What an absolutely fascinating collection of yarns, tall tales, daring adventures, and terrifying experiences fill this little volume. And along with that, there's some very dark humor floating along with narrative that gives one cause to think. They are filled with unbelievable challenges and hardships, courage, lots of violence and downright disgusting stuff. In most of the eight stories, lots of people get eaten, not just by sharks, but by other people. These are tales of the tropical voyage to hell. But in spite of this, as the blurb on the back cover states, they truly are a 'delightful collection." It's one of those books that you pick up, and before you notice, fifty pages have gone by.
The House of Mapuhi is about the greed of a family who finds a great pearl. It begins as Alexandré Raoul disembarks on the tiny atoll of Hikueru. He is met by a one-armed native, Huru-Huru, who quickly tells him that Mapuhi has found a magnificent pearl. Alexandré, who is a pearl buyer for his mother's business approaches Mapuhi with nonchalance, and manages to control his shock when he see this flawless gem the size of a pigeon egg. He casually asks Mapuhi what he wants for it. As his wife, daughter, and mother look on, he replies:
"I want a house," Mapuhi went on. "It must have a roof of galvanized iron and an octagon-drop-clock. It must be six fathoms long with a porch all around. A big room must be in the centre, with a round table in the middle of it and the octagon-drop-clock on the wall. There must be four bedrooms, two on each side of the big room, and in each bedroom must be an iron bed, two chairs, and a washstand. And back of the house must be a kitchen, a good kitchen, with pots and pans and a stove. And you must build that house on my island, which is Fakarava."
And his wife demands a sewing machine. Alexandré offers him money, but he refuses. They argue for quite a while, until
the first mate of his ship comes ashore and warns Alexandré of an upcoming hurricane. By the time he leaves, there is blinding wind and rain. But
the weather quickly calms and soon Toriki arrives. Mapuhi owes him money, so he cannot turn down his offer for the pearl,
which will pay off the debt, plus provide some cash. Mapuhi's mother and wife are angry that he has let the pearl go without getting their house.
Huru-Huru then observes a third schooner approaching the island. It is the wealthy Jew, Levy. Huru-Huru is quick to tell him of the pearl, and also to remind him that Toriki is a fool. He is to be found drinking in the house of Captain Lynch. Levy joins them and makes an offer to Toriki, which he accepts.
And again, the weather turns violent. Captain Lynch consults his barometer, to find that the pressure is dropping rapidly. The sky suddenly clears, and Toriki and Levy take off for their boats, only to pass Alexandré Raoul, who has returned to agree to build Mapuhi's house.
But by this time a most violent hurricane begins pounding the little atoll. In a flash, its people are swept away, homes destroyed, and the whole island, which lies low, is flooded. Many try climbing trees, but the wind is so strong, the trees blow over.
In the end, only three hundred of the island's residents are still alive, Mapuhi finds his wife alive and uninjured, but their daughter is badly mauled.
But Nauri, Mapuhi's 60-year-old mother manages to get carried out to sea. She knows survival in the wild, and her first act is to gather the floating cocoanuts and make a life-buoy. She finally lands, unconscious, on the uninhabited isle of Takokota. She survives on cocoanuts and some tins of food that wash ashore. But corpses also wash ashore, and one is vaguely familiar. Nauri realizes it is the Jew, Levy, and she finds the pearl. She now is inspired to live and uses her ingenuity to get back home. She searches the shore and finds pieces to construct a canoe, using coconut fiber for lashings, cutting her hair off with a salmon tin, and braiding it for a rope to make an oar from a broom handle and crate. After eighteen days of being stranded, she embarks on the fifteen mile trip home, fighting sharks and corpses. She finds Mapuhi's makeshift house, and he and his wife are still fighting about the lost pearl. Nauri calls out and they think it's a ghost. They try to hide under the blankets, pushing out their little daughter. But soon they realize Nauri is alive, and has reclaimed the pearl!
The Whale Tooth is about a missionary named John Starhurst who tries to evangelize the natives of Fiji.
But they are more interested in eating him. Ra Undreundre has kept count of all the bodies he has eaten marked out in a row of stones, numbering eight hundred
seventy-two. Up to this point, Starhurst has survived, but then someone betrays him with a whale tooth.
Mauki is about an incorrigible young man, made a slave, but refusing to accept his fate. He is plum-black with kinky hair, and pierced ears:
"Mauki's ears were pierced, not in one place, nor two places, but in a couple dozen places. In one of the smaller holes he carried a clay pipe. The larger holes were too large for such a use. The bowl of the pipe would have fallen through. In fact, in the largest hole in each ear he habitually wore round wooden plugs that were an even four inches in diameter. Roughly speaking, the circumference of said hole was twelve and one-half inches. Mauki was catholic in his tastes. In the various smaller holes he carried such things as empty rifle cartridges, horseshoe nails, copper screws, pieces of string, braids of sennit, strips of green leaf, and, in the cool of the day, scarlet hibiscus flowers. . . His most prized possession was the handle of a china cup, which he suspended from a ring of turtle-shell, which, in turn, was passed through the partition-cartilage of his nose."
This is one of the funnier ones!
"Yah! Yah! Yah!" is about an old whiskey-guzzling Scotchman named McAllister who has all the natives of Oolong Atoll under his control:
"He never caught fever; nor coughs nor colds; dysentery passed him by; and the malignant ulcers and vile skin diseases that attack blacks and whites alike in that climate never fastened on him. He must have been so saturated with alcohol as to defy the lodgment of germs. I used to imagines them falling to the ground in showers of microscopic cinders as fast as they entered his whiskey-sodden aura."
The Heathen is a poignant story about the long-term friendship between a white man and a black man.
In The Terrible Solomons, Bertie Arkwright, a bit of a wussy, wants to "satisfy the call of the primitive he felt thrumming the strings of his being." So Captain Malu, who isn't too fond of him, arranges for him to go ashore for a bit of a grand tour. . . This one is also quite comical.
The Inevitable White Man is about three men sitting in a bar reminiscing about stupid white men and stupid black men and a sharpshooter named Saxtorph.
And finally, The Seed of McCoy tells a tale of a saintly man who brings a burning ship to safety.
These eight stories complete the collection, and are fun, gruesome, and highly entertaining.
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