The recollections, illustrations and photographs on this Web site are from The Venture Book by Elinor Mordaunt, published by the Bodley Head, London, 1926.
We are moving very slowly - for now the starboard engine is also out of gear and the wind light - among the Vavou (now Vava'u) Islands of the Tongan group: islands entirely different to anything I have yet seen in the Pacific, with cliffs from two to four hundred feet in height, splashed with bright red soil, and tufted with trees wherever they can find a foot-hole; many of these islands, so straight up and down, so small and symmetrical that they look like cakes freshly turned out of a tin.
As we enter the narrows, which give to the largest island, a flotilla of small isles are so think upon either side of us that it is difficult to steer our way through the narrow strips of deep blue water, with their white topped waves; clouded spray and tens of thousands of sea-birds about the base of every cliff, around every peaked rock. Vavou itself is like an octopus, with chains of lesser islands running off in every direction for tentacles. here the cliffs shelve above dark hollows and deep black caves, while the vegetation topping the island, patching the cliffs, is so fresh and light that the whole thing might be torn out of the side of the Devonshire coast. It is a brilliant day, and we are facing the sunrise for the first time since I left England, having taken a complete turn in order to make the port, which lies at the south of the island.
Last night when I went to bed it was Saturday; but now, to the growling disgust of every man on board, it is already Monday morning, for we start here upon Australian time and have completely missed out Sunday. Neiafu, the one harbour of Vavou, is on the south side of the principal island, opposite the north-east coast of Pangai Motu. As we get up to it the quay is crowded with men, very clean in white lava-lavas, so long that they reach to their ankles, exactly like the fold-over skirts of the day: miserable things to work in, one would think; but the Tongans do not work, save a very little upon their own plantations, while the Trading Companies have to import labour to load and unload their ships. Here in front of the harbour there are no cliffs, but green park-like land dotted with great clumps of trees running down to the water's edge; while at the back of them the island seems no more than a tight bouquet of trees, upright upon the cliffs, with the foam of the reef like the frill of an Early Victorian posy around them.
The Burn Philip Company, to whom we are here consigned, have lent me a launch, and run me out - now while the dawn is till fresh - away among the islands to a cave, in which the water is the most astounding blue I have ever seen, shot through and through with hundreds of thousands of minute blue and black fish, so thick that they jostle each other. The base of the inner wall of the cave is a madder pink, the arching roof ochre and blue. As we came along the coast we passed reach after reach of deep golden sand, where people were bathing or fishing, and deep hollows beneath the higher cliffs of the clearest blue I have ever seen; but on the way back we break away from the shore altogether; doge along among innumerable little islands.
Back on shore I walk about the tiny township. The boys and girls from a missionary school - what I suppose might be called a finishing school, for many of them are as much as eighteen or nineteen and very mature for their age - are gathered in a ring round a half-witted man - somehow so like one of Shakespeare's fools - who is sitting on the ground under a banyan tree, singing at the tops of their voices, a sort of loud chant that might be a marching song, breaking into sudden, cloud, discordant starting shouts, which they assure me makes the poor creature "feel good", though I should doubt it. When I give the fool a shilling one of the boys ties it up in the corner of his lava-lave for him, upon which he volunteers to sing a song of thanks to me, which he does; the same swinging sort of marching chant that I had heard from the boys and girls: breaking into the same shouts, and massaging both ears so hard with both hands all the while that I am afraid he will rub them off.
Going over to the school house I see one little imp of a girl with tight, coal-black curls - and many of the Tongans have hair that is more red than black - dancing, wriggling her hips and posturing, making strange Eastern gestures with her hands. A native schoolmaster is standing near, making a great pretence of reading out of a very large book to impress me, and when I ask him to tell more of the girls to dance he shouts to them, but only one, a fattish girl or about seventeen, steps forward.
After a few minutes some of the elder boys come and stand near laughing and staring. The dancing girl catches hold of first one and then another to try and persuade them to dance with her; but they cuff her aside until at last one, who is in reality a man, steps into the little ring and begins to dance; standing sideways to the girl, with his knees bent out sideways, and his arms and hands held upright from the elbow, palms outward. At first the two of them merely posture; then the dance becomes faster and faster - though they scarcely move their feet - and frankly sensual in every gesture; while they roll their eyes at each other, pouting their lips. Every now and then the man breaks into loud shouts, showing all his teeth in a mirthless and horrible grin, while the teacher - Wesleyan trained - stands by, smiling smugly, though he must know what it all means.
The missionaries in Vavou are as think upon the ground as they were in Samoa, and one wonders that the country support hem; while the boys and girls are kept at school so long, and the competition for pupils is so great, that they are never much use for anything else afterwards, for here are men from the London Mission and Seventh Day Adventists, Methodists, Wesleyans, Mormons, Roman Catholics, and almost everything else you can think of - though the people have and try to hold a Free Tongan Church - while all the finest houses and plantations belong to missionaries.
In the afternoon I hire a sulky and take the captain for a drive. It is great cavalcade. The mare I drive is almost incredibly thin; the reins are too short to be managed in any other way than separately, at the extreme length of my arms; while a four months' old foal follows behind, and a man in a purple lava-lava rides on in front to show us the way to where an underground river comes out into a deep lake in a cave, half-way down a steep cliff some three miles from the port. As we pass through the villages, cutting across wide green lawns, girls and children come running out juggling with oranges, which load the trees in every direction, keeping five or six in the air at one: throw wreaths over our h3ads and run away, laughing. We pass through deep bushy in which every tree is hung with parasites and lichen, broken by open patches of coconuts, far more healthy looking than the ones I saw in Samoa, though there is no sign of vanilla or cocoa, and the greater part of the land is waste. The pool of the underground river is an uncanny place; the air above it dank and chilly, reached by one small opening upon the face of the cliff, through which men and women slip and swim about like fish in the ice-cold water beneath an absolutely black arched roof.
The mosquitoes are almost unbearable upon the schooner, lying up close against the shore as we are; and after dinner tonight I walked away from the little town up a steep slope, and among the trees through a series of native villages, dipping again at last to a cemetery on the edge of a wide lagoon, with very find powdered white coral spread on the graves, a few bottles as ornaments, where I sat watching the moon rise over the water. Two natives came up in their canoes, and, getting out, waded towards me, pulling it after them: sat squatting on their hunkers, quite close to me, regarded me without, or so it seemed, so much as a wink for the best part of half an hour, during which my flesh literally crept, for I have no great belief in cannibalism being altogether obsolete; after which they returned to their canoes and paddled away, while I myself went back to the ship, where the mosquitoes were still making night horrible with their gang.
Preparing a feast in Tongatapu
The captain is the most untidy man I ever saw. I ironed his one shore-going suit before we reached Vavou. When we left he changed into his usual kit, shirt and trousers, flinging his suit over the edge of the bath - which has to be used for storing fresh water, so that one washes in a tin pail, usually with a scrubbing brush - where I found it this morning, sopping wet; with his watch and all his money, fallen from his pocket, lying at the bottom of the water. Now he has been using my typewriter and left it balanced on the very edge of the chart table. When I take it u, very sweetly, with a Fairchild-Family-smile, and putting it in its case, remark, "That's where it lives," his only reply is, that he reckons it's like the rest of us, and must "get used to locations."
There is practically no wind, and we are rolling horribly, with a heavy swell, among deep troughed waves.
The scattered isles of the Haapai Group stretch for forty miles in a north-easterly direction; the warm beating heart of all the Tongs, or so it seems to me; though Nukualova (now Nuku'alofa) in the Tongatabu (Tongatapu) Group, is the head which wears the crown.
From Lifuka, the principal island of the Haapai came the greater part of the old brave warrior blood, those Argonauts of the Pacific, which pulsed out through the Pacific, penetrating so far afield that even in Santa Cruz, or La Perouse, the natives built their huts under the coconuts daring the fall of nuts and boughs, so that they might be able to run like monkeys up into the trees children, to this very day, with the cry, "The Tongans are coming! the Tongans are coming!" while for the same reason the Samoans are known as "the fowls that roost."
Lifuka is a garden of glades - three-quarters of a mile to a mile in width, and less than ten miles in length - facing west and east, so that it is steeped in sunrise and sunset; perfectly flat, hemmed round with white sands. I do not know why it thrills me so, but it does, and of all places I have visited it is that in which I long most to stay. For there is a heart and soul in Lifuka: it is old, old, and yet for ever panting with youth, filled with warm pulsing blood, all the aspirations and inspirations of youth. The people in Lifuka are tall and finely made and beautifully courteous; their complaint against strangers being that they come to their island and pass them without salute, with no appeal to the Gold who means so much to them, with whom they are in daily communion, to bless them.
There is one tiny town, or rather one little street, called panagai, with a handful of brightly painted stores and shops. Through this and running the length of the island is one wide road with at either side of it - fifty yards or so apart - wide, brilliantly green, smooth grass avenues leading back into the island, bordered with breadfruit and mangoes and coconut palms, the feathery growth of iron-bark; while every little group of native huts stands upon its own sward.
Every man or woman or child you meet in Lifuka greets you with the words: Ma lo laa -" It is good to be alive." If it is a chief he raises his right hand in returning your salute; while many of the people, half past you, will turn, smiling, to add to their greeting the words: Afa atu - Love to you - health." It is at Lifuka, in an open glade close against the sea, where the great wooden drums - hollowed trunks of trees beaten once to summon the people to battle, beaten now to summon them to prayer, for the religion of the Tongans of Haapai, who own their own church and belong to no other denomination, is the most vital that I ever came across - now stand, upon the very spot where The Great Ones, the Heroes, landed.
Before ever the Fijians were known in Fiji The Great Ones came here; and the place where they knelt thanking the God of the Jews for their safety and prosperity - men with hooked noses and full-lipped mouths and curling hair, more red than black - is still shown beneath the hanging roots of the banyan tree, which forms the roof of the meeting-place of the City Fathers of Haapai; presided over by a descendant of the same chief who bade Cook welcome, a proud and stubborn man who refused to come out of his hut upon the occasion of the last visit of the queen; for no other reason than that the train of Tapu, worn by the aide-de-camp whom she sent to summon him, was not in his eyes sufficiently long, flowing and ceremonious.
The Taufaa Hau - The Great Ones - brought with them the high priests and the priestesses, all the rituals of the ancient Jewish religion. No one up to this time knows rightly who they were, or whence they came, or how they came; though one thing is sure, that in bringing their religion, they brought the sword with them; while, whatever one may say in praise of the Tongans, up to this very day, no one could so dispraise them as to call them meek. It was the great Gorge Tubou, the great-grand-father of the present queen, who first embraced Christianity and imposed it upon his people: going to them with a club in one hand and a Bible in the other, giving them the choice between the two: speaking of it afterwards with a splendid audacity as "The time when I Christianized Tonga with a club," while a very little later, when he began to grow old and the people set themselves against him, pretending that he was mad, he swept through the island, again, like a hurricane; destroyed the sacred groves, burned the idols, to which they had returned, and slew the priestesses.
To the last, and greatest, of all the priestesses he went demanding the greatest of the gods, Haehaetahi.
"He is gone for a journey," she said.
"Then we await for him, you and I," replied the king; and sitting down at her side the two waited, drank kava together; with Heaven only know what of fear, or maybe real hope, in the priestess's heart.
"He is a long time coming, this god of yours," said the king; and then again, and yet again; "He is a long time coming"; laughing, staring her in the fact: terrorizing her so that she fell at his feet, told him where she had hidden the image of the god. Upon which he hanged the two of them together up among the rafters of the roof of the temple as a symbol of things to be despised, as a sign of the end of all foolishness. In the old days, the days before the greatest and the best abused of all missionaries brought Christianity to George Tubou and the Tongans, all the people in the islands were serfs. They could own nothing; if they gathered coconuts or caught fish they must bring them to the king, lay them at his feet, so that he could take what he wanted of them. One of the tyrant kings of Haapai, indeed, a man named Tugahau, cut off the right hands of all the young men; the left arms of all the old women; the three fingers of the left hand of all the old men; put a taboo on all the coconut trees, so that the people starved; he himself being, in the end, murdered by one of the Heroes - if one can use such a word as murder for so righteous an act - who was, in his turn, assassinated by the stepson of the king; who was again in his turn slain by his own son, King George's father. And this was how things were in Haapai before the days of Christianity.
There are still high priests and priestesses in the island, ranking with those of royal blood; while the son of a high priest can marry no one of lesser rank than the daughter of a king,. It is, however, possible for both priests and priestesses to adopt others into their families; one of the three daughters of that first missionary, who are still living in the island, being an adopted high priestess daughter of the last high priest, the only one allowed into the sacred enclosure of his grave, the only person to whom it is permitted to attend to the tomb, save on special occasions when she needs help in the garden - with its green myrtle, its masses of large double pink and white hibiscus which the people call Kouty - when she must prepare a ceremonial feast, with roast pigs, for her helpers.
With this adopted priestess - followed by an illegitimate son of the high priest to keep off devils from the back of me - I myself was permitted to enter the enclosure, see the tomb, six feet long, formed out of solid rock cut by the slaves from the coral reef, overhung with pink hibiscus and spraying asparagus fern. The Arms of Tonga snow three swords, signifying the three main groups of islands, and three stars, with a cross and a dove of peace; the name of Haapai - with its three principal islands, Lifuka, Foa, Haano - meaning "Hands uplifted in supplication." The flag of Tonga is white with a red cross; the red signifying a people who have never known a master: the white, peace; the cross being the Cross of Christ; while the lovely name that the Tongans have given to heaven is Lagi - "The place where the shadow of the Almighty's image lives for ever."
I walked under the shade of the trees, along the flesh-white sands, to the house where the three remaining daughters of the missionary live. The sun was blazing hot, the glare and glitter on the shining, metal-like leaves of the palms blinding: the shade beneath the more thickly growing trees grateful beyond words. Looking across the road to the wide open glades, with their narrowing perspective, I saw boys and men with their lava-lavas flowing, galloping on horseback without bridle or saddle, guiding their horses with their feet, sitting as though one with them; an enchanting sight. And enchanting, indeed, was all this day in Haapai: the cool stir of wind in the shadows; the pleasant people who greeted me: the men all in white, the women in those thin black muslin gowns over white slips which all the women in all these islands, even the queen, wear; girded now with fine mats fringed and torn, pulled and twisted out of shape as a symbol of mourning for the loss of a still-born prince.
I sat in the veranda and talked to the three soft-voiced and gentle daughters of the friend of George Tubou. one of these is a hopeless cripple, sitting all day in a wheel chair; for several years ago she was thrown out of a cart, having both her legs broken; while, as there was no boat at that time running to Fiji on account of the war, it was impossible to set them. Another of the sisters, badly gored by a cow which she was milking, is almost altogether an invalid, so that upon the slender and fragile shoulders of the third - the High Priestess by Adoption - all the care of this little family depends; and not that alone, either, for every living man, woman, and child in Haapai look to her for help in times of trouble.
Up to quite lately there was another sister, a helpless invalid ever since the time when close upon forty years ago, she threw her own body - the body of a young girl of eighteen and rarely beautiful, to judge from the photographs which I was shown, with large startled eyes which held in their depths, even then, or so it seemed to me, a premonition of suffering - between the gun of an assassin and her father. Very, very early in the morning of the day she died, all the people of Haapai who could walk so far gathering upon the strip of sand in front of the house, sat there perfectly silent, waiting for the end: having - or so they swore - seen the Spirit Canoe with its Spirit Paddler top the horizon, but just before the moon set; while some declared that even then, in the pinky grey mists of dawn, they could see it hovering, waiting, ready to bear away the woman they loved; and who, indeed, died but very shortly after sunrise, sitting up in bed and holding out her arms towards the lagoon.
These three sisters live alone in Haapai, and must, so it seems, live thus to their deaths. With few books and still fewer papers they seem to be able to discuss every topic of the day, are as charmingly courteous and at ease as though constantly moving in society - but then who could be anything but courteous living among the Tongans? - while never in my life have I met with three people whom I more wish to meet again been greeted with a simpler and more wholehearted hospitality: an easy chair; a palm-leaf fan; a glass of lemonade made from lemons freshly gathered in the garden which reaches to the sea; home-made cakes; and halved paw-paw fruit with the seeds scooped out of it, the hollows filled with chopped banana, the juice of passion fruit, lemon, and sugar. Of one thing I am certain, that back in the world again, amid the stress and bustle, the noise and infinite fatigue of London life, there is no place on earth that I shall more long to visit than this - a "Lagi," indeed, upon earth.
I have hated leaving Haapia, for I don't know when any place has appealed to me like this tiny island, so full of enchantment and romance: that something which winds itself about our heart-strings: a mysterious something, having, indeed, nothing to do with its white sands, its glades, and avenues, its kind and courteous people, but mysteriously and altogether of the spirit, appealing to the spirit, and never to be forgotten.
It is only some hours' run to Tongatabu past the volcanic islands of Koa and Tofua, sending our great gusts and pillars of smoke rising high in the still air as we pass them; while in every direction are islands and a network of shoals, with the wreck of a schooner which has been broken in half: bows and stern sticking up so like two sharp-pointed rocks, that the captain not finding I ton his chart, had me make a sketch of it before we realise what it is.
To reach Nukualofa from the east one has to go almost entirely round the island, and in through a series of narrows where we are supposed to wait at least five miles out from the port for the pilot. We reached this spot at seven this morning and waited until eleven, by which time there was still no sign of any pilot, and the wind has risen; the shallow water was swept with ripples, opal and pale gold above the sands; the air fresh with a wonderful cleanliness in it; the scene unrivalled in its variety and beauty, coral reefs and green islands.
The captain walked to and fro continually through the wheel-house to the port rail, and back to the starboard; firm and square, and quiet, with a look as though he were tightly buttoned up inside himself. And this is, I think, one of the most remarkable things about him; he is so full of life and fire and yet so altogether able to control himself, while never once have I seen him go off the deep end; though his mouth shuts like a rat-trap over those white teeth of his, his bright eyes grow every moment brighter and brighter when he is annoyed. Every moment I expected him to break out into curses, abuses at least growlings; for time is money to the Monterey already three months late, and this delay means an end to all chance of getting any work done before Sunday. But he made no sort of a fuss; there not a word such as , "If he doesn't come soon I will do" this or that, or "I have a good mind to do" this or that, such as a weaker man might have braced himself up with; so that I was startled and thrilled when, quite suddenly, the starboard engine - once again of some use to us - got up full steam; a sort of hum ran through the schooner from end to end, as though everything in it were being tightened up, and I realized that the Old Man was actually going to run us into port on his own.
And nothing I can say can give any real idea of our route. Our passage was, indeed, more like a bending race with polo ponies than a ship's course: a swift and madly swerving passage among a tangle of islands and sand-banks and coral shoals; through channels, in many places no more than three times the breadth of the schooner; all completely strange to the captain, who has never been over this side of the world before. He took it gallantly, however, at a hand gallop, as it were; a gallop so altogether exhilarating that it seemed as though my blood had never before run so quickly through my veins; that I was in the midst of a life so altogether vital that it revitalized me; that, if a thing like this could go on and on throughout the years, it would be impossible for anyone ever to grow old, tired, or disillusioned.
There is no bridge to the schooner, and ordinarily the pilot stands upon the unrailed top of the wheel-housel; passing his instructions down to the captain, who, in his turn, passed them on to the man at the wheel. today, however, the captain himself went up there with his megaphone, his glasses, and chart, weighted down upon the deck and anything he could put his hand upon; for the day, which began in pale pastel tints, was by then a clear blue and white, with that tearing wind which seems always to go with such colours upon the Pacific.
A Loyalty Island boy - who could not understand a word of English, though he knew enough French to steer by - was at the wheel; while the first mate was stationed at the break of the poop, the second at the fo'c'sle head; these two understanding no single word of French, so that the procedure was thus - and thus. I myself, standing at the door of the wheel-house, translated the captain's orders to the steersman; by no means so simple a task as it sounds, for the order to "port" or "starboard" in French means exactly the opposite to what it does in English. In the one language if you say "port" you mean that the wheel has to be moved so that the nose of the ship goes to port; while in the other it is the wheel which has to be turned to port while the nose of the ship goes to starboard. In addition to this it was perfectly impossible to steer altogether by the chart, for in these seas the sand-banks are always shifting; while the man conning on the foremast was the only one who could catch the glint of coral beneath the clear water.
Our ramshackle little old engine poured out clouds of black smoke; while the water roared round us, cutting up into ridges of white foam as we turned; and every moment it seemed as though the sharp ridges of coral, spits of sand, so clearly seen below the shallow water, were actually darting forward to meet us. The ship was alive with shoutings, French, English, and a medley of native lingoes. I could even hear the Russian bellowing in his own language, out of sheer excitement, without the slightest expectation of being understood. The only person on the whole ship who took no interest in anything, did nothing, was the Englishman, whom we had tried to get rid of in Samoa, but to whom the authorities refused permission to remain in the island.
As the household cat, at times, gets under one's feet, driving one mad at every step this man loitering about the deck, and-though for goodness knows what purpose - and out of the wheel-house, exasperated me until I was able to bear it no longer; and during one sudden rush from the wheel - where I had been repeating something the steersman had failed to hear - out of the narrow door to scream a question up at the captain, running up against him loitering before me, I did, before I well realized it, or almost did, an unforgivable thing - well, precisely the thing that one does do to the cat; seeing the point of my own foot raised in the air; realizing his amazed face as he turned and saw what was upon him.
But this is what comes of living altogether among men for so long; the only chance for me when I do get back to "England will be to immure myself in a women's club, as I did several years ago, after a visit to Albania where I never saw a woman unless she were veiled from head to foot; had my meals at the one European hotel in Durazzo, crowded - so crowded that one had to scramble one's way over the beds in the hall to get to the dining-room - with between sixty and seventy men of every nationality, speaking every known language.
I am supposed to have left the schooner with all my bag and baggage and to the waiting in Nukualofa for the next steamer to take me on to Fiji; the fact of the matter being that a ferment of discontent and insubordination has been seething through the boat, the engineer having put the lid on it all by being missing at Vavou: keeping us all waiting, and brought back in the end very drunk and loudly abusive; while the Old Man is spoiling for a row, which he feels it impossible to get himself well into, heart and soul as he would like, so long as I am aboard. My one prayer now is that the storm may burst with a vengeance within the next few days, clearing the air so that I may go on with them again; for though I have only been twelve hours away I am already sick for the ship, thankful to remember how altogether taken aback the men were when they heard that I was going: cherishing the second mate's assertion that he would keep my chair aboard, "so that it will kind of seem as th9ough you were coming back."
Here in Nukualofa there is no hotel, but a boarding-house colloquially known, throughout the whole of the Pacific, as Smith's, the oddest place I have ever seen, with sixteen or seventeen rooms all opening out of each other. The greater number of these rooms have no outside windows whatever, while I myself have been given an angle cut off from the front veranda; which serves the other boarders as sitting and smoking-room, where the belle of the boarding-house - a typist with one of the business firms - spends her entire spare time manicuring her nails and flirting with the young men: clerks and cable men and salesmen from the stores. This room is so lightly screened from the rest of the world by a muslin curtain that I did not dare to burn a light when I was undressing last night, providing a perfect silhouette show for the company already very freely discussing me; while the doors to the two rooms, men's rooms, opening into mine, will not only not lock, but will not even keep shut, flying open at any sudden gust of wind, or if anyone shakes the rickety wooden building by walking too heavily across the floor sitting down too suddenly. Both the doors were wide open this morning; so that, when I sat up to drink the cup of tea the native girl had put down at my side, two tousled heads were raised, two men sat up to drink their tea and a friendly conversation followed. Thus I now know exactly which is the one who snores, and which is the one who mutters in his sleep; who it was who lost a collar stud this morning, finding a very great deal to say about it too, and who cut himself shaving. Not that it matters, for the Pacific is, indeed, a world of nothing-matters, almost as much as it is a world of tomorrow; while the kindness of the people who run the boarding-house, the real authentic Smiths, with their two delightful boys, the beauty and courtesy of the native serving girls, overbalance the ingenious inconvenience of the building: everything, indeed, save the frightful and unparalleled voracity of the mosquitoes, the tumult of the native village just outside my window, the multitude of pigs and dogs ever at odds, the night made hideous by squealings and yappings, that wholly exasperating squeal of an irritated pig - the wild rush of pursued and pursuer.
Nukualofa is the seat of the monarch of the Tongan Isles. All along the sea front is a wide double avenue of iron-bark trees, with that delicate and feathery growth which is such a relief after the heavy opaque foliage of eternal palms; and, to one side of it, the royal palace and chapel of white painted wood, with as many frettings and scrollings and pinnacles as though it were playing at being Milan cathedral in a German toy sort of a way. At first sight the island strikes one as disappointing, for it is so altogether flat that there is very little to be seen, though once get away from the town, back a little into the country, the enchantment of it all catches you: the wonderful variety of foliage, the inland salt lake, the villages, the people: the shells, regardless as nothing more than mere useless lumber, being thrown away; and a wild scheme for at last making a fortune by collecting turtle shells in Tongatabu simmers gently through my mind: a scheme which I know perfectly well will never be carried out - put off till tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, for there is no doubt whatever that the Pacific has got me once and for all; with what seems like the constant repetition of the same dream: which is yet never altogether the same, for the spirit of every place we touch at is delicately yet altogether different.
Here is Nukualofa, which a casual tourist might pass by as yet another island, with the eternal sameness of all tropical islands, where the whole spirit of the place, light and joyous and for ever youthful, is the spirit of play; so that in talking over my wanderings as I shall do, as we all do - though no one really cares to listen, and we know it; completely realizing that there is nothing more then a personal stimulus and delight to it; saying, in this place it was like this or that, the people so-and-so or so-and-so - Tongatabu will remain for ever the playground, the people of Tongatabu will remain for ever the playground, the people of Tongatabu the Playboys, of the Pacific Isles.
For here there is no need for anyone to work. It is, indeed, an earthly paradise where all alike have a few coconut trees and a few fowls and many pigs; where each boy upon reaching the age of eighteen is given half an acre of land in his own village and three acres of bush land; where if anyone needs kerosene or a new lavalava or a little money to pay the infinitesimal taxes, no more exertion is required tan that necessary to gather a few nuts, dry and sell little copra.
For the rest: the ;people dance and sing, strumming softly upon their guitars; feast, and play at football, tennis, and cricket upon the smooth green and park-like glades in the centre of every little hamlet. For, however small the gathering of huts, there is a cricket pitch of concrete where the people play with English cricket bats and balls, and a roughly marked-out tennis-court with a fishing net hung across it; so that, if you drive through a village in the evening -- where the people laugh and sing and call to each other in soft syllabled words - it is as though a garden fete were for ever in progress; while, as for feasting! The queen has been away in the country, only nine miles distant, for two or three weeks, and coming back to her capital yesterday, for no more than a couple of days, there was feasting throughout the length and breadth of it, with ceremonial lengths of Tapu and festive mats laid out under the trees, a tremendous cooking of pigs and yam and breadfruit.
I myself - the Papalagi, or stranger of the hour - am today being feted: a fete which will for ever live in my memory, like a clear picture painted upon metal - or rather an enamel run out upon metal in brilliant greens and purples and blues sifted through with gold and silver dust. A picture which nothing can ever destroy, so that in looking back upon my life I shall be able to say, whatever happened before this, whatever happens after, I shall have had at least this one brilliant and unspoiled day. A planter, half Swiss and half Tongan, arranged the feast, at which the captain of the Monterey was the only other European guest, and to which we drove some twelve miles in a motor; going past the Queen's Garden and the Resting Place of Kings, a raised platform of stone beneath a vast banyan tree.
Passing Mua, the queen's country retreat, I saw that she was back there again, sitting in front of the house, which is altogether a native one, among her women; and, begging the others to wait for me. I got out of the motor and crossed the glade to speak to her. She was sitting on the ground, and signing for me to sit down by her, we talked together for she has been at school in New Zealand and speaks perfectly good English. She and all the other women, who sat in a semicircle at a little distance from her, were dressed in the same way in a thin black muslin dress over white chemise and petticoat, while none of them wore shoes or stockings. But for all that she stood out above all of them in her dignity and serenity, an immense young woman, no more than twenty-four years of age, six foot four in height and already too fat, though magnificently made.
There has of late been trouble among the Tongan islanders in regard to their own Free Church. The Prince Consort, who is a good many years older than the queen, has great power over her, or so it is said, while he holds as strong a hand as any man can well do: being, not only Prince Consort, but Minister of Education and Minister of Customs, dominating the young queen, Salote Tubou, to such an extent that she is becoming very unpopular, the last straw being that he has persuaded, or is persuading, her to force the people to give back their church to the Wesleyans to whom he belongs. I saw him yesterday and he promised me that nothing would be done without the full consent of all the people; and yet, immediately afterwards, that very afternoon, there was an unexpected and unannounced meeting of the Council with scarcely anyone there and the measure for the transference passed.
Today the queen's woman, a vast kava bowl in front of them were making kava, wringing out the roots in their hands. They brought the queen the polished half of a coconut shell, from which she drank, then threw the shell far away from her as is the custom. They then br9ought me a shell of kava, but I was out of temper and would not drink, telling the queen very plainly what I thought of her, expressing it as my opinion that if she persisted in her course in regard to the people's religion she would end by losing her kingdom. With the placidity of all very fat people, however, she kept perfectly calm under my onslaught, reiterating the words, "You must ask my husband about that"-"I leave all that to my husband," until, out of all patience with her I got up and flung back to the motor, without so much as the semblance of an obeisance or goodbye.
The fete today, which takes the form of a picnic, is held at the base of a steep cliff towards which some twelve miles out from Nukualofa we turn through byroads, so thick with greasy mud that again and again we stick, and, rounding our hands to our mouths, shout for natives to come and haul us out with the ropes which we carry. At the end of the motor drive there is a walk through grass of a height above my shoulders for close upon half a mile, a scramble down the steep sides of a cliff, thick with undergrowth, and we come upon the scene set out for our little play; a curve of cream-tinted sand round a small bay, a strip of purple-blue lagoon, and pale jade and lapis lazuli breakers with white crests upon the reef. I have wandered along the shore and paddled through the water into another bay silent and fresh and clean as though at creation; bathed in a deep pool in the coral under the hanging cliffs; then getting back into my clothes with my skirt pulled up to my knees, my shoes and stockings hung over my arm, waded out to the reef, where I am sitting: past brilliant pools of a madder and purple and vivid green rocks; pools as clear as jewels, with pink branching corals and feathery, brilliant green seaweeds; jewelled fish and sea anemones, and jellyfish like delicate lengths of silk puffed out with water, thick within them.
Now, upon the reef, the roar of the waves is tremendous as they raise their green throats, high as temple arches above me; threaten terribly; then drop in a smother of white foam with a sound like laughter. The people on the shore call and beckon to me. The tablecloths of palm leaves - woven with fingers which move as swiftly as small dark fish sporting in a pool - are already laid. Some of the guests are seated about this cloth, others are bent over holes in the ground filled with hot stones, taking out of them the cooked food. The hair of some of the men measures two feet across the top, is smooth and massive as a clipped yew hedge; and singed into shape so that no single hair stands a fraction higher than another by women with red hot stones; while the girls' hair falls loosely and is decked with flowers and maidenhair fern. For the feast there are two almost full-grown pigs and four fowls with a pile of breadfruit as big as a road-mender's heap of stones by the roadside: all of which we finish completely, washing it down with kava drunk from halved and polished coconut shells. The pigs and fowls are all deliciously stuffed with herbs and lemon and mashed sweet potatoes; the leader of the feast has a large knife with which he buts the thick skin about the throat of each pig; then he tears it and we eat it with our teeth and fingers - for there are other knives, and no forks whatever - holding our salt in the hollow of our hands.
After the feast is over we lie in the shade and rest a little; then, though the sun is still high in the heavens, two girls and two men draw apart in opposite directions to make themselves ready for the dance. An older woman attends upon the girls, dressing them in grass mats as fine and soft as silk, appliqued with patterns of black velvet; oiling them all over and hanging them with ferns and green creepers; while the men, taking off their lavalavas, don a very short pair of cotton shorts, oil and wreathe themselves, hanging themselves with garlands of brilliant green weed from off the rocks. The sun is still high in the heavens, but now the two couples, coming forward and meeting each other, begin to dance upon the hard white sand at the edge of the water; with he opal of the lagoon, the wall of foam upon the reef, the solid blue of the afternoon sky, as a drop sheet behind them; and to the right a dark arched cave of every shade of purple and deep madder.
Every movement of these dancers - their advancing, retreating, beckoning - is infinitely luring, full of the suggestions of passion and love: so altogether Egyptian that they seem to have stepped clear out of an Egyptian frieze. There are two guitars to which the players sing in deep monotonous tones; while we others, sitting along the sand upon our heels, swing our bodies to and fro, at first slowly then more and more quickly: clapping our hollowed palms, following the quickened movement of the dancers; breaking off a little as they pause, posing, as motionless as statues, then beginning again; faster and still faster, swung, not so much by our volition, as by the allurement, the excitement of their movements. And squatting here upon the sand, clapping my hollowed palms together, swinging my body to and from, quite suddenly - as though the slides were un expectedly changed in a magic-lantern-my mind goes back to the last dinner I was at in London: a large literary dinner overborne by the eternal complacent sameness which overwhelms all people of once craft gathered together in a mass; while I wonder what on earth the to her guests would think of me if they could see me now, without shoes or stockings, my wet hair dripping down my back, let alone if they could have seen me eating pork and chicken with my fingers. But it only shows how quickly one can drop into anything on earth, may ultimately drop into anything on earth, may ultimately drop into anything above or below it, while manners are like morals, the merest matters of latitude and longitude.
I have come out of a drive with the elder of the two Smith boys, a lad of fourteen, who knows everything there is to be known about the customs and superstitions of the people here, the birds and flowers. We have driven for some twelve miles in a buggy with an ancient white horse, and harness rather inadequately tied up with string, which the half-caste Swiss planter has lent me; past the one spring of natural water in the whole island to this spot where I am now writing. And picture it if you can: a group of brilliantly glossy leafed trees, with immense blackened trunks; and beneath their shade a number of elderly men sitting round a kava bowl, drinking and smoking with an air of the deepest serenity. Away from this shaded spot runs a clear wide-open glade covered with short smooth grass, with an immense spread of Tapa, two hundred fathoms in length, laid out upon it.
These sheets of Tapa are made of a certain bark, wetted and pulped and beaten into flat sheets; then glued together so skillfully that there is no joint to be seen; while they are white and soft as silk - so soft that one can crumple them up in one's hand without creasing them. Upon this white sheet the women of the islands make patterns, nearly all geometrical and perfectly symmetrical, in black or brown, using as paint-brushes small three-cornered pieces of slate or stone. This length of Tapa laid out in the glade was already nearly finished, though at the farther end there were at least fifty women at work upon it. Along either edge there was a fine pattern of red-brown, with diagonal stripes and diamonds; against this there were half diamonds of solid black, two broad black stripes, a line of checks, a broad band of groups of four wings like aeroplanes; then another stripe, a zigzag of black and white and a strange cubist-looking design of elongated diamonds; the same pattern being repeated from the other side until the two of them met - Two hundred fathoms on thousand two hundred and thirty feet! With no rough sketch or design drawn in with charcoal, and yet not one single mistake through the length and breadth of it. Only imagine the accuracy implied in such work.
We sit for awhile among the men talking to them, the Smith boy translating all that they say for me. Here the shadows are like grey velvet, the patches of light which fall between the leaves of the trees a brilliant golden green, the air like a caress, the touch of a cool petal of a sweet-scented flower against one's face. The first time I drank kava I hated it, thought that it tasted like nothing so much on earth as stale soap suds; but now there is no drink to be found in tropical countries that I would prefer, and I drink with gratitude what the men offer to me, throwing my cu9p as far as possible after I have drunk. We get up and, walking along the length of Tapa, join the women at the end of it. There is less than a yard to be done now, and they asked me to add something to it; so I put my initials and a prancing in one corner of it, witness throughout centuries to come - for this Tapa is practically indestructible - to the ineptness of European, working with tools to which he or she is unaccustomed, for there is nothing apart from the point of a triangular scrap of wood for a paint brush.
The boy and I have come on through as avenue of iron bark to the shore, and are now sitting at the top of the terraces, half cliffs, of white coral, serrated into a thousand spikes and hollows, with rounded pools and semi-terraces, watching the great plumes and towers of water which come up through the blow holes; for the whole force of the Pacific breakers rush in under these terraces and up through the holes, scattering in lofty columns of foam and spray far, far overhead, against the brilliance of the unclouded middy sky; driven by the wind back inland over the coconut groves, mingling with the spray like foliage of the iron barks.