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Chapter 7

They Visit The Lake Of Yammo


From the Morai, we bent our steps toward an unoccupied arbor; and
here, refreshing ourselves with the viands presented by Borabolla, we
passed the night. And next morning proceeded to voyage round to the
opposite quarter of the island; where, in the sacred lake of Yammo,
stood the famous temple of Oro, also the great gallery of the inferior
deities.

The lake was but a portion of the smooth lagoon, made separate by an
arm of wooded reef, extending from the high western shore of the
island, and curving round toward a promontory, leaving a narrow
channel to the sea, almost invisible, however, from the land-locked
interior.

In this lake were many islets, all green with groves. Its main-shore
was a steep acclivity, with jutting points, each crowned with mossy
old altars of stone, or ruinous temples, darkly reflected in the
green, glassy water; while, from its long line of stately trees, the
low reef-side of the lake looked one verdant bluff.

Gliding in upon Yammo, its many islets greeted us like a little Mardi;
but ever and anon we started at long lines of phantoms in the water,
reflections of the long line of images on the shore.

Toward the islet of Dolzono we first directed our way; and there we
beheld the great gallery of the gods; a mighty temple, resting on one
hundred tall pillars of palm, each based, below the surface, on the
buried body of a man; its nave one vista of idols; names carved on
their foreheads: Ogre, Tripoo, Indrimarvoki, Parzillo, Vivivi,
Jojijojorora, Jorkraki, and innumerable others.

Crowds of attendants were new-grouping the images.

"My lord, you behold one of their principal occupations," said Mohi.

Said Media: "I have heard much of the famed image of Mujo, the Nursing
Mother;--can you point it out, Braid-Beard?"

"My lord, when last here, I saw Mujo at the head of this file; but
they must have removed it; I see it not now."

"Do these attendants, then," said Babbalanja, "so continually new-
marshal the idols, that visiting the gallery to-day, you are at a loss
to-morrow?"

"Even so," said Braid-Beard. "But behold, my lord, this image is Mujo."

We stood before an obelisk-idol, so towering, that gazing at it, we
were fain to throw back our heads. According to Mohi, winding stairs
led up through its legs; its abdomen a cellar, thick-stored with
gourds of old wine; its head, a hollow dome; in rude alto-relievo, its
scores of hillock-breasts were carved over with legions of baby
deities, frog-like sprawling; while, within, were secreted whole
litters of infant idols, there placed, to imbibe divinity from the
knots of the wood.

As we stood, a strange subterranean sound was heard, mingled with a
gurgling as of wine being poured. Looking up, we beheld, through
arrow-slits and port-holes, three masks, cross-legged seated in the
abdomen, and holding stout wassail. But instantly upon descrying us,
they vanished deeper into the interior; and presently was heard a
sepulchral chant, and many groans and grievous tribulations.

Passing on, we came to an image, with a long anaconda-like posterior
development, wound round and round its own neck.

"This must be Oloo, the god of Suicides," said Babbalanja.

"Yes," said Mohi, "you perceive, my lord, how he lays violent tail
upon himself."

At length, the attendants having, in due order, new-deposed the long
lines of sphinxes and griffins, and many limbed images, a band of
them, in long flowing robes, began their morning chant.

"Awake Rarni! awake Foloona!
Awake unnumbered deities!"

With many similar invocations, to which the images made not the
slightest rejoinder. Not discouraged, however, the attendants now
separately proceeded to offer up petitions on behalf of various
tribes, retaining them for that purpose.

One prayed for abundance of rain, that the yams of Valapee might not
wilt in the ground; another for dry sunshine, as most favorable for
the present state of the Bread-fruit crop in Mondoldo.

Hearing all this, Babbalanja thus spoke:--"Doubtless, my lord Media,
besides these petitions we hear, there are ten thousand contradictory
prayers ascending to these idols. But methinks the gods will not jar
the eternal progression of things, by any hints from below; even were
it possible to satisfy conflicting desires."

Said Yoomy, "But I would pray, nevertheless, Babbalanja; for prayer
draws us near to our own souls, and purifies our thoughts. Nor will I
grant that our supplications are altogether in vain."

Still wandering among the images, Mohi had much to say, concerning
their respective claims to the reverence of the devout.

For though, in one way or other, all Mardians bowed to the supremacy
of Oro, they were not so unanimous concerning the inferior deities;
those supposed to be intermediately concerned in sublunary things.
Some nations sacrificed to one god; some to another; each maintaining,
that their own god was the most potential.

Observing that all the images were more or less defaced, Babbalanja
sought the reason.

To which, Braid-Beard made answer, that they had been thus defaced by
hostile devotees; who quarreling in the great gallery of the gods, and
getting beside themselves with rage, often sought to pull down, and
demolish each other's favorite idols.

"But behold," cried Babbalanja, "there seems not a single image
unmutilated. How is this, old man?"

"It is thus. While one faction defaces the images of its adversaries,
its own images are in like manner assailed; whence it comes that no
idol escapes."

"No more, no more, Braid-Beard," said Media. "Let us depart, and visit
the islet, where the god of all these gods is enshrined."


Herman Melville