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The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom

Chapter XXIII — attitudes and movements

page 299

Chapter XXIII
attitudes and movements

The Fijian generally sleeps upon his back, with his head turned a little to one side, so that the part of the skull immediately behind the ear may rest upon the wooden neck-pillow. His hair is wrapped in a turban of bark-cloth to keep it well off the neck, and, if he has no blanket, his sulu is spread over head and all, like a winding-sheet over a corpse. This is perhaps as much for keeping off mosquitoes as for warmth. When not walking, he is either sitting cross-legged on the ground, or squatting with his haunches resting upon his heels. Except among the high chiefs, standing seems to be felt as a breach of good manners, for to stand up when others are sitting, or to reach over their head for something suspended above requires the apology, "Tulou! Tulou!" and a clapping of hands after the sitting posture has been resumed. Sitting in a chair is as irksome to the Fijian as sitting tailor-fashion is to us. He will not only sit cross-legged for hours without fatigue, but will even lay one foot upon the inner surface of the other thigh. But in the presence of equals, when social restraint is removed, he prefers to lie upon his stomach with his chin propped upon his hands. It is not uncommon to find half-a-dozen men thus lying with their heads converging upon the native newspaper, Na Mata, which is spread out uncut between them, so that each is able to read a different page. When a visitor enters they spring up, knotting their sulus round the waist, and sidle away cross-legged into the place proper to their respective ranks, the chief nearest the bed-place, and the inferiors facing him at the lower end of the house. During the brewing of the page 300yankona bowl, even in the family circle no one would think of lolling until the cup has been handed round; then tongues and attitudes are loosened, and every one may loll as he pleases.

Women never sit cross-legged. They sit with their knees together and their feet drawn up under them on one side or the other, changing the side at frequent intervals, by halfrising on the knees, and shifting the feet to the other side. The attitude in micturition is the same for both sexes, namely, squatting.

In regionibus interioribus feminse in medio fluvio, mares in virgeto, defaecare solent; apud tribus litorales feminae morem hominum obsequuntur; igitur carnem porcorum, qui foedam sentinam comedunt, edere non fas est. Feminae fragmento panni (tapa), mares calamo deflecto usi, se detergent. Morem Europensem papyro se detergere contemnunt; igitur pueri Vitienses comites mestizos derident, clamantes "Ngusi veva!" (Ecce puer qui se papyro deterget!)

There is so much difference between the carriage of the body in chiefs and in commoners that in some districts on ceremonial occasions the attitude is an indication of the-rank. For the commoner, having always to leave the path and squat down as a chief is passing, or at least lower and avert the head, acquires a habit of stooping, while the chief, accustomed to command, carries himself erect and dignified, every inch a king. There is nothing remarkable about the gait of a Fijian, except the freedom and swing which are common to all men unhampered with clothing. The women do not walk as gracefully as the men, especially in the hill districts, where they begin to carry burdens on their backs at a very early age. They seldom carry anything upon their heads; everything is packed in bales and baskets, which are slung on the back by cords passing over the shoulders and under the armpits. In the old days the men carried nothing but their weapons if they could help it. They now carry all burdens slung to a pole or a bamboo. A single carrier will make his load into two packages of equal weight at either end of the pole, and balance them across his shoulder, but a heavy load page 301is slung midway between two carriers, who do not hold the pole in position while walking, and touch it only when shifting it to the other shoulder for a change. In moving any heavy object they seldom push, preferring to haul upon it by rhythmical jerks delivered in time to a chant. They have never taken kindly to an English saw, because it is against their instinct to exert force in pushing, and their own tool, the adze, delivers its blow towards them.

They are the best tree-climbers in the world. While other races use a rattan round the waist or round the ankles in climbing cocoanut palms, the Fijians plant their soles against the trunk, grasp it with both hands, and simply walk up it to a height of fifty feet or more.

Though very voluble in speech, they do not gesticulate, and, as a rule, use their hands only to indicate the size of an object they are describing. They point with the open hand, and they beckon with a downward sweep of the hand as if they were hooking the person towards them with their fingers. They raise the head and the eyebrows simultaneously in token of assent, and shake it as we do in negation. They show astonishment by cracking the finger-joints, or by shaking the fingers loosely from side to side from the wrist, with the hand raised to the level of the shoulder, or, if the emotion is intense, by pouting out-the lips in trumpet shape, and crying "O-o-o," on a high note, while patting the lips with the open fingers. Their gesture of defiance is to cross the arms on the breast anci, slap the biceps with the fingers of the other hand. In sudden anger the complexion grows darker and the eyes flash, but they have their features so well under control that they seldom betray anger, but nurse it and brood over it, while waiting for an opportunity for revenge. Only once have I seen an open rupture, and that was between two first cousins, who "slanged" one another across the barrack square, hurling imputations against the virtue of the female ancestors who were common to them both. Their companions spent the whole day in trying to patch the quarrel, for, they said, "a quarrel between brethren is the most difficult of all to heal," and towards evening they were page 302successful, for I saw the two enemies strolling up and down with their little fingers linked, and dressed in one another's clothes.

Their laughter is hearty, open-mouthed, and not unmusical, though I fear that it is heartiest when the subject is of a kind of which the missionary would not approve.

Clever as they are in not betraying their emotions in their faces, they are very apt at making secret signals with their eyes, and many an assignation is made by question and answer with the eyes when the house is full of people.

They show shame or embarrassment by drooping the heads and picking at the grass or the floor-mats. Their behaviour when in acute pain is much the same as that of a European. When a native submits to have the soki, or soft corn on the sole of the foot, to which many are subject, touched with nitric acid, he grasps the foot with both hands, and rolls about on the floor, sucking the air in through his teeth with a hissing noise. When under the lash for serious offences their pride deserts them; they dance and howl, and either implore the gaoler to have mercy, or curse his ancestresses to the fourth generation. Yet three minutes later the same man is laughing at the contortions of a fellow-sufferer who has taken his place at the triangle.

Though the enormous heads of hair worn by the warriors of olden times have disappeared, being regarded as the badge of heathenism, the young men still cultivate mops which, being dyed with lime, stand out like a golden aureole. The lime is smeared over the head on Saturdays and washed out on Sunday morning, more than an hour being spent in combing and oiling it with cocoanut oil scented with grated sandalwood. The arms, neck and breast are also plentifully besmeared. Young girls wear the hair shorter, but dyed and clipped symmetrically like the men, and many wear the long tombe locks. In Mathuata (Vanualevu) and some other places young unmarried men also wear a cluster of tombe. After middle age the men cut their hair shorter, but continue to lime it for the sake of cleanliness even after it is grey. Widows allow their hair to grow without liming it for a year page break
The Hair pLastered with bleaching lime.

The Hair pLastered with bleaching lime.

page 303or more after their husband's death as a symbol of mourning. Baldness is not very common. The natives say that baldness and bad teeth have only been known since the introduction of sugar and other foreign goods, but though there may be some truth in this as regards their teeth, there can be no doubt that baldness has always existed. They never brush or cleanse their teeth, which nevertheless are, as a rule, beautifully white. Corpora sua non depilant Vitienses; et feminam pilosam etiam diligunt. Morem Tongicum pubes et alas depilare derident.

Painting the face, which was inseparable from warfare, is now used for ceremonial dances. Lampblack and vermilion are the favourite colours. Soot is also smeared over the face as a protection from sunburn on a journey. Girls sometimes decorate themselves with a patch of vermilion for a dance.

The Fijians are free from the peculiar smell which is exhaled by the negro, and though one is always aware of his presence in a room, I am not sure that his scent differs much from that of a European under the same conditions of nudity, physical exertion in hot weather, and absence of soap in washing; for though the Fijian has a bath every day, mere immersion in cold water does not do much towards cleansing his skin. The odour of perspiration is more marked in males than in females, and in the hill people than the coast natives. Fijians have a keener sense of smell than we have; in examining an unknown object they will generally carry it to the nose, and I have heard one say that they detected a peculiar smell in Europeans and disliked it, but the man who said this was probably retaliating for some remark of a trader in disparagement of his race. As with us, the intensity of odour varies much with the individual, and it is more noticeable in old men than young.