Polynesians have always been respecters of authority. Under their own rule, where priest and king equally rose to rank because of admired deeds, the tapus of the priests had the same force as those of chiefs, and life was conducted by few and simple rules. Now, when sect fights sect; when priests assure the people that France is a Catholic nation and the Governor says the statement is false; where the Protestant pastor teaches that Sunday is a day of solemnity and prayer, and the Frenchmen make it a day of merriment as in France; where salvation depends on many beliefs bewildering and incompatible, the puzzled Marquesan scratches his head and swings from creed to creed, while his secret heart clings to the old gods.
The Marquesan had a joyful religion, full of humor and abandon, dances and chants, and exaltation of nature, of the greatness of their tribe or race, a worship that was, despite its ghastly rites of human sacrifice, a stimulus to life.
The efforts of missionaries have killed the joy of living as they have crushed out the old barbarities, uprooting together everything, good and bad, that religion meant to the native. They have given him instead rites that mystify him, dogmas he can only dimly understand, and a little comfort in the miseries brought upon him by trade.
I have seen a leper alone on his paepae, deep in the Scriptures, and when I asked him if he got comfort from them I was answered, “They are strong words for a weak man, and better than pig.” But only a St. Francis Xavier or a Livingstone, a great moral force, could lift the people now from the slough of despond in which they expire.
Upon this people, sparkingly alive, spirited as wild horses, not depressed as were their conquerors by a heritage of thousands of years of metes and bounds, religion as forced upon them has been not only a narcotic, but a death potion.
The marriage of Malicious Gossip; matrimonial customs of the simple natives; the domestic difficulties of Haabuani.
Mouth of God and his wife, Malicious Gossip, soon became intimates of my paepae. Coming first to see the marvelous Golden Bed and to listen to the click-click of the Iron Fingers That Make Words, they remained to talk, and I found them both charming.
Both were in their early twenties, ingenuous, generous, clever, and devoted to each other and to their friends. Malicious Gossip was beautiful, with soft dark eyes, clear-cut features, and a grace and lovely line of figure that in New York would make all heads whirl. She was all Marquesan, but her husband, Mouth of God, had white blood in him. Whose it was, he did not know, for his mother’s consort had been an islander. His mother, a large, stern, and Calvinistic cannibal, believed in predestination, and spent her days in fear that she would be among the lost. Her Bible was ever near, and often, passing their house, I saw her climb with it into a breadfruit-tree and read a chapter in the high branches where she could avoid distraction.