South Sea Saga
The story of the Sacred Cocoanut
THIS IS the tale which Rahi, a Tahitian sailorman, told to me. It is, I think, a remarkable and thought-provoking story; but, as only a seaman could be expected to grasp all its implications without some explanation, it becomes necessary to preface Rahi’s story with some remarks of my own. I will, however, strive to make my preface as short and as nontechnical as I can.
I feel that it should be worth while to make the little effort which may be necessary to grasp the technicalities. Minds of the caiibre of Sam Payne’s miss the significance of Rahi’s story completely, while the evidence provided by the Sacred Calabash leaves them stone cold. It is unlikely, however, that Sam Payne and his kind will read this. Read between the lines of Rahi’s story with sympathy and understanding of the brown man; consider the implications of the evidence with an imagination at work - and a light will shine on some dark places.
For example, Rahi and the Calabash have made it clear to me that brown men were navigating confidently about the immense Pacific Ocean at a time when white men hesitated to lose sight of the narrow Atlantic’s eastern shores. A suggestive thought—which leads to a suggestive question: Why was it the white man and not the brown who ventured out at last from his own seas to discover an ocean on the other side of the world? Instead of a canoeload of honey-colored Polynesians getting knocked on the head by woad-smeared savages in Plymouth Sound, it was Captain Cook who got himself eaten by tattooed Tahitians. Rahi’s story tells me why.
Rahi was the bosun of a trading schooner in which 1 once took passage from Papeete to Honolulu. This schooner, the Camilla, was a vessel of 120 tons, Samuel Payne master and owner; and, with the exception of the cook, who was a fuzzy-headed Guadalcanar boy, she was manned entirely by Polynesians.
That was a long passage because the Camilla was a slow old box at the lx*st of times, and Sam Payne never hurried himself under any circumstances. And Papeete is in latitude 18 degrees south and Hilo, the Camilla's lirst port of call, is in latitude 20 degrees north, a difference of some 2.400 miles which is a long way. And the way, for a sailing vessel, is longer still as much as 500 miles longer maybe owing to the winds which prevail over the course. If you look at a map of Polynesia you will see that the direct course between Papeete and I lilo is about north by west. A steamer bound between these two ports would steer north by west and reach her destination without any trouble; but if a sailing vessel tried to follow the same track she would run into a deal of trouble, and almost certainly find it impossible to reach her destination at all. She would sail along famously with a fair wind for the lirst 1.500 miles through the Southeast trade-wind belt. Then, in about latitude 8 degrees north, she would run out of the trade and into the doldrums, a zone of calms, squalls and variable airs, about 100 miles wide, which separates the Southeast from the Northeast trades. When she had fought her way across the doldrums her real troubles would begin. Her position would then be about latitude 9 degrees north and longitude 155 degrees west, over 700 miles due south of Hilo. To reach her destination from this position she must steer north; but with the Northeast trade blowing on her starboard, or right-hand, bow and the equatorial current setting her to the westward, she would be unable to make good a northerly course. She would, in fact, be set a long distance to the westward and to leeward of the Hawaiian Islands, when her case would be desperate. Extraordinary as it may sound, lier only hope of reaching Hilo then would be to sail north and west some 600 miles into the region of the westerly winds, and there make 900
miles or so of easting before running south another 600 miles, and finally fetching Hilo from the eastward.
Now old Sam Payne certainly had his failings. For one thing, he drank too much gin for his health or my comfort; but he was a good seaman and a navigator of sufficient experience to know that, in a sailing vessel, the long way round is usually the shortest wray there. He knew, if he wished to avoid getting the Camilla into the hopeless position I have described above, that he must enter the southern limit of the Northeast trade at a point at least 600 miles to windward (to eastward) of the longitude of Hilo. When we left Papeete, therefore, Sam made the best use of the Southeast trade by bringing it abeam and steering the Camilla northeast. The trade held moderate and steady, and by noon on the third day we passed betwreen Tikehau and Rahiroa, two of the westernmost atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago and the last land we were to sight for twentythree days. As we sailed to the northward the trade backed gradually into the east, and as it changed direction so did Sam change the course to keep the wind always abeam. When we reached the equator in longitude 145 degrees west the wind was due east and we u'ere steering due north, and these conditions prevailed until we entered the doldrums.
I think the great heat w'hich we then experienced was mainly responsible for what happened next. At any rate, about that time Sam, who was normally a placid sort of person, became irritable and more noticeably thirsty than ever. I íe assuaged his thirst with some double rations of gin, and attempted to ease his irritation by winding up the ship’s chronometer in an abrupt and savage manner. As a result he overwound that delicate instrument and broke its mainspring —thus destroying our sole means of ascertaining the time at Greenwich.
The average landsman may not fully appreciate the peculiar significance of this event. He will probably wonder why a man in the middle of the Pacific Ocean should bother himself about the time of day in a London suburb, and it therefore becomes necessary to mention the quaint fact that unless the sailor who is out of sight of land has an exact knowledge of the time on the clock at Greenwich Observatory it is imjxissible for him to find out his longitude, that is his position east or ¡rest upon the featureless surface of the great waters. He may, it is true, obtain his longitude by observations of the moon and by solving some complicated calculations, provided he be a skilled and scientific navigator. But old Sam Payne w-as by no means a scientific navigator. He navigated strictly by rule of thumb, and lunar observations wrere as Greek to him. And it was because I understood this fact that my heart missed a beat or two as I listened in vain for the tick of the Camilla's chronometer. It seemed to me then that we were as good as lost, and I said as much (and more) to Sam— who laughed at me !
“Lost!” said he. “Lost my foot! You can’t lose me. my son—not in these waters, anyway. I’m not one of your fancy navigators; but I’ll get you to Hilo all right, all right, chronometer or no chronometer. Don’t you worry.” He then took me below, spread a chart of the Eastern Pacific on the cabin table, and explained to me that queer process which sailors call “running down the latitude.” The Camilla's position on that day was about latitude 9 degrees north and longitude 145 degrees west. If he had not broken the chronometer Sam would have sailed the schooner on a northwesterly course straight toward Hilo, obtaining his daily position (his latitude and longitude) by means of observations of the sun by day and of the stars by night. But, as he was without a chronometer, he could not now ascertain his longitude at all. He could, however, still get his latitude by observation with his sextant, as a chronometer is not essential for this operation. He explained that, instead of steering northwest, he would now steer north, or as nearly north as the wind would allow, in order to make certain of keeping to the eastward of Hawaii. He proposed to hold on this northerly course until he found by observation of the sun or stars that he had reached the latitude of Hilo.
He would then be sure that Hilo lay somewhere due west of him, and all he had to do then was to run down the latitude; in other words, to steer due west along the latitude of Hilo until that place appeared ahead.
It seems to me my introduction to Rahi’s story is much too long already; but I regret to say that there is still a little more to come.
It is now necessary to make it clear how Sam could tell by observation of a celestial body that he had reached the latitude of Hilo, latitude 20 degrees. Fortunately Sam’s method of conducting his operation was simple. He found his latitude solely by noting the altitude of the North Star.
If you were sailing out of southern latitudes to the northward. Polaris would appear upon the horizon due north of you on the night you crossed the equator. We will suppose that by the next night you had sailed north 120 miles, or 2 degrees of latitude. If you then measured with a sextant the angle between the horizon, your eye and Polaris, you would find that angle to be 2 degrees. In the same way you would know when you had reached latitude 20 degrees north, because Polaris would then be 20 degrees above the horizon. Now Hilo is roughly in latitude 20 degrees north, and if you stood on the beach at Hilo you would see Polaris shining in the northern sky some 20 degrees above the horizon, and at any point on a line drawn east and west through Hilo, Polaris is at this same altitude. Knowing this fact, Sam merely set his sextant to measure an angle of 20 degrees, observed Polaris nightly as we sailed north until it rose 20 degrees from the horizon, and then changed the Camilla's course from north to due west.
IT HAPPENED to be Rahi’s trick at the wheel when this radical alteration of the course was suddenly made. It was a lovely night, and I was sitting on the rail aft enjoying it. Sam unhooked himself from the weather rigging where he had been taking his observation, put his sextant in its case and said: “A fine horizon and I got a good sight of the star. We’re far enough north now. Ease that main sheet right off, will you? Put your helm up, Rahi. Bear away and steady her at west. Steer west.”
“Steer west,” said Rahi, repeating the order, for he has served with Sam a number of years and knew the custom of English ships. He turned the wheel, steadied the Camilla on her new course, and then he did something that surprised us. He broke out into a sort of chant in a language which was obviously Tahitian, but Tahitian of a brand that neither Sam nor I had heard before. He sang half a dozen lines in the singsong tone of a child repeating some poetry learned at school, and then he stopped as abruptly as he had begun.
“What’s eating you, Rahi?” said Sam. “You’ve been shipmates with me for a good six years, but I’ve never heard you make an unholy row like that before. What you got to sing about, anyway?”
"That is not a song,” Rahi replied, speaking in the ordinary native dialect this time. “That is in the old words —the words used by our priests that our people do not speak any more. I think they have forgotten. But I have not forgotten. That is the last of the orders which the priests gave to my father’s fathers in the old days when they sailed in their canoes from Tahiti to Hawaii. The orders were given and the voyages made before the white men came to our islands. So my father taught me, and so his father taught him. Thus I remember.”
“I’ve heard talk before about those canoe voyages,” said Sam to me. “But I don’t believe in ’em. Kanakas are all right on their own in a canoe, and I’ll admit it. But only so long as they’re in sight of land. Lose sight of the land
long enough and they’re done. Stands to reason. They can’t navigate, so they get lost.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said. “They undoubtedly used to make some mighty long voyages. Besides native tradition, there is a deal of ethnological evidence to prove that there was communication by sea between the various groups long before we whites discovered the Pacific. What about the Maori voyages from Tahiti and Rarotonga to New Zealand and return, for instance? There is plenty of proof that they made that voyage more than once, and it seems to me they must have some knowledge of navigation or they never would have found the land.”
“Fetched it by a fluke, I guess,” said Sam. “That is, if they ever did make the passage—which I don’t believe. Kanakas will tell you anything. They’re born liars. They say they made those voyages before any white men got here, don’t they? Well, what I say is, if nobody saw ’em do
the job, then where’s that proof you talk about? Fetching New Zealand from the Tongas is possible, of course. New Zealand’s a big lump of land, and with luck and dead reckoning they might make it; but it'll take more than Rahi’s talk to make me believe any blamed Kanaka ever fetched Hawaii from Tahiti. Why, it’s taking me all my time to fetch the place, and I’ve got a compass and sextant and the sailing directions and charts and the Nautical Almanack—to say nothing of the chronometer. No. sir! Rahi’s a good bosun; but he’s a bad liar. If you want me to believe anything, you’ve got to show me first.”
“It certainly is hard to believe,” I said. “Hawaii’s a very small bit of land to find in the middle of all this water. How did your people manage to find Hawaii. Rahi?” “They sailed as the Camilla has sailed,” he replied. “First, northeast and north through the steady winds, steering by the sun in the daytime and by the stars at night. And then, when the time was ripe and as the priests ordered, they turned west, as we have just turned. They sailed west before the wind until Hawaii rose up over the edge of the sea before them.”
“Turned west as we have turned!” I said. “That looks as though they ran down their latitude, too, Sam. But how did they know when to turn west. Rahi?”
“They turned when the priests so ordered it,” he answered. “That was a magic the priests of my forefathers made by the help of the stars and the Sacred Cocoanut.” “Sacred cocoanuts, your grandmother!” said Sam. “Watch your steering. You’re yawing a point each side of the course. There!” said he, turning on me. “Now you see what you get, leading a Kanaka on to lie to you. Magic —and sacred cocoanuts! Serves you right. A lot of rot.” “I quite agree,” I said, “as far as the alleged magic is concerned. All the cases of so-called native ‘magic’ which have been investigated turned out to be either jugglery and humbug, or something capable of being logically explained. But there’s something in this yarn of Rahi’s, and I’d like to try and find out what it is. What was that song of yours about. Rahi? The thing you sang when we changed course just now.”
“It was the last of the orders the priests gave,” Rahi answered. “It says, to steer by the wind, the rising sun on the right hand. In the night steer for Fetiu Noho, the Star that Sits Still. Steer for Fetiu Noho until it kisses the lip of the Sacred Nut. And it is then that you must turn and steer into the setting sun. Which is all it says, except after that to keep a good lookout ahead for the high mountains of Hawaii growing out of the deep water.”
HERE Sam grunted scornfully. “The only part of those darned orders of yours. Rahi, with any sense to ’em.” said he, “is the bit about keeping a good lookout. I bet you just made all that stuff up out of your own head. Kiss the cocoanut! Kiss my blooming foot!”
“It is true.” said Rahi. “The father of my father’s father —he himself sailed from Papeete to Hawaii, and many times has my father told me the story. It is true—all true.”
“The father of your father’s father,” I said. “Let’s see.
That’s your great-grandfather. If he made that voyage when he was a young man, it may have been about a hundred years ago.”
“He was a strong man. and very wise in all the ways of catching fish,” said Rahi. He spoke in modern Tahitian, but I attempt to translate him. “It was because of his skill in the fishing that he was chosen by the chief to sail in the canoe. It was his work to catch the fish of the deep water, the flying fish and the shark and the bonito, wherewith to feed the crew.”
“What kind of a canoe was it, Rahi?” I said.
“A war canoe,” he went on. “A great canoe as long as this schooner, such as is no more built by my people.”
“No.” said Sam. “I bet not. And never was either. The Camilla's about a hundred feet long. You show me a hundred-foot canoe, Rahi, and then maybe I’ll believe you. You got to show me first, though.”
“Never mind the skipper, Rahi,” I said. “I’ve read in a book of a ninety-foot canoe. She was built in the Fijis a long time ago; but what they could do in the Fijis I think your people could do in Tahiti. Go ahead and tell me. I believe you.”
“It is because you believe that I tell,” said Rahi. “The canoe was built of two canoes, lashed together side by side, but kept apart by strong beams. Upon the beams a platform was laid, and on the platform was a house. The bottom of each canoe was a great tree hollowed out with fire, and upon this the sides were built up with planks sewn together with fibre. The bow and the stern were decked over; but in the middle it was open so that the crew could get in and out. Such was the canoe my great-grandfather, Ahuru, sailed in to Hawaii.”
“What a craft!” said Sam, who was getting interested in Rahi’s yarn in spite of himself. “How many men d’you reckon it’d take to paddle a tiling like that from Papeete to
“Sixty men sailed with Ahuru,” Rahi went on. “Over them all was their chief, Patiri. who had great knowledge of the way of the sea and the wind. And with him went Arero. the priest, who guarded the Sacred Nut and knew the stars and sjxike with them in the night. All the sixty were picked men. as was Ahuru. They were chosen for their strength and their power to keep strong, with little to eat and little to drink, under the hot sun and the cold dew at night. But to be strong with this special kind of strength was not enough. To be chosen, each man had to prove himself a master of his own craft. As Ahuru was before all others a wise and skilful fisherman, so were the rest mighty swimmers or skilled in the handling of canoes, the snaring of sea birds, the mending of sails, the joining of rojxjs, the sewing together of the planks, the cooking of fcxxl, or in some other useful business. In the canoe there was no room for the weakling, the loud-mouthed, the mighty eater, or the little-hearted. Each man was a notable man and skilled at his craft before all others. Many months before the canoe set sail the men prepared themselves to withstand the pains of the voyage. They made their Ixxlies hard with much running and the paddling of canoes outside the reef in the wind and the seas. And while they did this they ate little, so that their bellies might become accustomed to fasting.
AND then, at that season when the southeast wind • blows most true and steady, the chief called together all those men who had been making themselves ready. They were very many, and each man showed to the chief his power and strength and cunning. And the chief gave them great tasks to do. Most men failed to stand up under these tasks; but some succeeded, and of these the chief would choose the best to sail with him. This was always the custom before the canoes sailed for I lawaii. and thus did Patiri choose my great-grandfather. Ahuru. and all the sixty men who sailed with him.
“Then the crew prepared the canoes to withstand the long voyage and the blows of breaking seas and the might of the big winds. They tightened the sewing between the planks and the lashings on the beams, covering all with gum, wrell rubbed in to keep the fibre from the sun and spray. They put aboard the small paddles, the great steering paddle, the bailing scoops, the mast, the sail, the” “Sail?” broke in Sam. “I thought you said they paddled. What sort of sail?”
“When the wind fell calm they paddled,” Rahi went on. “But chiefly they sailed. The sail was a great sail, in shape like a shield. It was made, as were the ropes, of the fibre of cocoanut husks, and it was very strong. It had long spars lashed at its head and foot, and it set on a mast. stepjied amidships, in the middle of the leeward canoe, and raking forward. Then, when the mast was rigged, they loaded aboard their gear; the fishing lines of fibre and women s hair; the shell hooks for bonito; the wooden hooks tipped with shell for sharks; the fine nets for flying fish and sea birds, and the fishing spears. They stowed in the bottom of the canoe the long-necked gourds filled with drinking water; the fish dried in the sun; the pot paste wrapped tightly in leaves to keep it from the heat and the salt water. In the shelter of the platform they put the cooking box, filled with sand and the stones for baking.
“When all was prepared the people made a great feast, with songs and dancing, and the priests offered up to the gods the lives of many men, so that the bellies of the gods might become replete and prevent them from hungering for the lives of the voyagers. And they made further offeiings so that the winds should blow fair, the waters remain untroubled, and the sun and the stais guide the canoe aright across the wide and empty waters. Then the gifts from our chiefs to the chiefs of Hawaii were carefully loaded. There were the little sapling trees, growing in rich earth in wooden bowls; the fair young virgins; the whales’ teeth; the carved shells of turtle 1 and rolls of finest bark cloth, stained and dyed. All these were loaded. Then Patiri cried out in farewell to all the people and boarded the canoe, his men following behind him. And after them came Arero, the priest, carrying the Sacred Nut and guarding it. Patiri stood at the great steering oar, and the men took up their paddles. And at Patiri’s word they drove their paddles with a great shout into the sea, spurning it mightily, so that the canoe fled leaping from the land out to the deep waters. From the beach came the shouting of the men. calling farewell, and the sad sound of the women weeping; but they paddled on, singing loud their paddling song, until the crying from the beach grew faint and died. They paddled on until the sun sank into the sea and the mountains of Tahiti faded from the sky behind them.
“In tire first part of the first night a steady wind came running to them, darkening the starshine on the water, and they ceased their paddling and made sail. And Patiri said, ‘This is the true wind ; the southeast wind. Steer by this wind, keeping it u|X)n the right hand and neither a finger’s-bieadth before you nor behind.’ And Arero said, ‘Let Reve in the sky astern be your guiding star.’ So they steered by the wind and their stat until the sun rose from the sea on their right hand in the morning. All that day they sailed northeast, steering by the wind, and because the wind might change and lead them astray, Patiri watched the run of the swells across the face of the water and Arero watched the sun moving across the sky. Thus they sailed by night and by day; the sun, the wind, and Reve guiding them.
"On the third night the smell of land came to them across the sea, and they heard the thunder of swells breaking on a reef. They stowed their sail, waiting for the light, and when the day came they saw an island, low and without mountains, fiat upon the water ahead. The island was in shape as is a ring, and within it lay a calm lake which they entered, drawing their canoe up on the beach. They found many fish in the lake, and the cocoanut palms grew thick upon the island as grow the haiis upon a young man’s head. So they rested there for three days and refreshed themselves. Then they sailed on. In a little while the island sank into the sea astern and they saw no more land. The southeast wind blew fresh and without ceasing, and they sailed swiftly; and as they sailed they sang. They sang in praise of the gods and the fair and steady wind and their own good fortune. They sang of Patiri and his skill in reading the signs written by the wind on the sea and on the sky. They sang of Arero talking with the stars. They sang of the flaming wake they made in the darkness. They sang when the flying fish fell into the belly of their sail. They sang without ceasing.
A FTER many days the wind freshened and blew' more strongly; the seas grew’ steep and breaking, making the canoe leap and roll in the rough water. The great beams which held the canoes together strained and worked at their lashings, grunting and crying like angry pigs striving to be free. The seams between the planks gaped under the strain, letting in the w’ater. And the crew sang and rolled up the bottom of their sail, making it smaller. They lashed and double lashed the beams and oiled the lashings, and with their wooden scoops they bailed out the water. They worked at the bailing by turns, there being always ten men bailing, and if less than ten men bailed the leaks gained and the canoe became heavy with water. Thus they bailed, and as they bailed they sang the bailing song. They bailed as thèy sang —without ceasing.
“They sailed on very swiftly, leaping among the waves. As night followed night they saw their guiding star sink lower and low’er in the sky toward the rim of the sea behind them. As day followed day they saw their shadows grow shorter as the sun curved ever higher above them. After many days—”
“How many days?” said Sam, suddenly interrupting Rahi’s singsong recital. “This bunch of rummies of yours ought to be about running out of the southeast trades by now according to the rate you’ve got ’em going. How many days out from Tahiti are they supposed to be by now?”
“I do not know’,” answered Rahi. “These are the words I learned from my father. After many days Reve sank into the sea astern and was no more a guide to them, and some of the crew began to be afraid. They said, ‘Alas! Alas! Our star that guides us through the darkness is lost in the sea, and we are lost also in this sea that has no guide upon it; this sea which has no limits; this sea without end.’ But Patiri said, 'You talk as little children. Our star has set; but is not the wind our guide? This good and constant wind that blows straight from the sunrise into the sunset. Steer by the wind. Steer with the wind on our right hand, and all will be well.”
“They sailed on. Presently the wind began to lose its strength. It faltered. It died. And little wandering airs played over the sea, now upon this hand, now upon the other. Then Patiri ordered them to lower the sail and take up their paddles; but the death of their steady wind filled the men with fear, and they murmured against Patiri. And one said, ‘Our star is lost in the sea, and the wind that was our guide now mocks and misleads us. Let us not waste our strength with paddling, for now we are as blind men who, with no hand to lead them, move in circles.’
“And Patiri put his hand upon the steering paddle, and he said, ‘O men of little faith, this hand shall lead you.’ He took up his long spear, and he said, ‘O men of little courage, this hand shall drive you.’ And then he raised his hand and pointed, and cried out in a great voice, ‘O blind men—see!’ And they looked, and saw the first light of a new day growing upon the rim of the dark sea. Then Patiri said, ‘Our star is lost and our wind has died; but the sun is still a guide to us. Out paddles! Steer by the sun.’ So they paddled onward, steering by the sunrise on their right hand.
‘They paddled on, and the sun climbed . up the sky until it stood straight above them, so that a man sat upon and hid his own shadow. And presently Ahum, who paddled in the bow, saw floating on the water ahead a little thing of wood. It came close, and he saw it was a wooden bowl, shaped and hollowed, and he cried out, 'Behold, brothers! All is well. Here is a sign that the land is near to us.’ So they stopped, amazed, and took the bow’l into the canoe, rejoicing to see it. But one cried out, ‘Alas! it is the bailer which broke in my hand, the same that I cast overboard this morning !’
“When Patiri heard these words he sat down, and he said, ‘Take in your paddles and rest, for now the sun is no more a guide to me, and I steer in circles. But be not afraid, for in the evening the sun will set, and we will go forward again in the right path, steering by the sunset on our left hand.’
“But all the men were very greatly afraid, and in their fear they cried out against Patiri, and one said, ‘We are blind men, and now indeed a blind man leads us in circles. Let us tum back and find our own land again, for to follow Patiri round and round is death.’
“Then said Patiri, ‘You are in error. To follow me is life. To disobey is death. I prove it—thus.’ And he thrust his fishing spear at that man who had spoken, transfixing his throat, so that he died quickly.
“Then Arero, the priest, got up from his seat on the high platform, and he said, ‘That is good proof. Now I will give proof that to follow your chief and your priest is life, my children. Our guiding star has set and our guiding wind has died, and the sun is straight above our heads so that it is no more a guide to us. But let not these things dismay you, for as they have happened, so were they foretold to me by those men of great wisdom, your high priests in Tahiti. Thus did they foretell and order. These are their words: Sail with the steady wind on your right hand, steering by the sun and Reve, until the star sinks into the sea behind you and you come to a region of calms and little airs and rain squalls with thunder. Sail on until the sun at midday casts no shadow and is no more a guide to you. But be not afraid. Thus, my children, the high priests ordered. And now listen well to their words, for they foretell those things we shall meet with as we sail onward. These are their words: Be not afraid, for when the sun sets on that day a new star will appear in the sky to guide you. When the sun sinks, look broad on the right hand of the sunset, and there, low down on the rim of the sea, the new star will be shining: Fetiu Noho, the star that neither sets nor rises, the star that sits still in the sky. By these signs shall you know it. Let Fetiu Noho be your guiding star. Steer for Fetiu Noho. Thus, my children, do the high priests foretell and order. Look tonight when the sun sinks, and, seeing Fetiu Noho, have proof that my words are true. Follow your chief and your priest, my children, and be led to Hawaii in safety.’
“Thus said Arero. When the sun set they looked low down in the sky and broad on the right hand of the sunset, and there in truth was a new star. And because it neither rose nor set, but remained fixed with the other stars ciicling round it, they knew it for their guiding star as Arero has said, and they were no longer afraid, but were comforted.”
THE binnacle lamp was burning dim, and Rahi stopped his talk while he turned up the wick and snuffed it with his horny fingers.
“What do you think of his yam now, Sam?” I said. “I think it’s true, because I don’t see how Rahi could possibly invent all those meteorological and astronomical details. Fetiu Noho is clearly Polaris. They’d see it as soon as they crossed the equator. And it’s plain they were north of the line, because they’d run out of the southeast trades into the doldrums.” “Fairy tale,” said Sam. “Rahi’s made this voyage with me before, and he’s just adding in a few of his own trimmings. High priests and all that tripe. Don’t you go and believe a word of it. I don’t. I’m from Missouri and you got to show me. But just as a fairy story I’ll admit it’s interesting. WThat d’you reckon that crew of ducks did then, Rahi after they’d seen the star?”
“They paddled on, steering for the star,”
said Rahi. "All night they paddled over the dark sea, while black clouds like mountains moved roaring in the sky. Spears of fire thrust at them from the clouds, the wind struck fierce and sudden as a man strikes with a club, and the beating of the rain upon their bodies was as the lashing of little whips. They paddled on, their wet backs shining in the lightning until the day came. With the daylight came a fresh and steady wind blowing from the sunrise, and they hoisted their sail again. The wind grew with the light, and all that day they sailed swiftly, steering by the wind on their right hand. And when the sun set and the wind did not die with the daylight, Patiri said, ‘Now all is well, for this good wind is the twin of the wind that blows upon Tahiti without ceasing. As that wind blows upon our windward beaches so does this wind blow upon the beaches of Hawaii. Lighten your hearts therefore and be sure of our voyage’s ending before many days.’
“The wind held steady as Patiri had said, and they sailed very swiftly through the days and through the nights. Soon the midday sun cast their shadows a little before them, and as day followed day they saw their shadows grow long. Each night Fetiu Noho shone bright in the sky ahead and they steered for it, pointing the prow of the canoe at the star. Each night their star was lifted up a little in the sky, and as night followed night they saw tLe space between the star and the sea grow wider.
“And it was then that Arero, the priest, began to make a great magic. Said Arero, ‘Wide and empty stretch the deep waters, my children ; and upon them no path leads to Hawaii, nor is there anywhere a guiding sign. As a speck of dust is lost in the forest, so is Hawaii lost in the great sea. Where that land lies no man can tell. Only the stars can tell; and I, your priest, by my magic, will ask the stars, and the stars shall answer me, and thus will I guide you in safety to Hawaii.’
“Then Arero took from its box the Sacred Nut. Into its shell he poured water, and with prayers and magic words he lifted it up to his eyes, holding it out before him as an offering to Fetiu Noho. In this manner he talked nightly with Fetiu Noho, praying to the star for guidance, and nightly the star made him this same answer. Thus spake the star through the mouth of Arero: ‘Draw nigh to me. Come near. When I kiss the lip of the Sacred Nut then, and then only, do I point out the road that leads to Hawaii.’
“So they sailed on, with the wind and the sunrise on their right hand and the star before them in the night. Nightly the star lifted itself higher in the sky and nightly Arero talked with it, filling the Sacred Nut with water and holding it up before him as an offering to Fetiu Noho. Thus they sailed until there came a night when Arero, holding up the Sacred Nut, cried out: ‘They kiss ! The star rests upon the lip of the Sacred Nut. And it says: Sail no more toward me. Turn and steer into the sunset, and presently you shall see the mountains of Hawaii growing from the deep water.'
“They turned the canoe therefore, and all that night they sailed with the star on their right hand and the wind behind them. In the morning the sun came up astern, and in the evening it sank in the sea ahead. Thus they sailed, until the sun rose on the third day and they saw the mountains of Hawaii upon the sea before them. On that day they reached the land, and the people of Hawaii received them in peace and with rejoicings. Thus did the father of my father’s father sail from Tahiti to Hawaii, and as my father told this to me so I tell it. ”
RAHI’S story impressed me so much - that, during the last three days of our passage, I questioned him closely with a view to getting hold of as many details as I could of his great-grandfather’s remarkable voyage. He repeated his story while I made notes of all he said, and it is from these notes that I have written this. I discovered, however, that, in spite of all 1 my questions, no further details of any importance were to be got out of Rahi. He told the tale as his father had told it to him, and that was all he knew about it. I was eager to obtain particulars of the construction and rig of the canoe and to find out something more about that “sacred cocoanut;” but beyond the fact that the thing was a hollow much-carved shell with its top cut off, Rahi could tell me nothing. To him the thing was “magic,” which satisfactorily explained everything.
This was a great pity, and I said as much to Sam. I said, "There’s more in this yarn of Rahi’s, Sam, than meets the eye. I’ve been through my notes point by point— and the evidence is good. It’s true; all of it. I think that you and I have had the luck to hear an authentic account of one of the last of the long canoe voyages known to Polynesian tradition. The only doubtful point is this sacred cocoanut business, and I’ll admit I don’t understand that. All I can get out of Rahi is that the thing was some sort of magic—which isa great pity, because I can’t help feeling, if only I could get hold of some more details, that confounded nut could be satisfactorily explained.”
“The only thing that beats me,” said Sam, “is how anybody but a fat-headed, natural-born mug could swallow that Kanaka’s yarn. These last three days you’ve been doing nothing but gas with Rahi and write down his lies and then talk to me about sacred cocoanuts and one silly thing after another, till I’m sick of it and Rahi and you too. Now, for the love of j Mike, dry up and give me a rest. What’s your idea, anyway? If you’re trying to make me believe that bilge, you’d better forget it. I’ve told you before you’ve got ! to show Sam Payne. Now you dry up—for i good—or I'll turn to and bite you.”
After this hint from Sam that my interest in Rahi’s tale was boring him I thought it wise to say no more. I had, in fact, little opportunity of doing so. for that same evening we sighted the peak of Mauna Kea on the horizon ahead and by next morning the schooner was anchored off Hilo. The Camilla had a part cargo to discharge at that port before proceeding to Honolulu, and, as I was in a hurry, I took a passage on to Honolulu in an interisland steamer. I completed my business there in two days, and found that I had to w'ait a week before my steamer sailed for San Francisco. There is nothing much to do at Honolulu except dodge motor cars, bathe in the surf and eat pineapples, and one day, tiring of these exercises, I took refuge in the local museum. There I found an excellent collection of Polynesian exhibits, beautifully arranged and adequately labelled. I also found something in one of the showcases which caused me to cry out in a loud voice. Then I said, “All right, Sam. You wait!”
Then I went down to the wharf and waited for Sam for three days. The Camilla arrived, and when Sam had completed his ship’s business, I lured him into a taxi with promises of the finest dinner in Honolulu, plus a bottle of pre-Prohibition gin. Sam seemed surprised when I led him into the museum, and he was pained when I planted him in front of a showcase containing a large carved gourd. He said, “Seems a queer place to keep your stock of gin—in a museum. It ought to be good and old, though. Lead me to it.”
“Revenge first, Sam,” I said. “Gin afterward. You remember Rahi’s sacred cocoanut?”
Sam groaned. “Still talking about that foolishness?”
“Yes,” I said. “I am. You were very rude to me about it. Sam. You said I was
a fat-headed, natural-born mug to believe in it. You said, before you believed anything you’d got to be shown it. Well— look!”
I pointed at the gourd, and Sam stared. The thing was in shape like a large ostrich’s egg from which the top quarter had been neatly sawn off, leaving a deep bowl with a perfectly level and smooth rim. About an inch and a half below the rim four holes were bored, being spaced at equal distances around the bowl.
“Silly-looking thing,” said Sam. “What about it, anyway?”
“Read!” I cried. “Read and believe— you aggravating, lymphatic lump of cold suet duff you.” Then I almost rubbed Sam’s nose on the label, and made him read this:
(iCirca 1400 A.D.)
Communication by sea between the Hawaiian and Society Islands appears to have been maintained by the natives of these groups before the advent of Europeans in Pacific waters. Recent ethnological evidence establishes this assumption as a fact. The voyages were made in open canoes, aboard which this calabash was invariably carried, as, according to native tradition, it was solely due to the magical qualities they supposed this “Sacred Calabash” to possess that the canoes were enabled to return to Hawaii in safety.
It was not until the year 1905 that the true function of the “Sacred Calabash” was understood. In that year Lieutenant Hugh Rodman, U.S.N., examined the calabash and discovered its scientific significance. He filled the calabash with water up to the holes, measured the angle between the surface of the water and a line drawn from any one hole across to the top of the opposite rim, and found this angle to be 19 degrees. The latitude of Hawaii is roughly 19 degrees north. The altitude of Polaris measured from sea level at Hawaii is also roughly 19 degrees. Consideration of these facts caused Lieutenant Rodman to attempt an observation of Polaris with the calabash. The water acting as a level kept the calabash vertical, and a sight taken through one of the holes over the opposite upper rim of the Calabash showed Polaris tangent to the rim.
This experiment, coupled with native tradition, led to the conclusion that the “Sacred Calabash” was used as an instrument of navigation by the crews of the canoes returning from the Southern Pacific to Hawaii. Sailing north and on a course certain to take them to eastward of Hawaii, they observed Polaris through one of the holes of the water-filled calabash until the star became tangent on the rim. When this occurred the course was altered to west, and could be changed to keep Polaris always tangent with the rim. thus assuring the approximate latitude of Hawaii being maintained and the eventual arrival there.
This method of navigation, though crude, is based on scientific principles. A sextant, set to measure 19 degrees, can be used in the same manner.
Sam read that labeltwice. Then he walked slowly round the “Sacred Calabash” three times, while I assumed a pose of triumph. And then Sam said:
“Well—there you are! Just what I told you. That shows what a mug you were to believe a Kanaka. Rahi said it was magic, and it turns out there’s no more magic about it than there is about my sextant. And he swore it was a cocoanut, too, and it’s only a gourd ! Let that be a lesson to you, young feller. Next time, maybe, you’ll believe me.