It is a dish to set before a sorcerer. I would as lief eat bill-poster’s paste a year old. It tastes like a sour, acid custard. Yet white men learn to eat it, even to yearn for it. Captain Capriata, of the schooner Roberta, which occasionally made port in Atuona Bay, could digest little else. Give him a bowl of popoi and a stewed or roasted cat, and his Corsican heart warmed to the giver.
As bread or meat are to us, so was popoi to my tawny friends. They ate it every day, sometimes three or four times a day, and consumed enormous quantities at a squatting. As the peasant of certain districts of Europe depends on black bread and cheese, the poor Irish on potatoes or stirabout, the Scotch on oatmeal, so the Marquesan satisfies himself with popoi, and likes it really better than anything else.
Many times, when unable to evade the hospitality of my neighbors, I squatted with them about the brimming pahake set on their paepae, and dipped a finger with them, though they marveled at my lack of appetite. In the silence considered proper to the serious business of eating, each dipped index and second finger into the bowl, and neatly conveyed a portion of the sticky mass to his mouth, returning the fingers to the bowl cleansed of the last particle. Little children, beginning to eat popoi ere they were fairly weaned, put their whole hands into the dish, and often the lean and mangy curs that dragged out a wretched dog’s existence about the paepaes were not deprived of their turn.
If one accept the germ theory, one may find in the popoi bowl a cause for the rapid spread of epidemics since the whites brought disease to the islands.
A walk in the jungle; the old woman in the breadfruit tree; a night in a native hut on the mountain.
Atuona Valley was dozing, as was its wont in the afternoons, when the governor, accompanied by the guardian of the palace, each carrying a shot-gun, invited me to go up the mountain to shoot kukus for dinner. The kuku is a small green turtle-dove, very common in the islands, and called also u’u and kukupa. Under any of these names the green-feathered morsel is excellent eating when broiled or fried.
I did not take a gun, as, unless hunger demands it, I do not like to kill. We started out together, climbing the trail in single file, but the enthusiasm of the chase soon led my companions into the deeper brush where the little doves lured them, and only the sharp crack of an occasional shot wakening the echoes of the cliffs disturbed my solitude.
The dark stillness of the deep valley, where the shadows of the mountains fell upon groves of cocoanuts and miles of tangled bush, recalled to me a canon in New York City, in the center of the world of finance, gloomy even at noon, the sky-touching buildings darkening the street and the spirits of the dwellers like mountains. There, when at an unsual moment I had come from the artificially-lighted cage of a thousand slaves to money-getting, and found the street for a second deserted, no figure of animal or human in its sombre sweep, I had the same sensation of solitude and awe as in this jungle. Suddenly a multitude of people had debouched from many points, and shattered the impression.