South Sea Tales HTML version

The Whale Tooth
It was in the early days in Fiji, when John Starhurst arose in the mission house at Rewa
Village and announced his intention of carrying the gospel throughout all Viti Levu. Now
Viti Levu means the "Great Land," it being the largest island in a group composed of
many large islands, to say nothing of hundreds of small ones. Here and there on the
coasts, living by most precarious tenure, was a sprinkling of missionaries, traders, bˆche-
de-mer fishers, and whaleship deserters. The smoke of the hot ovens arose under their
windows, and the bodies of the slain were dragged by their doors on the way to the
The Lotu, or the Worship, was progressing slowly, and, often, in crablike fashion. Chiefs,
who announced themselves Christians and were welcomed into the body of the chapel,
had a distressing habit of backsliding in order to partake of the flesh of some favorite
enemy. Eat or be eaten had been the law of the land; and eat or be eaten promised to
remain the law of the land for a long time to come. There were chiefs, such as Tanoa,
Tuiveikoso, and Tuikilakila, who had literally eaten hundreds of their fellow men. But
among these gluttons Ra Undreundre ranked highest. Ra Undreundre lived at Takiraki.
He kept a register of his gustatory exploits. A row of stones outside his house marked the
bodies he had eaten. This row was two hundred and thirty paces long, and the stones in it
numbered eight hundred and seventy-two. Each stone represented a body. The row of
stones might have been longer, had not Ra Undreundre unfortunately received a spear in
the small of his back in a bush skirmish on Somo Somo and been served up on the table
of Naungavuli, whose mediocre string of stones numbered only forty-eight.
The hard-worked, fever-stricken missionaries stuck doggedly to their task, at times
despairing, and looking forward for some special manifestation, some outburst of
Pentecostal fire that would bring a glorious harvest of souls. But cannibal Fiji had
remained obdurate. The frizzle-headed man-eaters were loath to leave their fleshpots so
long as the harvest of human carcases was plentiful. Sometimes, when the harvest was
too plentiful, they imposed on the missionaries by letting the word slip out that on such a
day there would be a killing and a barbecue. Promptly the missionaries would buy the
lives of the victims with stick tobacco, fathoms of calico, and quarts of trade beads.
Natheless the chiefs drove a handsome trade in thus disposing of their surplus live meat.
Also, they could always go out and catch more.
It was at this juncture that John Starhurst proclaimed that he would carry the Gospel from
coast to coast of the Great Land, and that he would begin by penetrating the mountain
fastnesses of the headwaters of the Rewa River. His words were received with
The native teachers wept softly. His two fellow missionaries strove to dissuade him. The
King of Rewa warned him that the mountain dwellers would surely kai-kai him--kai-kai
meaning "to eat"--and that he, the King of Rewa, having become Lotu, would be put to