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In The Strange South Seas

Some weeks afterwards after a round of three thousand miles I found myself in Tonga, better known as the Friendly Islands. The distance from the Cook Group was only one thousand or less, as the crow flies, but the steamers flew down to Auckland, and then back again, which naturally added to the journey. Pacific travel is a series of compromises. The British Resident of Niue, which is only three hundred miles from Tonga, wanted to get to the latter place about that time, and when I met him at Nukualofa, the Tongan capital, he had had to travel two thousand four hundred miles to reach it! But no one is ever in a hurry, under the shade of the cocoanut tree.
Who has heard of Tongatabu? who knows where the "Friendly Islands" are? You will not find them very readily in the map, but they are to be found nevertheless, about one thousand miles to the north-east of New Zealand. And if you take the steamer that runs every month from Auckland to Sydney, touching at the "Friendly" or Tongan Group, on the way, you will find yourself, in four days, set down on the wharf of Nukualofa, the capital of the island of Tongatabu, and the seat of the oddest, most comic-opera-like monarchy that the world ever knew.   Thirty years ago - even twenty - the Great South Seas were scattered over with independent island states, ruled by monarchs who displayed every degree of civilisation, from the bloodthirsty monster, Thakombau of Fiji and Jibberik, the half-crazy tyrant of Majuro, up to such Elizabeths of the Pacific as Liluokalani of Hawaii, and Queen Pomare of Tahiti. Now there is but one island kingdom left; but one native sovereign, who still sits on his throne unembarrassed by the presence of a British resident, who is ruler in all but name. Hawaii has fallen to America; France has taken the Marquesas and Tahiti; England has annexed the Cook Islands and dethroned the famous Queen Makea; Germany and America have partitioned Samoa between them; the rich archipelago of Fiji has been added to the British Colonies. This accounts for almost all of the larger and richer island groups, distinguished by a certain amount of original civilisation, and leaves only one unseized - Tonga, or the Friendly Islands, over which England has maintained a protectorate since 1900. 


The Tongan Archipelago was discovered by Captain Cook in 1777, and by him named the "Friendly Islands," on account of the apparently friendly disposition of the natives. He sailed away from the group unaware that beneath their seemingly genial reception, the Tongans had been maturing a plot to murder him and seize his ship. Treachery, it is true, has never been an essential part of the Tongan character; but they are, and always have been, the most warlike of all Pacific races, and it is probable that they thought the character of the deed excused by the necessities of a military race who feared injury from a superior power. After cook's visit the world head very little of Tonga until 1816, when Mariner's "Tonga Islands," the history of a young sailor's captivity among he natives of the group, fairly took the reading world by storm. It is still a classic among works of travel and adventure. Since the islands were converted to Christianity their history has been uneventful. One king - George Tubou I - reigned for seventy years, and only died at last, aged ninety-seven, of a chill contracted from his invariable custom of bathing in the sea at dawn! His great-grandson, George Tubou II, succeeded, inheriting through his mother's side, as the Tongan succession follows the matriarchal plan. It is this king - aged thirty-four, six fee four in height, and about twenty-seven stone weight - who now sits upon the last throne of the Island Kings, and rules over the only independent state left in the Pacific.


When Britain assumed a Protectorate over Tonga in 1900, it was done simply to prevent any other nation annexing the rich and fertile group, with its splendid harbour of Vavau which lay so dangerously near Fiji. the Germans, who had maintained a kind of half-and-half Protectorate for some time, ceded their rights in exchange for those possessed by England in Samoa, and Tonga then became safe from the incursions of any foreign nation whose interests, trading and territorial, might be hostile to those of Britain. Perhaps as a consequence of all those negotiations, the Tongans have a high opinion of their own importance. When the war between China and Japan broke out, Tonga politely sent word to Great Britain that she intended to remain neutral, and not take any part in the affair. Great Britain's reply, I regret to say, is not recorded.
The Tongans are a Christianised and partially civilised, if a coloured, race, numbering about 20,000. They are of a warm brown in hue, with dense black, wry hair (usually dyed golden red with lime juice), tall, well-made frames, and immense muscular development. As a nation, they are handsome, with intelligent faces, and a dignity of pose and movement that is sometimes unkindly called the "Tongan swagger." In education, many of them would compare favourably with the average white man, so far as mere attainments go; although a course of instruction at the local schools and colleges, amounting to very nearly the standard of an English "matriculations" does not prevent its recipient from believing firmly in the holiness of the sacred Tongan bats, feeding himself with his fingers and walking about his native village naked as Adam, save for a cotton kilt.
There is not only a King in Tonga, but a real palace, guards of honour, a Parliament, a Prime Minister, a Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a large number of public officials. All these are Tongan natives. the king's guards are apt to make an especially vivid impression upon the newcomer, as he walks up the wharf, and sees the scarlet-coated sentry pacing up and down opposite the guard-room, with his fellows, also smartly uniformed, lounging inside. If the stranger, however, could have witnessed the scene on the wharf as soon as the steamer was signalled - the sudden running up of a dozen or two of guards who had been amusing themselves about the town in undress uniform (navy-blue kilt, red sash, buff singlet), the scrambling and dressing coram pubilico on the grass, getting into trousers, boots, shirt tunic, forage cap, and the hurried scuffle to get ready in time, and make a fine appearance to the st4eamer folk - he might think rather less of Tonga's military discipline.  
Beyond the wharf lies the town, straggling over a good mile of space, and consisting of a few main streets and one or two side alleys, bordered by pretty verandahed, flowery houses. The pavement is the same throughout - green grass, kept short by the constant passing of bare feet. There are a good many trading stores, filled with wares suited to native tastes - gaudy prints, strong perfumes, cutlery, crockery, Brummagem jewellery. The streets are busy to-day - busy for Nukualofa, that is. Every now and then a native passes, flying by on a galloping, barebacked horse, or striding along the grass with the inimitable Tongan strut; for it is steamer day, and the monthly Union steamer boat is the theatre, that newspaper, the society entertainment, the luxury-provider of all the archipelago. On the other twenty-nine or thirty days of the month, you may stand in the middle of a main street for half an hour at a time, and not see a single passer-by, but steamer day galvanises the whole island into life.
The sand of the beach beside the wharf is as white as snow; it is pulverised coral from the reef, nothing else. Great fluted clam-shells, a foot long and more, lie about the strand, among the trailing pink-flowered convolvulus vines that wreathe the shore of every South Sea island. Unkempt pandanus trees, mounted on quaint high wooden stilts, overhang the green water; among the taller and more graceful cocoa-palms, Norfolk Island pines, odd, formal, and suggestive of hairbrushes, stand among leathery ironwoods and spreading avavas about the palace of the king. Quite close to the wharf this latter is placed - a handsome two-storeyed building, with wide verandahs and a tower. Scarlet-coated sentries march up and down all day at its gates; it is surrounded by a wall, and carefully guarded from intruders. George Tubou II, is among the shyest of monarchs and hates nothing so much as being stared at; so on steamer days there is little sign of life to be seen about the palace.
I happened to arrive in Tonga at an interesting historical crisis, and was promised an audience with the retiring monarch.
After a week or two, however, the promise was suddenly recalled, and the visitor informed that the king declined to see her, then or at any other time. A little investigation revealed the cause. The High Commissioner of the Western Pacific had recently come over from Fiji, to remonstrate with the Tongan monarchy concerning certain unconstitutional behaviour, and a British man-of-war had accompanied him. I, being the only other person on the island from "Home." had naturally been seeing a good deal of the formidable stranger. This was enough for the king. There was a plot to deprive him of his throne, he was certain; and it was obvious that I was in it, whatever I might choose to say to the contrary. There was no knowing what crime I might not be capable of, once admitted to the Royal Palace. George Tubou II, is six feet four, and twenty-seven stone weight, but he is distinctly of a nervous temperament; and his fears of Guy Fawkes-ism kept possession of his mind during the whole of my stay; so that the carefully averted face of a fat, copper-coloured sort of Joe Sedley, driving very fast in a buggy, was all I saw of Tonga's king.
There is no one, surely, in the world who quite comes up to George of Tonga for a "guid conceit o' himself," When he wished to provide himself with a queen, some six or seven years ago, he first applied to the Emperor of Germany, to know if there was a German Princess of marriageable age whom he could have! The Kaiser politely replied in the negative. King George then sent proposals to a princess of Hawaii who was as well educated as any white lady, and used to diplomatic society in Washington. This also failing, he turned his attentions to his own country; and then began the most extraordinary love-story ever told under the Southern Cross - a story that could have happened nowhere on the globe, except in the comic-opera country of Tonga.
There were two eligible princesses of the royal line of Tonga - Princess Ofa and Princess Lavinia. The king appears to have proposed to them both, and then found himself unable to decide between the two. They were both of high rank, both good-looking after the portly Tongan fashion, and both very willing to be queen, reign over the fine palace, order lots of silk dresses from Auckland, wear the queen's crown of Tonga (supposed to be gold, but rather inclined to suspicious outbreaks of verdigris), and see the natives get off their horses and kneel on the ground, when the royal state carriage drove by. But the king kept both princesses in the agonies of suspense ever present, and hope constantly deferred for months - until the wedding-day was fixed, the wedding-cake (ordered three years before from a New Zealand confectioner, for the German Princess who was not to be had) patched up and fresh coloured, the wedding-dress provided, at the expense of the Government of Tonga (according to custom) and actually made! Not till the very night before the wedding did his dilatory Majesty at last declare his intentions, and fix upon the princess he had last proposed to, whom nobody expected him to take - Lavinia. It is a sober fact that the wedding invitation cards, sent out at the last minute, were printed with a blank for the brid3e's name, which was added with a pen!
Lavinia, overjoyed at her good luck, got into the governmentally provided wedding dress next day, and (as the fairy tales say) "the wedding waqs celebrated with great pomp;!" there is no sense of humour in Tonga. If there had been, the king could hardly have selected the means of consolation for Ofa's disappointment that he actually did choose, in sending her the bottom half of his wedding cake, as soon as the ceremony was over. Princess Ofa was not proud she had been beating her head on the floor-mats all morning and pulling out handfuls of her long black-hair, but when the consolatory cake arrived, she accepted it promptly and ate it.
There are generally illuminations on the night of a royal wedding. Tonga was not behind-hand in this matter, but the illuminations were of rather an unusual kind, being nothing less than numbers of burning native houses, set on fire by the indignant friends of the jilted Princess Ofa. The friends of the new queen retaliated in kind; end for nearly a week, arson became the recognised sport of the island. This excess of party feeling soon died down, however, and the newly married couple were left to honeymoon in peace. An infant princess wss born in due time, and not very long after, Queen Lavinia died. Here was Princess Olfa's chance, if Fate had permitted; but Ofa herself was dead, leaving no eligible princess to console the widowed king.
For more than five years the monarch (who is still only thirty-four) has lived alone, a mark for every husband-hunting princess in the Pacific. A princess related to an ancient island monarchy, invited herself to stay in the palace one recent Christmas. King George received her pleasantly, entertained her for some weeks, and then sent her home with a big packet of fine tobacco and a barrel of spirits, to console her for the non-success of her visit - which may be accounted for by the fact that she is rather older than the king himself, and by no means so lovely as she was. A favoured candidate is a certain princess of the royal family of Tahiti. She has been described to the king as handsome, and at least sixteen stone weight, both of which claims are quite correct. King George really wants a European princess, but as soon as he has been convinced for the second time that this is impossible, it is hoped that he will decide on the Tahitian princess, and elevate her to the Tongan throne, since he admires fat women exceedingly.
One of the most remarkable things in this remarkable country is the Parliament. It would take too long to record the history of this assembly's birth and development; but the chapter has been a notable one in 'tongan history. The Parliament usually consists of the King and Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chief Justice, and a score or two of important chefs, some of whom inherit by birth, while others are returned by their native villages. At the time of my visit, there were a couple of vacancies in this remarkable assembly, since the High Commissioner of the Western Pacific (Governor of Fiji) had just deported the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Fiji, on account of certain proceedings which resulted in emptying Tonga's public treasury and leaving nothing to show for it.
Their absence did not greatly matter, however, as it is a rule of the Tongan constitution, that Parliament shall not meet oftener than once in three years. An excellent and practical reason lies at the root of this seemingly peculiar law. Tongatabu is a small island, only twenty miles long; and when the Members of Parliamnent - dressed in new cotton kilts, with smart large floor-mats tied round their waists with sinnet (cocoanut fibre plait), and violet, se-green, or lemon silk shirts on their brown backs - arrive from the outer villages and islands in Nukualofa with all their relatives, for the beginning of the session, something very like a famine sets in. The whole Parliament, also its sisters, aunts and grandpapas, has to be fed at public expense, while it stays in the capital arranging the affairs of the nation; and as the length of its sitting is always regulated by the amount of provisions available and never ends until the last yam, the last skinny chicken, the last sack of pineapples, is eaten up, it is easy to understand why the capital does not care to undergo such a strain any oftener than it can help.
A new Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer were appointed before long, and it was made a condition of the latter office, that the Chancellor should understand a reasonable amount of arithmetic. There was also a rigid rule made about the keeping of the key of the Government safe in some suitable place. A good deal of trouble was caused by the last 'Chancellor's losing it one day when he was out fishing on the coral reef! There was a duplicate, but the Chancellor had carefully locked it up in the safe, to make sure it should not be lost! The poor old gentleman nearly get sunstroke hunting about the coral reef for the key until he found it. If it had been carried away by the tides, the safe must have remained closed until an expert from Auckland could be brought up to open it. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not know how much he had in it, or how much he had spent in the last quarter, it can readily be understood that the public accounts acquired an entirely superfluous extra tangle or two during the absence of the lost key.
Tong enjoys one of the finest climates in the Pacific. The heat is never excessive, and the air a generally bright and invigorating. Fevers are unheard of, and the few white residents of the islands enjoy splendid health. As for the Tongans themselves, they dispute with the Fijians the palm of being physically the finest and strong4est people in the whole Pacific; and no one has ever thought of challenging their claim to be most intellectual of all the brown island races. Their carriage is superb, though only its extreme aplomb and ease save it from degenerating into an actual swagger. Their dress displays the most perfect taste in the South Seas. It consists, among the men, of a short tunic ("vala") of fine cashmere or silk, occasionally  of cotton, on working days - draped with all the grace of an antique statue, and worn with a wide sash, and a thin, close-fitting singlet or shirt. The Tongan woman generally wears a garment that is suggestive of the Greek chiton - a loose sleeveless dress reaching to a point midway between waist, and knee. Underneath is seen a tunic similar to that of the men, but a little longer. the colours chosen by both sexes are exquisite. No artist could design more beautiful combinations than those I have often seen flitting about the grassy streets of Nukualofa, Tonga's capital. A finely made giant strides by, in a navy-blue vala, cream-coloured silk shirt, and vivid sea-green sash. Another wears a pale blue vala and shirt, and a sah of royal blue. A third is in whit4e and lemon colour girdled with orange; another wears a white vala, a pale green shirt, and a sash of violet silk. A tall, self-possessed young woman, her hair dyed golden red with lime, and worn coiffed high above the forehe4ad, with a fall of natural curls down her back, has a scarlet and yellow vala under her short brown silk gown, while her companion - smaller and merrier faced, with the melting black eyes of "The Islands" -- wears and looks charming to, a pale-blue gown over a vala of daffodil yellow. these are the fashions of Tonga; and they offer a feast for artistic souls and pencils, that cannot be matched under the Southern Cross.
Tonga is very seldom visited by travellers, except for an hour or two during he steamer's stay in port and discover that any English lady had ever made a stay there, except myself, and the wife of a local Church dignitary. There are, of course, a few Colonial residents. But the 'English traveller leaves Tonga out altogether, which is really a pity - for his sake. As for the island, they can do very well without tourists, and would not be the better for them. There was no hotel save a plain and simple public-house, at the time of my stay, though I understand this defect has been remedied. I had therefore to set up housekeeping on my own account. the tiny bungalow ai took for my stay of four weeks in the island, was a real South Sea home. It stood almost on the white coral sand of the beach, and close to the cool green waters of the lagoon; it was shaded by palms and scarlet-blossomed "flamboyant" trees, and it was nearly all door and window and verandah. Its carpets were plaited pandanus-leaf mats; the ornaments in the sitting-room were foot-long fluted clam-shells off the beach, filled with wild red and yellow hibiscus flowers, poignantly perfumed frangipani stars, and the sweet pink blossoms of the South Sea oleander. The back kitchen had generally a bunch of bananas hanging from the roof, a pile of green cocoanuts for drinking, under the window, a mound of yellow papaw, or tree-melons, in a corner, some custard-apples and mangoes, and a bi basket of pineapples, bought at the door for fourteen a shilling, or picked by myself during a drive through the bush.   
There was not much else, besides bread and tea. I almost lived on fruit, and could not help wondering what the inhabitants of temperate latitude, who fear ill consequences from a dozen plums or a double handful of strawberries, would have thought of my uncounted mangoes, and bananas, and five or six pineapples a day. Only children, at home in England, really know how much fruit can safely be undertaken by the human digestive organs. Wise children! and foolish elders, who have forgotten so soon. The transparent waters of the lagoon outside, lapping idly under the leaves of overhanging palm and pandanus, were not so cool as they looked, under the hot midday sun; and if one did not want a tepid sea-bath, it was bet to wait till night. Then, what a luxury it was, after the heat of the day (for tonga, though cool for the tropics, is nevertheless tropical), to float about in the dim lagoon, under a glow of stars tqat lit up the sky almost as brightly as an English moon, the dark shining water bearing one to and fro with the swell from the reef, the land growing father and farther away, the palms on the thin pale shoreline standing out small and black, like Indian ink sketches, against the lurid purple of the midnight sky! Willingly indeed one would have passed the whole night out there, swimming, and floating in a warm dark sea of stars - stars above and stars below - if nature had not given out after an hour or two, and demanded a return to the solid earth. Sharks? Well, they had "hardly ever" been seen inside the reef. Stingarees, with their immense ugly bodies buried in the sand at the bottom, and their cruel barbed tails ready to strike? yes, they had been seen, but not often; and in tropic waters you learn to take the chances of the "might-be's."
It was the hot season, but not too hot for riding or driving, and I spent many mornings exploring about the island. to the Wood of the Bats, about eleven miles from Nukualofa, one drives in a springy little colonial buggy, diring over mile after mile of rather uneven grass road, along avenues of blossoming orange trees, through groves of bananas and breadfruit and tall mango trees, just stranggling native villages with neat little fancy-work houses made of woven reeds and thatch, until, in the distance, one begins to hear a loud screaming, squeaking and squealing, and chattering noise. This is the Wood of the Bats that we are coming to, and that is some of their usual conversation. Under the trees - there are over twenty of them, avavas, like great cedars, ironwoods, mangoes; all big forest trees, and all covered with bats as thick as a currant bush with currants - the squeaking and squealing grows almost deafening. thousands of great flying foxes, with dark furry bodies as big as cats, big spreading wings (now folded tightly up) and sharp, keen fox-like heads, hang upside down on every tree, waiting for the night to come, and whiling away the time by quarrelling and swearing. They are all bad, these bats; they are ugly, dirty, vicious, destructive and greedy - yet they are strictly tabooed by the natives, and no one dares to kill a single one. It is believed that the pr9osperity of Tonga is inextricably associated with the bats, and that, if they ever deserted the wood, the country would fall. they are sacred, and must not be touched.
Every evening, punctually at five o'clock, the bats take wing, and rise from the trees like a screaming cloud of evil spirits. The sky is blackened with their bodies as they go, and scattered all over with the long streaming flights of separate bats that divide away from the main body. They are off to feed - to feed all night upon the bananas and pineapples and mangoes of the unhappy islanders, who lose thousands of pounds' worth of fruit and trade every year, but dare not revenge themselves. Just at dawn, they will return, screaming and shoving rudely as they settle down in the trees once more, squabbling for upper berths, and trying to push into a nice comfortable place amidships of a particular bough, by biting the occupant's toes until he lets go. They may have flown forty or fifty miles in the night, visited islands more than twenty miles away, and devastated the plantations of Tonga from end to end. They have worked hard for their suppers, and now they will doze and squabble all day, once more, until evening.
A few miles from the Wood of Bats, in the midst of exquisite scenery, stands a famous avava known as Captain Cook's Tree. It was under this tree that the great explorer called together all the natives, on his discovery of the islands in 1777 and addressed them by means of an interpreter. The account of this will be found in "Cook's Voyages." The tree is still in splendid condition, in spite of its age, which must amount to many hundred y6ears. Pigs were brought to Tonga by Cook in this same year, and a few of the original breed are still to be seen in the island - tall, gaunt, hum-backed creatures with immense heads and long noses, contrasting oddly with the smaller and fatt4er kinds introduced by later voyagers.
The burial-place of the Tui Tongans made an object for another drive. Before the introduction of Christianity, in early Victorian days, the Tongans had two kings, an ordinary earthly king, who did all the hard work of governing, and a heavenly king, the Tui Tonga, who was supposed to be of divine descent, and was worshipped as a god. For many centuries, the Tui  Tongas were buried in great oblong raised enclosures, three-terraced, and built of rough-hewn, closely fitted slabs from the coral reef. two of these great tombs still remain, hidden in tangled thickets of low bush, and considerably worn by age. I had no means of measurement, but judged the larger one to be about fifty yards by thirty, the smaller somewhat less. The state of the coral slabs, and the great trees that have grown up rooted among them, suggest that the tombs are extremely old. Tradition among the natives takes them back beyond the recollection of any of their ancestors; they cannot say when or why they were built. The construction - a double terrace, each step about five feet high - and the carefully arranged oblong shape, seem to point to some special significance long since forgotten. There is also a "trilithon" erection of three large blocks of stone, some miles away, concerning which island traditions are silent. It could not have been constructed by hand labour alone; some mechanical device must have been employed to raise the centre stone to its present position. the ancient Tongans, however, knew nothing of mechanics, and an interesting problem is therefore set for antiquarians to solve. The height of the side supports is about twenty feet, and the centre cross-piece, which rests in a socket on each side, is a little less in length.
The beautiful and interesting sea-caves---some swarming with birds, others celebrated for their lovely colouring and formation - which are found in the windward side of the island, I was unable to see, owing to the bad weather of the rainy season, during which my visit was made. A "Chief" kava-party, however, got up for my benefit, consoled me for the loss of the caves. Kava is the great national drink of Tonga, a s of many other South Sea islands. It is made from the hard wooly root of the Piper methysticum and is exhilarating and cooling, but not actually intoxicating. In taste, it is extremely unpleasant till one gets used to it, being peppery, soapy, and dishwatery as to flavour. I had drunk kava before, however, and learned to recognise its pleasanter properties; also, the old custom of chewing the kava-root, before infusing it, which still obtains in some parts of Samoa, has been quite given up on Tonga and the pounding is done with stones. The scene was weird and strange in the last degree. I was the only white person present. We all squatted on the mats in the chief's house, the natives in their valas and loose short gowns, with white scented flowers in their hair; I in a smart demi-toilette evening dress, because I was the special guest, and the chief's family would expect me to honour them by "dressing the part". The only light was a ship's hurricane lantern, placed on the floor, where if threw the most Rembrandtesque of shadows upon the rapt ecstatic countenances of the kava-makers, as they went through all the details of what was evidently an ancient religions ceremony, very savage, very native, and not at all "missionary." despite the church membership of all the performers. threw were loud sonorous chants and responses, elaborate gymnastics, with the great twist of hibiscus fibre that was used to strain the kava after it was pounded, and water poured on; something very like incantations, and finally, a wild religious ecstasy on the part of the kava-maker, who worked himself almost into a fit, and at last sank back utterly exhausted, with the bowl of prepared kava before him. this bowl was a standing vessel as big as a round sponge bath, carved, legs and all, from one block of a huge forest tree-trunk, and exquisitely polished and enamelled by many years of kava-holding. Its value was beyond price.
The calling of names now began - first the chief's, then mine, then the other guests. there is great ceremony observed at kava-drinkings, and an order of precedence as strict as that of a German Court. As my name was called, I clapped my hands once, took the cocoanut bowl from the girl who was serving it, and swallowed the contents at a draught. The next name was then called, and the next drinker drank as I did. It is very bad manners to act otherwise. The girl who served the kava walked round our squatting circle in a doubled-up posture that must surely have made her back ache; but custom forbade her to stand erect while serving. After the long ceremony was ended, the dignified white-haired chief held a conversation with me, by means of an interpreter; and told me that there were four ways of kava-drinking, each with its appropriate etiquette. That which I had seen was the most important and elaborate of the four, very seldom used, and only permitted to chiefs. We exchanged a good many stately compliments through the interpreter, and I then took my departure. It is near the end of my visit, and in a few more days the steamer takes me on to Haapai and Vavau and beautiful steamy-hot Samoa. But this is Christmas morning, and one can think of nothing else.
Nothing? Well, those who know what it is to spend that day of days under a burning tropic sky, with palms and poinsettia for Christmas gallantry, instead of holly and mistletoe, know just what thoughts fly homewards across twelve thousand miles of sea, and how far they are concerned with the sunny, lonely Christmas of the present - how far with the dark and stormy Christmases of the past, when snow and winter reigned outside, but summer, more brilliant than all the splendours of southern world, was within, and in the heart,. But it is of the Tongan Christmas day that I have to tell. 
I was awakened very early by - the waits! 'Whatever one expects under the Southern Cross, one certainly does not expect that, and yet there they were, a score of boys and youths playing merry tunes under my window, and pausing now and then to see if I was not awake to come out and give them their Christmas "tip." I dressed hastily, and came on to the verandah. The music of the band, which had puzzled me a good deal, now turned out to be produced solely by mouth-organs, blown by a number of youths dressed exactly alike in black valas, white linen jackets, and white uniform caps. The soul of the Tongan loves a uniform above everything, and all the bands in the islands - of whom there are an astonishing number - wear specially made costumes of a rather military type. It was frightfully hot, for Christmas is midsummer here, and the day was exceptionally warm in any case. but the "Waits," standing out in the burning sun, did not seem to feel th4e heat at all. They blew lusti8ly away at their mouth-organs, playing English dance music, Tongan songs, missionary hymns, in wonderful time and harmony, and with the inimitable Tongan verve and swing, poor though the instruments were. The performance was quite worth th4e gift they expected. I listened as long as they cared to play. then they collected their dues, and went off to serenade a white traders, who, I strongly suspected, had been celebrating Christmas Eve after a fashion that would not tend to make him grateful for an early call. 
For me, Christmas had begun on the previous evening when I went to the midnight Mass at the church upon the shore, among the palms and the leathery ironwood trees. In the crystal-clear moonlight, what a brilliant scene it was! Even outside the church, the decorations could be seen for miles, since they consisted of thousands and thousands of half-cocoanut-shells, filled with cocoanut oil, and provided with a wick of twisted fibre, which when lit, burnt with a clear ray like a star, illuminating the walls of the churchyard, the outlines of the doors and the ridges of the roof - even the winding walks about the building, too, and the low-growing trees - with a perfect a Milky Way of dancing light. Within, all the colours of a coral reef (which includes every hue of a rainbow, and many more) were in full blaze about the tremendous, unbroken floor, where the natives stood or sit cross-legged, dressed in all their gayest finery. There was a heavy scent of perfumed cocoanut oil, orange-blossom, and frangipani flow4ers and a rich glow of lights; and the waves of gorgeous melody that burst forth now and again with the progr3ess of the service were like the billows of Time breaking upon the shores of Eternity. Of all the choral singing that I heard in the Pacific, that of Tonga was incomparably the fullest, the most splendid, and most majestic. The singers of Manihiki are sweeter and stranger, those of the Cook Islands more varied and soft, but the Tongan music is, for sheer magnificence and volume, unsurpassable. 
The women, in their graceful tunics, with their elaborately dressed hair, and their fine, dignified presence, were all unlike the soft, sensuous, languorous syrens of Tahiti and Rarotonga. They do not encourage familiarity, even from white women, and their moral character is much higher than that of their sisters in the far Eastern Pacific. Women are treated with more respect in Tonga than in any part of the Pacific. They have little to do in the way of household work, and almost no field work. the men save them most of the hard labour,  on the undeniable ground that hard work makes a woman ugly, and they do not care for ugly wives! Nearly every one wore a mat tied round the waist, partly concealing the gay dress 0 in spite of the extreme heat of the night. Some of the mats were new and clean, but most were old, ragged, and dirty. This curious custom is a relic of ancient heathen days in Tonga, when a handsome dress of any kind, worn by a commoner, was apt to arouse the dangerous envy of a chief, and in consequence, a native who was wearing his "best" generally tied the dirtiest old mat that he could get over all, so that he might not look too rich! The reason has long since vanished, but the custom remains in a modified form. A mat, tied round the waist with strong sinnet cord, is considered a correct finish to the gayest of festival costume in Tonga of to-day, and, as far as I was able to ascertain, its absence, on occasions of ceremony, is considered rather vulgar.
The service was enlivened by the presence of a very large and extremely loud brass band. Brass is a passion with the Tongan musician, and he certainly makes the most of it. The effects produced are a little monotonous to a European ear, but, none the less, impressive and fine. After the midnight mass, I went home in the bright moonlight, the gentle stir of the trade-wind, the soft rustle of the ironwood trees, falling with a pleasantly soothing effect upon ears a little strained and tired by the strenuous character of the Tongan music. Next morning came the waits, and in the afternoon there were games and sports of a rather too familiar Sunday-school pattern, at the various mission stations. I did not t5ouble to attend any of them, as the Pacific native is certainly least interesting when most intent on copying the ways and fashions of the white man. The cricket matches which came off at various intervals during the few weeks of my stay, were well worth seeing, however, for the Tongan is a magnificent cricketer, and has often inflicted bitter defeat on the best teams that visiting men-of-war could put in the field against him.   
The politically disturbed state of the island was interesting in one way, but a serious disadvantage in another, since it prevented my obtaining much information about many interesting native customs that I should have been glad to investigate. I am afraid that I deserve the worst that scientifically minded travellers could say to me, in Tonga, for I merely spent the time enjoying myself after the pleasant island fashion, and not in research or geographical note-0taking, even so far as was possible. Yet, after all, what are the islands, if not a Garden of Indolence, a lotus-land, a place were one dreams, and wanders, and listens to the murmuring reef-song, and sleeps under the shade of a palm, and wakes but to dream again? Does one degenerate, in such a life? Why, yes, of course ---constantly, surely, and most delightfully.  
"He good, and you will be happy, but you won't have a good time," says "Pudd'nhyead Wilson," one of the wisest of modern philosophers. In the islands, one is not good, in the ordinary Dr. Wattian sense of the term, and perhaps one is not happy - though if so, one never finds it out. But the good time one does have, and it is very good indeed. And if you do not believe me, dear sensible reader, never be tempted to go and try, for it is very likely that the good time and your own goodness would mutually cancel one another, and you would be unvirtuous and bored all in one. The islands are not for all, and the gateway to the "Tir-na'n-Oge" is now, as ever, hard to find. The big Union steamer, with her ice, and her "cuisine" (cooking is never cooking on bard a passenger vessel), and her dainty little blue and white cabins, and her large cool saloon glittering with crystal and gilding, came in in due time, and I went away with her to Samoa. the three days' run was broken by two calls in the tTngan group - one at Haapai, and one at Vavau.
Of Haapai, a long, low, wooded island, with a few hundred native inhabitants, and one or two whites, we saw nothing but the king's palace - a great, square two-storeyed, verandahed building, which is never lived in- and the Wesleyan chapel, which has some of the finest sinnet work in the Pacific to show. The sinnet work is is quite distinctive of the islands, and is very beautiful and artistic. Is is not one of the "curios" known to the markets and collectio9ns of civilisation, because it is always done in situ, and cannot be removed. At first sight, it looks like remarkably good chip carving, done on the capitals of pillars, and about the centres of supports and beams, in various shades of red, black, brown, and yellow. Looking closer, ine sees that it is much more remarkable than carving, being a solid mass of interwoven sinnet plait, as fine as very thin twine, wound and and twisted into raised patterns by the clever fingers of the natives. In the church at Haapai, the sinnet plaiting is very fine, and elaborate, and certainly well worth seeing. The captain of the st4eamer, who acted as our guide, made sure we had all seen it, and then took us a wild, hot, hurried walk across the island, to the coral beach at the other side, and past the palace, and along an endless cocoanut avenue, which was very pretty, but ---  
We wanted our afternoon tea, and we mutinied at that point, and insisted on going back to the ship. this grieved our commander, who conceived that his duties to the Company required he should ensure every passenger saw everything that was to be seen on the whole voyage, and shirked nothing - but we threatened to overpower and maroon him, if he did not take us back, so he returned, lecturing learnedly about the cutting off of the "Port-au-Prince," in Haapai, by the natives in seventeen hundred and I-forget-when. We ought to have been listening - but we wanted our tea, and we weren't. We reached Vavau just before dark, barely in time to admire the wonderful windings and fiords, the long blue arms and bright green islets, of this Helen among island harbour. Vavau is celebrated for its beauty through all the South Sea world, and its loveliness had not been one whit exaggerated.
In the early morning - at half-past five, to be precise - the energetic captain routed all the passengers out of their bunks, and compelled them, by sheer force of character, to follow him, groaning and puffing u a hill five hundred feet high, and exceedingly precipitous - a mere crag, in fact - that overlooked the harbour. We did not want to go, but none of us were sorry we had been compelled when we did get to the top and saw that matchless harbour lying extended at our feet, mile after mile of land-locked fiord and palmy headland and exquisite green island, and set in a stainless mirror of flaming blue, and jewelled, where the shallows lightened to the shore, with flashes of marvellous colour shot up from the coral reef lying underneath. rose and amethyst and violet, and malachite green and tawny yellow - they were all there, painting the splendid sweep of the harbour waters with hues that no mortal brush could reproduce, or pen describe. 'We stayed there long, and even the thought of breakfast, generally a moving tall, did not hurry us away. In the afternoon, the captain had business to attend to, so he turned out one of the officers to act as guide, and sent us all off to see the Cave of the Swallows, and Mariner's Cave, on the other side of the harbour.
If the Cave of he Swallows were situated on say European coast, it would be as tourist-ridden a spot as the blue Grotto of Capri, or any other of the thousand famous caves through which holiday-making travellers are dragged each summer season - and would consequently be despoiled of half its loveliness. but it is very far away, in the South Sea Islands and though a passenger steamer does visit Vavau once a month there are usually no tourists - only a missionary and a trader or two. So the lovely place lies undisturbed almost all the time, and you shall not find, when you row across the harbour to see it, that you have to wait your turn in a crowd of other boats, full of romping and larking trippers, with the guide of every party keeping a sharp look-out to see that no one takes longer than he ought going over the "sight" - so long as his charges remain outside. Instead of this, we glide silently under a noble archway some fifty feet high, and enter a great, still, ocean sanctuary, that looks as if no wandering oar had ever  profaned its peace, since first the white man came to these far-off isles. Outside, the water to Prussian blue in colour, and over a thousand feet deep, but within the arch of the cave the bottom shoots up till it is within a hundred feet of the glass-clear surface on which we float, hanging above the silver-coloured coral reefs of the deep sea-bed, like birds hanging in air. The roof and walls of the cave are brilliant verdigris green, the water-floor, that curves so closely in and out of he numerous arches and recesses, where mysterious shadows creep, is sapphire shot with fire. As one side of the cave there is a dark winding corridor leading to depths unknown. We glide down this a little way, and there before us opens out - surely, a temple and a shrine! The water-floor spreads and broadens here into the carpet of a high, still, secret inner cave, in the centre of which springs up a splintered pedestal - shattered, one fancies, by the blow that broke the image that must surely once have stood in this strange sea-shrine. From an unseen rift in the roof, far above, a white ray of sun strikes down into the cave, and falls like a blast from an offended heaven upon the broken pedestal.
There is a geological explanation, no doubt, but we shall not look for it, for this is a wonder that would have delighted Victor Hugo himself, who drew the scenery of the "Toilers of the Sea." And Victor Hugo's pen would be needed by any one who would adequately describe the spot. there is a rock in the outer cave, that sounds like a church bell when struck with an oar, and this delights the boatmen greatly, though they have heard it every time the steamer came up to Vavau. It is, indeed, a solemn and beautiful sound, and well suited to the place. going back to the ship, we are shown the spot there the famous Mariner's Cave opens out, under water. There is nothing whatever to be seen, since the entrance is six feet under water at low tide. The story was first told to the world in Mariner's "Tonga," published 1802, and was utilised by Byron in his poem of "The Island." A young chief, it was said, was chasing a turtle one day, and saw the creature dive. He followed it, and was surprised to find that, on rising after his dive, he had reached an under-water cave of considerable size, to which there was no outlet save the one by which he had come in. Giving u the turtle, he dived again, returned to the surface, and did not trouble himself about the cave until, some months later, it occurred to him as an excellent place for an elopement - the parents of the girl he loved having refused to give her to him. so it came about that the young chief's sweetheart disappeared, and no one knew what had become of her until one day a boating party, to their intense amazement, saw what appeared to be the ghost of the girl rising from the heart of the waves. The apparition stared round round, saw the intruders, and immediately disappeared. She was seen no more, but the story caused so much talk, that in the end the true secret came out, and it was discovered that the chief had hidden his lady-love in the cave, diving down with food to her day by day, and even bringing torches, safely wrapped in leaves. The stern parents, touched by so much devotion, relented and the chief triumphantly brought home his bride at last in full day. 
Mariner, who was interested in the ancient tale, succeeded in reaching the cave himself, and found it as represented. He surmised that there was an air supply, passing through invisible cracks in the rock above, for the air seemed to keep fresh. There was something like a rough couch of stone at one end, where the imprisoned girl had made her bed. No light whatever penetrated the cavern. Since Mariner's time, very few Europeans have succeeded in entering the cave, which is extremely difficult to get into, owing to the length of the passage under water, and the currents of the tides. About thirty years ago, Captain Luce, of H.M.S. Esk, succeeded in entering the cave, but rose too soon on going out, and lacerated his back so badly against the coral spears under water, that he died in a few days. Since then, I heard that one white man had gone safely in and returned., but no one seemed to know who, or when. None of our party, at all events felt tempted to make the trial. The steamer was ready to start when we got back, so we hurried on board, and started away for Samoa. there was much more to see in Vavau, but the only way of seeing it as to stop over for a month and remain in the village. For this no one had time. I was giving a month to each group of islands, which is little enough in the Pacific - but I knew very well that, unless I had had a vessel of my own, or a year or two extra to spend, it was impossible to see all that could be seen. 
Tofoa, for instance, one of the Tongan Group, which is an active volcano, and, naturally, not inhabited, - what could be ore interesting than a call there? But uninhabited volcanoes do not furnish cargo for steamship companies, so all we could see was a smear of smoke in the far distance, as we steamed on our way to Apia, the capital of the "Navigators" Group, better known, sine the days of Stevenson, as Samoa.

An extract from IN THE STRANGE SOUTH SEAS by BEATRICE GRIMSHAW, published in London by Hutchinson & Co., 1908.  

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