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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 48.djvu/241

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AMONG THE CANNIBAL ISLANDS.

AMONG THE CANNIBAL ISLANDS.
By LAENAS GIFFORD WELD.

SPREAD out before you a chart of the South Pacific—one upon which are set down the many details useful to the navigator of this strangely interesting region. Besides the intricate labyrinth of islands, reefs, rocks, and shoals which are scattered over its surface, there are recorded the variations of the compass, the directions of the ocean currents, and the results of countless soundings. Running your pencil through all the points on this map for which the indicated depth is fifteen hundred fathoms or thereabouts, you will be able to trace out an irregular and more or less interrupted band, extending from the East Indian seas nearly to the coast of South America. Within the area thus marked out the sea is comparatively shallow; so that, were its bed to be elevated some thousands of feet, we should see emerging from its surface a vast continental area, bordered on the north and south by open seas.

We are told that such a continent once really existed, but that for thousands of years it has been slowly subsiding. The coral polyp has all this time been building up the countless reefs and atolls of this region, keeping their summits flush with the surface of the sea as the subsidence has gone on; so that here, instead of the dull monotony of an ocean desert, we have one of the most striking physical features of the globe. There are volcanic masses among these coral islands which, rising some few thousand feet above the level of the great barrier reefs that surround them, may be looked upon as remnants of this vanishing continent of the Pacific. Among these ancient landmarks none are of more interest than the great Fiji group of islands.

Until within quite recent years the word Fiji was regarded as a synonym for all that is barbaric; and if that epithet, "King of the Cannibal Islands," ever had any real claimant, it must have been in the person of Thakombau, the native potentate who played so important a part in the history of Fiji from the time of its first settlement by Europeans till it was formally annexed by Great Britain.

This regenerate old cannibal had spent the first forty years of his life in wars with his neighboring chiefs and in the practice of the most horrible barbarities. The strangling of his own mother and of his father's four other wives was only a part of the usual ceremony attending the assumption of the title of Tui Viti, or King of Fiji. Thakombau was, however, not hostile to the Wesleyan missionaries who had established themselves within his domain; but, while he listened respectfully to their remon-