicerone perceived the astonishment with which Igazed at this monument of savage crockery, and immediatelyaddressed himself in the task of enlightening me: but all invain; and to this hour the nature of the monument remains acomplete mystery to me. As, however, it formed so prominent afeature in the approaching revels, I bestowed upon the latter, inmy own mind, the title of the 'Feast of Calabashes'.
The following morning, awaking rather late, I perceived the wholeof Marheyo's family busily engaged in preparing for the festival.
The old warrior himself was arranging in round balls the two greylocks of hair that were suffered to grow from the crown of hishead; his earrings and spear, both well polished, lay beside him,while the highly decorative pair of shoes hung suspended from aprojecting cane against the side of the house. The young menwere similarly employed; and the fair damsels, including Fayaway,were anointing themselves with 'aka', arranging their longtresses, and performing other matters connected with the dutiesof the toilet.
Having completed their preparations, the girls now exhibitedthemselves in gala costume; the most conspicuous feature of whichwas a necklace of beautiful white flowers, with the stemsremoved, and strung closely together upon a single fibre oftappa. Corresponding ornaments were inserted in their ears, andwoven garlands upon their heads. About their waist they wore ashort tunic of spotless white tappa, and some of them super-addedto this a mantle of the same material, tied in an elaborate bowupon the left shoulder, and falling about the figure inpicturesque folds.
Thus arrayed, I would have matched the charming Fayaway againstany beauty in the world.
People may say what they will about the taste evinced by ourfashionable ladies in dress. Their jewels, their feathers, theirsilks, and their furbelows, would have sunk into utterinsignificance beside the exquisite simplicity of attire adoptedby the nymphs of the vale on this festive occasion. I shouldlike to have seen a gallery of coronation beauties, atWestminster Abbey, confronted for a moment by this band of islandgirls; their stiffness, formality, and affectation, contrastedwith the artless vivacity and unconcealed natural graces of thesesavage maidens. It would be the Venus de' Medici placed beside amilliner's doll. It was not long before Kory-Kory and myselfwere left alone in the house, the rest of its inmates havingdeparted for the Taboo Groves. My valet was all impatience tofollow them; and was as fidgety about my dilatory movements as adiner out waiting hat in hand at the bottom of the stairs forsome lagging companion. At last, yielding to his importunities,I set out for the Ti. As we passed the houses peeping out fromthe groves through which our route lay, I noticed that they wereentirely deserted by their inhabitants.
When we reached the rock that abruptly terminated the path, andconcealed from us the festive scene, wild shouts and a confusedblending of voices assured me that the occasion, whatever itmight be, had drawn together a great multitude. Kory-Kory,previous to mounting the elevation, paused for a moment, like adandy at a ball-room door, to put a hasty finish to his toilet. During this short interval, the thought struck me that I oughtmyself perhaps to be taking some little pains with my appearance.
But as I had no holiday raiment, I was not a little puzzled todevise some means of decorating myself. However, as I feltdesirous to create a sensation, I determined to do all that layin my power; and knowing that I could not delight the savagesmore than by conforming to their style of dress, I removed frommy person the large robe of tappa which I was accustomed to wearover my shoulders whenever I sallied into the open air, andremained merely girt about with a short tunic descending from mywaist to my knees.
My quick-witted attendant fully appreciated the compliment I waspaying to the costume of his race, and began more sedulously toarrange the folds of the one only garment which remained to me.Whilst he was doing this,I caught sight of a knot of younglasses, who were sitting near us on the grass surrounded by heapsof flowers which they were forming into garlands. I motioned tothem to bring some of their handywork to me; and in an instant adozen wreaths were at my disposal. One of them I put round theapology for a hat which I had been forced to construct for myselfout of palmetto-leaves, and some of the others I converted into asplendid girdle. These operations finished, with the slow anddignified step of a full-dressed beau I ascended the rock.