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31. CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE
STRANGE CUSTOM OF THE ISLANDERS--THEIR CHANTING, AND THE PECULIARITY OF THEIR VOICE--RAPTURE OF THE KING AT FIRST HEARING A SONG--A NEW DIGNITY CONFERRED ON THE AUTHOR--MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS IN THE VALLEY--ADMIRATION OF THE SAVAGES AT BEHOLDING A PUGILISTIC PERFORMANCE--SWIMMING INFANT--BEAUTIFUL TRESSES OF THE GIRLS--OINTMENT FOR THE HAIR
SADLY discursive as I have already been, I must still further entreat the reader's patience, as I am about to string together, without any attempt at order, a few odds and ends of things not hitherto mentioned, but which are either curious in themselves or peculiar to the Typees.
There was one singular custom observed in old Marheyo's domestic establishment, which often excited my surprise. Every night, before retiring, the inmates of the house gathered together on the mats, and so squatting upon their haunches, after the universal practice of these islanders, would commence a low, dismal and monotonous chant, accompanying the voice with the instrumental melody produced by two small half-rotten sticks tapped slowly together, a pair of which were held in the hands of each person present. Thus would they employ themselves for an hour or two, sometimes longer. Lying in the gloom which wrapped the further end of the house, I could not avoid looking at them, although the spectacle suggested nothing but unpleasant reflection. The flickering rays of the 'armor' nut just served to reveal their savage lineaments, without dispelling the darkness that hovered about them.
Sometimes when, after falling into a kind of doze, and awaking suddenly in the midst of these doleful chantings, my eye would fall upon the wild-looking group engaged in their strange occupation, with their naked tattooed limbs, and shaven heads disposed in a circle, I was almost tempted to believe that I gazed upon a set of evil beings in the act of working at a frightful incantation.
What was the meaning or purpose of this custom, whether it was practiced merely as a diversion, or whether it was a religious exercise, a sort of family prayers, I never could discover.
The sounds produced by the natives on these occasions were of a most singular description; and had I not actually been present, I never would have believed that such curious noises could have been produced by human beings.
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