White Shadows in the South Seas eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 365 pages of information about White Shadows in the South Seas.

CHAPTER VIII

Communal life; sport in the waves; fight of the sharks and the mother whale; a day in the mountains; death of Le Capitaine Halley; return to Atuona.

Life in Vait-hua was idyllic.  The whites, having desolated and depopulated this once thronged valley, had gone, leaving the remnant of its people to return to their native virtue and quietude.  Here, perhaps more than in any other spot in all the isles, the Marquesan lived as his forefathers had before the whites came.

Doing nothing sweetly was an art in Vait-hua.  Pleasure is nature’s sign of approval.  When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment.  The people of this quiet valley did not crave excitement.  The bustle and nervous energy of the white wearied them excessively.  Time was never wasted, to their minds, for leisure was the measure of its value.

Domestic details, the preparation of food, the care of children, the nursing of the sick, were the tasks of all the household.  Husband and wife, or the mates unmarried, labored together in delightful unity.  Often the woman accompanied her man into the forests, assisting in the gathering of nuts and breadfruit, in the fishing and the building.  When these duties did not occupy them, or when they were not together bathing in the river or at the via puna, they sat side by side on their paepaes in meditation.  They might discuss the events of the day, they might receive the visits of others, or go abroad for conversation; but for hours they often were wrapped in their thoughts, in a silence broken only by the rolling of their pandanus cigarettes or the lighting of the mutual pipe.

“Of what are you thinking?” I said often to my neighbors when breaking in upon their meditation.

“Of the world.  Of those stars,” they replied.

They would sympathize with that Chinese traveler who, visiting America and being hurried from carriage to train, smiled at our idea of catching the fleeting moment.

“We save ten minutes by catching this train,” said his guide, enthusiastically.

“And what will you do with that ten minutes?” demanded the Chinese.

To be busy about anything not necessary to living is, in Marquesan wisdom, to be idle.

Swimming in the surf, lolling at the via puna, angling from rock or canoe or fishing with line and spear outside the bay, searching for shell-fish, and riding or walking over the hills to other valleys, filled their peaceful, pleasant days.  A dream-like, care-free life, lived by a people sweet to know, handsome and generous and loving.

That he never saw or heard of the slightest quarrel between individuals was the statement a century ago of Captain Porter, the American.  Then as now the most perfect harmony prevailed among them.  They lived like affectionate brothers of one family, he said, the authority of the chiefs being only that of fathers among children.  They had no mode of punishment for there were no offenders.  Theft was unknown, and all property was left unguarded.  So Porter, who, with his ship’s company, killed so many Marquesans, was fully aware of their civic virtues, their kindness, gentleness and generosity.

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White Shadows in the South Seas from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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