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A Footnote to History by Robert Louis Stevenson

A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY EIGHT YEARS OF TROUBLE IN SAMOA by Robert Louis Stevenson

PREFACE

An affair which might be deemed worthy of a note of a few lines in any general history has been here expanded to the size of a volume or large pamphlet. The smallness of the scale, and the singularity of the manners and events and many of the characters, considered, it is hoped that, in spite of its outlandish subject, the sketch may find readers. It has been a task of difficulty. Speed was essential, or it might come too late to be of any service to a distracted country. Truth, in the midst of conflicting rumours and in the dearth of printed material, was often hard to ascertain, and since most of those engaged were of my personal acquaintance, it was often more than delicate to express. I must certainly have erred often and much; it is not for want of trouble taken nor of an impartial temper. And if my plain speaking shall cost me any of the friends that I still count, I shall be sorry, but I need not be ashamed.

In one particular the spelling of Samoan words has been altered; and the characteristic nasal _n_ of the language written throughout _ng_ instead of _g_. Thus I put Pango-Pango, instead of Pago-Pago; the sound being that of soft _ng_ in English, as in _singer_, not as in _finger_.

R. L. S. VAILIMA, UPOLU, SAMOA.

CHAPTER I--THE ELEMENTS OF DISCORD: NATIVE

The story I have to tell is still going on as I write; the characters are alive and active; it is a piece of contemporary history in the most exact sense. And yet, for all its actuality and the part played in it by mails and telegraphs and iron war-ships, the ideas and the manners of the native actors date back before the Roman Empire. They are Christians, church-goers, singers of hymns at family worship, hardy cricketers; their books are printed in London by Spottiswoode, Trubner, or the Tract Society; but in most other points they are the contemporaries of our tattooed ancestors who drove their chariots on the wrong side of the Roman wall. We have passed the feudal system; they are not yet clear of the patriarchal. We are in the thick of the age of finance; they are in a period of communism. And this makes them hard to understand.

To us, with our feudal ideas, Samoa has the first appearance of a land of despotism. An elaborate courtliness marks the race alone among Polynesians; terms of ceremony fly thick as oaths on board a ship; commoners my-lord each other when they meet--and urchins as they play marbles. And for the real noble a whole private dialect is set apart. The common names for an axe, for blood, for bamboo, a bamboo knife, a pig, food, entrails, and an oven are taboo in his presence, as the common names for a bug and for many offices and members of the body are taboo in the drawing-rooms of English ladies. Special words are set apart for his leg, his face, his hair, his belly, his eyelids, his son, his daughter, his wife, his wife's pregnancy, his wife's adultery, adultery with his wife, his dwelling, his spear, his comb, his sleep, his dreams, his anger, the mutual anger of several chiefs, his food, his pleasure in eating, the food and eating of his pigeons, his ulcers, his cough, his sickness, his recovery, his death, his being carried on a bier, the exhumation of his bones, and his skull after death. To address these demigods is quite a branch of knowledge, and he who goes to visit a high chief does well to make sure of the competence of his interpreter. To complete the picture, the same word signifies the watching of a virgin and the warding of a chief; and the same word means to cherish a chief and to fondle a favourite child.


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