Thursday, 26 December 2013
Aground in the Abode of Love 6
The naked Ha'apai chief who would determine Will Mariner’s fate was Finou 'Ulukalala the First. He called to one of the Hawaiians to fire a musket at one of the Tongans high in the ship’s rigging. The fall broke the man’s legs and fractured his skull. When Will later asked him how he could be so cruel, Finou laughed, and explained that he had been a lowly cook, and that his life or death had been of no consequence to society.
But Will was destined to be of major consequence to society, and to Finou. Over the next three days, the ship was stripped of her iron, had her guns and powder removed, and was burnt to the waterline. The guns would help Finou consolidate his rule over the rest of Tonga, and Will would help Finou accomplish this, for which was ultimately given the name Toki 'Ukamea. Iron Axe.
Over the next four years, Will would teach Finou about his culture, about how taking apart a watch doesn’t guarantee the ability to reassemble it, and about money.
“If money were made of iron and could be converted into knives, axes and chisels there would be some sense in placing a value on it; but as it is, I see none. If a man has more yams than he wants, let him exchange some of them away for pork. Certainly money is much handier and more convenient but then, as it will not spoil by being kept, people will store it up instead of sharing it out as a chief ought to do, and thus become selfish. I understand now very well what it is that makes the white men so selfish — it is this money!”
For his part, Finou taught Will about his culture, about his love of cooked dog meat, particularly the neck and hind quarters, and the legend of the cave inside which I was treading water in. A young man chasing a turtle observed it dive, without surfacing. He followed it into an underwater cave of considerable size, with no outlet but the one he had entered by. The man forgot about the cave until, some months later, when the tyrannical king, who mistreated his subjects, condemned another chief and all his family to be drowned at sea, for opposing him. The young man was secretly in love with one of the condemned man’s daughters, a maiden who he would otherwise be deemed socially inadequate to marry. Thinking quickly, he declared himself to her, and found that she had also been secretly in love with him. No one knew what had become of her until, one day, a boating party saw what appeared to be the ghost of girl, rising from the heart of the waves, before once again disappearing. The young man had kept her hidden for several months, bringing food, water, bedding for the rough stone couch at one end of the cave, even torches safely wrapped in leaves, until he was able to arrange to be sent on an expedition to Fiji. Outward bound from Vava'u, he stopped his canoes, leaving his men perplexed as he dived into the water, only to reappear with his maiden fair, and off they sailed to Fiji, where they lived happily, until the tyrant’s death.
There was indeed a stone couch at the end of the cave. There was also enough evocative power in the legend, to inspire Byron’s use of it.
“The first yet voiceless wind to urge the wave
All gently to refresh the thirsty cave,
Where sat the Songstress with the stranger boy,
Who taught her Passion's desolating joy...
The sun-born blood suffused her neck, and threw
O'er her clear nut-brown skin a lucid hue,
Like coral reddening through the darkened wave,
Which draws the diver to the crimson cave.
Such was this daughter of the southern seas...”
Lord Byron, The Island
But inside Mariner’s Cave, I wasn’t thinking about Lord Byron. I wasn’t thinking about Will Mariner. I was thinking about the acoustics. Everyone that had come into the cave from our boat had left, including our guide, who told me to come when I was ready. But I wasn’t ready. Inside me, inside the cave, I had a tribute I needed to get out, to the love that inspired the legend. And to Luciano Pavoratti, whose good name required a little rehabilitation, from the beating it received at the hands of the less than good Samaritan American, at the Good Samaritan. And I sent Nessun dorma, from Puccini’s Turandot, ricocheting off the walls of the cave.
“Tu pure, O Principessa,
Nella tua fredda stanza... tremano d'amoree di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me, il nome mio nessun saprà...
Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà
Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia...
“Even you, O Princess,
In your cold room... tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me, my name no one shall know...
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine...
I will win.”