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Authors: Clare; Coleman

Daughter of the Reef

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Daughter Of The Reef
Ancient Tahiti: Book One

Clare Coleman




For their help I would like to thank:

At Berkley Books: Beth Fleisher, who originated the project, and Hillary Cige, whose efforts and enthusiasm brought it through.

Richard Curtis, my literary agent, who got things rolling.

The Bernice P. Bishop Museum of Honolulu, for its dedication to preserving knowledge about the ancient culture of Polynesia.

The San Jose City Library system for its inter-library loan program and helpful staff.

The Clark Library at San Jose State University, whose staff put up with many queries and endless renewals.

The Museum of Tahiti and the Islands, Papeete, Tahiti, whose staff took time to answer questions.

The Tahitian Tourist Advisory Board office in Papeete for advice and direction.

Dorothy Wall, for editorial input.

The members of the Wordshop Writing Group: Kevin J. Anderson, Michael Berch, Dan'l Danehy-Oakes, Avis Minger, Gary Schockley and Lori Ann White, for helpful comments and critiques.

Dorothy Bradley, for proofreading.

The computers and printer, for not breaking down.

All the researchers and scholars who have devoted themselves to the peoples and ways of life in the South Pacific.



Historical Note


The Pacific island of Tahiti lies below the equator, about 2500 miles south of Hawaii. What is known of ancient Tahitian society comes from the journals of early visitors, from records made by Tahitians after they adopted a system of writing, from archaeological studies, and from the work of anthropologists in collecting and recording the remnants of a once-rich oral tradition.

The first documented contact between Tahiti and the outside world did not come until 1767 with the arrival of H.M.S.
at Matavai Bay. The early explorers—French, English and Spanish—discovered a rich and complex society that had flourished in isolation for more than a thousand years.

Anyone attempting to delve into Tahiti's fascinating past soon discovers that the references are often sparse, contradictory and subject to varied interpretations. This can be a frustrating roadblock or a delightful springboard for the imagination.

In re-creating the world of Pre-European Tahiti, I have attempted to remain true to those sources that I feel were authentic and open-minded. Any omissions, misinterpretations or mistakes are solely mine.






The vowels of the language of Tahiti are pronounced as follows:


a - as the “a” in “father”

e - as the “a” in “say”

i - as the
“e” in “me”

o - as the “o” in “so”

u - as the “u” in “rule”


When two vowels are adjacent in a word, each is pronounced as a separate sound. The accent on a word usually falls on the next to last syllable. The presence of an apostrophe in a word indicates a break or glottal stop.


NOTE: A glossary of unfamiliar terms appears in the back matter of this book.





WIND gusted against plaited sails, speeding a two-hulled voyaging canoe on a course between coral atolls. The young men and women aboard wore headdresses decked with seabird feathers. Their skirts were finely woven from dried leaves of pandanus palm. Painted bark-cloth capes fluttered brightly as the passengers chatted of the wedding festivities to come.

The wind strengthened as it raced across the sea. Spray flew in sheets from the twin bows, and the deck that stretched over the twin hulls tilted steeply. Several young women shrieked, more from excitement than from fear, while everyone scrambled to counterbalance the boat. But one did not join them, for tradition demanded that she remain in her seat.

Tepua-mua, the eldest daughter of a chief, sat rigidly on her seat of honor in the middle of the deck. Her four-legged stool was lashed to a raised bamboo platform, making her the center of attention. Those who glanced at her saw a tall, slender girl at the verge of womanhood, a face slightly too narrow to be called beautiful, and glistening black hair that flew back in the wind.

That morning Tepua had been proud and happy to be sitting so high while the canoe glided across her home lagoon and out into the placid sea. Now she wanted to be down on the deck, instead of up here on the platform, where height intensified every buck and heave of the boat. The wind tore at the feathered crown in her hair and whipped the long robe of bark-cloth about her legs.

She stared down at the knotted backs and arms of the men working the sails, and then beyond, to the water, whose color had gone from a peaceful blue to an ugly gray green. Over her head the boom of the rear sail arched upward like a bow.

How the weather had changed since this morning. When Tepua had mounted to her place on the canoe, the lagoon had been warm and calm, the white beaches dazzling. Along the shore, gifts from two families—her mother's and her father's—had been laid out for all to see.

These presents for the bridegroom's kin included pearl-shell fishhooks, wreaths of rare feathers, and rolls of bark-cloth from distant Tahiti. For the wedding feast the families had collected plump fowls, heaps of clams, and boatloads of coconuts. Best of all, they had obtained a dozen pigs from traders.
! Tepua's mouth watered at the thought of that costly delicacy, so rarely offered to women.

Now, atop her seat on the sloping deck, she worried whether she would even reach the feast. She watched a priest standing at one bow waving a bundle of sacred red feathers at the sky. She could not hear him, but knew that he was intoning a prayer to soothe the spirits of wind and water.

The crew struggled on with the steering oar and sails. Tepua felt useless as she watched them. She was as tall and strong as some men, for she was descended from Tapahi-roro-ariki, a chiefess of strength and renown. From childhood Tepua had drawn the bow and thrust the spear for sport, in the manner of noble families. Why remain here, idle, when she could help? She slid forward on her seat to step down.

A hand stopped her, an ancient hand. Tepua glanced into the rheumy eyes of Bone-needle, the woman who had attended her for many years. “No,” Bone-needle said. “Stay where you are.”

Tepua thrust out her arm, making a fist to show Bone-needle that her limbs had strength. “I can hold a sail as well as I can a bow,” she said.

“You have skill for the bow. You have none for the sail,” the ancient noblewoman answered. “You must stay in your place of honor and show your faith in the canoe master. He will take it as a deadly insult if you do not.”

Tepua gritted her teeth and tried not to slide off the smooth wooden seat as the swaying threw her from side to side. Under her breath she said a small prayer to the spirit of her ancestress.

The cords that tied the platform to the deck creaked loudly as each wave struck the boat. Tepua shaded her eyes against glare from the heaving seas and searched the horizon for other canoes in the wedding party. There they were, behind her, diving through wave tops, in winds that threatened to tear sails from masts.

She shivered from cold, for her bark-cloth robe was thin and already softening from repeated drenchings of seawater. First fear and then anger intensified her trembling. She hated being forced to sit here. She could help if the crew let her, even if the task was only bailing. But she was obliged to stay in her seat, though it meant she had to cling like a coconut crab.

Even if the wind breaks this seat from its lashings and tosses me overboard
. She bent down toward Bone-needle, speaking directly into the aged woman's ear. “Why is the storm still chasing us? Does this mean the gods disapprove of my marriage?”

“At home, all the omens were good.” Bone-needle had to raise her voice against the wail of the wind. “Perhaps the wind rises to speed you on your way. Your husband has waited long enough for you. His manhood stiffens in eagerness and you are riot there to please him.”

Tepua refused to accept that answer. What, after all, did she know of the man she was about to marry? The go-betweens spoke of his many virtues, but poetry was designed to flatter, not speak truth. Given the choice, she would have found a husband who lived closer to her home.

Now regret tormented her. How could she look forward to giving up her own family and friends, and taking up a life with strangers? She did not know how the customs of her husband's atoll would differ from those of her own. At home she had enjoyed freedoms that her new life might not allow. Would her husband let her swim in the lagoon whenever she pleased, or roam the shore in search of shellfish? And what if she failed to quickly give him an heir?

These worries fled as the boat lurched again, and heavy rain began pelting the deck. Surely the canoe master would seek shelter now, as soon as land came into view. Tepua looked out and saw only white-tipped waves. Heavy clouds covered half the sky.

She felt the two-hulled canoe swing around as the helmsman leaned hard on his steering oar. The crew worked both sails, pulling on lines that swung the upcurved booms about their masts. Sailing close-hauled, the canoe picked up speed, its hulls planing over the surf.

Tepua felt her trembling ease. The canoe master must have decided to seek refuge. She squinted to the northeast, trying to spot any small hump of land breaking the horizon, but saw none. Perhaps the master's eyes were better than hers. If he was guiding the craft by the direction of the sea swell, she hoped his art would prove true.

The canoe continued to beat upwind, the sails close-lashed and straining. Everyone who was not struggling with the ropes or bailing the hulls lay together under mats for shelter. The passengers had fallen quiet as they watched the grim effort to gain land. Tepua realized that the fleet was far downwind of the outermost islands her people knew. The weather and current seemed determined to drive the canoes even farther into unknown seas.

Again Tepua moved to descend from her seat, but the old noblewoman's stare pinned her. You must show your trust, Bone-needle's gaze said. It is the burden of your position.

Tepua's eyes teared against the cutting wind. She felt her headdress fly off, and she snatched at it too late. Her cry of dismay sent crewmen and passengers scrambling after the circlet of feathers and precious shells as the wind spun it across the deck.

The headdress eluded its pursuers, catching for an instant on the edge of the deck before a gust dragged it overboard. Tepua felt a clench of fright in her stomach. Had she felt divine fingers snatch the feather crown away? What had she done to anger the spirits?

Her eyes sought the canoe master, a small wiry man whose corded arms and ever-squinting eyes told of his many struggles with the sea. Would he think it such an insult to his skill, Tepua wondered, if she came down on the deck and took shelter with the others? Her wet bark-cloth robe was now plastered against her arms and breasts, making her misery worse.

The old woman's eyes still said no, but inwardly Tepua rebelled. She had had enough of being battered by the gale.

Suddenly the wind changed direction, making the great curved booms swing across the deck. As each slammed into the limits of its line, the boat lurched while men rushed to regain control. Tepua froze, one foot already touching the matting on the deck. The gods themselves must be displeased with her lack of faith in the canoe's master. She withdrew her foot, hoping that the wind might steady.

BOOK: Daughter of the Reef
10.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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