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Chapter 4

Hivohitee MDCCCXLVIII


Now, those doleful woodlands passed, straightway converse was renewed,
and much discourse took place, concerning Hivohitee, Pontiff of the
isle.

For, during our first friendly conversation with Pani, Media had
inquired for Hivohitee, and sought to know in what part of the island
he abode.

Whereto Pani had replied, that the Pontiff would be invisible for
several days to come; being engaged with particular company.

And upon further inquiry, as to who were the personages monopolizing
his hospitalities, Media was dumb when informed, that they were no
other than certain incorporeal deities from above, passing the
Capricorn Solstice at Maramma.

As on we journeyed, much curiosity being expressed to know more of the
Pontiff and his guests, old Mohi, familiar with these things, was
commanded to enlighten the company. He complied; and his recital was
not a little significant, of the occasional credulity of chroniclers.

According to his statement, the deities entertained by Hivohitee
belonged to the third class of immortals. These, however, were far
elevated above the corporeal demi-gods of Mardi. Indeed, in
Hivohitee's eyes, the greatest demi-gods were as gourds. Little
wonder, then, that their superiors were accounted the most genteel
characters on his visiting list.

These immortals were wonderfully fastidious and dainty as to the
atmosphere they breathed; inhaling no sublunary air, but that of the
elevated interior; where the Pontiff had a rural lodge, for the
special accommodation of impalpable guests; who were entertained at
very small cost; dinners being unnecessary, and dormitories
superfluous.

But Hivohitee permitted not the presence of these celestial grandees,
to interfere with his own solid comfort. Passing his mornings in
highly intensified chat, he thrice reclined at his ease; partaking of
a fine plantain-pudding, and pouring out from a calabash of celestial
old wine; meanwhile, carrying on the flow of soul with his guests. And
truly, the sight of their entertainer thus enjoying himself in the
flesh, while they themselves starved on the ether, must have been
exceedingly provoking to these aristocratic and aerial strangers.

It was reported, furthermore, that Hivohitee, one of the haughtiest of
Pontiffs, purposely treated his angelical guests thus cavalierly; in
order to convince them, that though a denizen of earth; a sublunarian;
and in respect of heaven, a mere provincial; he (Hivohitee) accounted
himself full as good as seraphim from the capital; and that too at the
Capricorn Solstice, or any other time of the year. Strongly bent was
Hivohitee upon humbling their supercilious pretensions.

Besides, was he not accounted a great god in the land? supreme? having
power of life and death? essaying the deposition of kings? and
dwelling in moody state, all by himself, in the goodliest island of
Mardi? Though here, be it said, that his assumptions of temporal
supremacy were but seldom made good by express interference with the
secular concerns of the neighboring monarchs; who, by force of arms,
were too apt to argue against his claims to authority; however, in
theory, they bowed to it. And now, for the genealogy of Hivohitee; for
eighteen hundred and forty-seven Hivohitees were alleged to have gone
before him. He came in a right line from the divine Hivohitee I.: the
original grantee of the empire of men's souls and the first swayer of
a crosier. The present Pontiff's descent was unquestionable; his
dignity having been transmitted through none but heirs male; the whole
procession of High Priests being the fruit of successive marriages
between uterine brother and sister. A conjunction deemed incestuous in
some lands; but, here, held the only fit channel for the pure
transmission of elevated rank.

Added to the hereditary appellation, Hivohitee, which simply denoted
the sacerdotal station of the Pontiffs, and was but seldom employed in
current discourse, they were individualized by a distinctive name,
bestowed upon them at birth. And the degree of consideration in which
they were held, may be inferred from the fact, that during the
lifetime of a Pontiff, the leading sound in his name was banned to
ordinary uses. Whence, at every new accession to the archiepiscopal
throne, it came to pass, that multitudes of words and phrases were
either essentially modified, or wholly dropped. Wherefore, the
language of Maramma was incessantly fluctuating; and had become so
full of jargonings, that the birds in the groves were greatly puzzled;
not knowing where lay the virtue of sounds, so incoherent.

And, in a good measure, this held true of all tongues spoken
throughout the Archipelago; the birds marveling at mankind, and
mankind at the birds; wondering how they could continually sing; when,
for all man knew to the contrary, it was impossible they could be
holding intelligent discourse. And thus, though for thousands of
years, men and birds had been dwelling together in Mardi, they
remained wholly ignorant of each other's secrets; the Islander
regarding the fowl as a senseless songster, forever in the clouds; and
the fowl him, as a screeching crane, destitute of pinions and lofty
aspirations.

Over and above numerous other miraculous powers imputed to the
Pontiffs as spiritual potentates, there was ascribed to them one
special privilege of a secular nature: that of healing with a touch
the bites of the ravenous sharks, swarming throughout the lagoon. With
these they were supposed to be upon the most friendly terms; according
to popular accounts, sociably bathing with them in the sea; permitting
them to rub their noses against their priestly thighs; playfully
mouthing their hands, with all their tiers of teeth.

At the ordination of a Pontiff, the ceremony was not deemed complete,
until embarking in his barge, he was saluted High Priest by three
sharks drawing near; with teeth turned up, swimming beside his canoe.

These monsters were deified in Maramma; had altars there; it was
deemed worse than homicide to kill one. "And what if they destroy
human life?" say the Islanders, "are they not sacred?"

Now many more wonderful things were related touching Hivohitee; and
though one could not but doubt the validity of many prerogatives
ascribed to him, it was nevertheless hard to do otherwise, than
entertain for the Pontiff that sort of profound consideration, which
all render to those who indisputably possess the power of quenching
human life with a wish.

Herman Melville