Tahiti – The Return To Papeete

THE company was assembled in the pavilion when I walked through the streets of Faatoai again, and the food was on the bamboo table. One might have thought the feast would have been spread on soft mats on the sward, as is the Tahitian custom, but these whites are perverse and proud, and their legs unbending to such a position.

We had raw fish cut up, with bowls of cocoanut sauce. It was delicious in taste, but raw fish is tough and at first hard to chew until one becomes accustomed to the texture. Whites learn to crave it.

This fish was cut in small pieces thicker and bigger than a domino, and steeped in fresh lime-juice for half a day. The sauce was made by pouring a cup of sea-water over grated cocoanuts and after several hours’ straining through the fiber of young cocoanut shoots. It was thick, like rich cream.

We had excellent raw oysters and raw clams on the shell, crabs stewed with a wine sauce that was delicious, fish, boiled chicken, and baked pig. I had not tasted more appetizing food. It was all cooked in the native fashion on hot stones above or under ground. We saw the pig’s disinterment. On the brink of the stream which flowed past the bower the oven had been made.

The cooks, Moorea men, removed a layer of earth that had been laid on cocoa-palm leaves. This was the cover of the oven. Immediately below the leaves were yams and feis and under them a layer of banana leaves. The pig came next. It had been cut into pieces as big as mutton-chops and had cooked two and a half hours. It was on stones, coral, under which the fire of wood had been thoroughly ignited, the stones heated, and then the different layers placed above. The pig was tender, succulent, and the yams and feis finely flavored.

The two native men, in pareus, and with crowns of scarlet hibiscus, waited on us, while the son of Llewellyn uncorked the bottles. As usual, the beverages were lavishly dispensed, beginning with Scotch whisky as an appetizer, and following with claret, sauterne, vintage Burgundy, and a champagne that would have pleased Paris. These more expensive beverages were for us hosts only.

We were an odd company : Llewellyn, a Welsh-Tahitian ; Landers, a British New-Zealander; McHenry, Scotch-American; Polonsky, Polish-French; Schlyter, the Swedish tailor; David, an American vanilla-grower; “Lying Bill,” English ; and I, American. There was little talk at breakfast. They were trenchermen beyond compare, and the dishes were emptied as fast as filled. These men have no gifts of conversation in groups. Though we had only one half-white of the party, Llewellyn, he to a large degree set the pace of words and drink. In him the European blood, of the best in the British Isles, arrested the abandon of the aborigine, and created a hesitant blend of dignity and awkwardness. He was a striking-looking man, very tall, slender, about fifty years old, swarthy, with hair as black as night, and eyebrows like small mustaches, the eyes themselves in caverns, usually dull and dour, but when he talked, spots of light. I thought of that Master of Ballantrae of Stevenson’s, though for all I remember he was blond. Yet the characters of the two blended in my mind, and I tried to match them the more I saw of him. He was born here, and after an education abroad and a sowing of wild oats over years of life in Europe, had lived here the last twenty-five years. He was in trade, like almost every one here, but I saw no business instincts or habits about him. One found him most of the time at the Cerele Bougainville, drinking sauterne and siphon water, shaking for the drinks, or playing ecarte for five francs a game.

Below the salt sat his son and his nephew, men of twenty-five years, but sons of Tahitian mothers, and without the culture or European education of their fathers. With them two chauffeurs were seated. One of these, an American, the driver for Polonsky, had tarried here on a trip about the world, and was persuaded to take employment with Polonsky. The other was a half-caste, a handsome man of fifty, whose employer treated him like a friend.

Breakfast lasted two hours for us. For the band it kept on until dinner, for they did not leave the table from noon, when we sat down, until dark. When they did not eat, they drank. Occasionally one of us slipped down and took his place with them. I sat with them half an hour, while they honored me with “Johnny Burrown,” “The Good, Old Summertime,” and “Every-body Doin’ It.”

The heavy leads of the band were carried by an American with a two-horsepower accordion. He told me his name was Kelly. He was under thirty, a resolute, but gleesome chap, red-headed, freckled, and unrestrained by anybody or anything. He had no respect for us, as had the others, and had come, he said, for practice on his instrument. He had a song-book of the Industrial Workers of the World, a syndicalistic group of American laborers and intellectuals, and in it were scores of popular airs accompanied by words of dire import to capitalists and employers. One, to the tune of “Marching through Georgia,” threatened destruction to civilization in the present concept.

“I ‘m an I. W. W.,” said Kelly to me, with a shell of rum in his hand. “I came here because I got tired o’ bein’ pinched. Every town I went to in the United States I denounced the police and the rotten government, and they throwed me in the calaboose. I never could get even unlousy. I came here six weeks ago.

It ‘s a little bit of all right.’When Kelly played American or English airs and the Tahitians sang their native words, he gave the I. W. W. version in English. Some of these songs were transpositions or parodies of Christian hymns, and one in particular was his favorite. Apparently he had made it very popular with the natives of the band, for it vied with the “Himene Tatou Arearea” in repetition. It was a crude travesty of a hymn much sung in religious camp-meetings and revivals, of which the proper chorus as often heard by me in Harry Monroe’s mission in the Chicago slums, was:

Hallelujah! Thine the glory! Hallelujah! Amen! Hallelujah ! Thine the glory ! revive us again !

Kelly’s version was:

Hallelujah ! I ‘m a bum ! Hallelujah ! Bum again ! Hallelujah! Give us a hand-out! To save us from sin.

He had the stanzas, burlesquing the sacred lines, one of which the natives especially liked :

Oh, why don’t you work, as other men do?

How the hell can we work when there ‘s no work to do?’

None of us had ever heard Kelly’s songs, nor had any one but I ever heard of his industrial organization, and I only vaguely, having lived so many years out of America or Europe. But they all cheered enthusiastically except Llewellyn. He was an Anglican by faith or paternal inheritance, and though he knew nothing of the real hymns, they being for Dissenters, whom he contemned, he was religious at soul and objected to making light of religion. He called for the “Himene Tatou Arearea.” He took his pencil and scribbled the translation I have given.

“This is the rough of it,” he said. “To write poetry here is difficult. When I was at Heidelberg and Paris I often spent nights writing sonnets. That merely tells the sense of the himene, but cannot convey the joy or sorrow of it. Well, let ‘s sink dull care fifty fathoms deep ! Look at those band-boys ! So long as they have plenty of rum or beer or wine and their instruments, they care little for food. Watch them. Now they are dry and inactive. Wait till the alcohol wets them. They will touch the sky.”

Lleweliyn’s deep-set eyes under the beetling brows were lighting with new fires.

His idea of inactivity and drought was sublimated, for the musicians were never still a moment. They played mostly syncopated airs of the United States, popular at the time. All primitive people, or those less advanced in civilization or education, prefer the rag-time variants of the American negro or his imitators, to so-called good or classical music. It is like simple language, easily understood, and makes a direct appeal to their ears and their passions. It is the slang or argot of music, hot off the griddle for the average man’s taste, without complexities or stir to musing and melancholy.

The musicians had drunk much wine and rum, and now wanted only beer. That was the order of their carouse. Beer was expensive at two francs a bottle, and so a conscientious native had been delegated to give it out slowly. He had the barrel containing the quart bottles between his legs while he sat at the table, and each was doled out only after earnest supplications and much music.

“Horoa mai to pia!” “More beer!” they implored. “Himene,” said the inexorable master of the brew. Up came the brass and the accordion, and forth went the inebriated strains.

Between their draughts of beer—they drank always from the bottles—the Tahitians often recurred to the song of ; Kelly. Having no g, 1, or s among the thirteen letters of their missionary-made alphabet, they pronounced the refrain as follows:

Hahrayrooyah ! I ‘m a boom ! Hahrayrooyah ! Boomagay t Hahrayrooyah! Hizzandow ! To tave ut fruh tin !

Landers being very big physically, they admired him greatly, and his company having been two generations in Tahiti, they knew his history. They now and again called him by his name among Tahitians, “Taporo-Tane,” (“The Lime-Man”) , and sang:

E aue Tau tiare ate e! Ua parari te afata e! I te Pahi na Taporo-Tane e!

Alas ! my dear, some one let slip A box of limes on the lime-man’s ship, And busted it so the juice did drip.

The song was a quarter of a century old and recorded an accident of loading a schooner. Landers’s father’s partner was first named Taporo-Tane because he exported limes in large quantities from Tahiti to New Zealand. The stevedores and roustabouts of the waterfront made ballads of happenings as their forefathers had chants of the fierce adventures of their constant warfare. They were like the negroes, who from their first transplantation from Africa to America had put their plaints and mystification in strange and affecting threnodies and runes.

All through the incessant himenes a crowd of natives kept moving about a hundred feet away, dancing or listening with delight. They would not obtrude on the feast, but must hear the music intimately.

The others of our party, having breakfasted until well after two, sought a house where Llewellyn was known. McHenry and I followed the road which circles the island by the lagoon and sea-beach. In that twelve leagues there are a succession of dales, ravines, falls, precipices, and brooks, as picturesque as the landscape of a dream. We walked only as far as Urufara, a mile or two, and stopped there at the camp of a Scotsman who offered accommodation of board and lodging.

His sketchy hotel and outhouses were dilapidated, but they were in the most beautiful surrounding conceivable, a sheltered cove of the lagoon where the swaying palms dipped their boles in the ultramarine, and bulky banana plants and splendid breadfruit-trees formed a temple of shadow and coolth whence one might look straight up the lowering mountain-side to the ghostly domes, or across the radiant water to the white thread of reef.

We met McTavish, the host of the hotel, an aging planter, who kept his public house as an adjunct of his farm, and more for sociability than gain. He was in a depressed and angry mood, for one of his eyes was closed, and the other battered about the rim and beginning to turn black and blue.

He knew McHenry, for both had been in these seas half their lives.

“In all my sixty years,” he said, “I have not been assaulted quite so viciously. I asked him for what he owed me, and the next I knew he was shutting out the light with his fists. I will go to the gendarme for a contravention against that villain. And right now I will fix him in my book.”

“Why, who hit you, and what did you do?” asked McHenry.

“That damned Londoner, Hobson,” said McTavish. “He was my guest here several years ago, and ate and drank well for a month or two when he hadn’t a sou ‘marquis. I needed a little money today, and meeting him up the road, I demanded my account. He is thirty years younger than me, and I would have kept my eyes, but he leaped at me like a wild dog, and knocked me down and pounded me in the dirt”

I sympathized with McTavish, though McHenry snickered. The Scot went into an inner room and brought back a dirty book, a tattered register of his guests. He turned a number of pages—there were only a few guests to a twelvemonth—and, finding his assailant’s name, wrote in capital letters against it, “THIEF.”

“There,” he said with a magnificent gesture. “Let the whole world read and know the truth!”

He set out a bottle of rum and several glasses, and we toasted him while I looked over the register. Hardly any one had neglected to write beside his name tributes to the charm of the place and the kind heart of McTavish.

Charmian and Jack London’s signatures were there, with a hearty word for the host, and “This is the most beautiful spot in the universe,” for Moorea and Urufara.

There were scores of poems, one in Latin and many in French. Americans seem to have been contented to quote Kipling, the “Lotus Eaters,” or Omar, but Englishmen had written their own. English university men are generous poetasters. I have read their verses in inns and outhouses of many countries. Usually they season with a sprig from Horace or Vergil.

“I ‘m goin’ to the west’ard,” said McTavish. “There are too many low whites comin’ here. When Moorea had only sail from Tahiti, the blackguards did not come, but now the dirty gasolene boat brings them. I must be off to the west’ard, to Aitutaki or Penrhyn.”

Poor Mac! he never made his westward until he went west in soldier parlance.

McHenry, on our way back to Faatoai, said : “McTavish is a bloody fool. He gives credit to the bleedin’ beach-combers. If I meet that dirty Hobson, I ‘ll beat him to a pulp.”

From under the thatched roof of our bower came the sounds of ;

Faararirari to oe Tamarii Tahiti La Li.

The himene was in its hundredth encore. The other barrel of bottled beer had been securely locked against the needs of the morrow, and the bandsmen’s inspiration was only claret or sauterne, well watered.

We sat down for dinner. The dejeuner was repeated, and eggs added for variety. We had risen from breakfast four hours before, yet there was no lack of appetite. The drink appeared only to make their gastric juices flow freely. I hid my surfeit. The harmonies had by now drawn the girls and young women from other districts, word having been carried by natives passing in carts that a parcel of papaa (non-Tahitians) were faarearea (making merry) .

These new-comers had adorned themselves for the taupiti, the public fete, as they considered it, and as they came along the road had plucked ferns and flowers for wreaths. Without such sweet treasures upon them they have no festal spirit. There were a dozen of these Moorea girls and visitors from Tahiti, one or two from the Tiare Hotel, whose homes were perhaps on this island.

The dinner being finished, the bandsmen laid down their instruments and the girls were invited to drink. Tahitian females have no thirst for alcohol. They, as most of their men, prefer fruit juices or cool water except at times of feasting. They had no intoxicants when the whites came, not in all Polynesia. It was the humor of the explorers, the first adventurers, and all succeeding ones, to teach them to like alcohol, and to hold their liquor like Englishmen or Americans. Kings and queens, chiefs and chiefesses, priests and warriors, were sent ashore crapulous in many a jolly-boat, or paddled their own canoes, after areareas .on war-ships and merchantmen. Some learned to like liquor, and French saloons in Papeete and throughout Tahiti and Moorea encouraged the taste. Profits, as ever under the business rule of the world overweighed morals or health.

These girls in our bower drank sparingly of wine, but needed no artificial spirits to spur their own. Music runs Iike fire through their veins.

Iromea of the Tiare Hotel-perhaps some of Lovaina’s maidens knew our plans and came over on the packet—took the accordion from Kelly. She began to play, and two of the Moorea men joined her, one with a pair of tablespoons and the other with an empty gasolene-can. The holder of the spoons jingled them in perfect harmony with the accordion, and the can-operator tapped and thumped the tin, so that the three made a singular and tingling music. It had a timbre that got under one’s skin and pulsated one’s nerves, arousing dormant desires. I felt like leaping into the arena and showing them my mettle on alternate feet, but a Moorea beauty anticipated me.

She placed herself before the proud Llewellyn, half of her own blood, and began an upaupahura. She postured before him in an attitude of love, and commenced an improvisation in song about him. She praised his descent from his mother, his strength, his capacity for rum, and especially his power over women. He was own brother to the great ones of the Bible, Tolomoni and Nebutodontori, who had a thousand wives. He drew all women to him.

The dance was a gambol of passion. It was a free expression of uninhibited sex feeling. The Hawaiian hula, the nautch, and minstrelsy combined. So rapid was the movement, so fast the music, so strenuous the singing, and so actual the vision of the dancer, that she exhausted herself in a few minutes, and another took the turf.

A thousand years the Tahitians had had these upaupahuras. Their national ballads, the achievements of the warrior, the fisherman, the woodsman, the canoe-builder, and the artist, had been orally recorded and impressed in this manner in the conclaves of the Arioi. Dancing is for prose gesture what song is for the instinctive exclamation of feeling, and among primitive peoples they are usually separated; but those cultured Tahitians from time immemorial had these highly developed displays of both methods of manifesting acute sensations. The Kamchadales of the Arctic—curious the similarities of language and custom between these far Northerners and these far Southerners danced like these Tahitians, so that every muscle quivered at every moment.

The dancing in the bower was at intervals, as the desire moved the performers and bodily force allowed. The himene went on continuously, varying with the inspiration of the dancer or the whim of the accordion-player. They snatched this instrument from one another’s hands as the mood struck them, and among the natives, men and women alike had facility in its playing. Pepe of Papara, and Tehau of Papeari, their eyes flashing, their bosoms rising and falling tumultuously, and their voices and bodies alternating in their expressions of passion, were joined by Temanu of Lovaina’s, the oblique-eyed girl whom they called a half-Chinese, but whose ancestral tree, she said, showed no celestial branch. Temanu was tall, slender, serpent-like, her body flexuous and undulatory, responding to every quaver of the music. Her uncorseted figure, with only a thin silken gown upon it, wreathed harmoniously in tortile oscillations, her long, black hair flying about her flushed face, and her soul afire with her thoughts and simulations.

Now entered the bower Mamoe of Moorea, a big girl of eighteen, She was of the ancient chiefess type, as large as a man, perfectly modeled, a tawny Juno. Her hair was in two plaits, wound with red peppers, and on her head a crown of tuberoses. She wore a single garment, which outlined her figure, and her feet were bare. She surveyed the company, and her glance fell on Landers.

She began to dance. Her face, distinctly Semitic, as is not seldom the case in Polynesia, was fixed a little sternly at first ; but as she continued, it began to glow. She did not sing. Her dance was the upaupa, the national dance of Tahiti, the same movement generally as that of Temanu, but without voice and more skilled. One saw at once that she was the premiere danseuse of this isle, for all took their seats. Her rhythmical swaying and muscular movements were of a perfection unexcelled, and soon infected the bandsmen, now with all discipline unleashed. One sprang from the table and took his position before her. Together they danced, moving in unison, or the man answering the woman’s motions when her agitation lulled. The spectators were absorbed in the hula. They clapped hands and played, and when the first man wearied, another took his place.

Mamoe stopped, and drank a goblet of rum. Her eyes wandered toward our end of the table, and she came to us. She put her hand on Landers. The big trader, who was dressed in white linen, accepted the challenge. He pushed back the bench and stood up.

Landers in looks was out of a novel. If Henry Dixey, the handsome actor, whose legs made his fame before he might attest his head’s capacity, were expanded to the proportions of Muldoon, the wrestler, he might have been Landers. Apparently about thirty-three, really past forty, he was as big as the young “David” of the Buonarroti, of the most powerful and graceful physique, with curling brown hair, and almost perfect features; a giant of a man, as cool as an igloo, with a melodious Australasian voice pitched low, and a manner with men and women that was irresistible.

He faced Mamoe, and Temanu seized the accordion and broke into a mad upaupa. An arm’s-length from Mamoe Landers simulated every pulsation of her quaking body. He was an expert, it was plain, and his handsome face, generally calm and unexpressive, was aglow with excitement. Mamoe recognized her gyratory equal in this giant, and often their bodies met in the ecstasy of their curveting. Landers, towering above her, and bigger in bone and muscle than she in sheer flesh, was like a figure from a Saturnalia. The call of the isles was ringing in his ears, and one had only to glance at him to hear Pan among the reeds, to be back in the glades where fauns and nymphs were at play.

I saw Landers a care-free animal for the moment, rejoicing in his strength and skill, answering the appeal of sex in the dance. When he sat down the animal was still in him, but care again had clouded his brow. I think our early ancestors must have been much like Landers in this dance, strong, and merry for the time, seeking the woman in pleasures, fiery in movement for the nonce, and relapsing into stolidity. I can see why Landers, who takes what he will of womankind in these islands, still dominates in the trading, and bends most people his way. The animal way is the way here. The way of the city, of mere subtlety, of avoidance of issues, of intellectual control, is not the way of Polynesia. Bulk and sinew and no fear of God or man are the rules of the game south of the line, as “north of 53.”

With Landers dancing, so must the others. Hobson had dropped in, and he, David, McHenry, Schlyter, and Lying Bill, trod a measure, and I, though with only a Celtic urge and a couple of years in Hawaii to teach me, faced Temanu. The bandsmen could not remain still, and, with Kelly to play the accordion, the rout became general. McHenry did not molest Hob-son, who remained.

When we retired from the scene late at night, the upaupa was still active. W’e went to the house of Pai, a handsome native woman, whose half-caste husband was Mr. Fuller. There were only three beds in the house, which Landers, Lying Bill, and McHenry fell on before any one else could claim them. I contented myself with a mat on the veranda, and noticed that, be-sides the remainder of our party, Pai and her tane were also on that level.

At half past two in the morning we lay down. I could not sleep. From the bower the song and music rang out continuously, mingled with laughter and the sounds of shuffling feet.

I got up at five, and with a pareu about me, followed the stream until I found a delicious pool, where I bathed for an hour, while I read “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” The level land between the sea and the mountains was not more than a quarter mile broad, and the near hills rose rounded and dark green, with mysterious valleys folded in between them. All about were cocoa-nuts and bananas, their foliage wet with the rain that had fallen gently all night. The stream was edged with trees and ferns and was clear and rippling. At that early hour there was no sensation of chill for me, though the men of native blood balked at entering the water until the sun had warmed it. A Chinese vegetable-grower sat on the bank with his Chinese wife and cleaned heads of lettuce and bunches of carrots. She watched me apathetically, as if I were a little strange, but not interesting.

A dozen natives came by and by to bathe in the next pool. They observed me, and called to me, pleasantly, “la ora na!” which is the common greeting of the Tahitian, and is pronounced “yuranna.” The white is al-ways a matter of curiosity to the native. These simple people have not lost, though generations of whites have come and bred and died or gone, at least some of their original awe and enjoyment of their conquerors and rulers.

When we had coffee in the morning, our serious and distinguished native hosts stood while we ate and drank. We, guests in their own comfortable house, did not ask them to join us. Llewellyn, when I put the question, answered:

“No. I am both white and of too high native rank. You cannot afford to let the native become your social equal.”

McHenry said :

“You ‘re bloody well right. Keep him in his stall, and he ‘s all right; but out of it, ye ‘ll get no peace.”

So the gentle Pai and her husband—they are religious people, and went to the Faatoai church three times this Sunday—stood while we lolled at ease. Courtesy here seems a native trait, though even a little native blood improves on the white as far as politeness is concerned. En passant, the average white here is not of the leisure class, in which manners are an occupation; the native, on the other hand, is of a leisure class by heredity, and it is only when tainted by a desire to make money quickly or much of it that he loses his urbanity.

We had breakfasted in the bower at ten o’clock, with the band in attendance. Not one of the musicians had slept except Kelly, who said he had forty winks. When the pastors and their flocks of the various competing churches passed on their way to services, the band was keyed up in G, and was parading the streets, so that the faith of the Tahitians was severely tried. Even the ministers tarried a minute, and had to hold tightly their scriptures to control their legs, which itched to dance.

Aboard the Potii Moorea the bandsmen came sober, a revelation in recuperation. Again we passed the idyllic shores of Moorea, glimpsed the grove of Daphne and McTavish’s bungalow at Urufara, and saw the heights, the desolated castle, the marvels of light and shade upon the hills and valleys, left the silver circlet of the reef, and made the open sea.

The glory of the Diadem, a crown of mountain peaks, stood out above the mists that cover the mountains of Tahiti, and the green carpet of the hills fell from the clouds to the water’s-edge, as if held above by Antwus and pinned down by the cocoanut-trees.

At landing I discovered that the bandsmen had stolen away the sleeping Mamoe, and had carried her aboard the Potii Moorea, and deposited her in the hold. She emerged fresh from her nap, and apparently ready for an upaupa that night. We marched to the Cercle Bougainville to recall the incidents of the excursion over a comforting Dr. Funk.