National Geographic : 1950 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine "Think I can bathe around here?" I asked the skipper. "First stream to the left," he indicated. Apparently it is customary for the children of the village to accompany bathers, for while I washed myself in the cool water 20 young sters kept up a constant babble. The group spirit prevails in Ua Huka, where many enterprises are carried out in communal fashion. The entire community of Hananai Bay was building a 40-foot surf boat. Some workmen cut the timber: others did the actual building. They expected to complete this particular boat in two months, so that they could travel to adjacent islands. Thanksgiving on Ua Huka Thursday, and Thanksgiving at that! I did not suppose that we would celebrate it, but the Polynesians, who enjoy a feast for any reason, saw that bountiful fare was pro vided aboard the Vaitere. We were anchored in a bay on Ua Huka where a plentiful supply of chickens and pigs is always on hand. One of the latter, roasted a deep brown, was brought to our table. Someone had thoughtfully placed be hind each ear a hibiscus flower-in Polynesia the "flower of friendship." Sunday was the day of the feast in Taiohae to which I had been invited by the island administrator. This time a sizable mutton. which had been barbecued over a charcoal fire, was placed in the center of the table on two banana leaves. The guests, knives in hand, attacked the carcass. When each had cut off a portion to his liking, just the skeleton remained. "And have you been yet to Typee (Taipi) Valley?" the administrator inquired. "Not yet," I answered. "I want to go there. I've read Melville's book." "It's very different now," he said. "No more tattooing; that's been outlawed. You know, the natives used to undergo great tor ture and danger of blood poisoning to decorate their bodies. The French outlawed it." "How about cannibalism?" I asked. "Oh, there's no more of that," he assured me. Three days later the Vaitere entered Comp troller Bay (Baie du Controleur), the door to Typee Valley, on Nuku Hiva's southeast coast. During the war, huge transports such as the Queen Elizabeth, Monterey, and Coolidge rendezvoused here for refueling. The Mar quesans, who have been throwing rocks all their lives either in war or in hunting goats, tried to heave stones up to the first deck. Few succeeded, and they reported to their families that the steamers were "big like hell." Typee Valley is a South Seas "ghost town" (page 93). Fence rows of stone stretched up the mountainsides. Still standing were many paepaes, stone platforms or house foun dations, some 30 feet square. Built without mortar or cement, they are still habitable, but there are only a few families left to use them. Bloody battles took place in Typee Valley. It was here that Herman Melville, captive among savages, was treated as a king. Typee, his personal account of experiences on Nuku Hiva, has been read in many languages. I read it for the first time in an American litera ture course at Purdue University and found it thrilling. Though the disintegration of the race here in the Marquesas was not of our time, never theless little has been done to help these people. Their decline is a tragedy which I could not help thinking about as I wandered through this beautiful valley. It is watered by the largest stream (nine miles long) in the Marquesas. Everywhere grow mangoes, bananas, fci (red mountain bananas), papayas, limes, breadfruit, and other tropical fruits. Once it was a Marque san custom to plant breadfruit trees upon the birth of a child, to ensure food for the days ahead. A Swim in a Mountain Stream I enjoyed a swim in the cool mountain stream and ate in the approved fashion a fresh watermelon which the natives gave me. My second approach to Typee Valley was over the mountains with the skipper. We started from Taiohae Bay the next morning at 6:30 on two sturdy horses. As on the dav when we had hiked to see Anaho Bay from a mountaintop, I could watch the changing vegetation as we gained altitude. Up to 800 feet coconuts grew profusely. Beyond that they dwindled and soon disappeared (page 104). Things were extremely dry up to about a thousand feet; then the higher we climbed. the greener the plant life. Heavy underbrush off the trail now was all but impenetrable. Lush green grass grew everywhere, and a number of horses had been tethered along the trail for grazing. From one of the switchbacks I looked down at Taiohae Bay. There our schooner quiv ered in the morning sun. To the right and left of the bay and far into the distance the parched ridges along the coast contrasted boldly with the scene at hand.