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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOmoo - PART II - Chapter LXXIX. TALOO CHAPEL--HOLDING COURT IN POLYNESIA
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Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXXIX. TALOO CHAPEL--HOLDING COURT IN POLYNESIA Post by :rgibson95 Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :3592

Click below to download : Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXXIX. TALOO CHAPEL--HOLDING COURT IN POLYNESIA (Format : PDF)

Omoo - PART II - Chapter LXXIX. TALOO CHAPEL--HOLDING COURT IN POLYNESIA

IN Partoowye is to be seen one of the best-constructed and handsomest
chapels in the South Seas. Like the buildings of the palace, it
stands upon an artificial pier, presenting a semicircular sweep to
the bay. The chapel is built of hewn blocks of coral; a substance
which, although extremely friable, is said to harden by exposure to
the atmosphere. To a stranger, these blocks look extremely curious.
Their surface is covered with strange fossil-like impressions, the
seal of which must have been set before the flood. Very nearly white
when hewn from the reefs, the coral darkens with age; so that several
churches in Polynesia now look almost as sooty and venerable as famed
St. Paul's.

In shape, the chapel is an octagon, with galleries all round. It will
seat, perhaps, four hundred people. Everything within is stained a
tawny red; and there being but few windows, or rather embrasures, the
dusky benches and galleries, and the tall spectre of a pulpit look
anything but cheerful.

On Sundays we always went to worship here. Going in the family suite
of Po-Po, we, of course, maintained a most decorous exterior; and
hence, by all the elderly people of the village, were doubtless
regarded as pattern young men.

Po-Po's seat was in a snug corner; and it being particularly snug, in
the immediate vicinity of one of the Palm pillars supporting the
gallery, I invariably leaned against it: Po-Po and his lady on one
side, the doctor and the dandy on the other, and the children and
poor relations seated behind.

As for Loo, instead of sitting (as she ought to have done) by her good
father and mother, she must needs run up into the gallery, and sit
with a parcel of giddy creatures of her own age; who, all through the
sermon, did nothing but look down on the congregation; pointing out,
and giggling at the queer-looking old ladies in dowdy bonnets and
scant tunics. But Loo, herself, was never guilty of these
improprieties.

Occasionally during the week they have afternoon service in the
chapel, when the natives themselves have something to say; although
their auditors are but few. An introductory prayer being offered by
the missionary, and a hymn sung, communicants rise in their places,
and exhort in pure Tahitian, and with wonderful tone and gesture.
And among them all, Deacon Po-Po, though he talked most, was the one
whom you would have liked best to hear. Much would I have given to
have understood some of his impassioned bursts; when he tossed his
arms overhead, stamped, scowled, and glared, till he looked like the
very Angel of Vengeance.

"Deluded man!" sighed the doctor, on one of these occasions, "I fear
he takes the fanatical view of the subject." One thing was certain:
when Po-Po spoke, all listened; a great deal more than could be said
for the rest; for under the discipline of two or three I could
mention, some of the audience napped; others fidgeted; a few yawned;
and one irritable old gentleman, in a nightcap of cocoa-nut leaves,
used to clutch his long staff in a state of excessive nervousness,
and stride out of the church, making all the noise he could, to
emphasize his disgust.

Eight adjoining the chapel is an immense, rickety building, with
windows and shutters, and a half-decayed board flooring laid upon
trunks of palm-trees. They called it a school-house; but as such we
never saw it occupied. It was often used as a court-room, however;
and here we attended several trials; among others, that of a decayed
naval officer, and a young girl of fourteen; the latter charged with
having been very naughty on a particular occasion set forth in the
pleadings; and the former with having aided and abetted her in her
naughtiness, and with other misdemeanours.

The foreigner was a tall, military-looking fellow, with a dark cheek
and black whiskers. According to his own account, he had lost a
colonial armed brig on the coast of New Zealand; and since then, had
been leading the life of a man about town among the islands of the
Pacific.

The doctor wanted to know why he did not go home and report the loss
of his brig; but Captain Crash, as they called him, had some
incomprehensible reasons for not doing so, about which he could talk
by the hour, and no one be any the wiser. Probably he was a discreet
man, and thought it best to waive an interview with the lords of the
admiralty.

For some time past, this extremely suspicious character had been
carrying on the illicit trade in French wines and brandies, smuggled
over from the men-of-war lately touching at Tahiti. In a grove near
the anchorage he had a rustic shanty and arbour, where, in quiet
times, when no ships were in Taloo, a stray native once in a while
got boozy, and staggered home, catching at the cocoa-nut trees as he
went. The captain himself lounged under a tree during the warm
afternoons, pipe in mouth; thinking, perhaps, over old times, and
occasionally feeling his shoulders for his lost epaulets.

But, sail ho! a ship is descried coming into the bay. Soon she drops
her anchor in its waters; and the next day Captain Crash entertains
the sailors in his grove. And rare times they have of it:--drinking
and quarrelling together as sociably as you please.

Upon one of these occasions, the crew of the Leviathan made so
prodigious a tumult that the natives, indignant at the insult offered
their laws, plucked up a heart, and made a dash at the rioters, one
hundred strong. The sailors fought like tigers; but were at last
overcome, and carried before a native tribunal; which, after a mighty
clamour, dismissed everybody but Captain Crash, who was asserted to be
the author of the disorders.

Upon this charge, then, he had been placed in confinement against the
coming on of the assizes; the judge being expected to lounge along in
the course of the afternoon. While waiting his Honour's arrival,
numerous additional offences were preferred against the culprit
(mostly by the old women); among others was the bit of a slip in
which he stood implicated along with the young lady. Thus, in
Polynesia as elsewhere;--charge a man with one misdemeanour, and all
his peccadilloes are raked up and assorted before him.

Going to the school-house for the purpose of witnessing the trial, the
din of it assailed our ears a long way off; and upon entering the
building, we were almost stunned. About five hundred natives were
present; each apparently having something to say and determined to
say it. His Honour--a handsome, benevolent-looking old man--sat
cross-legged on a little platform, seemingly resigned, with all
Christian submission, to the uproar. He was an hereditary chief in
this quarter of the island, and judge for life in the district of
Partoowye.

There were several cases coming on; but the captain and girl were
first tried together. They were mixing freely with the crowd; and as
it afterwards turned out that everyone--no matter who--had a right to
address the court, for aught we knew they might have been arguing
their own case. At what precise moment the trial began it would he
hard to say. There was no swearing of witnesses, and no regular jury.
Now and then somebody leaped up and shouted out something which might
have been evidence; the rest, meanwhile, keeping up an incessant
jabbering. Presently the old judge himself began to get excited; and
springing to his feet, ran in among the crowd, wagging his tongue as
hard as anybody.

The tumult lasted about twenty minutes; and toward the end of it,
Captain Crash might have been seen, tranquilly regarding, from his
Honour's platform, the judicial uproar, in which his fate was about
being decided.

The result of all this was that both he and the girl were found
guilty. The latter was adjudged to make six mats for the queen; and
the former, in consideration of his manifold offences, being deemed
incorrigible, was sentenced to eternal banishment from the island.
Both these decrees seemed to originate in the general hubbub. His
Honour, however, appeared to have considerable authority, and it was
quite plain that the decision received his approval.

The above penalties were by no means indiscriminately inflicted. The
missionaries have prepared a sort of penal tariff to facilitate
judicial proceedings. It costs so many days' labour on the Broom Road
to indulge in the pleasures of the calabash; so many fathoms of stone
wall to steal a musket; and so on to the end of the catalogue. The
judge being provided with a book in which all these matters are
cunningly arranged, the thing is vastly convenient. For instance: a
crime is proved,--say bigamy; turn to letter B--and there you have
it. Bigamy:--forty days on the Broom Road, and twenty mats for the
queen. Read the passage aloud, and sentence is pronounced.

After taking part in the first trial, the other delinquents present
were put upon their own; in which, also, the convicted culprits
seemed to have quite as much to say as the rest. A rather strange
proceeding; but strictly in accordance with the glorious English
principle, that every man should be tried by his peers. They were all
found guilty.

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ONE DAY, taking a pensive afternoon stroll along one of the manybridle-paths which wind among the shady groves in the neighbourhoodof Taloo, I was startled by a sunny apparition. It was that of abeautiful young Englishwoman, charmingly dressed, and mounted upon aspirited little white pony. Switching a green branch, she camecantering toward me.I looked round to see whether I could possibly be in Polynesia. Therewere the palm-trees; but how to account for the lady?Stepping to one side as the apparition drew near, I made a politeobeisance. It gave me a bold, rosy look; and then, with a gay air,patted its palfrey,
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