A letter from Fragrance of the Jasmine, to Frederick O’Brien, at Sausalito, California:
“Ia ora na oe! Maru:
“Great sorrow has come to Tahiti. The people die by thousands from a devil sickness, the grippe, or influenza. It came from your country as we were rejoicing for the peace in France. The Navua brought it, and for weeks we have died. Tati is dead. Tetuanui is dead. They cannot lay the corpses in the graves, they fall so fast. There are no people to help. The dogs and pigs have eaten them as they slept their last sleep in their gardens. Now the corpses are burning in great trenches, and drunken white sailors with scared faces burn them, and drive the dead wagons crosswise in the streets. The burning of our loved ones is affrighting, and the old people who are not dead are in terrible fear of the flames. It is like the savages of the Marquesas in olden times.
“Your dear friend Lovaina was the first to die of the hotahota, as some call this sickness. Lovaina had a bad cough. The man who looks after the engines of the Navua went to see her, and she kissed him on the cheek. Then the good doctor of Papeete who visits the ships was called to see her. Maru, could that doctor have brought the hotahota to Lovaina? She was dead in a little while.
“Lovaina had good fortune all her life, for, being the first one to die, she was buried as we have always buried our people. All of Tahiti that was not ill walked with her coffin. Oh, Maru, I wept for Lovaina. Vava, whom you whites call the Dummy, is dead, too. When Lovaina was taken to the cemetery, Vava drove her old chaise with her children in it; and then, Maru, he was seen again only by a Tahitian who had gone to bathe in the lagoon because the fever was burning him. You know how Vava always took the old horse of Lovaina at sunset to swim in front of the Annexe. This man who was ill said that he saw Vava ride the horse into the sea, and straight out toward the reef. Vava signed farewell to the man with the fever. The man stayed in the lagoon to cool his body until the sun was below Moorea, and your friend, the Dummy, did not return. Maru, we loved dear Lovaina, but to Vava she was mother and God.
“It is strange, Maru, the way of things in the world. The lepers who are confined towards Arue were forgotten, and as nobody went near them, the hotahota passed them by.
“I cannot write more. O Maru, come back to aid us. It is a long time since those happy days when we walked in the Valley of Fautaua.
“Ia ora na i te Atua!