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In A Native Village by Louis Becke


When I first settled down on this particular island as a trader, I had, in my boundless ignorance of the fierce jealousy that prevailed between the various villages thereon, been foolish enough to engage two or three servants from outlying districts—much against the wishes of the local kaupule (town councillors), each of whom brought me two or three candidates (relatives, connections or spongers of their own) and urged that I should engage them and no others. This I refused to do, point blank, and after much angry discussion and argument, I succeeded in having my own way, and was allowed to choose my servants from villages widely apart. In the course of a few weeks some terrific encounters had taken place between my women servants and other of the local females, who regarded them as vile usurpers of their right to rob and plunder the new white man. However, in time matters settled down in a measure; and beyond vituperative language and sanguinary threats against the successful applicants, the rejected candidates, male and female, behaved very nicely. But I was slumbering on a latent volcano of fresh troubles, and the premonitory upheaval came about a month after our head nurse, Hakala, had been fined five dollars for using English Seafaring' language to another woman who had called her a pig. As Hakala could not pay the fine—being already in debt to me for two months' wages paid in advance—I settled it; for she was a widow, and had endeared herself to me by the vigorous manner in which she had pitched a large, fat girl named 'Heké out of the house for stealing some sugar from my store-room. The members of the kaupule (the village parliament) were pleased to accept the money, but wrote me a formal letter on the following morning, and remarked that it was wrong of me to encourage brutal conduct in any of my servants—wrong and un-Christian-like as well. 'But,' the letter went on to say, 'it is honest of you to pay this woman's fine; and Talamaheke' (the sugar-thief) 'has been sentenced to do three days' road-making for stealing the sugar. Yet you must not think evil of Talamaheke, for she is a little vale (mad), and has a class in the Sunday-school. Now it is in our minds that, as you are an honest man, you will pay the fines owing on the horse.' I had a vague recollection of my predecessor telling me something indefinite about a horse belonging to the station, but could not remember whether he said that the animal was in the vicinity of the station or was rambling elsewhere on the island, or had died. So I called my Samoan cook, Harry, to learn what he knew about the matter. Harry was the Adonis of the village, and already the under-nurse, E'eu, a sweet little hazel-eyed creature of fifteen, and incorrigibly wicked, had succumbed to his charms, and spent much of her time in the kitchen. At that moment Harry was seated outside the cook-house, dressed in a suit of spotless white duck, playing an accordeon; also he wore round his brown neck a thick wreath of white and scarlet flowers. Harry, I may remark, was a dandy and a notorious profligate, but against these natural faults was the fact that he could make very good bread.

'Harry,' I said, 'do you know anything about this horse?' and I tapped the official letter.

He smiled. 'Oh, yes, sir. I know all 'bout him. He been fined altogether 'bout two hundred and fifty dollar, an' never pay.'

'What do you mean? How can anyone fine a horse?'

Then Harry explained and gave me the horse's history.

The animal had been brought from New Zealand for some occult reason, and had behaved himself very badly ever since he landed. Young banana trees were his especial fancy, cotton plants he devoured wholesale, and it was generally asserted that he was also addicted to kicking chickens. My three predecessors on the station had each repudiated the creature, and each man when he left the island had said that his successor would pay for all damage done.

'Where is the brute now?' I asked.

Looking cautiously around to see that no one was within earshot, Harry informed me that until a week previously the nuâ had been running quietly in the interior of the island for many months, but since my arrival had been brought back by two of the deacons and was now feeding about the immediate vicinity.

'Why did the deacons bring him back, if he destroys banana trees and kill chickens?'

Harry looked very uncomfortable and seemed disinclined to speak, but at last let the cat out of the bag and revealed a diabolical conspiracy—the horse had been brought back for my undoing, or rather for the undoing of the strings of my bag of dollars.

'You see, sir,' said he, confidentially, 'these people on this island very clever—all dam rogue' (his mother was a native of the island), 'an' 'bout a month ago, when you give two dollar to help build new church, the fakafili and kaupule{*} (judge and councillors) 'say you is a very good man and that you might pay that horse's fines. An' if you pay that horse's fines then the people will have enough money to send to Sydney to buy glass windows and nice, fine doors for the new church. An' so that is why the deacons have bring that horse back.'

'But what good will bringing the horse here do? That won't make me pay his fines.'

'Oh, you see, sir, since the horse been come back the people take him out every day into some banana plantation and let him eat some trees. Then, by-and-by—to-morrer, perhaps—they will come an' ask you to go and look. Then you will look an' say, "Alright, I will pay five dollar." An' then when you pay that five dollar the kaupule and the judge will say, "Now you mus' pay for all the bad things that that horse do before you come here." An' s'pose you won' pay, then I b'lieve the judge an' headmen goin' to tapu{*} your store. You see they wan' that money for church very bad, because they very jealous of Halamua church.'

     * Tapu, in this sense, means boycotting.

'Jealous of Halamua church! Why?'

'Oh, because Halamua people been buy a foolpit for their church—a very fine foolpit from California; an' now this town here very jealous, and the people say that when you pay that horse's fine they will buy pine windows, pine doors, and pine floor, and give Halamua church hell?

The novel (but in some cases exceedingly correct) pronunciation of pulpit pleased me, yet my wrath was aroused at this scandalous revelation of the plans of the villagers to beautify their church at my expense. It was as bad as any church bazaar in Christendom.

As Harry surmised, I received a visit from a deputation the next morning. They wanted me to come and see the destruction done to their plantations by my horse.

'But it's not my horse,' I said. 'I decline to hear anything about a horse. There is no horse down in my stock list, nor an elephant.'

A dirty old ruffian with one eye and a tattooed face regarded me gravely for a moment, and then asked me in a wheezy, husky voice if I knew that Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for telling lies.

'Of course,' I replied promptly, 'I saw them struck. My uncle in England had them buried in his garden to improve the soil. And why do you come here and tell me these things about a horse? If there is a horse, and it eats your bananas and sugar-cane, why don't you shoot it?'

This suggestion staggered the deputation, half of which scratched its head meditatively. Then a tall, thin man, with an attenuated face like a starved fowl, said sneeringly in English,—

'What for you want to make gammon you no savee about horse?'

His companions smiled approvingly; not that they understood a word of English, but they evidently regarded the fowl-like creature as a learned person who would give me a dressing down in my own language.

I looked at him with a puzzled expression, and then said to Harry,—

'What does this man say, Harry? I can't talk German. Can you?'

Harry grinned and shook his head; the rest of the deputation looked angrily at the hatchet-faced man, and the member seated next to him told him he ought to be ashamed of himself to pretend to be able to vogahau faka Beretania (talk English).

For some minutes no one spoke. Then the youngest member of the deputation, a jolly, fat-faced young deacon, dressed in a suit of white flannel, laughed merrily, and asked me for some tobacco. I gave them a plug each all round, and the deputation withdrew. So having successfully repudiated the horse and all his works, I felt satisfied.

Pigs were the next trouble—my own pigs and the pigs of the general public. When I landed on the island I had brought with me from Sydney a lady and gentleman pig of exceedingly high lineage. They were now the proud and happy parents of seven beautiful little black-and-white piglets, and at any hour of the day one might see numbers of natives looking over my wall at the graceful little creatures as they chased one another over the grass, charged at nothing, and came to a dead stop with astonishing rapidity and a look of intense amazement. One fatal day I let them out, thinking they would come to no harm, as their parents were with them. As they did not return at dusk I sent E'eu, the under-nurse, to search for them. She came back and told me in a whisper that the father and mother pig were rooting up a sweet-potato patch belonging to the local chief. The piglets she had failed to discover. Enjoining secrecy, I sent E'eu and Harry to chase the parents home. This was effected after considerable trouble, but the owner of the potato patch claimed two dollars damages. I paid it, feeling his claim was just. Next morning the seven piglets were returned one by one by various native children. Each piglet had, according to their accounts, been in a separate garden, and done considerable damage; and 'because they' (the piglets) 'were the property of a good and just man, the owners of the gardens would not hurt nor even chase them,' etc. Glad to recover the squealing little wanderers at any cost, I gave each lying child a quarter-dollar. Next day I had a piece of ground walled in with lumps of coral and placed the porcine family inside. Then I wrote to the councillors, asking them to notify the people that if any of the village pigs came inside my fence and rooted abyssmal holes in my ground, as had been their habit hitherto, I should demand compensation. His Honour the Chief Justice stated in court that this was only fair and right; the white man had paid for the damage done by his pigs, and therefore he was entitled to claim damages if the village pigs caused him trouble. (I had previously squared his Honour with the promise of a male sucker.) One day the seven young pigs escaped from their mother and went out for a run on the village green. They were at once assailed as detestable foreign devils by about two hundred and forty-three gaunt, razorbacked village sows, and were only rescued from a cruel death after every one had lost its tail. Why is it that pigs of different breeds always bite off each other's tails? I claimed fifty cents per tail, and was awarded $3.50 damages, to be paid by the community generally. The community refused to pay. His Honour then notified by the town crier that I was at liberty to shoot any pig that broke into the station grounds. I put a cartridge into a Snider rifle and told my servants to call me if they heard a grunt in the night.

Three days after this, as I was discussing theology and baked fowl one night with the local teacher in his own house, a boy burst in and said that there was a strange pig in my garden devouring my crop of French beans. In two minutes I was back in my house, snatched up the Snider, and ran to the garden wall. There was the brute, a great black-and white beast, the biggest native pig I ever saw. His back was turned, but hearing my steps he 'went about' and faced me. 'Twas a bright moonlight night, and the bullet plugged him fair between the eyes. Over he rolled without a kick. Then I heard a shriek or laughter, and saw half a dozen girls scuttling away among the coco-palms. A horrible suspicion nearly made me faint. Jumping over the wall I examined the defunct, and could scarce forbear to shed a tear.

'Twas mine own prized black Australian boar, daubed over with splashes of coral lime whitewash. And the whitewash came from a tub full of it, with which the natives had that morning been whitening the walls of the newly-built village church. The one-eyed old scoundrel of a deacon told me next day it was a judgment on me.