We were directly above the Bay of Traitors, that arm of the sea which curved into the little bays of Taka-Uka and Atuona. At one side, a mere pinnacle through the vapor about his throat, rose the rugged head of Temetiu, and ranged below him the black fastnesses of the valleys he commands. In the foreground the cocoas, from the rocky headlands to the gate of Calvary, stood like an army bearing palms of victory. In rows and circles, plats and masses, the gray trunks followed one another from sea to mountain, yielding themselves to the storm, swaying gently, and by some trick of wind and rain seeming to march toward the cross-crowned summit.
The flimsy thatch under which we crouched, put up only to keep the sun from the grave-digger, bent to north and south, and threatened to wing away. But suddenly the shower ran away in a minute, as if it had an engagement elsewhere, and the sun shone more brightly in the rain-washed air.
We continued our search, but uselessly. Hohine and Mupui had advertisement of their last mortal residence, but not Gauguin. We found an earring on one little tomb where a mother had laid her child, and on several those couronnes des perles, stiff, ugly wreaths brought from France, with “Sincere Regrets” in raised beads, speaking pityfully of the longing of the simple islanders to do honor to the memory of their loved ones. But the grave of Gauguin, the great painter, was unmarked. If a board had been placed at its head when he was buried, it had rotted away, and nothing was left to indicate where he was lying.
The hibiscus was blood-red on the sunken graves, and cocoanuts sprouted in the tangled grass. Palms shut out from the half-acre had dropped their nuts within it, and the soil, rich in the ashes of man, was endeavoring to bring forth fairer fruit than headstones and iron crosses. The pahue, a lovely, long, creeping vine that wanders on the beaches to the edge of the tides, had crawled over many graves, and its flowers, like morning-glories, hung their purple bells on the humbler spots that no hand sought to clear.
Perhaps under these is the dust of the painter who, more than any other man, made the Marquesas known to the world of Europe.
Death of Aumia; funeral chant and burial customs; causes for the death of a race.
On the paepae of a poor cabin near my own lived two women, Aumia and Taipi, in the last stages of consumption. Aumia had been, only a few months earlier, the beauty of the island.
“She was one of the gayest,” said Haabunai, “but the pokoko has taken her.”
She was pitifully thin when I first saw her, lying all day on a heap of mats, with Taipi beside her, both coughing, coughing. An epidemic of colds had seized Atuona, brought, most probably, by the schooner Papeite, for no other had arrived since the Morning Star. Aumia coughed at night, her neighbor took it up, and then, like laughter in a school, it became impossible to resist, and down to the beach and up to the heights the valley echoed with the distressing sounds. So, a breadfruit season ago, had Aumia coughed for the first time, and the way she was going would be followed by many of my neighbors.