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Chapter 3 The Story of Afita

  • TOWARDS sunset, when the Bounty was still some thirty miles distant from th_and, the trade-wind as usual died away, and by eight in the evening the ne_oon shone over a sea as calm as a mountain lake. Fearing that the easterl_urrent would set the ship back in the night during the continuance of th_alm, Christian and Young had carefully taken the ship's bearings just as th_ale blue of the distant island was changing to a shade of purple under th_ays of the setting sun.
  • The knowledge that their long search was ended at last inspirited every one o_oard. After supper the men gathered on the main deck, and with their wive_nd their brown-skinned shipmates forgot the weary days which had tried thei_empers and forbearance so severely. Alrema, who had an influence upon he_ountrymen almost equal to that of Mahina, was in high spirits, and Young,
  • despite his usual seeming indifference to her vivacity and beauty, was ye_ecretly pleased to see the respect with which she was treated by the others.
  • Her conduct during the attack on the fort at Tubuai had shown her to b_ossessed of a fiery, undaunted courage; indeed, had the murmurers known tha_his beautiful Tahitian girl with the dark, languorous eyes, and soft red lip_ad advised Young to induce Christian to shoot them, they would hav_emembered the incident of the bloody cutlass, and been more careful of thei_peech in her hearing. Yet now she seemed but a merry—hearted, mirth-lovin_irl, and as she raised her sweet voice in some old Tahitian love-song, whil_er eyes sought those of Edward Young, the men were struck with her bright an_nimated beauty.
  • Tired of singing and talking with the group assembled on the main- deck, sh_resently ascended to the poop, where her husband sat with Christian an_ahina discussing their plans for the future.
  • She seated herself beside Young, and listened till they ceased talking—the_aid, clasping Mahina's hand in her own, "Tell us, oh friend of my heart, th_tory of this land of Afita."
  • "Nay," replied Mahina, smiling and stroking Alrema's dark hair, "'tis bu_ittle I know, and that little did I learn from my mother; but call hithe_airoa-Maina, and let him tell the story, for he hath more knowledge of Afit_han I."
  • Christian's consent having been gained, the Tubuaian chief was called upon th_oop, and sat in front of the little group with his two faithful attendant_ehind him; his swart, handsome features lit up with pleasure when he was tol_hat was wanted of him.
  • "Kirisiani," said Mahina, caressing her husband's cheek with her soft, brow_and, "but for this dear friend, Tairoa-Maina, still might we have bee_earching for this land of his and my father's."
  • "True," answered Christian frankly, "but for him we might perhaps have neve_ound it. Thou seest, Mahina, that in some things the white men have not th_nowledge nor judgment of thy people."
  • "Even so," she answered gravely, "we have no such things as those tuhi o_hine which are full of wisdom. And it is strange to us that by looking a_ome little black marks thou couldst tell us of the sea chief who saw the lan_f Afita thirty years ago. Yet, though we have no wise men among us like the_nd the great Tuti and Pirai, we have memories and songs and tales which hav_ome down from father to son; and all that is told is remembered by th_hildren, and they, when they grow up, tell it to their children, so that al_ay know the beginning of things since Taaroa the father of the gods and hi_wo sons Oro and Tane made the world."
  • Acquainted as he was in some degree with the wild and fabulous nature o_lmost every Polynesian tradition bearing upon the ancestry of the people,
  • Christian was convinced by the many long conversations he had held with Mahin_bout her descent that much of what she told him had a basis of fact. Th_ahitian custom of deifying their ancestors would naturally result i_onfusing historical facts and rendering them absurd, but his keen observatio_nd quickly acquired knowledge of the Tahitian tongue enabled him to sift ou_n a great measure the real from the fabulous and visionary. He therefore,
  • while listening to Tairoa-Maina's story of Afita, quickly divested it of al_hat was mythological and fictitious, and accepted the substance of it a_act.
  • To his mind much of what Mahina told him of Afita had appeared no more tha_he vague traditions of native legend, but as he listened to the Tubuaia_hief's story he found a remarkable resemblance between the two accounts.
  • Sitting in the light of the moon, which fell upon his symmetrical head an_houlders and revealed the curious and delicate tracery of the tattooing upo_is polished skin, the young chief related the Tubuaian story about the lan_nd the people whence he came.
  • "Long, long ago, Kirisiani, Taaroa the Sky-Producer, and Oro and Tane hi_ons, between them created new lands by dipping their hands to the bottom o_he deep sea and dragging them up above the surface, so that the trees migh_row and men live upon them. In those days there dwelt upon Huahine a taat_aari (wise man) named Poiata, who had himself been created by the gods, an_is wife Mahinihini. In the same house lived Rumia and his wife Motupapa; onl_hese four were on Huahine. At the end of two years neither of the women ha_orne a child to their husbands, and Poiata and Rumia, assailing them wit_itter words and blows, drove them away to the sea-shore, and bade them g_wim out into the ocean and drown.
  • "'Nay,' cried Mahinihini, 'give us a canoe, so that at least we may seek som_ther land and hide the shame of our childlessness.'"
  • "But Poiata and Rumia laughed and jeered at them, and pointing to a grea_hark that lay upon the water outside the reef, mockingly bade them hold on t_ts fin and begone.
  • "Now this shark was Tahua; and the two women, who wept as they swam,
  • approached him silently, and clambering upon his great back, held on to hi_in while Tahua sped away with them.
  • "For many days he swam southward and eastward, till Mahinihini and Motupap_aw, rising out of the sea, what seemed the fin of another great shark; s_igh was it that it pierced the clouds, even as does the peak of Orohena. Bu_hen they drew near they saw that it was land rising up steeply from the dee_ea, and on the high cliffs there stood strange men with yellowish faces an_irclets of red and green parrots' feathers round their foreheads. As the tw_omen gazed in fear and trembling, Tahua the shark sank from beneath them, an_hey struck out and swam to the shore. The strange men ran down the cliffs an_elped them to land, and gave them food to eat and coconuts to drink. Seve_en were they, and they said they came from a great country to the east wher_he mountain-tops were for ever covered with white clouds."
  • "How came they there?" asked Christian.
  • Tairoa-Maina shook his head. "No man knoweth. But they were pleased to se_otupapa and Mahinihini, for there were no women with them on the island,
  • which they had named Afita—'the land shot up by fire from the bottom of th_ea.' So these two women became wives to the seven men, and they bore seve_hildren to each man. By and by, as the years passed on, there came more o_he strange people from the great eastern land; and they were pleased with th_eauty of Afita and the great richness of the land, and dwelt with Mahinihin_nd Motupapa and their husbands. Very joyously they lived together, until th_eople grew so in number that breadfruit and taro and yams and plantains bega_o be scarce because of the many mouths of children who cried with hunger. An_hen the land would no longer hold them and famine came, twenty-and-two scor_en and women sailed far away in canoes to seek another home. Westward the_ailed for ten days till a storm separated them, and four of the canoes cam_o the land of Tubuai, and four to the land of Rapa. Of those that reached th_and of Rapa I know nought, save that the chief was named Teata-rua; but o_hose that came to Tubuai my father was one."
  • "And did he ever tell thee how appeared this Afita, this lonely island tha_pringeth up from the sea like the fin of a shark that swimmeth on th_urface?" asked Mahina.
  • "I have heard my father say," answered the chief, "that so steep are it_ountains that they shut in from the winds the rich soil of the belly of th_and; and down the sides of the hills run many streams of water sweet t_rink. And save in one place no reef ran out from the shore."
  • "That does not agree with Carteret," said Young to Christian.
  • "And the great ocean rollers," added Mahina, "for ever dashed up against th_ace of the cliffs so that no strangers could land in their canoes, else woul_hey be broken to pieces in the angry surf."
  • "But still there is one little spot on the north and north-west," continue_he Tubuaian chief, "so small that only those who have lived in Afita can fin_t, where the sea is not always rough. And on the eastern side there is _mall bay, where, when the wind is from the west and south, the sea is quiet,
  • and a deeply-laden canoe can land with safety."
  • "Is the water deep?" asked Christian.
  • "Aye, so deep is it, that five fathoms from the shore the water is as blue a_he deep ocean; and close to the high cliffs swim great fish that we in Tubua_atch only with lines a hundred fathoms in length. Ah, Kirisiani, to-morro_ilt thou see if Mahina and I have told thee aught but the truth."
  • As the pleasant tones of the chief's voice ceased there came a gentle puff o_ir, which filled the ship's upper canvas, and Christian and Young sprang t_heir feet, quickly followed by the natives, and trimmed the sails for th_oming breeze.
  • For three or four hours the Bounty slid softly over a moonlit sea; then a_awn broke and the red sun sprang from the horizon, Fletcher Christian and hi_omrades saw the island for which they had so long sought lying before the_right and shining green upon the sunlit sea.
  • An hour later the ship was hove-to as close to the land as her safet_ermitted, and Christian, in her one boat with Taiaro-Maina and some whit_eamen, was searching for the only little bay where it was thought a landin_ight be effected.