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Chapter 1

Maramma


We were now voyaging straight for Maramma; where lived and reigned, in
mystery, the High Pontiff of the adjoining isles: prince, priest, and
god, in his own proper person: great lord paramount over many kings in
Mardi; his hands full of scepters and crosiers.

Soon, rounding a lofty and insulated shore, the great central peak of
the island came in sight; domineering over the neighboring hills; the
same aspiring pinnacle, descried in drawing near the archipelago in
the Chamois.

"Tall Peak of Ofo!" cried Babbalanja, "how comes it that thy shadow so
broods over Mardi; flinging new shades upon spots already shaded by
the hill-sides; shade upon shade!"

"Yet, so it is," said Yoomy, sadly, "that where that shadow falls, gay
flowers refuse to spring; and men long dwelling therein become shady
of face and of soul. 'Hast thou come from out the shadows of Ofo?'
inquires the stranger, of one with a clouded brow."

"It was by this same peak," said Mohi, "that the nimble god Roo, a
great sinner above, came down from the skies, a very long time ago.
Three skips and a jump, and he landed on the plain. But alas, poor
Roo! though easy the descent, there was no climbing back."

"No wonder, then," said Babbalanja, "that the peak is inaccessible to
man. Though, with a strange infatuation, many still make pilgrimages
thereto; and wearily climb and climb, till slipping from the rocks,
they fall headlong backward, and oftentimes perish at its base."

"Ay," said Mohi, "in vain, on all sides of the Peak, various paths are
tried; in vain new ones are cut through the cliffs and the brambles:--
Ofo yet remains inaccessible."

"Nevertheless," said Babbalanja, "by some it is believed, that those,
who by dint of hard struggling climb so high as to become invisible
from the plain; that these have attained the summit; though others
much doubt, whether their be-coming invisible is not because of their
having fallen, and perished by the way."

"And wherefore," said Media, "do you mortals undertake the ascent at
all? why not be content on the plain? and even if attainable, what
would you do upon that lofty, clouded summit? Or how can you hope to
breathe that rarefied air, unfitted for your human lungs?"

"True, my lord," said Babbalanja; "and Bardianna asserts that the
plain alone was intended for man; who should be content to dwell under
the shade of its groves, though the roots thereof descend into the
darkness of the earth. But, my lord, you well know, that there are
those in Mardi, who secretly regard all stories connected with this
peak, as inventions of the people of Maramma. They deny that any thing
is to be gained by making a pilgrimage thereto. And for warranty, they
appeal to the sayings of the great prophet Alma."

Cried Mohi, "But Alma is also quoted by others, in vindication of the
pilgrimages to Ofo. They declare that the prophet himself was the
first pilgrim that thitherward journeyed: that from thence he departed
to the skies."

Now, excepting this same peak, Maramma is all rolling hill and dale,
like the sea after a storm; which then seems not to roll, but to stand
still, poising its mountains. Yet the landscape of Maramma has not the
merriness of meadows; partly because of the shadow of Ofo, and partly
because of the solemn groves in which the Morais and temples are
buried.

According to Mohi, not one solitary tree bearing fruit, not one
esculent root, grows in all the isle; the population wholly depending
upon the large tribute remitted from the neighboring shores.

"It is not that the soil is unproductive," said Mohi, "that these
things are so. It is extremely fertile; but the inhabitants say that
it would be wrong to make a Bread-fruit orchard of the holy island."

"And hence, my lord," said Babbalanja, "while others are charged with
the business of their temporal welfare, these Islanders take no thought
of the morrow; and broad Maramma lies one fertile waste in the lagoon."

Herman Melville