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Life in Feejee, or, Five Years among the Cannibals

Chapter V

Chapter V.

Mathuata and its Chiefs—Funeral Ceremonies—Conversation with a Priest—Wreck of the Ship Glide, of Salem—Jekombea—The Exiled Chief—Visit to Vesongo—A Feast.

April 26.

At ten o'clock we set sail for Raverave, but owing to a contrary wind, we could only go within five miles of the place. On our way we saw a canoe containing ten natives. Four of them were painted red, and were engaged in performing some sort of a dance, page 87while one was blowing a conch most lustily. Retova said that some chief was dead; and when we came within hailing distance, we were told that it was the Turagalavu Beraga. It appears that Tuimbua, Beraga and Tuimathuata, were the Turaga-lavus of this side of Vanualavu with the adjacent islands. The kingdom of Tuimbua is the first, and where his authority ends, Beraga's commences, and where his ends, that of Tuimathuata commences. As has been shown, the latter has been driven into exile, and Retova has usurped his authority. Beraga has left no successor; therefore his dominions will have no ruler of rank, but several petty chiefs, who will probably exercise their authority in harassing each other.

The ceremonies which are performed after the death of a chief of high rank, are exceedingly numerous. When death is approaching, his friends present him with whales' teeth, that he may be furnished with missiles to throw at a certain tree which is supposed to stand in the centre of the way between this world and "bulu" Want of skill to hit the tree is considered an evil omen, and it is asserted that the souls of the wives of the deceased, who are so unfortunate as to miss the tree, are prevented from following them. Immediately after life is extinct, messengers are sent with a whale's tooth to all the tribes who were subject to him, informing them of the decease of their chief, and begging them to be of "a good mind." The canoe that we saw was bearing messages of this character. For some time after the breath has left the body, (and in many instances they do not wait for them to die, but if they are insensible, or incapable of helping themselves, they say the person is dead, his soul is gone, he knows nothing, and go on with all their ceremonies, burying them alive,) a profound stillness reigns throughout the town, which is at length broken by the loudest page 88outcries, as though they would rend the air with their shouts. The grave-diggers are then sent for, whose duty it is to wash the corpse, dig the ground and inter the bodies. The body, after being washed, is decorated in the same manner as it would be were he about to attend a feast. It is then anointed with oil; the face, neck and arms, as far as the elbow, are daubed with a jet black, greasy substance; a bandage of white native cloth is wound round the head, and tied in a graceful knot above the temples; a club is put in each hand, and one is placed on the breast, that he may retain his rank in the next world as a chief and warrior. The Body is then laid on a kind of bier, where it is usually kept till various personages from the tribes under the dominion of the departed, assemble. On their arrival, the chief of each tribe presents a whale's tooth suspended by a string. He holds it in his hand, while the Matavanua, or some other officer, delivers the following oration:—

"This is an offering to the dead. We are poor, and cannot find riches. This is the length of my speech." After this eloquent oration, one replied, "Ai mumudai ni mati." (A wish that death may not visit them.) All who are assembled then respond, "Mana ndena" (Let it be so.)

The grave-diggers then proceed to their business of digging a resting place for the dead. This is done in a sitting posture, as it is not lawful or respectful to perform the labor standing. Long sticks, sharpened to a point, are used as substitutes for spades. Before any of the earth is removed, one of the grave-diggers takes a stick in his hands, and places himself in an attitude of digging, but does not bring the stick in contact with the earth. This is done three times, and the fourth time he thrusts the stick into the ground, and the first handful of page 89earth which he digs up is called the earth of the god, and is carefully preserved in a leaf till the bodies are interred, when it is placed under a stone on the surface of the grave near the centre. After the grave is dug, which is scarcely three feet deep, four large green leaves are placed on the bottom of it, and the sides are lined with mats and cloth.

When only two females are buried with the chief, one is placed on each side; but when more are strangled, their bodies are placed on the bottom, on each side, and on the top of the corpse, and are covered with the ends of the cloth and mats with which the grave is lined. After this, a small quantity of earth is put into the grave four times with all possible despatch, and then four more leaves are put in, and the grave digger says, "A kila na kala ma kua sa na mate," which is a petition to his god that they may live. While the grave diggers are filling the grave, the house of the deceased chief, with its contents, is burned, and when the dead are buried, and the house burned, all the natives disperse to bathe.

The grave diggers are obliged to pass under the branch of a certain tree, which two men hold over the foot-path. As they pass, they are smartly whipped with something resembling the nettles of our own land. This is to prevent contamination from the effluvia of the dead bodies. After this they bathe, and rub themselves with some fragrant herb.

A little building is erected where the grave diggers live for one hundred nights, during which they daily bathe in fresh water, taking a club with them, which had been deposited in the grave of the dead. They say that the spirit of the club went with the departed, and the club was not wanted. They are not at liberty to return or visit their homes until the hundred nights have expired; page 90but they are plentifully supplied with food, and at the termination of the time are sent home with many presents.

After four days from the time of interment, a neat and substantial house is erected over the grave of the dead. The hands of all persons who have touched the dead are "lambued," and they must receive their food, and be fed by others.

After the death of a chief there are great times, amputating fingers, shaving heads and beards, circumcising boys, burning faces, arms, backs, necks, &c. Nor is this all: —A grand frolic is held for the space of ten days by all who choose to join in it. The men arm themselves with an instrument formed of pieces of bamboo tied together, which are about a foot in length, and with these they throw mud and clay at the women, seldom missing their mark. The women retaliate by severely lashing their assailants with the supple roots of trees, or the tough stems of creeping shrubs. Those who can procure them, often furnish themselves with a bunch of cords, with shells attached to the ends. They wield these weapons with great efficiency, and frequently produce deep gashes on the backs of their antagonists. The females are so ardent and intrepid in the celebration of this part of the funeral obsequies, that one is apt to think they are determined, during this reign of anarchy, to redress all former grievances, and avenge all the wrongs to which they have been obliged to submit. This ceremony is called Vainara.

Thus, at the death of a great chief, all are employed in mourning or rejoicing. Some of the near relatives fast all day, and feast at night. Some are forbidden to eat pork, others to eat yams, &c. They can, however, kill and eat each other. Such are the inconsistencies of heathenism!

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27.We sailed for, and arrived at Raverave. Its chief dared not go on shore till he had received some intelligence from the town. A canoe came off, and said that all was right, when he ventured to revisit his home.
28.Retova, with his "Bete" (priest), and many others, came to get their mats, which they brought for a "buri," which has been recently erected. We asked the "Bete" how many people they intended to kill when, the mats were placed in the "huri" He said he did not know. He was then asked how many had been killed during its erection. He replied, "only five;" and said, "One night when the 'buri' was nearly completed, I went in and slept. During my sleep, the god came, and said, 'Go to a town on the mountains, and club three men for my house.' This was done. In a few days I went again to sleep in the 'buri,' but this time I did not mean that the god should enter, and I fastened all the doors and openings that he might not come in and tell me to kill more men. I slept till the god found some way to enter, and said, 'Go again to the mountains, and bring me two more men.' This order was also executed." Mr. W. told the priest that there was a great and true God, who made the isles and the waters, the white men and the Feejeeans, the sun, moon and stars, and that He made their food to grow. He would not lie like the Feejeean gods, and was the God to worship. "Yes," said the priest, "I know that Jehovah is a very great God. If the Feejeeans saw him coming here, they would all run, and hide in the bushes." He was told that he had heard about the true God at Vewa, and asked why he did not worship Him. He replied that he would if Retova told him to do so.

We got under way, and reached Kandavu, a town about two miles above Raverave, where our page 92schooner is tending a "beech de mer" house. Ratonga, a brother of Retova, is one of our number, and has just related to us the following little incident.

On the arrival of Retova, one of his people complained that his wife had broken the seventh commandment. "She shall be killed," said the chief. When the husband heard the sentence, he relented, but it was too late. The chief had company, and was probably glad to have the body for them to eat with their yams. The woman was killed and devoured. Ratonga says that none but "kaises" eat human flesh, and they say that none but the Turagas eat it. This shows that the people are becoming somewhat ashamed of the practice.

Ratonga wishes me to take the name of Tuikana, for his sister, who bears that name. "Tui," means king; "kana," is to eat. But what is a name! The word Tanoa, means a wooden bowl; it is also the name of the King of Bau.

Kandavu is where the ship Glide, of Salem, was cast away some years ago. We have the murderer of the Raverave woman on board. He requested to-day to have his hatchet ground. Mr. W. asked how it became so much injured. He said it struck against the skull of the woman that he killed at Raverave. He was asked how he committed the deed. He said that she did not know she was to be killed, and was on her way to a pond to bathe; he stood in the pathway, and after she had passed him, wholly unconscious of evil, he struck her in the back of her head, and killed her instantly. "Did you not feel sorry?" I asked. "Sega au mbasa."— "No, I would not," was the reply. He says that her husband did not complain to Retova, and did not know any thing of the affair till he was told that the body of his wife was being cooked. The man cried very loud when page 93he heard this. The amiable Retova heard him, and said, "If you do not stop that, you shall soon be cooked, too."

May 6.

We sailed for, and arrived at Ndury, after a passage of three hours. A canoe has arrived from Jekombea. Harry, our pilot, does not express much delight at their visit. On the voyage preceding this, my husband sent a boat containing Harry, a man named Tom, four natives, and some trade to buy tortoise shell. They were instructed to visit the islands in this vicinity for that purpose. On arriving at Jekombea, they anchored the boat, and all went to sleep. The natives quietly went off to the boat, killed all but Harry, and took possession of the boat and trade. The gentle natives supposed at the time that they had killed all on board, but as morning advanced, they discovered Harry rolled up in a mat. The chief said, "Let him live;" and he lived, perhaps, to meet a worse fate from the ruthless cannibals of Feejee. Retova is acknowledged as the Turaga-lavu of Jekombea; therefore, he received his part of the plunder of the boat, and in due time the honest chief brought shell, which had been previously bought with trade, from the vessel to Mr. W. to buy of him. My husband told him that the shell was his, and he should not buy it again.


After getting a house under way, and leaving two white men to collect cargo, we again set sail for Vesonga. I listened, last evening, to the following tale, showing how the Jekombearites were outwitted by white men.

Soon after the escape of Harry, a little boat anchored near the island. One native came to the shore, and invited them to land, telling them that he was a Christian teacher that had been sent from Vewa. The white men landed, and inquired the name of the island. On being told, they said, "Ah, we have a root of yanggona, and page 94some sugar cane for the chief; we will return on board for it." Several natives followed to help draw the boat nearer the shore. When they had got safely on board of their own little craft, they requested a part of the natives to return to the shore, and get a large stone that they might fasten the boat to it. After they had departed, the men succeeded in clearing their boat of the rest. This being done, they set sail, and were soon in a place of safety.

9.We are still pursuing our way to Vesonga by day, and anchoring at night. The reefs and shoals are too numerous to "run" at night. The whole coast this side of Vanua lavu, beginning at Kutu and ending at Natawa, belongs to Retova and his uncle. I learn that although the king has been driven into exile, he is not deprived of all his lands. Many towns still adhere to him, though such is the treachery of Feejeeans that none can be trusted long at a time. A town belonging to one party one day, may turn to the other the next, and thus they are continually harassing each other for years.

This sailing along through placid lagoons, formed by the reefs on one side and the Vanua lavu on the other, is very delightful. We can look at golden sunsets, sparkling waters, fleecy clouds and dusky natives.

Nearly every island and reef that we pass, has its incident. While Mr. W. commanded the Gambia, on the voyage preceding this, Retova pretended that he was exceedingly anxious to make peace with his uncle. Accordingly, he collected a number of men and canoes, with the usual presents, and visited him to offer the "soro," The offerings were accepted, and peace was declared. Retova was entertained for some days like a great chief, and then suffered to depart in safety. While Retova was returning to Mathuata, he saw people fishing "beech page 95de mer" from a reef, near which we are passing. The ruthless being had them all murdered. This affair put an end to the reconciliation which had so recently taken place, as several of them belonged to the exiled king.


We anchored between the Vanua lavu and a small isle, called Navu. We perceived several canoes and natives on the beach; our hostage called to them to come on board, but they gave no heed to the invitation. They were probably afraid, as a Salem schooner chased some canoes here, and fired upon them a short time since.

The little island of Navu, too, has its tale of recent occurrence. This isle is not inhabited permanently, but canoes often stop here and pass the night. Our hostage, with some other natives, and two or three white heathen, came here in a canoe. Soon after their arrival, which was at night, they perceived a light on Navu. They went to the island, where they found two canoes. The natives belonging to them being asleep, our worthy hostage, and a man named Carter, fired upon them, and killed several, but not all; some escaped by flight. I told him that by and by he would go to the "buku waqa," and would there receive his reward for all this. "No," he said," the 'buku waqa' was made for white people; the Feejeeans would not be allowed there. Carter has subsequently been murdered by three Oahu natives.


We arrived at Yesonga. This place is where Tomarau resides, the hero of the late murder at Raverave. He is the Matavanua from Vesonga to Raverave.

My husband's purpose in visiting this place, being to get a house and fish "beech de mer," Tomarau went on shore, and delivered the speech of Retova to the chief, who, it seems, bears rule here, though there are several petty chiefs residing in the town.

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13.This morning, a canoe filled with natives came off to see the lioness; a white one never having been seen by the natives of this part of Feejee. The wonder was gazed at, and every motion watched with the most intense interest.
14.We were visited last night by a tribe called Namu. They were all armed with a short, sharp instrument, and attacked us most furiously. Their numbers were so numerous that we found it impossible to defend ourselves, and we suffered exceedingly from their poisoned instruments. The English name of this hostile tribe, is "Musquitoes."
15.The chief, Masella, came off to the vessel, and wished Mr. W. to send a boat for his wife, as she wished to visit me. The boat was sent, and the Marama came, bringing us a present of some bread-fruit. She admired me very much, but failed to excite a corresponding sentiment. She asked Mr. W. why he did not bring more of his wives. When he told her he had no more, she exclaimed with surprise, "Why! you are a 'Turagalavu.'"
20.We visited the reefs. It being perfectly calm, the waters were like one vast sheet of glass. As we were borne along over the beautiful marine productions which every where met the eye, it appeared like some enchanted scene. There are times, and places, and scenery even in Feejee. In connection with this, I am reminded of the following wish expressed by some writer: —"I sometimes desire to be far away on the deep blue ocean, with nothing but the heavens above, and the waters beneath, that I may give utterance to thoughts that have dwelt in the depths of my heart from childhood, and which it would be profanation for the gross ears of mortals to hear." Could the same lady have been here in page 97her little boat, she might have "freed her mind." Here she could have looked upon splendid beds of coral, and admired the beauty of their various hues, and their arrangement amid the sparkling sands. Here, too, she would have for listeners blithe little beings, gaily decked, some in gold and purple, and others in azure and silver, instead of the uncouth tenants of the great deep, clad in sombre grey. But, whoever the lady may be, I think she would find no poetry in being alone on the deep blue ocean, and would have to search a long time for those thoughts which she deems too refined for the gross ears of mortals.

Mr. W., believing that nearly all the male inhabitants of Vesonga were fishing on the reefs, proposed going on shore to see the "beech de mer" house. When the boat was ready, I expressed a wish to accompany him. "Perhaps it is not safe," said he. "If it is safe for you, it is for me," I replied, and we started with only two rowers and ourselves in the boat. When we reached the shore we were surprised to see Masella and twenty other men upon the beach. I observed that Masella held a hatchet behind him, as if trying to hide it. On looking around, I perceived the men were all armed; some with clubs, and others with muskets. Truly, thought I, we are not so formidable as to require such strength of arms. Mr. W. told Masella that we would go to the "beech de mer" house first, and then to his house. Some of the natives preceded, and others followed us to the building where the "beech de mer" was drying. A deep trench is usually dug the whole length of one of the houses, which is filled with burning logs of wood. The glare and heat from such an immense fire, and surrounded as we were by nearly naked savages, numbering perhaps fifty in all, including women who had joined us, reminded me page 98of the "bulca waqa," and sent a strange sort of thrill through ray frame.

Many of the faces of the men were painted a shiny black upon one side, and a bright vermillion on the other. Others had the forehead, nose, and the upper part of their cheeks daubed with one color, and the lower part of their faces with another. An endless variety of tastes was displayed, which did not in my view add to their beauty, although the house was well lighted from the deep red flames issuing from the trench, and well calculated to show their personal decorations to the greatest possible advantage. When we came from the house, Mr. W. suddenly altered his mind about visiting Masella's house, and we immediately returned to the bark.

22.We received a visit from the "Bete" of the town. Mr. W. asked him how it was that he did not "tambu" the fish for him as he had promised. He replied that he did, and the fish were all lying still on the reefs, but Capt. Cheever came, then the god got mad with himself, and Capt. C. got the fish; but not long after, Masella got mad with Capt. Cheever, then the god was pleased with his priest, and said, "Let no one but Capt. Wallis have the fish that are on the reefs." Soon after this, another came to get the fish, but the god caused a strong wind to blow, and prevented him from collecting any, and now he had come, and the god had promised fine weather.
26.The wind last night blew almost a hurricane. As several canoes were fishing, some anxiety was felt on their account. At sunrise, the out-rigger of a canoe was discovered at some distance with people on it; a boat was sent, which took up five. Four women swam for the shore, a distance of two miles, which they reached in page 99safety. In the afternoon, the priest came on board again. He was asked why his god sent such a wind after promising fine weather. "My god was angry because you did not give me a knife when I was here last," was the reply.
June 1.Retova has visited us on his way to Navu, a place two miles above this. A boat accompanied him from the bark, for the purpose of establishing a "beech demer" house at that place.
3.Yesterday a grand Solavu was held at Vesonga. The Geer people brought sail mats, which were exchanged for yams. When the natives hold a Solavu, they take great pains in decorating their persons. A necklace of whale's teeth is the favorite ornament for the neck, but all are not able to procure them; therefore some wear one of shells, others of human teeth, and some wear beads. The barbers have full employment for several days previous, in dressing heads, which are ornamented according to their different tastes. Bone bracelets are worn on the arms, and their faces are usually painted black, or so disguised that one is not known from another. This is probably done that they may not be recognized, should there be any treachery going on at the time, as is often the case. When the parties meet, which is generally in some open space called the "rara," the riches belonging to each are deposited in huge piles on two sides of the "rara," food is placed in the centre, and the visitors are feasted with great abundance, and carry away with them what is left. The entertainers do not partake of the feast with their guests. When the riches are exchanged, a great many fine speeches are made by the officers of both parties. A great deal of love is expressed, and one would suppose that no enmity could ever find a place in such affectionate hearts. After the feasting and speeches are ended, dancing commen-page 100ces. Each party engage in their several dances by themselves. Their fears of each other, form a barrier between them. It is not always that riches are exchanged at "Solavus." Sometimes presents are made, and the people are feasted to discharge some former obligation, as was the case with Bau and Somosomo, and sometimes one tribe visit another, and carry riches, but receive no return at the time, although they are always feasted, and, some time after, the visit is returned in the same manner. A feast of any description is called a "Solavu."
7.One of our crew inquired if I would purchase a servant, a native woman that was to be killed at Vesonga to-night. On inquiry, I learned the following particulars: —A man who belonged to the Charles Wirgman, of Salem, had brought the woman from some distant coast, and while the brig lay here, she ran away from her keeper to Vesonga, where she had remained ever since. Yesterday the Marama became angry with her for some offence, and threatened punishment. The girl attempted to run away, but was caught and brought to the town. The "Mamma" attempted to take off her dress, or "leku." When this is done, it is like passing sentence of death upon the victim; but the man who had returned the offender, caught her away, saying, "Do not do that." The angry "Marama" replied, "Tie her, and to-night she shall die." A musket was sent on shore with an order for Harry to buy the offending woman, and send her on board, where she might serve me till I had an opportunity to send her home.
8.Harry came off, and said that he had made it all right with the "Marama," and the woman was safe. In the afternoon, a large double canoe came alongside, with at least two hundred men in it. It was commanded by page 101Korovakaturaga, a chief of some note in these parts. I thought I saw a little expression of anxiety on the countenance of my husband, and a manifest relief when they departed.

I learn that Harry told the "Marama" on shore, that the Marama-lavu on board the "waqa lavu" had heard that she had given orders to club a woman, and that she was very much ashamed for her. "Go and tell the Marama-lavu that my anger is over now, and the woman shall receive no harm," she replied. He then told the girl that Capt. Wallis had sent a musket to buy her for one of his people. She told him that he did not say what was true, for no Feejeean women were allowed on board the "waqa lavu." He showed her the musket, and said, "What I tell you is true; therefore go not near the vessel, or you will be detained for one of his men." The girl appeared to dread this more than death. Her experience while a captive on board the brig, must have been a painful one. I know not what are the motives of Harry, unless they are to restore her to her keeper, who is now living at Solavu. The woman who accompanies him, would not have been allowed, had not he and a companion named Valentine, positively declared that they were married. We have since learned, however, that they are not. They do not live on board, but stay at some "beech de mer" house.

We were told before we came to this place, that the natives were exceedingly treacherous, and we must keep a look out for them. I do not perceive but that they are as civil as any that we have seen. One day a woman who came on board, said, "Ah! the white men make gods of their wives." "Yes," said her husband, "the white women are wise, but Feejeean women are foolish." The man could not perceive any foolishness in page 102himself. Thus it is, I thought, you are true to your kind, and had you your periodicals, we should see chapter after chapter headed, "Advice to women," as with us. We are told that we must always meet our husband at the door with a smile, take his hat and cane, and see that the best chair is ready for him (although it may be occupied by an aged or infirm parent), with his slippers near it. If he is cold, we must have a good fire to warm him; if he is warm, a fan to cool him; if he frowns, we must smile; if he is angry, we must look pleased; if he is in a passion, we must look delighted; and sundry other wise suggestions to strengthen and fortify our minds, that we may be good, and bear all the infirmities of our "lords" with patience. For all this I am truly grateful, and, with all due humility, would confess that we need "line upon line, and precept upon precept." But why, I would ask, is the one thing done and the other left undone? Does perfection dwell with man? or is his mind rendered impervious to improvement by his own sense of superiority? I believe that man has his part to act in the domestic relations of life, independent of his duty of supplying the means for support.