Queen Makea's Country.
Since the world was divided into those who do, and those who do not, appreciate the genius of the iate Robert Louis Stevenson, the South Sea Islands have an added charm for the former; for that winsome Scotchman has brought them from '"the other side" quite into view from any armchair in Christendom. And in all the South Seas there is for us, of
course, no more interesting island than Rarotonga, which may be, as a London paper recently said, "the remotest and least known fragment of the Empire"; but it is none the less as beautiful and unique as any other part.
Belonging to New Zealand, Rarotonga claims our special interest, and the globe-trotter could do worse than include a visit to that gloriously picturesque fragment —were he sure of finding a bed and a roof, which he is not. But once in happy possession of a habitation, there is enough indeed to fill the tourist with wonder. It is a land flowing with royal blood, coeoanuts and pigs—not to mention white men, some of whom are fearfully and wonderfully made, and a trifle underdone.
On the island are no less than five settlements, rejoicing in the names of Avarua (the seat of Government), Matavefa, Ngatangia, Titikaveka, and Arorangi; each presided over by a royal personage, or Ariki.
As these numerous divisions of authority were not sufficient, the villages themselves arc subdivided into still smaller hamlets, as, for example, Avarua has its suburbs of Takuvaine and Avatiu, each, of course, having its resident high mogul of some sort. Royalty (next to bananas) is the most common commodity on the island, unless it be pigs.
Happily reigning over all the rest (to the extent, at any rate, of having her head on the postage stamps) is the wise and altogether good Queen Makea. Her Majesty is a substantial, hale, and strong-minded old lady, who sits on a mat (when she is not lying on one), and who rules her subjects, both two and four-footed, with a firm though gentle hand.
Her ladies-in-waiting keep her posted in detail on all affairs of State and of neighbourhood gossip, so that, while Makea never ventures without the palace compound, she knows what was said at the store and who said it. The Customs and medical officers do not know better than the Queen who and what comes or goes on that thrilling monthly holiday—"steamer day." The palace is a solid vvvo-storeyed building, which, like all the regal houses on the island, remains empty, the Queen prefarring to live in an adjoining and much more modest native house, where, surrounded by her relatives and innumerable "feeding children," she can watch, the sportive pigs who throng the compound, and evolve those prudent policies which have made her famous.
Be it known that a "feeding child" is an adopted son. who, although he may be of humble origin, becomes a member nl the royal family, and stands a chance of being nominated to succeed to the crown itself.
It was our privilege to move in court circles, the Queen having broken her rule by allowing us the use of one of her own houses, no less than "Parai," the ancient "Seat of Kings"—at the modest rental of one pound per month, and a dear old home we found it, buried in the shade of immemorial mapi trees with trunks eight and ten feet in diameter. H.R.H. Prince Itangi, the Queen's brother, was also amiable enough to chop our wood, plant bananas, and run errands for two shillings a day, and one rubbed elbows so freely with feeding children and other scions of the blood royal that the glamour of court life soon paled. The heir-apparent, Tinirau, the handsomest man on the island, and one of the handsomest fellows it was ever our fortune to see, packed our fruit for export, and in many other ways endeavoured to show us that a generous prince is willing to overlook the gulf that separates him from the vulgar herd—also at two bob a day.
Perhaps the most picturesque of the royalties is "Jimmie Tepou," the ruling and very prosperor-3 "Vakatimi," or "Master of Myriad Canoes," of his suburban village. His real name signifies "A pillar of the sky," and the shrewd and thoroughly "Englished" Jimmy has qualified for so siiblime a name by weighing his good three hundred pounds. •Jimmie owns the most substantial and European house in Avarua, but, of course, he resides in a singularly squalid one-roomed whare at the other end of the settlement. King ' Gnamaroo, the Queen's husband, and a king in his own right on another island, vrc s—• only once. It was a matter of purchase of some candlenuts, for which His Majesty wanted nearly double the market price, so diplomatic relations were severed, but happily through the kindly offices of a Chinaman (who afterwards bought the nuts at our price), a serious rupture was averted.
One is not long in the Cook Islands before he is compelled to do that most useful of animals, the gentle pig, the tardy justice of giving it a very much higher place in the social scale than one 13 apt to do in other less porcine countries.
The squealing of pigs invariably means an event. A marriage, a baptism, and, above all. a funeral, is not at all complete -without the killing of as many pigs (to be devoured at once) as the wealth and position of the parties may warrant. No les3 than three persons of the blood royal died during our residence at Parai, and on each occasion the stillness ensuing on the closing of shops and ceasing of labour "was hideously broken by the pathetic and maddening sq\iealing and grunting of the poor pi^s who were carried alive on long poles on the shoulders of men.
It is not good form to send your pig to the^sorrowing family dead and rpady°for easing. His squeals must swell the chorus of lamentations. But send it you must, or you will be cut and your name struck from the calling lists of the best people.
By evening the porkias are become savoury morsels, and the entire family ramifications, which, owing to their mysterious "feeding" kinships and the
bunglftig of the recorders, reach out Into scores and hundreds of men, women and children, arrive to consume the roasted pigs and fill the whole night with unceasing weird, but not unpleasant chanting of hymns, the like of which are to be heard nowhere else in the world.
Next to eating pork and adopting children the ruling pa-sion of the Rarotongan is singing hymns. In every quarter of every town stands the "Himmene House." or singing rouuij where, on Sundays, after the mission services and on other evenings, the people collect and sing. Religion to not a few of these lighthearted folk consists of singing, carrying a huge Bible to meeting: on Sunday. and wearing an immense and wonderful French hat in active eruption over a gown of flaming colours and cut on balloon lines—and bare feet. An eminently devout gentleman is known by the size of his Bible, and the (one would think irrelevant) fact that he wears his shirt without instead of within, his trousers.
One word as to the morals of the islands—there are none. Unfortunately, the simple pagan native has not had very choice specimens of the "superior" white to study and to emulate, for of that motley crew whom ill-winds of all sorts have, as a rule, wafted to these faraway spots the least paid the better. "Rut things are improving. Among the "beach-combers" and unscrupulous blackguards that were the terror of the island can now be found true English gentlemen, and the foundations are b°ing slowly but certainly laid, for a civilisation practically on the lines of that found in more favoured quarters. And Nature has here made life a veritable joy. Magnificent, prodigal, almost too beautiful—these are the words that run to oae's pen in writing of our little tropical outpost, and where every prospect pleases and "only man is vile," there is tho possibility and the hope of betterment.
Permanent link to this item
Queen Makea's Country., Auckland Star, Volume XXXIV, Issue 69, 21 March 1903, Supplement
Queen Makea's Country. Auckland Star, Volume XXXIV, Issue 69, 21 March 1903, Supplement
Using This Item
Fairfax Media is the copyright owner for the Auckland Star. You can reproduce in-copyright material from this newspaper for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons New Zealand BY-NC-SA licence . This newspaper is not available for commercial use without the consent of Fairfax Media. For advice on reproduction of out-of-copyright material from this newspaper, please refer to the Copyright guide.
This newspaper was digitised in partnership with Auckland Libraries.