To the English missionaries who converted the Tahitians to the Christian faith the Arioi adherent was the chief barrier, the fiercest opponent, and, when won over, the most enthusiastic neophyte. In that is found the secret of the society’s strength. It embraced all the imaginative, active, ambitious Tahitians, to whom it gave opportunities to display varied talents, to form close friendships, to rise in rank, to meet on evener terms those more aristocratic in degree, and, above all, to change the monotony of their existence by eating, drinking, and being merry in company, and all at the expense of the other fellow. But—and the more you study the Polynesian, the subtler are his strange laws and taboos—the main provision in the Arioi constitution was undoubtedly conceived in the desire to prevent over-population.
Pepe, the woman of Tuatini, had returned to the ways of the Arioi because her husband had adopted the white convention of jealousy and monogamy. Only Tahitians like Tetuanui now knew anything about the order, and so many generations had they been taught shame of it that the very name was unspoken, as that of the mistletoe god was among the Druids after St. Patrick had accomplished his mission in Ireland.
Rupert Brooke and I discuss Tahiti—We go to a wedding feast—How the cloth was spread—What we ate and drank—A Gargantuan feeder—Songs and dances of passion—The royal feast at Tetuanui’s—I leave for Vairao—Butscher and the Lermontoffs.
At Mataiea weeks passed without incident other than those of the peaceful, pleasant round of walking, swimming, fishing, thinking, and refreshing slumber. My mind dismissed the cares of the mainland, and the interests thrust upon me there—business, convention, the happenings throughout the world. I achieved to a degree the state in which body and spirit were pliant instruments for the simple needs and indulgences of my being, and my mind, relieved of the cark of custom in advanced communities, considered, and clarified as never before, the values of life. It was as if one who had been confined indoors for years at a task supervised by critical guardians was moved to a beautiful garden with only laughing children for playmates and a kindly nature alone for contemplation and guide.
Brooke, who was busied an hour or two a day at poems and letters, and was physically active most of the time, spoke of this with me. There were few whites in Tahiti outside Papeete except in the suburbs. The French in the time of Louis le Debonnaire and of all that period thought nature unbeautiful. The nation has ever been afraid of it, but let natural thoughts be freely spoken and written, and natural acts be less censured than elsewhere. Even in late years their conception of nature has been that of the painter Corot, delicate, tender, and sad; not free and primitive. They had possessed Tahiti