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HOME > Inspiring Novel > The Cruise of the Snark17 > CHAPTER XII THE HIGH SEAT OF ABUNDANCE
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 On the arrival of strangers, every man endeavoured to obtain one as a friend and carry him off to his own habitation, where he is treated with the greatest kindness by the inhabitants of the district; they place him on a high seat and feed him with abundance of the finest food.—Polynesian Researches.  
The Snark was lying at anchor at Raiatea, just off the village of Uturoa.  She had arrived the night before, after dark, and we were preparing to pay our first visit .  Early in the morning I had noticed a tiny outrigger canoe, with an impossible spritsail, skimming the surface of the .  The canoe itself was coffin-shaped, a dugout, fourteen feet long, a twelve inches wide, and maybe twenty-four inches deep.  It had no lines, except in so far that it was sharp at both ends.  Its sides were .  Shorn of the outrigger, it would have capsized of itself inside a tenth of a second.  It was the outrigger that kept it right side up.
I have said that the sail was impossible.  It was.  It was one of those things, not that you have to see to believe, but that you cannot believe after you have seen it.  The of it and the length of its boom were ; but, not content with that, its artificer had given it a tremendous head.  So large was the head that no common sprit could carry the strain of it in an ordinary breeze.  So a spar had been to the canoe, projecting aft over the water.  To this had been made fast a sprit guy: thus, the foot of the sail was held by the main-sheet, and the peak by the guy to the sprit.
It was not a mere boat, not a mere canoe, but a sailing machine.  And the man in it sailed it by his weight and his nerve—principally by the latter.  I watched the canoe beat up from and run in toward the village, its sole occupant far out on the outrigger and luffing up and spilling the wind in the .
“Well, I know one thing,” I announced; “I don’t leave Raiatea till I have a ride in that canoe.”
A few minutes later Warren called down the companionway, “Here’s that canoe you were talking about.”
I dashed on deck and gave greeting to its owner, a tall, slender Polynesian, of face, and with clear, sparkling, intelligent eyes.  He was clad in a loin-cloth and a straw hat.  In his hands were presents—a fish, a bunch of greens, and several enormous yams.  All of which acknowledged by smiles (which are coinage still in spots of Polynesia) and by frequent repetitions of mauruuru (which is the Tahitian “thank you”), I proceeded to make signs that I desired to go for a sail in his canoe.
His face lighted with pleasure and he uttered the single word, “Tahaa,” turning at the same time and pointing to the lofty, cloud-draped peaks of an island three miles away—the island of Tahaa.  It was fair wind over, but a head-beat back.  Now I did not want to go to Tahaa.  I had letters to deliver in Raiatea, and officials to see, and there was Charmian down below getting ready to go ashore.  By signs I indicated that I desired no more than a short sail on the lagoon.  Quick was the disappointment in his face, yet smiling was the .
“Come on for a sail,” I called below to Charmian.  “But put on your swimming suit.  It’s going to be wet.”
It wasn’t real.  It was a dream.  That canoe slid over the water like a of silver.  I climbed out on the outrigger and supplied the weight to hold her down, while Tehei (pronounced Tayhayee) supplied the nerve.  He, too, in the puffs, climbed part way out on the outrigger, at the same time with both hands on a large paddle and holding the mainsheet with his foot.
“Ready about!” he called.
I carefully shifted my weight inboard in order to maintain the as the sail emptied.
“Hard a-lee!” he called, shooting her into the wind.
I slid out on the opposite side over the water on a spar lashed across the canoe, and we were full and away on the other .
“All right,” said Tehei.
Those three phrases, “Ready about,” “Hard a-lee,” and “All right,” comprised Tehei’s English vocabulary and led me to suspect that at some time he had been one of a Kanaka crew under an American captain.  Between the puffs I made signs to him and repeatedly and interrogatively uttered the word sailor.  Then I tried it in atrocious French.  Marin conveyed no meaning to him; nor did matelot.  Either my French was bad, or else he was not up in it.  I have since concluded that both were correct.  Finally, I began naming over the adjacent islands.  He nodded that he had been to them.  By the time my quest reached Tahiti, he caught my drift.  His thought-processes were almost visible, and it was a joy to watch him think.  He nodded his head vigorously.  Yes, he had been to Tahiti, and he added himself names of islands such as Tikihau, Rangiroa, and Fakarava, thus proving that he had sailed as far as the Paumotus—undoubtedly one of the crew of a trading .
After our short sail, when he had returned on board, he by signs inquired the destination of the Snark, and when I had mentioned Samoa, Fiji, New Guinea, France, England, and California in their sequence, he said “Samoa,” and by gestures intimated that he wanted to go along.  Whereupon I was hard put to explain that there was no room for him.  “Petit bateau” finally solved it, and again the disappointment in his face was accompanied by smiling acquiescence, and promptly came the renewed invitation to accompany him to Tahaa.
Charmian and I looked at each other.  The exhilaration of the ride we had taken was still upon us.  Forgotten were the letters to Raiatea, the officials we had to visit.  Shoes, a shirt, a pair of trousers, cigarettes, matches, and a book to read were hastily into a biscuit tin and wrapped in a rubber blanket, and we were over the side and into the canoe.
“When shall we look for you?” Warren called, as the wind filled the sail and sent Tehei and me out on the outrigger.
“I don’t know,” I answered.  “When we get back, as near as I can figure it.”
And away we went.  The wind had increased, and with slacked sheets we ran off before it.  The freeboard of the canoe was no more than two and a half inches, and the little waves continually lapped over the side.  This required .  Now bailing is one of the principal functions of the vahine.  Vahine is the Tahitian for woman, and Charmian being the only vahine aboard, the bailing fell appropriately to her.  Tehei and I could not very well do it, the both of us being perched part way out on the outrigger and busied with keeping the canoe bottom-side down.  So Charmian , with a wooden of design, and so well did she do it that there were occasions when she could rest off almost half the time.
Raiatea and Tahaa are unique in that they lie inside the same encircling reef.  Both are islands, of sky-line, with heaven-aspiring peaks and .  Since Raiatea is thirty miles in , and Tahaa fifteen miles, some idea may be gained of the magnitude of the reef that encloses them.  Between them and the reef stretches from one to two miles of water, forming a beautiful lagoon.  The huge Pacific seas, extending in unbroken lines sometimes a mile or half as much again in length, themselves upon the reef, overtowering and falling upon it with tremendous crashes, and yet the fragile coral structure withstands the shock and protects the land.  Outside lies destruction to the ship afloat.  Inside the calm of untroubled water, whereon a canoe like ours can sail with no more than a couple of inches of free-board.
We flew over the water.  And such water!—clear as the clearest spring-water, and crystalline in its clearness, all intershot with a maddening of colours and rainbow ribbons more magnificently gorgeous than any rainbow.  green alternated with , peacock blue with emerald, while now the canoe skimmed over reddish purple pools, and again over pools of dazzling, white where pounded coral sand lay beneath and upon which sea-slugs.  One moment we were above wonder-gardens of coral, wherein coloured fishes , fluttering like butterflies; the next moment we were dashing across the dark surface of deep channels, out of which schools of flying fish lifted their silvery flight; and a third moment we were above other gardens of living coral, each more wonderful than the last.  And above all was the tropic, trade-wind sky with its clouds across the zenith and heaping the horizon with their soft masses.
Before we were aware, we were close in to Tahaa (pronounced Tah-hah-ah, with equal accents), and Tehei was grinning approval of the vahine’s at bailing.  The canoe grounded on a shallow shore, twenty feet from land, and we out on a soft bottom where big slugs curled and under our feet and where small advertised their existence by their superlative softness when stepped upon.  Close to the beach, amid cocoanut palms and banana trees, on , built of bamboo, with a grass-thatched roof, was Tehei’s house.  And out of the house came Tehei’s vahine, a slender of a woman, eyed and Mongolian of feature—when she was not North American Indian.  “Bihaura,” Tehei called her, but he did not pronounce it according to English notions of spelling.  Spelled “Bihaura,” it sounded like Bee-ah-oo-rah, with every sharply emphasized.
She took Charmian by the hand and led her into the house, leaving Tehei and me to follow.  Here, by sign-language unmistakable, we were informed that all they was ours.  No hidalgo was ever more generous in the expression of giving, while I am sure that few hidalgos were ever as generous in the actual practice.  We quickly discovered that we dare not admire their possessions, for whenever we did admire a particular object it was immediately presented to us.  The two vahines, according to the way of vahines, got together in a discussion and examination of feminine fripperies, while Tehei and I, manlike, went over fishing-tackle and wild-pig-hunting, to say nothing of the device whereby bonitas are caught on forty-foot poles from double canoes.  Charmian admired a sewing basket—the best example she had seen of Polynesian basketry; it was hers.  I admired a bonita hook, carved in one piece from a pearl-shell; it was mine.  Charmian was attracted by a fancy braid of straw sennit, thirty feet of it in a roll, sufficient to make a hat of any design one wished; the roll of sennit was hers.  My gaze lingered upon a poi-pounder that dated back to the old stone days; it was mine.  Charmian dwelt a moment too long on a wooden poi-bowl, canoe-shaped, with four legs, all carved in one piece of wood; it was hers.  I glanced a second time at a gigantic cocoanut calabash; it was mine.  Then Charmian and I held a conference in which we resolved to admire no more—not because it did not pay well enough, but because it paid too well.  Also, we were already racking our brains over the contents of the Snark for suitable return presents.  Christmas is an easy problem compared with a Polynesian giving-feast.
We sat on the cool porch, on Bihaura’s best mats while dinner was preparing, and at the same time met the villagers.  In twos and threes and groups they strayed along, shaking hands and uttering the Tahitian word of greeting—Ioarana, pronounced yo-rah-nah.  The men, big fellows, were in loin-cloths, with here and there no shirt, while the women wore the universal ahu, a sort of adult pinafore that flows in lines from the shoulders to the ground.  Sad to see was the elephantiasis that some of them.  Here would be a woman of magnificent proportions, with the port of a queen, yet by one arm four times—or a dozen times—the size of the other.  Beside her might stand a six-foot man, , -muscled, bronzed, with the body of a god, yet with feet and so that they ran together, forming legs, shapeless, monstrous, that were for all the world like elephant legs.
No one seems really to know the cause of the South Sea elephantiasis.  One theory is that it is caused by the drinking of polluted water.  Another theory attributes it to through mosquito bites.  A third theory charges it to predisposition plus the process of acclimatization.  On the other hand, no one that stands in finicky of it and similar diseases can afford to travel in the South Seas.  There will be occasions when such a one must drink water.  There may be also occasions when the mosquitoes let up biting.  But every precaution of the finicky one will be useless.  If he runs barefoot across the beach to have a swim, he will tread where an elephantiasis case trod a few minutes before.  If he closets himself in his own house, yet every bit of fresh food on his table will have been subjected to the contamination, be it flesh, fish, , or vegetable.  In the public market at Papeete two known lepers run stalls, and heaven alone knows through what channels arrive at that market the daily supplies of fish, fruit, meat, and vegetables.  The only happy way to go through the South Seas is with a careless , without , and with a Science-like faith in the resplendent fortune of your own particular star.  When you see a woman, afflicted with elephantiasis out cream from cocoanut meat with her naked hands, drink and reflect how good is the cream, forgetting the hands that pressed it out.  Also, remember that diseases such as elephantiasis and leprosy do not seem to be caught by contact.
We watched a Raratongan woman, with swollen, distorted limbs, prepare our cocoanut cream, and then went out to the cook-shed where Tehei and Bihaura were cooking dinner.  And then it was served to us on a dry-goods box in the house.  Our hosts waited until we were done and then spread their table on the floor.  But our table!  We were certainly in the high seat of abundance.  First, there was glorious raw fish, caught several hours before from the sea and steeped the intervening time in lime-juice with water.  Then came roast chicken.  Two cocoanuts, sharply sweet, served for drink.  There were bananas that tasted like strawberries and that melted in the mouth, and there was banana-poi that made one regret that his Yankee forebears ever attempted puddings.  Then there was boiled yam, boiled , and roasted feis, which last are nothing more or less than large mealy, juicy, red-coloured cooking bananas.  We at the abundance, and, even as we marvelled, a pig was brought on, a whole pig, a sucking pig, swathed in green leaves and roasted upon the hot stones of a native oven, the most and dish in the Polynesian .  And after that came coffee, black coffee, delicious coffee, native coffee grown on the hillsides of Tahaa.
Tehei’s fishing-tackle fascinated me, and after we arranged to go fishing, Charmian and I to remain all night.  Again Tehei Samoa, and again my petit bateau brought the disappointment and the smile of acquiescence to his face.  Bora Bora was my next port.  It was not so far away but that cutters made the passage back and between it and Raiatea.  So I invited Tehei to go that far with us on the Snark.  Then I learned that his wife had been born on Bora Bora and still owned a house there.  She likewise was invited, and immediately came the counter invitation to stay with them in their house in............
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