Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

fair weather and calm sea, money should be made by those interested, and arrangements could be entered into which would lay the foundation for a profitable growing trade. I merely throw out the hint to gentlemen who may be glad to learn that there is still a region which, although discovered in great measure by a certain Captain Cook, is as yet uninvaded by the tourists of the same name.

The islands of the 'Low Archipelago,' or the Tuamotus (sometimes called Paumotus, signifying a 'cloud of islands '), are well worth a short account. The group, or groups, extend over sixteen degrees of longitude, and consist of seventy-eight islands, all coral atolls, all with the exception of three having lagoon reefs, varying in size from a few miles to over a hundred miles in circumference. The population may be set down at 5000, of which perhaps not more than a fifth are in a state of primeval barbarism.

In former times these people were so famous for their bravery that Pomare the Great, of Tahiti (called so by reason of his conquests), invariably employed them as his guards.

All who know these people say they feel safer in their

company than in that of any other natives of the Pacific, and under circumstances of difficulty and danger this is especially noticeable. The Tuamotu is naturally independent, and he demands of his employers good pay and good usage. They are nearly all Catholics, and make very good converts; but they have a great predilection for rum, and are rather fond of an occasional free fight. On the Manga Reva there is a Catholic bishop and a body of clergy.

Of the seventy-eight islands in the group thirtyfive are known to contain pearl-shell in their lagoons, and there can be little doubt that the large pearl which was purchased by the Queen from Messrs. Storr and Mortimer for £6000 came from these islands. The majority of the islands are incapable of any cultivation except for the growth of the cocoa-nut, consisting almost entirely of coralline sand, with very little soil. Limes, however, flourish, and fig-trees attain great luxuriance. A few of the islands (notably Manga Reva, a basaltic island over 2000 feet high) possess fertile soil. Manga Reva has five islands within its reef, one of which is clothed with forest and watered abundantly.

I have before mentioned the pandanus, or screwpalm ; this remarkable tree flourishes most abundantly in the Tuamotus; though it is to be found more or less all over the islands of the Coral Sea. This is a most valuable product, and deserves to be better known. It is a very suggestive fact that the pandanus, custardapple and other tropical productions of this region are found in a fossil state in the Isle of Sheppey, in England. The pandanus is called screw-palm' for the reason that it grows with a twist, like the screw of an augur. Its height is generally from twenty to forty feet, the stem being straight like a column, sending forth branches at regular intervals in such a form as sometimes to remind one of the golden candlestick in the tabernacle of Moses. Each of these limbs terminates in a tuft of long drooping leaves, having in the centre a large yellowish flower, of an overpowering odour, very agreeable, but sickly by reason of its intensity. Underneath this tuft hangs the fruit, which is of a dark green colour, outwardly of the size of a man's head, and a form resembling a pineapple, or more exactly that of the cone which on ancient sculptures is made to surmount the thyrsus of Bacchus. This fruit is commonly regarded by white men not only as unpalatable, but even as uneatable ; nevertheless, it constitutes almost the sole subsistence of thousands of natives in the Kingsmill and Marshall Groups, where no vegetable food exists.

When the fruit is ripe it easily comes to pieces, and is found to consist of a multitude of separate capsules, each of the form of a truncated cone, with square corners, the small ends being arranged around a central cone. Their surface is bright and smooth as ivory; in one species yellow, in the other blood-red. The outer end is as hard as a stone, the inner soft, of the consistence of sugar-cane, and containing an equal if not larger proportion of saccharine matter. The interior of the capsule is fibrous. The custom of the natives is to chew the soft end, and having thus extracted all the nutriment, to throw on one side the hard portion, which they let lie in the sun till thoroughly dry, when they crack it between two stones and extract the kiko or kernel, which is similar to a filbert and very wholesome. The ripe fruit when boiled down produces a large percentage of excellent molasses; also, when steamed in the Sawaiori oven and mashed up in warm water, it yields an intoxicating liquor when fermented, and a strong spirit by distillation. But the chief use to which it is devoted is the preparation of what is called on the equator kabobo,

which serves the savage of the more barren isles in the place of bread. The soft parts of the fruit are grated, and the pulp so obtained is dried in the sun. Its appearance is then that of coarse pine sawdust, of a dark-brown colour and sweetish taste. It is packed in baskets, solidly trodden into a hard mass with the feet, and will keep for any length of time. When required for use, it is moistened, kneaded, and baked on the stones. It is strong food, easily digested and very wholesome, but not very palatable to a European

The pandanus tree grows usually upon coral, gravel, and clean sand, where there is no particle of mould, or soil, so that it seems beyond measure surprising that its roots could there find either moisture or nourishment. Nevertheless it contains a superabundance of oily sap which exudes freely wherever it is cut with an axe. Growing as it does on the seashore, it would be liable to be blown down easily by a strong wind, were it not for a most marvellous protection given it by a beneficent God. From the ground upwards, round and round the stem in a spiral row following the twist of the tree (to the height of about twelve feet), are what at first appear to be excrescences, looking like warts; these continue to protrude in the form of horns growing downwards, straight, and about the thickness of a man's arm, until they touch the ground, where they take deep root and send out suckers in all directions, and so form a series of stays round the tree on every side, so that it safely defies the power of the most furious

storms.

These stays, when macerated and freed from their oily pulp, yield a fibre similar in appearance to jute, exceedingly white and exceedingly strong. The trunk of the pandanus tree, at maturity, is as hollow as a stove-pipe; the wood, never more than a few inches thick, is as hard as bone, and takes a very fine polish.

The leaves of the pandanus tree are more than six feet in length, and from two to four inches wide, of a bright green, with a rib down the centre and edged on both sides with a row of sharp prickles. Roofs of houses, sails of canoes, flooring mats, and clothing of all sorts are manufactured from the leaf. Wonderful and beautiful fabrics are made from it, all plaited by hand and dyed various colours. Waist-clothes and sashes, as white as linen and as soft as silk, are also made from the leaves of this rich tree.

I do not know of anything that will approach the leaves of the pandanus tree, as a paper-making material. The tree grows from one end to the other of Coral Lands. Its leaves can be had for the trouble of cutting, and all that is wanted is to steep them in salt water, pound them and bleach them in the sun, . and they will become as soft and white as a linen rag.

As in other groups, a good number of small traders cruise around the Tuamotus to pick up cargoes of copra and other produce, for the central depots of German and other firms at Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga. The price usually paid by the natives is copra taken at two to three cents per pound, in exchange for goods upon which the profit is never less than one hundred and often three hundred per cent. Thus inferior kinds

« ForrigeFortsæt »