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Chapter Fifteen


CHAPTER FIFTEEN

KINDNESS OF MARHEYO AND THE REST OF THE ISLANDERS--A FULL
DESCRIPTION OF THE BREAD- FRUIT TREE--DIFFERENT MODES OF
PREPARING THE FRUIT

ALL the inhabitants of the valley treated me with great kindness;
but as to the household of Marheyo, with whom I was now
permanently domiciled, nothing could surpass their efforts to
minister to my comfort.  To the gratification of my palate they
paid the most unwearied attention.  They continually invited me
to partake of food, and when after eating heartily I declined the
viands they continued to offer me, they seemed to think that my
appetite stood in need of some piquant stimulant to excite its
activity.

In pursuance of this idea, old Marheyo himself would hie him away
to the sea-shore by the break of day, for the purpose of
collecting various species of rare sea-weed; some of which among
these people are considered a great luxury.  After a whole day
spent in this employment, he would return about nightfall with
several cocoanut shells filled with different descriptions of
kelp.  In preparing these for use he manifested all the
ostentation of a professed cook, although the chief mystery of
the affair appeared to consist in pouring water in judicious
quantities upon the slimy contents of his cocoanut shells.

The first time he submitted one of these saline salads to my
critical attention I naturally thought that anything collected at
such pains must possess peculiar merits; but one mouthful was a
complete dose; and great was the consternation of the old warrior
at the rapidity with which I ejected his Epicurean treat.

How true it is, that the rarity of any particular article
enhances its value amazingly.  In some part of the valley--I know
not where, but probably in the neighbourhood of the sea--the
girls were sometimes in the habit of procuring small quantities
of salt, a thimble-full or so being the result of the united
labours of a party of five or six employed for the greater part
of the day.  This precious commodity they brought to the house,
enveloped in multitudinous folds of leaves; and as a special mark
of the esteem in which they held me, would spread an immense leaf
on the ground, and dropping one by one a few minute particles of
the salt upon it, invite me to taste them.

From the extravagant value placed upon the article, I verily
believe, that with a bushel of common Liverpool salt all the real
estate in Typee might have been purchased.  With a small pinch of
it in one hand, and a quarter section of a bread-fruit in the
other, the greatest chief in the valley would have laughed at all
luxuries of a Parisian table.

The celebrity of the bread-fruit tree, and the conspicuous place
it occupies in a Typee bill of fare, induces me to give at some
length a general description of the tree, and the various modes
in which the fruit is prepared.

The bread-fruit tree, in its glorious prime, is a grand and
towering object, forming the same feature in a Marquesan
landscape that the patriarchal elm does in New England scenery.  
The latter tree it not a little resembles in height, in the wide
spread of its stalwart branches, and in its venerable and
imposing aspect.

The leaves of the bread-fruit are of great size, and their edges
are cut and scolloped as fantastically as those of a lady's lace
collar.  As they annually tend towards decay, they almost rival
in brilliant variety of their gradually changing hues the
fleeting shades of the expiring dolphin.  The autumnal tints of
our American forests, glorious as they are, sink into nothing in
comparison with this tree.

The leaf, in one particular stage, when nearly all the prismatic
colours are blended on its surface, is often converted by the
natives into a superb and striking bead-dress.  The principal
fibre traversing its length being split open a convenient
distance, and the elastic sides of the aperture pressed apart,
the head is inserted between them, the leaf drooping on one side,
with its forward half turned jauntily up on the brows, and the
remaining part spreading laterally behind the ears.

The fruit somewhat resembles in magnitude and general appearance
one of our citron melons of ordinary size; but, unlike the
citron, it has no sectional lines drawn along the outside.  Its
surface is dotted all over with little conical prominences,
looking not unlike the knobs, on an antiquated church door.  The
rind is perhaps an eighth of an inch in thickness; and denuded of
this at the time when it is in the greatest perfection, the fruit
presents a beautiful globe of white pulp, the whole of which may
be eaten, with the exception of a slender core, which is easily
removed.

The bread-fruit, however, is never used, and is indeed altogether
unfit to be eaten, until submitted in one form or other to the
action of fire.

The most simple manner in which this operation is performed, and
I think, the best, consists in placing any number of the freshly
plucked fruit, when in a particular state of greenness, among the
embers of a fire, in the same way that you would roast a potato.  
After the lapse of ten or fifteen minutes, the green rind
embrowns and.  cracks, showing through the fissures in its sides
the milk-white interior.  As soon as it cools the rind drops off,
and you then have the soft round pulp in its purest and most
delicious state.  Thus eaten, it has a mild and pleasing flavour.

Sometimes after having been roasted in the fire, the natives
snatch it briskly from the embers, and permitting it to slip out
of the yielding rind into a vessel of cold water, stir up the
mixture, which they call 'bo-a-sho'.  I never could endure this
compound, and indeed the preparation is not greatly in vogue
among the more polite Typees.

There is one form, however, in which the fruit is occasionally
served, that renders it a dish fit for a king.  As soon as it is
taken from the fire the exterior is removed, the core extracted,
and the remaining part is placed in a sort of shallow stone
mortar, and briskly worked with a pestle of the same substance.  
While one person is performing this operation, another takes a
ripe cocoanut, and breaking it in halves, which they also do very
cleverly, proceeds to grate the juicy meat into fine particles.  
This is done by means of a piece of mother-of-pearl shell, lashed
firmly to the extreme end of a heavy stick, with its straight
side accurately notched like a saw.  The stick is sometimes a
grotesquely-formed limb of a tree, with three or four branches
twisting from its body like so many shapeless legs, and
sustaining it two or three feet from the ground.

The native, first placing a calabash beneath the nose, as it
were, of his curious-looking log-steed, for the purpose of
receiving the grated fragments as they fall, mounts astride of it
as if it were a hobby-horse, and twirling the inside of his
hemispheres of cocoanut around the sharp teeth of the
mother-of-pearl shell, the pure white meat falls in snowy showers
into the receptacle provided.  Having obtained a quantity for his
purpose, he places it in a bag made of the net-like fibrous
substance attached to all cocoanut trees, and compressing it over
the bread-fruit, which being now sufficiently pounded, is put
into a wooden bowl--extracts a thick creamy milk.  The delicious
liquid soon bubbles round the fruit, and leaves it at last just
peeping above its surface.

This preparation is called 'kokoo', and a most luscious
preparation it is.  The hobby-horse and the pestle and mortar
were in great requisition during the time I remained in the house
of Marheyo, and Kory-Kory had frequent occasion to show his skill
in their use.

But the great staple articles of food into which the bread-fruit
is converted by these natives are known respectively by the names
of Amar and Poee-Poee.

At a certain season of the year, when the fruit of the hundred
groves of the valley has reached its maturity, and hangs in
golden spheres from every branch, the islanders assemble in
harvest groups, and garner in the abundance which surrounds them.

The trees are stripped of their nodding burdens, which, easily
freed from the rind and core, are gathered together in capacious
wooden vessels, where the pulpy fruit is soon worked by a stone
pestle, vigorously applied, into a blended mass of a doughy
consistency, called by the natives 'Tutao'.  This is then divided
into separate parcels, which, after being made up into stout
packages, enveloped in successive folds of leaves, and bound
round with thongs of bark, are stored away in large receptacles
hollowed in the earth, from whence they are drawn as occasion may
require.  In this condition the Tutao sometimes remains for
years, and even is thought to improve by age.  Before it is fit
to be eaten, however, it has to undergo an additional process.  A
primitive oven is scooped in the ground, and its bottom being
loosely covered with stones, a large fire is kindled within it.  
As soon as the requisite degree of heat is attained, the embers
are removed, and the surface of the stones being covered with
thick layers of leaves, one of the large packages of Tutao is
deposited upon them and overspread with another layer of leaves.  
The whole is then quickly heaped up with earth, and forms a
sloping mound.

The Tutao thus baked is called 'Amar'; the action of the oven
having converted it into an amber-coloured caky substance, a
little tart, but not at all disagreeable to the taste.

By another and final process the 'Amar' is changed into
'Poee-Poee'.  This transition is rapidly effected.  The Amar is
placed in a vessel, and mixed with water until it gains a proper
pudding-like consistency, when, without further preparation, t is
in readiness for use.  This is the form in which the 'Tutao' is
generally consumed.  The singular mode of eating it I have
already described.

Were it not that the bread-fruit is thus capable of being
preserved for a length of time, the natives might be reduced to a
state of starvation; for owing to some unknown cause the trees
sometimes fail to bear fruit; and on such occasions the islanders
chiefly depend upon the supplies they have been enabled to store
away.

This stately tree, which is rarely met with upon the Sandwich
Islands, and then only of a very inferior quality, and at Tahiti
does not abound to a degree that renders its fruit the principal
article of food, attains its greatest excellence in the genial
climate of the Marquesan group, where it grows to an enormous
magnitude, and flourishes in the utmost abundance.


Herman Melville