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Chapter Twenty-five


CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

GENERAL INFORMATION GATHERED AT THE FESTIVAL--PERSONAL BEAUTY OF
THE TYPEES--THEIR SUPERIORITY OVER THE INHABITANTS OF THE OTHER
ISLANDS--DIVERSITY OF COMPLEXION--A VEGETABLE COSMETIC AND
OINTMENT--TESTIMONY OF VOYAGERS TO THE UNCOMMON BEAUTY OF THE
MARQUESANS--FEW EVIDENCES OF INTERCOURSE WITH CIVILIZED
BEINGS--DILAPIDATED MUSKET--PRIMITIVE SIMPLICITY OF GOVERNMENT--
REGAL DIGNITY OF MEHEVI

ALTHOUGH I had been unable during the late festival to obtain
information on many interesting subjects which had much excited
my curiosity, still that important event had not passed by
without adding materially to my general knowledge of the
islanders.

I was especially struck by the physical strength and beauty which
they displayed, by their great superiority in these respects over
the inhabitants of the neighbouring bay of Nukuheva, and by the
singular contrasts they presented among themselves in their
various shades of complexion.

In beauty of form they surpassed anything I had ever seen.  Not a
single instance of natural deformity was observable in all the
throng attending the revels.  Occasionally I noticed among the
men the scars of wounds they had received in battle; and
sometimes, though very seldom, the loss of a finger, an eye, or
an arm, attributable to the same cause.  With these exceptions,
every individual appeared free from those blemishes which
sometimes mar the effect of an otherwise perfect form.  But their
physical excellence did not merely consist in an exemption from
these evils; nearly every individual of their number might have
been taken for a sculptor's model.

When I remembered that these islanders derived no advantage from
dress, but appeared in all the naked simplicity of nature, I
could not avoid comparing them with the fine gentlemen and
dandies who promenade such unexceptionable figures in our
frequented thoroughfares.  Stripped of the cunning artifices of
the tailor, and standing forth in the garb of Eden--what a sorry,
set of round-shouldered, spindle-shanked, crane-necked varlets
would civilized men appear!  Stuffed calves, padded breasts, and
scientifically cut pantaloons would then avail them nothing, and
the effect would be truly deplorable.

Nothing in the appearance of the islanders struck me more
forcibly than the whiteness of their teeth.  The novelist always
compares the masticators of his heroine to ivory; but I boldly
pronounce the teeth of the Typee to be far more beautiful than
ivory itself.  The jaws of the oldest graybeards among them were
much better garnished than those of most of the youths of
civilized countries; while the teeth of the young and
middle-aged, in their purity and whiteness, were actually
dazzling to the eye.  Their marvellous whiteness of the teeth is
to be ascribed to the pure vegetable diet of these people, and
the uninterrupted healthfulness of their natural mode of life.

The men, in almost every instance, are of lofty stature, scarcely
ever less than six feet in height, while the other sex are
uncommonly diminutive.  The early period of life at which the
human form arrives at maturity in this generous tropical climate,
likewise deserves to be mentioned.  A little creature, not more
than thirteen years of age, and who in other particulars might be
regarded as a mere child, is often seen nursing her own baby,
whilst lads who, under less ripening skies, would be still at
school, are here responsible fathers of families.

On first entering the Typee Valley, I had been struck with the
marked contrast presented by its inhabitants with those of the
bay I had previously left.  In the latter place, I had not been
favourably impressed with the personal appearance of the male
portion of the population; although with the females, excepting
in some truly melancholy instances, I had been wonderfully
pleased.  I had observed that even the little intercourse
Europeans had carried on with the Nukuheva natives had not failed
to leave its traces amongst them.  One of the most dreadful
curses under which humanity labours had commenced its havocks,
and betrayed, as it ever does among the South Sea islanders, the
most aggravated symptoms.  From this, as from all other foreign
inflictions, the yet uncontaminated tenants of the Typee Valley
were wholly exempt; and long may they continue so.  Better will
it be for them for ever to remain the happy and innocent heathens
and barbarians that they now are, than, like the wretched
inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands, to enjoy the mere name of
Christians without experiencing any of the vital operations of
true religion, whilst, at the same time, they are made the
victims of the worst vices and evils of civilized life.

Apart, however, from these considerations, I am inclined to
believe that there exists a radical difference between the two
tribes, if indeed they are not distinct races of men.  To those
who have merely touched at Nukuheva Bay, without visiting other
portions of the island, it would hardly appear credible the
diversities presented between the various small clans inhabiting
so diminutive a spot.  But the hereditary hostility which has
existed between them for ages, fully accounts for this.

Not so easy, however, is it to assign an adequate cause for the
endless variety of complexions to be seen in the Typee Valley.  
During the festival, I had noticed several young females whose
skins were almost as white as any Saxon damsel's; a slight dash
of the mantling brown being all that marked the difference.  This
comparative fairness of complexion, though in a great degree
perfectly natural, is partly the result of an artificial process,
and of an entire exclusion from the sun.  The juice of the 'papa'
root found in great abundance at the head of the valley, is held
in great esteem as a cosmetic, with which many of the females
daily anoint their whole person.  The habitual use of it whitens
and beautifies the skin.  Those of the young girls who resort to
this method of heightening their charms, never expose themselves
selves to the rays of the sun; an observance, however, that
produces little or no inconvenience, since there are but few of
the inhabited portions of the vale which are not shaded over with
a spreading canopy of boughs, so that one may journey from house
to house, scarcely deviating from the direct course, and yet
never once see his shadow cast upon the ground.

The 'papa', when used, is suffered to remain upon the skin for
several hours; being of a light green colour, it consequently
imparts for the time a similar hue to the complexion.  Nothing,
therefore, can be imagined more singular than the appearance of
these nearly naked damsels immediately after the application of
the cosmetic.  To look at one of them you would almost suppose
she was some vegetable in an unripe state; and that, instead of
living in the shade for ever, she ought to be placed out in the
sun to ripen.

All the islanders are more or less in the habit of anointing
themselves; the women preferring the 'aker' to 'papa', and the
men using the oil of the cocoanut.  Mehevi was remarkable fond of
mollifying his entire cuticle with this ointment.  Sometimes he
might be seen, with his whole body fairly reeking with the
perfumed oil of the nut, looking as if he had just emerged from a
soap-boiler's vat, or had undergone the process of dipping in a
tallow-chandlery.  To this cause perhaps, united to their
frequent bathing and extreme cleanliness, is ascribable, in a
great measure, the marvellous purity and smoothness of skin
exhibited by the natives in general.

The prevailing tint among the women of the valley was a light
olive, and of this style of complexion Fayaway afforded the most
beautiful example.  Others were still darker; while not a few
were of a genuine golden colour, and some of a swarthy hue.

As agreeing with much previously mentioned in this narrative I
may here observe that Mendanna, their discoverer, in his account
of the Marquesas, described the natives as wondrously beautiful
to behold, and as nearly resembling the people of southern
Europe.  The first of these islands seen by Mendanna was La
Madelena, which is not far distant from Nukuheva; and its
inhabitants in every respect resemble those dwelling on that and
the other islands of the group.  Figueroa, the chronicler of
Mendanna's voyage, says, that on the morning the land was
descried, when the Spaniards drew near the shore, there sallied
forth, in rude progression, about seventy canoes, and at the same
time many of the inhabitants (females I presume) made towards the
ships by swimming.  He adds, that 'in complexion they were nearly
white; of good stature, and finely formed; and on their faces and
bodies were delineated representations of fishes and other
devices'.  The old Don then goes on to say, 'There came, among
others, two lads paddling their canoe, whose eyes were fixed on
the ship; they had beautiful faces and the most promising
animation of countenance; and were in all things so becoming,
that the pilot-mayor Quiros affirmed, nothing in his life ever
caused him so much regret as the leaving such fine creatures to
be lost in that country.'*  More than two hundred years have gone
by since the passage of which the above is a translation was
written; and it appears to me now, as I read it, as fresh and
true as if written but yesterday.  The islanders are still the
same; and I have seen boys in the Typee Valley of whose
'beautiful faces' and promising 'animation of countenance' no one
who has not beheld them can form any adequate idea.  Cook, in the
account of his voyage, pronounces the Marquesans as by far the
most splendid islanders in the South Seas.  Stewart, the chaplain
of the U.S.  ship Vincennes, in his 'Scenes in the South Seas',
expresses, in more than one place, his amazement at the
surpassing loveliness of the women; and says that many of the
Nukuheva damsels reminded him forcibly of the most celebrated
beauties in his own land.  Fanning, a Yankee mariner of some
reputation, likewise records his lively impressions of the
physical appearance of these people; and Commodore David Porter
of the U.S.  frigate Essex, is said to have been vastly smitten
by the beauty of the ladies.  Their great superiority over all
other Polynesians cannot fail to attract the notice of those who
visit the principal groups in the Pacific.  The voluptuous
Tahitians are the only people who at all deserve to be compared
with them; while the dark-haired Hawaiians and the woolly-headed
Feejees are immeasurably inferior to them.  The distinguishing
characteristic of the Marquesan islanders, and that which at once
strikes you, is the European cast of their features--a
peculiarity seldom observable among other uncivilized people.
Many of their faces present profiles classically beautiful, and
in the valley of Typee I saw several who, like the stranger
Marnoo, were in every respect models of beauty.

* This passage, which is cited as an almost literal translation
from the original, I found in a small volume entitled
'Circumnavigation of the Globe, in which volume are several
extracts from 'Dalrymple's Historical Collections'.  The
last-mentioned work I have never seen, but it is said to contain
a very correct English version of great part of the learned
Doctor Christoval Suaverde da Figueroa's History of Mendanna's
Voyage, published at Madrid, A.D.  1613.

Some of the natives present at the Feast of Calabashes had
displayed a few articles of European dress; disposed however,
about their persons after their own peculiar fashion.  Among
these I perceived two pieces of cotton-cloth which poor Toby and
myself had bestowed upon our youthful guides the afternoon we
entered the valley.  They were evidently reserved for gala days;
and during those of the festival they rendered the young
islanders who wore them very distinguished characters.  The small
number who were similarly adorned, and the great value they
appeared to place upon the most common and most trivial articles,
furnished ample evidence of the very restricted intercourse they
held with vessels touching at the island.  A few cotton
handkerchiefs, of a gay pattern, tied about the neck, and
suffered to fall over the shoulder; strips of fanciful calico,
swathed about the loins, were nearly all I saw.

Indeed, throughout the valley, there were few things of any kind
to be seen of European origin.  All I ever saw, besides the
articles just alluded to, were the six muskets preserved in the
Ti, and three or four similar implements of warfare hung up in
other houses; some small canvas bags, partly filled with bullets
and powder, and half a dozen old hatchet-heads, with the edges
blunted and battered to such a degree as to render them utterly
worthless.  These last seemed to be regarded as nearly worthless
by the natives; and several times they held up, one of them
before me, and throwing it aside with a gesture of disgust,
manifested their contempt for anything that could so soon become
unserviceable.

But the muskets, the powder, and the bullets were held in most
extravagant esteem.  The former, from their great age and the
peculiarities they exhibited, were well worthy a place in any
antiquarian's armoury.  I remember in particular one that hung in
the Ti, and which Mehevi--supposing as a matter of course that I
was able to repair it--had put into my hands for that purpose.  
It was one of those clumsy, old-fashioned, English pieces known
generally as Tower Hill muskets, and, for aught I know, might
have been left on the island by Wallace, Carteret, Cook, or
Vancouver.  The stock was half rotten and worm-eaten; the lock
was as rusty and about as well adapted to its ostensible purpose
as an old door-hinge; the threading of the screws about the
trigger was completely worn away; while the barrel shook in the
wood.  Such was the weapon the chief desired me to restore to its
original condition.  As I did not possess the accomplishments of
a gunsmith, and was likewise destitute of the necessary tools, I
was reluctantly obliged to signify my inability to perform the
task.  At this unexpected communication Mehevi regarded me, for a
moment, as if he half suspected I was some inferior sort of white
man, who after all did not know much more than a Typee.  However,
after a most laboured explanation of the matter, I succeeded in
making him understand the extreme difficulty of the task.  
Scarcely satisfied with my apologies, however, he marched off
with the superannuated musket in something of a huff, as if he
would no longer expose it to the indignity of being manipulated
by such unskilful fingers.

During the festival I had not failed to remark the simplicity of
manner, the freedom from all restraint, and, to certain degree,
the equality of condition manifested by the natives in general.  
No one appeared to assume any arrogant pretensions.  There was
little more than a slight difference in costume to distinguish
the chiefs from the other natives.  All appeared to mix together
freely, and without any reserve; although I noticed that the
wishes of a chief, even when delivered in the mildest tone,
received the same immediate obedience which elsewhere would have
been only accorded to a peremptory command.  What may be the
extent of the authority of the chiefs over the rest of the tribe,
I will not venture to assert; but from all I saw during my stay
in the valley, I was induced to believe that in matters
concerning the general welfare it was very limited.  The required
degree of deference towards them, however, was willingly and
cheerfully yielded; and as all authority is transmitted from
father to son, I have no doubt that one of the effects here, as
elsewhere, of high birth, is to induce respect and obedience.

The civil institutions of the Marquesas Islands appear to be in
this, as in other respects, directly the reverse of those of the
Tahitian and Hawiian groups, where the original power of the king
and chiefs was far more despotic than that of any tyrant in
civilized countries.  At Tahiti it used to be death for one of
the inferior orders to approach, without permission, under the
shadow, of the king's house; or to fail in paying the customary
reverence when food destined for the king was borne past them by
his messengers.  At the Sandwich Islands, Kaahumanu, the gigantic
old dowager queen--a woman of nearly four hundred pounds weight,
and who is said to be still living at Mowee--was accustomed, in
some of her terrific gusts of temper, to snatch up an ordinary
sized man who had offended her, and snap his spine across her
knee.  Incredible as this may seem, it is a fact.  While at
Lahainaluna--the residence of this monstrous Jezebel--a
humpbacked wretch was pointed out to me, who, some twenty-five
years previously, had had the vertebrae of his backbone very
seriously discomposed by his gentle mistress.

The particular grades of rank existing among the chiefs of Typee,
I could not in all cases determine.  Previous to the Feast of
Calabashes I had been puzzled what particular station to assign
to Mehevi.  But the important part he took upon that occasion
convinced me that he had no superior among the inhabitants of the
valley.  I had invariably noticed a certain degree of deference
paid to him by all with whom I had ever seen him brought in
contact; but when I remembered that my wanderings had been
confined to a limited portion of the valley, and that towards the
sea a number of distinguished chiefs resided, some of whom had
separately visited me at Marheyo's house, and whom, until the
Festival, I had never seen in the company of Mehevi, I felt
disposed to believe that his rank after all might not be
particularly elevated.

The revels, however, had brought together all the warriors whom I
had seen individually and in groups at different times and
places.  Among them Mehevi moved with an easy air of superiority
which was not to be mistaken; and he whom I had only looked at as
the hospitable host of the Ti, and one of the military leaders of
the tribe, now assumed in my eyes the dignity of royal station.  
His striking costume, no less than his naturally commanding
figure, seemed indeed to give him pre-eminence over the rest.  
The towering helmet of feathers that he wore raised him in height
above all who surrounded him; and though some others were
similarly adorned, the length and luxuriance of their plumes were
inferior to his.

Mehevi was in fact the greatest of the chiefs--the head of his
clan--the sovereign of the valley; and the simplicity of the
social institutions of the people could not have been more
completely proved than by the fact, that after having been
several weeks in the valley, and almost in daily intercourse with
Mehevi, I should have remained until the time of the festival
ignorant of his regal character.  But a new light had now broken
in upon me.  The Ti was the palace--and Mehevi the king.  Both
the one and the other of a most simple and patriarchal nature: it
must be allowed, and wholly unattended by the ceremonious pomp
which usually surrounds the purple.

After having made this discovery I could not avoid congratulating
myself that Mehevi had from the first taken me as it were under
his royal protection, and that he still continued to entertain
for me the warmest regard, as far at least as I was enabled to
judge from appearances.  For the future I determined to pay most
assiduous court to him, hoping that eventually through his
kindness I might obtain my liberty.


Herman Melville