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Chapter Twenty-one


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

THE SPRING OF ARVA WAI--REMARKABLE MONUMENTAL REMAINS--SOME IDEAS
WITH REGARD TO THE HISTORY OF THE PI-PIS FOUND IN THE VALLEY

ALMOST every country has its medicinal springs famed for their
healing virtues.  The Cheltenham of Typee is embosomed in the
deepest solitude, and but seldom receives a visitor.  It is
situated remote from any dwelling, a little way up the mountain,
near the head of the valley; and you approach it by a pathway
shaded by the most beautiful foliage, and adorned with a thousand
fragrant plants.  The mineral waters of Arva Wai* ooze forth from
the crevices of a rock, and gliding down its mossy side, fall at
last, in many clustering drops, into a natural basin of stone
fringed round with grass and dewy-looking little violet-coloured
flowers, as fresh and beautiful as the perpetual moisture they
enjoy can make them.

*I presume this might be translated into 'Strong Waters'.  Arva
is the name bestowed upon a root the properties of which are both
inebriating and medicinal.  'Wai' is the Marquesan word for
water.

The water is held in high estimation by the islanders, some of
whom consider it an agreeable as well as a medicinal beverage;
they bring it from the mountain in their calabashes, and store it
away beneath heaps of leaves in some shady nook near the house.  
Old Marheyo had a great love for the waters of the spring.  Every
now and then he lugged off to the mountain a great round demijohn
of a calabash, and, panting with his exertions, brought it back
filled with his darling fluid.

The water tasted like a solution of a dozen disagreeable things,
and was sufficiently nauseous to have made the fortune of the
proprietor, had the spa been situated in the midst of any
civilized community.

As I am no chemist, I cannot give a scientific analysis of the
water.  All I know about the matter is, that one day Marheyo in
my presence poured out the last drop from his huge calabash, and
I observed at the bottom of the vessel a small quantity of
gravelly sediment very much resembling our common sand.  Whether
this is always found in the water, and gives it its peculiar
flavour and virtues, or whether its presence was merely
incidental, I was not able to ascertain.

One day in returning from this spring by a circuitous path, I
came upon a scene which reminded me of Stonehenge and the
architectural labours of the Druids.

At the base of one of the mountains, and surrounded on all sides
by dense groves, a series of vast terraces of stone rises, step
by step, for a considerable distance up the hill side.  These
terraces cannot be less than one hundred yards in length and
twenty in width.  Their magnitude, however, is less striking than
the immense size of the blocks composing them.  Some of the
stones, of an oblong shape, are from ten to fifteen feet in
length, and five or six feet thick.  Their sides are quite
smooth, but though square, and of pretty regular formation, they
bear no mark of the chisel.  They are laid together without
cement, and here and there show gaps between.  The topmost
terrace and the lower one are somewhat peculiar in their
construction.  They have both a quadrangular depression in the
centre, leaving the rest of the terrace elevated several feet
above it.  In the intervals of the stones immense trees have
taken root, and their broad boughs stretching far over, and
interlacing together, support a canopy almost impenetrable to the
sun.  Overgrowing the greater part of them, and climbing from one
to another, is a wilderness of vines, in whose sinewy embrace
many of the stones lie half-hidden, while in some places a thick
growth of bushes entirely covers them.  There is a wild pathway
which obliquely crosses two of these terraces; and so profound is
the shade, so dense the vegetation, that a stranger to the place
might pass along it without being aware of their existence.

These structures bear every indication of a very high antiquity
and Kory-Kory, who was my authority in all matters of scientific
research, gave me to understand that they were coeval with the
creation of the world; that the great gods themselves were the
builders; and that they would endure until time shall be no more.

Kory-Kory's prompt explanation and his attributing the work to a
divine origin, at once convinced me that neither he nor the rest
of his country-men knew anything about them.

As I gazed upon this monument, doubtless the work of an extinct
and forgotten race, thus buried in the green nook of an island at
the ends of the earth, the existence of which was yesterday
unknown, a stronger feeling of awe came over me than if I had
stood musing at the mighty base of the Pyramid of Cheops.  There
are no inscriptions, no sculpture, no clue, by which to
conjecture its history; nothing but the dumb stones.  How many
generations of the majestic trees which overshadow them have
grown and flourished and decayed since first they were erected!

These remains naturally suggest many interesting reflections.  
They establish the great age of the island, an opinion which the
builders of theories concerning, the creation of the various
groups in the South Seas are not always inclined to admit.  For
my own part, I think it just as probable that human beings were
living in the valleys of the Marquesas three thousand years ago
as that they were inhabiting the land of Egypt.  The origin of
the island of Nukuheva cannot be imputed to the coral insect; for
indefatigable as that wonderful creature is, it would be hardly
muscular enough to pile rocks one upon the other more than three
thousand feet above the level of the sea.  That the land may have
been thrown up by a submarine volcano is as possible as anything
else.  No one can make an affidavit to the contrary, and
therefore I still say nothing against the supposition: indeed,
were geologists to assert that the whole continent of America had
in like manner been formed by the simultaneous explosion of a
train of Etnas laid under the water all the way from the North
Pole to the parallel of Cape Horn, I am the last man in the world
to contradict them.

I have already mentioned that the dwellings of the islanders were
almost invariably built upon massive stone foundations, which
they call pi-pis.  The dimensions of these, however, as well as
of the stones composing them, are comparatively small: but there
are other and larger erections of a similar description
comprising the 'morais', or burying grounds, and festival-places,
in nearly all the valleys of the island.  Some of these piles are
so extensive, and so great a degree of labour and skill must have
been requisite in constructing them, that I can scarcely believe
they were built by the ancestors of the present inhabitants.  If
indeed they were, the race has sadly deteriorated in their
knowledge of the mechanic arts.  To say nothing of their habitual
indolence, by what contrivance within the reach of so simple a
people could such enormous masses have been moved or fixed in
their places?  and how could they with their rude implements have
chiselled and hammered them into shape?

All of these larger pi-pis--like that of the Hoolah Hoolah ground
in the Typee valley--bore incontestible marks of great age; and I
am disposed to believe that their erection may be ascribed to the
same race of men who were the builders of the still more ancient
remains I have just described.

According to Kory-Kory's account, the pi-pi upon which stands the
Hoolah Hoolah ground was built a great many moons ago, under the
direction of Monoo, a great chief and warrior, and, as it would
appear, master-mason among the Typees.  It was erected for the
express purpose to which it is at present devoted, in the
incredibly short period of one sun; and was dedicated to the
immortal wooden idols by a grand festival, which lasted ten days
and nights.

Among the smaller pi-pis, upon which stand the dwelling-houses of
the natives, I never observed any which intimated a recent
erection.  There are in every part of the valley a great many of
these massive stone foundations which have no houses upon them.  
This is vastly convenient, for whenever an enterprising islander
chooses to emigrate a few hundred yards from the place where he
was born, all he has to do in order to establish himself in some
new locality, is to select one of.  the many unappropriated
pi-pis, and without further ceremony pitch his bamboo tent upon
it.


Herman Melville