A Peep at Polynesian Life



Ni siquiera el barco quiere seguir en alta mar. Herman Melville, en Typee, señala que los marineros quieren llegar a tierra firma.Al final, en vocabulario Sloop of war

Poor old ship! Her very looks denote her desires! how deplorably she appears! The paint on her sides, burnt up by the scorching sun, is puffed out and cracked. See the weeds she trails along with her, and what an unsightly bunch of those horrid barnacles has formed about her stern-piece; and every time she rises on a sea, she shows her copper torn away, or hanging in jagged strips.
Poor old ship! I say again: for six months she has been rolling and pitching about, never for one moment at rest. But courage, old lass, I hope to see thee soon within a biscuit’s toss of the merry land, riding snugly at anchor in some green cove, and sheltered from the boisterous winds.
‘Hurra, my lads! It’s a settled thing; next week we shape our course to the Marquesas!’ The Marquesas! What strange visions of outlandish things does the very name spirit up! Naked houris—cannibal banquets—groves of cocoanut—coral reefs—tattooed chiefs—and bamboo temples; sunny valleys planted with bread-fruit-trees—carved canoes dancing on the flashing blue waters—savage woodlands guarded by horrible idols—HEATHENISH RITES AND HUMAN SACRIFICES.

Such were the strangely jumbled anticipations that haunted me during our passage from the cruising ground. I felt an irresistible curiosity to see those islands which the olden voyagers had so glowingly described.
The group for which we were now steering (although among the earliest of European discoveries in the South Seas, having been first visited in the year 1595) still continues to be tenanted by beings as strange and barbarous as ever. The missionaries sent on a heavenly errand, had sailed by their lovely shores, and had abandoned them to their idols of wood and stone. How interesting the circumstances under which they were discovered! In the watery path of Mendanna, cruising in quest of some region of gold, these isles had sprung up like a scene of enchantment, and for a moment the Spaniard believed his bright dream was realized.
In honour of the Marquess de Mendoza, then viceroy of Peru—under whose auspices the navigator sailed—he bestowed upon them the name which denoted the rank of his patron, and gave to the world on his return a vague and magnificent account of their beauty. But these islands, undisturbed for years, relapsed into their previous obscurity; and it is only recently that anything has been known concerning them. Once in the course of a half century, to be sure, some adventurous rover would break in upon their peaceful repose, and astonished at the unusual scene, would be almost tempted to claim the merit of a new discovery.
Of this interesting group, but little account has ever been given, if we except the slight mention made of them in the sketches of South-Sea voyages. Cook, in his repeated circumnavigations of the globe, barely touched at their shores; and all that we know about them is from a few general narratives.
Among these, there are two that claim particular notice. Porter’s ‘Journal of the Cruise of the U.S. frigate Essex, in the Pacific, during the late War’, is said to contain some interesting particulars concerning the islanders. This is a work, however, which I have never happened to meet with; and Stewart, the chaplain of the American sloop of war Vincennes, has likewise devoted a portion of his book, entitled ‘A Visit to the South Seas’, to the same subject.
Within the last few, years American and English vessels engaged in the extensive whale fisheries of the Pacific have occasionally, when short of provisions, put into the commodious harbour which there is in one of the islands; but a fear of the natives, founded on the recollection of the dreadful fate which many white men have received at their hands, has deterred their crews from intermixing with the population sufficiently to gain any insight into their peculiar customs and manners.
The Protestant Missions appear to have despaired of reclaiming these islands from heathenism. The usage they have in every case received from the natives has been such as to intimidate the boldest of their number. Ellis, in his ‘Polynesian Researches’, gives some interesting accounts of the abortive attempts made by the ‘’Tahiti Mission’’ to establish a branch Mission upon certain islands of the group. A short time before my visit to the Marquesas, a somewhat amusing incident took place in connection with these efforts, which I cannot avoid relating.
An intrepid missionary, undaunted by the ill-success that had attended all previous endeavours to conciliate the savages, and believing much in the efficacy of female influence, introduced among them his young and beautiful wife, the first white woman who had ever visited their shores. The islanders at first gazed in mute admiration at so unusual a prodigy, and seemed inclined to regard it as some new divinity. But after a short time, becoming familiar with its charming aspect, and jealous of the folds which encircled its form, they sought to pierce the sacred veil of calico in which it was enshrined, and in the gratification of their curiosity so far overstepped the limits of good breeding, as deeply to offend the lady’s sense of decorum. Her sex once ascertained, their idolatry was changed into contempt and there was no end to the contumely showered upon her by the savages, who were exasperated at the deception which they conceived had been practised upon them. To the horror of her affectionate spouse, she was stripped of her garments, and given to understand that she could no longer carry on her deceits with impunity. The gentle dame was not sufficiently evangelical to endure this, and, fearful of further improprieties, she forced her husband to relinquish his undertaking, and together they returned to Tahiti… (Typee, by Herman Melville.)
Sloop of war, 1894
Sloop of war, 1894

Para saber
Sloop of war /slup/: (corbeta, buque de tres mástiles parecidos a fragatas pero de menor porte y dimensiones.)
In the 18 century and most of the 19, a sloop of war in the Royal Navy was a small warship with guns on only one deck. In World War I and World War II, the Royal Navy reused the term "sloop" for specialized convoy-defence vessels, including the Flower class of World War I and the highly successful Black Swan class of World War II, with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine capability.
Originally a sloop of war was smaller than a sailing frigate and was (by virtue of having too few guns) outside the rating system. In general, a sloop of war would be under the command of a master and commander rather than a post captain, although in day-to-day use at sea the commanding officer of any naval vessels would be addressed as "captain".
Antecedentes
Typee no es en realidad ni autobiografía ni pura ficción. Melville sacó el material de sus experiencias, de su imaginación, y de una variedad de libros de viajes cuando la memoria de sus experiencias era inadecuada.
Artículos relacionados
Typee, algunos párrafos en castellano.
De la web
Typee, audiobook from Librivox.

Otro clásico que no se puede dejar de leer: La guerra y la paz, de León Tolstoi.