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Chapter Twenty-four


CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

IDEAS SUGGESTED BY THE FEAST OF CALABASHES--INACCURACY OF CERTAIN
PUBLISHED ACCOUNTS OF THE ISLANDS--A REASON--NEGLECTED STATE OF
HEATHENISM IN THE VALLEY--EFFIGY OF A DEAD WARRIOR--A SINGULAR
SUPERSTITION--THE PRIEST KOLORY AND THE GOD MOA ARTUA--AMAZING
RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE--A DILAPIDATED SHRINE--KORY-KORY AND THE
IDOL--AN INFERENCE

ALTHOUGH I had been baffled in my attempts to learn the origin of
the Feast of Calabashes, yet it seemed very plain to me that it
was principally, if not wholly, of a religious character.  As a
religious solemnity, however, it had not at all corresponded with
the horrible descriptions of Polynesian worship which we have
received in some published narratives, and especially in those
accounts of the evangelized islands with which the missionaries
have favoured us.  Did not the sacred character of these persons
render the purity of their intentions unquestionable, I should
certainly be led to suppose that they had exaggerated the evils
of Paganism, in order to enhance the merit of their own
disinterested labours.

In a certain work incidentally treating of the 'Washington, or
Northern Marquesas Islands,' I have seen the frequent immolation
of human victims upon the altars of their gods, positively and
repeatedly charged upon the inhabitants.  The same work gives
also a rather minute account of their religion--enumerates a
great many of their superstitions--and makes known the particular
designations of numerous orders of the priesthood.  One would
almost imagine from the long list that is given of cannibal
primates, bishops, arch-deacons, prebendaries, and other inferior
ecclesiastics, that the sacerdotal order far outnumbered the rest
of the population, and that the poor natives were more severely
priest-ridden than even the inhabitants of the papal states.  
These accounts are likewise calculated to leave upon the reader's
mind an impression that human victims are daily cooked and served
up upon the altars; that heathenish cruelties of every
description are continually practised; and that these ignorant
Pagans are in a state of the extremest wretchedness in
consequence of the grossness of their superstitions.  Be it
observed, however, that all this information is given by a man
who, according to his own statement, was only at one of the
islands, and remained there but two weeks, sleeping every night
on board his ship, and taking little kid-glove excursions ashore
in the daytime, attended by an armed party.

Now, all I can say is, that in all my excursions through the
valley of Typee, I never saw any of these alleged enormities.  If
any of them are practised upon the Marquesas Islands they must
certainly have come to my knowledge while living for months with
a tribe of savages, wholly unchanged from their original
primitive condition, and reputed the most ferocious in the South
Seas.

The fact is, that there is a vast deal of unintentional
humbuggery in some of the accounts we have from scientific men
concerning the religious institutions of Polynesia.  These
learned tourists generally obtain the greater part of their
information from retired old South-Sea rovers, who have
domesticated themselves among the barbarous tribes of the
Pacific.  Jack, who has long been accustomed to the long-bow, and
to spin tough yarns on the ship's forecastle, invariably
officiates as showman of the island on which he has settled, and
having mastered a few dozen words of the language, is supposed to
know all about the people who speak it.  A natural desire to make
himself of consequence in the eyes of the strangers, prompts him
to lay claim to a much greater knowledge of such matters than he
actually possesses.  In reply to incessant queries, he
communicates not only all he knows but a good deal more, and if
there be any information deficient still he is at no loss to
supply it.  The avidity with which his anecdotes are noted down
tickles his vanity, and his powers of invention increase with the
credulity auditors.  He knows just the sort of information
wanted, and furnishes it to any extent.

This is not a supposed case; I have met with several individuals
like the one described, and I have been present at two or three
of their interviews with strangers.

Now, when the scientific voyager arrives at home with his
collection of wonders, he attempts, perhaps, to give a
description of some of,the strange people he has been visiting.  
Instead of representing them as a community of lusty savages, who
are leading a merry, idle, innocent life, he enters into a very
circumstantial and learned narrative of certain unaccountable
superstitions and practices, about which he knows as little as
the islanders themselves.  Having had little time, and scarcely
any opportunity, to become acquainted with the customs he
pretends to describe, he writes them down one after another in an
off-hand, haphazard style; and were the book thus produced to be
translated into the tongue of the people of whom it purports to
give the history, it would appear quite as wonderful to them as
it does to the American public, and much more improbable.

For my own part, I am free to confess my almost entire inability
to gratify any curiosity that may be felt with regard to the
theology of the valley.  I doubt whether the inhabitants
themselves could do so.  They are either too lazy or too sensible
to worry themselves about abstract points of religious belief.  
While I was among them, they never held any synods or councils to
settle the principles of their faith by agitating them.  An
unbounded liberty of conscience seemed to prevail.  Those who
pleased to do so were allowed to repose implicit faith in an
ill-favoured god with a large bottle-nose and fat shapeless arms
crossed upon his breast; whilst others worshipped an image which,
having no likeness either in heaven or on earth, could hardly be
called an idol.  As the islanders always maintained a discreet
reserve with regard to my own peculiar views on religion, I
thought it would be excessively ill-bred of me to pry into
theirs.

But, although my knowledge of the religious faith of the Typees
was unavoidably limited, one of their superstitious observances
with which I became acquainted interested me greatly.

In one of the most secluded portions of the valley within a
stone's cast of Fayaway's lake--for so I christened the scene of
our island yachting--and hard by a growth of palms, which stood
ranged in order along both banks of the stream, waving their
green arms as if to do honour to its passage, was the mausoleum
of a deceased, warrior chief.  Like all the other edifices of any
note, it was raised upon a small pi-pi of stones, which, being of
unusual height, was a conspicuous object from a distance.  A
light thatching of bleached palmetto-leaves hung over it like a
self supported canopy; for it was not until you came very near
that you saw it was supported by four slender columns of bamboo
rising at each corner to a little more than the height of a man.  
A clear area of a few yards surrounded the pi-pi, and was
enclosed by four trunks of cocoanut trees resting at the angles
on massive blocks of stone.  The place was sacred.  The sign of
the inscrutable Taboo was seen in the shape of a mystic roll of
white tappa, suspended by a twisted cord of the same material
from the top of a slight pole planted within the enclosure*.  The
sanctity of the spot appeared never to have been violated.  The
stillness of the grave was there, and the calm solitude around
was beautiful and touching.  The soft shadows of those lofty
palm-trees!--I can see them now--hanging over the little temple,
as if to keep out the intrusive sun.

*White appears to be the sacred colour among the Marquesans.

On all sides as you approached this silent spot you caught sight
of the dead chief's effigy, seated in the stern of a canoe, which
was raised on a light frame a few inches above the level of the
pi-pi.  The canoe was about seven feet in length; of a rich, dark
coloured wood, handsomely carved and adorned in many places with
variegated bindings of stained sinnate, into which were
ingeniously wrought a number of sparkling seashells, and a belt
of the same shells ran all round it.  The body of the figure--of
whatever material it might have been made--was effectually
concealed in a heavy robe of brown tappa, revealing; only the
hands and head; the latter skilfully carved in wood, and
surmounted by a superb arch of plumes.  These plumes, in the
subdued and gentle gales which found access to this sequestered
spot, were never for one moment at rest, but kept nodding and
waving over the chief's brow.  The long leaves of the palmetto
drooped over the eaves, and through them you saw the warrior
holding his paddle with both hands in the act of rowing, leaning
forward and inclining his head, as if eager to hurry on his
voyage.  Glaring at him forever, and face to face, was a polished
human skull, which crowned the prow of the canoe.  The spectral
figurehead, reversed in its position, glancing backwards, seemed
to mock the impatient attitude of the warrior.

When I first visited this singular place with Kory-Kory, he told
me--or at least I so understood him--that the chief was paddling
his way to the realms of bliss, and bread-fruit--the Polynesian
heaven--where every moment the bread-fruit trees dropped their
ripened spheres to the ground, and where there was no end to the
cocoanuts and bananas: there they reposed through the livelong
eternity upon mats much finer than those of Typee; and every day
bathed their glowing limbs in rivers of cocoanut oil.  In that
happy land there were plenty of plumes and feathers, and
boars'-tusks and sperm-whale teeth, far preferable to all the
shining trinkets and gay tappa of the white men; and, best of
all, women far lovelier than the daughters of earth were there in
abundance.  'A very pleasant place,' Kory-Kory said it was; 'but
after all, not much pleasanter, he thought, than Typee.'  'Did he
not then,' I asked him, 'wish to accompany the warrior?'  'Oh no:
he was very happy where he was; but supposed that some time or
other he would go in his own canoe.'

Thus far, I think, I clearly comprehended Kory-Kory.  But there
was a singular expression he made use of at the time, enforced by
as singular a gesture, the meaning of which I would have given
much to penetrate.  I am inclined to believe it must have been a
proverb he uttered; for I afterwards heard him repeat the same
words several times, and in what appeared to me to be a somewhat:
similar sense.  Indeed, Kory-Kory had a great variety of short,
smart-sounding sentences, with which he frequently enlivened his
discourse; and he introduced them with an air which plainly
intimated, that in his opinion, they settled the matter in
question, whatever it might be.

Could it have been then, that when I asked him whether he desired
to go to this heaven of bread-fruit, cocoanuts, and young ladies,
which he had been describing, he answered by saying something
equivalent to our old adage--'A bird in the hand is worth two in
the bush'?--if he did, Kory-Kory was a discreet and sensible
fellow, and I cannot sufficiently admire his shrewdness.

Whenever, in the course of my rambles through the valley I
happened to be near the chief's mausoleum, I always turned aside
to visit it.  The place had a peculiar charm for me; I hardly
know why, but so it was.  As I leaned over the railing and gazed
upon the strange effigy and watched the play of the feathery
head-dress, stirred by the same breeze which in low tones
breathed amidst the lofty palm-trees, I loved to yield myself up
to the fanciful superstition of the islanders, and could almost
believe that the grim warrior was bound heavenward.  In this mood
when I turned to depart, I bade him 'God speed, and a pleasant
voyage.'  Aye, paddle away, brave chieftain, to the land of
spirits!  To the material eye thou makest but little progress;
but with the eye of faith, I see thy canoe cleaving the bright
waves, which die away on those dimly looming shores of Paradise.

This strange superstition affords another evidence of the fact,
that however ignorant man may be, he still feels within him his
immortal spirit yearning, after the unknown future.

Although the religious theories of the islands were a complete
mystery to me, their practical every-day operation could not be
concealed.  I frequently passed the little temples reposing in
the shadows of the taboo groves and beheld the offerings--mouldy
fruit spread out upon a rude altar, or hanging in half-decayed
baskets around some uncouth jolly-looking image; I was present
during the continuance of the festival; I daily beheld the
grinning idols marshalled rank and file in the Hoolah Hoolah
ground, and was often in the habit of meeting those whom I
supposed to be the priests.  But the temples seemed to be
abandoned to solitude; the festival had been nothing more than a
jovial mingling of the tribe; the idols were quite harmless as
any other logs of wood; and the priests were the mightiest dogs
in the valley.

In fact religious affairs in Typee were at a very low ebb: all
such matters sat very lightly upon the thoughtless inhabitants;
and, in the celebration of many of their strange rites, they
appeared merely to seek a sort of childish amusement.

A curious evidence of this was given in a remarkable ceremony in
which I frequently saw Mehevi and several other chefs and
warriors of note take part; but never a single female.

Among those whom I looked upon as forming the priesthood of the
valley, there was one in particular who often attracted my
notice, and whom I could not help regarding as the head of the
order.  He was a noble looking man, in the prime of his life, and
of a most benignant aspect.  The authority this man, whose name
was Kolory, seemed to exercise over the rest, the episcopal part
he took in the Feast of Calabashes, his sleek and complacent
appearance, the mystic characters which were tattooed upon his
chest, and above all the mitre he frequently wore, in the shape
of a towering head-dress, consisting of part of a cocoanut
branch, the stalk planted uprightly on his brow, and the leaflets
gathered together and passed round the temples and behind the
ears, all these pointed him out as Lord Primate of Typee.  Kolory
was a sort of Knight Templar--a soldier-priest; for he often wore
the dress of a Marquesan warrior, and always carried a long
spear, which, instead of terminating in a paddle at the lower
end, after the general fashion of these weapons, was curved into
a heathenish-looking little image.  This instrument, however,
might perhaps have been emblematic of his double functions.  With
one end in carnal combat he transfixed the enemies of his tribe;
and with the other as a pastoral crook he kept in order his
spiritual flock.  But this is not all I have to say about Kolory.

His martial grace very often carried about with him what seemed
to me the half of a broken war-club.  It was swathed round with
ragged bits of white tappa, and the upper part, which was
intended to represent a human head, was embellished with a strip
of scarlet cloth of European manufacture.  It required little
observation to discover that this strange object was revered as a
god.  By the side of the big and lusty images standing sentinel
over the altars of the Hoolah Hoolah ground, it seemed a mere
pigmy in tatters.  But appearances all the world over are
deceptive.  Little men are sometimes very potent, and rags
sometimes cover very extensive pretensions.  In fact, this funny
little image was the 'crack' god of the island; lording it over
all the wooden lubbers who looked so grim and dreadful; its name
was Moa Artua*.  And it was in honour of Moa Artua, and for the
entertainment of those who believe in him, that the curious
ceremony I am about to describe was observed.

*The word 'Artua', although having some other significations, is
in nearly all the Polynesian dialects used as the general
designation of the gods.

Mehevi and the chieftains of the Ti have just risen from their
noontide slumbers.  There are no affairs of state to dispose of;
and having eaten two or three breakfasts in the course of the
morning, the magnates of the valley feel no appetite as yet for
dinner.  How are their leisure moments to be occupied?  They
smoke, they chat, and at last one of their number makes a
proposition to the rest, who joyfully acquiescing, he darts out
of the house, leaps from the pi-pi, and disappears in the grove.  
Soon you see him returning with Kolory, who bears the god Moa
Artua in his arms, and carries in one hand a small trough,
hollowed out in the likeness of a canoe.  The priest comes along
dandling his charge as if it were a lachrymose infant he was
endeavouring to put into a good humour.  Presently entering the
Ti, he seats himself on the mats as composedly as a juggler about
to perform his sleight-of-hand tricks; and with the chiefs
disposed in a circle around him, commences his ceremony.  In
the,first place he gives Moa Artua an affectionate hug, then
caressingly lays him to his breast, and, finally, whispers
something in his ear; the rest of the company listening eagerly
for a reply.  But the baby-god is deaf or dumb,--perhaps both,
for never a word does, he utter.  At last Kolory speaks a little
louder, and soon growing angry, comes boldly out with what he has
to say and bawls to him.  He put me in mind of a choleric fellow,
who, after trying in vain to communicated a secret to a deaf man,
all at once flies into a passion and screams it out so that every
one may hear.  Still Moa Artua remains as quiet as ever; and
Kolory, seemingly losing his temper, fetches him a box over the
head, strips him of his tappa and red cloth, and laying him in a
state of nudity in a little trough, covers him from sight.  At
this proceeding all present loudly applaud and signify their
approval by uttering the adjective 'motarkee' with violent
emphasis.  Kolory however, is so desirous his conduct should meet
with unqualified approbation, that he inquires of each individual
separately whether under existing circumstances he has not done
perfectly right in shutting up Moa Artua.  The invariable
response is 'Aa, Aa' (yes, yes), repeated over again and again in
a manner which ought to quiet the scruples of the most
conscientious.  After a few moments Kolory brings forth his doll
again, and while arraying it very carefully in the tappa and red
cloth, alternately fondles and chides it.  The toilet being
completed, he once more speaks to it aloud.  The whole company
hereupon show the greatest interest; while the priest holding Moa
Artua to his ear interprets to them what he pretends the god is
confidentially communicating to him.  Some items intelligence
appear to tickle all present amazingly; for one claps his hands
in a rapture; another shouts with merriment; and a third leaps to
his feet and capers about like a madman.

What under the sun Moa Artua on these occasions had to say to
Kolory I never could find out; but I could not help thinking that
the former showed a sad want of spirit in being disciplined into
making those disclosures, which at first he seemed bent on
withholding.  Whether the priest honestly interpreted what he
believed the divinity said to him, or whether he was not all the
while guilty of a vile humbug, I shall not presume to decide.  At
any rate, whatever as coming from the god was imparted to those
present seemed to be generally of a complimentary nature: a fact
which illustrates the sagacity of Kolory, or else the timeserving
disposition of this hardly used deity.

Moa Artua having nothing more to say, his bearer goes to nursing
him again, in which occupation, however, he is soon interrupted
by a question put by one of the warriors to the god.  Kolory
hereupon snatches it up to his ear again, and after listening
attentively, once more officiates as the organ of communication.  
A multitude of questions and answers having passed between the
parties, much to the satisfaction of those who propose them, the
god is put tenderly to bed in the trough, and the whole company
unite in a long chant, led off by Kolory.  This ended, the
ceremony is over; the chiefs rise to their feet in high good
humour, and my Lord Archbishop, after chatting awhile, and
regaling himself with a whiff or two from a pipe of tobacco,
tucks the canoe under his arm and marches off with it.

The whole of these proceedings were like those of a parcel of
children playing with dolls and baby houses.

For a youngster scarcely ten inches high, and with so few early
advantages as he doubtless had had, Moa Artua was certainly a
precocious little fellow if he really said all that was imputed
to him; but for what reason this poor devil of a deity, thus
cuffed about, cajoled, and shut up in a box, was held in greater
estimation than the full-grown and dignified personages of the
Taboo Groves, I cannot divine.  And yet Mehevi, and other chiefs
of unquestionable veracity--to say nothing of the Primate
himself--assured me over and over again that Moa Artua was the
tutelary deity of Typee, and was more to be held in honour than a
whole battalion of the clumsy idols in the Hoolah Hoolah grounds.

Kory-Kory--who seemed to have devoted considerable attention to
the study of theology, as he knew the names of all the graven
images in the valley, and often repeated them over to
me--likewise entertained some rather enlarged ideas with regard
to the character and pretensions of Moa Artua.  He once gave me
to understand, with a gesture there was no misconceiving, that if
he (Moa Artua) were so minded he could cause a cocoanut tree to
sprout out of his (Kory-Kory's) head; and that it would be the
easiest thing in life for him (Moa Artua) to take the whole
island of Nukuheva in his mouth and dive down to the bottom of
the sea with it.

But in sober seriousness, I hardly knew what to make of the
religion of the valley.  There was nothing that so much perplexed
the illustrious Cook, in his intercourse with the South Sea
islanders, as their sacred rites.  Although this prince of
navigators was in many instances assisted by interpreters in the
prosecution of his researches, he still frankly acknowledges that
he was at a loss to obtain anything like a clear insight into the
puzzling arcana of their faith.  A similar admission has been
made by other eminent voyagers: by Carteret, Byron, Kotzebue, and
Vancouver.

For my own part, although hardly a day passed while I remained
upon the island that I did not witness some religious ceremony or
other, it was very much like seeing a panel of 'Freemasons'
making secret signs to each other; I saw everything, but could
comprehend nothing.

On the whole, I am inclined to believe, that the islanders in the
Pacific have no fixed and definite ideas whatever on the subject
of religion.  I am persuaded that Kolory himself would be
effectually posed were he called upon to draw up the articles of
his faith and pronounce the creed by which he hoped to be saved.  
In truth, the Typees, so far as their actions evince, submitted
to no laws human or divine--always excepting the thrice
mysterious Taboo.  The 'independent electors' of the valley were
not to be brow-beaten by chiefs, priests, idol or devils.  As for
the luckless idols, they received more hard knocks than
supplications.  I do not wonder that some of them looked so grim,
and stood so bolt upright as if fearful of looking to the right
or the left lest they should give any one offence.  The fact is,
they had to carry themselves 'PRETTY STRAIGHT,' or suffer the
consequences.  Their worshippers were such a precious set of
fickle-minded and irreverent heathens, that there was no telling
when they might topple one of them over, break it to pieces, and
making a fire with it on the very altar itself, fall to roasting
the offerings of bread-fruit, and at them in spite of its teeth.

In how little reverence these unfortunate deities were held by
the natives was on one occasion most convincingly proved to
me.--Walking with Kory-Kory through the deepest recesses of the
groves, I perceived a curious looking image, about six feet in
height which originally had been placed upright against a low
pi-pi, surmounted by a ruinous bamboo temple, but having become
fatigued and weak in the knees, was now carelessly leaning
against it.  The idol was partly concealed by the foliage of a
tree which stood near, and whose leafy boughs drooped over the
pile of stones, as if to protect the rude fane from the decay to
which it was rapidly hastening.  The image itself was nothing
more than a grotesquely shaped log, carved in the likeness of a
portly naked man with the arms clasped over the head, the jaws
thrown wide apart, and its thick shapeless legs bowed into an
arch.  It was much decayed.  The lower part was overgrown with a
bright silky moss.  Thin spears of grass sprouted from the
distended mouth, and fringed the outline of the head and arms.  
His godship had literally attained a green old age.  All its
prominent points were bruised and battered, or entirely rotted
away.  The nose had taken its departure, and from the general
appearance of the head it might have, been supposed that the
wooden divinity, in despair at the neglect of its worshippers,
had been trying to beat its own brains out against the
surrounding trees.

I drew near to inspect more closely this strange object of
idolatry, but halted reverently at the distance of two or three
paces, out of regard to the religious prejudices of my valet.  As
soon, however, as Kory-Kory perceived that I was in one of my
inquiring, scientific moods, to my astonishment, he sprang to the
side of the idol, and pushing it away from the stones against
which it rested, endeavoured to make it stand upon its legs.  But
the divinity had lost the use of them altogether; and while
Kory-Kory was trying to prop it up, placing a stick between it
and the pi-pi, the monster fell clumsily to the ground, and would
have infallibly have broken its neck had not Kory-Kory
providentially broken its fall by receiving its whole weight on
his own half-crushed back.  I never saw the honest fellow in such
a rage before.  He leaped furiously to his feet, and seizing the
stick, began beating the poor image: every moment, or two pausing
and talking to it in the most violent manner, as if upbraiding it
for the accident.  When his indignation had subsided a little he
whirled the idol about most profanely, so as to give me an
opportunity of examining it on all sides.  I am quite sure I
never should have presumed to have taken such liberties with the
god myself, and I was not a little shocked at Kory-Kory's
impiety.

This anecdote speaks for itself.  When one of the inferior order
of natives could show such contempt for a venerable and decrepit
God of the Groves, what the state of religion must be among the
people in general is easy to be imagined.  In truth, I regard the
Typees as a back-slidden generation.  They are sunk in religious
sloth, and require a spiritual revival.  A long prosperity of
bread-fruit and cocoanuts has rendered them remiss in the
performance of their higher obligations.  The wood-rot malady is
spreading among the idols--the fruit upon their altars is
becoming offensive--the temples themselves need rethatching--the
tattooed clergy are altogether too light-hearted and lazy--and
their flocks are going astray.


Herman Melville