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Chapter Twenty-two


CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

PREPARATIONS FOR A GRAND FESTIVAL IN THE VALLEY--STRANGE DOINGS
IN THE TABOO GROVES--MONUMENT OF CALABASHES--GALA COSTUME OF THE
TYPEE DAMSELS--DEPARTURE FOR THE FESTIVAL

FROM the time that my lameness had decreased I had made a daily
practice of visiting Mehevi at the Ti, who invariably gave me a
most cordial reception.  I was always accompanied in these
excursions by Fayaway and the ever-present Kory- Kory.  The
former, as soon as we reached the vicinity of the Ti--which was
rigorously tabooed to the whole female sex--withdrew to a
neighbouring hut, as if her feminine delicacy 'restricted' her
from approaching a habitation which might be regarded as a sort
of Bachelor's Hall.

And in good truth it might well have been so considered.  
Although it was the permanent residence of several distinguished
chiefs, and of the noble Mehevi in particular, it was still at
certain seasons the favourite haunt of all the jolly, talkative,
and elderly savages of the vale, who resorted thither in the same
way that similar characters frequent a tavern in civilized
countries.  There they would remain hour after hour, chatting,
smoking, eating poee-poee, or busily engaged in sleeping for the
good of their constitutions.

This building appeared to be the head-quarters of the valley,
where all flying rumours concentrated; and to have seen it filled
with a crowd of the natives, all males, conversing in animated
clusters, while multitudes were continually coming and going, one
would have thought it a kind of savage Exchange, where the rise
and fall of Polynesian Stock was discussed.

Mehevi acted as supreme lord over the place, spending the greater
portion of his time there: and often when, at particular hours of
the day, it was deserted by nearly every one else except the
verd-antique looking centenarians, who were fixtures in the
building, the chief himself was sure to be found enjoying his
'otium cum dignitate'--upon the luxurious mats which covered the
floor.  Whenever I made my appearance he invariably rose, and
like a gentleman doing the honours of his mansion, invited me to
repose myself wherever I pleased, and calling out 'tamaree!'
(boy), a little fellow would appear, and then retiring for an
instant, return with some savoury mess, from which the chief
would press me to regale myself.  To tell the truth, Mehevi was
indebted to the excellence of his viands for the honour of my
repeated visits--a matter which cannot appear singular, when it
is borne in mind that bachelors, all the world over, are famous
for serving up unexceptionable repasts.

One day, on drawing near to the Ti, I observed that extensive
preparations were going forward, plainly betokening some
approaching festival.  Some of the symptoms reminded me of the
stir produced among the scullions of a large hotel, where a grand
jubilee dinner is about to be given.  The natives were hurrying
about hither and thither, engaged in various duties, some lugging
off to the stream enormous hollow bamboos, for the purpose of
filling them with water; others chasing furious-looking hogs
through the bushes, in their endeavours to capture them; and
numbers employed in kneading great mountains of poee-poee heaped
up in huge wooden vessels.

After observing these lively indications for a while, I was
attracted to a neighbouring grove by a prodigious squeaking which
I heard there.  On reaching the spot I found it proceeded from a
large hog which a number of natives were forcibly holding to the
earth, while a muscular fellow, armed with a bludgeon, was
ineffectually aiming murderous blows at the skull of the
unfortunate porker.  Again and again he missed his writhing and
struggling victim, but though puffing and panting with his
exertions, he still continued them; and after striking a
sufficient number of blows to have demolished an entire drove of
oxen, with one crashing stroke he laid him dead at his feet.

Without letting any blood from the body, it was immediately
carried to a fire which had been kindled near at hand and four
savages taking hold of the carcass by its legs, passed it rapidly
to and fro in the flames.  In a moment the smell of burning
bristles betrayed the object of this procedure.  Having got thus
far in the matter, the body was removed to a little distance and,
being disembowelled, the entrails were laid aside as choice
parts, and the whole carcass thoroughly washed with water.  An
ample thick green cloth, composed of the long thick leaves of a
species of palm-tree, ingeniously tacked together with little
pins of bamboo, was now spread upon the ground, in which the body
being carefully rolled, it was borne to an oven previously
prepared to receive it.  Here it was at once laid upon the heated
stones at the bottom, and covered with thick layers of leaves,
the whole being quickly hidden from sight by a mound of earth
raised over it.

Such is the summary style in which the Typees convert
perverse-minded and rebellious hogs into the most docile and
amiable pork; a morsel of which placed on the tongue melts like a
soft smile from the lips of Beauty.

I commend then peculiar mode of proceeding to the consideration
of all butchers, cooks, and housewives.  The hapless porker whose
fate I have just rehearsed, was not the only one who suffered in
that memorable day.  Many a dismal grunt, many an imploring
squeak, proclaimed what was going on throughout the whole extent
of the valley; and I verily believe the first-born of every
litter perished before the setting of that fatal sun.

The scene around the Ti was now most animated.  Hogs and
poee-poee were baking in numerous ovens, which, heaped up with
fresh earth into slight elevations, looked like so many
ant-hills.  Scores of the savages were vigorously plying their
stone pestles in preparing masses of poee-poee, and numbers were
gathering green bread-fruit and young cocoanuts in the
surrounding groves; when an exceeding great multitude, with a
view of encouraging the rest in their labours, stood still, and
kept shouting most lustily without intermission.

It is a peculiarity among these people, that, when engaged in an
employment, they always make a prodigious fuss about it.  So
seldom do they ever exert themselves, that when they do work they
seem determined that so meritorious an action shall not escape
the observation of those around if, for example, they have
occasion to remove a stone to a little distance, which perhaps
might be carried by two able-bodied men, a whole swarm gather
about it, and, after a vast deal of palavering, lift it up among
them, every one struggling to get hold of it, and bear it off
yelling and panting as if accomplishing some mighty achievement.  
Seeing them on these occasions, one is reminded of an infinity of
black ants clustering about and dragging away to some hole the
leg of a deceased fly.

Having for some time attentively observed these demonstrations of
good cheer, I entered the Ti, where Mehevi sat complacently
looking out upon the busy scene, and occasionally issuing his
orders.  The chief appeared to be in an extraordinary flow of
spirits and gave me to understand that on the morrow there would
be grand doings in the Groves generally, and at the Ti in
particular; and urged me by no means to absent myself.  In
commemoration of what event, however, or in honour of what
distinguished personage, the feast was to be given, altogether
passed my comprehension.  Mehevi sought to enlighten my
ignorance, but he failed as signally as when he had endeavoured
to initiate me into the perplexing arcana of the taboo.

On leaving the Ti, Kory-Kory, who had as a matter of course
accompanied me, observing that my curiosity remained unabated,
resolved to make everything plain and satisfactory.  With this
intent, he escorted me through the Taboo Groves, pointing out to
my notice a variety of objects, and endeavoured to explain them
in such an indescribable jargon of words, that it almost put me
in bodily pain to listen to him.  In particular, he led me to a
remarkable pyramidical structure some three yards square at the
base, and perhaps ten feet in height, which had lately been
thrown up, and occupied a very conspicuous position.  It was
composed principally of large empty calabashes, with a few
polished cocoanut shells, and looked not unlike a cenotaph of
skulls.  My cicerone perceived the astonishment with which I
gazed at this monument of savage crockery, and immediately
addressed himself in the task of enlightening me: but all in
vain; and to this hour the nature of the monument remains a
complete mystery to me.  As, however, it formed so prominent a
feature in the approaching revels, I bestowed upon the latter, in
my own mind, the title of the 'Feast of Calabashes'.

The following morning, awaking rather late, I perceived the whole
of Marheyo's family busily engaged in preparing for the festival.

The old warrior himself was arranging in round balls the two grey
locks of hair that were suffered to grow from the crown of his
head; his earrings and spear, both well polished, lay beside him,
while the highly decorative pair of shoes hung suspended from a
projecting cane against the side of the house.  The young men
were similarly employed; and the fair damsels, including Fayaway,
were anointing themselves with 'aka', arranging their long
tresses, and performing other matters connected with the duties
of the toilet.

Having completed their preparations, the girls now exhibited
themselves in gala costume; the most conspicuous feature of which
was a necklace of beautiful white flowers, with the stems
removed, and strung closely together upon a single fibre of
tappa.  Corresponding ornaments were inserted in their ears, and
woven garlands upon their heads.  About their waist they wore a
short tunic of spotless white tappa, and some of them super-added
to this a mantle of the same material, tied in an elaborate bow
upon the left shoulder, and falling about the figure in
picturesque folds.

Thus arrayed, I would have matched the charming Fayaway against
any beauty in the world.

People may say what they will about the taste evinced by our
fashionable ladies in dress.  Their jewels, their feathers, their
silks, and their furbelows, would have sunk into utter
insignificance beside the exquisite simplicity of attire adopted
by the nymphs of the vale on this festive occasion.  I should
like to have seen a gallery of coronation beauties, at
Westminster Abbey, confronted for a moment by this band of island
girls; their stiffness, formality, and affectation, contrasted
with the artless vivacity and unconcealed natural graces of these
savage maidens.  It would be the Venus de' Medici placed beside a
milliner's doll.  It was not long before Kory-Kory and myself
were left alone in the house, the rest of its inmates having
departed for the Taboo Groves.  My valet was all impatience to
follow them; and was as fidgety about my dilatory movements as a
diner out waiting hat in hand at the bottom of the stairs for
some lagging companion.  At last, yielding to his importunities,
I set out for the Ti.  As we passed the houses peeping out from
the groves through which our route lay, I noticed that they were
entirely deserted by their inhabitants.

When we reached the rock that abruptly terminated the path, and
concealed from us the festive scene, wild shouts and a confused
blending of voices assured me that the occasion, whatever it
might be, had drawn together a great multitude.  Kory-Kory,
previous to mounting the elevation, paused for a moment, like a
dandy at a ball-room door, to put a hasty finish to his toilet.  
During this short interval, the thought struck me that I ought
myself perhaps to be taking some little pains with my appearance.

But as I had no holiday raiment, I was not a little puzzled to
devise some means of decorating myself.  However, as I felt
desirous to create a sensation, I determined to do all that lay
in my power; and knowing that I could not delight the savages
more than by conforming to their style of dress, I removed from
my person the large robe of tappa which I was accustomed to wear
over my shoulders whenever I sallied into the open air, and
remained merely girt about with a short tunic descending from my
waist to my knees.

My quick-witted attendant fully appreciated the compliment I was
paying to the costume of his race, and began more sedulously to
arrange the folds of the one only garment which remained to me.
Whilst he was doing this,I caught sight of a knot of young
lasses, who were sitting near us on the grass surrounded by heaps
of flowers which they were forming into garlands.  I motioned to
them to bring some of their handywork to me; and in an instant a
dozen wreaths were at my disposal.  One of them I put round the
apology for a hat which I had been forced to construct for myself
out of palmetto-leaves, and some of the others I converted into a
splendid girdle.  These operations finished, with the slow and
dignified step of a full-dressed beau I ascended the rock.  


Herman Melville