Friday, November 02, 2012

When Mark Twain was in Fiji

from w
Graham Davis seemed nostalgic in a recent article about Suva and got me thinking about views of Suva over the decades and I found a few interesting ones. Here is what Mark Twain reckoned about Suva a long, long, time ago.

Mark Twain in Fiji
Following the Equator: a journey around the world by Mark Twain (1897).

[reproduced courtesy of Project Gutenburg e-Books at ]
Row-boats began to flock from the shore; their crews were the first natives we had seen.  These men carried no overplus of clothing, and this was wise, for the weather was hot.  Handsome, great dusky men they were, muscular, clean-limbed, and with faces full of character and intelligence.  It would be hard to find their superiors anywhere among the dark races, I should think.

Everybody went ashore to look around, and spy out the land, and have that luxury of luxuries to sea-voyagers — a land-dinner.  And there we saw more natives: Wrinkled old women, with their flat mammals flung over their shoulders, or hanging down in front like the cold-weather drip from the molasses-faucet; plump and smily young girls, blithe and content, easy and graceful, a pleasure to look at; young matrons, tall, straight, comely, nobly built, sweeping by with chin up, and a gait incomparable for unconscious stateliness and dignity; majestic young men athletes for build and muscle clothed in a loose arrangement of dazzling white, with bronze breast and bronze legs naked, and the head a cannon-swab of solid hair combed straight out from the skull and dyed a rich brick-red.  Only sixty years ago they were sunk in darkness; now they have the bicycle.  We strolled about the streets of the white folks' little town, and around over the hills by paths and roads among European dwellings and gardens and plantations, and past clumps of hibiscus that made a body blink, the great blossoms were so intensely red; and by and by we stopped to ask an elderly English colonist a question or two, and to sympathize with him concerning the torrid weather; but he was surprised, and said:

"This?  This is not hot.  You ought to be here in the summer time once."

"We supposed that this was summer; it has the ear-marks of it.  You could take it to almost any country and deceive people with it.  But if it isn't summer, what does it lack?"

"It lacks half a year.  This is mid-winter."

After dinner I found in the billiard-room a resident whom I had known somewhere else in the world, and presently made, some new friends and drove with them out into the country to visit his Excellency the head of the State, who was occupying his country residence, to escape the rigors of the winter weather, I suppose, for it was on breezy high ground and much more comfortable than the lower regions, where the town is, and where the winter has full swing, and often sets a person's hair afire when he takes off his hat to bow.  There is a noble and beautiful view of ocean and islands and castellated peaks from the governor's high-placed house, and its immediate surroundings lie drowsing in that dreamy repose and serenity which are the charm of life in the Pacific Islands.

One of the new friends who went out there with me was a large man, and I had been admiring his size all the way.  I was still admiring it as he stood by the governor on the veranda, talking; then the Fijian butler stepped out there to announce tea, and dwarfed him.  Maybe he did not quite dwarf him, but at any rate the contrast was quite striking. Perhaps that dark giant was a king in a condition of political suspension.  I think that in the talk there on the veranda it was said that in Fiji, as in the Sandwich Islands, native kings and chiefs are of much grander size and build than the commoners.  This man was clothed in flowing white vestments, and they were just the thing for him; they comported well with his great stature and his kingly port and dignity. European clothes would have degraded him and made him commonplace.  I know that, because they do that with everybody that wears them.

  The missionary taught these exacting savages many valuable things, and got from them one—a very dainty and poetical idea: Those wild and ignorant poor children of Nature believed that the flowers, after they perish, rise on the winds and float away to the fair fields of heaven, and flourish there forever in immortal beauty!

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