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Chapter Twenty-eight


CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

FISHING PARTIES--MODE OF DISTRIBUTING THE FISH--MIDNIGHT
BANQUET--TIME-KEEPING TAPERS--UNCEREMONIOUS STYLE OF EATING THE
FISH

THERE was no instance in which the social and kindly dispositions
of the Typees were more forcibly evinced than in the manner the
conducted their great fishing parties.  Four times during my stay
in the valley the young men assembled near the full of the moon,
and went together on these excursions.  As they were generally
absent about forty-eight hours, I was led to believe that they
went out towards the open sea, some distance from the bay.  The
Polynesians seldom use a hook and line, almost always employing
large well-made nets, most ingeniously fabricated from the
twisted fibres of a certain bark.  I examined several of them
which had been spread to dry upon the beach at Nukuheva.  They
resemble very much our own seines, and I should think they were
nearly as durable.

All the South Sea Islanders are passionately fond of fish; but
none of them can be more so than the inhabitants of Typee.  I
could not comprehend, therefore, why they so seldom sought it in
their waters, for it was only at stated times that the fishing
parties were formed, and these occasions were always looked
forward to with no small degree of interest.

During their absence the whole population of the place were in a
ferment, and nothing was talked of but 'pehee, pehee' (fish,
fish).  Towards the time when they were expected to return the
vocal telegraph was put into operation--the inhabitants, who were
scattered throughout the length of the valley, leaped upon rocks
and into trees, shouting with delight at the thoughts of the
anticipated treat.  As soon as the approach of the party was
announced, there was a general rush of the men towards the beach;
some of them remaining, however, about the Ti in order to get
matters in readiness for the reception of the fish, which were
brought to the Taboo Groves in immense packages of leaves, each
one of them being suspended from a pole carried on the shoulders
of two men.

I was present at the Ti on one of these occasions, and the sight
was most interesting.  After all the packages had arrived, they
were laid in a row under the verandah of the building and opened.

The fish were all quite small, generally about the size of a
herring, and of every variety.  About one-eighth of the whole
being reserved for the use of the Ti itself, the remainder was
divided into numerous smaller packages, which were immediately
dispatched in every direction to the remotest parts of the
valley.  Arrived at their destination, these were in turn
portioned out, and equally distributed among the various houses
of each particular district.  The fish were under a strict Taboo,
until the distribution was completed, which seemed to be effected
in the most impartial manner.  By the operation of this system
every man, woman, and child in the vale, were at one and the same
time partaking of this favourite article of food.

Once I remember the party arrived at midnight; but the
unseasonableness of the tour did not repress the impatience of
the islanders.  The carriers dispatched from the Ti were to be
seen hurrying in all directions through the deep groves; each
individual preceded by a boy bearing a flaming torch of dried
cocoanut boughs, which from time to time was replenished from the
materials scattered along the path.  The wild glare of these
enormous flambeaux, lighting up with a startling brilliancy the
innermost recesses of the vale, and seen moving rapidly along
beneath the canopy of leaves, the savage shout of the excited
messengers sounding the news of their approach, which was
answered on all sides, and the strange appearance of their naked
bodies, seen against the gloomy background, produced altogether
an effect upon my mind that I shall long remember.

It was on this same occasion that Kory-Kory awakened me at the
dead hour of night, and in a sort of transport communicated the
intelligence contained in the words 'pehee perni' (fish come).  
As I happened to have been in a remarkably sound and refreshing
slumber, I could not imagine why the information had not been
deferred until morning, indeed, I felt very much inclined to fly
into a passion and box my valet's ears; but on second thoughts I
got quietly up, and on going outside the house was not a little
interested by the moving illumination which I beheld.

When old Marheyo received his share of the spoils, immediate
preparations were made for a midnight banquet; calabashes of
poee-poee were filled to the brim; green bread-fruit were
roasted; and a huge cake of 'amar' was cut up with a sliver of
bamboo and laid out on an immense banana-leaf.

At this supper we were lighted by several of the native tapers,
held in the hands of young girls.  These tapers are most
ingeniously made.  There is a nut abounding in the valley, called
by the Typees 'armor', closely resembling our common
horse-chestnut.  The shell is broken, and the contents extracted
whole.  Any number of these are strung at pleasure upon the long
elastic fibre that traverses the branches of the cocoanut tree.  
Some of these tapers are eight or ten feet in length; but being
perfectly flexible, one end is held in a coil, while the other is
lighted.  The nut burns with a fitful bluish flame, and the oil
that it contains is exhausted in about ten minutes.  As one burns
down, the next becomes ignited, and the ashes of the former are
knocked into a cocoanut shell kept for the purpose.  This
primitive candle requires continual attention, and must be
constantly held in the hand.  The person so employed marks the
lapse of time by the number of nuts consumed, which is easily
learned by counting the bits of tappa distributed at regular
intervals along the string.

I grieve to state so distressing a fact, but the inhabitants of
Typee were in the habit of devouring fish much in the same way
that a civilized being would eat a radish, and without any more
previous preparation.  They eat it raw; scales, bones, gills, and
all the inside.  The fish is held by the tail, and the head being
introduced into the mouth, the animal disappears with a rapidity
that would at first nearly lead one to imagine it had been
launched bodily down the throat.

Raw fish!  Shall I ever forget my sensations when I first saw my
island beauty devour one.  Oh, heavens!  Fayaway, how could you
ever have contracted so vile a habit?  However, after the first
shock had subsided, the custom grew less odious in my eyes, and I
soon accustomed myself to the sight.  Let no one imagine,
however, that the lovely Fayaway was in the habit of swallowing
great vulgar-looking fishes: oh, no; with her beautiful small
hand she would clasp a delicate, little, golden-hued love of a
fish and eat it as elegantly and as innocently as though it were
a Naples biscuit.  But alas!  it was after all a raw fish; and
all I can say is, that Fayaway ate it in a more ladylike manner
than any other girl of the valley.

When at Rome do as the Romans do, I held to be so good a proverb,
that being in Typee I made a point of doing as the Typees did.  
Thus I ate poee-poee as they did; I walked about in a garb
striking for its simplicity; and I reposed on a community of
couches; besides doing many other things in conformity with their
peculiar habits; but the farthest I ever went in the way of
conformity, was on several occasions to regale myself with raw
fish.  These being remarkably tender, and quite small, the
undertaking was not so disagreeable in the main, and after a few
trials I positively began to relish them; however, I subjected
them to a slight operation with a knife previously to making my
repast.


Herman Melville