[Illustration: The plateau of Ahoa]
A search for rubber-trees on the plateau of Ahoa; a fight with the wild white dogs; story of an ancient migration, told by the wild cattle hunters in the Cave of the Spine of the Chinaman.
I went one day with Le Brunnec, the French trader, in search of rubber trees on the plateau of Ahao, above Hanamenu, on the other side of Hiva-oa Island.
Mounted on small, but sturdy, mountain ponies, we followed the trail across the river and up the steep mountain-side clad with impenetrable jungle, climbing ever higher and higher above deep gorges and dizzying precipices, until at noon we crossed the loftiest range and dipped downward to the wide plateau.
A thousand feet above the valley, level as a prairie, and indescribably wild and deserted, the plain stretched before us. At some distance to our right a long and narrow mound rose five hundred feet from the plateau, a hill that did not mar the vast level expanse, but seemed instead a great earthwork piled upon it by man. Its green terrace was a wild garden of flowers and fruit growing in luxuriant confusion, watered by a stream that leaped sparkling among tall ferns.
There was no breadfruit, for it will live only where man is there to tend it, and in all the extent of the tableland there was no human being or sign of habitation. Wild cattle and boars moved in droves among the scattered trees, or stood in the shallow stream watching us with curiosity as we passed. Thousands of guinea-pigs scampered before our horses’ feet, and the free descendants of house-trained cats from the cities of Europe and America perched upon lofty branches to gaze down at our cavalcade.
I have seen the Garden of Allah, and the Garden of Eden,—if I can believe the Arab sheik whose camel I bought for the journey,—I have been in Nikko at its best, and known Johore and Kandy en fete, but for the hours in which I looked upon it this plateau of Ahao was the most exquisite spot upon the earth. The wilderness of its tropic beauty, the green of its leafage, the rich profusion and splendor of its flowers, the pale colors that shimmered along its far horizon, and the desolate grandeur of Temetiu’s distant summit wrapped in thunderous clouds, gave it an aspect primitive, mysterious, and sublime.
Upon the trees hundreds of orchids hung like jewels, and vines were swung in garlands. Flowers of every hue spread a brilliant carpet beneath the horses’ hoofs; the hart’s-tongue, the manamana-o-hina, the papa-mako and the parasol-plant, with mosses of every description and myriads of ferns, covered the sward. Some were the giant tree-ferns, tall as trees, others uncurled snaky stems from masses of rusty-colored matting, and everywhere was spread the delicate lace of the uu-fenua, a maiden-hair beside which the florist’s offering is clumsy and insignificant.