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The Plough Boy Journals

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

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Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XXVIII, No. 6, (Dec 1868)
pp. 535-542

Ballou's Monthly Magazine. 535



      The tropical moon shone brightly down upon the gallant barque Michigan, with topsails on the cap, the head yards braced in aback, and the canvas hanging in festoons from the yards. The maindeck was lumbered with cutting gear and casks, and the falls led to the windlass in readiness for "hooking on " at daylight. Three small whales had been the reward of our day's toil; and the swash of the sea over their sleek and buoyant forms came cheerfully to our ears as we leaned over the rail, Charley Potter and myself, each with a long spade in readiness, waiting for a chance to decapitate a few of the numerous gray sharks which had assembled to prey upon the fresh blubber; their dorsal fins at times elevated above the surface like lateen sails, as they darted to and fro, then plunging deep downward, while their course could still be traced by a line of phosphorescent light, and anon launching their clumsy, shovel-like heads upward on the smooth blackskin of the whales, to meet the keen spade descending upon their necks. A few thrashing blows on the water, a convulsive wriggle, and one place is vacant, though soon to be filled by another.

      "A cold-blooded stoic is the gray shark," said Charley. "Nothing short of unjointing his neck seems to startle him out of his propriety. Why, there goes one now that I cut at when I first came on deck, and nearly disembowelled him without even quickening his pace. You can see part of his entrails towing astern of him now, yet he comes back to his oily feast with seemingly as much gusto as before, though I don't see how it's possible for 'good digestion to wait on appetite' in his case."

      "No, nor I either," I answered. "There's another here – I saw him but a minute ago – with his tail entirely off, yet he seems to manage very well without it, and wiggles the stump without appearing to be sensible of his loss. But hark! what is that noise I hear?"

      "I didn't hear anything," said my shipmate, after we both had listened intently for a minute. "What was it like?"

      "Like the dip of a paddle, I thought," said I, "but perhaps it was a skipjack breaching out. There! did you not hear it then? here off the weather-quarter – the same dipping noise, and then a sound like a human voice speaking a single word."

      "Yes; I heard the sound in the water," Charley answered; "but I think the other was the clank of the fluke-chains on the bitts forward, there."

      By this time two more of my watchmates stood by us, also looking and listening. The light air aloft played with the sleepy canvas, with a soft, rustling sound, while the ceaseless roll of the water on the whales' backs continued as before.

      "Did you hear any other sound, Wing?" I asked of a New Bedford lad, the after-oarsman of my boat.

      "Nothing," he replied, "but I can see something. Look where my hand points; right up here in the 'moon glade,' and you will see it now and then wink, winking. It may be the wing of a bird, or I suppose the wet blade of an oar or paddle, if in motion, might look so, but if it were a boat, we should hear it plainly, and if – "

      "Kiabooky!" said a low, guttural human voice, coming up from the water, directly under the moon.

      "We understand that, at all events," said Charley Potter. "That means 'ship,' and the next hail will be 'tabacky!' I suppose. But what the deuce are any human beings doing out here? We can't be very near land, I think, are we, Taber?"

      "No, not that we know of, though it's difficult to say, among these groups, where the islands are low, and their positions are not very well determined. It stands us in hand to keep a good lookout at all times. But look here, where I point, and you can see the canoe drawing out of the glare of the moon."

      Another minute, and the source whence the sounds, both the paddle-dip and the voice, had issued, stood fully revealed, as a small canoe emerged from the belt of dazzling light, and lay fairly exposed to view. She was impelled by one paddle only, and that was dipped but feebly, and at lazy intervals, while a second human figure, stooping and rising with a measured movement, accompanied by a slight noise of water being poured from a baler, showed the craft to possess the usual

536 Wee-tahwa – his Mark.

"pump-or-sink" qualities of the patch-work canoes commonly in use among the islands of the Central Archipelago.

      I called the captain, reporting a canoe in sight, and he reached the deck almost as soon as I did. The strangers were nearing us now with two paddles in operation, though they did not appear to be plied with any vigor.

      "Te-wi, te-wi," said the same low voice which had spoken before, seeming to articulate with some difficulty.

      "Water," said the 'old man,' for he could translate so much of their barbarous dialect. "These are some poor wretches who have got astray, and wandered out of sight of land. They are cruising under a roving commission, with old Luck-and-chance at the helm. Is 'Othello' in your watch, Taber?"

      "No sir," I answered, "but he is in the next watch, that turns out in about ten minutes." '

      "Well, call him now, then."

      "Othello" was a native of one of the islands of this range, who had been with us several months in the Michigan, and could mutilate the king's English, or rather the people's Yankee, at a prodigious rate. An intelligent savage was Othello, however, and though he might truly have echoed the words of his Moorish namesake, "Rude am I in my speech," he was just at this time the most important personage on board, inasmuch as he alone could translate the uncouth grunts of our nocturnal visitors into some intermediate Polynesian jargon, from which we could sift out some intelligible ideas.

      "Ah!" said Othello, as he pushed his head above the scuttle, and looked at the figures in the canoe. "One Kanaka, one wah-heeny."

      He was right; the second person in the canoe was a female. We could all see it, now that he had told us.

      "Ask them where they come from, Othello," the captain said, impatiently.

      They were from Perotu-ah, an island a hundred and fifty miles to the windward of the ship's position by observation. Twelve days had they been at sea, and had suffered much for want of water. All this we learned while we were helping them up the side. There had been four in the canoe at starting; two of them, both women, had sunk under their sufferings, and their remains had been given to the sharks, for these people are no cannibals, and the survivors were not yet reduced to extremities for food. Water was the one thing needed. Before coming up the side, they greedily swallowed the remnant of the precious liquid left in a cocoanut-shell, which they had doubtless economized, drop by drop, until certain that relief was at hand.

      To our astonishment, both of our guests. with the exception of a few grizzled locks, round the temples, were as bald as Chinamen. They must have been octogenarians, to say the least; indeed, in their present emaciated condition, either of them might have sworn to a full century, without fear of contradiction. The man, in particular, exhibited marks of fossilization such as are rarely to be seen in a living being. His tattooed skin dropped in folds below his toothless jaws, and hung loosely about his fleshless bones, while the joints of his spine stood boldly forth, like saw-teeth, adding materially to the general repulsiveness of his appearance. The venerable dame, his wife, for we learned through Othello, that they stood in the conjugal relation to each other, was in rather better physical condition than her lord, though old age and recent suffering had both done much to add to the angularity of features which could never have been handsome, and to obliterate all the lines of a figure never symmetrical in its best days.

      "How came these old people in the canoe?" demanded the captain, putting the question to Othello, of course.

      "Kanaka put him in canoe," the Moor answered, coolly.

      "Chief speak – old man, old wah-heeny – go – Too many man Perotu-ah – no got tiky-nut, no got taro."

      Here was the whole solution of the problem in a nutshell. Here was the practical illustration of the simple beauty and efficacy of the system pursued by the political economists of Perotu-ah and other islands of the Scarborough range, whenever the people outnumber the rations, which is often the case. What a lesson for our own statesmen, should such a contingency arise in our spacious and productive country, which is hardly possible, until in the progress of "manifest destiny," it shall swarm with its hundreds of millions! What a ready solution of the knotty problems which even now are puzzling the wiseacres in social science in the more thickly-peopled and smaller states of Europe! What shall be done with our surplus population? Take our great-grandparents, of course, who have outlived their days of usefulness, put them into the old boats and vessels which are least seaworthy, and set them adrift without chart or

Wee-tahwa – his Mark. 537

compass. The ocean is broad, there is plenty of room for all; in the ordinary course of nature they have but a short time to live; they are eating of our scanty stock of provisions, long after having outlived their ability to "earn their salt;" and the feelings of individuals must yield to the necessities of the crisis, and give way to the greatest good of the greatest number. Thus argue the chiefs and sages of Perotu-ah in council assembled, to deliberate upon national affairs, and devise means to ward off the horrors of famine from their beloved country.

      Grave questions of this nature seemed to have been suggested to the minds of all of us on board the Michigan, for no further questions were asked, and little more was said by any one, for the time being. The old canoe being, like a spare mainmast, only useless lumber to us, was again set adrift, after taking out all the valuables belonging to the aged couple, which comprised a few empty cocoanut-shells that had held their stock of water when embarking on their aimless, compulsory voyage, one shell half full of cocoanut oil, and a sort of sword made of hard wood, with rows of shark's teeth inserted in grooves along the edges, each tooth having a hole drilled through it, and being held in its place by a small "seizing." Our ancient friend had probably wielded this identical weapon in the days of his prime, and valued it as highly as ever did knight of old the finest blade of Damascus or Toledo. '

      The new-comers were provided with comfortable lodging between decks, and allowed to drink but sparingly of water at first. They were on deck, however, as soon as all hands were called in the morning, and seemed to enjoy being in the open air. Old Methusaleh, as he was already christened, was much interested in the operation of cutting in the whales, and was constantly getting under foot and being pushed out of the way, and at times evinced his satisfaction at the progress of our work by expressive grunts and pantomimic gestures. No so with his faithful bosom-partner, who seemed overwhelmed by some great sorrow, which absorbed all her thoughts, and sat brooding over her grief, taking no apparent interest in what was going on around her.

      "Old Aunty seems down at the mouth this morning," remarked Charley Potter. "Hasn't got her stomach regulated yet, after being on short allowance so long. What a precious pair of old mummies they are, eh, Taber? I don't suppose they would weather it to double Cape Horn; if they would, it might be a paying operation to carry them to the States. They'd be a very windfall to Barnum or some other enterprising showman. Joice Heth would be nowhere. Just think of it in the bills!

      "'Fossil-otonga, the animated skeleton from the Cannibal Islands, will hold levees daily, attended by his venerable and highly respectable dame, Aunty-Diluvianna!'"

      "Do you see that scar on the back of the old lady's neck?" said I.

      "Why, that's just the kind of lick we were trying to get at the gray sharks," said Charley, looking at the dark and jagged cicatrice to which I had called his attention.

      "This was done with one of their shark's teeth swords or saws, perhaps the same one that old Methusaleh is lugging round now in his hand. It must have been an ugly cut, too. I don't know how it could have been made without touching the cervical vertebrae. How did you get that cut, old lady?" he continued. "Of course she understands what I say, and will give me the details of the affair."

      "Wee-tahwa," said Othello, gravely, pointing with his finger towards the scar, and then to the sea. "Mark – Wee-tahwa."

      "Who's he?" I demanded. "The old gentleman there?"

      Othello gave a negative shake of the head, again pointing with a subdued and reverential air to the ocean. He repeated the word "Wee-tahwa," solemnly as before, and seemed inclined to drop the subject.

      "Ask the wah-heeny how she got that ugly cut," said Charley.

      But the decided expression of the Moor's face warned us that we were touching on forbidden ground. He gave us plainly to understand that she would not be disposed to gratify our curiosity, even if he dared to ask questions. On any other subject he was ready to act as interpreter, but this mystery we must not seek to explore.

      "Probably done in a domestic brawl," said Charley, in an unsatisfied way; "and of course Othello feels a delicacy about prying into particulars. But that doesn't account for his strange manner, and for the feeling of awe that he appears to have in connection with it. His pointing to the sea, too. Perhaps Wee-tahwa is the name of her previous husband, who was drowned, as he, of course, deserved to be after mangling his wife's neck in that style."

538 Wee-tahwa – his Mark.

      We had finished cutting the whales, and made all sail again, cruising in search of more. I noticed the captain, while walking the deck, seemed to be in a brown study, now and then regarding his new passengers with a puzzled look. I judged rightly that he must be considering what was to be done with them, or where they should be landed; in short, how he was ever to get rid of them.

      "Mr. Tripp," said he, stopping near the mainmast, and suddenly addressing his first officer, with a quizzical expression on his features; "of course you have heard the yarn of the man who invested in a lottery and drew an elephant?"

      "Yes sir," answered the mate. "Why, what of him?"

      "Well, I can appreciate his feelings now, if I never did before, for I am placed, as Job Truck would say, in the same category. I've got an elephant on my hands – two of 'em, in fact – male and female."

      Mr. Tripp's honest face expanded into a hearty roar of laughter, as the situation was thus presented in its ludicrous light.

      "If I had 'em at home in a menagerie, they'd be worth more than an elephant, and would pay better," pursued the captain. "But here they haven't even the charm of novelty, and are only lumber in the way. They can be of no use to us, and must he landed somewhere. But the question is whether any of the natives in this group will receive them kindly, or kill them because they are not worth their keeping. If they were younger people, they would be all right enough landed anywhere here. Of course it's useless to take them back to Perotu-ah, and it would be downright cruelty to carry them into any civilized port, if they would stand it through cold latitudes, which, of course, is not to be expected at their age. Here, Othello! come here and tell these old folks, Mr. and Mrs. Methusaleh, that I will land them down here at Akoo-rea in the course of two or three weeks."

      "Akoo-rea man kill," said the savage shipmate, quietly. "Old man – old wah-heeny no good. Akoo-rea no got too much grub."

      "I understand their crime," the captain answered; "they have lived too long. Didn't see the propriety of slipping their wind when they ought to. But that's the best I can do for them; so you must tell them. Perhaps they will give them another old canoe, fill up their water-casks, and start them off with a fresh departure."

      The old couple received the announcement from Othello very coolly, manifesting no particular concern about their fate. It was observable, however, that the three held long and serious conferences together during the day. Of course the subject of discourse was, as yet, a mystery to us. But I learned that Othello had again questioned the captain as to how soon he expected to land them, and learning that it would probably be full three weeks, the old people, as well as the interpreter himself, had appeared well satisfied with the arrangement.

      Charley Potter and I took advantage of the first good opportunity to investigate the matter of the scar on the woman's neck. By dint of questions and patience, we learned from Othello, that Wee-tahwa is a sort of sea-divinity, in whom a firm belief is reposed by all the inhabitants of this archipelago. This ocean-spirit, according to their creed, is migratory in his habits, and is understood to be always visiting at some one of the numerous islands; dwelling for a longer or shorter period, and passing on to another, as may suit his august will. He takes various forms of embodiment, appearing sometimes as a young man, rarely as a child in years, but in most cases as a patriarch of advanced age. He sometimes arrives alone, but oftener accompanied by his wife, Sah-na-too, who corresponds in age to Wee-tahwa, whether he may see fit to make his advent as an old man or a boy. He appears suddenly from the sea, without canoe or boat of any sort, and, as he is believed to be the incarnation of all that is good and noble from the spirit-world, is welcomed with general rejoicing and ovations, while feasting and gayety hold high carnival during his temporary sojourn in any island which he may be pleased to honor with his presence. But be they old or young, Wee-tahwa and Sah-na-too always bear with them deep scars on the back part of the neck, without which they would be no deities. Indeed, so much importance and sanctity are attached to the mark itself, that any mortal, who chances to be scarred in this part of the body from accidental causes, is ever after held in high esteem and veneration, as an especial favorite and disciple of the sea-deity, or of his spirit-bride, Sah-no-too. Nay, even an animal or a fish, having been cut in the back of the neck, is, to a certain degree, sacred. It cannot be eaten by mortals, but is only fit to be reserved for an offering to Wee-tahwa. This explained to us why Othello, though seeming-

Wee-tahwa – his Mark. 539

ly (in common with all seamen, civilized or otherwise) regarding sharks as natural enemies, could never be prevailed upon to cut one in the neck; but on seeing one of us strike him in this vulnerable part, would invariably shake his head solemnly, muttering his one word, "Wee-tahwa."

      The old lady now on board, he said, had this mark finely developed, though neither she nor her husband was disposed to tell how, when or where she received it, and our shipmate dared not push his inquiries. What puzzled Othello most, was how the chiefs of Perotu-ah could dare to set this woman adrift, knowing her to be so especially favored of Sah-na-too. They must, indeed, have been sorely pressed by famine, when even their religious fears gave way to considerations of national policy. Or it might be, that they had faith that she would surely be preserved in some marvellous manner to reach land, and knew that she would be well received wherever she might go among the truly orthodox.

      We thought that perhaps the old woman sorrowed at the knowledge that she had now fallen among heretics, who did not appreciate the ugly scar by which she was disfigured; but Othello assured us that the explanation of her melancholy was to be found in the strength of her maternal love. She had a son at Perotu-ah, a man of middle age, still a powerful warrior, though not a chief of rank. This son, Ra-koo-too, had exerted his influence to the utmost to save his parents from banishment "on the big water," but without avail. He then desired to accompany them, but this, of course, could not be permitted, and he was torn, by force, from their embraces. The mother now sorrowed for her son, refusing to be comforted.

      The subject of the momentous conferences was explained next morning, when old Methusaleh was found lying on his face, in the quarters which had been assigned to them between decks, and his faithful spouse kneeling by his side, stanching the blood from a severe wound in the back of his neck, inflicted by her own loving hand, with the serrated weapon before spoken of. Of course, Charley and I understood their object now. There was time for the cut to heal before the ship would arrive at Akoo-rea, and they intended to personate Wee-tahwa and his bride, and thus not only preserve their lives, but ensure for themselves high honors and attentions. The captain, on learning the explanation we had gathered from "the Moor," expressed himself well satisfied, and hoped their jugglery would succeed.

      "If I can only be well rid of them," said he, "without any immediate harm coming to them, I shall be glad of anything they can do to benefit themselves. But I have felt uneasy about delivering them up to almost certain death. I'll help them any way that I can to carry out this scheme. It mustn't be known to the Akoo-reans that they came in a ship, of course, but I'll manage all that. And I wont make land until his neck is healed over, if it takes six weeks instead of three."

      The old nurse resolutely declined any applications from the ship's medicine-chest, persisting in her own simple mode of treatment with cocoanut-oil. It was surprising how rapidly the cure was performed. The patriarch uttered no sound of complaint from first to last, and could hardly have borne his pain with more stoicism, had he been old Zeno himself, the founder and first grand master of the order.

      "Aunty, you marked him well, didn't you?" said the irrepressible Potter, examining the wound one day, when she was dressing it. "I beg your pardon, by the way, for thus addressing the sea-goddess Sah-na-too. If you had sawed a little deeper, he'd have been unjointed, a la gray shark. I say, Taber, our Othello must have been a party to this "pious fraud," as one might call it – an accessory before the fact, eh? Well, it's a bright idea for an unsophisticated savage, and after all the martyrdom the old gentleman has suffered, it ought to succeed. Vive la Humbug! I say, in this case." '

      Methusaleh's wound was thoroughly cicatrized before we made the island of Akoo-rea one fine afternoon, and as soon as the tops of the trees could be seen from the masthead, we hauled in our wind, making short boards until nightfall. Having set the bearings of the land, we then bore up and ran down under all sail, having visited the island several times before, and knowing that no dangers lay in the way of its approach from this quarter. There was a fine working breeze for our purpose, and no moon; so that we could stand well in-shore in the darkness, without danger of the ship's being seen. As we rapidly drew by the end of the island, passing within a mile of it, numerous lights appeared in view, extending along the outer line of the reef of coral which pushes a considerable distance to seaward from the lee side of this isl-

540 Wee-tahwa – his Mark.

and, as indeed, nearly every one in this range. We knew from this that the whole fleet of canoes were out torching for flying fish. The torchlights presented the most beautiful sight imaginable, flashing up at regular intervals along the coral barrier, like gaslights in the streets of a city, and as we rounded to within half a mile under their lee, we could at times distinguish human figures in the canoes by the glare of the torches, which at the same time served effectually to screen our movements by illuminating the sea near the canoes, and throwing everything at a distance into gloom. We were careful to have no light in sight above deck, and the monotonous roar of the breakers over the reef completely drowned any noise that we had occasion to make. Our sea-deity and his faithful companion were ready to perform their parts, and no circumstances could have been more favorable for doing it successfully. Taking an affectionate leave of us all, they dropped quiet!y overboard, and struck out bravely towards the lights. They had been well fed and treated while on board the Michigan, and their strength was very much recruited. A swim of half a mile was mere sport to this aged couple, for the shark himself is hardly more at home in the sea than are these islanders, even from their infancy.

      It might have been twenty minutes that we waited before a shout was raised, apparently from about the centre of the line. The cry was soon taken up by other voices, and rapidly spread and increased in volume till it could be heard from the extreme flanks at both extremities of the coral reef, swelling into a roar of joy and triumph; torches were waved high in the air; and the distant lights drew nearer, as the fleet swiftly concentrated, rallying on the central canoe, which had first welcomed the supposed spiritual guests. The numerous lights united, as it might be, in one, now illuminated a small space brightly, giving us a better view than before. A short pause in the noise ensued, while the canoes took up new stations, forming a sort of phalanx in close order, still waving their torches on high; then striking up a measured chant, in most admirable concert, rising high above the rolling din of the breakers among the coral, and in which the names of Wee-tahwa and Sah-na-too could be clearly distinguished, they struck out, every paddle, for the shore. We saw them land, and watched the torchlight procession winding up the beach, the song of welcome still reaching our ears, though now more than a mile distant; then filled our maintopsail, and soon left the island far astern.

      A week after this we were lying off and on near Perotu-ah, but no canoes came crowding about us, as had been the case at our former visits. But few people could be seen on the beach, and sounds, as of the wailing of mourners for the dead, were home to our ears from every hut, and from every great council-house, telling us of some overwhelming public calamity. We were on the point of sending in a boat for information, when the order was given to keep all fast, as a canoe was coming off. She was one of the smallest size, and propelled by a single man, who immediately made himself known, through the medium of Othello, as Ra-koo-too, the son of the old couple who had so lately been our passengers. He was a fine-looking, powerful man of forty or more years, though seemingly bowed down by grief, and broken in spirit, at which no one wondered, when he recounted his late bereavements.

      It appeared from his story, that a few days after his parents were pushed adrift on the ocean, a new and strange disease had made its appearance among his people. It began with a cutaneous eruption, appearing in its first stages like the leprosy, or kinch, as it is called, so common in many parts of Polynesia; but after the eruption, a high fever set in, which in most cases proved fatal, and was claiming its victims at a rate that threatened, in a few moons, to depopulate the island. Ra-koo-too had lost his wife and one of his children by the pestilence. Backed up now by many other prominent men, he had urged in the assembled council, that the sickness was a visitation upon them for having sent so many old people to die a lingering death in canoes, and especially for having defied their sea-deity by making no exception in favor of his mother, so conspicuously sealed with the hitherto sacred mark of Wee-tahwa. They were well disposed now to listen to this view of the matter, for a great revolution of feeling was in progress, and several of the chiefs most prominent in the act of banishment had been swept off by the pestilence. For more than a moon it had now raged, and showed, as yet, no signs of abatement; utter extermination awaited his people, unless some means could be found to avert the curse. It had become the general belief that the disease was really a manifestation of the wrath of the sea-deities, and no way of ap-

Wee-tahwa – his Mark. 541

peasing it could be devised unless the mother of Ra-koo-too could be found and restored to them. His joy at learning from Othello that his parents were safe was raised to a pitch of delirium when the captain offered him a passage in the ship down to Akoo-rea, promising to bring his parents back to Perotu-ah, if it were possible to get them on board.

      He left us to carry the tidings to his people, and to bring off his only remaining child. He had hardly arrived within hail of the shore, before his signals were understood. The dismal sounds of lamentation were changed to shouts of hope and joy, and the population, with the exception of those prostrated by the fever at the moment, crowded down to the beach to gaze upon the ship which had brought the glad tidings.

      "The disease will abate at this moment," I heard the old man say to Mr. Tripp. "What they want is something to rouse them, and kindle the fire of hope in their hearts. I have no doubt that superstitious fear has killed three-fourths of those who have died. We all know how much the state of mind has to do with epidemics of this sort, especially among an ignorant people like this. It is for this reason that I am anxious to bring back the old couple, that the sick may look at the scars on their necks and be cured."

      "It is only the woman that they care to have brought back," said the mate.

      "But you forget that old Methusaleh has the mark now," returned the captain; "and a little more jugglery may be turned to good advantage, for it would be easy to persuade his people that he has been sealed by the sea-god himself while he was drifting on the big water. I don't believe the disease in itself is anything dangerous, and probably there is nothing infectious about it, except the superstitious fright. Fear is always contagious, we know; and so are hope and joy; that's why I say the pestilence has even now begun to abate. But here comes our friend again with his little daughter."

      Within half an hour, the Michigan, with studding-sails packed upon her, was sliding off before a fresh trade-wind, and two days afterwards the broken horizon-line made by the tree-tops of Akoo-rea, as seen from the deck, gladdened the hearts of Ra-koo-too and his child. As we neared the land, the fleet of canoes could be seen, drawn up in line inside the barrier, and waiting a signal to advance in regular order. The largest canoe was stationed in the centre, and we could make out two figures, elevated considerably above the water, while others were sitting or reclining round them.

      This flag-ship, as she might be called, led the way out through the channel, closely followed by all the rest, which formed in squadrons on either side, and when all had taken their stations, the whole fleet approached the ship with a measured dip of hundreds of light paddles, which flashed brightly in the sun at each stroke, while the same chant or hymn which we had heard on the night of the torchlight procession, now rang out upon the clear morning air. The great canoe, we could now perceive was composed of two, connected abreast by transverse beams, on which was raised a platform, where the deity Wee-tahwa and Sah-na-too, his bride, personated by the aged parents of Ra-koo-too, sat in state, clothed in matting of gorgeous colors, and their venerable heads encircled by wreaths of bright orange-colored buds of a species of palm known here as tookee-took. A dozen or more young girls were sitting or reclining round them on the dais, attending to their slightest wants, while twenty stalwart young men manned their paddles. The poor old dame was still absorbed in sorrow for her son, and seemed scarcely alive, as she was helped up the side.

      Meanwhile, the impatient Ra-koo-too and his little one were kept in the cabin. It was feared that he and his aged mother would be unable to control their feelings if they met in the presence of the deceived Akoo-reans, and their lives would be in danger as soon as the fraud was discovered. The fact of her having a son without the mark of the cicatrice would be enough to reveal the imposture, as he could not be the offspring of the true Sah-na-too. But Othello found an opportunity to whisper a word into the ears of the old people, and soon afterward they both slipped into the cabin. The doors were at once closed against all intruders, to the terror and astonishment of the few attendants who had accompanied them on deck.

      At the same moment the maintopsail was filled, tacks boarded, and the great body of the canoes left astern, Paddling hopelessly in the ship's wake. A musket was fired in the air over the heads of the terrified few, who still remained on board. In one minute the deck was cleared, and the large, double canoe swung clear of our stern. Wild yells rent the air at the sacrilegious act of which we had been guilty in abducting the ocean-

542 My Sail.

spirits, but no one was harmed, and the imposture had not even been discovered.

      Ra-koo-too was found sitting on the transom, with the lifeless body of his mother in his arms, one of her cold hands still closed upon that of the grandchild, while the patriarch, with his stony gaze riveted upon the group, sat on the cabin floor at his feet. The revulsion of feeling at finding herself in the arms of her son, had proved too much for the mother, and the slender thread of life had snapped with the shock. Sah-na-too had claimed her own; but the mark and seal had been transmitted to the survivor.

      Prayers, blessings and substantial tokens of gratitude awaited us at Perotu-ah. The hand of the pestilence had already been stayed, and the return of Ra-koo-too with the remains of his mother, restored the afflicted to health, and shed joy and triumph where late gloom and despondency had reigned. It was religiously believed the mark of Wee-tahwa would be perpetuated in the family, having been set there by the sea-god himself, and that, in due time, it would descend to Ra-koo-too and his child.

      "More humbug," said Charley Potter, in the first watch that night, as we were taking our last looks at the island fading into the dim distance. This world is all a humbug, and all the people like to be humbugged. But the object was a good one in this case, and I suppose the end justifies the means. Still I must say I feel guilty, as particeps criminis."

      "We should feel proud instead of guilty," I returned, "for we have brought health and happiness to a whole nation of people, and we could hardly wish the supposed Sah-na-too a better fate than to have died of joy in the arms of her son."

      "That's true," muttered Charley. "And I suppose these pagans will pay divine honors to the old lady's memory. Well, the back o' the neck is the vulnerable part with 'em, as it is with the gray shark. I shall never get a good lick at one again without thinking of this Polynesian Neptune, Wee-tahwa."


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Wee-tahwa – His Mark.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol 28, No. 6 (Dec. 1868)
Pages: 535-542
Wee-tahwa – His Mark. W. H. Macy. Ballou's Monthly Magazine Volume XXVIII, No. 6, Dec. 1868 pp. 535-542