Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Venus in Tahiti: 16 April – 28 April 1915

Venus in Tahiti: 16 April – 28 April 1915

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 03, 2013

(Previous installment)

Fri Apr.16.

In the evening Mr. Rossiter walked out to see the new California bungalow of Dr. Valdeau and later called to see Ferai and Takupo to practise some of the Tahitian we had studied during the day.

Sat. Apr. 17.

We were very much upset in receiving a letter from the Governor General prohibiting us to print or distribute our Mission paper on account of several favorable mentions of the German Army. Mr. Rossiter immediately went to see the Governor but was unable to get an audience with him. He then went to see if the American Consul would have any influence with him.

Sun. Apr. 18.

Held Sunday school at 10:30 am. At 12.30 we held our priesthood meeting where we voted unanimously to set apart Mon 19 and Tues 20 for fasting and prayer preparatory for making our last appeal to the Governor. Held our Sacrament meeting at 3 pm.

Mon. Apr.19.

By appointment Mr Rossiter went again to the American consul to see if he had been successful in interceding for us but was disappointed to find that the Governor was firm in his decision and could not be moved. Undaunted still he went to the Governors office and to his great pleasure was given an audience. At first he was very curt in his speech & still absolutely refused to let us publish the paper, asking why we came to this country as he understood that our elders amassed great fortunes and shipped it all to America. My husband then explained to him our real purpose in coming here and told him that the money collected from our saints was kept here in the Islands and spent for the maintenance of our church and the poor, also that the missionaries were kept by money sent from their homes in Utah. So that instead of us taking money away we in reality brought and spent a great deal of money here. He was much pleased with the explanation and owned that he had been laboring under a false impression & began talking quite freely finally consenting to let us publish our paper again at the end of two months, providing that we print absolutely nothing concerning the war. Ern left with a much lighter heart than he had gone in with, for not only had we been allowed to resume our paper, but had also had the privilege of correcting his erroneous impression. And who can tell but that this incident may be the means of his giving us more privileges in the land. For some time ago we petitioned him to allow us to reopen our schools which had been closed by the government some time ago. At any rate is showed to us what might be done through fasting and prayer.

Tues Apr 20.

In the early morning I was awakened by the shrieking and screaming of myriads of birds in the trees just outside of my window. I raised up on my elbows to watch them and presently twelve of them flew down in the road and formed themselves into two lines facing one another and began to dance to the music of the bird choir in the trees, bowing strutting and waltzing, to and fro & roundabout, they danced a quadrille as near like people as any one could imagine. These birds which are the only sort we have in the Islands are about the size & color of a robin, something the build of a woodpecker & sing like a magpie.

Wed. Apr. 21.

It is a bright sunny day so I am airing & brushing my clothes and bedding, which are damp and spotted with mildew, after being put away in the trunk, nice & dry, only three weeks ago. While out tracting Ern called to tell the American Consul that we had been allowed to resume our paper again & he was very much surprised for he said the Governor was so set in his idea when he interviewed him. The Consul inquired if we knew of a carpenter who could mend some leaks in his roof, so Ern offered to do it. He wouldn’t listen to that, but Ern came home, donned some old clothes and went down and mended it. He was very indifferent and treated us coldly at first, but when Mr. Rossiter goes there now, he drops all his work, and follows him out to the gate when he goes.

Thurs. Apr. 22.

I went with Ern to call on some white people he had met several days before while out tracting. They treated us very well and asked us many questions about the Book of Mormon which they had been reading since Ern left it with them. We also gave them a book of pictures to assist them in getting abetter understanding of what they read.

Fri. Apr. 23.

I spent the chief part of the day preparing to leave for Vairao a little village on the opposite side of the Island the following day, where we were to spend some time living with the natives, so that we might have more opportunity to speak the language.

Sat. Apr. 24.

We left Papeete at 8 o’clock in a little white gasoline launch about twelve feet wide and thirty feet long. It was filled with natives seated on the floor, for they have no seats on the boats here, and of course we had to do likewise. We were certainly guests of honor, for no sooner had the boat started than the natives on board offered us everything they had to eat and reserved the best place on the boat for us to sit, and if any one dare go near it someone called out “Haereoema parahiraa no te popaa,” meaning, “Go away from there that’s the white mans place.” When the sun shone on us a woman took her umbrella and drove an native man and a Chinaman out of their places, so that we could sit in the shade, and made them take our sunny place. Even the captain favored us, charging us only fifty cents apiece while the regular fare is $1.20 each.

Everything went fine until we passed through the coral reef and were out in the open sea, the little boat tossed up and came down and of course my stomach did likewise and I was soon feeding the fishes in proper style. Some old ladies and Ern held me on while I hung my head out over the water. Then they made a bed for me on the floor of the boat with their shawls and mats where I lay flat on my back until it was time for my next little excursion to the railing. This kept up all the time we were on the open sea, but as soon as we went inside of the reef again, where the water is much smoother, I felt much better

All along the way the scenery was beautiful, their regular coast line, the dense foliage, the high mountains half hidden in the ever low hanging white clouds, here and there a silvery waterfall, and the native thatched houses that dotted the shore. At every stopping place a small row boat was lowered into the water, in which the people were taken to shore. As soon as the natives learned the boat had arrived they came running from their houses in every direction, and the children most of whom were naked run out into the water, and a few of the larger ones swam out to the boat climbed up a rope and dived back into the water. It was 7:30 pm when we arrived at Vairao and the moon was already high in the sky, for it becomes dark very early here as early as 6 o’clock. The whole town was out to meet us, running and shouting excitedly up and down the shore for already the news had spread that we were coming. I being unable to slide down a rope was carried down in the strong arms of Ioane (John) one of our big dark native friends, to the canoe in which we were rowed as near to the shore as it could go, at this point the native people got out and waded the rest of the way. One of them bending over asked to carry us in on his back, but as the water wasn’t very deep we took off our shoes and stockings and followed suit, while they carried in our grips.

We were then taken to Tomas’ house where we found Bros Shaw and Pierson who were traveling in the district, and some French men who had come from Papeete in their auto to give a picture show in a large barn-like thatched roof building, just next door. With them was our friend Dr. Davis, as whose guest we attended the “teata” We were seated on chairs on a platform about three feet high, while every one else sat on hewn benches without any backs, on the bare ground. After the show we were shown to our room which contained a single bedstead and a few strands of shells on the wall. The bed was clean but as hard as a rock and we found it difficult to hang on for it was high in the middle and sloped down on the sides. We had brought a net with us to keep away the mosquitoes, but in the morning we found that we were covered with flea bites. The bare board wall & ceiling were covered with mud wasp nests and all nightlong the rats run around our bed, but we slept on just as if we were in our own beds at home or had always been accustomed to our surroundings.

Sun. Apr. 25

We arose early to inspect our surroundings. The house which is a five room rustic with long porches front and back is nestled in a grove of cocoanut and breadfruit trees about a stones throw from the sea where several small fishing vaas are pulled up into the deep grass. The outside of the house is painted white, the interior being left unpainted & with its six pieces of furniture namely, three beds, 2 two chairs and a table it does not have a very homey aspect. But this doesn’t bother the natives for they spend little of their time indoors. The cook house, which serves as their dining room as well, is a little thatched affair about twenty yards away from the house. While we were looking around the natives were preparing our breakfast which consisted of bread fruit baked in an native oven, and cocoanut milk, a pure white fluid that is squeezed from the grated meat of the nut, for the natives through away the watery fluid that we call milk at home.

We are certainly a curiosity for the children had gathered from all the country around & stand looking in at us through the windows & doors, a few of the larger boys who feel a little brave had perched themselves at an advantageous point on the porch railing and are counting the buttons on our shoes and clothes. In the afternoon we held a sacrament meeting with Toma and his family, and then went with them in the evening to a “Hymene” or song meeting, held under the auspices of the local Protestant Church.

These hymenes are held in a house built especially for that purpose. The women arrange themselves in two long rows, facing one an other and the men in two rows behind them. The meeting is opened with a song followed by prayer after which they sing steadily for hours, each side taking turns. One girl on each side seems to be the leader starting off several beats before the others with a half yelling half singing lingo, then all the others join in with every conceivable sort of song, each person having their own particular noise to make. The girls chant in base tones while the boys do some intricate trills and turns in sort of a tenor voice, and at the end of every verse the girls hold on to a long low note about ten beats and then end with a sudden jerk. It is really the incomprehensible, indescribable thing I have ever seen or heard, but I suppose it sounds more like Indian singing than anything else I can think of.

After singing for about an hour they had a short intermission to smoke, the preacher and the women taking advantage of it as well as the men. This was followed by a short discussion of a verse from the Bible after which were tired, as we were not accustomed to sitting on the floor such a long time. Our friends however remained four hours longer to sing and smoke.

Mon Apr. 26.

This morning after eating our breakfast of hot water and bread, we went to the hills with Toma’s wife, where he was trimming his vanilla vines. Following a winding trail through a network of vines ferns and flowers we found ourselves in an opening where he was at work. On every side were groves of orange, banana, cocoanut & fei or plantain trees also patches of vanilla coffee and taro. Coming to a stream of water they made stepping stones for us of cocoanut husks, taken from the young cocoanuts from which we had drunk the cool sweet water, and scraped out and eaten the creamy substance with our fingers. We then climbed a little higher from which point we looked out on the Pacific through the ferns & palms. It was indeed a beautiful picture When were turned to the house our friends carried for us a stock of immense bananas a string of large oranges and a basket of cocoanuts, and in our room Tehei their feeding or adopted daughter had put a glass of beautiful roses and orange blossoms. In the evening we had a delightful bath in the ocean.

Tues 27th Apr.

In this household the whole family assist with the cooking, the men included and to-day we watched them make their dinner which consisted of bread fruit and poi. The bread fruit which resembles a large mock orange Toma scraped with a sharpened shell and placed around the edges of the oven, which in reality is a hole dug in the ground and filled with red hot rocks, while Ioane prepared the sauce, by grating the meat of a cocoanut from which he squeezed a milky fluid through a sieve made from the fibre of a banana tree, mixing it with a little seawater. Popoti with the help of Tehai prepared the poi, mixing thoroughly through their hands a large pan of mashed bananas and arrow-root starch, this was poured on immense banana leaves, which were carefully folded and placed on the rocks in the center of the oven, covered with layers of green leaves on which they piled dry leaves and burlap. Here it was left for one and one half hours to bake, or rather steam from the heat of the rocks and the moisture of the leaves. The bread fruit and the cocoanut sauce were delicious, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the poi.

Wed. Apr. 28.

Spent chief part of day studying and watching the women at their tedious pass time weaving hats from dry bleached aeho, a reed that grows on the mountains. Each reed is split in two pieces, flattened out, and the pithy center scraped off with a knife on a hardwood block until there is left only the thin pliable outside covering. This they split with their fingernail into the desired width and weave into braids of different design. It takes sixteen yards for a hat, which usually takes them one month to complete if they work steadily day after day. When finished they sell from five to fifteen dollars according to design and texture. They also make hats from bamboo and grasses, but they are much easier and quicker to make, and sell from two to four dollars.

In the evening we went bathing in the sea, and with the help of some young native boys who pulled a vaa (canoe) back and forth in the water, I learned to swim a little, resting my body on the other end of the vaa and working my arms and legs.

(To be continued)


1 Comment »

  1. Wonderful! This really is a wonderful, fascinating account.

    “but I can’t say that I enjoyed the poi.”

    Seems like a fairly consistent consensus among missionaries.

    Comment by Amy T — March 3, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

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