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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOmoo - PART II - Chapter LXVIII. A DINNER-PARTY IN IMEEO
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Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXVIII. A DINNER-PARTY IN IMEEO Post by :venomous012u Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :1212

Click below to download : Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXVIII. A DINNER-PARTY IN IMEEO (Format : PDF)

Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXVIII. A DINNER-PARTY IN IMEEO

IT WAS just in the middle of the merry, mellow afternoon that they
ushered us to dinner, underneath a green shelter of palm boughs; open
all round, and so low at the eaves that we stooped to enter.

Within, the ground was strewn over with aromatic ferns--called
"nahee"--freshly gathered; which, stirred underfoot, diffused the
sweetest odour. On one side was a row of yellow mats, inwrought with
fibres of bark stained a bright red. Here, seated after the fashion
of the Turk, we looked out, over a verdant bank, upon the mild, blue,
endless Pacific. So far round had we skirted the island that the view
of Tahiti was now intercepted.

Upon the ferns before us were laid several layers of broad, thick
"pooroo" leaves; lapping over, one upon the other. And upon these
were placed, side by side, newly-plucked banana leaves, at least two
yards in length, and very wide; the stalks were withdrawn so as to
make them lie flat. This green cloth was set out and garnished in the
manner following:--

First, a number of "pooroo" leaves, by way of plates, were ranged
along on one side; and by each was a rustic nut-bowl, half-filled
with sea-water, and a Tahitian roll, or small bread-fruit, roasted
brown. An immense flat calabash, placed in the centre, was heaped up
with numberless small packages of moist, steaming leaves: in each was
a small fish, baked in the earth, and done to a turn. This pyramid of
a dish was flanked on either side by an ornamental calabash. One was
brimming with the golden-hued "poee," or pudding, made from the red
plantain of the mountains: the other was stacked up with cakes of the
Indian turnip, previously macerated in a mortar, kneaded with the
milk of the cocoa-nut, and then baked. In the spaces between the
three dishes were piled young cocoa-nuts, stripped of their husks.
Their eyes had been opened and enlarged; so that each was a
ready-charged goblet.

There was a sort of side-cloth in one corner, upon which, in bright,
buff jackets, lay the fattest of bananas; "avees," red-ripe: guavas
with the shadows of their crimson pulp flushing through a transparent
skin, and almost coming and going there like blushes; oranges,
tinged, here and there, berry-brown; and great, jolly melons, which
rolled about in very portliness. Such a heap! All ruddy, ripe, and
round--bursting with the good cheer of the tropical soil from which
they sprang!

"A land of orchards!" cried the doctor, in a rapture; and he snatched
a morsel from a sort of fruit of which gentlemen of the sanguine
temperament are remarkably fond; namely, the ripe cherry lips of Misa
Day-Born, who stood looking on.

Marharvai allotted seats to his guests; and the meal began. Thinking
that his hospitality needed some acknowledgment, I rose, and pledged
him in the vegetable wine of the cocoa-nut; merely repeating the
ordinary salutation, "Yar onor boyoee." Sensible that some
compliment, after the fashion of white men, was paid him, with a
smile, and a courteous flourish of the hand, he bade me be seated. No
people, however refined, are more easy and graceful in their manners
than the Imeeose.

The doctor, sitting next our host, now came under his special
protection. Laying before his guest one of the packages of fish,
Marharvai opened it; and commended its contents to his particular
regards. But my comrade was one of those who, on convivial occasions,
can always take care of themselves. He ate an indefinite number of
"Pee-hee Lee Lees" (small fish), his own and next neighbour's
bread-fruit; and helped himself, to right and left, with all the ease
of an accomplished diner-out.

"Paul," said he, at last, "you don't seem to be getting along; why
don't you try the pepper sauce?" and, by way of example, he steeped a
morsel of food into his nutful of sea-water. On following suit, I
found it quite piquant, though rather bitter; but, on the whole, a
capital substitute for salt. The Imeeose invariably use sea-water in
this way, deeming it quite a treat; and considering that their
country is surrounded by an ocean of catsup, the luxury cannot be
deemed an expensive one.

The fish were delicious; the manner of cooking them in the ground
preserving all the juices, and rendering them exceedingly sweet and
tender. The plantain pudding was almost cloying; the cakes of Indian
turnip, quite palatable; and the roasted bread-fruit, crisp as toast.

During the meal, a native lad walked round and round the party,
carrying a long staff of bamboo. This he occasionally tapped upon the
cloth, before each guest; when a white clotted substance dropped
forth, with a savour not unlike that of a curd. This proved to be
"Lownee," an excellent relish, prepared from the grated meat of ripe
cocoa-nuts, moistened with cocoa-nut milk and salt water, and kept
perfectly tight until a little past the saccharine stage of
fermentation.

Throughout the repast there was much lively chatting among the
islanders, in which their conversational powers quite exceeded ours.
The young ladies, too, showed themselves very expert in the use of
their tongues, and contributed much to the gaiety which prevailed.

Nor did these lively nymphs suffer the meal to languish; for upon the
doctor's throwing himself back, with an air of much satisfaction,
they sprang to their feet, and pelted him with oranges and guavas.
This, at last, put an end to the entertainment.

By a hundred whimsical oddities, my long friend became a great
favourite with these people; and they bestowed upon him a long,
comical title, expressive of his lank figure and Koora combined. The
latter, by the bye, never failed to excite the remark of everybody we
encountered.

The giving of nicknames is quite a passion with the people of Tahiti
and Imeeo. No one with any peculiarity, whether of person or temper,
is exempt; not even strangers.

A pompous captain of a man-of-war, visiting Tahiti for the second
time, discovered that, among the natives, he went by the dignified
title of "Atee Poee"--literally, Poee Head, or Pudding Head. Nor is
the highest rank among themselves any protection. The first husband
of the present queen was commonly known in the court circles as "Pot
Belly." He carried the greater part of his person before him, to be
sure; and so did the gentlemanly George IV.--but what a title for a
king consort!

Even "Pomaree" itself, the royal patronymic, was, originally, a mere
nickname; and literally signifies, one talking through his nose. The
first monarch of that name, being on a war party, and sleeping
overnight among the mountains, awoke one morning with a cold in his
head; and some wag of a courtier had no more manners than to
vulgarize him thus.

How different from the volatile Polynesian in this, as in all other
respects, is our grave and decorous North American Indian. While the
former bestows a name in accordance with some humorous or ignoble
trait, the latter seizes upon what is deemed the most exalted or
warlike: and hence, among the red tribes, we have the truly patrician
appellations of "White Eagles," "Young Oaks," "Fiery Eyes," and
"Bended Bows."

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IT was on the fourth day of the first month of the Hegira, or flightfrom Tamai (we now reckoned our time thus), that, rising bright andearly, we were up and away out of the valley of Hartair before thefishermen even were stirring.It was the earliest dawn. The morning only showed itself along thelower edge of a bank of purple clouds pierced by the misty peaks ofTahiti. The tropical day seemed too languid to rise. Sometimes,starting fitfully, it decked the clouds with faint edgings of pinkand gray, which, fading away, left all dim again. Anon, it threw outthin, pale rays, growing lighter
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