Read CHAPTER VI of Two Years with the Natives in the Western Pacific , free online book, by Felix Speiser, on ReadCentral.com.

PORT OLRY AND A "SING-SING"

The event just described reduced my chance of finding servants in Vao to a minimum, as all the able-bodied young men had been taken away. I therefore sailed with the missionary for his station at Port Olry. Our route lay along the east coast of Santo. Grey rain-clouds hung on the high mountains in the interior, the sun shone faintly through the misty atmosphere, the greyish-blue sea and the greyish-green shore, with the brown boulders on the beach, formed a study in grey, whose hypnotic effect was increased by a warm, weary wind. Whoever was not on duty at the tiller lay down on deck, and as in a dream we floated slowly along the coast past lonely islands and bays; whenever we looked up we saw the same picture, only the outlines seemed to have shifted a little. We anchored near a lonely isle, to find out whether its only inhabitant, an old Frenchman, was still alive. He had arrived there a year ago, full of the most brilliant hopes, which, however, had not materialized. He had no boat, hardly ever saw a human being, and lived on wild fruits. Hardly anyone knows him or visits him, but he had not lost courage, and asked for nothing but a little salt, which we gave him, and then sailed on.

In Hog Harbour we spent the night and enjoyed a hearty English breakfast with the planters, the Messrs. Th., who have a large and beautiful plantation; then we continued our cruise. The country had changed somewhat; mighty banks of coral formed high tablelands that fell vertically down to the sea, and the living reef stretched seaward under the water. These tablelands were intersected by flat valleys, in the centre of which rose steep hills, like huge bastions dominating the country round. The islands off the coast were covered with thick vegetation, with white chalk cliffs gleaming through them at intervals. A thin mist filled the valleys with violet hues, the sea was bright and a fresh breeze carried us gaily along. The aspect of the country displayed the energies of elemental powers: nowhere can the origin of chalk mountains be more plainly seen than here, where we have the process before us in all its stages, from the living reef, shining purple through the sea, to the sandy beach strewn with bits of coral, to the high table mountain. We anchored at a headland near a small river, and were cordially welcomed by the missionary’s dogs, cats, pigs and native teacher. There was also a young girl whom the father had once dug out of her grave, where a hard-hearted mother had buried her.

I had an extremely interesting time at Port Olry. The population here is somewhat different from that of the rest of Santo: very dark-skinned, tall and different in physiognomy. It may be called typically Melanesian, while many other races show Polynesian admixture. The race here is very strong, coarse-featured and lives in the simplest way, without any industries, and is the primitive population in the New Hebrides.

A few details as to personal appearance may be of interest. Among the ornaments used are very large combs, decorated with pigs’ tails. Pigs’ tails also are stuck into the hair and ears. The hair is worn very long, rolled into little curls and plentifully oiled. A most peculiar deformation is applied to the nose and results in extreme ugliness: the septum is perforated, and instead of merely inserting a stick, a springy spiral is used, which presses the nose upward and forward, so that in time it develops into an immense, shapeless lump, as if numberless wasps had stung it. It takes a long time to get used to this sight, especially as the nose is made still more conspicuous by being painted with a bright red stripe on its point, and two black ones on each side. A more attractive ornament are flowers, which the men stick into their hair, where they are very effective on the dark background. In the lobes of the ears they wear spirals of tortoise-shell or thin ornaments of bone; the men often paint their faces with a mixture of soot and grease, generally the upper half of the forehead, the lower part of the cheeks and the back of the nose. The women and children prefer the red juice of a fruit, with which they paint their faces in all sorts of mysterious designs.

The dress of the men consists of a large belt, purposely worn very low so as to show the beautiful curve of the loins. About six small mats hang down in front. Formerly, and even at the present day on festival occasions, they wore on the back an ovoid of wood; the purpose is quite unknown, but may originally have been a portable seat, as the Melanesian does not like to sit on the bare ground. Provided with this article of dress the wearer did not need to look about for a seat.

If the appearance of the men, while not beautiful, is at least impressive, the women are so very much disfigured that it takes quite some time to grow accustomed to their style of beauty. They are not allowed to wear many ornaments, have to shave their heads, and generally rub them with lime, so that they look rather like white-headed vultures, all the more so as the deformed nose protrudes like a beak and the mouth is large. The two upper incisors are broken out as a sign of matrimony.

Their figures, except in young girls, are generally wasted, yet one occasionally meets with a woman of fine and symmetrical build. The dress is restricted to a small leaf, attached to a thin loin-string. Both men and women generally wear at the back a bundle of leaves; women and boys have strongly scented herbs, the men coloured croton, the shade depending on the caste of the wearer. The highest castes wear the darkest, nearly black, varieties. These croton bushes are planted along the sides of the gamals, so as to furnish the men’s ornaments; and they lend the sombre places some brightness and colour.

Half for ornament and half for purposes of healing are the large scars which may frequently be seen on the shoulders or breasts of the natives. The cuts are supposed to cure internal pains; the scabs are frequently scratched off, until the scar is large and high, and may be considered ornamental. Apropos of this medical detail I may mention another remedy, for rheumatism: with a tiny bow and arrow a great number of small cuts are shot into the skin of the part affected; the scars from these wounds form a network of fine, hardly noticeable designs on the skin.

The life and cult of the natives are as simple as their dress. The houses are scattered and hidden in the bush, grouped vaguely around the gamal, which stands alone on a bare square. No statues stand there, nor tall, upright drums; only a few small drums lie in a puddle around the gamal.

The dwelling-houses are simply gable-roofs, always without side-walls and often without any walls at all. They are divided into a pig-stable and a living-room, unless the owners prefer to have their pigs living in the same space with themselves.

A few flat wooden dishes are the only implements the native does not find ready-made in nature. Cooking is done with heated stones heaped around the food, which has been previously wrapped up in banana leaves. Lime-stones naturally cannot be used for that purpose, and volcanic stones have often to be brought from quite a distance, so that these cooking-stones are treated with some care. In place of knives the natives use shells or inland bamboo-splinters, but both are rapidly being replaced by European knives.

On approaching a village we are first frightened by a few pigs, which run away grunting and scolding into the thicket. Then a pack of dogs announce our arrival, threatening us with hypocritical zeal. A few children, playing in the dirt among the pigs, jump up and run away, then slowly return, take us by the hand and stare into our faces. At noon we will generally find all the men assembled in the gamal making “lap-lap.” Lap-lap is the national dish of the natives of the New Hebrides; quite one-fifth part of their lives is spent in making and eating lap-lap. The work is not strenuous. The cook sits on the ground and rubs the fruit, yam or taro, on a piece of rough coral or a palm-sheath, thus making a thick paste, which is wrapped up in banana leaves and cooked between stones. After a few hours’ cooking it looks like a thick pudding and does not taste at all bad. For flavouring, cocoa-nut milk is poured over it, or it is mixed with cabbage, grease, nuts, roasted and ground, or occasionally with maggots. Besides this principal dish, sweet potatoes, manioc, bread-fruit, pineapples, bananas, etc., are eaten in season, and if the natives were less careless, they would never need to starve, as frequently happens.

The men are not much disturbed by our arrival. They offer us a log to sit on, and continue to rub their yam, talking us over the while. They seem to be a very peaceful and friendly crowd, yet in this district they are particularly cruel and treacherous, and only a few days after my departure war broke out. The gamal is bare, except for a few wooden dishes hanging in the roof, and weapons of all kinds, not in full sight, but ready at any moment. We can see rifles, arrows and clubs. The clubs are very simple, either straight or curved sticks. Old pieces are highly valued, and carry marks indicating how many victims have been killed with them: I saw one club with sixty-seven of these marks. In former years the spear with about two hundred and fifty points of human bones was much used, but is now quite replaced by the rifle. The bones for spear-points and arrow-heads are taken from the bodies of dead relatives and high-castes. The corpse is buried in the house, and when it is decayed the bones of the limbs are dug out, split, polished and used for weapons. The idea is that the courage and skill of the dead man may be transmitted to the owner of the weapon, also, that the dead man may take revenge on his murderer, as every death is considered to have been caused by some enemy. These bones are naturally full of the poisons of the corpse, and may cause tetanus at the slightest scratch. On the arrows they are extremely sharp and only slightly attached to the wood, so that they stick in the flesh and increase the inflammation. Besides, they are often dipped in some special poison.

All over the archipelago the arrows are very carefully made, and almost every island has its own type, although they all resemble each other. Many are covered at the point with a fine spiral binding, and the small triangles thus formed are painted in rows red, green and white. Much less care is bestowed on the fish- and bird-arrows, which are three-pointed as a rule, and often have no point at all, but only a knob, so as to stun the bird and not to stick in the branches of the trees.

Shields are unknown. It would seem that the arrow was not, as elsewhere, the principal weapon, but rather the spear and club, and the wars were not very deadly, as the natives’ skill in handling their weapons was equalled by their skill in dodging them.

Having inspected the gamal, we received from the highest caste present a gift of some yam, or taro, which we requited with some sticks of tobacco. The length of the gamal depends on the caste of the chief who builds it. I saw a gamal 60 metres long, and while this length seems senseless to-day, because of the scanty population, it was necessary in former days, when the number of a man’s followers rose with his rank. Not many years ago these houses were filled at night with sleeping warriors, each with his weapons at hand, ready for a fight. To-day these long, dark, deserted houses are too dismal for the few remaining men, so that they generally build a small gamal beside the big one.

To have killed a man, no matter in what way, is a great honour, and gives the right to wear a special plume of white and black feathers. Such plumes are not rare in Port Olry.

Each man has his own fire, and cooks his own food; for, as I have said, it would mean the loss of caste to eat food cooked on the fire of a lower caste. Women are considered unworthy to cook a man’s meal; in fact, their standing here is probably the lowest in all the archipelago. Still, they do not lack amusement; they gather like the men for social carousals, and are giggling and chattering all day long. Their principal occupation is the cultivation of the fields, but where Nature is so open-handed this is not such a task as we might think when we see them coming home in the afternoon, panting under an immense load of fruit, with a pile of firewood on top, a child on their back and possibly dragging another by the hand. Port Olry is the only place in the New Hebrides where the women carry loads on their heads. Everywhere else they carry them on their backs in baskets of cocoa-nut leaves. In consequence the women here are remarkable for their erect and supple carriage.

The work in the fields consists merely of digging out the yam and picking other fruit, and it is a sociable affair, with much talking and laughter. There is always something to eat, such as an unripe cocoa-nut or a banana. Serious work is not necessary except at the planting season, when the bush has to be cleared. Then a whole clan usually works together, the men helping quite energetically, until the fields are fenced in and ready for planting; then they hold a feast, a big “kai-kai,” and leave the rest of the work to the women. The fences are made to keep out the pigs, and are built in the simplest way: sticks of the wild cotton-wood tree, which grows rankly everywhere, are stuck into the ground at short intervals; they immediately begin to sprout, and after a short time form a living and impenetrable hedge. But they last much longer than is necessary, so that everywhere the fences of old gardens bar the road and force the traveller to make endless detours, all the more so as the natives have a way of making their fields right across the paths whenever it suits them.

The number of women here amounts only to about one-fourth of that of the men. One reason for this is the custom of killing all the widows of a chief, a custom which was all the more pernicious as the chiefs, as a rule, owned most of the young females, while the young men could barely afford to buy an old widow. Happily this custom is dying out, owing to the influence of the planters and missionaries; they appealed, not unwisely, to the sensuality of the young men, who were thus depriving themselves of the women. Strange to say, the women were not altogether pleased with this change, many desiring to die, for fear they might be haunted by the offended spirit of their husband.

When a chief died, the execution did not take place at once. The body was exposed in a special little hut in the thicket, and left to decay, which process was hastened by the climate and the flies. Then a death-feast was prepared, and the widows, half frantic with mad dancing and howling, were strangled.

Ordinary people are buried in their own houses, which generally decay afterwards. Often the widow had to sleep beside the decaying body for one hundred days.

Being short of boys, I could not visit many of the villages inland, and I stayed on at the mission station, where there was generally something for me to do, as the natives frequently came loitering about the station. I made use of their presence as much as possible for anthropological measurements, but I could not always find willing subjects. Everything depends on the humour of the crowd; if they make fun of the first victim, the case is lost, as no second man is willing to be the butt of the innumerable gibes showered on the person under the instruments. Things are more favourable if it is only fear of some dangerous enchantment that holds them back, for then persuasion and liberal gifts of tobacco generally overcome their fears. The best subjects are those who pretend to understand the scientific meaning of the operation, or the utterly indifferent, who never think about it at all, are quite surprised to be suddenly presented with tobacco, and go home, shaking their heads over the many queer madnesses of white men. I took as many photographs as possible, and my pictures made quite a sensation. Once, when I showed his portrait to one of the dandies with the oiled and curled wig, he ran away with a cry of terror at his undreamt-of ugliness, and returned after a short while with his hair cut. His deformed nose, however, resisted all attempts at restoration.

The natives showed great reluctance in bringing me skulls and skeletons. As the bones decay very quickly in the tropics, only skulls of people recently deceased can be had. The demon, or soul, of the dead is supposed to be too lively as yet to be wantonly offended; in any case, one dislikes to disturb one’s own relatives, while there is less delicacy about those of others. Still, in course of time, I gathered quite a good collection of skulls at the station. They were brought carefully wrapped up in leaves, fastened with lianas, and tied to long sticks, with which the bearer held the disgusting object as far from him as possible. The bundles were laid down, and the people watched with admiring disgust as I untied the ropes and handled the bones as one would any other object. Everything that had touched the bones became to the natives an object of the greatest awe; still they enjoyed pushing the leaves that had wrapped them up under the feet of an unsuspecting friend, who presently, warned of the danger, escaped with a terrified shriek and a wild jump. It would seem that physical disgust had as much to do with all this as religious fear, although the natives show none of this disgust at handling the remains of pigs. Naturally, the old men were the most superstitious; the young ones were more emancipated, some of them even going the length of picking up a bone with their toes.

Most of them had quite a similar dread of snakes, but some men handled them without much fear, and brought me large specimens, which they had caught in a sling and then wrapped up in leaves. While I killed and skinned a big snake, a large crowd always surrounded me, ever ready for flight, and later my boys chased them with the empty skin, a performance which always ended in great laughing and dancing.

I had been in Port Olry for three weeks, waiting anxiously every day for the Marie-Henry, which was to bring the luggage I had left behind at the Segond Channel. My outfit began to be insufficient; what I needed most was chemicals for the preservation of my zoological specimens, which I had plenty of time and occasion to collect here. One day the Marie-Henry, a large schooner, arrived, but my luggage had been forgotten. I was much disappointed, as I saw no means of recovering it in the near future. The Marie-Henry was bound for Talamacco, in Big Bay, and took the Rev. Father and myself along.

One of the passengers was Mr. F., a planter and trader in Talamacco, and we soon became good friends with him and some of the others. Mr. F. was very kind, and promised to use all his influence to help me find boys. The weather was bad, and we had to tack about all night; happily, we were more comfortable on the big schooner than on the little cutters. At Talamacco Mr. F. offered us his hospitality, and as it rained continually, we were very glad to stay in his house, spending the time in sipping gin and winding up a hoarse gramophone. Thus two lazy days passed, during which our host was constantly working for me, sending his foreman, the “moli,” to all the neighbouring villages, with such good results that at last I was able to engage four boys for two months. I took them on board at once, well pleased to have the means, at last, of moving about independently.

We sailed in the evening, and when, next morning, we rounded Cape Quiros, we found a heavy sea, so that the big ship pitched and ploughed with dull hissing through the foaming waves. She lay aslant under the pressure of the wind that whistled in the rigging, and the full curve of the great sails was a fine sight; but it was evident that the sails and ropes were in a very rotten condition, and soon, with anxious looks, we followed the growth of a tear in the mainsail, wondering whether the mast would stand the strain. A heavy sea broke the rudder, and altogether it was high time to land when we entered Port Olry in the late afternoon.

A few days later I started for Hog Harbour, for the plantation of the Messrs. Th., near which I meant to attend a great feast, or “sing-sing.” This meant a march of several hours through the bush. My boys had all put on their best finery, trousers, shirts, gay handkerchiefs, and had painted their hair with fresh lime.

“Well, boys, are you ready?” “Yes, Masta,” they answer, with conviction, though they are far from ready, as they are still tying their bundles. After waiting a while, I say, “Well, me, me go.” They answer, “All right, you go.” I take a few steps and wait again. One of them appears in front of the hut to look for a stick to hang his bundle on, another cannot find his pipe; still, after a quarter of an hour, we can really start. The boys sing and laugh, but as we enter the forest darkness they suddenly become quiet, as if the sternness of the bush oppressed their souls. We talk but little, and only in undertones. These woods have none of the happy, sensuous luxuriance which fancy lends to every tropical forest; there is a harshness, a selfish struggle for the first place among the different plants, a deadly battling for air and light. Giant trees with spreading crowns suppress everything around, kill every rival and leave only small and insignificant shrubs alive. Between them, smaller trees strive for light; on tall, straight, thin stems they have secured a place and developed a crown. Others look for light in roundabout ways, making use of every gap their neighbours leave, and rise upward in soft coils. All these form a high roof, under which younger and weaker plants lead a skimped life hardwood trees on thin trunks, with small, unassuming leaves, and vulgar softwood with large, flabby foliage. Around and across all this wind the parasites, lianas, rotang, some stretched like ropes from one trunk to another, some rising in elegant curves from the ground, some attached to other trunks and sucking out their life with a thousand roots, others interlaced in the air in distorted curves. All these grow and thrive on the bodies of former generations on the damp, mouldy ground, where leaves rot and trunks decay, and where it is always wet, as never a sunbeam can strike in so far.

Thus it is sad in the forest, and strangely quiet, as in a churchyard, for not even the wind can penetrate the green surface. It passes rushing through the crowns, so that sometimes we catch an upward glimpse of bright yellow sunshine as though out of a deep gully. And as men in sternest fight are silent, using all their energy for one purpose, so here there is no sign of gay and happy life, there are no flowers or coloured leaves, but the endless, dull green, in an infinity of shapes.

Even the animals seem to shun the dark forest depths; only on the highest trees a few pigeons bathe in the sun, and as they fly heavily over the wood, their call sounds, melancholy as a sad dream, from afar. A lonely butterfly flutters among the trees, a delicate being, unused to this dark world, seeking in vain for a ray of sun and a breath of fresh air. Sometimes we hear the grunt of an invisible pig, the breaking of branches and the rustling of leaves as it runs away. Moisture and lowering gloom brood over the swampy earth; one would not be surprised if suddenly the ground were to move and wriggle like slimy snakes tightly knotted around each other. Thorns catch the limbs, vines catch the feet, and the wanderer, stumbling along, almost fancies he can hear the spiteful laughter of malicious demons. One feels tired, worried, unsafe, as if in an enemy’s country, helplessly following the guide, who walks noiselessly on the soft ground. With a branch he sweeps aside the innumerable spider-webs that droop across the path, to keep them from hanging in our faces. Silently the other men follow behind; once in a while a dry branch snaps or a trunk creaks.

In this dark monotony we go on for hours, without an outlook, and seemingly without purpose or direction, on a hardly visible path, in an endless wilderness. We pass thousands of trees, climb over hundreds of fallen trunks and brush past millions of creepers. Sometimes we enter a clearing, where a giant tree has fallen or a village used to stand. Sometimes great coral rocks lie in the thicket; the pools at their foot are a wallowing-place for pigs.

It is a confusing walk; one feels quite dizzy with the constantly passing stems and branches, and a white man would be lost in this wilderness without the native, whose home it is. He sees everything, every track of beast or bird, and finds signs on every tree and vine, peculiarities of shape or grouping, which he recognizes with unerring certainty. He describes the least suggestion of a trail, a footprint, or a knife-cut, or a torn leaf. As the white man finds his way about a city by means of street signs, so the savage reads his directions in the forest from the trees and the ground. He knows every plant and its uses, the best wood for fires; he knows when he may expect to find water, and which liana makes the strongest rope. Yet even he seems to feel something of the appalling loneliness of the primeval forest.

Our path leads steeply up and down, over loose coral blocks, between ferns and mosses; lianas serve as ropes to help us climb over coral rocks, and with our knives we hew a passage through thorny creepers and thick bush. The road runs in zigzags, sometimes turning back to go round fallen trunks and swampy places, so that we really walk three or four times the distance to Hog Harbour. Our guide uses his bush-knife steadily and to good purpose: he sees where the creepers interlace and which branch is the chief hindrance, and in a few deft cuts the tangle falls.

At last it seems an eternity since we dived into the forest we hear from afar, through the green walls, a dull roaring, and as we go on, we distinguish the thunder of the breakers like the beating of a great pulse. Suddenly the thicket lightens, and we stand on the beach, blinded by the splendour of light that pours on us, but breathing freely in the fresh air that blows from the far horizon. We should like to stretch out on the sand and enjoy the free space after the forest gloom; but after a short rest we go on, for this is only half-way to our destination, and we dive once more into the semi-darkness.

Towards evening we reach the plantation of the Messrs. Th. They are Australians of good family, and their place is splendidly kept. I was struck by the cleanliness of the whole establishment, the good quarters of the native labourers, the quiet way in which work was done, the pleasant relations between masters and hands, and last, but not least, the healthy and happy appearance of the latter.

The brothers had just finished the construction of what was quite a village, its white lime walls shining invitingly through the green of the cocoa-nut palms. There was a large kitchen, a storehouse, a tool-shed, a bakery, a dwelling-house and a light, open summer-house, a delightful spot, where we dined in the cool sea-breeze and sipped whisky in the moonlight, while the palm-leaves waved dreamily. Then there was a large poultry yard, pigsty and paddocks, and along the beach were the boat-houses, drying-sheds and storehouses, shaded by old trees. The boys’ quarters were roomy, eight sleeping together in an airy hut, while the married couples had houses of their own. The boys slept on high beds, each with his “bocase” underneath, to hold his possessions, while all sorts of common property hung in the roof nets, fish-spears, bows, guns, etc.

Such plantations, where the natives lack neither food nor good treatment, can only have a favourable influence on the race, and it is not quite clear why the Presbyterian missionaries do not like their young men to go in for plantation work. Owing to the good treatment of their hands the Messrs. Th. have always had enough labourers, and have been able to develop their plantation wonderfully. It consists almost exclusively of cocoa-nut palms, planted on ground wrested from the forest in a hard fight. When I was there the trees were not yet in full bearing, but the proprietors had every reason to expect a very considerable income in a few years. The cultivation of the cocoa-nut is extremely simple; the only hard work is the first clearing of the ground, and keeping the young trees free from lianas. Once they are grown up, they are able to keep down the bush themselves to a certain extent, and then the work consists in picking up the ripe nuts from the ground, husking and drying them. The net profit from one tree is estimated at one shilling per annum. Besides the cultivation of their plantation the Messrs. Th. plied a flourishing trade in coprah and sandalwood all along the west coast of Santo, which they visited frequently in their cutter. This same cutter was often a great help to me, and, indeed, her owners always befriended me in the most generous way, and many are the pleasant hours I spent in their company.

After dinner that first day we went to the village where the “sing-sing” was to take place. There was no moon, and the night was pitch dark. The boys had made torches of palm-leaves, which they kept burning by means of constant swinging. They flared up in dull, red flames, lighting up the nearest surroundings, and we wound our way upwards through the trunk vines and leaves that nearly shut in the path. It seemed as if we were groping about without a direction, as if looking for a match in a dark room. Soon, however, we heard the dull sound of the drums, and the noise led us to the plateau, till we could see the red glare of a fire and hear the rough voices of men and the shrill singing of women.

Unnoticed, we entered the dancing-ground. A number of men were standing in a circle round a huge fire, their silhouettes cutting sharply into the red glare. Out of a tangle of clubs, rifles, plumes, curly wigs, round heads, bows and violently gesticulating arms, sounds an irregular shrieking, yelling, whistling and howling, uniting occasionally to a monotonous song. The men stamp the measure, some begin to whirl about, others rush towards the fire; now and then a huge log breaks in two and crowns the dark, excited crowd with a brilliant column of circling sparks. Then everybody yells delightedly, and the shouting and dancing sets in with renewed vigour. Everyone is hoarse, panting and covered with perspiration, which paints light streaks on the sooty faces and bodies.

Noticing us, a man rushes playfully towards us, threateningly swinging his club, his eyes and teeth shining in the darkness; then he returns to the shouting, dancing mob around the fire. Half-grown boys sneak through the crowd; they are the most excited of all, and stamp the ground wildly with their disproportionately large feet, kicking and shrieking in unpleasant ecstasy. All this goes on among the guests; the hosts keep a little apart, near a scaffolding, on which yams are attached. The men circle slowly round this altar, carrying decorated bamboos, with which they mark the measure, stamping them on the ground with a thud. They sing a monotonous tune, one man starting and the others joining in; the dance consists of slow, springy jumps from one foot to the other.

On two sides of this dancing circle the women stand in line, painted all over with soot. When the men’s deep song is ended, they chant the same melody with thin, shrill voices. Once in a while they join in the dance, taking a turn with some one man, then disappearing; they are all much excited; only a few old hags stand apart, who are past worldly pleasures, and have known such feasts for many, many years.

The whole thing looks grotesque and uncanny, yet the pleasure in mere noise and dancing is childish and harmless. The picture is imposing and beautiful in its simplicity, gruesome in its wildness and sensuality, and splendid with the red lights which play on the shining, naked bodies. In the blackness of the night nothing is visible but that red-lit group of two or three hundred men, careless of to-morrow, given up entirely to the pleasure of the moment. The spectacle lasts all night, and the crowd becomes more and more wrought up, the leaps of the dancers wilder, the singing louder. We stand aside, incapable of feeling with these people or sharing their joy, realizing that theirs is a perfectly strange atmosphere which will never be ours.

Towards morning we left, none too early, for a tremendous shower came down and kept on all next morning. I went up to the village again, to find a most dismal and dejected crowd. Around the square, in the damp forest, seedy natives stood and squatted in small groups, shivering with cold and wet. Some tried to warm themselves around fires, but with poor success. Bored and unhappy, they stared at us as we passed, and did not move. Women and children had made umbrellas of large flat leaves, which they carried on their heads; the soot which had formed their festival dress was washed off by the rain. The square itself was deserted, save for a pack of dogs and a few little boys, rolling about in the mud puddles. Once in a while an old man would come out of the gamal, yawn and disappear. In short, it was a lendemain de fête of the worst kind.

About once in a quarter of an hour a man would come to bring a tusked pig to the chief, who danced a few times round the animal, stamped his heel on the ground, uttered certain words, and retired with short, stiff steps, shaking his head, into the gamal. The morning was over by the time all the pigs were ready. I spent most of the time out of doors, rather than in the gamal, for there many of the dancers of the evening lay in all directions and in most uncomfortable positions, beside and across each other, snoring, shivering or staring sulkily into dark corners. I was offered a log to sit on, and it might have been quite acceptable had not one old man, trembling with cold, pressed closely against me to get warm, and then, half asleep, attempted to lay his shaggy, oil-soaked head on my shoulder, while legions of starved fleas attacked my limbs, forcing me to beat a hasty though belated retreat.

In the afternoon about sixty pigs were tied to poles in front of the gamal, and the chief took an old gun-barrel and smashed their heads. They represented a value of about six hundred pounds! Dogs and men approached the quivering victims, the dogs to lick the blood that ran out of their mouths, the men to carry the corpses away for the feast. This was the prosaic end of the great “sing-sing.”

As it is not always easy to borrow the number of pigs necessary to rise in caste, there are charms which are supposed to help in obtaining them. Generally, these are curiously shaped stones, sometimes carved in the shape of a pig, and are carried in the hand or in little baskets in the belt. Such charms are, naturally, very valuable, and are handed down for generations or bought for large sums. On this occasion the “big fellow-master” had sacrificed enough to attain a very high caste indeed, and had every reason to hold up his head with great pride.

Formerly, these functions were generally graced with a special feature, in the shape of the eating of a man. As far as is known, the last cannibal meal took place in 1906; the circumstances were these: Some young men were walking through the forest, carrying their Snider rifles, loaded and cocked as usual, on their shoulders. Unluckily, one of the rifles went off, and killed the man behind, the son of an influential native. Everyone was aware that the death was purely accidental, but the father demanded a considerable indemnity. The “murderer,” a poor and friendless youth, was unable to pay, and fled to a neighbouring village. He was received kindly enough, but his hosts sent secretly to the offended father to ask what they were to do with him. “Kill him and eat him,” was the reply. They therefore prepared a great feast, in honour, as they said, of their beloved guest, and while he was sitting cheerfully near the fire, in anticipation of the good meal to come, they killed him from behind with an axe. The body was roasted, and the people of his village were asked to the feast. One man had received the forearm and hand, and while he was chewing the muscles and pulling away at the inflectors of the fingers, the hand closed and scratched his cheek, “all same he alive,” whereupon the horrified guest threw his morsel away and fled into the forest.

On my return to Port Olry I found that the Father had gone to visit a colleague, as his duties did not take up much of his time. His post at Port Olry was rather a forlorn hope, as the natives showed no inclination to become converts, especially not in connection with the poor Roman Catholic mission, which could not offer them any external advantages, like the rich and powerful Presbyterian mission. All the priests lived in the greatest poverty, in old houses, with very few servants. The one here had, besides a teacher from Malekula, an old native who had quarrelled with his chief and separated from his clan. The good man was very anxious to marry, but no girl would have him, as he had had two wives, and had, quite without malice, strangled his second wife by way of curing her of an illness. I was reminded of this little episode every time I looked at the man’s long, bony fingers.

One day a native asked me for medicine for his brother. I tried to find out the nature of the ailment, and decided to give him calomel, urging his brother to take it to him at once. The man had eaten a quarter of a pig all by himself, but, of course, it was said that he had been poisoned. His brother, instead of hurrying home, had a little visit with his friends at the coast, until it was dark and he was afraid to go home through the bush alone; so he waited till next morning, when it was too late. The man’s death naturally made the murder theory a certainty, so the body was not buried, but laid out in the hut, with all sorts of finery. Around it, in spite of the fearful odour, all the women sat for ten days, in a cloud of blow-flies. They burned strong-scented herbs to kill the smell, and dug a little trench across the floor, in order to keep the liquids from the decaying corpse from running into the other half of the house. The nose and mouth of the body were stopped up with clay and lime, probably to keep the soul from getting out, and the body was surrounded by a little hut. In the gamal close by sat all the men, sulky, revengeful, and planning war, which, in fact, broke out within a few days after my departure.

The Messrs. Th. had been kind enough to invite me to go on a recruiting trip to Maevo, the most north-easterly island of the group. Here I found a very scanty population, showing many traces of Polynesian admixture in appearance and habits. The weather was nasty and our luck at recruiting poor, so that after a fortnight we returned to Hog Harbour. I went to Port Olry to my old priest’s house, and a few days later Mr. Th. came in his cutter to take me to Tassimaloun in Big Bay; so I bade a hearty farewell to the good Father, whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting again.