CHAPTER 2. My Further Adventures with Ratu Lala.
A marriageable young lady in Fiji would generally have a great quantity of long braided ringlets hanging down on ONE side of her head. This looked odd, considering that the rest of her hair was erect or frizzly. It was a great insult to have these ringlets cut. I heard of it once being done by a white planter, and great trouble and fighting were the result.
I accompanied Ratu Lala on several expeditions to various parts of the island, and we also visited several smaller islands within his dominions. On these occasions we always took possession of the "Buli's," or village chief's, hut, turning him out, and feeding on all the delicacies the village could produce. After we had practically eaten them out of house and home we would move on and take possession of another village. The inhabitants did not seem to mind this; in fact, they seemed to enjoy our visit, as it was an excuse for big feasts, "meke-mekes" (dances) and "angona" drinking.
One of the most enjoyable expeditions that I made with Ratu Lala was to Vuna, about twenty miles away to the south. A small steamer, the KIA ORA, which made periodical visits to the island to collect the government taxes in copra, arrived one day in the bay. Ratu Lala thought this would be a good opportunity for us to make a fishing expedition to Vuna. We went on board the steamer while our large boat was towed behind.
At the same time Ratu Lala's two little children, Moe and Tersi, started off, in charge of Ratu Lala's Tongan wife and other women, to be educated in Suva. It was the first time they had ever left home, but I agreed with Ratu Lala, that it was time they went, as they did not know a word of English, and, for the matter of that, neither did his Tongan wife. When we all arrived at the beach to get into the boat, we found a large crowd, chiefly women, sitting on the ground, and as Ratu Lala walked past them, they greeted him with a kind of salutation which they chanted as with one voice. I several times asked him what it meant, but he always evaded the question somehow, and seemed too modest to tell me. I came to the conclusion that it ran something like "Hail, most noble prince, live for ever." The next minute all the women started to howl as if at a given signal, and they looked pictures of misery. Several of them waded out into the sea and embraced little Tersi and Moe. This soon set the children crying as well, so that I almost began to fear that the combined tears would sink our boat. Their old grandmother waded out into the sea up to her neck and stayed there, and we could hear her howling long after we had got on board the steamer. When we got into Ratu Lala's boat at Vuna there was another very affecting farewell. Some months later when I returned to Suva, I asked a young chief, Ratu Pope, to show me where they were at school, and I found them at a small kindergarten for the children of the Europeans in Suva.
They seemed quite glad to see their old friend again, and still more so when I promised to bring them some lollies (the term used for sweets in Australasia) that afternoon.
When I returned I witnessed a pretty and interesting sight The two little children were standing out in the school yard while several Fijian men and women of noble families who had been paying the little prince and princess a visit, were just taking their leave. It was a curious sight to see these old people go in turn up to these two little mites and go down on their knees and kiss their little hands reverently in silence. All this homage seemed to bore the small high-born ones, and hardly was the ceremony over when they caught sight of me, and, rushing toward me with cries of "Misi Walk siandra, lollies," they nearly knocked over some of their visitors, who no doubt were greatly scandalized at such undignified behaviour.
To return to our visit to Vuna. Sometime previously, Ratu Lala had warned me that whenever he landed at this place with a visitor it was an old custom for the women to catch the visitor and throw him into the sea from the top of a small rocky cliff. To this I raised serious objections, but arrayed myself in very old thin clothes ready for the fray. However, upon landing, very much on the alert, I was agreeably surprised to find that the women left me alone. Yet in part Ratu Lala's story was true, as he assured me that quite recently he had been forced to put a stop to the custom, as one of his last visitors was a European of much importance who was greatly incensed at such treatment, and complained to the government, who told Ratu Lala that the custom must end.
We came to fish, and fish we did, just off the coral reef, but it would take space to describe even one-half of the curious and beautiful fish we caught. When I took the lead in the number of fish caught, Ratu Lala seemed greatly annoyed, and I was not sorry to let him get ahead, when he was soon in a good temper again. The Fijians generally fished with nets and a many-pronged fish-spear, with which they are very expert, and I saw them do wonderful work with them. They also used long wicker-work traps. Ratu Lala, on the contrary, being half-civilized, used an English rod and reel or line like a white man. Ratu Lala told the women here to give an exhibition of surf-board swimming for my benefit. As they rode into shore on the crest of a wave I many times expected to see them dashed against the rocks which fringed the coast. I had seen the natives in Hawaii perform seventeen years before, but it was tame in comparison to the wonderful performances of these Fijian women on this dangerous rock-girt coast.