CHAPTER 2. My Further Adventures with Ratu Lala.
Fijian Huts - Abundance of Game and Fish - Methods of Capture - A Fijian Practical Joke - Fijian Feasts - Fun after Dinner - A Court Jester in Fiji - Drinking, Dress, and Methods of Mourning - A Bride's Ringlets - Expedition to Vuna - Tersi and Moe Journey to School - Their Love of Sweets - Rough Reception of Visitors to Vuna - Wonderful Fish Caught - Exhibition of Surf-board Swimming by Women - Impressive Midnight Row back to Taviuni - A Fijian Farewell.
In comparison with Samoan huts, the Fijian huts were very comfortable, though they are not half as airy, Samoan huts being very open; but in most of the Fijian huts I visited the only openings were the doors, and, as can be imagined, the interior was rather dark and gloomy. In shape they greatly resembled a haystack, the sides being composed of grass or bunches of leaves, more often the latter. They are generally built on a platform of rocks, with doors upon two or more sides, according to the size of the hut; and a sloping sort of rough plank with notches on it leads from the ground to each door. In the interior, the sides of the walls are often beautifully lined with the stems of reeds, fashioned very neatly, and in some cases in really artistic patterns, and tied together with thin ropes of coconut fibre, dyed various colours, and often ornamented with rows of large white cowry shells. The floor of these huts is much like a springy mattress, being packed to a depth of several feet with palm and other leaves, and on the top are strips of native mats permanently fastened, whereas in Samoa the floor is made up of small pieces of brittle white coral, over which are loose mats, which can be moved at will. In Fijian huts there is always a sort of raised platform at one end of the hut, on which are piles of the best native mats, and, being the guest, I generally got this to myself. The roof inside is very finely thatched, the beams being of "Niu sau," a native palm, the cross-pieces and main supports being enormous bits of hard wood. The smaller supports of the sides are generally the trunks of tree-ferns. The doors in most of the huts are a strip of native matting or fantastically-painted "tapa" cloth, fastened to two posts a few feet inside the hut. In some huts there are small openings in the walls which answer for windows. The hearth was generally near one of the doors in the centre of the hut, and fire was produced by rubbing a piece of hard wood on a larger piece of soft wood, and working it up and down in a groove till a spark was produced. I have myself successfully employed this method when out shooting green pigeon ("rupe") in the mountains.
With regard to food, I at first fared very well, although we had our meals at all hours, as Ratu Lala was very irregular in his habits. Our chief food was turtle. We had it so often that I soon loathed the taste of it. The turtles, when brought up from the sea were laid on their backs under a tree close by the house, and there the poor brutes were left for days together. Ratu Lala's men often brought in a live wild pig, which they captured with the aid of their dogs. At other times they would run them down and spear them; this was hard and exciting work, as I myself found on several occasions that I went pig hunting. One of the most remarkable things that I saw in Taviuni, from a sporting point of view, was the heart of a wild pig, which, when killed, was found to have lived with the broken point of a wooden spear fully four inches in length buried in the very centre of its heart. It had evidently lived for many years afterwards, and a curious kind of growth had formed round the point.
As for other game, every time I went out in the mountain woods I had splendid sport with the wild chickens or jungle fowl and pigeons, and I would often return with my guide bearing a long pole loaded at both ends with the birds I had shot. The pigeons, which were large birds, settled on the tops of the tallest trees and made a very peculiar kind of growling noise. Many years ago (as Ratu Lala told me) the natives of Taviuni had been in the habit of catching great quantities of pigeons by means of large nets suspended from the trees. The chickens would generally get up like a pheasant, and it was good sport taking a snap shot at an old cock bird on the wing. It was curious to hear them crowing away in the depths of the forest, and at first I kept imagining that I was close to some village. I also obtained some good duck shooting on a lake high up in the mountains, and Ratu Lala described to me what must. be a species of apteryx, or wingless bird (like the Kiwi of New Zealand), which he said was found in the mountains and lived in holes in the ground, but I never came across it, though I had many a weary search. Ratu Lala also assured me that the wild chickens were indigenous in Fiji, and were not descended. from the domestic fowl. We had plenty of fish, both salt and fresh water, and the mountain streams were full of large fish, which Ratu Lala, who is a keen fisherman, caught with the fly or grasshoppers. He sometimes caught over one hundred in a day, some of them over three pounds in weight. The streams were also full of huge eels and large prawns, and a kind of oyster was abundant in the sea, so what with wild pig, wild chickens, pigeons, turtles, oysters, prawns, crabs, eels, and fish of infinite variety, we fared exceedingly well. Oranges, lemons, limes, large shaddocks, "kavika," and other wild fruits were plentiful everywhere.