Immagini della pagina

however, it was fortunate that we had found an early shelter. The unusually mild trade-wind increased to a gale. There was much distress among the native craft that happened to be at sea, and three out of four canoes that I saw approaching, laden with fish and dried bananas, from a windward group of islands, were driven into the breakers and swamped among the reefs before my eyes. Their fragments were shattered upon the sharp coral; and the billows thundered remorselessly over the wreck, surging up like wreaths of white flame upon the altar of Neptune.

From our front doors I could watch the disaster, as these canoes and their crew of natives, who belonged to a distant island, capsized, one after another, in the tumbling surf. The natives struggled with all their savage address and strength, and the more powerful survivors, fighting their way through the billows, reached the shore; while many, in spite of their efforts, were whirled under water by the combing of the surf, beaten against the coral reef, and killed. I now saw, for the first time, the dark side of the Fiji character. No effort was made to rescue the shipwrecked men; the natives looked upon the exciting spectacle with the same apathy with which brute animals see each other slain. It surprised me equally to see that the survivors, fifteen in number, having made their way to a small islet, which the natives called "Fan Rock," from the peculiar shape of the single tufted palm-tree that it bore, made no signals of any sort to the mainland, and did not even seek rest or shelter during the continuance of the storm. On the contrary, no sooner had they escaped from the dangers of shipwreck, than they seemed to be ill at ease upon the shore. They evidently dreaded some unseen danger more than the storm; for they began, with the greatest celerity, to construct a raft upon which to make their escape. Aided by my father's spyglass, I could see them collecting fragments of drift-wood and wreck, and endeavoring to build a rude catamaran; but they were hard put to it for cord

age with which to bind the planks together. They peeled the bark from some of the fresher drift-wood that the storm had cast upon the beach, and made from it a rough rope, which, however, proved too short for their purpose, and they seemed to look despairingly at their work. But at this moment the mast and sail of a shipwrecked canoe were driven by the storm upon the sand, within a stone's throw of the unfinished raft. Seizing this jetsam eagerly, they found enough cordage upon it to serve their purpose; they hoisted the rescued spar, unfurled a small portion of the sail, and, launching boldly forth upon the angry water, the shipwrecked natives were soon scudding away to leeward before the storm, the water breaking every moment quite over their perilous craft.

I was lost in surprise when I saw these savages thus commit themselves anew to the danger they had just escaped. Why were they not content to remain upon their little island until the tempest should abate?

I strolled out toward the bure, or Fijian house of worship, hoping to learn from a company of natives I saw assembling there something about the strange acts that I had observed. As I entered the shadow of the damanu trees that surrounded it, I overtook the chiefpriest of the island. He was a man of powerful stature and forbidding physiognomy; his face was painted in geometrical patches of different and vivid colors, and his abundant black hair was dressed with the utmost care-frizzed and plaited so as to resemble an enormous wig, and powdered with scarlet and orange powder. The Fijian barbers have incredible ingenuity and skill; and I knew, from this display of their art upon the person of their priest highest in rank, that some important rite was about to take place. I had not long to wait for the satisfaction of my curiosity.

The priest beckoned me to follow him. "Come with me, son of the white man," he said; "I will show you what bakolo (victims designed for baking) the great

god Ndengei has sent to us this day." And he proceeded at a measured pace toward the neighboring temple.

As he spoke, a wild drum-beat rolled out from the glade-a strange, barbaric tattoo. I had never heard such a sound before, and it alarmed me even before I knew its import, as if it expressed its own dark meaning. But a sense of dread or danger heightens, when it is not too acute, in temperaments like mine, the feeling of pleasurable excitement. I promptly followed the grim savage as he strode into the shadow; the branches of the great dilo and damanu trees creaked and groaned in the gust, and the palm-branches seemed to make weird and deterrent gesticulations. I was glad to reach the open space again; but a sight met my eyes which I can never forget as long as I live-the sight of the pursuit of blood.

We had now approached the seaside upon the lee of the island, keeping pace with the course of the catamaran that I had just seen launched by the shipwrecked natives; and that craft had now gained the stiller water. But, as it rounded the point behind which lay the quiet lagoon, I saw two powerful war-canoes put off in hostile pursuit of the catamaran. It was a chase at hopeless odds. The shipwrecked crew, now drifting not more than the third of a mile from the shore, made the most desperate exertions to gain the open sea again, hoping that the war-canoe would not follow them beyond the stiller water; but a powerful tide drew them shoreward. The pursuers gave the most frightful howls, and smote the sides of the canoe in time with the flat of their paddles as they took them from the water, making the whole hull, sixty or seventy feet long, resound like an enormous wooden drum. I never heard a sound so appalling and so powerful; it could be heard for miles, even against the wind; and the fugitives seemed to recognize in it the knell of their cruel doom. Seeing the war-canoes rapidly gaining upon them, they abandoned the last hope; they threw away the pieces of rough plank which they had used

[ocr errors]

for paddles, and set up a dismal minor chant, which, the wind now lulling suddenly, I could distinctly hear.

The natives on shore, who were gathered together to the number of about three hundred, intently watching this ferocious chase, set up wild yells of delight when they heard this death-song.

I turned to a warrior of somewhat more affable appearance than the rest, and asked him, in Fijian :

"Are these strangers enemies, that our warriors pursue them so?"

"No," he answered; "but it is the custom of Fiji to eat all nganga poho (shipwrecked men). And the men of Lakemba are hungry to-day, for the ulu (bread-fruit) crop is poor."

The wild excitement of the savages possessed me. I was to see a cannibal orgy! This, then, was the reason why the shipwrecked men had made such desperate efforts to escape.

As I spoke with the savage, the warcanoe overtook the helpless company upon the raft. With the wildest yells the warriors leaped upon it, and instantly clubbed its wretched crew, taking care, however, to kill none of them outright, but stunning them with a blow upon the head, or maiming them with their carved war-clubs. The warriors transferred their victims, fifteen in number, to their own canoe, and turned its prow toward the shore, singing a wild and discordant song of triumph as they


A young girl named Waimata, the daughter of the chief-priest of Lakemba, seeing that my face alone, among the savage company, showed any pity for these wretched victims, came running to me with tears in her eyes. "Minamina maori au i tela nganga!" ("I have great sorrow for these men!") she said. She threw her arm around me, as if craving sympathy. I returned the embrace fervently; for, among these terrible scenes, it seemed as if hers was the only real human heart remaining in the world.

She was one of the few really handsome girls, judged by a high standard, that I have seen in the South Sea

[ocr errors]

Islands. She had been an attached and faithful friend of mine from the first day of my arrival from Tonga, when I was strongly impressed with her appearance. She was of lighter complexion than the other savages, and might possibly have in her veins the blood of some early Portuguese explorer or Spanish buccaneer-the first discoverer of this group of islands. Her features were full and ripe; her long and waving hair, though fine, was intensely black; but her eyes were of a soft olive tint, and were her most charming feature. Now gentle and languishing, now full of a lambent fire, now pleading, now passionate, they were the very incarnation of the tropics; bloom, and perfume, and warmth, and color, the mystic melodies of wild birds, and the refulgence of the southern stars, all seemed to be intimated in the wonderful expressions of this wild maiden's eyes. From them she derived her name. "Waimata" signifies, in the Fijian dialect, "a tear."

I had felt, indeed, a romantic love for this young girl from that first day upon which I saw her. She was present at our disembarkation upon her native shore, and had watched me as we landed, turning her soft shy glances upon mine as she bade me welcome to Lakemba. Since that time we had met almost daily, and tenderness had grown up between us; but she was of a more timid nature than the other native girls, and, in spite of her tropical blood, less easily to be won. Besides, she was the daughter of the chief-priest, and was consequently watched, as are all the high-born girls in this savage aristocracy, with jealous eyes. She was reserved from ordinary lovers, and was to be given in marriage to a chief of high station, upon his return from the distant island of Mbau. She was now, as I supposed, about fifteen years old; but she had the development and the charm which come, in colder climates, only with maturer years.

It was not difficult for me to see that she felt for me something of that delicious passion which blooms perfectly

under the palm-trees alone, and which the astrologers of the tropics believe to be inspired by the soft fire of the antarctic constellations.

But this was no time for sentiment. As we watched and listened, the howlings of the natives filled the air. The war-canoes rapidly regained the shore. The victims, still moaning and writhing, were dragged from the raised platform of the canoes, and thrown ashore by men who seized them by the hands and feet, and, swinging them violently to and fro to gain momentum, tossed them upon the sand-beach with as little concern as they would show in handling the carcasses of hógs or sheep. Several of the captives lay where they fell, apparently quite stunned by the blows they had received; others raised themselves upon their hands and knees, and entreated for mercy; and one stalwart and muscular savage, apparently a chief-for he had received no injury, and still retained his mantle of birds' feathers and necklace of polished sharks' teeth-rose to his feet, and attempted to plunge again into the sea, as if hoping to escape by diving. But the Lakemban warriors seized him, and were about to beat him upon the head with a jagged fragment of obsidian, a variety of volcanic rock much used in the manufacture of weapons.

Suddenly, however, a herald stepped forward among the assassins, and cried:

"Evoti oe! Mate-mate te Tahuna i te poo!" ("Stop! The high-priest wishes the skull of the chieftain for a drinking-vessel!")

Instantly the chief was respited, but only for a more cruel fate. Throwing him upon the ground, the natives tied his hands and feet together. Securing all the other victims in the same manner, they fastened the stems of wild vines around their wrists; four natives then seized each vine-stem, and set off at the top of their speed for the umu nganga (place of ovens), yelling wildly as they ran, and dragging their wretched prisoners head-foremost over the broken ground. The larger part of the assembled natives followed this fright

[blocks in formation]

"Let us go to the bure" (temple).

"I will lead you thither," said Waimata; and, stepping out from the shade of the palm-trees, we ran a short distance, overtaking the savages, who were dragging the still living victims.

The news of the shipwreck had already spread to the nearer hamlets, and the natives were flocking by hundreds to the scene of excitement.

As each party of natives reached the thatched temple, or bure, where the cannibal orgies were to occur, they dashed violently against a particular rock the head of the victim, often already senseless, whom they were dragging. This rock, deeply stained with the blood of many a previous festival, was looked upon with as much veneration as the caaba of the Mohammedans. It stood at the eastward corner of the bure; for the east is the "sacred quarter" of the heavens in Fiji. Those of the victims who had survived were reserved for the torture.

"Come, son of the white man," spoke up a dozen voices to me, as I appeared in the open space before the temple, and see how we do when Matani, the god of storms, sends us a banquet."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]

to me, by saying that her countrymen believed the strength and the martial spirit of the victim to be transmitted to the man who ate him. She pointed me to a large theoua tree standing near. Its ancient bark was covered with deep and regular incisions, scored off by tens, in the manner of a supercargo's tally; for the Fijians, like civilized men, count by the number of their fingers.

"That is the record of the great warrior Kalono," she said; "one mark for each man he has eaten during his life. So many marks, so many men. They are kini" (infinite).

I counted the tallics. They were more than ninety in number! If this record were to be trusted-and I afterward satisfied myself that it was not exaggerated-this rapacious warrior had eaten, during a long and warlike lifetime, nearly a thousand men! The natives of the island now looked upon him as quite invincible-as being, in fact, in himself equivalent to a regiment of men, since his personal prowess was augmented by that of all of his victims.

"He thinks that, if you will do as Kalono did, you will become so strong that nobody can harm you," continued Waimata. "And the women are seldom allowed to eat of men, lest they should become as strong as their masters."

But I thought that I discovered a more sinister meaning in her father's words than her interpretation conveyed.

Meanwhile, the preparations for the savage revel were actively making. Large pits had been dug in the ground; near them, fires of viri-viri, and other light woods, were already burning fiercely; and in them, as they blazed, the natives placed numerous stones varying in size from that of the fist to a man's head.

While these were heating, other natives addressed themselves to the task of preparing their victims for the oven. I tremble as I recall what then I saw for the first time.

[blocks in formation]

"had been very good to them in shipwrecking so many men at this particular time." For it was a year of scanty crops, and many of the savages, assembled for this feast, had gone actually hungry for weeks-a rare occurrence, however, in fruitful Fiji, where the natural bounty of the earth suffices for the maintenance of its idle inhabitants.

I could now understand the rapacity with which these savages seized upon their victims, their eagerness to slay and to devour them. But their fondness for torturing them-whence did this proceed? It was evidently not malignant; there was no grudge between the captors and their prey. The men whose bodies were now lying around in ghastly dismemberment, whose blood crimsoned the rocks, the grass, and stained the garments of spectators who were waiting to feed upon their flesh, would have been received, had they landed without injury from the storm, with the utmost kindness.

The same blind sentiment which, I am told, occasionally leads ignorant sailors, upon the seacoasts of the Eastern United States, to grudge "lending a hand," in case of disaster, to their fellow-fishermen, appeared in its fullest development among the island savages.

The New England fisher thinks it unlucky to interfere to save from death an individual whom Providence is evidently endeavoring to drown. But if this duty be urged upon him by his skipper, he will render a reluctant assistance, growling, and apparently expecting to be drowned, some day, in retribution for thus tampering with the Fates.

The savage, on the contrary, gives full play to his superstition. He carries the same feeling to its logical extreme, and finds it unlucky, in such a case, not merely to rescue, but even to spare, the man who is marked of the Fates. Hence the sacrifice of the shipwrecked.

Logical savage! A religious custom bases itself upon this sentiment. When the gods are about to destroy, man should aid them in their work. And

the victims are uniformly devoted to the banquet.

I think the savage priest more than half believed what he said. The Fijian honestly regards the man who is about to die as already dead. He often buries parents, relatives, dearest friends, in the latter stages of severe illness, before the last breath has passed away; sometimes while the survivor is still quite conscious, and able to speak distinctly. Strangely enough, the victims of these barbarities do not complain that their fate is premature, but accept it with the best of grace.

There is, indeed, a strange nearness to the brute-animal in the savage of the South Seas. These shipwrecked captives did not seem to regard their tortures so much an outrage, as a matter of accident and fate; and this captivity, mutilation, and cruel death, was precisely what they would have inflicted had the conditions been reversed, and they had been the captors instead of the captives. Even the sufferings of the wretched victims hardly seemed distinctively human; their groans and cries were recalled to me more vividly in later years by those of the wounded chargers which I saw upon the battle-field of Custozza, than by any expression of pain which I have ever heard from man.

The torturing was done, the last wretched captive slain; but the savages still danced and shouted wildly, their eyes flashing and their nostrils dilating at the terrible sight of blood; yet it seemed an excitement of the animal instincts even more than of the mind. They appeared hardly less intelligent and voluntary in thus attacking their fellows who were in calamity, than the stags of the Orinoco seem when they turn upon and trample the wounded bull. I seemed to be watching the orgies of beings not far remote from an animal ancestry, wild and savage as the boar or the eagle.

Yet this spectacle actually brought me into a certain sympathy with it. The sight of the deliberate killing of a human being is doubly brutalizing when accompanied by circumstances so atrocious as those I have described;

« IndietroContinua »