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Chapter Twenty-seven


CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

THE SOCIAL CONDITION AND GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE TYPEES

I HAVE already mentioned that the influence exerted over the
people of the valley by their chiefs was mild in the extreme; and
as to any general rule or standard of conduct by which the
commonality were governed in their intercourse with each other,
so far as my observation extended, I should be almost tempted to
say, that none existed on the island, except, indeed, the
mysterious 'Taboo' be considered as such.  During the time I
lived among the Typees, no one was ever put upon his trial for
any offence against the public.  To all appearance there were no
courts of law or equity.  There was no municipal police for the
purpose of apprehending vagrants and disorderly characters.  In
short, there were no legal provisions whatever for the well-being
and conservation of society, the enlightened end of civilized
legislation.  And yet everything went on in the valley with a
harmony and smoothness unparalleled, I will venture to assert, in
the most select, refined, and pious associations of mortals in
Christendom.  How are we to explain this enigma?  These islanders
were heathens!  savages!  ay, cannibals!  and how came they
without the aid of established law, to exhibit, in so eminent a
degree, that social order which is the greatest blessing and
highest pride of the social state?

It may reasonably be inquired, how were these people governed?
how were their passions controlled in their everyday
transactions?  It must have been by an inherent principle of
honesty and charity towards each other.  They seemed to be
governed by that sort of tacit common-sense law which, say what
they will of the inborn lawlessness of the human race, has its
precepts graven on every breast.  The grand principles of virtue
and honour, however they may be distorted by arbitrary codes, are
the same all the world over: and where these principles are
concerned, the right or wrong of any action appears the same to
the uncultivated as to the enlightened mind.  It is to this
indwelling, this universally diffused perception of what is just
and noble, that the integrity of the Marquesans in their
intercourse with each other, is to be attributed.  In the darkest
nights they slept securely, with all their worldly wealth around
them, in houses the doors of which were never fastened.  The
disquieting ideas of theft or assassination never disturbed them.

Each islander reposed beneath his own palmetto thatching, or sat
under his own bread-fruit trees, with none to molest or alarm
him.  There was not a padlock in the valley, nor anything that
answered the purpose of one: still there was no community of
goods.  This long spear, so elegantly carved, and highly
polished, belongs to Wormoonoo: it is far handsomer than the one
which old Marheyo so greatly prizes; it is the most valuable
article belonging to its owner.  And yet I have seen it leaning
against a cocoanut tree in the grove, and there it was found when
sought for.  Here is a sperm-whale tooth, graven all over with
cunning devices: it is the property of Karluna; it is the most
precious of the damsel's ornaments.  In her estimation its price
is far above rubies--and yet there hangs the dental jewel by its
cord of braided bark, in the girl's house, which is far back in
the valley; the door is left open, and all the inmates have gone
off to bathe in the stream.*

*The strict honesty which the inhabitants of nearly all the
Polynesian Islands manifest toward each other, is in striking
contrast with the thieving propensities some of them evince in
their intercourse with foreigners.  It would almost seem that,
according to their peculiar code of morals, the pilfering of a
hatchet or a wrought nail from a European, is looked upon as a
praiseworthy action.  Or rather, it may be presumed, that bearing
in mind the wholesale forays made upon them by their nautical
visitors, they consider the property of the latter as a fair
object of reprisal.  This consideration, while it serves to
reconcile an apparent contradiction in the moral character of the
islanders, should in some measure alter that low opinion of it
which the reader of South Sea voyages is too apt to form.

So much for the respect in which 'personal property' is held in
Typee; how secure an investment of 'real property' may be, I
cannot take upon me to say.  Whether the land of the valley was
the joint property of its inhabitants, or whether it was
parcelled out among a certain number of landed proprietors who
allowed everybody to 'squat' and 'poach' as much as he or she
pleased, I never could ascertain.  At any rate, musty parchments
and title-deeds there were none on the island; and I am half
inclined to believe that its inhabitants hold their broad valleys
in fee simple from Nature herself; to have and to hold, so long
as grass grows and water runs; or until their French visitors, by
a summary mode of conveyancing, shall appropriate them to their
own benefit and behoof.

Yesterday I saw Kory-Kory hie him away armed with a long pole,
with which, standing on the ground, he knocked down the fruit
from the topmost boughs of the trees, and brought them home in
his basket of cocoanut leaves.  Today I see an islander, whom I
know to reside in a distant part of the valley, doing the
self-same thing.  On the sloping bank of the stream are a number
of banana-trees I have often seen a score or two of young people
making a merry foray on the great golden clusters, and bearing
them off, one after another, to different parts of the vale,
shouting and trampling as they went.  No churlish old curmudgeon
could have been the owner of that grove of bread-fruit trees, or
of these gloriously yellow bunches of bananas.

From what I have said it will be perceived that there is a vast
difference between 'personal property' and 'real estate' in the
valley of Typee.  Some individuals, of course, are more wealthy
than others.  For example, the ridge-pole of Marheyo's house
bends under the weight of many a huge packet of tappa; his long
couch is laid with mats placed one upon the other seven deep.
Outside, Tinor has ranged along in her bamboo cupboard--or
whatever the place may be called--a goodly array of calabashes
and wooden trenchers.  Now, the house just beyond the grove, and
next to Marheyo's, occupied by Ruaruga, is not quite so well
furnished.   There are only three moderate-sized packages
swinging overhead: there are only two layers of mats beneath; and
the calabashes and trenchers are not so numerous, nor so
tastefully stained and carved.  But then, Ruaruga has a
house--not so pretty a one, to be sure--but just as commodious as
Marheyo's; and, I suppose, if he wished to vie with his
neighbour's establishment, he could do so with very little
trouble.  These, in short, constituted the chief differences
perceivable in the relative wealth of the people in Typee.

Civilization does not engross all the virtues of humanity: she
has not even her full share of them.  They flourish in greater
abundance and attain greater strength among many barbarous
people.  The hospitality of the wild Arab, the courage of the
North American Indian, and the faithful friendship of some of the
Polynesian nations, far surpass anything of a similar kind among
the polished communities of Europe.  If truth and justice, and
the better principles of our nature, cannot exist unless enforced
by the statute-book, how are we to account for the social
condition of the Typees?  So pure and upright were they in all
the relations of life, that entering their valley, as I did,
under the most erroneous impressions of their character, I was
soon led to exclaim in amazement: 'Are these the ferocious
savages, the blood-thirsty cannibals of whom I have heard such
frightful tales!  They deal more kindly with each other, and are
more humane than many who study essays on virtue and benevolence,
and who repeat every night that beautiful prayer breathed first
by the lips of the divine and gentle Jesus.'  I will frankly
declare that after passing a few weeks in this valley of the
Marquesas, I formed a higher estimate of human nature than I had
ever before entertained.  But alas!  since then I have been one
of the crew of a man-of-war, and the pent-up wickedness of five
hundred men has nearly overturned all my previous theories.

There was one admirable trait in the general character of the
Typees which, more than anything else, secured my admiration: it
was the unanimity of feeling they displayed on every occasion.  
With them there hardly appeared to be any difference of opinion
upon any subject whatever.  They all thought and acted alike.  I
do not conceive that they could support a debating society for a
single night: there would be nothing to dispute about; and were
they to call a convention to take into consideration the state of
the tribe, its session would be a remarkably short one.  They
showed this spirit of unanimity in every action of life;
everything was done in concert and good fellowship.  I will give
an instance of this fraternal feeling.

One day, in returning with Kory-Kory from my accustomed visit to
the Ti, we passed by a little opening in the grove; on one side
of which, my attendant informed me, was that afternoon to be
built a dwelling of bamboo.  At least a hundred of the natives
were bringing materials to the ground, some carrying in their
hands one or two of the canes which were to form the sides,
others slender rods of the habiscus, strung with palmetto leaves,
for the roof.  Every one contributed something to the work; and
by the united, but easy, and even indolent, labours of all, the
entire work was completed before sunset.  The islanders, while
employed in erecting this tenement, reminded me of a colony of
beavers at work.  To be sure, they were hardly as silent and
demure as those wonderful creatures, nor were they by any means
as diligent.  To tell the truth they were somewhat inclined to be
lazy, but a perfect tumult of hilarity prevailed; and they worked
together so unitedly, and seemed actuated by such an instinct of
friendliness, that it was truly beautiful to behold.

Not a single female took part in this employment: and if the
degree of consideration in which the ever-adorable sex is held by
the men be--as the philosophers affirm--a just criterion of the
degree of refinement among a people, then I may truly pronounce
the Typees to be as polished a community as ever the sun shone
upon.  The religious restrictions of the taboo alone excepted,
the women of the valley were allowed every possible indulgence.  
Nowhere are the ladies more assiduously courted; nowhere are they
better appreciated as the contributors to our highest enjoyments;
and nowhere are they more sensible of their power.  Far different
from their condition among many rude nations, where the women are
made to perform all the work while their ungallant lords and
masters lie buried in sloth, the gentle sex in the valley of
Typee were exempt from toil, if toil it might be called that,
even in the tropical climate, never distilled one drop of
perspiration.  Their light household occupations, together with
the manufacture of tappa, the platting of mats, and the polishing
of drinking-vessels, were the only employments pertaining to the
women.  And even these resembled those pleasant avocations which
fill up the elegant morning leisure of our fashionable ladies at
home.  But in these occupations, slight and agreeable though they
were, the giddy young girls very seldom engaged.  Indeed these
wilful care-killing damsels were averse to all useful employment.

Like so many spoiled beauties, they ranged through the
groves--bathed in the stream--danced--flirted--played all manner
of mischievous pranks, and passed their days in one merry round
of thoughtless happiness.

During my whole stay on the island I never witnessed a single
quarrel, nor anything that in the slightest degree approached
even to a dispute.  The natives appeared to form one household,
whose members were bound together by the ties of strong
affection.  The love of kindred I did not so much perceive, for
it seemed blended in the general love; and where all were treated
as brothers and sisters, it was hard to tell who were actually
related to each other by blood.

Let it not be supposed that I have overdrawn this picture.  I
have not done so.  Nor let it be urged, that the hostility of
this tribe to foreigners, and the hereditary feuds they carry on
against their fellow-islanders beyond the mountains, are facts
which contradict me.  Not so; these apparent discrepancies are
easily reconciled.  By many a legendary tale of violence and
wrong, as well as by events which have passed before their eyes,
these people have been taught to look upon white men with
abhorrence.  The cruel invasion of their country by Porter has
alone furnished them with ample provocation; and I can sympathize
in the spirit which prompts the Typee warrior to guard all the
passes to his valley with the point of his levelled spear, and,
standing upon the beach, with his back turned upon his green
home, to hold at bay the intruding European.

As to the origin of the enmity of this particular clan towards
the neighbouring tribes, I cannot so confidently speak.  I will
not say that their foes are the aggressors, nor will I endeavour
to palliate their conduct.  But surely, if our evil passions must
find vent, it is far better to expend them on strangers and
aliens, than in the bosom of the community in which we dwell.  In
many polished countries civil contentions, as well as domestic
enmities, are prevalent, and the same time that the most
atrocious foreign wars are waged.  How much less guilty, then,
are our islanders, who of these three sins are only chargeable
with one, and that the least criminal!

The reader will ere long have reason to suspect that the Typees
are not free from the guilt of cannibalism; and he will then,
perhaps, charge me with admiring a people against whom so odious
a crime is chargeable.  But this only enormity in their character
is not half so horrible as it is usually described.  According to
the popular fictions, the crews of vessels, shipwrecked on some
barbarous coast, are eaten alive like so many dainty joints by
the uncivil inhabitants; and unfortunate voyagers are lured into
smiling and treacherous bays; knocked on the head with outlandish
war-clubs; and served up without any prelimary dressing.  In
truth, so horrific and improbable are these accounts, that many
sensible and well-informed people will not believe that any
cannibals exist; and place every book of voyages which purports
to give any account of them, on the same shelf with Blue Beard
and Jack the Giant-Killer.  While others, implicitly crediting
the most extravagant fictions, firmly believe that there are
people in the world with tastes so depraved that they would
infinitely prefer a single mouthful of material humanity to a
good dinner of roast beef and plum pudding.  But here, Truth, who
loves to be centrally located, is again found between the two
extremes; for cannibalism to a certain moderate extent is
practised among several of the primitive tribes in the Pacific,
but it is upon the bodies of slain enemies alone, and horrible
and fearful as the custom is, immeasurably as it is to be
abhorred and condemned, still I assert that those who indulge in
it are in other respects humane and virtuous.


Herman Melville