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A NATIVE RISING
It was stated a little while back that we were left on the island with statues and natives. The statues remained quiescent, the natives did not. The inhabitants, or Kanakas to give them their usual name1 (fig. 26), are on the whole a handsome race, though their voices, particularly those of the women, are very harsh. They are fortunate also in possessing attractive manners, from which they get the full benefit in their intercourse with passing ships. The older people we found always kind and amiable, but the younger men have a high opinion of their own merits, and are often difficult to deal with. Their general morality, using the word in its limited sense, is, in common with that of all Polynesians, of a particularly low order; it is true that the Europeans with whom they have come into contact did not initiate this condition, but they have seldom done anything to show that that of their own lands is in any way higher; a fact which should be remembered when complaint is made that Kanakas "have no respect for white men." The native love of accuracy also leaves a good deal to be desired, and their lies are astonishingly fluent; but lack of truthfulness is scarcely confined to Kanakas. In common with all residents in the South Seas, or indeed elsewhere, they exert themselves no more than is necessary to supply their wants; unfortunately these, save in the matter of clothes, have scarcely increased since pre-Christian days. The food-supply of sweet potatoes and bananas, with a few pigs and fowls, can be obtained with a minimum of labour; the keeping of sheep and cattle is not permitted by the Company, owing to the impossibility of discovering or tracing theft. Their old huts, which were made with sticks and grass, have been replaced by small houses of wood or stone, but, except in a few cases, there is no furniture, and the inhabitants continue to sleep on the floor, in company with hens, which freely run in and out (fig. 27). There seems no desire to improve their condition; "Kanakas no like work, Kanakas like sit in house," was the ingenuous reply given by one of them, when my husband pointed out the good results which would accrue from planting some trees in village territory.
FIG. 26. — A GROUP OF EASTER ISLANDERS OUTSIDE THE CHURCH DOOR
FIG. 27. — HANGA ROA VILLAGE
Native houses and church. Rano Kao in the distance.
We had heard in Chile rumours of native unrest, owing to the action of a white man, who had been for a short while on the island, and who had done his best to undermine the authority of the manager. We had before long unpleasant evidence that they were out of hand. The wool-shed, which contained our minutely calculated stores, was broken into, and a quantity of things stolen, the most lamented being three-fourths of the stock of soap; no redress or punishment was possible. On June 30th, while we were still at the manager's, a curious development began which turned the history of the next five weeks into a Gilbertian opera — a play, however, with an undercurrent of reality which made the time the most anxious in the story of the Expedition. On that date a semi-crippled old woman, named Angata (fig. 30), came up to the manager's house accompanied by two men, and informed him that she had had a dream from God, according to which M. Merlet, the chairman of the Company, was "no more," and the island belonged to the Kanakas, who were to take the cattle and have a feast the following day.2 Our party also was to be laid under contribution, which, it later transpired, was to take the form of my clothes. Later in the day the following declaration of war was formally handed in to Mr. Edmunds, written in Spanish as spoken on the island:
"June 30th, 1914.
"Senior Ema, Mataveri,
"Now I declare to you, by-and-by we declare to you, which is the word we speak to-day, but we desire to take all the animals in the camp and all our possessions in your hands, now, for you know that all the animals and farm in the camp belong to us, our Bishop Tepano gave to us originally. He gave it to us in truth and justice. There is another thing, the few animals which are in front of you,3 are for you to eat. There is also another thing, to-morrow we are going out into the camp to fetch some animals for a banquet. God for us. His truth and justice. There is also another business, but we did not receive who gave the animals to Merlet also who gave the earth to Merlet because it is a big robbery. They took this possession of ours, and they gave nothing for the earth, money or goods or anything else. They were never given to them. Now you know all that is necessary.
If some of the arguments are probably without foundation, as, for example, that regarding native rights in the cattle, they were at least, as will be seen, of the same kind which have inspired risings in many lands and all ages. The delivery of the document was immediately followed by action. The Kanakas went into “the camp” eluding Mr. Edmunds, who had gone in another direction, and secured some ten head of cattle. The smoke from many fires was shortly to be seen ascending from the village, and one of our party was shown a beast which was to be offered to us in place of our stolen property, “God" having apparently reversed his message on the subject of our contribution to the new republic. The next few days there was little more news "from the front," save that Angata, the old woman, had had another dream, in which God had informed her that "He was very pleased that the Kanakas had eaten the meat and they were to eat some more." A week later, riding home through the village, I saw a group on the green engaged in dressing a girl's hair; on inquiry it was found that she was to be married next day. Congratulations had hardly been expressed, when another young woman was pointed out who was also to change her state at the same time, and another and another, till the prospective brides totalled five in all. The idea, it seemed, was prevalent, that if punishment was subsequently inflicted for the raids, it was the single men who would be taken to Chile, hence this rush into matrimony, undeterred by the fact that Mr. Edmunds, in his capacity as Chilean official, had declined for the present to perform the civil part of the ceremony. The wedding feast was, of course, to be furnished by the sheep of the Company. Unfortunately, under such circumstances, it seemed hardly loyal to our host to attend the multiple wedding, which was duly solemnised in the church next day.
Meanwhile, the white residents had, of course, been considering their position, and in orthodox fashion, counting the number on which they could rely in an emergency. Beside Mr. Edmunds there were at this time in our party, myself and five men: S., Mr. Ritchie, the photographer, the cook, and a boy from Juan Fernandez. There were about half a dozen more or less reliable Kanakas, including the native Overseer and the village Headman, but everyone else was involved. Mr. Edmunds's position as custodian of the livestock was unenviable, and ours was not much more pleasant. After much thought we strongly dissuaded him from taking any action; if he interfered, there would be an affray. The natives were said to have a rifle and some pistols; it was doubtful how many would go off, but there would anyway be stone-throwing: if he was then forced to shoot, the only deterrent possible, he would have to continue till resistance was entirely cowed, or all our lives would remain in danger. His personal safety was however another matter, and our party therefore accompanied him in an attempt to frustrate a raid, but this obviously could not be continued if our work was to be accomplished. We were strengthened in adopting a waiting policy by the fact that, most fortunately, a fortnight earlier a passing vessel had left us newspapers; they confirmed the news heard in Chile that the naval training-ship, the Jeneral Baquedano, whose visits occurred at intervals of anything from two to five years, was shortly leaving for Easter Island. We could only hope her arrival would be soon.
FIG 28. — BAILEY, THE COOK, ON GUARD
S. suggested that, being an unofficial person, he might meanwhile try the effect of negotiations; for the raids were continuing, and the head of cattle killed on one day had risen to fifty-six, including females and young. He therefore went down to the village, assembled the natives, and offered the company a present of two bullocks a week, if they would refrain from taking any more stock till the arrival of the warship, when the whole matter could be referred to the captain. The audience laughed the suggestion out of court, for “the whole of the cattle," they said, belonged to them, as God had told Angata, but they would let our party “have twenty" if we wished; as for Mr. Edmunds, “he is a Protestant, and therefore, of course, has no God."
FIG 29. — EASTER ISLAND WOMEN
When my husband returned saying he had accomplished nothing, I felt that it was "up to me." "This," I said, “is a matter requiring tact, and is therefore a woman's job; I will go and see the old lady." I had already received from her an embarrassing present of fowls, which, after referring the matter to our host, it had seemed better to accept. Not without inward trepidation, I rode down to the village, taking the Fernandez boy as interpreter, for many of the natives speak a smattering of Spanish. The place was a perfect shambles, joints of meat hanging from all the trees, and skins being pegged out to dry on every hand, but the raiders had been displaying energy in rebuilding the wall round the church. The Prophetess was with a group outside the house of the acting priest, who was her son-in-law; she was a frail old woman with grey hair and expressive eyes, a distinctly attractive and magnetic personality. She wore suspended round her neck some sort of religious medallion, a red cross, I think, on a white ground, and her daughter who supported her carried a small picture of the Saviour in an Oxford frame. She held my hand most amiably during the interview, addressing me as "Caterina." I had brought her a gift and began by thanking for the fowls. She refused all payments, saying "Food comes from God, I wish for no money," and proceeded to offer me some of the meat. This gave an opening, and in declining I besought her not to let the Kanakas go out again after the animals, for Mr. Edmunds said he would shoot if they did, and there would be trouble for them when the Baquedano came. As I spoke of the raids her face hardened and her eyes took the look of a fanatic; she said something about "God" with the upward gesture which was her habit in speaking His name. I hastened to relieve the tension by saying that “We must all worship God," and was happy to find that I was allowed a share in the Deity. Her manner again softened, and looking up to heaven she declared, with an assured confidence, which was in its way sublime, “God will never let the Kanakas be either killed or hurt." The natives were, in fact, firmly persuaded that no bullet could injure them. As for myself, Angata would, she said, “pray" for me, adding, with a descent to the mundane, that if ever she had "chickens or potatoes," I should be the first to have them. It was impossible to reason further; we parted the best of friends, but the "tactful" mission had failed!
This was the state of affairs when we decided that we must transfer our work and consequently our belongings to the other end of the island. Our surveyor and photographer remained, however, at Mataveri, as the accommodation there was more convenient for their occupations, so Mr. Edmunds was not alone. Moving camp, levelling ground, and building walls, were not light matters, when the Kanakas had found such much more interesting employment, but at last it was accomplished, and then came the question of the stores, which after the robbery at the woolshed had been taken to Mataveri. After much consultation it was decided to remove them to Raraku, as on the whole safer than leaving them at the manager's house, which might, by the look of things, be any day looted or burnt down. But when the ox-cart had been carefully loaded up with the numerous boxes and goods, the cash supply, consisting of £50 of English gold and some Chilean paper, being carefully hidden amongst them, a spell of bad weather set in. It was impossible to move the cart, and our possessions sat there day after day most handily arranged for the revolutionists if their desires should turn that way.
FIG 30. — ANGATA, THE PROPHETESS.
Our new camp we were often obliged to leave without defence save for the redoubtable Bailey, who had also served as guard at Mataveri (fig. 28). There had been no demonstration against us so far, but of course the future was unknown, and I never came in sight of our house, on returning from any distant work, without casting an anxious glance to see if it were still standing. We always went about armed, and the different ranges for rifle-shot were measured off from my house and marked by cairns, which will no doubt in future add yet one more to the mysteries of Easter Island.
One day I had just come back from a stroll, when the cry was raised "The Kanakas are coming," and a troop of horsemen, about thirty strong, appeared on the sky-line some four hundred yards distant. Fortunately S. was at hand, we hurried inside my house, shut the lower half of its door, which resembled that of a loose-box, and carelessly leant out. Any unpleasantness could then only be frontal; at the same time all weapons were within easy grasp, though not visible from the outside.
It soon, however, became clear that the visitors were approaching at a walk only, from which it was gathered their intentions were friendly. Nevertheless it was a relief when, as they got nearer, they raised their hats and gave a cheer; they then formed a semi-circle round the door and dismounted. The "priest" who was with them, and who carried a picture of the Virgin, read something, presumably a prayer, at which the company crossed themselves. He then gave greetings from Angata, and a message from her to say that Mana was returning safely with letters on board, and the men presented from their saddle-bows, eggs, potatoes, and about a dozen hens. The position was unwelcome, but as none of the goods were stolen, it seemed better to accept, and discharge the obligation as far as possible by giving in return what European food we could spare.
We subsequently informed Mr. Edmunds, and sent a message to the Prophetess that, as our camp was out of bounds, the Kanakas must not come without leave. The old lady herself, however, kept sending to us for anything she happened to want, and as the requests continually grew in magnitude the breaking-point seemed only a question of time. One of the earlier demands, to which Mr. Edmunds thought it advisable we should accede, was for material for a flag for the new Republic; later, it floated proudly as a tricolour, made of a piece of white cotton, some red material from the photographic outfit, and a fragment of an old blue shirt.
Elsewhere things went from bad to worse, and it seemed as if the expected warship would never arrive. Word came that the Kanakas had ordered the native overseer to leave his house, the only one outside the village, and were taking away the servants of the manager; our photographer wrote that he "dared not come over as their lives were being threatened"; and finally, one afternoon we received a note from Mr. Edmunds, saying, that "he could not leave the place as the Kanakas were talking of coming up in a body to the house." They were also, as we later learnt, threatening to kill him if he resisted their taking possession. It was obvious that the crisis had arrived; that we must risk leaving the camp and go into Mataveri. We talked over every conceivable plan of campaign, but it was too late to do anything that night, and I remember that, finally at dinner, to turn our thoughts, we discussed the curious manner in which some of the statues had fallen. In four cases which we had seen that day, while the body lay on its front, the head had broken off in mid air, turned a complete somersault, and rested on its back with the crown towards the neck. The next morning, August 5th, I awoke early and recorded in my journal the events of the day before. “Of course," I added, “if it were a stage play, just as the crisis arrived there would be cries of ‘the Baquedano is here,' and the curtain would fall. But, alas! it is not." Scarcely was the ink dry — only it was pencil — when a man rode up waving a note from Mr. Edmunds, and shouting, “A ship! — a ship!” The previous afternoon, as the Kanakas were assembling in the village to go up to Mataveri, the Baquedano had been sighted, and four of the ringleaders were now in irons. I scarcely knew how great had been the long strain till the relief came.
Our rejoicings, however, we found to have been partly premature. The warship had unfortunately brought with her large gifts of clothes for the natives from well-wishers in Chile. Some little while before attention had been 'drawn to the inhabitants of Easter, by an Australian captain who had touched there on his homeward voyage. The natives had, as usual, come off to his ship in their oldest garments; he had been impressed with their ragged condition and made a collection of clothes for them in Australia amounting to many bales, but on his next voyage to Chile he had been unable to touch again at the island and had left them at Valparaiso. We had been asked to bring these bales, but had declined on the score of space.4 The Chileans disliked the idea of their protectorate being indebted to strangers, made a collection on their own account, and despatched them by the Baquedano. It seemed unthinkable that people, every one of whom for weeks had been consuming stolen goods, and who, two days before, had been on the verge of murder, should be immediately presented officially with the commodity they most prized. I therefore went on board the Baquedano, saw the Captain, and ventured to request that the goods should be handed over to us, promising personally to visit every house before our departure, ascertain the needs of the people, and distribute the articles. “Surely," he said, “you shall have them." Within a few hours they had been distributed by his officers on the beach. Some of the garments were useful, but an assortment of ball-slippers seemed a little out of place, and the greater part of the community, men and women, blossomed out into washing waistcoats. The stolen sheepskins, or some of them, were returned, but three of the four ringleaders were set at liberty, and no corporate punishment was inflicted; indeed, the Captain had told me he considered that the natives had “behaved very well not to murder Mr. Edmunds" prior to our arrival.
Before the ship left the island, the Captain wrote officially to the "Head of the British Scientific Expedition" to the effect, that the action he had been obliged to take to restore order would probably have the result of rousing more feeling against foreigners; he therefore could not guarantee our safety and offered us passages to Chile — an offer which, needless to say, we declined. So ended the Revolution; we felt with interest that the confidence of the Prophetess had been justified, at any rate as far as 249 Kanakas were concerned out of the 250.
The old lady died six months later; I attended her funeral. The coffin was pathetically tiny, and neatly covered with black and white calico. A service was first held in the church where, during the rising, she used to take part in the assemblies and address her adherents. There figured prominently in the ceremony a model of the building and also two prie-dieu, roughly made of boards, one of which she had used in private, the other in public worship. She was laid to rest beneath the great wooden cross, which marks the Kanaka burying-ground, between the village and the bay. I stood at a little distance watching gleams of sunshine on the great stones of the terrace of Hanga Roa and on the grey sea beyond, and musing on the strange life now closed, whose early days had been spent in a native hut beneath the standing images of Raraku. My attention was recalled by an evident hitch in the proceedings: difficulty had arisen in lowering the coffin, owing to the fact that the prie-dieu was also being fitted into the grave. When all had been finally adjusted and the interment was completed, a sound was heard, unusual in such circumstances — three English cheers — hip, hip, hooray; the natives had learnt it from passing ships and esteemed it an essential part of a ceremony. The company was not large for the obsequies of one who had so recently been the heroine of the village, and on asking in particular why a certain near relative was absent, the answer received was that "there was to be a great feast of pigs, and he was busy preparing it"; doubtless others were similarly detained.
During the remainder of our sojourn there were, as will be seen, additional white men on the island. The Kanakas were occupied in various ways and there was no further open demonstration, but their independence and demands increased daily. Since we left, a white employee of the Company has been murdered by them and thrown into the sea.
1 "Kanaka" is a name originally given by Europeans to the inhabitants of the South Seas, and is one form of the Polynesian word meaning "man"
2 The natives of Easter hold very firmly the primitive belief in dreams. If one of them dreamt, for example, that Mana was returning, it was retailed to us with all the assurance of a wireless message.
3 The milch-cows.
4 Considerably later Mana was again approached on the subject of the Australian gifts, and Mr. Gillam consented to bring them; it then transpired that they were no longer available, having "been given by the wife of the head of the Customs to the deserving poor of Valparaiso."