Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/47

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43
A HISTORY OF FIJI

face and covered his hair with lime. The little finger of his right hand had been severed at the first joint as an indication of mourning upon the death of his grandfather Tanoa.

He was every inch a king seated in his chair with the noblest of his race crouching silently around him. Whenever he smoked a cigar he condescendingly nodded to some high chief who crawled humbly toward him on hands and knees, delighted at the honor of "finishing the butt."

When he dined, a clean new mat was unrolled upon the floor, and then men and women came crawling in on hands and knees, bearing food for the god-like one, who sat tailor-fashion upon the floor. No commoner ate in the presence of the king, and least of all would the women of his household have presumed to such familiarity. The menu of one dinner at which the author was a guest consisted in an excellent fish chowder served in cocoanut bowls, and yams placed upon four-legged wooden platters, all scrupulously clean and cooked to tempt the palate of the most fastidious epicure. Our plates were banana leaves, and fingers served in lieu of knives and forks. Cups, etc., used by the king are tabu and must not be used by others. The courtiers remained silent while the meal was in progress, only softly clapping hands when the king addressed any of their number. After dinner a bowl of water was placed before the king and the natives again clapped respectfully while he washed his hands.

Even before the advent of the white man, cooking was a high art in Fiji. In fact, these natives had little to learn from us in this direction. Their pottery enabled them to boil or steam their food, and in addition they made use of the oven. This, consists in a stone-lined pit within which a wood fire is made. Then, when the stones have become red hot the embers are raked away and the food; pigs, fish, vegetables, etc., are placed within the oven, having previously been wrapped in Tahitian chestnut or bread-fruit leaves, or in the case of man in the leaves of Solanum anthropophagorum, a plant allied to the potato. The food is then covered thickly with juicy green leaves which in turn are blanketed with earth. After a few hours all within the oven becomes so thoroughly baked that the ribs of pigs may be torn off and the flesh eaten as in America we do corn upon the cob.

Canoes laden with tribute (lala), for Ratu Epele were constantly arriving at Mbau. These offerings varied with the tribe, for each was charged to bring certain things. Thus one canoe might be laden with great bundles of yams, another with husked cocoanuts tied into bunches, or with yaqona root, turtles, masi, mats, etc. The greatest care was taken in the preparation of the tribute, and, in fact, the natives invariably gave the best they had.

Those who brought tribute carried it humbly to the door of the king's house and crouched close to the wall outside, softly and plead-