Friday, 17 January 2014

Big Money 1

                                                            Big Money                              

                              “Only Rai gathered in the old way has any value.”
                                          Captain David O’Keefe, His Majesty O’Keefe, 1954

If the sign on the refuse bin in the airport was any indication, we had arrived deeper into the red spectrum of Rainbow’s End. Do not spit betel nut chew into this garbage can. It was surrounded by splotches of what the Yapese called langad, the preparation of areca nut and lime, that went into a betel leaf, into their mouths, and into the obvious orange respect they had for rules.
Our driver didn’t say a word during the entire trip to Colonia, more because of shyness that the fact that his mouth was full of betel nut. Robyn and I had arrived late in the afternoon, on a flyspeck of an island less than forty square miles, with almost as many lights twinkling in the equatorial dusky distance. The darkness had chased away the last betel-colored rays of the sun from Chamorro Bay, as the car pulled up to the first of three places we would stay on Yap. Across a wooden suspension bridge, we were greeted by roosters and barking dogs, a caged fruit bat in the thatched lobby, and a warm San Miguel beer. The old man in the white T-shirt that had handed it to us, with the key to our tree house, told us that the restaurant would close early, and we should hurry if we wanted any selection of food. The place had advertised itself as an ecolodge, and the ecology was indeed lodged in every crevice. At the top of a series of suspended pathways on a steep tropical rainforested hillside, was a traditional faluw hut on stilts, and an open lanai where we could sit and enjoy the sunsets. Inside we found beautiful haku lei on our pillows, made with fern fronds and red bottlebrush and orchids. But there was also mold in the mattress, geckos on the hardwood walls, and mosquitoes outside the net for them to munch on. The no-see-ums down at the restaurant were the only sign of life for the first half hour, before a dead half chicken that had likely begun his journey to us as a half dead chicken, shuffled in on two plates counterbalanced with taro. Menus were obviously not on the menu. Robyn and I looked longingly at the luxury of Trader Ridge across the bay- we would be there in just a few days, if we survived the ecology on this side of the water.
Our Continental breakfast next morning had undoubtedly been named after the airline, rather than the continent. We walked into town, but it was closed. Under a large thatched cover, hanging between two pillars, was a ladder of boards connected by chains, on which were written the names of all the shops of the co-operative mall, maybe more than all the shops of the co-operative mall- FSM Customs-FSM Finance-Les Video Rental-Diving Seagull-Ganir Restaurant- Bank of the FSM-Micro Tech Services- Moylans Insurance- Community Ayum Service Credit Union- FSM Tax and Revenue- FSM Public Defender- MR & Tee Drug Store. A stop sign stuck out the side of one of the poles. Across the street were three big letters made from rocks set into a grassy knoll. Yap. I wondered why they needed reminding.
The outside of the Office of the Public Defender was a charming amateur hand-painted undersea blue mural of coral and grasses and reef fish, with a big white jellyfish lurking on the closed window. All the other white and powder blue buildings were shut. The palms were still. We walked past the Mnuw, an old brown and blue Pinisi schooner from Sulawesi, reminiscent of our Bugi-men days, Headhunting in Kansas, to the hospital. Alert...Please do not spit in any area except for waste basket, or ‘tafenedow.’ Even better bring your own spit or waste can!!! Keep our hospital clean. There was a new wasp nest in the old air raid siren.
But the siren would have blown it apart eight month before we got there. On April 9th, Typhoon Sudal slammed smack into Yap. The strongest in fifty years, with winds of over 226 km/hour for over four hours, it produced 22 foot-high waves along the coast, dropped eight inches of rain, sunk ships, damaged the coral reefs, flattened trees and destroyed 90% of the structures on the island. The hospital, airport, most government facilities, and the water, power and communications systems were either badly damaged, or destroyed.
The intrusion of salt water destroyed almost all of the food crops on the island. Following the typhoon's passage, about 1,000 people, an eighth of the population, were left homeless, and another 500 were forced into shelters. The Yapese were still recovering from the effects of Typhoon Lupit, the year before. It may have partly explained why their betel boluses were missing the trashcan at the airport.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Reece's Place 6

Dillon, for his part, seized the priest who eventually came negotiated, thrusting loaded musket muzzles into his back and ears, and marching him through the thwarted throng of screaming warriors, back to the Hunter.  He later returned to the Wailea, ‘assisting them to destroy their enemies, who were cut up, baked, and eaten in his presence.’ Charlie Savage died the same year as the sandalwood trade. By 1840, the US Exploring Expedition had trouble finding even a few specimens for their collections. Every stick of the wood had blood on it. As the trees declined, the natives had become more hostile, wreaking their vengeance for outrages committed by one ship on the crew of the next. Traders were murdered for their metal implements, and eaten for their protein. It had been said of Savage that he shot certain Fijians, discovered in the act of eating human flesh, but the culture of cannibal cuisine was too pervasive to give this much credence.
Despite the fact that two-thirds of ethnic Fijians are Methodists, the highest proportion of the population of any nation, and that the exhibits at the Fiji museum had been made more presentable by this influence, the missionary movement in Fiji had initially been more about meat than Methodism.
The last documented act of cannibalism had occurred in Nabutautau, in 1867. The Reverend Thomas Baker, a Methodist missionary from Sussex, mistakenly broke a tabu by attempting to retrieve a comb from the Chief’s head, and ended up as the final feast. Other ministers witnessed horrific acts of cannibalism. In 1844, Reverend Thomas Williams witnessed the recapture of a Lakeba chief’s wife, who had run away in the middle of the night. Her arms were chopped off and cooked.  That evening, the chief made her sit across from his dining table and watch him consume her arms in horror.

    “Cannibalism among this people is one of their institutions; it is  
     interwoven in the elements of society; it forms one of their pursuits,
     and is regarded by the mass as a refinement.”
                                                          Reverend Thomas Williams

Two years later, Reverend John Watsford witnessed a regular display of slaughter on Bau, in a terraced arena, around which were sited raised stone seats for onlookers.

 ‘In this space was a huge ‘braining stone,’ which was used thus: two
  strong natives seized the victim, each taking hold of an arm and leg,
  and, lifting him from the ground, they ran with him head foremost – at
  their utmost speed against the stones – bashing out his brains.’

The Bau chief told Watsford that he did not like the taste of the flesh of white people, even when most delicately cooked, any more than he liked the flesh of the people of the Carpenter Tribe, both of which he considered tough and tasteless.
Fijians now regard those pre-Methodist times as Na gauna ni tevoro, the ‘Time of the Devil.’ Their original adoption of the act was an adaptation to the rigors of long voyages at sea. When they arrived in Fiji about 500 BC, they took on the customs of the Polynesians that had preceded them a thousand years earlier, including the constant warfare and cannibalism. The reputation of feasting Fijian ferocity deterred European ships from sailing anywhere near Cannibal Isles, and contributed to its isolation for decades longer than other archipelagos in the Southern Sea.
Sacrifices were an integral part of conquest and commemoration. Ceremonial occasions required stacks of piled-up freshly killed corpses, and ‘Eat me!’ was the proper ritual greeting of a commoner to a chief. No important business began without the slaying of one or two human beings as a fitting inauguration. For every chief’s canoe made, a man was slain for the laying of its keel, a fresh man was killed for every new added timber added, others were crushed to death, as rollers at its launching, and yet more were killed at the first taking down of the mast. Other men were slaughtered to wash its deck in blood, and furnish the feast of requisite human flesh. New buildings were consecrated by burying live adult prisoners in holes dug for the support posts, so the spirit of the ritually sacrificed would invoke the gods to help support the structure. Captured enemy children were hung by their, feet from the rigging of the victors’ canoes. The ultimate humiliation to an enemy, however, was to eat their flesh. Victims were bound ready for the ovens, as unharmed as possible, lest any of their blood should be lost. The more inpatient gourmands, unable to wait until the ovens were sufficiently heated, pulled the ears off the poor wretches and ate them raw, sliced off fingers and tongues, or chopped out large muscle groups to cook more quickly, while the sufferers, kept alive, watched in agony. Skulls were used as drinking bowls, and sexual organs were hung from trees as trophies of victory in battle.
William Speiden, the purser on the 1840 US Exploring Expedition, wrote from ringside.

  ‘The men doomed to death were made to dig a hole in the earth for the
   purpose of making a native oven, and were then required to cut
   firewood to roast their own bodies. They were then directed to go and
   wash, and afterwards to make a cup of a banana-leaf. This, from
   opening a vein in each man, was soon filled with blood. This blood was
   then drunk, in the presence of the sufferers, by the Kamba people.
   Sern, the Bau chief, then had their arms and legs cut off, cooked and
   eaten, some of the flesh being presented to them. He then ordered a
   fishhook to be put into their tongues, which were then drawn out as far
   as possible before being cut off. These were roasted and eaten, to the
   taunts of ‘We are eating your tongues!’ As life in the victims was still
   not extinct, an incision was made in the side of each man, and his
   bowels taken out. This soon terminated their sufferings in this world.
   One man actually stood by my side and ate the very eyes out of a
   roasted skull he had, saying, ‘Venaca, venaca,’ that is, very good.’

He also described how a whole tribe had been condemned to be eaten to extinction by the Namosi people, as a punishment for some misdeed. This was achieved over a period of years, with one household eaten each year.
The most famous Guinness book world record holder for ‘most prolific cannibal’ was a chief named Udre Udre, who recorded his human consumption by making a placing a rock on a cairn he had created, for each one eaten. The final count was 872 stones. Over a hundred had been white men.
Because a bokola feast was constipating, human flesh was always eaten with three kinds of vegetables, the leaves of malawaci and tudauo leaves, boro dino cannibal tomatoes, and taro, stuffed into the victims’ cavities.
The iculanibokola forks behind the glass cases of the Fiji Museum were more elaborate and elegant and less embarrassed than their Methodist descriptions. Our search for cannibals in the Cannibal Isles seemed to have been hermetically sealed. Robyn and I wandered down to the market for dinner.
The land for the original town of Suva had been extorted from King Cakobau by the Americans, for looting that had taken place, after a cannon exploded at the house of the US consul. The Australian Polynesia Company bought out the Americans, with the intent of turning it into a cotton plantation. Cakobau ceded the whole country to the British. Commonwealth. In 1953 the Richter 6.5 Suva earthquake had triggered a reef platform collapse and a submarine landslide tsunami that killed eight people, two in Kandavu.
Southeast trades moisturized the evening mountains behind us, and the sinusoidal centipedes of shops, squirming down to the sea. It was my birthday, and the market stall we chose was full of big Fijian families of big Fijians, gorging on favorite dishes. One of them was palusami, a casserole of taro leaves and coconut milk and onions and cannibal tomatoes, and Spam. It was delicious. There was a rumor about the popularity of Spam that must have brought a combination of smiles and shivers to the Hormel executives back in Austin, Minnesota. The smiles had come from the market saturation they have enjoyed in the Southern Sea, since it invaded with American GI stomachs in World War II. For almost the same reason, it now forms the basis for wedding gift boxes in Seoul, since the Korean War. But the popularity of the mystery meat in the Pacific was more attributable to the shivers. It seems that pork is not the only ‘other white meat.’ Spam tastes like long pig, and the Fijians were passionate about the stuff. I shared this insight carefully with the immense Fijian rugby player at the next table, tucking into his Fiji Bitter and his Spam palusami.
“I think this one used to be a clown.” He said.
“A clown?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He said. “Tastes funny.”

   “Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.”
                                                                                               Samuel Pepys

                                   Isa lei, na noqu rarawa
                                   Ni ko sana vodo e na mataka.
                                   Bau nanuma, na nodatou lasa,
                                   Mai Suva nanuma tikoga.

                                 Isa Lei, the purple shadows falling,
                                 Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow.
                                 Oh! Forget not, when you are far away,
                                 Precious moments beside Suva Bay.

‪                                      *         *        *

Monday, 13 January 2014

Reece's Place 5

                            “Lily white man from across the sea,
                              I'll eat you, or you'll eat me...”
                                  Leonard Wibberley, A Feast of Freedom

Three hours from Nadi, down the only road on the island, three hours from Monoriki, where Tom Hanks and Wilson the Volleyball were filmed in Cast Away, was the history of real castaway, and the de facto capital of Oceania.
Robyn and I crossed over naked muscular sugarcane hills and the Sigatoka River, along the southern Queen’s Road mangroves, tidal mud beaches and fringing reef, the hotel glut of the Coral Coast, to the busy peninsular harbor of Suva.
Paul Theroux, who ‘needed happiness to write well,’ was less than charitable. (Suva) reminds me of an aunt of mine who drank too much, delightful, prone to stumble, clothes a little askew, and always a strap of her slip showing... the sort of place you could buy a screwdriver or teapot or roll of tape, but never a pair of shoes or clothes you liked. His description of the city as ‘seedy,’ may have sprouted from the fungus on his namba. We found it charming, an old colonial blend of Melanesian melatonin and missionary monotony. The sun radiated down on the steep steps of the South Seas Private Hotel. Robyn and I sat on the veranda, watching lawn bowls and a rugby game, in the green of Albert Park below us. It was my birthday, and the Fiji bitter wasn’t. We had just returned from the Fiji museum, in the Thurston botanical gardens. Implements of the country’s history were displayed in static cases behind glass, in a deliberate civilizing effort to sanitize the savagery, but you could still smell the air inside.
The story, like many in the Southern Sea, began with a real castaway, actually three shipwrecks and two castaways. In 1798, the first ship arrived in Port Jackson, Australia.

         ‘The Argo, an American schooner, arrived from the Isle of France,
           having on board a cargo of salt provisions, French brandy, and other
           articles on speculation; which, as usual in this country, found a ready
           sale, much more to the advantage of the owners than the colonists.’

Two years later, on her way from China back to Sydney, the Argo was wrecked on Bukatatanoa reef, east of Lakeba. Aside from the crew, which managed to reach Tonga before all but two were killed, the Argo left three surviving legacies, which changed the archipelago forever.
The first was a dysenteric epidemic that tore through Fiji’s virgin immune system. No one knows what ‘the wasting sickness,’ Na lila balavu, was (it may have been cholera), but it ravages devastated native communities so badly, the remnants were left to weak to bury their dead. It was accompanied by other gifts of civilization- measles, tuberculosis, syphilis, gonorrhea, and rum and muskets.
The two Argo survivors were rescued in 1802.
One of them, Oliver Slater, had spent the two years after the wreck near Bua Bay, where he discovered prodigious numbers of sandalwood trees. The news of this, on his arrival in China, led to an explosion of sandalwood exploitation on Vanua Levu. Four years after Slater’s rescue, a second ship’s disaster occurred, again in Tonga, on Lefooga, in the Ha’apai Group. The crew of the tall privateer warship Port au Prince, almost 500 tons, armed with 24 long nine and twelve pounders and 8 twelve pound carronades, were massacred, and the ship burnt to the waterline. There was but one survivor, Charlie Savage, who was to become ‘the most notorious beachcomber in the South Seas.’ His luck didn’t change much, when he was rescued a year later by the third ship, the Eliza, a 135 ton American sandalwood trading brig out of Providence, Rhode Island, on its way from Sydney to Fiji. In June of 1808, it was wrecked on Mocea reef, off Nairai Island. Savage was equal to the promise his surname. Fluent in Tongan and Fijian, and violent to the point that even large Fijian warriors were wary of him, Charlie salvage a large number of muskets from the wreckage of the Eliza, demonstrated their potential to the great Vunivalu Bau Island chieftain, Ratu Naulivou, and with the powerful combination of circumstance, personality, and technology, launched the terrible carnage of the Fijian Wars. Lacking any of the cultural inhibitions of the Bauian leaders (like not immediately attacking enemy chieftains at the beginning of battle), he brought a lethality never seen before in the islands. His ‘victims were so numerous that the townspeople piled up the bodies and sheltered behind them; and the stream beside the village ran red.’ Charlie took credit for the victories, and numerous wives and a share in the sandalwood trade, in more physical remuneration. Drawn by tales of wealth, unscrupulous seamen from other ships loading sandalwood, deserted or obtained discharge, bought muskets and ammunition, and joined Charlie’s growing band of mercenaries at Bau. Within two of three years there were twenty reckless, cruel, pampered profligates, living the morality of the poultry yard.
But Charlie Savage only lasted five more years. In 1813, he briefly joined Captain Robson’s Calcutta sandalwood trading ship, Hunter, and went ashore on Wailea, to destroy a number of local canoes. They walked into an ambush. According to the account of the third mate, Peter Dillon, several thousand natives chased the crew up what was to become known as Dillon’s Rock, and laid siege. Charlie suggested they break and run, but was overruled by Dillon. Several Wailean chiefs climbed the hill, to offer friendship and peace, and Savage, ‘accompanied by a Chinaman,’ went down to parlay. When Dillon refused his instruction to come down, and another sailor tried to escape, the Wailea took out their frustrations on Charlie, drowning him in a well, and baking him with his companion, as ‘long pig’. His bones were later made into sail needles. When Olle Strandberg visited some of the smaller islands in 1950, he found local Fijians still singing traditional songs about their most famous castaway.

                          ‘Charlie Savage with the purple beard
                           Was eaten by men from Vilear.
                           His hands and his feet gave them strength.
                           His fat women were driven up into the hills,
                           Charlie Savage with the purple beard
                           Fed a hundred warriors with his flesh.’

Wink's Drawing of Kandavu Fare at Reece's Place