South Sea Tales HTML version

He weighed one hundred and ten pounds. His hair was kinky and negroid, and he was
black. He was peculiarly black. He was neither blue-black nor purple-black, but plum-
black. His name was Mauki, and he was the son of a chief. He had three tambos. Tambo
is Melanesian for taboo, and is first cousin to that Polynesian word. Mauki's three tambos
were as follows: First, he must never shake hands with a woman, nor have a woman's
hand touch him or any of his personal belongings; secondly, he must never eat clams nor
any food from a fire in which clams had been cooked; thirdly, he must never touch a
crocodile, nor travel in a canoe that carried any part of a crocodile even if as large as a
Of a different black were his teeeth, which were deep black, or, perhaps better, LAMP-
black. They had been made so in a single night, by his mother, who had compressed
about them a powdered mineral which was dug from the landslide back of Port Adams.
Port Adams is a salt-water village on Malaita, and Malaita is the most savage island in
the Solomons--so savage that no traders or planters have yet gained a foothold on it;
while, from the time of the earliest bˆche-de-mer fishers and sandalwood traders down to
the latest labor recruiters equipped with automatic rifles and gasolene engines, scores of
white adventurers have been passed out by tomahawks and soft-nosed Snider bullets. So
Malaita remains today, in the twentieth century, the stamping ground of the labor
recruiters, who farm its coasts for laborers who engage and contract themselves to toil on
the plantations of the neighboring and more civilized islands for a wage of thirty dollars a
year. The natives of those neighboring and more civilized islands have themselves
become too civilized to work on plantations.
Mauki's ears were pierced, not in one place, nor two places, but in a couple of dozen
places. In one of the smaller holes he carried a clay pipe. The larger holes were too large
for such use. The bowl of the pipe would have fallen through. In fact, in the largest hole
in each ear he habitually wore round wooden plugs that were an even four inches in
diameter. Roughly speaking, the circumference of said holes was twelve and one-half
inches. Mauki was catholic in his tastes. In the various smaller holes he carried such
things as empty rifle cartridges, horseshoe nails, copper screws, pieces of string, braids of
sennit, strips of green leaf, and, in the cool of the day, scarlet hibiscus flowers. From
which it will be seen that pockets were not necessary to his well-being. Besides, pockets
were impossible, for his only wearing apparel consisted of a piece of calico several
inches wide. A pocket knife he wore in his hair, the blade snapped down on a kinky lock.
His most prized possession was the handle of a china cup, which he suspended from a
ring of turtle-shell, which, in turn, was passed through the partition-cartilage of his nose.
But in spite of embellishments, Mauki had a nice face. It was really a pretty face, viewed
by any standard, and for a Melanesian it was a remarkably good-looking face. Its one
fault was its lack of strength. It was softly effeminate, almost girlish. The features were
small, regular, and delicate. The chin was weak, and the mouth was weak. There was no
strength nor character in the jaws, forehead, and nose. In the eyes only could be caught