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The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom



It is strange that, though the islands are richer in unpolluted streams of pure water than, perhaps, any country in the world the natives are notoriously careless about the water that they drink. At the Annual Meeting of Chiefs in 1885 they were reprehended by the Administrator, in his opening address, for their careless habit of drinking bad water. In their reply (Resolution 14) they said: "You mention bad water and insufficiency of food as causes (for the excessive mortality), but we are usually careful about the water we drink, and we think that there is more food now than in former times." The Fijians are, in fact, quite ignorant of what constitutes purity in drinking water. They assume any water to be drinkable that is moderately clear and does not contain solid impurities. There are villages that draw their drinking-water from shallow holes that collect the surface-water from burying-grounds. Many of the native wells are shallow pools lined with a sediment of decayed leaves and supplied from the surface drainage from the village square, which swarms with pigs. In the villages situated in the mangrove swamps of the deltas of the large rivers no wholesome water can be obtained without a journey of several miles, and the people use exclusively water collected in surface depressions. In the sandy, rocky and riverless islands the natives are content with surface-water when deep wells might easily be sunk. And, even in villages which draw their water from pure running streams, the water is carried and kept in bamboos and cocoanut-shells that are half rotten, and are never cleansed. In this respect, it is true, contact with Europeans has not affected their customs either for better or for worse.