South Sea Tales HTML version
The Terrible Solomons
There is no gainsaying that the Solomons are a hard-bitten bunch of islands. On the other
hand, there are worse places in the world. But to the new chum who has no constitutional
understanding of men and life in the rough, the Solomons may indeed prove terrible.
It is true that fever and dysentery are perpetually on the walk-about, that loathsome skin
diseases abound, that the air is saturated with a poison that bites into every pore, cut, or
abrasion and plants malignant ulcers, and that many strong men who escape dying there
return as wrecks to their own countries. It is also true that the natives of the Solomons are
a wild lot, with a hearty appetite for human flesh and a fad for collecting human heads.
Their highest instinct of sportsmanship is to catch a man with his back turned and to
smite him a cunning blow with a tomahawk that severs the spinal column at the base of
the brain. It is equally true that on some islands, such as Malaita, the profit and loss
account of social intercourse is calculated in homicides. Heads are a medium of
exchange, and white heads are extremely valuable. Very often a dozen villages make a
jack-pot, which they fatten moon by moon, against the time when some brave warrior
presents a white man's head, fresh and gory, and claims the pot.
All the foregoing is quite true, and yet there are white men who have lived in the
Solomons a score of years and who feel homesick when they go away from them. A man
needs only to be careful-- and lucky--to live a long time in the Solomons; but he must
also be of the right sort. He must have the hallmark of the inevitable white man stamped
upon his soul. He must be inevitable. He must have a certain grand carelessness of odds,
a certain colossal self-satisfaction, and a racial egotism that convinces him that one white
is better than a thousand niggers every day in the week, and that on Sunday he is able to
clean out two thousand niggers. For such are the things that have made the white man
inevitable. Oh, and one other thing--the white man who wishes to be inevitable, must not
merely despise the lesser breeds and think a lot of himself; he must also fail to be too
long on imagination. He must not understand too well the instincts, customs, and mental
processes of the blacks, the yellows, and the browns; for it is not in such fashion that the
white race has tramped its royal road around the world.
Bertie Arkwright was not inevitable. He was too sensitive, too finely strung, and he
possessed too much imagination. The world was too much with him. He projected
himself too quiveringly into his environment. Therefore, the last place in the world for
him to come was the Solomons. He did not come, expecting to stay. A five weeks' stop-
over between steamers, he decided, would satisfy the call of the primitive he felt
thrumming the strings of his being. At least, so he told the lady tourists on the
MAKEMBO, though in different terms; and they worshipped him as a hero, for they were
lady tourists and they would know only the safety of the steamer's deck as she threaded
her way through the Solomons.
There was another man on board, of whom the ladies took no notice. He was a little
shriveled wisp of a man, with a withered skin the color of mahogany. His name on the