From Fiji to the Cannibal Islands

Jul 24, 2012 by

An EXACT reproduction of FROM FIJI TO THE CANNIBAL ISLANDS by Beatrice Grimshaw first published in 1907.”The passion for card-playing common to Fijians of every class set me wondering what the result would be if any one introduced bridge to the natives of those islands. Judging by what I know of them, I should suppose that it would sweep like a devastating plague over the country. Work would be at a standstill, and sleep and food would be taken only in snatches, while the natives gave themselves up heart and soul to the new game. They are excellent card-players, and they know no medium in their amusements — witness the law that had to be passed shortly after the introduction of cricket to the islands, forbidding the game to be played except on certain days of the week, because the Fijians had taken to it so ardently that they would do nothing else. The boys’ meke-meke was both pretty and original. A number of very bright and attractive little brown  lads dressed themselves up in white sulus, and armlets of red and white flowers. They then commenced a clever pantomime dance, singing as they danced, to keep time. I was told that it was the ” Sugar-cane meke-meke,” representing the growth of the sugarcane. In the first figure, they all squatted low on the ground, shaking their heads, with shut eyes, and murmuring slowly and softly an unintelligible sentence that sounded like ” Eratchi-keveechi, cratchi- keveechi ! ” Gradually they all stood up together, growing taller and taller, and as they grew, they waved their arms, and trembled all over from ankle to crown, like the tall tasselled canes waving in the wind, and still they kept on chanting, louder, faster with every figure : ” Eratchi-keveechi, eratchi-keveechi ! ” There were several figures that I could not make out, for want of proper interpretation, but I succeeded in understanding that one figure, which represented a series of hearty fights (and nearly broke up the dance, through the fervour displayed by some of the little actors, was meant to picture the exactions of the chiefs, who compelled the ” kaisi,” willing or unwilling, to come and cut their crop. When the dance was over, I gave the boys some biscuit and tinned salmon, and left them amicably sharing the small gift with at least forty friends, Fiji fashion. Nobody wanted to leave Nanduri, myself least of all ; but the Ndreketi was far ahead, and Somo-somo was well again ; so a start had to be made. Away in the slanting early sun I rode from the pretty town — away from all comfort, all decent food, all safe roads, all kindly natives, and, apparently, from all good luck as well. I lost my purse the first day, and though an honest youth from a half-caste village (a curious spot, that village, if I had time to write about it), found and brought it back, later on, the loss caused delay and vexation incalculable. Two days’ hard  travel it took to cover the thirty miles between Nanduri and Tumba, on the Ndreketi. The first day, Gideon all but hanged Somo-somo by tethering him with a slip-knot. The next day was a series of perils for the unlucky brute, and anxiety for me. If I had known all that lay ahead, assuredly I would have sent him back, and walked, but the misleading accounts I got of the country ahead induced me to push on. There was no road, no real track even. We travelled by bare indications in the shape of crushed branches or trodden grass ; smashing through miles of liana-knotted bush by the aid of knives, struggling through marshes, scrambling up and down hills as steep as a house-roof, and slippery as butter, and, worst of all, encountering streams every mile or so. Every stream or river was at the bottom of a perpendicular gully with greasy clay sides, down which the protesting horse had to be pushed and dragged, while I walked over on a cocoanut log ; some of the streams were deep and rapid, and many had dangerous bottoms of soft clay. And now, after a fashion that was exceedingly unpleasant, came my opportunity of learning what the people up in Lambasa had meant when they warned me : ” Don’t get your horse bogged ! ”

 

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