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the weeks and months slip serenely by, their monotony broken only by the yearly arrival of Captain Viggo's schooner, the Tiare, from Rarotonga, bringing me my trade goods: perfume, talcum powder, rolls of green and red ribbon, all-day suckers, lemon drops, firecrackers, paper balloons, Japanese kites, tin whistles, marbles, and suchlike necessities of life. For these the natives are glad to exchange their worthless copra, which is only good for making coconut oil.

The trading station is a two-story building made of blocks of chipped coral. There are two large rooms below for the store and two above for living quarters, opening to verandahs both front and back. The front verandah overlooks the road and the central village, with the schoolhouse directly opposite and the church a little to the right. The back verandah faces the lagoon and is so close to the water's edge that when I sit there, cooled by the trade wind, I can easily imagine that I am living on an otherwise uninhabited island. Now and then, to be sure, the silence is broken by a sleepy voice, the crowing of a cock, or the monotonous drumming on coconut shells of the village children, but these are such familiar sounds that often I am no more aware of them than of the wind humming through the palm fronds.

At night I prefer sitting on my front verandah, where I can see the villagers passing to and fro, for on this topsyturvy little island the people sleep in the daytime and wake at sunset. Then they stumble drowsily into the lagoon for a bath and, having thus refreshed themselves, start the day's activities. Fishermen put out in canoes, some with torches and nets for flying fish, others with spears for the lobsters and parrot fish of the reef. Fires of coconut shells cast grotesque shadows among the groves, and groups of

chattering natives stroll up and down the village street as they have done from time immemorial. Now and then I will hear a ripple of laughter and, turning my head, I see eyes peeking over the floor of the verandah. The native youngsters never tire of shinning up the verandah posts for a near view of the strange white man. The moment they are detected they let go and fall- thump, thump, thump-to the ground, rushing off in the darkness with whoops of delight.

When a young Puka-Pukan feels that he has grown to manhood, he simply has to let off steam, and one method of doing this is to walk with his friends through the villages, stopping before every other house to make a speech. One of these young village bucks is Tihoti (George), a youth of seventeen. He and his crowd of satellites often stop before my house. George wears a heavy British army overcoat and a bowler hat which Captain Viggo once gave him. Although the temperature at Puka-Puka never drops below seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit, George is never seen on these dress occasions without his British 'warm.' He addresses me thus:

'Noo akaleilei kotou kia akalongo i toku tara-tara! Sit down prettily, you people and listen to my speech! I, Tihoti, being a man of the village of Yato, son of the exceptional man whose name is Abraham, and of the woman from the village of Ngake whom everybody knows to be the daughter of Ura, chief of police and deacon of the church – I, Tihoti, take it upon myself to inform you of the new talk that has come to my ears. I have heard that a white man has come to this island and that he is called Ropati (Robert), so I lose no time in warning him to keep his pigs tied up and not to steal taro from me, my father, my mother, or any of my relatives. I further warn the man,

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Ropati, not to steal taro, chickens, or coconuts from any of my friends; but if he is hungry and must steal from someone, let him steal from my enemies.

'I, Tihoti, must also warn this person, Ropati, that the young women of this island are dear to the hearts of me and my friends, and if' But at this point George becomes altogether too outspoken and explicit to permit of translation. At length, when he is out of breath, his friends gather round him and they all grunt an obscene but amusing chant peculiar to the island. Then they all laugh uproariously and go on to another house for further speechmaking.


The three settlements on Puka-Puka are called Ngake, Roto, and Yato. The first means Windward, the second Central, and the third Leeward. There are also, as I have said, three islets on the Danger Island reef, each village owning one. Central Village, being the sleepiest of the three, has contented itself with Puka-Puka Islet, from which the atoll derives its name.

Leeward Village owns Frigate Bird Islet. It is the smallest of the three, but valuable because of the thousands of sea birds that nest there. There is also a fine tract of guano, where grow limes, oranges, breadfruit, and mummy apples. Nearly every month the Leeward Villagers go to Frigate Bird, scramble up the great puka trees, and rob the nests of fat young sea birds.

At first I could not eat a frigate bird, a booby, or a shearwater, but after a few months at Puka-Puka I tried one of these birds broiled over coconutshell coals, and I have never since missed an opportunity for such a feast. In a civilized country where one has an abundance of fresh meat, the thought of a frigate-bird meal would, perhaps, be abhorrent; but on an atoll where the

weekly chicken and the monthly pig make the sum total of fresh meat, an ancient man-of-war hawk seems as succulent as would a squab at home.

Windward Village owns the large islet of Ko, which produces more copra than the other two together; but there is little taro on Ko, and for some unaccountable reason the sea birds shun it.

Despite their system of village land ownership, the Puka-Pukans all share alike. Theirs is, I imagine, one of the few examples on earth of a successful communistic government. There is no private ownership of land other than the tracts upon which the houses are built, and even in this case the land really belongs to the villages, which give the residents unlimited lease to live thereon.

When the villagers move for a few weeks' sojourn on their respective islets, the coconuts are gathered, stacked in their temporary village, and then equally divided among the men and women, a small share being reserved for the children. The nuts are then opened and the meat dried into copra, which is pooled and sold to my store. The money received is either divided equally among the villagers or used to purchase clothing, tobacco, tin whistles, and marbles, which are divided. Likewise, when it is found that the puka trees are full of young birds, the men catch them and the same division takes place. The fishing, too, is managed in this manner.

The general direction of the work rests with the fathers of the villages, who belong to an organization called the Company (Kamupani). They meet once a month, or oftener, to deliberate on community activities.

The Puka-Pukans all belong to the same church. They call it 'Zion.' Every Sunday morning Puru (Husks), the Leeward Village policeman, beats the tom-tom to announce the service,

whereupon all the inhabitants don their most highly prized finery and throng forth Zionward-all of them except old William, the heathen, who has never yet been cajoled into joining the church.

King-of-the-Sky is usually the first to appear. He is a huge, grizzle-haired old man, six feet four, and weighing two hundred and sixty pounds, all solid bone and muscle. He is dressed in a swallow-tailed coat and trousers made of a cloth of vivid green, the shade of green used for billiard-table cloth. The coat is double breasted, with two rows of large brass buttons, eight to a row. Beneath it appears the mighty hairy chest of King-of-the-Sky, for what cares he for such trifles as shirts, collars, or neckties?

Scratch-Woman wears a black lace dress which was probably discarded by the wife of some ancient trading skipper, thrown overboard, perhaps, close to Puka-Puka reef, and salvaged by an ancestor of Scratch-Woman to be forever treasured by his female descendants. She also wears a pair of men's striped socks, and her huge feet are squeezed into a pair of ancient highheeled shoes. She walks churchward lifting her feet high and putting them down carefully, having learned through experience that gravelly ground makes precarious footing on Sundays.

George, grandson of the redoubtable Ura, wears his British army overcoat with his bowler hat set at a rakish angle. His feet are shod in brogues that would do credit to a colored minstrel. Now and then he draws a yardsquare turkey-red bandana from his pocket to mop his face and neck. A British warm is hardly necessary in latitude ten-fifty south, but what is a little discomfort to a man convinced that he is the best-dressed individual on Puka-Puka?

Ears (Taringa) has somehow assem

bled an almost complete golfer's costume. He has checked knickerbockers, striped woolen stockings, a golfer's cap, but, alas! no brogues. Therefore he must walk to Zion in his stocking feet, and many such journeys have, of course, told sadly on the stockings. His huge toes and calloused heels are indecently displayed among ragged shreds of yarn.

Dear old Mama, the wife of heathen William, never fails to wear her ancient bedgown, from which hang shreds of lace sewn there, perhaps, by some bride of fifty years ago. On her head she wears the crown of William's straw hat. True lovers she and William must have been years ago when William acquired the hat, giving her the crown and reserving only the brim for himself.

Ura, chief of police and deacon of the church, comes in a commodore's coat, decorated with epaulettes and an abundance of tarnished brass braid. It was a present to his father from the commander of one of Her Britannic Majesty's ships which visited Puka-Puka in the eighteen-eighties.

So it goes. The Puka-Puka church parade is the most heterogeneous display of rags and tags of cast-off clothing that may be seen anywhere outside. of bedlam. Once, when Captain Viggo was viewing it with me, he said: 'What have the missionaries not done to the natives with their eternal harping on the necessity of covering the sinful body! Here we see the result. They have organized a Sabbath-day procession of scarecrows and buffoons!'

Sometimes I too go to church. I wait until Sea Foam, the preacher, walks pompously past, wearing his bandmaster hat and celluloid collar; then I put on my Sunday coat of white drill and follow him into Zion.

The service is much as it is at home: there are prayers, hymns, and a sermon, but here the hymns are sung with Polynesian gusto, interlarded with

grunts from the young fry and piercing counter-melodies sung by one or another of the village virtuosos. After many hymns have been sung, Sea Foam clears his throat and begins:

'Members of this church of Zion, young men, old men, deacons, Christians health to us! This is the word of God as it is written in the Tabu Book. It says that the birth of Jesus was like this: When Mary was betrothed to Joseph he did not know that she was with child, but later Mary told him of this. Of course Joseph, being only a foolish white man, was very angry and called her many bad names. But the angel of God appeared to him and said that Mary had spoken the truth when she said that she was with child and still a virgin. This child, the angel said, would be a Son of God and would bring the Church to the children of these islands and also to the white


'God was right when He gave His child to a virgin to bear, for do you think that any hard woman like you women here could have borne him? Of course we children of the islands do not know how such a thing could happen; but it is so written in the Tabu Book and therefore it is the truth.'

Sea Foam rumbles and rambles on, filling an hour with his profound theological speculations. My interest occasionally wanes before he reaches the end of his sermon, and I lean back against a post, staring at the great thatched roof. It must contain at least ten thousand square feet of pandanus thatch, each sheaf being laid with mathematical precision and bound to coconut-wood plating with fine native sennit. The various supports, rafters, braces, and plates are made of pandanus of a rich oily brown. Gazing at this roof supported with beautifully smoothed and polished posts, one might think this a sylvan cathedral

where hamadryads came to dance. I close my eyes and see Syrinx being chased by Pan, Daphne by Apollo, but such visions fade when the congregation roars 'Saints of God, the Dawn Is Brightening,' in the native tongue.

When we come forth we are horrified as usual to find that old Mama's heathen husband, after sleeping all the week, has wakened just in time to chop wood of a Sunday morning. After the crowd has dispersed I beckon old William into the store and we discuss all sorts of matters over a bottle of my island-brewed ale.

I found the Puka-Pukan language easy to learn, for all the Polynesian tongues are allied, and before I came to the island I had a fair knowledge of Tahitian, Rarotongan, and two or three other dialects of the Maori speech. In three months' time I could speak the language with considerable fluency, but for a year or more I had difficulty in following conversations between natives when they slurred their words, or expressed themselves in obscure PukaPukan metaphors.

The chief difficulty was in distinguishing between homonymous words, which usually have a subtle analogy, such as the word ara, for example. It was Peni, my store boy, who first pointed out to me that the word means both 'to sin' and 'to waken'; 'for,' he explained, 'is it not a sin to waken someone who is deep in slumber and very likely in the midst of pleasant dreams?'

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Swinburnian orgy, and for weeks my head swam with his 'Hendecasyllabics.'

In the month of the long decline of roses
I, beholding the summer dead before me,
Set my face to the sea and journeyed silent.

I have a library of a thousand volumes at Puka-Puka, and the natives, knowing no other book than the Bible, take it for granted that all my books are Bibles of a sort. A few of the more intelligent ones realize that some of these Bibles are different, containing, perhaps, stories of Noah and Abraham not thought proper for Puka-Puka readers.

I occasionally relate to them the Hellenic myths, the traditions of King Arthur, stories from the Arabian Nights, or one of Grimm's fairy tales. They listen with deep interest, and some old man is sure to ask why this story was left out of the Puka-Puka Bible.


As I have said, Puka-Puka is a drowsy little island. The greater part of the inhabitants reverse the usual order of things by going to bed at dawn and rising at sunset. For this reason it was necessary for the Reverend Mr. Johns, the missionary who occasionally visits the island, to insist that no child of school age should sleep between the hours of 8 and 10 A.M. During these hours Sea Foam teaches the children to read the Bible, while his assistant, Tamata (Try-It), vainly attempts to initiate them into some of the mysteries of arithmetic.

School opens with one hundred and twenty-odd children lined up before the schoolhouse. Sea Foam and Try-It, a tall, gloomy-faced individual reminding one of the immortal Ichabod, march down the line examining hair and faces, and when, as usually happens, there are evidences of uncleanliness the culprits are sent down to the lagoon to wash.

When they reach the lagoon, the children of course wade in, not having any clothes to get wet, and they have such a happy time splashing and ducking one another that they forget all about school. Sea Foam sees no more of them that day.

Following inspection comes a quarter of an hour of calisthenics, an innovation of the Reverend Mr. Johns. Parents look perplexedly on while their children go through the motions with grunts and sighs. "Vuni- tooi-treei!' cries Sea Foam, giving them the time for the


Sometimes Sea Foam takes a nap in the schoolhouse,- in fact, he frequently does, does, whereupon all the children go home, and when the parson wakes he finds that the sun is setting. He tucks his Bible under his arm and strolls down the village street, stopping at the store to have a chat with me. School-teaching, he informs me solemnly, is a great burden. Often his whole day is taken up with the business of searching out suitable texts and stories for the children to learn.

Try-It's classes are held in a small thatched hut adjoining the more pretentious coral-lime schoolhouse. It is open at the sides; the children sit crosslegged on the floor, and coconut logs are used for benches. Here Try-It instructs the youngsters in their ABC's, and attempts to hammer the science of numbers into their heads by singsong repetitions of 'One times one is one, one times two is two,' and so forth.

One morning I looked on secretly at one of Try-It's sessions. It was a very warm day; the faintest possible breeze fanned the cheeks of his charges and caressed his own stubbly jowls. Try-It, with his back to the children, stared vacantly across the lagoon. Perhaps he was thinking; possibly not. The singsong of the children died away to silence. Several youngsters stole

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