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Chapter Twenty-three


CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

THE FEAST OF CALABASHES

THE whole population of the valley seemed to be gathered within
the precincts of the grove.  In the distance could be seen the
long front of the Ti, its immense piazza swarming with men,
arrayed in every variety of fantastic costume, and all
vociferating with animated gestures; while the whole interval
between it and the place where I stood was enlivened by groups of
females fancifully decorated, dancing, capering, and uttering
wild exclamations.  As soon as they descried me they set up a
shout of welcome; and a band of them came dancing towards me,
chanting as they approached some wild recitative.  The change in
my garb seemed to transport them with delight, and clustering
about me on all sides, they accompanied me towards the Ti.  When
however we drew near it these joyous nymphs paused in their
career, and parting on either side, permitted me to pass on to
the now densely thronged building.

So soon as I mounted to the pi-pi I saw at a glance that the
revels were fairly under way.

What lavish plenty reigned around?--Warwick feasting his
retainers with beef and ale, was a niggard to the noble
Mehevi!--All along the piazza of the Ti were arranged elaborately
carved canoe-shaped vessels, some twenty feet in length, tied
with newly made poee-poee, and sheltered from the sun by the
broad leaves of the banana.  At intervals were heaps of green
bread-fruit, raised in pyramidical stacks, resembling the regular
piles of heavy shot to be seen in the yard of an arsenal.  
Inserted into the interstices of the huge stones which formed the
pi-pi were large boughs of trees; hanging from the branches of
which, and screened from the sun by their foliage, were
innumerable little packages with leafy coverings, containing the
meat of the numerous hogs which had been slain, done up in this
manner to make it more accessible to the crowd.  Leaning against
the railing on the piazza were an immense number of long, heavy
bamboos, plugged at the lower end, and with their projecting
muzzles stuffed with a wad of leaves.  These were filled with
water from the stream, and each of them might hold from four to
five gallons.

The banquet being thus spread, naught remained but for everyone
to help himself at his pleasure.  Accordingly not a moment passed
but the transplanted boughs I have mentioned were rifled by the
throng of the fruit they certainly had never borne before.  
Calabashes of poee-poee were continually being replenished from
the extensive receptacle in which that article was stored, and
multitudes of little fires were kindled about the Ti for the
purpose of roasting the bread-fruit.

Within the building itself was presented a most extraordinary
scene.  The immense lounge of mats lying between the parallel
rows of the trunks of cocoanut trees, and extending the entire
length of the house, at least two hundred feet, was covered by
the reclining forms of a host of chiefs and warriors who were
eating at a great rate, or soothing the cares of Polynesian life
in the sedative fumes of tobacco.  The smoke was inhaled from
large pipes, the bowls of which, made out of small cocoanut
shells, were curiously carved in strange heathenish devices.
These were passed from mouth to mouth by the recumbent smokers,
each of whom, taking two or three prodigious whiffs, handed the
pipe to his neighbour; sometimes for that purpose stretching
indolently across the body of some dozing individual whose
exertions at the dinner-table had already induced sleep.

The tobacco used among the Typees was of a very mild and pleasing
flavour, and as I always saw it in leaves, and the natives
appeared pretty well supplied with it, I was led to believe that
it must have been the growth of the valley.  Indeed Kory-Kory
gave me to understand that this was the case; but I never saw a
single plant growing on the island.  At Nukuheva, and, I believe,
in all the other valleys, the weed is very scarce, being only
obtained in small quantities from foreigners, and smoking is
consequently with the inhabitants of these places a very great
luxury.  How it was that the Typees were so well furnished with
it I cannot divine.  I should think them too indolent to devote
any attention to its culture; and, indeed, as far as my
observation extended, not a single atom of the soil was under any
other cultivation than that of shower and sunshine.  The
tobacco-plant, however, like the sugar-cane, may grow wild in
some remote part of the vale.

There were many in the Ti for whom the tobacco did not furnish a
sufficient stimulus, and who accordingly had recourse to 'arva',
as a more powerful agent in producing the desired effect.

'Arva' is a root very generally dispersed over the South Seas,
and from it is extracted a juice, the effects of which upon the
system are at first stimulating in a moderate degree; but it soon
relaxes the muscles, and exerting a narcotic influence produces a
luxurious sleep.  In the valley this beverage was universally
prepared in the following way:--Some half-dozen young boys seated
themselves in a circle around an empty wooden vessel, each one of
them being supplied with a certain quantity of the roots of the
'arva', broken into small bits and laid by his side.  A cocoanut
goblet of water was passed around the juvenile company, who
rinsing their mouths with its contents, proceeded to the business
before them.  This merely consisted in thoroughly masticating the
'arva', and throwing it mouthful after mouthful into the
receptacle provided.  When a sufficient quantity had been thus
obtained water was poured upon the mass, and being stirred about
with the forefinger of the right hand, the preparation was soon
in readiness for use.  The 'arva' has medicinal qualities.

Upon the Sandwich Islands it has been employed with no small
success in the treatment of scrofulous affections, and in
combating the ravages of a disease for whose frightful inroads
the ill-starred inhabitants of that group are indebted to their
foreign benefactors.  But the tenants of the Typee valley, as yet
exempt from these inflictions, generally employ the 'arva' as a
minister to social enjoyment, and a calabash of the liquid
circulates among them as the bottle with us.

Mehevi, who was greatly delighted with the change in my costume,
gave me a cordial welcome.  He had reserved for me a most
delectable mess of 'cokoo', well knowing my partiality for that
dish; and had likewise selected three or four young cocoanuts,
several roasted bread-fruit, and a magnificent bunch of bananas,
for my especial comfort and gratification.  These various matters
were at once placed before me; but Kory-Kory deemed the banquet
entirely insufficient for my wants until he had supplied me with
one of the leafy packages of pork, which, notwithstanding the
somewhat hasty manner in which it had been prepared, possessed a
most excellent flavour, and was surprisingly sweet and tender.

Pork is not a staple article of food among the people of the
Marquesas; consequently they pay little attention to the BREEDING
of the swine.  The hogs are permitted to roam at large on the
groves, where they obtain no small part of their nourishment from
the cocoanuts which continually fall from the trees.  But it is
only after infinite labour and difficulty, that the hungry animal
can pierce the husk and shell so as to get at the meat.  I have
frequently been amused at seeing one of them, after crunching the
obstinate nut with his teeth for a long time unsuccessfully, get
into a violent passion with it.  He would then root furiously
under the cocoanut, and, with a fling of his snout, toss it
before him on the ground.  Following it up, he would crunch at it
again savagely for a moment, and then next knock it on one side,
pausing immediately after, as if wondering how it could so
suddenly have disappeared.  In this way the persecuted cocoanuts
were often chased half across the valley.

The second day of the Feast of Calabashes was ushered in by still
more uproarious noises than the first.  The skins of innumerable
sheep seemed to be resounding to the blows of an army of
drummers.  Startled from my slumbers by the din, I leaped up, and
found the whole household engaged in making preparations for
immediate departure.  Curious to discover of what strange events
these novel sounds might be the precursors, and not a little
desirous to catch a sight of the instruments which produced the
terrific noise, I accompanied the natives as soon as they were in
readiness to depart for the Taboo Groves.

The comparatively open space that extended from the Ti toward the
rock, to which I have before alluded as forming the ascent to the
place, was, with the building itself, now altogether deserted by
the men; the whole distance being filled by bands of females,
shouting and dancing under the influence of some strange
excitement.

I was amused at the appearance of four or five old women who, in
a state of utter nudity, with their arms extended flatly down
their sides, and holding themselves perfectly erect, were leaping
stiffly into the air, like so many sticks bobbing to the surface,
after being pressed perpendicularly into the water.  They
preserved the utmost gravity of countenance, and continued their
extraordinary movements without a single moment's cessation.  
They did not appear to attract the observation of the crowd
around them, but I must candidly confess that for my, own part, I
stared at them most pertinaciously.

Desirous of being enlightened in regard to the meaning of this
peculiar diversion, I turned, inquiringly to Kory-Kory; that
learned Typee immediately proceeded to explain the whole matter
thoroughly.  But all that I could comprehend from what he said
was, that the leaping figures before me were bereaved widows,
whose partners had been slain in battle many moons previously;
and who, at every festival, gave public evidence in this manner
of their calamities.  It was evident that Kory-Kory considered
this an all-sufficient reason for so indecorous a custom; but I
must say that it did not satisfy me as to its propriety.

Leaving these afflicted females, we passed on to the Hoolah
Hoolah ground.  Within the spacious quadrangle, the whole
population of the valley seemed to be assembled, and the sight
presented was truly remarkable.  Beneath the sheds of bamboo
which opened towards the interior of the square reclined the
principal chiefs and warriors, while a miscellaneous throng lay
at their ease under the enormous trees which spread a majestic
canopy overhead.  Upon the terraces of the gigantic altars, at
each end, were deposited green bread-fruit in baskets of cocoanut
leaves, large rolls of tappa, bunches of ripe bananas, clusters
of mammee-apples, the golden-hued fruit of the artu-tree, and
baked hogs, laid out in large wooden trenchers, fancifully
decorated with freshly plucked leaves, whilst a variety of rude
implements of war were piled in confused heaps before the ranks
of hideous idols.  Fruits of various; kinds were likewise
suspended in leafen baskets, from the tops of poles planted
uprightly, and at regular intervals, along the lower terraces of
both altars.  At their base were arranged two parallel rows of
cumbersome drums, standing at least fifteen feet in height, and
formed from the hollow trunks of large trees.  Their heads were
covered with shark skins, and their barrels were elaborately
carved with various quaint figures and devices.  At regular
intervals they were bound round by a species of sinnate of
various colours, and strips of native cloth flattened upon them
here and there.  Behind these instruments were built slight
platforms, upon which stood a number of young men who, beating
violently with the palms of their hands upon the drum-heads,
produced those outrageous sounds which had awakened me in the
morning.  Every few minutes these musical performers hopped down
from their elevation into the crowd below, and their places were
immediately supplied by fresh recruits.  Thus an incessant din
was kept up that might have startled Pandemonium.

Precisely in the middle of the quadrangle were placed
perpendicularly in the ground, a hundred or more slender,
fresh-cut poles, stripped of their bark, and decorated at the end
with a floating pennon of white tappa; the whole being fenced
about with a little picket of canes.  For what purpose these
angular ornaments were intended I in vain endeavoured to
discover.

Another most striking feature of the performance was exhibited by
a score of old men, who sat cross-legged in the little pulpits,
which encircled the trunks of the immense trees growing in the
middle of the enclosure.  These venerable gentlemen, who I
presume were the priests, kept up an uninterrupted monotonous
chant, which was partly drowned in the roar of drums.  In the
right hand they held a finely woven grass fan, with a heavy black
wooden handle curiously chased: these fans they kept in continual
motion.

But no attention whatever seemed to be paid to the drummers or to
the old priests; the individuals who composed the vast crowd
present being entirely taken up in chanting and laughing with one
another, smoking, drinking 'arva', and eating.  For all the
observation it attracted, or the good it achieved, the whole
savage orchestra might with great advantage to its own members
and the company in general, have ceased the prodigious uproar
they were making.

In vain I questioned Kory-Kory and others of the natives, as to
the meaning of the strange things that were going on; all their
explanations were conveyed in such a mass of outlandish gibberish
and gesticulation that I gave up the attempt in despair.  All
that day the drums resounded, the priests chanted, and the
multitude feasted and roared till sunset, when the throng
dispersed, and the Taboo Groves were again abandoned to quiet and
repose.  The next day the same scene was repeated until night,
when this singular festival terminated.


Herman Melville