French missionary Eugenio Eyraud was the first foreigner to live with the Rapa Nui people. He arrived in 1864, a year after the devastating Peruvian slave raids. He wrote a long letter about his stay at this remote island.
Author: Eugenio Eyraud
English translation: Dina Tricca and Angélica Alister C.
Comments: Marcus Edensky
It was on the twenty fourth day of navigation, 2 January 1864, when we reached Easter Island, named Rapa Nui by its inhabitants. The Captain asked to the native people with us on the ship if they knew Anakena Bay, where he wanted to disembark. After a few moments of doubt, due to the distance, they exclaimed: "There's Anakena!".
The landscape of this island is pleasant, especially after passing the hills. It can be twenty-five km long by seventeen km wide. The coast is generally made of steep cliffs, and it offers only few rare spots where it can be approached. The land rises in gentle slopes joining the coast with the three craters that crown the island. From the tops of these mountains to the coast it is the same fertile soil. Everywhere the same green color, the same grasslands; it is noticeable the absence of threes and big plants; there are also deep ravines and no water streams. The coast offers three main bays where it is possible to disembark: Anakena on the north-east side, Vaihu in the south-east and Hanga Roa in the south-west. But these bays, if they can be called so, do not allow shelter to the ships. Actually, when we arrived in front of Anakena, the Captain said it was not safe to anchor. The real reason was that, out of a personal interest, he wanted to anchor in another place. I was interested in disembarking in Anakena, and I did all I could to convince the Captain. For as much as he alleged that my luggage would be wet, I answered him that this would be a small inconvenience. The important thing was to disembark the Kanacas (Polynesian people, the writer's notes) immediately to introduce us to their compatriots, so that they would not take us for pirates. The captain did as if he was going to comply; he gave order to take down the long-boat to the sea, and the kanakas were getting ready to go down.
I was afflicted by a terrible headache, so I lay on my bed to have some rest for a little while. Soon after falling asleep I was awaken by the noise of the kanakas, who, I believed, where already on land. I went up tot he bridge and realized that we were heading towards another direction along the coast.
"Where are you going to disembark me?" I asked the Captain. "How will I be able to transport my possessions from the place where you leave me to Anakena?".
"Do not worry" he answered me. "In return for four pieces of clothing that you will give to the kanakas, I assure you that your possessions will be transported wherever you want".
"Very well, but wil you assure me that they are not going to take everything away along the way?". The Captain gave me no answer and continued his way. Later in the afternoon we reached Hanga Roa. After throwing the plummet, he thought it was not safe to anchor and sailed to high sea to spend the night. The following day, which was Sunday, we finally arrived. The secondi n command was a young Mangarevan guy, called Daniel, who could speak a bit of English and French. He could also communicate with the islanders, whose language has great similarity to the Gambier one. He was the one who conducted the kanakas to their landing, and he did not delay to cmoe back. Poor Daniel! He was out of his mind. Before coming up on board he had an animated discussion with the Captain, which I did not understand because they were speaking in English. What was going on? "I will not go back to land, not even for one thousand pesos" he told me. "They are horrible people to see. They are frightening and armed with spears. The majority of them are completely naked. The feathers they wear like ornament, the red body paintings, their savage shouts, everything gives them a horrible look. Besides, small pox is causing havoc on the island. Several of them, sent back from Callao, spread the epidemic everywhere except in Anakena".
In fact, out of a hundred derelicts embarked in Callao, only fifteen escaped death and they carried small pox to their fellow islanders. The kanakas that knew this disease have an unspeakable fear of it. Daniel had heard about this and, astonished by the red color on their native faces that he had noticed among them, he thought it was a consequence of the disease, whose devastating effects had been exaggerated on them. Therefore Daniel, shaken by the danger he thought to have risked, sounded the alarm about it on board.
"The captain", he added, "will take us back to Tahiti free of charge. It must not be thought to go ashore because we would be exposed to lose the barge and to catch the disease".
"Go back to Tahiti!", I answered. Is this some kind of joke? Do you think I boarded this ship for the pleasure of traveling? The ship owner and the captain knew that small pox was on the island when they did the deal, since they were the first ones to tell me the news".
Then we decided that I would disembark alone, and that I would reach Anakena by land with Pana. The ship should be there the following day in the morning to disembark my things. I jumped on the barge and while Daniel was conducting me I begged him to take a little bit of grass that I would hand him from the shore back to the ship for my five goats left on board, because they were almost dying of starvation.
"Ah!", he said with a scowl. "Who knows if the captain will allow it on board?".
"I understand", I answered with a smile. "You think that small pox will get on board with the grass. Do not worry."
I immediately jumped off the barge and pulled up some handfuls of grass and took it to the boat myself. Daniel's task had come to an end. He took the way back. Mine was going to start: I found myself in the middle of my guests.
Surely, Daniel had to be forgiven for being afraid. A crowd of men, women and children, that there might have been about a thousand and two hundred in number, had nothing safe to offer. The men were armed with a kind of spear made of a long stick and a sharp stone fixed at one extremity. These savages are tall, strong and well-built. Their features are more alike to the European ones than those of the other islanders throughout Oceania. The Marquesans are, out of all the kanakas, the ones who resemble them the most. Their color, a bit of copper, is not very different from the European type, and some of them are entirely white. But, obviously, at some distance, one does not know what to think; as everybody: men, women and children have their faces and their entire bodies painted in thousand ways. Furthermore, these paintings are completely bewildering. They are obtained from a kind of grounded powder, or from the juice of certain plants. Women use only red color, while men use indifferently all the colors.
Daniel had presumed a hostile attitude because he did not recognize the presence of women among this crowd. But he was wrong and this can be explained. At a first sight they all resemble closely because they all wear the same dress. This uniform is very simple: a strip of papyrus clothes or another plant, held by a rope made of hair and worn around the hips. A piece of the same material, but only bigger, put it around the shoulders and knotted at the neck, completes the dress. Now, this is the ordinary dress for men and women as well, and this is the reason why they are not easily recognized from a distance.
Yet there is a difference: the material that covers women is usually made of some kind of a straw; but men's is made of another type. The men, after knotting up the rope behind, they let it hang down; the women fasten it. Women, same as men, do not miss meetings, and it was them who called Daniel's attention: he told me that these savages wore their hair tied up and perpendicular on top of their heads. Normally, it is mainly women who wear their hair in such fashion.
I had time to notice these particular details; but there was something else I had in my heart since my arrival to the island. I was looking for the kanakas, my fellow travelers. I found them in the middle of the crowd, almost as confused as I was. Pana's fellow islanders and the others did not care to celebrate their coming back; they were more interested in putting their hands on their possessions. I went close to them announcing the Captain's arrival to Anakena. We would leave for Anakena as soon as we finished eating the sweet potatoes that we were cooking on the fire. It's true that I was hungry, but I was in a hurry to put some distance between me and this noisy gathering.
After eating the sweet potatoes there was the problem to go to Anakena; but every time Pana and I tried to espace, they put their hands on our necks. Tired of this useless fight, and without any hope to get rid of my vigilant guiards, I decided to send signals to the ship on the open sea. I waived my hat, my bandanna; I shouted as loud as I could: "Waste of time!". We tried to escape hiding behind a rock, but here there were some people who let Pana bring me back to the middle of the crowd.
Night was closer, and I did not know what to do, when Pana returned with several people armed with spears. Then I headed towards them running. They interposed themselves between me and my guards to protect my escape, recommending me to run as fast as I could, which I I complied it down to the letter. It was eleven o'clock at night when my protectors and I stopped and they had already reached me; and we headed to a cave where several women brought us sweet potatoes. We could rest there for a while.
At dawn, we started walking and we arrived to Anakena. The ship was far on the open sea, it got closer little by little. I did some signals but they pretended not to see them. They were skirting around the shore and made us run with all the people along. We could not stand this anymore. Pana wanted to go home and I could not stop him. Suddenly, the ship started receding for not being seen anymore. So I went back, and accompanied by some kanakas, I reached Pana's family's cabin before night fell.
For me it was a moment of deep sadness when I found myself abandoned on this island, without any resource and without the means to talk about religion to these miserable natives, perhaps for a long time. It did not matter that the ship took away my possessions, but what was an irreparable loss and a main cause of my affliction was to be deprived of the only object that could give me some kind of consolation, a Tahitian catechism, absolutely necessary to teach the kanakas both the prayers and the first truths of religion. My catechism and my prayers book remained on the ship. The ship had disappeared and it was probably on its way to Tahiti.
I was deep into this mood when Pana came with some of his people. "Your belongings", he told me, "have been disembarked in Hanga Roa, and the people living in that bay took possession of them. The Captain sent us to tell you to go and talk to him tomorrow".
"Go back to Hanga Roa! It is impossible: my feet hurt and I dislocated my knee. I cannot walk."
"You will be carried if it is necessary, but it is essential to go to Hanga Roa in the morning. I will accompany you all the way, without actually getting to Hanga Roa because people there are furious with me.". Afterwards he gave me some sweet potatoes to eat and he invited me to his house to spend the night.
It was the first time that I entered into a kanaka's cabin. I want to describe it to you: it will not take long. The furniture is very simple: the kitchenware consists of a gourd to contain water and a straw woven sack to keep the sweet potatoes. In relation to the bed and its furniture, you can already imagine how they are as soon as I talk about the cabin. Imagine an upside down, half opened boat resting on the slit of its base, and you will get an idea about the shape of this cabin. Some sticks wrapped up with a straw give shape to the frame and the roof. A doorway shaped like an oven mouth allows its inhabitants and visitors to enter, crawling, not on their knees but on their stomach. This doorway is situated in the middle of the cabin and allows just enough light to pass through to be able to see one another after a few moments inside.
You can't imagine how many kanakas can find shelter under this straw roof! It is extremely hot inside, without mentioning the disgust produced by imperfect cleanliness of the natives and the common use of goods, necessarily established here. You can't come out of it without taking a considerable number of other "inhabitants" (insects) of the cabin on your clothes, when you wear some. However, at night, when there is no other shelter available, it is better to do like the others. Then one takes his place; the position is indicated to each other by the nature of the site. As the entrance is situated in the middle, it works like a division of the cabin into two halves. The heads, oposite to one another of each side of the door, leave enough room between them for the ones who enter or go out.
Therefore they lay down along the wide section, they assemble as they can and try to sleep this way. Even though I was very tired, I had infinite reasons for not closing my eyes. So, that was the reason why I could hear all around me: the chants and cries that indicated, as they said, the pleasure of the attendants.
At dawn, the first object that I discovered was a little domestic idol which they did not seem to care much about. Dear me! These gods were not the ones I wanted to think about. I started my prayers in kanakas language with great solemnity in front of the audience. More than ever I needed to impore God to give me strength and patience. My problems were just starting.
It was necessary to go back to Hanga Roa, to surrender those people from whom I had so many troubles to escape and who inspired me so little confidence. But there was no turning back, so I set downright on walking even though I was exhausted from the days spent running on such kind of soil made to break European feet.
The island ground is all volcanic, withstones and sharp rocks everywhere. Among these stones and the surrounding grass there is nothing but deep tracks, barely outlined and less wide than the shoe soles, which forces you to walk with two feet over the same line.
When I reached Hanga Roa, I foundm yself surrounded by a mass of agitated people all over the beach, like the previous day. The Captain had disembarked my belongings. Several kanakas, armed with spears, seemed to beon guard to defend my property. But they thought it was convenient to take possession in advance of what they found available. One of them was wearing my hat, another one had dared to wear my deacon dress. Everything that was not locked had disappeared. I had some trunks and the hut tansoms prepared from Tahiti. The most urgent to me was to build my hut. But this was not an easy thing to do because the defenders of my property seemed to be ready to protect it even against me. The four transoms attracted their attention in partucular: some of them assumed they were used for building a boat, others tried to find out what their use was. Therefore, I told them that if they let me work, I would show them what they were used for. So they allowed me to get nearer them. I took a hammer and some nails and I started to put the timber straight up. But I had to stop all the time to listen to different opinions: both to stop or continue working. After several alternatives, the audience understood that what had intrigued them so much was a house.
Let's make it clear that I could not choose the piece of land; I only contented myself with putting up the transoms around the trunks. Once the work was finished, I had the consolation to see my things locked and the hope to sleep in my house.
It was already nearly night fall. At last I could breathe: I had shelter. What they did not steal from me was in my house, and the key was in my pocket. At this moment, Te Manu, one of the kanakas, came to offer me three chickens. At the same time, I also met a man who was destined to be very close to me: my evil genie appeared to me in the person of Torometi. When he was the chickens, he came to me and asked for them: "To take care of them for you and to cook them", he said. Actually, he "kept" them for me, and, during the nine months and nine days of my residence on Easter Island, the rascal will continue with a relentless perseverance, to keep everything I had brought.
Torometi was a thirty year old man, tall and strong like the other islanders. His false and reserved frown inspired distrust and justified his bad reputation. They had told me he did not belong to the island racial group; yet, he was such a real kanaka, he had brothers and a big family. I perceived that he had a big influence over the neighbours.
It will not be easy to describe the chief authority on this island. I don't even know on which base it is established. It seems it simply consists of a certain influence that someone took over his neighbours, and they got used to recognize it little by little.
What was true was that Torometi was a chief; he was my chief and my neighbour. His house was a few steps away from mine, but even so he did not believe he was close enough to me. So, when night fell, he asked me to open the door for him to enter, then he lay on my trunks without any ceremony and he invited me to sleep. He was just taking charge of my residence.
Here I am, I had definitely settled down in my new land. I was accepted and recognized for everyone all over the island, or, at least, it would not take so long. My residence was going to be the meeting point for all the curious ones, which means every native. I was the papa'ā1, the stranger that everybody wanted to know and to see working, and above all the one they all wanted to take advantage of. You may imagine, my Rev. Father, with certain precision, my life on Easter Island. Torometi took me as his property, me and my possessions. Because of this he gave me my portion of sweet potatoes, he took care of feeding me. So I was able to spend all day instructing the natives. This is what I have done since my arrival until my departure. I have had only two kinds of distractions: the necessary work to cultivate a piece of land and to plant the seeds of legumes I brought; and my personal defense and the defense of my possessions against Torometi's ever growing pretensions.
1) This word means "foreigner", often when it has to do with someone coming from Europe.
Apart from that, my staying here at Easter Island has been a long class, a long catechism, only interrupted by short periods of rest and some little incidents.
Three times a day the bell announced the prayers. When they gathered, I pronounced every word of the prayer and they repeated it: it was the prayer already said in the proper way. Immediately after that it was class time, during which they learned the prayers, the catechism, and they learned how to read. In nine months and a few days I had not made doctors, as far as you can understand, but several kanakas, both boys and girls, have learnt the main prayers and the main religious mysteries quite well. Many of them have started to spell words; there are five or six who can read regularly. These results do not seem to be brilliant, but it should be taken into account that these poor people did not have the lsightest idea about the things I had been teaching them; their language lacks the necessary words to name them, and that was compulsory for me to learn their language, which is more difficult than you can imagine, in order to be able to teach them the prayers. With the savages, it is not possible to ask questions or to ask for any possible explanation: they tell you the name of the object in front of their eyes, but they do not go any further. Do not ask for the meaning of a word you do not understand; it is infinitely superior to their intelligence. In this case they answer repeating the same question.
To obtain these minimum results it was necessary to be ready all the time for these children, old and young ones. Whether you are ready or not, Mr. Professor or Catechist Brother, here there are pupils: they knock the door. If I opened immediately it would be a good sign, the class would start on the grass in front of the hut. But if I delayed a little, or, if I saw among my disciples that they were more keen on having fun than to learn, I would postpone the class for another moment, and they would not miss the opportunity. After knocking the door they called me going around my house, they sat down at some distance and have fun themselves throwing stones, small ones at first, but later bigger ones, to keep up the interest. Whether the catechist is in a good mood or not, he must be present. So I came out armed with my catechism, and sat down in the grass. I told them: "Let's see. Come over here! Let's learn some prayers!".
"No", the would answer. "YOU come, come here!". The easiest thing was to go. Then they all sat down in the grass and repeated the prayers, the questions and the answers of catechism, with some attention, and with a certain satisfactory tone. After some time, new students would come. The ones who got bored first stood up and went away and the last ones who arrived would not delay much in following them. Soon the place would remain empty and the teacher could take care of other tasks, to be ready and available at any time they wished to start the class again. If it is not today, it will be tomorrow. Be ready! Here there are very few occupations and few entertainments and so oon, they will call to papa'ā's door saying: "Teach us to pray!".
In fact, these good people have nothing to do during the twelve months of the year. One day's work assures them an abundant harvest of sweet potatoes for the entire year. During the remaining three-hundred-and-sixty-four days they walk, sleep and visit each other. That is why gatherings and parties are continous. When they are ready with one side of the island they start over on the other side. The purposes of celebrations vary according to the season.
This summer it's the paina that attracts all the people. Each person takes his food for the time of the celebrations, especially for the last day: the banquet day. All this amount of food laid in lines and covered with tree leaves and branches makes the main meal. When all the rituals have been performed, according to the etiquette rules, until the rumpus day, the sweet potatoes are eaten. Afterwards they collect the branches that covered the food and make a sort of a pillar. This is what the word paina means.
Autumn and winter are the rainy seasons; therefore, celebrations take another direction. The paina are replaced by the areauti. These are not the great competitions, the complicated pirouettes, the sweet potatoes banquets found in the paina. In the celebration area, big huts are built, I mean taller than the ordinary ones. Once they finish these huts, they gather in groups, they stand in two lines and start singing. What do they sing? Oh! I must confess that this poetry is very primitive, and above all not so varied. The event that caught more their imagination along the year is in general the subject for singing. Therefore, if a disease was introduced, for example small pox, this disease will have to be sung in the areauti. During one of the parties they took my sheep, they roasted them and ate them. The barbecued lambs were sung I don't know for how long. Don't believe that poems are created for these circumstances, they are happy simply with repeating the main subject or sometimes only the word that expresses it, and they sing it in every possible tune from the beginning to the end of the celebration.
Spring is time for mataveri celebration. They gather in a kind of large field. The meeting lasts two months and during that time they run and do every possible exercise. After the mataveri comes the paina, the summertime celebration. This way is how our kanakas do to get rid of the nuisance of boredom.
Naturally, these parties are the occasions to show an extraordinary luxury. Each one wears the most beautiful clothes they possess. Then they show off the most eccentric dresses. The kanakas are not satisfied with a simple dress like the one I described before - the more they put on the better. They take great pains over their body paintings; they seek out the services of a more expert hand at the art of fixing the colors, and they paint their faces with fanciful lines which produce a wonderful effect on them. Women put on their earrings: this is one of the most curious inventions in the art of pleasing. They start while they are still kids to pierce their ear lobes with a sharp piece of wood: little by little they let this piece of wood penetrate down every time deeper enlarging the hole; then successively they introduce a wooden ring which works like a spring and enlarges the hole more and more. After some time, the ear lobe looks like a thin leash falling on the shoulders like a band.
During the celebration days they introduce an enormous bark disc into this hole, which is a perfect charm. Whatever it is or whoever you want to be, it is the fashion, and here, like everywhere else, there is no question at all.
Under these circumstances the head decorations are also varied. First of all, it is necessary a hat of any type: sometimes it consists of a hat decorated with buttons, or better a gourd, or a half of a watermelon, a sea bird which they opened its body and it is almost clean. One day I saw one of these dear kanakas who had the idea to put on his head two water containers, one on top of the other, bravely covering himself with them. Another one, having found a pair of boots left by the Peruvians, he opened and put them straight on his head. Some time ago I met a tailor who used to divide men into two classes: the ones that cover themselves and the ones that dress up. It is evident that Easter Islanders belong to the second class.
They are little interested in covering themselves to protect their bodies from heat or cold; what most interests them is to dress up. Therefore, during their important days, they dress up and decorate themselves, put on everything they can get from anywhere, in any way. The man who could get a piece of clothes wears it like a skirt; if he has two he wears both. The woman who has a pair of trousers, a jacket and a frock coat between her hands puts it all together with the greatest elegance. For so much luxury, they are happy if they can add noisy objects such as iron pieces, etc. to the rest of the outfit. My Torometi, who understands about these matters, was smart enough to take possession of a little bell that I brought when I arrived to the island. He appeared with this bell on. This gave him applause of everyone and rejoicing throughout the island.
Here there are some ways to enjoy which are not much fun to many people. I believe so. My kanakas were surprised when they saw no sign of admiration or enthusiasm in me. They did not know what to think of my indifference. About many other matters our disagreement was unfortunately deeper. I could never control my revulsion when I saw them swallowing many insects and parasites fixed on the clothes they wore with the ability chickens do.
No doubts, you would like to know in details about the religion of our islanders.
What I could observe during the nine months staying here, religion seems to be in the last place of their lives. It is true that my imperfect knowledge of their language have not allowed me to ask all the questions I would have liked to ask about this subject. But, even though all the time I have been so close to them, I could never observe any act that could be positively evidence of any religious cult. In every house there are some statues of about thirty centimeters in height, representing males, fishes, bird figures etc. Undoubtedly these must represent idols, but I did not detect any kind of honor offered to them. Sometimes I saw the kanakas taking these statues, lifting them up in the air and do certain signs accompanied with some kind of dance and an insignificant song. What is the purpose of it? I think they do not even know it. They simply do what they saw from their parents, without reasoning any further. If you ask them for the meaning of it, they will answerthat it is the fashion of their land, the same as when you ask for their games.
I have not seen any religious rituals on the occasion of death either. When someone is sick, all the treatment consists of taking the person out of the hut during the day and putting him back inside for the night. If the ill person dies, he is wrapped in straw cloth a little longer than the corpse and tied up with vegetal strings, and the body is left in front of the house towards the sea shore. These bodies wrapped in this material are put on a wooden ledge or on top of a pile of stones, with the head towards the sea. As the population is spread all over the island, the corpses are dried up all along the coast, without any apparent attention paid to them. I do not know which idea these poor people have about death and the afterlife.
One day, because of a robbery committed by Torometi, I decided to talk to him about the afterlife and the answers he would have to give them. Pana had just died. Then I reminded him that the same thing would happen to him. I had no way to predict the effects my words would produce. I had just said "You will die", when Torometi got frightened as if it was a flash of lightning. He was shaken by violent terror: his features showed the terror and the rage. The others who were present did the same. You could not hear anything except: "The papa'ā said E pohe oe". It seemed as if I had pronounced a magic word. I tried in vain to soften up the effect of the terrible word repeating that I did not know their language well, that I did not wish any harm to them. Vain efforts! Everybody was terrified and for a moment I was afraid I would pay hard for my imprudence. This reaction lasted for mroe than fifteen days. Everyone knew I had said "You will die", and for a long time they showed me guilty of an unprecedented crime. I could not explain this reaction, except supposing that the pronounced words had been interpreted like a threat or the foreboding of a misfortune. I advise the ones going to Easter Island never to pronounce the words "E pohe oe" in front of the natives.
Of course, this incident made me think that superstitious beliefs were not unknown at Easter Island and that Torometi had thought I put a curse on him. I could not prove this assumption.
Nothing happened later to give credit to this assumption and I do not think that what I am about to report has anything related to this kind of idea.
Inside every house there are wooden tablets and canes covered with hieroglyphs; they represent images of animals unknown at the island that natives carve with sharp stones1. Every figure has its name, but the little attention they give to these tablets makes me thinkthat these symbols, remnants of a primitive writing system, are now for them a habit they preserve without trying to find out the meaning.
1) These sharp stones are obsidian tools called matā.
The kanakas do not know reading or writing. However, they can count easily and have names for all the numbers. Their time unit is one lunar year. But on this matter their memory is weak; they do not agree about the number of moons. One thing deserves to be noticed! These savages show a great interest about these subjects. When I talked about the months, the sunrise etc, everybody came along, everybody, even the elderly ones came to take a seat among the young pupils. They showed the same interest when I talked about epistolary letters. One day, while I was giving a class, I saw a ship. With the hope of it coming ashore I went inside my hut to write a few lines. My pupils observed me with attention from a distance. They imagined I had the ability to talk with the people from a distance and that I was using it. When I went back they asked me what my conversation with the ship was about.
Should I talk about the industry of these good kanakas? Their needs are so limited that they get no stimulation in any sense. Consequently, it is natural for them to live in idleness and indolence. But, they show no lack of dexterity with their fingers: they braid the straw with great skill, they easily work the thread, with which they make belts, nets etc. These threads are obtained from a fibrous weave of the purau. The bark of mahute, crushed and prepared, provides the material for clothing with which men cover themselves. Their tools are their fingers and the first available stone, because they do not know how to use any European tool. If they have to shave, they use a sharp stone. The same stone will be used to cut the thread.
What they like most is to sew. They are really happy when they are gratified with a piece of cloth to patch their mahute, which takes the colorful aspect of a harlequin dress.
Agriculture, like I have already said, does not require a lot of work; the fertility of the soil, even though rocky, frequent rains and the mild heat makes this little island capable of sustaining any type of production. My attempts have been very few and the few legumes I planted have grown well. All the plants that I brought could have been acclimatized, but the majority of them have been stolen by Torometi who let them dry instead of planting them. The little garden I planted has disappeared little by little, trampled on, devastated by the neighbors and the children. However, these attempts are enough to demonstrate that it would be easy to obtain all agricultural productions from medium latitude. The kanakas do not have a need for many things; that is why agriculture, like everything else, is developed here only at a basic level. When time comes to plant sweet potatoes, they help themselves with a sharp pointed stick to make a hole in the ground, then they rest on the belief that Providence will provide the growth. They never got the idea of excavating the soil, irrigating etc.
Nature leaves little to do to the fortunate inhabitants of our island. Nevertheless they cannot escape from cooking; but, on this task, complications are also very few. In a short while, the everlasting sweet potatoes are cooked. This is the everyday food, the never changing ordinary food of the kanakas, old and young ones. There are some chickens and, from time to time, some fish is cooked. But these delicate mouthfuls, always rare, are the portion of a small number of priviledged ones. The women and the children, when the husband has had enough, might perhaps try a bone already sucked once, twice and over and over again. Apart from these exceptional occasions, steady cooking is perfect: always sweet potatoes, everywhere the sweet potatoes, cooked accordingly to the oceanic method. Here, such as in all the other islands: a hole excavated in the ground, hot stones and the steam cooking. All of this is done with great skills and about it the kanakas can teach us some lessons.
I noticed their greatest attention not to shed the animal blood. The chickens are killed by twisting their necks. One day I used my knife to bleed one chicken to death and I almost caused a woman to faint while she was looking at how I was doing it. To kill dogs or goats they excavate a hole in the ground and bury the animal head into it. When the asphyxia is completed, the animal body is withdrawn, its skin is burnt and the body is put into the usual fireplace together with the sweet potatoes. I believe that the sight of human blood is also repulsive for the kanakas, because even though they have knives from the Peruvian contacts, they never use them in fights. If they wanted to kill someone, they would simply do it by stone blows to the head. So, when Torometi was not happy with his meal, he literally stoned his woman, to the point that the poor creature could not move the following day.
Now, my Reverend Father, these are but personal adventures that I decided to report, to give you a deeper knowledge of this culture. These short stories have very little variation. The bottom of this is very simple: for me it was a question of not allowing them to rob my stuff completely, or at least not everything at once. Torometi wanted to finish with everything as soon as possible, and meanwhile I was trying to keep my things as much as I could; anyway he took every possible opportunity to try a new assault. Torometi had a bad reputation, and it seemed he deserved it. Even so, I had reasons to believe that if I had fallen into other hands I would not have been treated any better. All the kanakas accuse each other to be thieves: they all tell the truth. If someone steals less, it is due to either lack of the occasion or boldness. A little time after my disembarkation, Torometi, who considered himself the owner of everything I had brought, started to take possession of everything that was not locked. The following day I had to open my trunks in his presence and show him the objects they contained, and explained their use to him. Unfortunately, he was not contented with just looking. He saw a small axe and he just took possession of it. This was the subject of our first argument. I did my best, but I could not get my axe back. That was the only axe on the entire island and he was very interested in keeping it. "Besides", he told me, "I will lend it to you". It was inevitable to quit. From this time on, Torometi never kept apart from this weapon and he used it to convince me to give up everything he wanted. During this first revision, another object stirred up his curiosity and whim: it was the bell. It took me the greatest efforts to maintain my property rights and to place the bell on top of my house. The payment in kind demanded for being my guardian, had to be renewed more than once during my permanence at Easter Island.
Perhaps you will consider it extraordinary that I maintained such a good composure. I can assure you I did not give up without resistance, but in the end I always thought it was better to avoid extreme measures.
These native people do not easily get carried away with violence. I have seen them arguing with shouts and setting fire to their respective houses, without using hand fighting. But I am not less convinced that Torometi, once angry, would find any means to get rid of me. Besides, Torometi was not alone and I would have to face the entire island population. When at times feeling braver I showed more aggressiveness I did not obtain better results. If I closed my door, this inopportune visitor came to sit fifty steps away from my hut, and then his woman, his neighbors and all those who passed by joined him, and a big uproar would start; they threw stones, showing me clearly it was much more advantageous to give up the object desired by Torometi than to let them ruin my house and set it on fire.
However, I needed a small chapel. During the short time off left from prayer teachings and catechism, I put myself down to work. I had no choice about the building material. I had nothing but earth mixed with straw and dried up in the sun. As it was summertime i had to content myself using sea water to soak the earth and with dry grass to replace the straw. Even so, I could have done something decent if the winter rains had not stopped me, and if I had had more respectful neighbors. The more I cut the grass and put it to dry, the more simple to use it for cooking, and Torometi did not waste time; so, every day I had to start all over. What I could do in three months was starting to build a chapel eight meters long and four meters wide. The walls are just one meter and eight centimeters high. Rains made it impossible to continue and Torometi, to whom I had asked for help, told me he did not want to build a mud house. Therefore, I quit my building work to devote myself only to teach catechism.
Immediately I started with the duty to visit the whole island. My intention was to stop at the main sites and to instruct all the inhabitants. To make my way easier I sent some presents to the chiefs of the tribes that I had to visit. When I explained my intentions to torometi, he was naturally opposed to it, but later he seemed to approve my departure. When I arrived at Te Mana's house, I started to teach catechism and congratulated my new guests about their good disposition. But one day they told me that Torometi had taken advantage of my absence by taking possession of all my household furniture. I went back to Anakena accompanied by a group of kanakas. When Torometi saw me he pretended to be deeply surprised. He told me he was incapable to cause me the slightest damage. As far as the forced window and disappeared objects from inside the house, he claimed all of this to have been caused by the wind.
The result of my first trip prompted me to postpone the second one. On the other hand, we were in winter, and even though the season is scarcely severe, it can be felt among people who are so scantly covered up like the kanakas. Rains last for short periods of time, but they are frequent, and a strong wind sometimes reigns to make the sea rough, leaving the island unapproachable for eight or fifteen days at a time.
It was during this period that a new idea occurred to my kanakas. They got in their heads to make me build a boat. For as much as I protested that I had no idea about how to make such a piece of work, my protests were useless. They were convinced that I knew everything, that I could do everything, even to build a boat without wood and without any tools. My embarrassment was not less. I already explained to you how they behaved when they wanted to demand something from me. Their gabbling started: "Wood", they shouted. "We have more than enough!". And they went all over the island collecting all pieces of wooden boards, all kinds of wooden fragments that they could find: straight, bent, rotten scraps. This boat had to be the result of a collective contribution. In other occasions I had noticed that this habit of making everybody contribute to important projects. No one dared to refuse it. It is not necessary to add that I also had to sacrifice every piece of wood I had. With so many and good supplies, there was no plausible reason to refuse to be a carpenter and a builder. The nails I still had were also used, and in about fifteen days, my impatient kanakas could see something that looked like a boat. Oh! The fifteen days seemed so long to them. They left me just enough time to eat. The joining of all of these wooden pieces left a lot to be desired. And besides, the boat had to be caulked.
I told them that this last task was their responsibility, and as they thought they had a kind of soil that made an excellent pitch. They got down to work. I was afraid of only one thing: to be selected to try the new and dangerous boat. The same day, before the pitch dried up, they wanted to put the boat into the water. Then I closed myself inside the house. But they were decided to make the party as a whole one. Remembering that the boats that sometimes disembarked on the island had men dressed up in shirts and pants, they also thought to dress up in uniform. Of course, I was the one who had to contribute with the dresses; and one of them, Teoni, had the audacity to come inside my house and take my pants. Pushed to the limit, I grabbed the thief and threw him out of the house. I did not notice that he had an axe and I was injured in my arm. The plenty blood that drew down provoked the horror of the kanakas, and Teoni gave up his claim. I went back to my house and from there I observed the launch of my boat into the water.
Brutally dragged across the rocks it soon arrived to the shore. This was the decisive moment: each one wanted to contribute to the work awaited for so long. But, poor of me! The joy was very brief. As the boat was in the water, the sea started to enter into it and soon it filled it up. It was impossible to go any further. Good bye trips, excursions and expeditions of all types, dreamt of by our good natives! It was necessary to find other entertainments that could never be missing.
It was soon time for mataveri and there was a little excitement. Above all, Torometi showed an always increasing distrust. He asked me for the remnants of my clothes "to hide them" he said. "They had in mind to steal them". As these good people distrust each other, and with good reason, they are always waylaying to defend and hide what little they have. In fact, there are plenty of hiding places; the whole island is full of deep caves, some natural, some artificial, that communicate with the outside only through a very narrow entrance, where one stone is enough to conceal or close the entrance. The entire island population could, at a given moment, disappear hiding themselves in the underground. It was here where Torometi pretended to safely put away the remnants of my possessions. I refused with tenacity, but Torometi, his brother and his woman, reinforced by their neighbors, took charge of me and made all resistance impossible. They took possession of my keys, they took everything they found, and they did not leave anything but the mattress and the box containing the tools. Once the operation was over, they gave me back the keys.
Nothing such as this had happened to me until now. Certainly Torometi had acted in such a way to annoy me and to demand what he wanted. He had resorted to begging, threatening, shouting, but he had never reached real violence. The last barrier had just fallen: it looked like, from now on, everything was to be feared. The only decision to take was if to remove myself by escaping from the demands of my tyrant. But until now I could not try to move away without him detaining me or following me. And it was necessary to beg him several times to go to baptize Pana and the other three or four near death who implored this grace. Then I waited for a favorable occasion to frustrate my Cerberus vigilance; the occasion presented itself pretty soon.
Some kanakas from Hanga Piko were here to transport my diminished baggage, and I left the place with them while Torometi was just arriving when we departed. The people from Hanga Piko showed kindness to the papa'ā; maybe with the intention of stealing my things. I had just had time to have some rest among them when Torometi showed up, accompanied by some islanders: they came for me. I did not want to follow them, and yet there was a long fight. In the end, they threw me to the ground, they grabbed me, some by the arms, others by the legs, and they set on walking. They had the patience to carry me this way for half a league. The porters were not so careful and I felt half quartered. It was enough, so I told them that I wanted to spare them the pain of carrying me any further. They put me on the ground, they gave me back my shoes which they had pulled off to make it impossible for me to escape, and I finished the journey on foot beside them.
A surprise was waiting for me: Torometi had taken back to my house the majority of the things hidden in the previous days. "You took me for a thief!", he exclaimed. "Look! Look if something is missing! I sincerely wanted to put these objects safely away. The real thieves are the ones from where you come. Soon you will know it: you can already give up forever what you have taken away. Now, go with those people who don't even have one sweet potato to give you to eat!"
I found myself confused, not only for not achieving my plans, but also because of the mistake I had fallen into. I understood that Torometi was telling the truth when he told me that I would never see anything of what I was trying to save again, and that the other kanakas were not better than him. Eight days later I went to seek my possessions. Poor me! Torometi's prophecy had come true to the letter. I couldn't take back anything, absolutely anything moer than the empty and broken trunks.
Other events were on the way. It was September and the mataveri gathered a large part of the population about three or four leagues far from our residence. Torometi had his eyes set on this meeting; what he had feared since a long time should start now. One of the kanakas, Tamateka, made me understand that torometi was the target of a general hate, and his wickedness deserved an examplary punishment.
One morning I saw Tamateka coming to our place, followed by a group of people that formed a crowd in front of Torometi's house. Everybody talked at the same time, the argument was getting heated and, even though I did not understand any of these talks, it was easy to deduce that all this was heading towards a tragic ending. I went out of my cabin and I wanted to observe the actions of the crowd. Soon, things took a threatening aspect. Some of the bravest ones went close to Torometi's house, they tore off the straw that covered it and tried to destroy it. Then they set it on fire and, as it was windy, it was over in a couple of minutes. Torometi remained still, sitting down in front of the fire. It was necessary for one of his friends to grab him by the arm and take him away, or the fire would have reached him. I was afraid that my house might share the same destiny. Fortunately, they did not make any attempts against it, and besides, some kanakas, armed with spears, had set guard around it.
When nothing remained of Torometi's house, the mutineers, having seen the famous boat I built, tried but in vain to destroy it. At this moment, Torometi, surrounded by some companions, was about to leave the site of his misfortune. By now, as far as I was concerned, I had been only an observer of the scene of conflict. But, now I find myself in the choice of saying something. Torometi wanted to take me with him. His enemies had the opposite intention. I did not know what to do. But remembering that my attempts to get away from Torometi had been in vain, I decided to follow him.
We headed towards the mataveri gathering. The crowd, compact and heated up, accompanied us and the arguments went on. I found myself in the midst of these people, pressed from every side and confused by this turmoil. My time had come. Suddenly I felt that they took my hat, and at the same time two or three strong arms took off my jacket, my waistcoat, my shoes etc, and tore them off to pieces. I found myself dressed just a bit less like my neighbors. When I could have a look around me, I saw my kidnappers decorating themselves with my spoils. One had my hat, the other one had a piece of my jacket, the ones who had put their hands on my catechism and my prayer books were trying to make them fit among their decorations. The march had not been stopped because of these incidents; I set my pace with the others and we arrived to a house they tried to burn, but they could not be in agreement on that, and the crowd dispersed little by little.
Then I believed I was at the end of my pilgrimage, and after all the emotions during the day I consoled myself to spend the night at this site. But Torometi wanted us to go back to my cabin: his intention was to look for some objects that were in it.
It was necessary to start walking; I could not see anything and my feet hurt more and more with every step. This was surely the worst moment of the day. When we reached my cabin, I did not have the key to enter; it had been stolen together with my dress. I entered through the roof and I let Torometi have everything he wanted.
For what I was concerned, I considered myself lucky to be able to wear a bad pair of shoes, and to cover myself with an old blanket in a roman style, and I went back with Torometi on the way to Hanga Piko where his brother lived. We spent the rest of the night here. On the following day, my companion, always restless, thought of moving again, and he took me to Vaihu, three leagues further. The events justified Torometi's fears, because we happened to know that his brother's house in Hanga Piko, where we spent the night, had been burnt.
In Vaihu I found friendlier and more obedient people, more eager to be instructed than in other places. I started teaching catechism with a new fervor. Only eight days had passed, when the children in the class exclaimed: "A ship!". In fact, it was a ship heading towards Easter Island. I followed it with my eyes for some time, but seeing that it was heading south, I thought that the same thing that had happened with the other five ships that I saw during my nine months staying here would happen again. Night fell, I lost sight of the ship, and I went to bed without thinking of it any more.
In the morning of the following day, at about eight, a boy came to tell me that the ship was in front of Hanga Roa and that Torometi wanted me to go there. I left without eating and I saw Torometi coming towards me. The ship was going to anchor. At the sight of the French flag I reassured the kanakas that the ship was not a pirate one. We were following the anchoring of the ship from the seashore, when we saw the barge coming off. Torometi, without waiting any longer, put me over his shoulders, took me to the barge and I fell right into Father Bernabé's arms. A moment later, we found ourselves on the ship Teresa Ramos.
It is Father Bernabé's concern to relate to you the events of his journey and his arrival to Easter Island. As far as it concerns me, when time comes to establish a permanent mission on this island, I will be able to give some useful pieces of advice to the ones in charge of it.
In the meantime, Reverend Father, receive the expression of my deep respect and my love to The Holy Hearts.
Brother Eugenio Eyraud