« ПретходнаНастави »
modious havens imaginable, where ships may lie and wood and water and refresh their crews in security, though the tempest howl without. It is a scarcely less beneficent provision, that the position of the openings is in most cases indicated so as to be visible at a great distance. Had there been merely an opening in the coral rock, it could not have been detected from the sea, except by the diminution of the foaming surf just at that spot-a circumstance that could scarcely be visible unless the observer were opposite the aperture; but, in general, there is on each side of the passage a little islet, raised on the points of the reef, which, being commonly tufted with cocoa-nut trees, is perceptible as far off as the island itself, and forms a most convenient landmark.
Notwithstanding that the highest point of these narrow islets is rarely more than a yard above the tide, it is a remarkable fact that fresh water is frequently found in them. It is probable that the coral rock acts as a filter, allowing the sea-water to percolate through its porous substance, but excluding all its saline particles held in solution.
A stranger is forcibly struck with the remarkable fearlessness which the natives of these islands have of the sea. They appear almost as amphibious as seals, sporting about in the deep sea for many hours, sometimes for nearly a whole day together. No sooner does a ship approach a large island than the inhabitants swim off to welcome her; and long before she begins to take in sail she is surrounded by human beings of both sexes, apparently as much at home in the ocean as the fishes themselves. The children are taken to the water when but a day or two old, and many are able to swim as soon as they are able to walk. In coasting along the shore, it is a rare thing to pass a group of cottages, at any hour of the day, without seeing one or more bands of children joyously playing in the sea.
They have several distinct games which are played in the water, and which are followed with exceeding avidity, not only by children, but by the adult population.
One of these is the fastening of a long board on a sort of stage, where the rocks are abrupt, in such a manner that it shall project
far over the water: then they chase one another along the board, each in turn leaping from the end into the sea. They are also fond of diving from the yard-arm or bowsprit of a ship.
But the most favourite pastime of all, and one in which all classes and ages, and both sexes, engage with peculiar delight, is swimming in the surf. Mr. Ellis has seen some of the highest chiefs, between fifty and sixty years of age, large and corpulent men, engage in this game with as much interest as children.
A board six feet long, and a foot wide, slightly thinner at the edges than at the middle, is prepared for this amusement, stained and polished, and preserved with great care by being constantly oiled and hung up in their dwellings. With this in his hand, which he calls the wave-sliding board, each native repairs to the reef, particularly when the sea is running high and the surf is dashing in with more than ordinary violence, as on such occasions the pleasure is the greater. They choose a place where the rocks are twenty or thirty feet under water, and shelve for a quarter of a mile or more out to sea. The waves break at this distance, and the whole space between it and the shore is one mass of boiling foam. Each person now swims out to sea, pushing his board before him, diving under the waves as they curl and break, until he is arrived outside the rocks. He now lays himself flat on his breast along his board, and waits the approach of a huge billow. When it comes, he adroitly balances himself on its summit, and, paddling with his hands, is borne on the crest of the advancing wave, amidst the foam and spray, until within a yard or two of the shore or rocks. Then, when a stranger expects to see him the next moment dashed to death, he slides off his board, and, catching it by the middle, dives seaward under the wave, and comes up behind, laughing and whooping, again to swim out as before. The utmost skill is required, in coming in, to keep the position on the top of the wave; for if the board get too far forward the swimmer will be overturned and thrown upon the beach, and if it fall behind he will be buried beneath the succeeding wave: yet some of the natives are› so expert as to sit, and even to stand upright, upon their board, while it is thus riding in the foam! P. H. GOSSE.
AT daylight Tahiti, an island which must for ever remain classical to the voyager in the South Sea, was in view.
At a distance the appearance was not attractive. The luxuriant vegetation of the lower part could not yet be seen; and as the clouds rolled past, the wildest and most precipitous peaks showed themselves towards the centre of the island. As soon as we anchored in Matavai Bay we were surrounded by canoes. After dinner we landed, to enjoy all the delights produced by the first impressions of a new country, and that country the charming Tahiti. A crowd of men, women, and children was collected on the memorable Point Venus, ready to receive us with laughing, merry faces. They marshalled us towards the house of Mr. Wilson, the missionary of the district, who met us on the road, and gave us a very friendly reception. After sitting a short time in his house, we separated to walk about, and returned there in the evening.
The land capable of cultivation is scarcely in any part more than a fringe of low alluvial soil, accumulated round the base of the mountains, and protected from the waves of the sea by a coral reef, which encircles the entire line of coast. Within the reef there is an expanse of smooth water, like that of a lake, where the canoes of the natives can ply with safety, and where ships anchor. The low land, which comes down to the beach of coral sand, is covered by the most beautiful productions of the intertropical regions. In the midst of bananas, orange, cocoa-nut, and breadfruit trees, spots are cleared where yams, sweet potatoes, the sugar-cane, and pine-apples are cultivated. Even the brush-wood is an imported fruit-tree, namely, the guava, which, from its abundance, has become as noxious as a weed. In Brazil I have often admired the varied beauty of the bananas, palms, and orange-trees contrasted together; and here we also have the bread-fruit, conspicuous from its large, glossy, and deeply digitated leaf. It is admirable to behold groves of a tree, sending forth its branches
with the vigour of an English oak, loaded with large and most nutritious fruit.
However seldom the usefulness of an object can account for the pleasure of beholding it, in the case of these beautiful woods, the knowledge of their high productiveness, no doubt, enters largely into the feeling of admiration. The little winding paths, cool from the surrounding shade, led to the scattered houses, the owners of which everywhere gave us a cheerful and most hospitable reception.
I was pleased with nothing so much as with the inhabitants. There is a mildness in the expression of their countenances which at once banishes the idea of a savage, and an intelligence which shows that they are advancing in civilization. The common people, when working, keep the upper part of their bodies quite naked; and it is then that the Tahitians are seen to advantage. They are very tall, broad-shouldered, athletic, and well proportioned. It has been remarked that it requires little habit to make a dark skin more pleasing and natural to the eye of a European than his own colour. A white man bathing by the side of a Tahitian was like a plant bleached by the gardener's art compared with a fine dark-green one growing vigorously in the field. Most of the men are tatooed, and the ornaments follow the curvature of the body so gracefully that they have a very elegant effect. One common pattern, varying in its details, is somewhat like the crown of a palm-tree. It springs from the central line of the back, and gracefully curls round both sides. The simile may be a fanciful one, but I thought the body of a man thus ornamented was like the trunk of a noble tree embraced by a delicate creeper.
Many of the elder people had their feet covered with small figures, so placed as to resemble a sock. This fashion, however, is partly gone by, and has been succeeded by others. Here, although fashion is far from immutable, every one must abide by that prevailing in his youth. An old man has thus his age for ever stamped on his body, and he cannot assume the airs of a young dandy. The women are tatooed in the same manner as the men, and very commonly on their fingers.
In returning to the boat we stopped to witness a very pretty scene. Numbers of children were playing on the beach, and had lighted bonfires, which illuminated the placid sea and surrounding trees; others, in circles, were singing Tahitian verses. We seated ourselves on the sand, and joined their party. The songs were impromptu, and I believe related to our arrival. One little girl sang a line, which the rest took up in parts, forming a very pretty chorus. The whole scene made us unequivocally aware that we were seated on the shore of an island in the far-famed South Sea. DARWIN.
'Mid the blossomed sweets that the valleys While the wonder and pride of your works yield;