HOW THE PAPALAGI COVER THEIR FLESH WITH NUMEROUS LOINCLOTHS AND MATS
The Papalagi is forever bending his mind how to cover his flesh the best possible way. A white man, who carried much weight and was considered very wise, once told me, "the body and all the limbs are flesh, above the neck the real person begins". He felt that only the part of the body that houses the spirit and one's good and bad properties is worthy of our attention. Meaning the head of course. The head and sometimes the hands are left uncovered by the white people. Though the head as well as the hands are made out of flesh. Those that show more of their flesh cannot claim perfect moral stature anymore.
When a young man takes a girl to be his wife, he can never be sure not to be disappointed, because before that occasion he never saw her body. Every girl covers her body, even if she has the figure of the most beautiful Taopou [May-queen], so that nobody can see and enjoy that splendid sight. [Note from Tuiavii: Even after becoming his housewife she seldom shows herself and when she does, only at night or in the twilight.
The flesh is sin. That's what the Papalagi say, because for them only the spirit counts. The arm that's raised in the sunlight to hurl the spear ... is an arrow of sin. The chest through which the waves of air roll, is a house where sin lives. The limbs with which the maiden presents the siva [Native dance] are sinful. And certainly those parts of the body dedicated to making new people and to enjoy the world with, are full of sin! Everything that is considered flesh is a sin. There is a poison living inside every muscle, a treacherous venom that jumps from one person upon another. They who look at the flesh absorb the poison, are hurt by it and then become just as depraved as those that were showing it. That's what the holy morals of the white men tell us.
That's the reason for the body of the Papalagi to be entirely covered in loincloths, mats and animal hides, bound so tight that neither the human eye nor the rays of the sun are able to penetrate them, so tight that his body becomes a pale white and looks tired like a flower that grows in the dense wood under heavy trees.
Hear what heavy loads a single Papalagi carries on his body, you smarter brothers from the many islands! To begin with the naked body is wrapped in a thick white skin, made from the fibres of a plant and called the overskin. One throws it up into the air, then lets it glide down over the head, the chest and over the arms down to the hips. From down upwards, over legs and hips up to the bellybutton, another of those overskins is pulled. Those two skins are covered by a third skin that's thicker. A skin woven from the wooly hairs of a four-legged animal, specially bred for that purpose. That is the loincloth itself. Usually it consists of three parts, of which the first part covers the upper body, the second part the middle section and the third part covers the hips and legs. All three parts are held together by shells [Tuiavii probably means buttons] and ropes made out of the dried sap of the rubbertree, so it looks like one single thing. Usually that loincloth has the greyness of the lagoon during the wet monsoon. It may never be entirely colored, at best the middle part, and then only by people that have a reputation and like chasing after the other sex.
Around the feet, finally, a soft skin as well as a tough one are tied. Usually the soft skin is elastic and molds itself nicely to the form of the foot, but the tough one doesn't do that at all. They are made out of thick animal hides that have been soaked in the water, have been scraped off with knives, and beaten and hung out in the sun so long that they have tanned and toughened. Using that, the Papalagi build a kind of canoe with high sides, just big enough for the foot to fit in. One canoe for the left foot and one for the right. Those small foot ships are fastened around the ankles with ropes and hooks, so as to contain the feet inside a strong capsule like a snail in its house. The Papalagi wears those footskins from sunrise to sunset, he wears them on malaga [A voyage] and when he dances, he even wears them when it's as hot as before a tropical rainstorm.
As this is counter to nature, and something also the white man understands; and makes the feet worn out and look dead already and putrid, and because the feet of most of the Europeans lost the ability to grasp things or climb trees, the Papalagi try to hide their shame by smearing the animal hide that originally looked red, with a kind of grease that makes them shine after extended rubbing. Shine so brightly that the eyes can hardly stand the glare and have to be turned away.
In Europe once there lived a Papalagi who became famous and to whom many people came, because he told them that it wasn't good to wear these tight and heavy skins around your feet; to walk barefoot under the open sky instead, while the dew of the night is still lying across the fields and all sickness will flee from you. That man was very wise and healthy but people laughed at him and he was soon forgotten.
Just like the man, the woman also wears many mats and loincloths tied around her body and ankles, so her skin is covered with scars and bruises. Her breasts have become flabby by the pressure from a mat they tie around the chest, from the neck down to the lower body and also around the back, with an extra strengthening of fishbones, iron wire and ropes. Most of the mothers give their children milk from a tube of glass that's closed on the underside and has an artificial nipple fastened to the upper part. And it's not even their own milk they are giving, but the milk of an ugly red animal with horns, forcefully taken away from her by pulling her four belly-nipples.
It's common however for the loincloths of the females to be thinner than those of the males and more colorful and attractive. Also sometimes the flesh of the arms and the neck is allowed to peek out, thereby showing more flesh than the males. But it is still considered virtuous, when a girl keeps herself completely covered and then people say: she is chaste, which means that she obeys the rules of decent behaviour.
That is why I never understood why women and girls are allowed to show the flesh of their backs and throats at the big fono [Festivities] without it becoming a disgrace. But perhaps therein lies the big attraction of the feast, that the things which were forbidden all the time are now allowed.
The men always keep their chests and throats covered completely. From their throats on down to their breast-glands, the alii [Gentlemen] wear a chalkstiffened loincloth the size of a taro leaf. On top of that rests a white ring also stiffened with chalk and wound around the neck. Through that ring he draws a piece of colored cloth, plaited like the rope of a boat; it is pierced with a golden needle or a pearl and it hangs down the white shield. Many Papalagi also wear chalked rings around their wrists, but never around their ankles.
That white shield and those white rings are very important. A Papalagi would never enter the presence of a woman without these neck-ornaments! If that ring has become grimy and won't shine, that is even worse. The highborn alii change their breastshield and chalkring every day for that reason.
Meanwhile, the woman has many colored cloths, often filling a score of upright standing crates, and most of her thoughts are dedicated to the choice of what loincloth to wear and when. Whether she must wear a long or a short one, and she talks passionately about the jewelry that is supposed to go with it, while the man has only one party-cloth and only rarely talks about that. That is the so called birdclothing; a deep-black loincloth, tapering to a point in the back like the tail of a parrot in the jungle. [Formal evening dress]. With this ceremonial costume, the hands also have to be covered with white skins, skins that have to be pulled over the fingers and are so tight that it makes the blood glow and creep up to the heart. Knowledgeable men are therefore permitted to carry them in one hand or stick them in the loincloth close to the breast-gland.
When a man or a woman leave their hut and step out into the street, they wrap themselves in another, very wide cloth, that can be thick or thin depending on the available sunshine. Then they cover their heads also; the men with a stiff, black drinking-bowl that's round and hollow like the roofs of our Samoan huts. The women wear big wickerworks of bark or inverted baskets to which they attach flowers that never wither, feathers, strips of cloth, beads and other kinds of jewelry. These headcoverings look very much like the tuiga [Head-dress] of a toapou, except that those are much more beautiful and don't fall off during a storm or while dancing. Upon meeting with somebody, the men wave their little head-huts, while the women only nod their loaded heads very slowly, like a boat that's badly loaded.
Only at night, when the Papalagi goes to bed, does he throw off all his loincloths, only to replace them immediately with another one that opens up on the underside and leaves the feet bare. At night, women and girls usually wear a cloth that has rich embroidery at the neck, although they rarely show themselves wearing it. As soon as the Papalagi lies on his mat, he covers himself to the neck with the belly-feathers of a big bird, held together by a large piece of cloth to keep them from flying off. Those feathers make the body sweat and contribute to the Papalagi's belief that he is lying in the sun, even when it's not shining at all. Because for the real sun they have very little interest.
It is easily understood that by doing all this, the Papalagi's body turns a pale white, lacking the glow of joy. But that's what the white man really likes. Specially the girls are forever on the alert to protect their skin from the big light that might burn it red. As soon as they go out into the sun, they hold a big awning over their head. As if the paleness of the moon is prettier than the color of the sun! The Papalagi prefer doing things their way and are forever busy drawing up laws to back their points of view. Because their noses happen to be as pointy as the teeth of the shark, it does not necessarily mean they are more beautiful than our noses, that happen to be rounded and smooth. Are they supposed to be ugly when we feel different about that?
Because the bodies of the women and girls are always covered up, inside the men the profound wish always lives to see their flesh. Something one can very well imagine. They have that on their mind day and night, and they talk a lot about the female body in a way you would think such a beautiful and natural thing is just a sin and must be hidden in the darkness. If only they would start showing that flesh, then they could focus their attention on other things and stop their eyes from leering and stop their mouths from whispering dirty words when passing a girl.
But that the flesh is supposed to be sin, an aitu [Evil spirit, the devil]. My friends, can you imagine greater folly? If we would have to believe the white man, we would have to share his wish that our flesh would become hard as congealed lava, without that beneficial warmth that springs from inside. We however, we want to go on enjoying ourselves, go on communicating through our bodies with the sun, retain the ability to run like wild horses, because we are unhampered by loincloths and we have no leather foot-protection to drag down our feet, and we don't worry about the covering falling from our heads. Let's enjoy the sight a maiden offers, slender of body, and limbs flashing in the sunshine as well as under the moon. The white man, who has to cover himself up so much in order to hide his shame is foolish, blinded, and without feeling for the true pleasures of life.
2. How The Papalagi Cover Their Flesh With Numerous Loincloths And Mats