Every one has seen Rarotonga, though few travellers have looked on it with their own mortal eyes.
Close your eyelids, and picture to yourself a South Sea Island, of the kind that you used to imagine on holiday afternoons long ago, when you wandered off down to the shore alone, to sit in a cave and look seaward, and fancy yourself Crusoe or Selkirk, and think the "long, long thoughts" of youth. Dagger-shaped peaks, of splendid purple and gorgeous green, set in a sky of flaming sapphire - sheer grey precipices, veiled with dropping wreaths of flowery vine and creeper - gossamer shreds of cloud, garlanding untrodden heights, high above an ocean of stainless blue - shadowy gorges, sweeping shoreward from the unseen heart of the hills - white foam breaking upon white sand on the beach, and sparkling sails afloat in the bay - is not this the picture that wanders ever among
It is not very like the average South Sea Island on the whole - but it is a faithful portrait of Rarotonga, the jewel of the Southern Seas. Nothing is more hotly disputed than the claims of the many beautiful islands among the numberless groups of the Pacific to the crown of the supremest loveliness. Tahiti is awarded the apple of Paris by many, Honolulu by a few, Samoa by all who have been there and nowhere else. The few who have seen the quaint loveliness of Manihiki, or Humphrey Island, uphold its claims among the highest, and for myself, I have never been quite certain whether the low atoll islands are not more lovely than all else, because of their matchless colouring. but, if one pins one's faith to the high islands, the accepted type of Pacific loveliness, there is nothing more beautiful between 'Frisco and Sydney, Yokohama and Cape Horn, than Rarotonga, chief island of the Cook archipelago.
These islands lie some sixteen hundred miles north-east of New Zealand, and about six hundred miles to the westward of Tahiti. They are eight in number, seven inhabited, and one uninhabited, and cover about a hundred and sixty miles of sea. The largest, Atiu, is about thirty miles round, Rarotonga, which is the principal island, containing the seat of government and the only "white" town, is twenty miles in circumference. The whole group, as well as a number of outlying islands as much as six and seven hundred miles away, is under the guardianship of the Resident Commissioner appointed by New Zealand to which colony the islands were annexed in 1900. The government, as administered by Colonel Gudgeon, a soldier who won much distinction in the days of the New Zealand Maori wars, is all that could be desired. The beachcomber element, which is so unpleasantly in evidence in other groups, has been sternly discouraged in the Cook Islands, the Commissioner having he right to deport any one whose presence seems undesirable to the cause of the general good. It is a aright not infrequently used. During my stay in the island, two doubtful characters, recently come, were suspected of having committed a robbery that took place in the town. There was practically no one else on the island who could have done the deed, or would - but direct evidence connecting the strangers with the crime was not to be had. Under these circumstances the Commissioner simply deported the men by the next steamer, giving no reason beyond the fact that they were without means of support. There were no more thefts. The colonel might, in the same manner have ordered myself away by the next steamer, and compelled it to carry me to New Zealand, if he had had reason to suppose that I was likely to disturb the peace of the island in any way, or incite it to violence or crime. The doctor - also a government official - was empowered to regulate the amount of liquor consumed by any resident, if it appeared to exceed the permitted amount - two bottles of spirits a week. Under these circumstances, one would expect Rarotonga to be a little Arcadia of innocence and virtue. If it was not quite that, it was, and is, a credit to British Colonial rule, in all things essential.
Before the annexation, the government was chiefly in the hands of the Protestant missionaries, who, with the best intentions in the world, carried things decidedly too far in the way of grandmotherly laws. Even white men were forbidden to be out of doors after eight o'clock in the evening, on pain of a heavy fine, and the offences for which the natives were fined would be incredible, were they not recorded in the Governmental reports of New Zealand, to Rarotonga of the older days (not yet ten years past) a native who walked at dusk along the road with his sweetheart, his arm round her waist after the manner of sweethearts all the world over, was obliged to carry a burning torch in his hand, and was fined if he let it go out. If he was found weeping over the grave of a woman to whom he was not related (surely the strangest crime in the world) he was again brought up and fined. there are only samples of the vagaries of irresponsible missionary role, but they go far to prove that spiritual and temporal legislation are better kept apart.
A government accommodation house had been placed but not built, when I visited Rarotonga, so I arranged, on landing to take an unused house by the week and "do for" myself, as there seemed on other way of living. Scarcely had I taken possession of my quarters, however, when the residents came down to all, and invite me to stay in their house. I did not know any of them, and they did not know me, but that did not matter - we were not in chilly England, where a whole country-side must discuss your personal history, family connections, probable income, and religious views, for a good six months, before deciding whether you are likely to be an acquisition or not, and calling accordingly. I began to understand, now, the meaning of the term "colonial hospitality" which had formerly fallen on uncomprehending ears. And when I was settled down that evening in the most delightful of bungalow houses, with a charming host and hostess, and a pretty daughter, all doing their best to make me feel at home, I realised that I was about to see something of the true island life at last.
It began rather sooner than I could have wished. When my new friends had gone to bed, and left me sitting up alone in the hall to write letters for the morning's mail, the local colour commenced to lay itself on somewhat more rapidly and thickly than I desired. I am not particularly nervous about insects, but it is trying when one is quite new to the tropics, to see a horde of cockroaches at large as mice, with fearsome waving horns, suddenly appear from nowhere, and proceed to overrun the walls and floor, with a hideous ticking noise. And when one has steeled oneself to endure this horrid spectacle, it is still more trying to be shocked by the silent irruption of dozens of brown hairy hunting-spiders, each big enough to straddle over a saucer, which dart about the walls on their eight agile legs, and stay and eat the beetles crunching audibly in the silence of the night. ... Truly, it was like a waking nightmare.
Those cockroaches! What I suffered from them during the year of two of island travel that followed! How they spoiled my tea, and ate my dresses for parts of them) and flew into my hair of moonlight nights, and climbed into my berth on shipboard! It was on a liner that shall be nameless, very early in the course of my wanderings, that I first discovered the tendency of the cockroach to share the voyager's couch unasked, and never again did I know unvexed and trustful sleep aboard a tropic ship. It was a moonlight night and I was lying looking peacefully at the brilliantly silvered circle of my port, when suddenly a horrid head, with waving feelers, lifted itself over the edge of my berth and stared me coldly in the face. I hit out, like the virtuous hero in a novel, and struck it straight between the eyes, and it dropped to the floor with a dull sickening thud, and lay there very still. I thought gloatingly of how the blood would trickle out under my door in the morning in a slow hideous stream, and how the stewardess, bringing my early tea, would start and stop, and say in an awestruck tone that one that night had met his doom - and so thinking, I fell asleep.
I woke, with one cockroach in my hair, chewing a plait, and another nibbling my heel. I got up and looked round. It was then that I wished I had never come away from home, and that, since I had come, my sex forbade me to go and berth in the hold. I was convinced that, if I could have done so, I should have had a quiet night, because the hold is the part of a ship where the cockroaches come from, and they had all come - they were on the floor of my cabin, and sitting about the quilt. The hideous battle raged all night, and in the morning I asked one of the mates for an axe, to help me through the coming renewal of hostilities. He recommended boracic acid instead, and I may record, for the benefit of other travellers, that I really found it of some use. To find out, as far as possible, what were the prospects for settlers in some of the principal Pacific groups, was the main object of my journey to the Islands. It had always seemed to me that the practical side of Pacific life received singularly little attention, in most books of travel. One could never find out how a living was to be made in the island world, what the cost of housekeeping might be, what sort of society might be expected, whether the climates were healthy, and so forth - matters prosaic enough, but often of more interest to readers than the scenic descriptions and historical essays that run naturally from the peon of any South Sea traveller.
Certainly, the romantic and picturesque side of the islands is so obvious that it takes some determination, and a good deal of actual hand work, to obtain any other impressions whatever. But while human beings, even in the islands, cannot live on romance alone, and many people, in Britain and elsewhere, are always anxious to know how the delightful dream of living in the South Sea may be realised. Practical details about island life, therefore, will take up the most of the present chapter, and readers who prefer the lighter and more romantic vein, must turn the pages a little harder on. The number of those who wish to settle in the Pacific is by no means small. The Pacific Ocean has always had a special interest for the English, from the days of Drake's daring circumnavigation, through the times of Captain Cook and the somewhat misunderstood Bligh, of the Bounty, down to the dawn of the twentieth century. The very name of the South Seas reeks of adventure and romance. Every boy at school has dreams of coral islands and rakish schooners, sharks, and pearls; most men retain a shame-faced fancy for stories of peril and adventure in that magical South Sea world, of whose charm and beauty every one has heard, although very few are fortunate enough to see it with their own bodily eyes. For the Pacific Islands are, both in point of time and distance, about the remotest spots on the surface of the globe, and they are also among the most costly for the ordinary traveller to reach. Thus, for the most part, the South Sea dream, which so many hot-blooded young Saxons cherish, remains a dream only. The youth who has a fancy for Canadian farming life, or for stock-raising in Australasia, may gratify his desire with the full approval of parents and guardians in private life, and of Empire-builders in high places. but the British possessions in the South Seas - and what extensive possession they are let Colonial maps prove - may cry out for settlers from the rainy season to the dry, and round again to the rainy season once more, without attracting a single colonist of the right kind.
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What is the reason of this? Where is the broken link? The British Pacific Islands need settlers; young Britons at home are only too ready to adventure themselves. Why do they not? There are several reasons. The first, perhaps, is that neither party can hear the other. In England few possess any information about the South Sea Islands. In the Pacific the white residence (almost all New Zealand traders and Government officials) are possessed with an idea that only wastrels of the worst kind drift out from England in the south Seas, and that nothing better is to be looked for. The result is that at the present date young Englishmen by the hundred are losing their small capital as "pupils" on Canadian farms or are starving on the roads to South Africa, while all the time the South Sea Islands hold out hands of peace and plenty, begging humbly for a respectable white population. The brown races are dying out with fearful rapidity; at their best they never touched the limitless capacities of the golden Pacific soil. His richness has always seemed to the original inhabitants an excellent reason for abstaining from cultivation. When the earth produced of itself everything that was necessary for comfort, why trouble to work it? Now, however, when so many groups of fertile islands have fallen into the hands of more progressive nations, things are changed. The white man can live happily and healthily in the Pacific; he can obtain a good return for a small capital at the best, and at the worst cannot possibly suffer from either cold or hunger, since neither exists in the South Seas. He can lease or buy land from the natives at slight cost, work it with small labour, and sell the product to a sure market. Honesty, sobriety, and industry repay their possessor as almost nowhere else in the world. Yet, with all this, the white settler in the Pacific Islands is generally of a more or less undesirable kind.
The "beachcomber" white, without friends, means, of character; "the remittance man" paid to keep as far away from home as possible; the travelling ne'er-do-well, with a taste for novelties to dissipation, and a fancy for being outside the limit of Press and post - all these are familiar figures in the Pacific. Kipling's Lost Legion musters there by the score; the living ghosts of men whose memorial tablets are blinking while on the walls of English country churches, walk by daylight along the coral beaches. Only the steady man, the young energetic man with a future and without a past, the man who can get on without a three-weekly spree of the most torrid kind, commonly keeps away. And these are just the men that the "Islands" want. Local trading interest, religious and otherwise, often does its best to keep them from coming, through a natural, if scarcely praiseworthy, desire to retain personal hold of everything worth holding. The Governmental party of every group desires the respectable settler with a little capital, and expresses its desire, as a role, in gentle wails delivered through Governmental reports - a method about as effective as putting one's head into a cupboard to hail a 'bus in the street. The Press does not recognise the existence of any habitable land in the Pacific, outside Honolulu and Samoa. So the dead lock continues.
I can see the Left Behind in the office raise his head at this, and look through the muddy panes of the counting-house window, or across the piles of summer goods on the shop counters, out beyond the changing street, and right through the whole round world to the far-away Pacific lands. He wants to get away so very badly, that poor. Left Behind, and he does not quite see his way to do it, because every one discourages him if he hints at the subject, and he does not know how one could make a living, out in those fairy lands that he wishes so much to see. Well, I am on his side in this matter. If it is a crime to long for a glimpse of the wonderful island world, to ache for a life spent under the free winds of heaven, and a chance of the danger, adventure, and excitement, which are as strong wine to the heart of almost every young Englishman - then it is a crime shared by the best that the nation has ever known and one which has done more to build up the empire than all the parochial virtues ever owned by a million Young Men's Improvement Societies put together.
The Islands are not the place for the ne'er-do-well, and I would also warn the exasperating young man, who never did a square day's work in his life, never got into trouble with his employers or his superiors, but always found himself misunderstood, unappreciated, and incomprehensibly "sacked," with an excellent character, at the first hint of slacking business - that the islands will not suit him either. If he comes out, he will not starve or go to the workhouse, because you cannot die of hunger where there is always enough vegetable food to keep the laziest alive, and you do not need workhouses, under the same happy conditions - but he will "go native," and there are some who would say he had better starve, a good deal. There are men who have "gone native" in most of the Pacific groups, living in the palm-leaf huts with the villagers - but a white man in a waist-cloth and a bush of long hair, sleeping on a mat and living on wild fruit and scraps given by the generous natives, drunk half the time and infinitely lower, in his soberest hours, than the coloured folk who unwisely put up with him, is not a happy spectacle.
The Cook Islands, which may be taken as a sample of many other groups, are small to look at on the map, and not over large, when one counts up the number of square miles. But one cannot fairly estimate the value of island land by its extent. Much of it is so rich that every foot has its worth, and that is by no means despicable. And, in any case, there is plenty available for the small cultivator - the man who has only a few hundred pounds, and cannot afford to do things on the colossal scale that makes big fortunes. Among the productions of the group are pineapples, custard apples, coffee, tobacco, pepper, mammee-apple or paw-paw, granadilla, cocoa, cotton, vanilla, limes, lemons, oranges, bananas, castor-oil, and many other useful plants, besides a number of excellent vegetables, not known to most Europeans. Many of the fruits above mentioned grow practically wild. Bananas come to bearing in fifteen months, cocoanuts in seven years, limes in four or five. The water supply is good all round, and there is a monthly steamer from Auckland.
The land in all the islands belongs to the natives, and cannot usually be bought outright. Leases of my length, can, however, be secured at very low rates, with the New Zealand Government laws, administered through the Resident, to back up the titles, so that a man who plants cocoanuts - the safest of island products - may be sure that his children and grandchildren will enjoy the fruits of his labour. In most of the outer islands the natives cannot use more than a small fraction of the land, and are quite willing to let large sections at a shilling or two an acre. In Rarotonga, the chief island, there has been more demand for land, and prices are consequently higher; also, the chiefs are not always ready to let, even though they do not use what they have. It may be said, however, of the group as a whole that there is land, and a prospect of a good return for capital, ready for any reasonable number of settlers, if they bring habits of industry and a determination to succeed along with them.
There are two classes of possible settlers to be considered - the man with capital and the man without. How much does it take to start a man as a planter, and what return can he expect? Taking the Cook Islands as a general example (but by no means suggesting that the resources of the Pacific begin and end there) the young Englishman wishing to seek his fortune as a planter should have at least 500 pounds to start on, exclusive of passage-money. He can do excellently with a few hundreds more, but it is as well to put things as low as possible. Copra - the dried kernel of the cocoanut - is the usual, and the safest, investment. It is always saleable, and the demand increases year by year - sol much so, that the large soap-making firms who are the chief users of the product, are of late planting out islands for themselves. The cost of clearing and planting the land is about 5 pounds an acre. The rent, in the outer islands, should not exceed a couple of shillings an acre. In about seven years, the returns begin to come in, and in ten years' time the land should be bringing in 5 pounds net profit for every acre of trees. This is, of course, a long time to wait, but bananas can grow on the same land meantime, and will generally yield a quick return. Once the cocoanuts start bearing, they go on for sixty years or more so that a copra plantation is one of the best investments for a man who has others to come after him.
Banana growing may be managed with less capital, but the profits are not so sure, since fruit is perishable, and cannot wait for the steamer as copra can. Coffee has been grown, but is not of late years doing well, because of something like a "ring" formed in New Zealand to lower the prices. Cotton used to do excellently, and I have never heard any satisfactory reason against its being taken up afresh. It is running wild in a good many parts of the group. The plants above mentioned, however, by no means exhaust the resources of the islands, which are suitable for growing anything that will live in the tropics, and are fortunately not subject to the destructive hurricanes that from time to time do so much damage to Tahiti and the Fijis. Hurricanes are not absolutely unknown, but they are very rare, and not of the worst kind. The cost of living is not very serious, but it must not be supposed that the settlers can live decently and like white men, on nothing a year. A house costs something to put up, and furniture to a certain small amount is necessary, clothes do not grow on the cocoanut tree, nor do lamps and kerosene, or tools and nails, or fishing lines, or flour and bacon and tea and tinned butter, and the few groceries that the settler may need. Still, with care, a single man can live quite respectably on fifty pounds a year, and enjoy, in all probability, better health than he has had at home.
What the time of waiting will cost the copra planter, each one must work out for himself. He will do best to spend his capital gradually, planting as he can afford. The returns will come in only by degrees, but he will be saved the mortification of seeing a promising plantation leave his possession for a third of its value, simply because he cannot afford to wait until the profits begin. Copra, the chief article of commerce of the Pacific, is very easily prepared. The cocoanuts, when ripe, are husked, and empired, and the kernels, as a rule, left to dry in the sun, though some few planters use artificial heat. Bagging is the only other operation necessary. Bananas are often shipped clumsily and carelessly, in unprotected bunches. It would be much better to pack them in leaves and crate them, as is done in the Canary Islands, where the banana trade is the principal support of the country. Oranges are usually shipped in crates. They grow wild all over the Cook group, and are not attended to in any way, but in spite of this, the orange trade with New Zealand is by no means despicable.
Vanilla is not cultivated for market in these island, but it would probably repay the experimenter. It does well in most of the Pacific groups, and the returns begin in three years from planting. Island planters, as a race, seem to be the most conservative of men, and very shy of trying anything new and unproved. there are, of course, good reasons for this, but thee are also excellent arguments in favour of exploiting fresh fields. The following brief hints may prove fruitful to enterprising minds. Only one kind of banana - the sort familiar at home - is usually grown for trade. There are many varieties, however, and some of the very best travel quite as well as the commonplace "China" sort. the large red banana, sometimes called the Aitutaki banana, sometimes the peach banana, on account of its delicate peach-like flavour, is a fruit that would become the fashion at once, if it could be put on the market. One or two planters have gone so far as to send consignments down to New Zealand, but, finding that these did not sell on account of the unusual colour of the fruit, they never made another attempt. At the time of my visit, in 1904, the red banana was practically unobtainable in New Zealand or Australia. A little intelligent co-operation on the part of the buyers would probably get over the difficulty.
The same may e said of limes, a fruit which grows wild very freely. The lime is like a small round shaped lemon, and is not an attractive fruit in appearance. It also suffers under the disadvantage of being very badly represented as to flavour by the bottled "shop" lime-juice, with which the taste of the fresh lime has hardly anything in common. Where it can be obtained fresh, however, no one ever thinks of using lemon as a flavouring in food or drink. The lime is incomparably more delicate and refreshing than the best lemon ever grown. For some unknown reason, however, it is not used in New Zealand, or in the cities of Australia, to which it could be easily and profitably exported from many of the Pacific groups. Instead, the juice of limes is squeezed out by a very rough process, the fruit being run through a wooden hand-press, and is shipped away in casks. The lime trade would certainly rival the orange trade, if worked up.
Dried bananas have money in them, and the industry is especially adapted to some of the lesser Cook Islands, where steamer calls are at present irregular. The dried and pressed banana is better than the fig, and is considered a great delicacy by the few people in the colonies who have tried it. The Cook Islanders peel the fruit, and leave it to dry in the sun. When it is shrunk, dark, and sticky with its own sugar, they compress it into neat little packets covered with dried banana leaf, and tied with banana fibre. These will keep good for many months. Up to the present, the trade is extremely small, but there is no reason why it should not be increased. One of the chief troubles of the settler in the guava bush, which runs wild all over the islands, and is extremely hard to destroy. It bears quantities of excellent fruit, but guavas do not pay for exporting, so no one, apparently, has thought of making the island pest profitable. And yet, when I went down to New Zealand, which is in direct communication with the Cook Islands and less than a week away, I found the price of guava jelly in the shops was higher than it is at home. Asked why no one in the islands sent jelly for sale, the grocers said it was because jampots were not made in New Zealand, and had to be imported if wanted. Since most jams in the colonies are sold in tins, this did not appear to me an unanswerable argument. tins are made in the colonies, and the process of tinning jam or jelly should not be beyond amateur powers. Moreover, common tumblers (which are also made in New Zealand) are a good and profitable way of putting up jellies; purchasers are always willing to pay extra for the advantage of getting something useful along with the dainty itself.
Another item: Dried peppers bring a good price per ounce and fine Chili pepper grows wild everywhere. So far, trade is nil. Another: One of the commonest plants for the Southern Pacific, a weed bearing a bright red flower almost exactly like the pine-cone in shape, contains, in the flower, a quantity of white watery liquid, which is declared by the natives, and by many of the whites, to be an exceptionally fine hair tonic. No one, so far as I know, has tried to make anything out of this, or out of the wild castor oil, which is said to be of good quality. If the setter cannot find some useful hint among these, he may be able to discover a few on the spot for himself.
The second class of settler - the man without capital, or with only a little - is a pariah everywhere. No colony wants him, agents warn him away, friends write to him begging him to stay where he is, and not tempt fortune by going out unprovided with plenty of cash. No doubt there is reason on the side of the discouragers; but there is not a colony in the world, all the same, where you shall not find the man who came out without capital, who endured a few years of hard work and short commons, began to get on, began to save, went on getting on and saving, and by-an-by became one of the most successful men in the place. Whereupon as a rule he becomes an adviser in his turn, and solemnly counsels young men of every kind against the imprudence of tempting fortune with an empty purse. For all that, and all that, young Britons will continue to do what they are advised not to, and ships will carry out many a man to the far wild countries whose only gold is the gold of youth and health and a brave heart. "Sink or swim" is the motto of this kind of colonist, and if he often goes under, he very often floats on the top, and comes in on the flood-tide of good luck. "Fortune favours the brave" - a proverbs none the less true because of its age.
To have an island of one's own, in the beautiful South Seas, to live remote from strain and worry, and out of he clash and roar of twentieth-century civilisation - to pass one's days in a land of perpetual summer; work, but own no master, possess a country (small though it may be) yet know none of the troubles of sovereignty - this is an ambition of which no one need he ashamed, even though it appear contemptible and even reprehensible to "Samuel Budgett, the Successful Merchant." The planter with a fair amount of capital can realise the dream almost any day, for every big group in the Pacific has many small unoccupied islands which an be rented for a song, and if the newcomer is made of stuff that can stand being totally deprived of theatre, clubs, music halls, daily post and papers, and a good many other charms for burdens) of city life, he has only to pick and choose, secure a good title to his island, decide what he means to grow on it, get his house built, and settle down at once. But people who have very little money, cherish the same ambition, often enough. There are thousands of men in the United Kingdom to whom a South Sea Island of their own would be heaven - only they see no way of getting it. The desire comes, without doubt, of generations of insular ancestors. It is the "Englishman's house is his castle" idea carried a step further than usual, that is all; and the boy that never wholly dies in the heart of every Briton is always ready to wake up and rejoice at the thought.
What is the moneyless man to do?
Well, first of all, he must get out to Sydney or Auckland, each being a port from which island vessels constantly sail, and with which island trade is closely concerned. It will not cost him so much as he thinks. If he goes by Auckland, he can get a third-class from London for fifteen pounds, and Sydney is little more. Arrived, he will make use of the information he has, of course, obtained in London, from the offices of the Agent-General for New Zealand (or Australia, as the case may be) and try and get a job to keep him on his feet while he looks about. If he can do any kind of manual labour, he will not at a loss - and if he cannot, or will not, he had much better stay at home on an office stool within sound of Bow Belle, and leave the far countries to men of tougher material.
In Sydney or Auckland he will find a good many firms connected with island trading interests, many of whom own trading stores dotted about the whole Pacific. It is often possible to obtain a job from one of these, if the newcomer is capable and steady. In this case, the way of getting up to the islands is clear, and the work of copra trading, keeping store for native customers, fruit-buying and shipping on the spot, is the best possible training for an independent position. If this proves a vain hope (It need not, in the case of a good man, if one may judge by the wretched incapables who occupy the trader's post in many islands) our adventure must try to raise the cost of a passage as best he can, and see that he can get to do among the white people of the group he has selected, when he arrives. There are so many useless wastrels in most of the islands, that character and capability are to a certain extent capital in themselves. Some one is generally in want of a plantation overseer to replace a drunken employee - some one else would be glad of a handy man to help with house-building of the simple island kind - and in many islands board and lodging, and a little over, would be easily obtainable by any educated man, who would undertake to teach the children of the white settlers. There are groups in which no one is allowed to land who does not possess a certain minimum of cash, but it is not in any case that I know of more than ten pounds, and most islands have no such regulation.
One so far on his journey, the would-be island owner must think out the rest for himself. There is sure to be a small island or two for rent, and there will probably be means of making money by slow degrees in the group itself. Where the will is, the way will be found. The popular dream of finding and taking possession of an unoccupied island somewhere or other, and "squatting" there unopposed, is a dream and nothing more. The great European nations have long since parceled out among themselves all the groups worth having, and rent or purchase is the only way to acquire land. Far-away separate island remote from everywhere, are still to be had for nothing in a few instances, but they are not desirable possessions, unless the owner can afford a private sailing vessel, and in any case what has not been picked up is little worth picking in these days.
So much for the how and where of acquiring island. I shall have one or two definite instances to give in another chapter.
A hundred years ago, Rarotonga had six thousand native inhabitant, and was a very flourishing heathen country, where cannibalism was all the fashion, murder of shipwrecked sailors a common custom, and raids upon neighbou5ring islands the chief diversion. There is no doubt that the Rarotongan of those days compared now too well with the Tahitian, who at the worst never was an habitual cannibal, and was almost always friendly to strangers. Williams was the first missionary to arrive in the earlier part of the last century, and the complete conversion of the island was rapid; the Rarotongan in a few years was no longer cannibal, no longer warlike, had become hospitable and friendly to travellers, had learned to wear clothes (a good deal) more than he wanted or should have had, but the missionary of the early days really did not know what a fatal thing he was doing, when he enforced the wearing of white man's raiment on the unclothed native, and thereby taught him to catch cold, and die lf chest diseases). The island had (and has) a large school for the training of mission teachers, and a church and mission house not to be matched in the Pacific for magnificence, and was on the whole a model of most of the virtues, compared with what it once had been.
There were, and are, drawbacks to the missionary rule, but these have been discussed so freely in almost every book of Pacific travel ever written, that I do not feel it necessary to say over again what has so often been said before. The missionaries certainly civilised the islands, and made them safe to live in. Consequently with this desirable result, others not so desirable took place, the fruit, in some cases, of irresponsible authority exercised by semi-educated man; in others, of the inevitable fate that follows the introduction of civilisation to primitive races. The Rarogongan, like all the other brown folk of the islands, was asked to keep almost at one, the gulf between utter savagery and comparative civilisation that had taken his instructions all the time between the Roman Conquest and the end of the Dark Ages to overpass. With the docility of the true Polynesian, he did his best to comply. It was not his fault - and not, one must fairly say, the fault of the missionary either, save in a minor degree - that the effort meant death to him.
There are not nineteen hundred Rarotongans living now in the fertile little country that used to support six thousand of their ancestors. There are not enough babies in the island to carry on the population at half its present level, in the future. Not one of the -"chief_ families, of whom there are a dozen or so, has any living children at all. Consumption is common, and on the increase; more serious diseases are commoner still. A Rarotongan seldom lives to be very old, and he almost always dies without resistance or regret. The islanders are happy and sunny in their own quiet way, but the backbone of life has been broken for them, and in the promise of the future, grey or golden, they have no share. to-cay is theirs, but they have no to-morrow. The Arikis, or chiefs, to whom the principal power once belonged, and who still retain much importance, regret this state of affairs in an amiable, fatalistic way, but do not trouble themselves very much over it. They are for the most part of the opinion of Sir Roche about the claims of posterity; and anyhow, they have their fruit trading to think about, and the next public dancing and singing party, and the last illegal beer-brewing up in the hills - so the decadence of their country sits lightly on their minds.
These Arikis are one and all inferior to the ruling sovereign, Queen Makea, who still contrives to retain a great deal of quiet power in her shapely old hands in spite of the fact that she is nominally deposed, and her country owned by New Zealand. I had not been in Rarotonga more than a day or two, when my hosts took me to call upon the queen, intimating that she would feel hurt if the newcomer was not presented to her.
We walked through the blazing sun of the tropic afternoon, down the palm-shaded main street of Avarua town, to the great grassy enclosure that surmounts the palace of the queen. One enters through a neat white gate; inside are one or two small houses, a number of palms and flowering bushes, and at the far end, a stately two-storeyed building constructed of whitewashed concrete, with big railed-in verandahs, and handsome arched windows. This is Makea's palace, but her visitors do not go there to look for her. In true South Sea Islander fashion, she keeps a house for show and one for use. The islander, though he aspires when "civilised" to own a big concrete house, "all same papalangi" (white man), does not really like living in a building that shuts out the air. He discovered the fresh-air system long before it was thought of by the folk who discovered him and his won houses are always made of small poles or saplings, set without any filling, so that eh whole building is as airy as a birdcage, and almost ad transparent. In this he lives, while the big concrete house, with its Auckland made tables, chairs, and beds, and the red and blue table-cloths, and horrible gift lamps fringed with cut glass lustres, and shrieking oleograph of King Edward in his coronation robes, is kept strictly for show, and perhaps for an occasional festival, such as a wedding party. It is an old custom, but sensible, on the whole.
Makea's favourite house is a pretty little reed and thatch villa several miles out in the country. When she is in town, she makes some concession to state by living in a small one-storeyed cottage, with a thatch and verandah, and not much else, close beside her big palace. We found her at the cottage when we called, sitting on the verandah upon an ironwood couch and petting a little turtle of which she is very fond. It seems a curious sort of creature to adore, but an elderly lady must have her little pet of some kind. In other climes, it is a pug, a parrot, or a cat. Here, the little turtle is considered chic, so the queen has one, the turtle having been always considered a perquisite of royalty in the old days, when the chiefs had the best of everything, even down to the choicest tit-bits of the roasted enemy, while the commonalty had to put up with what they could get. I was introduced to the queen, who shook hands politely, and sent one of her handmaids for chairs. These being brought, my hostess and I sat down, and the latter conversed with Makea in Rarotongan, translating a few conventional politenesses from myself, and conveying others to me in return. The queen wanted to know how I liked the island, if I had really come all the way from England, as she had heard, whether I was not afraid to travel so far alone, how long I hoped to stay, and so forth. All the time, as we talked, her keen black eyes were scanning me silently, rapidly, comprehensively, and making their own judgment, quite independently of the conversation and its inevitable formalities. And I, on my side, was gazing. I fear with some rudeness at the very remarkable figure before me.
Makea, since the death of her husband, Prince Ngamaru, a few years ago, has laid aside all vanities of dress, and wears only the simplest of black robes, made loose and flowing from the neck in island fashion. She is supposed to be at least seventy years of age, and she is extremely stout, even for her height, which is well over six fee. Yet a more impressive figure than this aged, deposed, uncrowned sovereign, in her robe of shabby black, I have never seen. Wisdom, kindness, and dignity are written large on her fine old face, which has more than a touch of resemblance to the late Queen Victoria. And oh, the shrewdness, the ability, the keen judgment of men and things, that look out from those brown, deep-set eyes, handsome enough, even in old age, to hint at the queen-like beauty that once belonged to this island queen! Makea was always known as a wise, just, and very powerful sovereign. She ruled over the whole Cook group, and her word was law everywhere, even to the Prince Consort, the warlike Ngamaru, who to the very last retained some traces of the heathen upbringing, and used to be seen, in the island councils of only a few years ago, making he horrible cannibal gesture which signifies in unmistakable pantomime. "I will tear the meat from your bones with my teeth!" at any other council member who presumed to disagree with him. Their married life was a happy one, in spite of the prince's violent character, and when he died, the widowed queen took all her splendid robes of velvet silk, and satin, gorgeously trimmed with gold, tore them in fragments, and cast them into the grave, so that he might lie soft, as befitted the prince who had been loved so well by such a queen.
Makea holds much of the real power in her hands to-day, for all that the islands are the property of the British Crown, and administered by a Commissioner. The Rarotongan is submissive to chiefs by nature, and the queen, though uncrowned, is still reverenced and feared almost as much as of old. It is firmly believed that she possesses the mystic power known as "mana" among the Maori races, and this, as it gives the owner power to stay at will, is greatly feared. The word is almost untranslatable, meaning, perhaps, something like "prestige," "kudos," or the old English "glamour." It includes among other gifts, second sight to a certain extent, the power to bring good or evil luck, and the ability already mentioned to deal death at will. This last may sound like fiction. It is nothing of the sort, it is plain, bald fact, and any one who has ever lived in the islands can testify. There is nothing more commonly known in the South Seas than the weird power possessed by kings and heroes to slay with a word, and instances of its exercise could be found in every group. Makea does not use it now, so they say. She is old; like aged folks in other places, she wants to "make her soul," and it can readily be imagined that the mission authorities do not approve of such heathen proceedings. Still, there is not a native in Rarotonga who does not believe that she could strike him dead with a wish, any day in the week, if she chose; and there are not a few who can tell you that is the days long ago, she exercised the power.
"Makea, she never rude, because she great chief," said a relation of the royal family to me one day. "She never say to any one, 'You go die!' She only saying, some time, 'I wish I never seeing you again!' and then the people he go away, very sorry, and by-n'-by he die - some day, some week, I don't know - but he dyin' all right, very quick, you bet!"
The power to die at will seems to be a heritage of the island races, though the power to live, when a chief bids them set sail on the dark seas of the unknown, is not theirs. Suicide, carried out without the aid of weapons or poisons of any kind, is not at all uncommon. A man or woman who is tired of life, or bitterly offended with any one, will often lie down on the mats, turn his face, like David of old, to the wall, and simply flicker out like a torch extinguished by the wind. there was once a white schooner captain, who had quarrelled with his native crew; and the crew, to pay him out, lay down and declared they would die to spite him ... But this is about Makea the Queen, not about the godless brutal captain, and the measures he took to prevent his men from taking passage in a body across the Styx. They didn't go after all, and they were sore and sorry men when they made the island port, and captain, who was a very ill-educated person, boasted far and wide for many a day after that, that he would exceedingly well learn any exceedingly objectionable nigger who offered to go and die on him again - and that to all that I must say about it, for more reasons than one.
The queen, after a little conversation, punctuated by intervals of fanning and smiling (and a more charming smile than Makea's, you might search the whole South Seas to find), sent a girl up a tree for cocoanuts, and offered us the inevitable cocoanut water and bananas, without which no island call is complete. Afterwards, when we rose to go, she sent a handmaid with us to take us over the palace, of which she is, naturally, very proud, though she never enters it except on the rare occasion of some great festival. The palace proved to be as uninteresting as the queen herself was interesting and attractive. It had a stuffy, shut up smell, and it was furnished in the worst of European taste, with crude ugly sofas and chairs, tables covered with cheap-jack Manchester trinkets, and staring mirrors and pictures - partly sacred art, of a kind remarkably well calculated to promote the caus3e of heathenism, and partly portraits, nearly as bad as those one sees in the spring exhibitions at home. There were two of three saloons or drawing-rooms, all much alike, on the lower storey. Upstairs (it is only a very palatial island house that owns an upstairs) there were several bedrooms, furnished with large costly bedsteads of mahogany and other handsome woods, and big massive wardrobes and tables - all unused, and likely to remain so. The place was depressing on the whole, and I was glad to get out of it into the cheerful sun, although the heat at this hour of the afternoon was really outrageous.
Another afternoon, I drove out to see Queen Tinomana, a potentate only second to Makea in influence. Tinomana, like Makea, is a dynastic name, and is always borne by the high chief, man or woman, who is hereditary sovereign of a certain district. The present holder of the title is a woman, and therefore queen.
What a drive it was! The roadway round the island is celebrated all over the Pacific, and with justice, for nothing more lovely than this twenty-mile ribbon of tropic splendour is to be found beneath the Southern Cross. One drives in a buggy of colonial pattern, light, easy-running, and fast, and the rough little island horse makes short work of the miles of dazzling white sandy road that circle the shores of the bright lagoon. One one side rises the forest, green and rich and gorgeous beyond all that the dwellers of the dark North could possibly imagine, and opening now and then to display picture after picture, in a long gallery of magnificent mountain views - mountains blue as the sea, mountains purple as amethyst, mountains sharp like spear-heads, towered and buttressed like grand cathedrals, scarped into grey precipices where a bat could scarcely cling, and cloven into green gorges bright with falling streams. On the other other, the palms and thick undergrowth hardly veil the vivid gleam of the emerald lagoon lying within the white-toothed barrier reef, where all day long the surf of the great Pacific oceans and froths and pours. By the verge of the coral beach that burns like white fire in the merciless sun, the exquisite ironwood tree trails its delicate tresses above the sand, so that, if you leave the carriage to follow on the road, and walk down by the beach, you shall catch the green glow of the water, and the pearly sparkle of the reef, through a drooping veil of leafage fine as a mermaid's hair. sometimes the buggy runs for a mile or two through thick woods of this lovely tree, where the road is carpeted thickly with the fallen needles of foliage, so that the wheels run without sound, and you may catch the Eolian harp-song of the leaves, sighting ceaselessly and sadly.
Of old, unhappy, far-off things,
when the evening wind gets up and the sun drops low on the lagoon.
The myths of the Pacific are marvellous in their way, but they pass over unnoticed much that could not have escaped the net of folk-lore and poetry in Northern lands. That the lovely ironwood, a tree with leaves like mermaid's locks, and the voice of a mermaid's song in its whispering boughs, should stand bare of legend or romance on the shores of a sea that is itself the very home of wonder, strikes the Northern mind with a sense of strange incongruity. But the soul of the islands is not the soul of the continents, and the poet of the Pacific is still to be born. Sometimes, again, the little buggy rattles over white coral sand and gravel, on a stretch of road that is fairly buried in the forest. The sun is cut off overhead, and only a soft green glow sifts through. The palm-tree stems sweep upward, tall and white, the gigantic "maupei" rears aloft its hollow buttressed stems, carved out into caverns that would delight the soul of a modern Crusoe, and drops big chestnuts, floury and sweet, upon the road as we pass. The "utu," or Barringtonia Speciosa, one of the most beautiful of island trees, towers a hundred feet into the warm glow above, its brilliant varnished leaves, nearly a foot long, and its strange rose and white flowers, shaped like feather-dusters, marking it out unmistakably from the general tangle of interlacing boughs and crowding trunks and long liana ropes, green and brown, that run from tree to tree. If you were lost in the bush, and thirsty, one of those lianas would provide you with waters, were you learned enough in wood lore to slash it with your knife, and let the pure refreshing juice trickle forth. You might gather wild fruit of many kinds, too, and wild roots, mealy and nourishing, or daintily and sweet. And of night, you might creep into your hollow tree, or the down on the warm sand of the shore with nothing worse to fear than a mosquito or two.
There are no wild beasts in any of the Pacific Islands, save an occasional boar, which always lives remote from men in the hills, and is much readier to run away than to annoy. There are no poisonous snakes, either, tarantulas, or deadly centipedes and scorpions. I cannot honestly say that the two latter creatures do not exist, but they very seldom bit or sting any one who does not go barefooted, and their venom is not deadly, though painful. On almost every tree, as we rattle along through the forest, my hostess and I can see the beautiful bird's-nest fern, looking like a hanging basket of greenery. We have not time to stop to-day, but we shall have to go out some other afternoon and cut down a few of the smaller ones for table decoration, for there is a dinner party coming off, and we are short of pot plants for the rooms. Young palms, most graceful of all green things, shoot up like little fountains in the clearings, some of the smaller ones still root-bound by the large brown nut from which they have sprung. One would never think these dainty ball-room palms were related in any way to the stately white columns spiring high above them, for the full-grown palm is all stem and scarcely any top, in comparison, while the young palm, a mass of magnificent spreading fronds, rises from a short bulb-like trunk that suggests nothing less than further growth.
The drive is six good miles, but it seems only too short. In a very little while, we have reached Queen Timomana's village - a picturesque little grassy town, with brown thatched huts, and white concrete cottages washed with coral lime, and gay red and yellow leaved ti trees standing before almost every door - and the queen's own palace, a handsome two-storeyed house, quite as fine as Makea's, stands up in front of us.
Passing by this piece of European splendour, we go to draw a more likely covert, and ere long flush our quarry in a little creeper-wreathed cottage, hidden behind bushes of deliciously scented frangipani and blazing red hibiscus. The queen is on the verandah, seated, like Makea, on an ironwood sofa of state. She sits here most of the day, having very little in the way of government to do, and no desire to trouble her amiable head with the white woman's laborious methods of killing time. Sometimes she plants a hat to amuse herself, being accomplished in this favourite Rarotongan art - a sailor hat with a hard crown and stiff brim, and a good deal of neat but lacy fancywork in the twisting of the plait. Sometimes she receives friends, and hears gossip. Sometimes, she sleeps on the sofa, and wakes up to suck oranges and fall asleep again. The strenuous life is not the life beloved of Tinomana, nor (one may hint in the smallest of whispers) would her much more strenuous sister queen encourage any developments in that direction. It is well, under the circumstances, that both are suited by their respective roles, otherwise the somewhat difficult lot of the Resident Commissioner might be rendered even more trying that it is.
Timomana is not young, and she is not lovely now, though one can see that she has been beautiful, as so many of the soft-eyed island women are, long ago. She has had her romance, however, and as we sit on her verandah, drinking and eating the cocoanut and banana of ceremony, the grey-hard white man who is husband of the queen tells the story to me of her love and his, just as it happened, once upon a time.
In 1874 the cook Islands were an independent group, governed by their own chiefs, or Arikis. The Arikis had much more power in those days than they are now allowed to exercise. They could order the execution of any subject for any cause; they could make war and end it: and no ship dared to call at the islands without their permission. They owned, and they still own, all the land, and their wealth of various kinds made the, in the eyes of the natives, millionaires as well as sovereigns. "Women's rights" were a novelty to England thirty years ago, but in the cook Islands they were fully recognised, even at that early period. The most powerful of the Arikis was Makea - then a girl, now an elderly woman, but always every inch a queen, and always keeping a firm hand on the sceptre of Rarotonga. Any Cook Islands postage-stamp will show Makea as she was some ten years ago. In 1874 Makea and her consort, Ngamaru, were making plans for the marrying of Tinomana, a young Rarotongan princess closely related to Makea. Timomana would shortly become an Ariki, or queen, herself, and her matrimonial affairs were, in consequence, of considerable importance.
What the plans of Rarotonga's rulers for Tinomana may have been matters little. Tinomana was pretty, with splendid long black hair, large soft brown eyes, an excellent profile, and a complexion little darker than a Spaniard's. She was also self-willed, and could keep a secret as close as wax when she so desired. She had a secret at that time, and it concerned no South Sea Islander, but a certain good-looking young Anglo-American named John Salmon (grandson of a Ramgate sea-captain, Thomas Dunnett), who had lately landed at Rarotonga from the trading schooner Venus, and had been enjoying a good deal of the pretty princess's society, unknown to the gossips of the island. It was a case of love at first sight; for the two had not been more than a few days acquainted when they came privately to James Chalmers, the famous missionary, then resident in Rarotonga, and begged for a secret marriage. James Chalmers refused promptly to have anything to do with the matter, and furthermore told Tinomana that he would never marry her to any white man, no matter who it might be. In his opinion such a marriage would be certain to cause endless trouble with the other Arikis - apart from the fact that Queen Makea was against it. So the lovers went away disconsolate. Rarotonga was keeping holiday at the time, because a great war-canoe was to be launched immediately, and a dance and feast were in preparation. But Tinomana and her lover were out of tune with the festivities, and no woman in the island prepared her stephanotis and hibiscus garlands for the feast, or plaited baskets of green palm leaves to carry contributions of baked sucking-pig and pineapples, with as heavy a heart as the little princess.
On the day of the feast an idea came to Salmon. there were two schooners laying in Avarua harbour. One, the Coronet, had for a captain a man named Rose, who was as much opposed to Salmon's marriage as Chalmers himself. The Humboldt schooner, on the other hand, had a friend of Salmon's in command. From him some help might be expected. Salmon visited him secretly, found that he was willing to assist, and arranged for an elopement that very night. Tinomana was willing; nobody suspected; and the feast would furnish a capital opportunity. There was no moon that evening, happily for the lovers, for the smallest sign would have awaked the suspicions of the watching Coronet. When the feast had begun, and all Rarotonga was making merry with pig and baked banana, raw fish and pineapple beer, Tinomana contrived to slip away and get back to her house. Womanlike, she would not go without her "things"; and she took so long collecting and packing her treasures - her silk and muslin dresses, her feather crowns, her fans and bits of of cherished European finery from far-away Auckland - that the suspicions of a prying girl were aroused. Out she came, accompanied by two others - all handmaidens to Tinomana - and charged the princess with an intention to elope. Tinomana acknowledged the truth, and ordered the girls to hold their tongues, offering them liberal rewards. This was not enough, however; the three girls demanded that Tinomana, in addition to buying their silence, should shield them from the possible wrath of the great Makea by taking them with her. She was forced to consent; and so, when the impatient lover, lurking in the darkness near the harbour, saw his lady coming at last, she came with three attendants, and almost enough luggage to rival Marie Antoinette's encumbered flight to Varennes.
Eventually, however, the party put off in a canoe, the girls lying flat in the bottom, with Tinomana crouching beside them and Salmon holding a lighted torch, which he waved in the air as they went. For the boat had to pass close by the Coronet, and Captain Rose, somehow or other, had become suspicious, and young Salmon knew he would think nothing of stopping any boat that could not give an account of itself. So Salmon took the torch, to look like a fishing boat going out with spears and torches to the reef, and, paddling with one hand while he held the light aloft with the other, he passed the Coronet safely, knowing well that his face would be unrecognisable at a distance of fifty yards or so in the wavering shadow of the flame. Beyond the reef lay the Humboldt waiting. Tinomana and her maids and her luggage were swung up the side with small ceremony; Salmon hurried after, and a small but welcome breeze enabled the schooner to slip out to sea unnoticed in the dark. She made for Mangaia, another of the Cook Islands, some hundred and fifty miles away, and reached it in a couple of days. But the Humboldt had hardly made the land when the dreaded Coronet appeared on the horizon, carrying every stitch of sail, and with her decks, her "Jacob's-ladder," and her very yardarms crowded by furious Rarotongans. The fugitives were caught!
At first they had not been missed. The islanders were feasting and drinking, the Arikis were unsuspicious, and the Coronet had seen only a fishing-canoe with a solitary man on board gliding out to the reef. Bu t with the morning light came the knowledge that Tinomana was absent from her palace, that Salmon had not come home, and that the Humboldt was gone. Rarotonga was enraged, and all the more so because pursuit appeared for the moment to be impossible. They knew that the Humboldt had probably made for Mangaia; but the breeze had died away, and the Coronet, her sails flapping idly against her rakish masts, lay helpless in harbour. Some brilliant spirit, however, proposed that the schooner should be towed out, in the hope of catching a breeze beyond the reef; and half a dozen great whaleboats, manned by powerful arms, were harnessed to the Coronet's bows. Out she came through the opening in the foaming coral reef, with screaming and splashing and tugging at oars, into the blue, open sea, and beyond the shelter of the peaky, purple hills. The breeze was met at last, the boats cast off and dropped astern, and the Coronet, carrying half Rarotonga on board, set sail for Mangaia.
Once within the range of the Humboldt the Coronet lowered a boatful of armed men, and the latter made for the schooner lying-to under the shelter of the Mangaian hills. Captain Harris of the Humboldt, however, ordered his crew to shoot down the first man who attempted to board, and the attacking boat thought better of it. Beaten by force they tried diplomacy, in which they were more successful. They told Captain Harris that all his cargo of valuable cotton, lying on the wharf at Rarotonga ready of valuable cotton, lying on the wharf at Rarotonga ready for shipment, would be destroyed unless he gave the princess back. This meant absolute ruin, and the captain had to submit. Salomon told Tinomana that it was bet to give in for the present, as they were caught; but that the parting would be only for a time. And back to Rarotonga went the disconsolate princess, bereft of her lover and her stolen wedding, and with the anticipation of a good scolding to come from the indignant Arikis.
For some months after this disaster Salmon wandered about from island to island, living now in Raiatea, now in Flint Island, now in Mauke - always restless and always impatient. At last he judged the time had come to make a second attempt, and tried to obtain a passage to Rarotonga. Schooner after schooner refused to take him, but finally a little vessel called the Atalania braved the wrath of the Arikis and brought him back. During his absence time had worked in his favour, and the opposition to the marriage was now much weaker. The Arikis received him coolly and fined him twenty pounds' worth of needles, thread, and tobacco for his late excursion, but they no longer refused to let him see Tinomana. The missionary, however, still objected to the marriage, and as he was the only clergyman available for the ceremony it seemed as if things, on the whole, were "getting no forrader."
At this juncture the great Makea stepped in, and with the charming variability common to her sex, took the part of the lovers against all Rarotonga as strongly as she had before opposed their union. She was not then in Rarotonga, but in another of the Cook Islands, Atiu. From thence she sent the schooner Venus to Rarotonga, ordering the captain to fetch Tinomana and Salmon to Atiu, where the local missionary would marry them, or Makea would know the reason why. Rarotonga - obstinate Rarotonga! - still refused to give its princess to a foreign adventurer, though it trembled at the thought of defying the Elizabethan Makea. A band of warriors came down to the harbour to see that Salmon did not get on board the ship. As for Tinomana, they did not dare to oppose her departure, when the head of the house had actually summoned her. But the princess had no notion whatever of going alone. Salmon was smuggled on board in the dusk and hidden under a bunk. A pile of mats and native "pareos," or kilts was placed over him, and there, in the heat of the tropic night, he lay in sweltered, while the Venus swung to her cable and the warriors hunted the ship and found nothing. When they went off, baffled, the schooner put to sea. A Rarotongan vessel, still suspicious, chased here to Atiu, but Makea informed the pursuing crew that it would be bad for their health to land on her property unasked; and, as this great Pacific Queen had, and has, the reputation of keeping her word when it is passed, the Rarotongans did not dare to set foot on shore. This time it was they who went home disconsolate.
And so the young couple were married "and lived happily ever after." Tinomana and her consort now reside at Arorangi. Rarotonga, in their long, low house, set among frangipani trees and oranges, and covered with flowering tropical creepers, and seldom or never occupy their palace, Tinomana's five children are dead; she herself is growing old, but the memory of those long-past years of adventure and romance is still with her. Her life glides quietly and dreamily by within the sound of the humming ocean surf, under the shadow of the purple Rarotongan hills. She has had her day, and there remain the quiet sunset and the softened twilight, before the time of dark. The queen had little to say to us, for she does not speak English, nor is she shrewdly curious about men and things outside of sleepy Rarotonga, like her sister sovereign, Makea. She smiled a good deal, and said some polite things about my dress, which illustrated a new fashion, and seemed to interest her more than anything else connected with the call. I had brought a gift with me for Tinomana, a silk scarf of a peculiarly screaming blue, and I presented it before I took my leave with some politenesses that the royal consort rapidly translated for me. The queen was much pleased with the gift, and began trying its effect on several different hats at once. Then we had some more coconut water and said good-bye, and drove home again in the yellow sunset.
The crabs were getting noisy as we passed along a soft bit of sandy road close by the shore. They are fairly active all day, and at night seem to wake up a little more completely than before. One can hear them rattling and scratching loudly all over the stones and rubbish about the shore; the ground is riddled with their holes - as we pass, they dart in at their front doors as swiftly as spiders, and stand looking cautiously round a corner till the threatening apparition is gone. They are not nice things, these crabs - they are tall and spindly and insect-like in build, with a scrawny body set on eight spider-like legs, and ugly, sharp, thin claws. They live on the land, but haunt the beach a good deal, because of the debris to be found there, and they are such nasty feeders that not even the natives will eat them, which is saying a good deal. They have an uncanny fancy for coming into houses. If your residence is not raised up on a good verandah, which they cannot surmount, you may be alarmed some night by a ghostly tapping and ticking on the floor, like nothing you have ever heard or dreamed of before, and while you are wondering fearfully what the sound may be, you will suddenly become aware of something clumsy and noisy scrambling among the mosquito curtains of your bed. At this, if you are of common human mould, you will arise hastily, tangling yourself u in the curtains as you do so, and call loudly for a light. And when one is brought, behold the offender scuttling hastily away on eight long thin legs into the outer dark, without stopping to make an explanation or an apology. You are so annoyed that you put on a dressing-gown and follow him out on the verandah, a stick in your hand and murder in your heart; but just as you reach the steps, there is a loud "dump" on the floor, and a centipede as big as a sausage, with a writhing black body and horrible red legs and antennae, flashes past the edge of your sweeping draperies. At this you give it up, and get back to your mosquito curtains. You are just falling asleep, when - Good Heavens! what is it?
Surely nothing but a burglar could have made that fearful noise in the outer kitchen! - a burglar, or a madman, or both in one. It sounds as if some one were beating somebody else with an iron bucket. Perhaps it may be only a native dog chasing a cat. Up go the curtains once more, letting half the mosquitoes in the island in and off the wretched traveller sets for the kitchen, accompanied by a brave but pallid hostess, who says she is extremely sorry her husband would choose this week for going away from home. There he is! there is the author of the noise -- a black, bristly, incredibly hideous hermit crab as big as a biscuit -- out of his shell, and fighting like grim death in an empty kerosene tin, with another crab nearly as big, and quite as vicious. Number one has got too big for the second-hand univalve shell he lived in, and in touring the country trying to replace it. Number two, also out-growing his clothes, has got half a broken sardine box in the kerosene tin (which acts as ash-bucket to the house), and he thinks it is the loveliest new shell he has ever seen. So, unluckily, does the other crab, and they are in the act of putting it to ordeal by combat, when we invade the scene of the battle, and rudely shake the crabs and the shells and the sardine tin all off the end of the verandah together.
"What on earth brings crabs into people's houses?" you ask amazedly, as you go back to bed again. It seems an insane action for any sensible crab, considering that we are half a mile from the sea. "Pure cussedness," says my friend wrathfully. "They even climb up the verandah posts, and sit among the flowers. What for? Spite, I think; there isn't anything more ill-natured in the world than a hermit crab." If it is not a moonlight night, now, we get to sleep at last, but it is, and the oranges are ripe ---
Well, that is the time the "mor kiri-kiris" choose to perform their orisons; and when they are playing the devil with the holy peace and calm of midnight on the roof, not even a fourth mate newly come off his watch, could sleep below. "Here, you blank, blank, blank, unspeakable, etcetera, let go that orange!"
That is the way one sleeps in the orange season, in a place that happens to be popular with the "mor kiri-kiri," or flying-fox - a bat with a furry body as big as a cat's, long sharp white teeth, a head exactly like a fox, and the crustiest disposition of anything living on the island.
Steamer day in Rarotonga, as in all the islands that rejoice in the privilege of a regular steamer service, is beyond comparison the event of the month. Almost before dawn on the day which is expected to see the boat arrive, the traders are up and about, seeing to the carting of their fruit and copra, and making ready the shelves of the stores for the new goods coming in from Auckland. All the residents men and women, white and brown, are getting out the cleanest of muslins and drill suits, and looking up the shoe-whitening box, which perhaps has not been much in demand since the steamer called on her way back from Tahiti last month. The daughters of the white community are making tinned-peach pies, and dressing fowls, in case of callers - these are the inevitable "company" dishes of the Pacific - and the native women are bringing out their newly made straw hats, and, ironing their gayest of pink or yellow or scarlet cotton, squatting cross-legged on the floor as they work. Coconuts for drinking are being husked by the men of the village, and laid in neat piles under the verandahs, out of the sun; and in most of the little hardcage houses, the children are impounded to grate coconut meat for cream; while the dying yells of pigs make day hideous from the groves beyond the town.
When the tiny trail of smoke, for which every one is looking, first rises out of the empty sea, it may be on the day expected, or it may be later - there is little time in the Great south Seas - the whole island is agape with excitement. The natives shriek with delight, and make haste to gather flowers for wreaths and necklaces; the clean suits and frocks are put on by brown and white alike, and the populace begins to hover about the wharf like a swarm of excited butterflies. 'The great whale-boats are ready to rush out at racing speed to the steamer, long before she comes to a stop in the bay - she dares not come into the harbour, which is only fit for small craft - passengers from Auckland come ashore, anxious to see the island curiosities, and find to their embarrassment that they are unmistakably regarded in that light themselves; and, as soon as may be the mail comes after them. Upon which events, the whole population makes for the Government buildings, and flings itself in one seething breaker against the door of the Post Office, demanding its mails. While the letters are being sorted by a handful of officials locked and barred out of reach within, it rattles at the doors and windows, and as soon as the bolts are withdrawn, the mighty host, breathless and ruthless, bursts in like a besieging army. But when all are in, nobody has patience to wait and open papers, in order to know what has been going on in the outer world all these weeks. Purser, passengers, and even sailors are seized upon, and compelled to stand and deliver news about "the war," and other burning questions, before any one thinks of opening the envelopes and wrappers in their hands.
Minds being satisfied, bodies now assert their claim. Steamer day is feast day - beef day, ice day, day for enjoying all the eatables that cannot be had in the island itself. There is mutton in Rarotonga, but not much at the best of times, and of beef there is none at all. So all the white folk order beef to come up monthly in the ship's cold storage, and for two happy days - the meat will keep no longer - they enjoy a feast that might perhaps more fairly be called a "feed." About noon on steamer day, a savoury smell, to which the island has long been a stranger, begins to diffuse itself throughout Avarua. Every one with true island hospitality, is asking every one else to lunch and dinner, to-day and to-morrow, so that Mrs. A. and her family may have a taste of Mr. B.'s sirloin, and Mr. B. Get a bit of the C.'s consignment of steak and the A.'s and B.'s and E.'s enjoy a little bit of Colonel Z.'s roast ribs. A sensuous almost unctuous, happiness shines like a halo about every face, and after dusk white dinner coats flit up and down the perfumed avenues, thick as night-moths among the orange bloom overhead. To-morrow there will be great doings in the pretty bungalow on the top of the hill, for the Resident Commissioner has got a big lump of ice as a present from the captain of the steamer, and is hoarding it up in blankets to give a dinner-party in its honour. The white man who could consume a lump of ice all by himself, in the island world, would be considered capable of any crime, and the hospitable Commissioner is the last person to shirk his obligations in such a matter.
Once the steamer has come and gone, a dreamy peace settles down upon the island. There is seldom much certainty as to clock time, since every one goes by his own time-piece, and all vary largely, and does any one heed the day of the month overmuch. The pleasant disregard of time is the true secret of the fascination of island life - or perhaps one of the secrets, since no one has ever really succeeded in defining the unspeakable charm of these lotus lands. Imagine a civilised community, where people dine out in evening dress, leave cards and have "At Home" days yet where there is no post except the monthly ship mail, there are no telegrams, trains, trams, times, appointments or engagements of any kind! Picture the peace that comes of knowing certainly that, for all the time of the steamer's knowing certainly that, for all the time of the steamer's absence there can be no disturbance of the even current of life; no great events at home or abroad, no haste, or worry, or responsibility! People keep young long in Rarotonga; faces are free from weariness and strain; the white man with the "burden" laughs as merrily and as often as the brown man who carries nought but his flowery necklace and his pareo. Nobody is rich - rich men do not come down to the islands to run small plantations, or trading stores, or to take up little appointments under a little Government - but every one has enough, and extravagance is impossible, since luxuries are unpurchasable on the island. There are so social distinction, save that between white and brown - all the seventy or eighty white residents knowing one another on a footing of common equality, although in England or even New Zealand they would certainly be split up into half a score of mutually contemptuous sets.
As for the natives - the jolly, laughing, brown-skinned, handsome men and women of the island - their life is one long day of peace and leisure and plenty. The lands of the six thousand who once inhabited Rarotonga are now for the most part in the hands of the nineteen hundred survivors, and every native has therefore a good deal more than he wants. Breadfruit, bananas of many kinds, oranges, mammee-apples, and countless other fruits, grow altogether, or almost without cultivation; taro, yam, and sweet potatoes need little, and coconuts are always to be had. A native house can be put up in a day or two, furniture is superfluous, and clothes consist of a few yards of cotton print. The Rarotogan, therefore, owes no tale of labour to Nature or Society for his existence in quiet comfort, if he does not choose to work. but in many cases he does choose, for he wants a buggy and a house, and a bicycle or two, and a sewing machine for the wife; shoes with squeaking soles for festive wear - deliberately made up with "squeakers" for island trade, these - bottles of coarse strong scent, tins of meat and salmon as an occasional treat, and, if he is ambitious, one of those concrete, iron-roofed houses of which I have already spoken, to enhance his social position, and make the neighbours envious, what time he continues to live peaceably and comfortably in his palm hut outside - not being quite such a fool in this mater as he looks.
Sometimes the Rarotongan will go so far as to get his front teeth stopped with gold by a travelling dentist, purely for style, since he is gifted by nature with grinders that will smash any fruit stone, and incisors that will actually tear the close tough husk off a huge coconut without trouble. It is related of o one of the wealthier Rarotongans that, being stricken in years and short of teeth, he purchased a set of false ones from a visiting dentist, and that the latter, when he next returned to the island, was astonished to find the set thrown on his hands as no good, on the grounds that they would not husk coconuts! In order to secure all these more or less desirable luxuries, the Rarotongan trades in fruit and copra. That is to say, he cuts up and dries (strictly of his leisure, and when he feels like it) a few thousand coconuts, or nails up some hundreds of oranges, and scores of banana bunches, from his overflowing acres, in wooden crates, to send down to Auckland. This labour, repeated a few times, brings him in good British gold by the handful. Copra, sold to the traders in the town, fetches about seven pounds a ton, and a family working for a few days can prepare as much as that. Other produce is hardly less profitable, to a cultivator who has more land than he wants, provides his own labour, and need spend nothing on seeds or plants. there is, at most, only light work, and that seldom, so that the Rarotogan can, and often does, spend the greater part of his time singing in choruses on the verandahs of the houses, dancing to the thrilling beat of a native drum under the coconut trees, or fishing lazily off the reef.
The Rarotongans are all, to a man, good Christians - good Protestants of the Dissenting variety, good Catholics, and, in a few cases, enthusiastic Seventh Day Adventists - being readily enough inclined to adhere to a cult that makes it sinful to work on the seventh day of the week, and impossible to work on the first. It is said that Mormon missionaries have visited the group, but failed to make converts, Without going into details that might disturb the sensitive mind, one feels obliged to remark, in this connection, that the failure was probably on all fours, as to cause, with the ill-success of the merchant who attempted to sell coals to Newcastle. And - still concerning this matter -"one would move, and I have done." some weeks after my arrival, I was going round the group in company with the Resident Commissioner and a few more officials, who were holding courts and administering justice in the various islands. The Commissioner was late getting back to the ship one afternoon, and the captain asked him if he had been detained.
"Only a little while," replied the guardian angel of the group, cheerfully rattling his pockets, which gave forth a pleasant chinking sound. "Another dozen of divorces. We'll have a new road round the island next year." And he went to dinner.
Divorce in the Cook Islands is not an expensive luxury. If memory serves me right, it costs under thirty shillings, and there is a sixpence somewhere in the price - I am unable to say why. But I remember very well indeed, after the officials had gone home, when I was travelling round about other islands with a captain, who had just taken over the ship and did not know the Cook group, that dignitary came to me one day and said:
"I can't make out these hands of mine. They're a very decent lot for niggers, and don't give no trouble, but one and another, now that we're going round the islands, keeps coming to me and asking me for an advance on their wages, because, says they, they've been a long time from home, and they wants it - and every blessed one of them he wants the same advance!"
But the incident has its own significance, so I have recorded it. I linger long over the life and ways of Rarotonga, for a I spent many very happy weeks there - studying native customs, and taking notes? Well, perhaps - a little, at all events. Rarotonga is not quite so lazy a place as Tahiti, and the climate is less trying. Still - still ---How impossible it is to explain to the reader who has never spent a hot season in the tropics! I think I shall not try. There were missed opportunities - there were things I ought to have studied, and did not, and things I should have seen, and didn't see. It is of no use to say why. Those who have passed between the magic line of Cancer and Capricorn will not need to be told, and the others could not understand. I did something to satisfy my conscience, however, when I climbed the highest mountain in Rarotonga - a peak something over three thousand feet high, so the residents said. It was reported that the Admiralty survey did not agree by a hundred feet or so, with the local estimate. I know myself that both were wrong; that peak is ten thousand, or perhaps a little more. Did it not take myself and two or three others from seven a.m. until nine p.m., to get up and down, working as hard as white ants (there is nothing in the islands really busy except the ants (there is nothing in the islands really busy except the ants) all the time?
We went the wrong way - several wrong ways - we lost our food and our water, and got so thirsty that we licked the leaves of the trees, and so hungry that it was agony to know ourselves above the zone of the orange and banana all day, and see the food we could not reach till night hanging in clusters far below. We did mot of our climbing by the heroic method of swarming up perpendicular rock faces on the ladders of the creepers, and a good deal of it by scrambling along in the tops of small trees, like monkeys. When we got to the top there was just room for the whole party to stand and cheer, and we cheered ourselves vigorously. People do not climb contains - much - in the islands of the Pacific, and the peak we were on had been trodden by only one or two white men, and no white women.
When we had finished admiring the view of the island, we started down again. And now, what with our hunger, and our fatigue, and the wild adventures in impossible places we had had coming up, we all became rather tired, and more than rather reckless. Over and over again, slithering down steep descents, we let ourselves go, and tobogganed, sitting, we did not care where. The lianas crashed, the red-flowered rats snapped and fell on us, the lace-like tree ferns got in our way with their damp black trunks, and banged us as we tumbled past. Every one knew that if we did not get off the precipice slopes before dark, we should have to halt wherever we might be, and wait till morning, holding tight to the trunk of a tree to keep from falling down into depths unknown. But no one said anything about it. And in the end, we got back safe - sore and tired and hungry; not thirsty, however, for we had found a stream in the interminable dark of the valley, and had all put our heads into it like brutes, the moment our feet felt the welcome hollow and splashed into the water. The ladies of the party had not a whole gown among them, and not very much else, so shrewdly had the thorns and creepers of the close-knitted forest squeezed and torn us. Still, we had got up where no white women had been before, and we were all very proud, though we had to slink homeward in the dark, avoiding the lights of the houses, and each slip in unobserved at the back doors of our respective homes. But we had done the climb, and..."That was something," as Hans Andersen would have said.
Picnics we had in plenty, while I stayed. Sometimes they were bathing picnics, when the ladies of half a dozen houses went off to spend the day down on the shore, and swim in the lagoon. The water, not more than five feet deep in any place, was the colour of green grass when the sun shines through, and it was as warm as an ordinary hot bath. One could spend hour after hour amusing oneself with swimming tricks, coming out now and then to roast for a little on the hot, snow-white coral sand, where bits and branches of coral pretty enough for a museum lay scattered everywhere, and exquisite flowering creepers spread their long green tails of leafage - often thirty or forty feet in length, and all starred with pink or yellow blossoms - right across the broad expanse of the beach. Coming out finally, it was customary to find a big rock, and stand with one's back against it till the wet bathing dress was half dried with the blistering heat of the stone. This was supposed to prevent chills. I think myself that one would have to hunt a chill very hard indeed in the hot season in Rarotonga, before catching it. It is not a place where one hears of "chill" troubles, and there is no fever of any kind. When you find a draught there, you tell every one else in the house about it, and they come and sit in it with you. When you give tea, to callers, it is correct to serve cold water on the tray to temper the beverage, and put a spoon instead of a butter knife, in the butter dish.
Nor does it cool down overmuch at night, in the hot months, though in the "cold" ones, you may want a blanket now and then. The temperature being so equable all round, chills are, naturally, not to be looked for and feared at very turn, as in the great tropic continents, where there is no surrounding sea to prevent rapid radiation of heat, and sudden changes of temperature are frequent and deadly. On the whole, there is much to be said in favour of the of the climate of the Southern Pacific, and little against it. It enjoys a long cool season of at least six months, when the heat is not at all oppressive. Three months of the year are very hot and damp, and three neither hot nor cool. At worst, the thermometer seldom goes above ninety in the shade. White children can be brought up in the islands without injury to health, and many of the older residents have spent the best part of a long life in the South Seas, and attained to a venerable age, without ever suffering from illness. The Government doctor in Rarotonga leads an easy life on the whole, and in the other islands of the Cook Group the entire absence of medical advice seems to trouble no one.
An extract from IN THE STRANGE SOUTH SEAS by BEATRICE GRIMSHAW, published in London by Hutchinson & Co., 1908.
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