CHAPTER 1. Life in the Home of a Fijian Prince.

Journey to Taviuni - Samoan Songs - Whistling for the Wind - Landing on Koro - Nabuna - Samoans and Fijians Compared - Fijian Dances and Angona Drinking - A Hurricane in the Southern Seas - Arrival at Taviuni - First Impressions of Ratu Lala's Establishment - Character of Ratu Lala - Prohibition of Cricket - Ratu Lala Offended - The Prince's Musical Box.

Among all my wanderings in Fiji I think I may safely say that my two months' stay with Ratu (Prince) Lala, on the island of Taviuni, ranks highest both for interest and enjoyment. As I look back on my life with this great Fijian prince and his people, it all somehow seems unreal and an existence far apart from the commonplace life of civilization. When I was in Suva (the capital) the colonial secretary gave me a letter of introduction to Ratu Lala, and so one morning I sailed from Suva on an Australian steamer, taking with me my jungle outfit and a case of whisky, the latter a present for the Prince, - and a more acceptable present one could not have given him.

After a smooth passage we arrived the same evening at Levuka, on the island of Ovalau. After a stay of a day here, I sailed in a small schooner which carried copra from several of the Outlying islands to Levuka. Her name was the LURLINE, and her captain was a Samoan, whilst his crew was made up of two Samoans and four Fijians. The captain seemed to enjoy yelling at his men in the Fijian language, with a strong flavouring of English "swear words," and spoke about the Fijians in terms of utter contempt, calling them "d - - d cannibals." The cabin wag a small one with only two bunks, and swarmed with green beetles and cockroaches. Our meals were all taken together on deck, and consisted of yams, ship's biscuit and salt junk.

We had a grand breeze to start with, but toward evening it died down and we lay becalmed. All hands being idle, the Samoans spent the time in singing the catchy songs of Samoa, most of which I was familiar with from my long stay in those islands, and their delight was great when I joined in. About midnight a large whale floated calmly alongside, not forty yards from our little schooner, and we trembled to think what would happen if it was at all inclined to be playful. We whistled all the next day for a breeze, but our efforts were not a success until toward evening, when we were rewarded in a very liberal manner, and arrived after dark at the village of Cawa Lailai,[1] on the island of Koro. On our landing quite a crowd of wild-looking men and women, all clad only in sulus, met us on the beach. Although it is a large island, there is only one white man on it, and he far away from here, so no doubt I was an interesting object. I put up at the hut of the "Buli" or village chief, and after eating a dish of smoking yams, I was soon asleep, in spite of the mosquitoes. It dawned a lovely morning and I was soon afoot to view my surroundings. It was a beautiful village, surrounded by pretty woods on all sides, and I saw and heard plenty of noisy crimson and green parrots everywhere. I also learnt that a few days previously there had been a wholesale marriage ceremony, when nearly all the young men and women had been joined in matrimony.

Taking a guide with me, I walked across the island till I came to the village of Nabuna,[2] on the other coast, the LURLINE meanwhile sailing around the island. It was a hard walk, up steep hills and down narrow gorges, and then latterly along the coast beneath the shade of the coconuts. Fijian bridges are bad things to cross, being long trunks of trees smoothed off on the surface and sometimes very narrow, and I generally had to negotiate them by sitting astride and working myself along with my hands. In the village of Nabuna lived the wife and four daughters of the Samoan captain. He told me he had had five wives before, and when I asked if they were all dead, he replied that they were still alive, but he had got rid of them as they were no good.

The daughters were all very pretty girls, especially the youngest, a little girl. of nine years old. I always think that the little Samoan girls, with their long wavy black hair, are among the prettiest children in the world.

We had an excellent supper of native oysters, freshwater prawns and eels, fish, chicken, and many other native dishes. That evening a big Fijian dance ("meke-meke"), was given in my honour. Two of the captain's daughters took part in it. The girls sit down all the time in a row, and wave their hands and arms about and sing in a low key and in frightful discord. It does not in any way come up to the very pretty "siva-siva" dancing of the Samoans, and the Fiji dance lacks variety. There is a continual accompaniment of beating with sticks on a piece of wood. All the girls decorate themselves with coloured leaves, and their bodies, arms and legs glisten as in Samoa with coconut-oil, really a very clean custom in these hot countries, though it does not look prepossessing. Our two Samoans in the crew were most amusing; they came in dressed up only in leaves, and took off the Fijians to perfection with the addition of numerous extravagant gestures. I laughed till my sides ached, but the Fijians never even smiled. However, our Samoans gave them a bit of Samoan "siva-siva" and plenty of Samoan songs, and it was amusing to see the interest the Fijians took in them. It was, of course, all new to them. I drank plenty of "angona," that evening. It is offered you in a different way in Samoa. In Fiji, the man or girl, who hands you the coconut-shell cup on bended knee, crouches at your feet till you have finished. In Fijian villages a sort of crier or herald goes round the houses every night crying the orders for the next day in a loud resonant voice, and at once all talking ceases in the hut outside which he happens to be.

The next two days it blew a regular hurricane, and the captain dared not venture out to sea, our schooner lying safely at anchor inside the coral reef. I have not space to describe my stay here, but it proved most enjoyable, and the captain's pretty Samoan daughters gave several "meke-mekes" (Fijian dances) in my honour, and plenty of "angona" was indulged in, and what with feasts, native games and first-class fishing inside the coral reef, the time passed all too quickly. I called on the "Buli" or village chief, with the captain. He was a boy of fifteen, and seemed a very bashful youth.

We sailed again about five a.m. on the third morning, as the storm seemed to be dying down and the captain was anxious to get on. We had not gone far, however, before the gale increased in fury until it turned into a regular hurricane. First our foresheet was carried away; this was followed by our staysail, and things began to look serious, in fact, most unpleasantly so. The captain almost seemed to lose his head, and cursed loud and long. He declared that he had been a fool to put out to sea before the storm had gone down, and the LURLINE, being an old boat, could not possibly last in such a storm, and added that we should all be drowned. This was not pleasant news, and as the cabin was already half-full of water, and we expected each moment to be our last, I remained on deck for ten weary hours, clinging like grim death to the ropes, while heavy seas dashed over me, raking the little schooner fore and aft.

Toward evening, however, the wind subsided considerably, which enabled us to get into the calm waters of the Somo-somo Channel between the islands of Vanua Levu and Taviuni.

The wreckage was put to rights temporarily, the Samoans, who had previously made up their minds that they were going to be drowned, burst forth into their native songs, and we broke our long fast of twenty-four hours, as we had eaten nothing since the previous evening. It was an experience I am not likely to forget, as it was the worst storm I have ever been in, if I except the terrible typhoon of October, 1903, off Japan, when I was wrecked and treated as a Russian spy. On this occasion a large Japanese fishing fleet was entirely destroyed. I was, of course, soaked to the skin and got badly bruised, and was once all but washed overboard, one of the Fijians catching hold of me in the nick of time. We cast anchor for the night, though we had only a few miles yet to go, but this short distance took us eight or nine hours next day, as this channel is nearly always calm. We had light variable breezes, and tacked repeatedly, but gained ground slowly. These waters seemed full of large turtles, and we passed them in great numbers. We overhauled a large schooner, and on hailing them, the captain, a white man, came on deck. He would hardly believe that we had been all through the storm. He said that he had escaped most of it by getting inside the coral reef round Vanua Levu, but even during the short time he had been out in the storm, he had had to throw the greater part of his cargo overboard. From the way he spoke, he had evidently been drinking, possibly trying to forget his lost cargo.

Before I left Fiji I heard that the LURLINE had gone to her last berth. She was driven on to a coral reef in a bad storm off the coast of Taviuni. The captain seemed to stand in much fear of Ratu Lala. He told me many thrilling yarns about him; said he robbed his people badly, and added that he did not think that I would get on well with him, and would soon be anxious to leave.

I landed at the large village of Somo-somo, glad to be safely on TERRA FIRMA once more. It was a pretty village, with a large mountain torrent dashing over the rocks in the middle of it. The huts were dotted about irregularly on a natural grass lawn, and large trees, clumps of bamboo, coconuts, bread-fruit trees, and bright-coloured "crotons" added a great deal to the picturesqueness of the village. At the back the wooded hills towered up to a height of nearly 4,000 feet, and white streaks amid the mountain woods showed where many a fine waterfall tumbled over rocky precipices.

Ratu Lala lived in a wooden house, built for him (as "Roko" for Taviuni), by the government, on the top of a hill overlooking the village, and. thither on landing I at once made my way. I found the Prince slowly recovering from an attack of fever, and lying on a heap of mats (which. formed his bed) on the floor of his own private room, which, however, greatly resembled an old curiosity shop. Everything was in great disorder, and piles of London Graphics and other papers littered the ground, and on the tables were piled indiscriminately clocks, flasks, silver cups, fishing rods, guns, musical boxes, and numerous other articles which I discovered later on were presents from high officials and other Europeans, and which he did not know what to do with. Nearly every window in the house had a pane of glass[3] broken, the floors were devoid of mats or carpets, and in places were rotten and full of holes. This will give some idea of the state of chaos that reigned in the Prince's "palace."

Ratu Lala himself was a tall, broad-shouldered man of about forty, his hair slightly grey, with a bristly moustache and a very long sloping forehead. Though dignified, he wore an extremely fierce expression, so much so that I instinctively felt his subjects had good cause to treat him with the respect and fear that I had heard they gave him. He belongs to the Fijian royal family, and though he does not rank as high as his cousin, Ratu Kandavu Levu, whom I also visited at Bau, he is infinitely more powerful, and owns more territory. His father was evidently a "much married man" since Ratu Lala himself told me that he had had "exactly three hundred wives." But in spite of this he had been a man of prowess, as the Fijians count it, and I received as a present from Ratu Lala a very heavy hardwood war-club that had once belonged to his father, and which, he assured me, had killed a great many people. Ratu Lala also told me that he himself had offered to furnish one hundred warriors to help the British during the last Egyptian war, but that the government had declined his offer. One of the late Governors of Fiji, Sir John Thurston, was once his guardian and, godfather. He was educated for two years in Sydney, Australia, and spoke English well, though in a very thick voice. Not only does he hold sway over the island of Taviuni, but also over some smaller islands and part of the large island of Vanua Levu. He also holds the rank of "Roko" from the government, for which he is well paid.

After reading my letter of introduction he asked me to stay as long as I liked, and he called his head servant and told him to find me a room. This servant's name was Tolu, and as he spoke English fairly well, I soon learned a great deal about Ratu Lala and his people.

Ratu Lala was married to a very high-caste lady who was closely related to the King of Tonga, and several of whose relatives accompanied us on our expeditions. By her he had two small children named Tersi (boy) and Moe (girl), both of whom, during my stay (as will hereafter appear) were sent to school at Suva, amid great lamentations on the part of the women of Ratu Lala's household. Two months before my visit Ratu Lala had lost his eldest daughter (by his Tongan wife). She was twelve years old, and a favourite of his, and her grave was on a bluff below the house, under a kind of tent, hung round with fluttering pieces of "tapa" cloth. Spread over it was a kind of gravel of bright green Stones which he had had brought from a long distance. Little Moe and Tersi were always very interested in watching me skin my birds, and their exclamation of what sounded like "Esa!" ("Oh look!") showed their enjoyment. They were two of the prettiest little children I think I have ever seen, but they did not know a word of English, and called me "Misi Walk." They and their mother always took their meals sitting on mats in the verandah. Ratu Lala had two grown-up daughters by other wives, but they never came to the house, living in an adjoining hut where I often joined them at a game of cards. They were both very stately and beautiful young women, with a haughty bearing which made me imagine that they were filled with a sense of their own importance.

As is well known all over Fiji, Ratu Lala, a few years before my stay with him, had been deported in disgrace for a term of several months, to the island of Viti Levu, where he would be under the paternal eye of the government. This was because he had punished a woman, who had offended him, by pegging her down on an ants' nest, first smearing her all over with honey, so that the ants would the more readily eat her.[4] She recovered afterwards, but was badly eaten. As regards his punishment, he told me that he greatly enjoyed his exile, as he had splendid fishing, and some of the white people sent him champagne.

His people were terribly afraid of him, and whenever they passed him as he sat on his verandah, they would almost go down on all fours. He told me how on one occasion when he was sitting on the upper verandah of the Club Hotel in Suva with two of his servants squatting near by, the whisky he had drunk had made him feel so sleepy, that he nearly fell into the street below, but his servants dared not lay hands on him to pull him back into safety, as his body was considered sacred by his people, and they dared not touch him. He declared to me that he would have been killed if a white man had not arrived just in time. He was very fond of telling me this story, and always laughed heartily over it. I noticed that Ratu Lala's servants treated me with a great deal of respect, and whenever they passed me in the house they would walk in a crouching attitude, with their heads almost touching the ground.

Ratu Lala's cousin, Ratu Kandavu Levu, is a very enthusiastic cricketer, and has a very good cricket club with a pavilion at his island of Bau. He plays many matches against the white club in Suva, and only last year he took an eleven over to Australia to tour that country. I learned that previous to my visit he had paid a visit to Ratu Lala, and while there had got up a match at Somo-somo in which he induced Ratu Lala to play, but on Ratu Lala being given out first ball for nought, he (Ratu Lala) pulled up the stumps and carried them off the ground, and henceforth forbade any of his people to play the game on the island of Taviuni. I was not aware of this, and as I had brought a bat and ball with me, I got up several games shortly after my arrival. However, one evening all refused to play, but gave no reasons for their refusal, but Tolu told me that his master did not like to have them play. Then I learned the reason, and from that time I noticed a decided coolness on the part of Ratu Lala toward me. The fact, no doubt, is that Ratu Lala being exceptionally keen on sport, this very keenness made him impatient of defeat, or even of any question as to a possible want of success on his part, as I afterwards learnt on our expedition to Ngamia.

I intended upon leaving Taviuni to return to Levuka, and from thence go by cutter to the island of Vanua Levu, and journey up the Wainunu River, plans which I ultimately carried out. Ratu Lala, however, wished me to proceed in his boat straight across to the island of Vanua Levu, and walk across a long stretch of very rough country to the Wainunu River. My only objection was that I had a large and heavy box, which I told Ratu Lala I thought was too large to be carried across country. He at once flew into a violent passion and declared that I spoke as if I considered he was no prince. "For," said he, "if ten of my subjects cannot carry your box I command one hundred to do so, and if one hundred of my subjects cannot carry your box I tell fifteen thousand of my subjects to do so." When I tried to picture fifteen thousand Fijians carrying my wretched box, it was altogether too much for my sense of humour, and I burst forth into a hearty roar of laughter, which so incensed the Prince that he shut himself up in his own room during the few remaining days of my stay.

He had a musical box, which he was very fond of, and he had a man to keep it going at all hours of the day and night. It played four tunes, among them "The Village Blacksmith," "Strolling 'Round the Town," and "Who'll Buy my Herrings" till at times they nearly drove me frantic, especially when I wanted to write or sleep. Night after night the tunes followed each other in regular routine till I thought I should get them on the brain. How he could stand it was a puzzle to me, especially as he had possessed it for many years. I often blessed the European who gave it him, and wished he could take my place.

Whenever a man wished to speak to Ratu Lala he would crouch at his feet and softly clap his hands, and sometimes Ratu Lala would wait several minutes before he deigned to notice him.