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Chapter Nineteen


CHAPTER NINETEEN

REFLECTIONS AFTER MARNOO'S DEPARTURE-BATTLE OF THE
POP-GUNS--STRANGE CONCEIT OF MARHEYO--PROCESS OF MAKING TAPPA

THE knowledge I had now obtained as to the intention of the
savages deeply affected me.

Marnoo, I perceived, was a man who, by reason of his superior
acquirements, and the knowledge he possessed of the events which
were taking place in the different bays of the island, was held
in no little estimation by the inhabitants of the valley.  He had
been received with the most cordial welcome and respect.  The
natives had hung upon the accents of his voice, and, had
manifested the highest gratification at being individually
noticed by him.  And yet despite all this, a few words urged in
my behalf, with the intent of obtaining my release from
captivity, had sufficed not only to banish all harmony and
good-will; but, if I could believe what he told me, had gone on
to endanger his own personal safety.

How strongly rooted, then, must be the determination of the
Typees with regard to me, and how suddenly could they display the
strangest passions!  The mere suggestion of my departure had
estranged from me, for the time at least, Mehevi, who was the
most influential of all the chiefs, and who had previously
exhibited so many instances of his; friendly sentiments.  The
rest of the natives had likewise evinced their strong repugnance
to my wishes, and even Kory-Kory himself seemed to share in the
general disapprobation bestowed upon me.

In vain I racked my invention to find out some motive for them,
but I could discover none.

But however this might be, the scene which had just occurred
admonished me of the danger of trifling with the wayward and
passionate spirits against whom it was vain to struggle, and
might even be fatal to do go.  My only hope was to induce the
natives to believe that I was reconciled to my detention in the
valley, and by assuming a tranquil and cheerful demeanour, to
allay the suspicions which I had so unfortunately aroused.  Their
confidence revived, they might in a short time remit in some
degree their watchfulness over my movements, and I should then be
the better enabled to avail myself of any opportunity which
presented itself for escape.  I determined, therefore, to make
the best of a bad bargain, and to bear up manfully against
whatever might betide.  In this endeavour, I succeeded beyond my
own expectations.  At the period of Marnoo's visit, I had been in
the valley, as nearly as I could conjecture, some two months.
Although not completely recovered from my strange illness, which
still lingered about me, I was free from pain and able to take
exercise.  In short, I had every reason to anticipate a perfect
recovery.  Freed from apprehension on this point, and resolved to
regard the future without flinching, I flung myself anew into all
the social pleasures of the valley, and sought to bury all
regrets, and all remembrances of my previous existence in the
wild enjoyments it afforded.

In my various wanderings through the vale, and as I became better
acquainted with the character of its inhabitants, I was more and
more struck with the light-hearted joyousness that everywhere
prevailed.  The minds of these simple savages, unoccupied by
matters of graver moment, were capable of deriving the utmost
delight from circumstances which would have passed unnoticed in
more intelligent communities.  All their enjoyment, indeed,
seemed to be made up of the little trifling incidents of the
passing hour; but these diminutive items swelled altogether to an
amount of happiness seldom experienced by more enlightened
individuals, whose pleasures are drawn from more elevated but
rarer sources.

What community, for instance, of refined and intellectual mortals
would derive the least satisfaction from shooting pop-guns?  The
mere supposition of such a thing being possible would excite
their indignation, and yet the whole population of Typee did
little else for ten days but occupy themselves with that childish
amusement, fairly screaming, too, with the delight it afforded
them.

One day I was frolicking with a little spirited urchin, some six
years old, who chased me with a piece of bamboo about three feet
long, with which he occasionally belaboured me.  Seizing the
stick from him, the idea happened to suggest itself, that I might
make for the youngster, out of the slender tube, one of those
nursery muskets with which I had sometimes seen children playing.

Accordingly, with my knife I made two parallel slits in the cane
several inches in length, and cutting loose at one end the
elastic strip between them, bent it back and slipped the point
into a little notch made for the purse.  Any small substance
placed against this would be projected with considerable force
through the tube, by merely springing the bent strip out of the
notch.

Had I possessed the remotest idea of the sensation this piece of
ordnance was destined to produce, I should certainly have taken
out a patent for the invention.  The boy scampered away with it,
half delirious with ecstasy, and in twenty minutes afterwards I
might have been seen surrounded by a noisy crowd--venerable old
graybeards--responsible fathers of families--valiant
warriors--matrons--young men--girls and children, all holding in
their hands bits of bamboo, and each clamouring to be served
first.

For three or four hours I was engaged in manufacturing pop-guns,
but at last made over my good-will and interest in the concern to
a lad of remarkably quick parts, whom I soon initiated into the
art and mystery.

Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop, now resounded all over the valley.  Duels,
skirmishes, pitched battles, and general engagements were to be
seen on every side.  Here, as you walked along a path which led
through a thicket, you fell into a cunningly laid ambush, and
became a target for a body of musketeers whose tattooed limbs you
could just see peeping into view through the foliage.  There you
were assailed by the intrepid garrison of a house, who levelled
their bamboo rifles at you from between the upright canes which
composed its sides.  Farther on you were fired upon by a
detachment of sharpshooters, mounted upon the top of a pi-pi.

Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop!  green guavas, seeds, and berries were flying
about in every direction, and during this dangerous state of
affairs I was half afraid that, like the man and his brazen bull,
I should fall a victim to my own ingenuity.  Like everything
else, however, the excitement gradually wore away, though ever
after occasionally pop-guns might be heard at all hours of the
day.

It was towards the close of the pop-gun war, that I was
infinitely diverted with a strange freak of Marheyo's.

I had worn, when I quitted the ship, a pair of thick pumps,
which, from the rough usage they had received in scaling
precipices and sliding down gorges, were so dilapidated as to be
altogether unfit for use--so, at least, would have thought the
generality of people, and so they most certainly were, when
considered in the light of shoes.  But things unservicable in one
way, may with advantage be applied in another, that is, if one
have genius enough for the purpose.  This genius Marheyo
possessed in a superlative degree, as he abundantly evinced by
the use to which he put those sorely bruised and battered old
shoes.

Every article, however trivial, which belonged to me, the natives
appeared to regard as sacred; and I observed that for several
days after becoming an inmate of the house, my pumps were
suffered to remain, untouched, where I had first happened to
throw them.  I remembered, however, that after awhile I had
missed them from their accustomed place; but the matter gave me
no concern, supposing that Tinor--like any other tidy housewife,
having come across them in some of her domestic occupations--had
pitched the useless things out of the house.  But I was soon
undeceived.

One day I observed old Marheyo bustling about me with unusual
activity, and to such a degree as almost to supersede Kory-Kory
in the functions of his office.  One moment he volunteered to
trot off with me on his back to the stream; and when I refused,
noways daunted by the repulse, he continued to frisk about me
like a superannuated house-dog.  I could not for the life of me
conjecture what possessed the old gentleman, until all at once,
availing himself of the temporary absence of the household, he
went through a variety of of uncouth gestures, pointing eagerly
down to my feet, then up to a little bundle, which swung from the
ridge pole overhead.  At last I caught a faint idea of his
meaning, and motioned him to lower the package.  He executed the
order in the twinkling of an eye, and unrolling a piece of tappa,
displayed to my astonished gaze the identical pumps which I
thought had been destroyed long before.

I immediately comprehended his desire, and very generously gave
him the shoes, which had become quite mouldy, wondering for what
earthly purpose he could want them.  The same afternoon I
descried the venerable warrior approaching the house, with a
slow, stately gait, ear-rings in ears, and spear in hand, with
this highly ornamental pair of shoes suspended from his neck by a
strip of bark, and swinging backwards and forwards on his
capacious chest.  In the gala costume of the tasteful Marheyo,
these calf-skin pendants ever after formed the most striking
feature.

But to turn to something a little more important.  Although the
whole existence of the inhabitants of the valley seemed to pass
away exempt from toil, yet there were some light employments
which, although amusing rather than laborious as occupations,
contributed to their comfort and luxury.  Among these the most
important was the manufacture of the native cloth,--'tappa',--so
well known, under various modifications, throughout the whole
Polynesian Archipelago.  As is generally understood, this useful
and sometimes elegant article is fabricated from the bark of
different trees.  But, as I believe that no description of its
manufacture has ever been given, I shall state what I know
regarding it.

In the manufacture of the beautiful white tappa generally worn on
the Marquesan Islands, the preliminary operation consists in
gathering a certain quantity of the young branches of the
cloth-tree.  The exterior green bark being pulled off as
worthless, there remains a slender fibrous substance, which is
carefully stripped from the stick, to which it closely adheres.  
When a sufficient quantity of it has been collected, the various
strips are enveloped in a covering of large leaves, which the
natives use precisely as we do wrapping-paper, and which are
secured by a few turns of a line passed round them.  The package
is then laid in the bed of some running stream, with a heavy
stone placed over it, to prevent its being swept away.  After it
has remained for two or three days in this state, it is drawn
out, and exposed, for a short time, to the action of the air,
every distinct piece being attentively inspected, with a view of
ascertaining whether it has yet been sufficiently affected by the
operation.  This is repeated again and again, until the desired
result is obtained.

When the substance is in a proper state for the next process, it
betrays evidences of incipient decomposition; the fibres are
relaxed and softened, and rendered perfectly malleable.  The
different strips are now extended, one by one, in successive
layers, upon some smooth surface--generally the prostrate trunk
of a cocoanut tree--and the heap thus formed is subjected, at
every new increase, to a moderate beating, with a sort of wooden
mallet, leisurely applied.  The mallet is made of a hard heavy
wood resembling ebony, is about twelve inches in length, and
perhaps two in breadth, with a rounded handle at one end, and in
shape is the exact counterpart of one of our four-sided
razor-strops.  The flat surfaces of the implement are marked with
shallow parallel indentations, varying in depth on the different
sides, so as to be adapted to the several stages of the
operation.  These marks produce the corduroy sort of stripes
discernible in the tappa in its finished state.  After being
beaten in the manner I have described, the material soon becomes
blended in one mass, which, moistened occasionally with water, is
at intervals hammered out, by a kind of gold-beating process, to
any degree of thinness required.  In this way the cloth is easily
made to vary in strength and thickness, so as to suit the
numerous purposes to which it is applied.

When the operation last described has been concluded, the
new-made tappa is spread out on the grass to bleach and dry, and
soon becomes of a dazzling whiteness.  Sometimes, in the first
stages of the manufacture, the substance is impregnated with a
vegetable juice, which gives it a permanent colour.  A rich brown
and a bright yellow are occasionally seen, but the simple taste
of the Typee people inclines them to prefer the natural tint.

The notable wife of Kamehameha, the renowned conqueror and king
of the Sandwich Islands, used to pride herself in the skill she
displayed in dyeing her tappa with contrasting colours disposed
in regular figures; and, in the midst of the innovations of the
times, was regarded, towards the decline of her life, as a lady
of the old school, clinging as she did to the national cloth, in
preference to the frippery of the European calicoes.  But the art
of printing the tappa is unknown upon the Marquesan Islands.  In
passing along the valley, I was often attracted by the noise of
the mallet, which, when employed in the manufacture of the cloth
produces at every stroke of its hard, heavy wood, a clear,
ringing, and musical sound, capable of being heard at a great
distance.  When several of these implements happen to be in
operation at the same time, near one another, the effect upon the
ear of a person, at a little distance, is really charming.


Herman Melville