Ballads

Page 09

And surely she knew The speechless thing at her side belonged to the grave. {1p}

It blew All night from the south; all night, Rahero contended and kept The prow to the cresting sea; and, silent as though she slept, The woman huddled and quaked. And now was the peep of day. High and long on their left the mountainous island lay; And over the peaks of Taiarapu arrows of sunlight struck. On shore the birds were beginning to sing: the ghostly ruck Of the buried had long ago returned to the covered grave; And here on the sea, the woman, waxing suddenly brave, Turned her swiftly about and looked in the face of the man. And sure he was none that she knew, none of her country or clan: A stranger, mother-naked, and marred with the marks of fire, But comely and great of stature, a man to obey and admire.

And Rahero regarded her also, fixed, with a frowning face, Judging the woman's fitness to mother a warlike race. Broad of shoulder, ample of girdle, long in the thigh, Deep of bosom she was, and bravely supported his eye.

"Woman," said he, "last night the men of your folk - Man, woman, and maid, smothered my race in smoke. It was done like cowards; and I, a mighty man of my hands, Escaped, a single life; and now to the empty lands And smokeless hearths of my people, sail, with yourself, alone. Before your mother was born, the die of to-day was thrown And you selected:- your husband, vainly striving, to fall Broken between these hands:- yourself to be severed from all, The places, the people, you love--home, kindred, and clan - And to dwell in a desert and bear the babes of a kinless man."

NOTES TO THE SONG OF RAHERO

INTRODUCTION.--This tale, of which I have not consciously changed a single feature, I received from tradition. It is highly popular through all the country of the eight Tevas, the clan to which Rahero belonged; and particularly in Taiarapu, the windward peninsula of Tahiti, where he lived. I have heard from end to end two versions; and as many as five different persons have helped me with details. There seems no reason why the tale should not be true.

{1a} "The aito," quasi champion, or brave. One skilled in the use of some weapon, who wandered the country challenging distinguished rivals and taking part in local quarrels. It was in the natural course of his advancement to be at last employed by a chief, or king; and it would then be a part of his duties to purvey the victim for sacrifice. One of the doomed families was indicated; the aito took his weapon and went forth alone; a little behind him bearers followed with the sacrificial basket. Sometimes the victim showed fight, sometimes prevailed; more often, without doubt, he fell. But whatever body was found, the bearers indifferently took up.

{1b} "Pai," "Honoura," and "Ahupu." Legendary persons of Tahiti, all natives of Taiarapu. Of the first two, I have collected singular although imperfect legends, which I hope soon to lay before the public in another place. Of Ahupu, except in snatches of song, little memory appears to linger. She dwelt at least about Tepari,--"the sea-cliffs,"--the eastern fastness of the isle; walked by paths known only to herself upon the mountains; was courted by dangerous suitors who came swimming from adjacent islands, and defended and rescued (as I gather) by the loyalty of native fish. My anxiety to learn more of "Ahupu Vehine" became (during my stay in Taiarapu) a cause of some diversion to that mirthful people, the inhabitants.

{1c} "Covered an oven." The cooking fire is made in a hole in the ground, and is then buried.

{1d} "Flies." This is perhaps an anachronism. Even speaking of to-day in Tahiti, the phrase would have to be understood as referring mainly to mosquitoes, and these only in watered valleys with close woods, such as I suppose to form the surroundings of Rahero's homestead. Quarter of a mile away, where the air moves freely, you shall look in vain for one.

{1e} "Hook" of mother-of-pearl. Bright-hook fishing, and that with the spear, appear to be the favourite native methods.

Ballads Page 10

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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