CHAPTER 2. My Further Adventures with Ratu Lala.
A great many "meke-mekes" or dances were got up in our honour, but Ratu Lala detested them, and rarely attended, but preferred staying in the "Buli's" hut, lying on the floor smoking or sleeping. He, however, always begged me to attend them in his place. After a time I found the performances rather wearisome, and not nearly so varied and interesting as the "siva-sivas" in Samoa. There the girls sang in soft, pleasing voices, the words being full of liquid vowels. Here in Fiji the singing was harsh and discordant, as k's and r's abound in the language.
When it came to the ceremony of drinking "angona" I worthily did my part of the performance. Drinking "angona" is a taste not easily acquired, but when one has once got used to it, there is not a more refreshing drink, and I speak from long experience. In Fiji I was often presented with a large "angona" root, but it would be considered exceedingly bad form did you not return it to the giver and tell him to have it at once prepared for himself and his people, you yourself, of course, taking part in the drinking ceremony.
After a stay of several days at Vuna we rowed back by night. It was a perfect, calm night, and with the full moon, was almost as bright as day. We rowed all the way close to shore, passing under the gloomy shade of dense forests or by countless coconuts, the only sound besides the plash of our oars being the cry of water fowl or some night bird, while the light beetles flashed their green lights against the dark background of the forest, looking much like falling stars. There are certain moments in life that have made a lasting impression on me, and that moonlight row was one of them.
We made several expeditions together that were every bit as interesting and enjoyable as the one to Vuna. On one occasion we visited the north part of the island, as well as Ngamia and other islands. We rowed nearly all the way close into shore and saw plenty of turtles. Ratu Lala started to troll with live bait, as we had come across several women fishing with nets, and on our approach they chanted out a greeting to Ratu Lala, and in return he helped himself to a lot of their fish. Ratu Lala had fully a dozen large fish after his bait, and some he hooked for a few seconds. This only made him the keener, and after leaving the calm Somo-somo Channel, although we encountered a very rough sea, he had the sail hoisted and we travelled at a great rate in and out amongst a lot of rocky islets, shipping any amount of water which soaked us and our baggage, and half-filled the boat. I expected we should be swamped every moment, and from the frightened looks of our crew I knew they expected the same thing. Hence, I was not reassured when Ratu Lala remarked that it was in just such a sea, and in the same place, that he lost his schooner (which the government had given him) and that on that occasion he and all his crew remained in the water for five hours. When I explained that I had no wish to be upset, he said, "I suppose you can swim?" I said "Yes! but I do not wish to lose my gun and other property," to which he replied, "Well, I lost more than that when my schooner went down." I was therefore not a little relieved when he had the sail lowered. He explained that he never liked being beaten, even if he drowned us all, and *all this was because I had bet him one shilling (by his own desire) that he would not get a fish. I mention this to show what foolhardy things he was capable of doing, never thinking of the consequences. I could mention many such cases. We at length came to some shallows between a lot of small and most picturesque islands, and as it was low tide, and we could not pass, we, viz., Ratu Lala, myself, and the other chiefs, got out to walk, leaving the boat and crew to come on when they could (they arrived at 4 a.m. the next morning). I was glad to get an opportunity to dry myself, and we started off at a good rate for our destination, but unfortunately we came to a spot where grew a small weed that the Fijians consider a great luxury when cooked, and Ratu Lala and his people stayed here fully two hours, till they had picked all the weed in sight, in spite of the heavy rain. It was amusing to see all these high-caste Fijians and old Stivani, the jester, running to and fro with yells of delight like so many children, all on account of a weed which I myself afterwards failed to enjoy.