The sandal-wood party—Native children's games somewhat surprising—Desperate amusements
suddenly and fatally brought to a close—An old friend recognised—News—Romata's mad
 NEXT day the wood-cutting party went ashore again, and I accompanied them as before. During the
dinner-hour I wandered into the woods alone, being disinclined for food that day. I had not rambled
far when I found myself unexpectedly on the sea-shore, having crossed a narrow neck of land which
separated the native village from a large bay. Here I found a party of the islanders busy with one
of their war-canoes, which was almost ready for launching. I stood for a long time watching this
party with great interest, and observed that they fastened the timbers and planks to each other very
much in the same way in which I had seen Jack fasten those of our little boat. But what surprised me
most was its immense length, which I measured carefully, and found to be a hundred feet long; and it
was so capacious that it could have held three hundred men. It had the unwieldy outrigger and
enormously high stern-posts which I had remarked on the canoe that came to us while I was on the
Coral Island. Observing some boys playing at games a short way along the beach, I resolved to go and
watch them; but as I turned from the natives who
 were engaged so busily and cheerfully at their
work, I little thought of the terrible event that hung on the completion of that war-canoe.
Advancing towards the children, who were so numerous that I began to think this must be the general
playground of the village, I sat down on a grassy bank under the shade of a plantain tree to watch
them. And a happier or more noisy crew I have never seen. There were at least two hundred of them,
both boys and girls, all of whom were clad in no other garments than their own glossy little black
skins, except the maro, or strip of cloth round the loins of the boys, and a very short petticoat or
kilt on the girls. They did not all play at the same game, but amused themselves in different
One band was busily engaged in a game exactly similar to our blind man's buff. Another set were
walking on stilts, which raised the children three feet from the ground. They were very expert at
this amusement, and seldom tumbled. In another place I observed a group of girls standing together,
and apparently enjoying themselves very much; so I went up to see what they were doing, and found
that they were opening their eyelids with their fingers till their eyes appeared of an enormous
size, and then thrusting pieces of straw between the upper and lower lids, across the eyeball, to
keep them in that position! This seemed to me, I must confess, a very foolish as well as dangerous
amusement. Nevertheless the children seemed to be greatly delighted with the hideous faces they
made. I pondered this subject a good deal, and thought that if little children knew how silly they
seemed to grown-up people when they make faces, they would not be so fond of doing it. In another
place were a number of boys engaged in flying kites,
 and I could not help wondering that some of the
games of those little savages should be so like to our own, although they had never seen us at play.
But the kites were different from ours in many respects, being of every variety of shape. They were
made of very thin cloth, and the boys raised them to a wonderful height in the air by means of twine
made from the cocoa-nut husk. Other games there were, some of which showed the natural depravity of
the hearts of these poor savages, and made me wish fervently that missionaries might be sent out to
them. But the amusement which the greatest number of the children of both sexes seemed to take chief
delight in was swimming and diving in the sea, and the expertness which they exhibited was truly
amazing. They seemed to have two principal games in the water, one of which was to dive off a sort
of stage which had been erected near a deep part of the sea, and chase each other in the water. Some
of them went down to an extraordinary depth; others skimmed along the surface, or rolled over and
over like porpoises, or diving under each other, came up unexpectedly and pulled each other down by
a leg or an arm. They never seemed to tire of this sport, and from the great heat of the water in
the South Seas, they could remain in it nearly all day without feeling chilled. Many of these
children were almost infants, scarce able to walk; yet they staggered down the beach, flung their
round, fat little black bodies fearlessly into deep water, and struck out to sea with as much
confidence as ducklings.
The other game to which I have referred was swimming in the surf. But as this is an amusement in
which all engage, from children of ten to grey-headed men of sixty, and as I had an opportunity of
witnessing it in perfection the day following, I shall describe it more minutely.
 I suppose it was in honour of their guest that this grand swimming-match was got up, for Romata came
and told the captain that they were going to engage in it, and begged him to "come and see."
"What sort of amusement is this surf-swimming?" I inquired of Bill, as we walked together to a part
of the shore on which several thousands of the natives were assembled.
"It's a very favourite lark with these 'xtr'or'nary critters," replied Bill, giving a turn to the
quid of tobacco that invariably bulged out of his left cheek. "Ye see, Ralph, them fellows take to
the water as soon a'most as they can walk, an' long before they can do that anything respectably, so
that they are as much at home in the sea as on the land. Well, ye see, I s'pose they found swimmin'
for miles out to sea, and divin' fathoms deep, wasn't exciting enough, so they invented this game o'
swimmin' on the surf. Each man and boy, as you see, has got a short board or plank, with which he
swims out for a mile or more to sea, and then, gettin' on the top o' yon thunderin' breaker, they
come to shore on the top of it, yellin' and screechin' like fiends. It's a marvel to me that they're
not dashed to shivers on the coral reef, for sure an' sartin' am I that if any o' us tried it, we
wouldn't be worth the fluke of a broken anchor after the wave fell. But there they go!"
As he spoke, several hundreds of the natives, amongst whom we were now standing, uttered a loud
yell, rushed down the beach, plunged into the surf, and were carried off by the seething foam of the
At the point where we stood, the encircling coral reef joined the shore, so that the magnificent
breakers, which a recent stiff breeze had rendered larger than usual, fell in thunder at the feet of
the multitudes who lined the
 beach. For some time the swimmers continued to strike out to sea, breasting over the swell like
hundreds of black seals. Then they all turned, and watching an approaching billow, mounted its white
crest, and each laying his breast on the short, flat board, came rolling towards the shore,
careering on the summit of the mighty wave, while they and the onlookers shouted and yelled with
excitement. Just as the monster wave curled in solemn majesty to fling its bulky length upon the
beach, most of the swimmers slid back into the trough behind; others, slipping off their boards,
seized them in their hands, and plunging through the watery waste, swam out to repeat the amusement;
but a few, who seemed to me the most reckless, continued their career until they were launched upon
the beach, and enveloped in the churning foam and spray. One of these last came in on the crest of
the wave most manfully, and landed with a violent bound almost on the spot where Bill and I stood. I
saw by his peculiar head-dress that he was the chief whom the tribe entertained as their guest. The
sea-water had removed nearly all the paint with which his face had been covered, and as he rose
panting to his feet, I recognised, to my surprise, the features of Tararo, my old friend of the
Tararo at the same moment recognised me, and advancing quickly, took me round the neck and rubbed
noses; which had the effect of transferring a good deal of the moist paint from his nose to mine.
Then, recollecting that this was not the white man's mode of salutation, he grasped me by the hand
and shook it violently.
"Hallo, Ralph!" cried Bill in surprise, "that chap seems to have taken a sudden fancy to you, or he
must be an old acquaintance."
 "Right, Bill," I replied; "he is indeed an old acquaintance;" and I explained in a few words that he
was the chief whose party Jack and Peterkin and I had helped to save.
Tararo haying thrown away his surf-board, entered into an animated conversation with Bill, pointing
frequently during the course of it to me; whereby I concluded he must be telling him about the
memorable battle and the part we had taken in it. When he paused, I begged of Bill to ask him about
the woman Avatea, for I had some hope that she might have come with Tararo on this visit. "And ask
him," said I, "who she is, for I am persuaded she is of a different race from the Feejeeans." On the
mention of her name the chief frowned darkly, and seemed to speak with much anger.
"You're right, Ralph," said Bill, when the chief had ceased to talk; "she's not a Feejee girl, but a
Samoan. How she ever came to this place the chief does not very clearly explain, but he says she was
taken in war, and that he got her three years ago, an' kept her as his daughter ever since. Lucky
for her, poor girl, else she'd have been roasted and eaten like the rest."
"But why does Tararo frown and look so angry?" said I.
"Because the girl's somewhat obstinate, like most o' the sex, an' won't marry the man he wants her
to. It seems that a chief of some other island came on a visit to Tararo and took a fancy to her,
but she wouldn't have him on no account, bein' already in love, and engaged to a young chief whom
Tararo hates, and she kicked up a desperate shindy; so, as he was going on a war-expedition in his
canoe, he left her to think about it, sayin' he'd be back in six months or so, when he hoped she
wouldn't be so obstropolous. This happened
 just a week ago; an' Tararo says that if she's not ready to go when the chief returns, as his bride,
she'll be sent to him as a long pig."
"As a long pig!" I exclaimed in surprise; "why, what does he mean by that?"
"He means somethin' very unpleasant," answered Bill with a frown. "You see these blackguards eat men
an' women just as readily as they eat pigs; and as baked pigs and baked men are very like each other
in appearance, they call men long pigs. If Avatea goes to this fellow as a long pig, it's all
up with her, poor thing."
"Is she on the island now?" I asked eagerly.
"No; she's at Tararo's island."
"And where does it lie!"
"About fifty or sixty miles to the south'ard o' this", returned Bill; "but I—"
At this moment we were startled by the cry of "Mao! mao!—a shark! a shark!" which was
immediately followed by a shriek that rang clear and fearfully loud above the tumult of cries that
arose from the savages in the water and on the land. We turned hastily towards the direction whence
the cry came, and had just time to observe the glaring eyeballs of one of the swimmers as he tossed
his arms in the air. Next instant he was pulled under the waves. A canoe was instantly launched, and
the hand of the drowning man was caught, but only half of his body was dragged from the maw of the
monster, which followed the canoe until the water became so shallow that it could scarcely swim. The
crest of the next billow was tinged with red as it rolled towards the shore.
In most countries of the world this would have made a deep impression on the spectators, but the
 it had upon these islanders was to make them hurry with all speed out of the sea, lest a similar
fate should befall some of the others; but so utterly reckless were they of human life, that it did
not for a moment suspend the progress of their amusements. It is true the surf-swimming ended for
that time somewhat abruptly, but they immediately proceeded with other games. Bill told me that
sharks do not often attack the surf-swimmers, being frightened away by the immense numbers of men
and boys in the water, and by the shouting and splashing that they make. "But," said he, "such a
thing as you have seen just now don't frighten them much. They'll be at it again to-morrow or next
day, just as if there wasn't a single shark between Feejee and Nova Zembla."
After this the natives had a series of wrestling and boxing matches; and being men of immense size
and muscle, they did a good deal of injury to each other, especially in boxing, in which not only
the lower orders but several of the chiefs and priests engaged. Each bout was very quickly
terminated, for they did not pretend to a scientific knowledge of the art, and wasted no time in
sparring, but hit straight out at each other's heads, and their blows were delivered with great
force. Frequently one of the combatants was knocked down with a single blow; and one gigantic fellow
hit his adversary so severely that he drove the skin entirely off his forehead. This feat was hailed
with immense applause by the spectators.
During these exhibitions, which were very painful to me, though I confess I could not refrain from
beholding them, I was struck with the beauty of many of the figures and designs that were tattooed
on the persons of the chiefs and principal men. One figure, that
 seemed to me very elegant, was that of a palm tree tattooed on the back of a man's leg, the roots
rising, as it were, from under his heel, the stem ascending the tendon of the ankle, and the
graceful head branching out upon the calf. I afterwards learned that this process of tattooing is
very painful, and takes long to do, commencing at the age of ten, and being continued at intervals
up to the age of thirty. It is done by means of an instrument made of bone, with a number of sharp
teeth with which the skin is punctured. Into these punctures a preparation made from the kernel of
the candle-nut, mixed with cocoa-nut oil, is rubbed, and the mark thus made is indelible. The
operation is performed by a class of men whose profession it is, and they tattoo as much at a time
as the person on whom they are operating can bear; which is not much, the pain and inflammation
caused by tattooing being very great, sometimes causing death. Some of the chiefs were tattooed with
an ornamental stripe down the legs, which gave them the appearance of being clad in tights; others
had marks round the ankles and insteps which looked like tight-fitting and elegant boots. Their
faces were also tattooed, and their breasts were very profusely marked with every imaginable species
of device—muskets, dogs, birds, pigs, clubs, and canoes, intermingled with lozenges, squares,
circles, and other arbitrary figures.
The women were not tattooed so much as the men, having only a few marks on their feet and arms. But
I must say, however objectionable this strange practice may be, it nevertheless had this good
effect, that it took away very much from their appearance of nakedness.
Next day, while we were returning from the woods to our schooner, we observed Romata rushing about
 the neighbourhood of his house, apparently mad with passion.
"Ah!" said Bill to me, "there he's at his old tricks again. That's his way when he gets drink. The
natives make a sort of drink o' their own, and it makes him bad enough; but when he gets brandy he's
like a wild tiger. The captain, I suppose, has given him a bottle, as usual, to keep him in good
humour. After drinkin' he usually goes to sleep, and the people know it well, and keep out of his
way, for fear they should waken him. Even the babies are taken out of ear-shot; for when he's waked
up he rushes out just as you see him now, and spears or clubs the first person he meets."
It seemed at the present time, however, that no deadly weapon had been in his way, for the
infuriated chief was raging about without one. Suddenly he caught sight of an unfortunate man who
was trying to conceal himself behind a tree. Bushing towards him, Romata struck him a terrible blow
on the head, which knocked out the poor man's eye and also dislocated the chief's finger. The
wretched creature offered no resistance; he did not even attempt to parry the blow. Indeed, from
what Bill said, I found that he might consider himself lucky in having escaped with his life, which
would certainly have been forfeited had the chief been possessed of a club at the tune.
"Have these wretched creatures no law among themselves," said I, "which can restrain such
"None," replied Bill. "The chiefs word is law. He might kill and eat a dozen of his own subjects any
day for nothing more than his own pleasure, and nobody would take the least notice of it."
This ferocious deed took place within sight of our party as we wended our way to the beach, but I
 not observe any other expression on the faces of the men than that of total indifference or
contempt. It seemed to me a very awful thing that it should be possible for men to come to such
hardness of heart and callousness to the sight of bloodshed and violence; but, indeed, I began to
find that such constant exposure to scenes of blood was having a slight effect upon myself, and I
shuddered when I came to think that I too was becoming callous.
I thought upon this subject much that night while I walked up and down the deck during my hours of
watch, and I came to the conclusion that if I, who hated, abhorred, and detested such bloody deeds
as I had witnessed within the last few weeks, could so soon come to be less sensitive about them,
how little wonder that these poor ignorant savages, who were born and bred in familiarity therewith,
should think nothing of them at all, and should hold human life in so very slight esteem!
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