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SAMOA

THE LOTUS LAND OF THE PACIFIC

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The following story by John Harrison Wagner was published in Harpers New Monthly Magazine towards the end of the 19th century and contains some graphic descriptions of Samoan culture at this time. It is a significant document in that it records a number of interesting aspects of our pure Polynesian heritage. In particular I would like to draw your attention to the kava-making ceremony and to the significance of the 'Taupo'.
...Jane Resture

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The fierce noonday sun blazed upon the roofs of the straggling line of houses that fringes the beach and forms the township of Apia. In the harbour a couple of small trading schooners lay idly at anchor. Further out to sea the tiny canoe of a solitary fisherman, restlessly rising and falling just inside the line of breakers that marks the edge of the outer reef, was the only sign of life and motion visible through the hot, palpitating air. I sat on the veranda of the hotel, gazing idly seaward, thinking of the ten days yet to be endured ere the mail steamer should call and take me back to civilisation and cooler weather, and wondering how I should kill the time.

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"Why don't you go on a malanga?" said the owner of one of the trading-schooners, who had dropped in to refresh himself with a tepid brandy and soda. "Go and see something of the natives and native life. You'll enjoy the trip, and you'll find the people very different from the Samoans you see round about Apia." The mere idea of any change from the deadly dullness of the town inspired me with energy, and having made a few inquiries, I engaged a young half cast as interpreter and guide, and a boat and crew of three Samoans. The rest of the day was spent in fitting out with the necessary provisions and a goodly store of "trade," tobacco, cloth, etc., to be given as presents at the various stopping places, and soon all was ready for an early start on the morrow.

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Early next morning, a light favourable breeze springing up, we pushed off from the pier, and were soon gliding along through the calm hallows between reef and shore, under an almost cloudless sky. High and dry upon the edge of the inner reef of the harbour lies the skeleton of the German war-ship Adler, the Little Murderer, as the natives with justice called her cast there in the disastrous hurricane of 1889. We passed close under her stern and saw myriads of brilliantly coloured flashes darting in and out among the shallow pools on the ledge of rock upon which she lies, her gaunt frame work, from which all the valuable metal and timbers have long ago been striped, standing out against the sunny sky, a grim memento of man's impotence and the power of the angry sea.

Our way lay due west along the coast of the island of Upolu for about sixteen miles and then across to Apolima, which is about four miles from the extreme western end of the island. It would be hard indeed to imagine a more pleasant journey than ours that day, travelling lazily along midway between the coast and the line of reef, past a succession of beautiful stretches of scenery with here and there little villages nestling in among the waving palms and glorious tropical foliage that fringe the silvery sand. Groups of natives sat chatting and smoking among the trees or bathing in the crystal pools that mark the spot where some tiny stream empties itself to the sea.

Behind lay the dark green mountain range of Upolu, rising some two thousand feet, and forming a beautiful background to the brighter colouring of the coast-line. On the other hand was the open sea, the great sullen-looking rollers breaking into a dazzling line of  white along the reef, and subsiding into the calm clear lagoon through which we were sailing. Looking down into the water, one could see alternately patches of golden sand and miniature forests of the wondrous submarine growths peculiar to these coral reefs - dark waving patches of rich green sea-weed, or masses of coral, fantastic in outline and of which brilliant-hued fish, blue, purple, golden - some with all the tints of the rainbow - dart here and there like the variegated denizens of some tropical forest.

Sometimes, as we rounded one of the countless points that jut out from the shore, we would come upon a merry party of laughing girls knee-deep in the water, filling their baskets with dainty edible mussels and other kinds of shell fish.

From these damsels we never failed to get a smiling greeting, and after many interchanges of compliments through the medium of Talii, the half caste boy (who proved to be a most accomplished orator, with an inexhaustible flow of flowery language), and when the girls had partaken, not without many giggling protestations, of a valid brew of claret and water, we would pass on our way, they kissing their hands and calling after us "To-fa" till we were out of hearing.

About three o'clock in the afternoon I landed, and having sent the boat on, took Talli with me and sauntered along the road which skirts the beach and forms the main highway round the island. At intervals of every half-mile or so we passed through little villages, each with its neat white church and open thatched houses, where the women sat making mats or weaving garlands of flowers, and the men lay about smoking and talking, languidly brushing away the flies, and  only looking up to give us a kindly greeting or an invitation to step in and rest and drink the friendly kava. As I was anxious to reach Apolima before night, these invitations had to be declined, with a promise, in most cases, that we would stop if possible on our return.

The spot from which we were to cross is an outlying trading station belonging to German firm with an utterly unpronounceable name. Here the gentleman in charge insisted on my halting for refreshment, and in his charming little cottage presently produced cool foaming lager-beer in genuine old stone tankards, the sight of which brought back to me memories of the "Drei Raben" at Dresden, the "Horfbrau Haus" at Munich, and many a pleasant  "Gasthaus" by the banks of the Rhine. As we smoked and chatted and drank our lager, we were waited on by by two pretty nut brown maidens, each clad in a single flowing garment of softest muslin, while a chubby brown urchin stood behind each chair with fan and flapper to drive away the flies that lazily buzzed about the room.

The time sped so pleasantly that I had almost forgotten the four mile row yet before us and the difficult passages between the reefs, which would be more safely made at daylight. But Tialli arrived to say that it was time to start, and that he had induced an old chief a noted pilot to make the passage with us. So bidding my kind hosts goodbye, I went down to the boat, where our pilot, Lekeli, a handsome white haired old gentleman, was already at the tiller.

By this time, a heavy bank of clouds had begun to form way to the east; there was a choppy ripple on the now leaden-coloured sea, and every indication of an approaching storm. Ere we had gone a mile, down came the rain in bucketful drenching us to the skin, while the choppy ripple swelled into ugly white-capped rollers that rendered it difficult to find the passages and avoid the sunken rocks. Our ancient mariner evidently knew his business well, and we dodged about in and out of the breakers, making slow but steady progress, till Ere we were within a mile of our destination, darkness was upon us.

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Before long, from the sound of the waves breaking upon the shore, and from the indistinct outline of a blackwall of rock dimly looming out of the darkness, I knew that we were skirting close to the side of the island. Suddenly, there appeared to be a break in the huge mass of rock, a number of twinkling lights appeared towards which, with a shout of warning to the rowers, Lekeli brought the boat's head sharp round. In a moment we appeared to sink deep down into the trough of an immense wave, while right behind us in the murky gloom a wall of water seemed about to fall upon and overwhelmed us. Half a dozen quick strokes with the oars; for an instant, the boat remained stationary; the mass of water from behind came hissing and gurgling around us; we were lifted, poised high in air; then, at a yell from our helmsmen, another half dozen quick oar-strokes, we were in smooth water within a few yards of the shore.

Soon, dusky figures came hurrying down to the beach, and by the time we have grounded our boat, the while village had turned out to welcome us. After much chatting, and an explanation by Tialli, I was presented to the chief of the village, who promptly dispatched men and girls to prepare the guest-house for our reception.

The Samoan house consists of one large oval shaped apartment, from 25 to 35 feet long by 20 broad, formed by a thatched roof resembling and immense bee hive, which is supported by two or three large post in the centre, and a number of short posts placed round the side about four or five feet apart. In the spaces between these outer posts are cunningly contrived shutters made of plaited palm leaves, which are let down only in bad weather, the house ordinarily being open on all sides. The floor, which is raised five or six inches, is paved with smooth round pebbles upon which are laid long strips of coarse coconut matting. Over these are placed here and there a finer species of mat, woven out of the fibre of the pandanus leaf; and both paving and matting and in fact everything in the interior is kept scrupulously clean. In many of the houses a number of cords stretched across from the rafters support mosquito nets, which are rolled up in the day time and at night let down, so as to form a series of tents. Under one of these I promptly retire to put on some dry clothing while our host prepared a meal.

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The wreck of the Adler

After the meal, we sat and smoked, and a few visitors dropped in to welcome the stranger. I learned from the chief that times had sadly changed on the once happy island of Apolima. In 1888, during the late war, the island was shelled by the same Adler whose skeleton we passed on leaving Apia, many houses were burnt, and the larger number of their breadfruit and banana trees, the main source of their food supply destroyed. This act of barbarity had forced the greater number of the inhabitants gradually to migrate to the larger islands, there being insufficient food for the few who were left behind. Consequently, said my host, they had but sorry entertainment to offer me and he sadly recalled the days wen the little island was very paradise where want and care were unknown and the coming of the stranger were occasions for feasting and enjoyment. They made up however, for the lack of material offering by their courtesy and cheerful kindness, the girls in particular being full of fun, and evidently delighted with this break in the monotony of their lives.

By-and-by the visitors, one by one, retired to their houses, and at about 10 o'clock, the rain, by this time having ceased and the moon coming out in all her splendour, the girls suggested a bath. So off we started singing, laughing, and chattering like children just released from school, till down by the beach we came to a miniature fresh water lagoon. Each girl as she reached the water's edge untwisted the lava lava that formed only her garment, and as it fell to her feet, dived into the pool. Having improvised a bathing suit with a towel, I followed, and there in the moonlight we splashed about and swam, the girls with their lithe, graceful figures, and dripping gleaming locks, looking like a band of dusky water-nymphs from some old pagan paradise. After the bath, the girls ran races, and I was initiated into the mysteries of a game that was Samoan equivalent of the old English kiss-in-the-ring. All went merrily, till the shouting and laughter brought an angry old gentleman on the scene who informed us that it was quite kind that all decent people, Samoan or otherwise were asleep. Not all together sorry to take the hint, I retired under my mosquito net, while the girls stretched themselves out on the mats around the house, and soon we were all asleep.

At daybreak next morning, I was up and off to bathe in the surf, and then for the first time realised the danger of our landing the night before. The little island is a horseshoe-shaped volcanic hill, about a mile in circumference, which rises sheer from the water, part of the precipitous wall of rock having in some bygone age been broken down by molten lava rushing to the sea. This break in the rock, the open portion of the horseshoe, formed a tiny harbour, guarded by a black ugly looking reef in which, as the tide was now running out, I could see a long narrow passage, through which we had come the night before; and truly it was a wondrous feat of skill to bring us safely through in the darkness, for the opening is in places only a few yards wide, and even in day time and with a favourable tide, there was danger in entering it with a large boat. Sometimes when a heavy sea is running, the passage is closed for weeks, and the natives, thus cut off from the sea and from communication with the other islands, suffer great privation as they depend largely upon the outside fishing for their food supply.

The inner portion of the horseshoe, the crater of the volcano is a gently sloping plateau, divided by a little stream on either side of which are the 15 or 20 houses that formed the village. Here and there are cultivated patches of taro and the kava plant and a few breadfruit and banana trees, while the steep sloping side of the crater are covered with dense tropical undergrowth.

After a dip in the surf, a light breakfast, and a stroll around the summit of the volcano, I decided to make for Manono, where I was sure of a great reception, having a recommendation to the chief from a trader in Apia who is deservedly popular with the natives all through the group. So, having said goodbye to our kind friends, and distributed a good store of biscuits, tinned meats, tobacco and cloth, with a few little knick-knacks for the girls, we made a start. All the villages came to the beach to see us off and two steady fellows volunteered to help us over the barrier and through the passage. They waded out to the bar one taking the bow and one the stern and then, the men being ready at the oars, we put our heads to the breakers and waited for the word. Suddenly and immense wave comes in, lapping and curling round the boat, and just covering the huge rock we had to cross. "Vave" (quick) screams Lekeli and with a shout, our friend pushed us off, the keel grates heavily over the reefs, and we plunge down into the seething, boiling cauldron, and are in the narrow channel. The boys bend to the oars and we shoot ahead. In comes another roller, that buffets us back almost to the rocks; we are stationary an instant; and then, as the wave rush swirling out through the channel, away goes the oars; we shoot ahead, and are clear of the reef and safe on the open sea. I had wanted to give out two kind helpers some tobacco, but in the excitement had neglected to do so, so I now held up a large foot long twist of the peculiar black leaf that the Samoan dearly loves. In an instant one of the men, a big, powerful fellow, jumped off into the breakers, which would assuredly have dashed any ordinary swimmer in pieces on the rocks, and diving through the waves as he met them, soon reached the boat, grabbed the tobacco and swam back with his prize smiling and happy.

Manono is about three miles in circumference, is surrounded by the usual barrier reef of coral, and fringed with a ribbon like strip of white sand, from which the ground slopes up in gentle adulations to a tiny hill in the centre. Bananas, palms, breadfruit and coconut trees grow in profusion, while the flaming hibiscus and the trailing passion flower give brilliant colour here and there, and the magnolia, lemon, wild orange, and a hundred aromatic shrub and flowers steep the drowsy languorous air with perfume. Down among the ferns and mosses, tiny springs bubble up from the cool depths and trickle to the sea, while here and there beneath the palms are shady bathing pools hollowed out among the smooth round stones, with clean sandy bottoms and fairylike grottos that tempt one to plunge in and seek shelter from the heat of the tropical noonday.

We landed at a village on the eastern side of the island, and  was presented to the chief, Falatta, a tall and handsome man of about forty, who received me with a stately courtesy and dignified bearing that in these degenerate days is seldom met with save in these happy islands. A large house was dedicated to my use, snowy mats were spread, messengers were sent about to announce the arrival of a visitor, and I was welcomed with an invitation to drink kava. On reaching the house, I was presented to the chief's daughter, Fake, the "Taupo" or "Maid of the village", of Manono and her three attendant maidens, and was told that these damsels would take charge of me and see to my comfort and amusement during our stay.

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The "Taupo" is always a young and good looking girl, generally the daughter or adopted daughter of the chief. She is chosen as "Maid of the Village" and maintained by contributions levied from all the inhabitants who supply her with food, clothing, and a large well built house, in which she is expected to dispense hospitality to all important visitors. Three or four attendants are always with her, whose duty is not only to serve her, but to keep a watchful eye upon her and see that she never strays from the path of propriety, she being destined eventually to wed some great chief. On the ceremony taking place, the village to which the bridegroom belongs must make an offering of valuable mat, large quantity of food, and various kinds of property to the village of which she is the Maid; so that, apart from any considerations of abstract morality, she is looked upon as a valuable asset, and is guarded accordingly. Should she, however, yield to the fascinations of some handsome young man, her hair is cropped short, she is stripped of her simple finery and degraded to the post of attendant on the more prudent virgin who may be chosen as her successor. On the other hand, the young man plumes himself on his conquest, and the more adventures of the kind he can boast of, the more highly he is considered. Thus, though the less culpable of the two, the woman has to make all the sacrifice and bear all the punishment; so that in this matter at least, the Samoan is quite in touch with the humane sentiments of civilisation.

Fake was a tall slight girl with long wavy black hair, clean cut features, and a pleasant though somewhat sedate expressions. Sassa, one of her attendant maids, was plump and pleasing, the very picture of health and happiness; Epinessa, who was rather short and sturdy, with an air of bustling activity unusual in a Polynesian was evidently the working partner of the firm; while prettiest of them all was laughing, bright eyed Maua, the merriest sauciest, and most mischievous little sixteen years old maid that ever poet sang or dreamed of. They soon had my things stowed away and everything in order, when a message came bidding us to the chief's house for the ceremony of kava drinking.

Here were assembled Falatta himself and a number of old men and chiefs, prominently among whom were the "talking man" or public orator of the village, and an extraordinary looking individual named Peisano, the chief's jester. They were all seated in a semi circle round the floor, cross-legged in that peculiar attitude only possible to the subtle jointed Polynesian. In the centre sat the two girls who were to prepare the kava. Having first carefully rinsed their mouths and washed their hands with water brought to them by an attendant they proceeded solemnly to chew pieces of the kava root cut up and handed to them by one of the men. When the mass had been thoroughly masticated it was placed in a large four-legged wooden bowl, which stood between the girls. Water was poured upon it from the coconut shells always kept hanging in the cool shade of the thatch and they proceeded to kneed and squeeze it until all the juice was extracted. They then strained it and skinned it with long wisps of delicate pandanus fibre, till at last the bowl was filled with a liquor that in appearance was not unlike the cafe au lait.

All being ready, one of the girls clapped her hands twice while the other dip a polished coconut shell cup into the bowl and fill it to the brim. The "talking man" now stood up and call "Ooatenah," which was the nearest approach a Samoan could make to the pronunciation of my name. The Maid of the Village took the cup and advancing slowly with bended head, to where I sat, bowed to the ground and handed it to me. Having first turned aside, and, in correct Samoan fashion, spilled a little on the threshold as a libation, I looked towards the chief, said, "manuia" (good health to you) to which they all replied, "manuia lava" (very good health to you), drained the bowl, and handed it back to the Maid. The talking man now called the name of Falatta, the cup was handed to the chief, and the same routine gone through; and so on until each man, in his turn, according to his rank or seniority had been served. The whole ceremony, from the commencement of the preparation of the kava to the drinking of the last cupful, was conducted with the utmost solemnity, as a Samoan looks upon it almost as a religious function, the libation being always poured out as a propitiatory offering to the household gods. The method of preparation is apt, at first, to rather shock a European, but one soon grows accustomed to it. Many white men becoming very fond of the liquor, which has a peculiar bitter flavour, and is extremely refreshing. A red-pepper pod is sometimes crushed and mixed with the kava to give it an extra "bite". When taken in great quantities, it is said to be intoxicating, but in all my travels through the islands the only drunkenness I have seen has been among the whites - the Samoan, though invariably a great eater, being in other respects extremely temperate.

The kava bowl having been removed, the girls made us each a "sului", or cigarette. A few tiny threads of tobacco are first carefully dried with a piece of live charcoal, then rolled in a strip of dry banana leaf, lighted, and handed to each in turn. While we enjoyed our smoke, Tialli went round with the whiskey glass and gave each a "wee drappie". The white man's kava was pronounced a great success and one stout old gentleman in the corner cast his eyes to the heaven and rubbed his stomach with an air of such supreme beatitude that I felt bound to invite him "to wet the other eye", which he promptly did, in spite of much good natured chaff from the others who seemed to look upon this as rather a breach of etiquette.

     

Samoan lady.

In the meantime a feast had been prepared and we now adjourned to the guest house. Down to the centre of the floor were laid long strips of green banana leaves and on these were piled all sorts of edibles, conspicuous among which a couple of small roast pigs held the place of honour. Fowls, fish, breadfruit, taro, yams, and bananas were mingled with the contribution from our store in the shape of biscuits, tender meats, salmon, sardines, and jam, for which last the Polynesian has the true child's love. We all took our places on the mats and the chief proceeded to chop the pigs into enormous portions which were distributed amongst the guests. A wooden trough of clean water was passed round in which each one rinsed his hands, and then proceeded to fall to, though not until it was seen that the stranger had been served with the noblest portion; for the Samoan, though he dearly love the pleasures of the table, is the personification of true hospitality. A clean, freshly cut breadfruit leaf served each man as a plate, fingers took the place of knives and forks and soon the pile of good things began to disappear in wondrous fashion. Outside the house, sleep, well-fed dogs prowled, on the look out for the bone or scrap of meat that was thrown to them from time to time, and in the corner a group of children feasted on the portion that has been set aside for them.

The girls sat round me keeping my plate with the choicest morsels, one offering in her dainty fingers a piece of snow white fish, another a slice of the soft and delicious in a pulp of the breadfruit, while the laughing Maua held a freshly gathered coconut full of the cool milky liquor, that, tempered with a thimbleful of gin or brandy makes a delicious drink. All sorts of strange delicacies were produced from various little bags made of breadfruit leaves, drawn together at the four corners and tied with pieces of fibre. There was a raw "beche-de-mer" cut in pieces and a delicious mixture made of the young green tops of the taro plant cooked in salt water and flavoured with the soft creamlike kernel of the coconut, and many other artfully concocted dishes, fit to tickle the jaded pallet of the most fastidious epicure. At length the feast came to an end, hands were again dipped into the trough of water, and after a smoke and chat the guests dispersed to their various houses for the siesta which invariably followed the Polynesian meal.

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The hospitable Fake ever thoughtful of my comfort, was anxious that I should experience what she called the "lomi lomi." A pile of soft mats was laid, and on it was placed one of their curious pillows, formed of a piece of bamboo about three feet long, which is raised about six inches from the mat by a short pair of legs placed at each end. I stretched myself out, one of the girls seating herself at my head and one on either side of me. The former deftly ran her fingers through my hair and over my face and neck, while the others rubbed, kneaded, and punch my back, chest, arms and legs with a skill and lightness of touch that no professional masseur could imitate. By-and-by I began to feel as if charged with electricity, and glowed and tingled from head to foot to gradually a delicious drowsy feeling stole over me and I dropped off to sleep.

The girls having announced that they would give a siva dance that night, after a short interval of rest, spent the remainder of the afternoon weaving wreaths of flowers and dressing their hair. When night came, the guest house was lighted with two or three lamps placed on the floor, and a screen was arranged at the far end behind which the girls retired to make their preparations. Four musicians seated themselves on one side, and proceeded to beat a wooden drum at the sound of which the guests started to assemble. Neither the chief nor the old men showed themselves, as the siva is looked upon with great disfavour by the missionaries, and the eldest doubtless thoughts it would not be decorous of them to be present, though they gave me to understand that they had no objection to the dance taking place. The house was soon filled with the young men and girls who sat chatting, laughing and smoking, and facing a clear place left in the centre for the performance.

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The siva dance.

The musicians beat a sharp tattoo on the drums, and, at a great round of applause and clapping of hands, the four girls appear from behind the screen and take their places in the open space. Their handsome brown bodies glisten with coconut oil, their hair is decorated with shells and white and scarlet flowers and each is clad in a very short lava lava of about the size of a large pocket handkerchief. Over this is a fringe and tasselled girdle made of pandanus fibre and dyed in brilliant colours and each wears round the neck and falling over the breasts a wreath of strongly scented flowers.  

The lamps are now placed upon the edge of the mats and the girls set themselves in a line facing them. One begins singing in a shrill high pitched voice, and the others in turn take up the strain, the four voices blending in a weird sort of harmony to which the beating of the drums and the deep bass voices of the musician make an effective accompaniment. As the girls sing, their bodies sway from side to side, the arms wave gracefully in perfect time, while the music, which commences slowly, gradually quickens, until arms, bodies, and voices are going at lightning speed; then they gradually slow down again and the song dies away in a soft tender whisper.

After more applause, and loud shouts, the girls stand up, the music starts again, and they begin to dance the real Samoan siva, the anethema maranatha of the missionaries, and the chief delight of the pleasure loving islanders. The brown bodies, glistening in the fitful light, sway from the hips in dreamy languorous motion, while the arms are waved from side to side, quivering, rising and falling like the rippling of water when the breeze kisses its surface; the sir is heavy with the sensuous odour of the wreaths and the scented oil with which their bodies are anointed. The limpid brown eyes gleam with strange light, and are veiled again by the drooping lids. Again the music quickens, and is intermingled with quaint barbaric discords; the drums give forth a louder, harsher note, and the voluptuous swaying motion gives place to quick leaps high in the air, while gestures and tempestuous tossing of the limbs; the wreaths and girdles whirl and twist, the eyes that were so soft and dreamy now gleam and sparkle like burning coals; louder still sounds the shouting and the drums, quicker speeds the dance, till at length with one wild cry it ceases, and the girls sink on the mats, panting and quivering with excitement and exhaustion.

At this stage they are allowed cries of "Peisano! Peisano!" and the jester came forward and took his place upon the mat. He was a long, lean, three-cornered looking creature with a small cornicle-shaped head, little twinkling reddish eyes, an enormous mouth, and extraordinary elastic features which he could twist and contort into every conceivable variety of expression. From the enthusiasm aroused by his arrival, I concluded that he was about to give us the gem of his repertoire; and certainly the performance which follows was, in its way, the most marvellous piece of acting I have ever seen. The musicians softly beat the drums and broke into a lugubrious chant, repeating over and over again, with every variety of mournful expression a few words in their language, which were translated to me as meaning that poor Peisano was going to die. Meanwhile Peisano himself stood upright on the mat, his arms hanging rigidly at his side, his stomach drawn in and his ribs protruding, till, in the uncertain fitful light he seemed but a mass of skin and bone. The red eyes grew dull and fishlike, the cheeks were sunken in, and save for an occasional shiver from head to foot, a short gasp, and a motion with the mouth exactly like that of a fish when taken from the water, he seemed lifeless. First, one eyelid dropped and then the other, the gasping grew almost imperceptible, till at last the head bent forward, the jaw dropped horribly upon the chest and he was to all appearances a corpse. The music had now died away to an awful whisper of poor Peisano's dead. Suddenly, the corpse lifts an eyelid, gives a short gasp, and begins to show gradually increasing signs of returning animation, working up by degrees to a wild dance, in which arms and legs swing loosely here and there as though jerked by invisible wires, while the song has changed to a joyful shout of Peisano's come to life.

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After this, there were more singing and dancing, and the fun was kept up to a far into the small hours. At last, I was glad to turn into my mosquito net, but only to dream of a wild carnival, in which fierce warriors and laughing brown-eyed maidens were jostled by hideous skeletons with grinning, sightless skulls, to the music of a ghostly drummer playing with a pair of cross bones on a coffin lid.

Next morning, I was wakened by the sound of singing, and looking out from my tent, found the whole household on their knees. They were facing the east, where the first flush of dawn appeared behind Upolu, and all in unison were chanting a strange mourning hymn. After the hymn, one of the old men began a long rambling prayer, during which Peisano looked over at me, winked, and proceeded for my amusement to put his mobile features through some of their lightning changes. Little Maua happening to look up, at once burst into a fit of giggling whereupon the old gentleman checking for the moment his flood of eloquence, solemnly gave her a sounding whack over the head and sent her howling from the room. While this little passage of arms was taking place, the villain Peisano had cast his eyes heavenwards and assumed a seraphic and intensely devotional expression.

The days passed away, the happy hours speeding all too quickly. We swam in the surf, fished on the reef, sailed round the island in canoes, strolled among the perfumed laden trees, or lounge through the heat of the day in the cool shade of the houses, till the time came for me to return to Apia to catch the mail-steamer.

Samoa - The Isles of the Navigators

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Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 31st May 2011)