Fragrance in Travel Literature-Tahiti




Tahiti (1922)
Calderon, George, 1868-1915


AT night the whole town grows mysterious and wonderful.
It is very dark under the trees. No carriages or carts are
running ; men and women walk silently with bare feet.
The air is heavy with the smell of unknown spicy things,
and trembles to the " lily- slender " voice of innumerable
cicada^ scattered from the earth right up into the sky.
They are on the roofs of the houses, on the branches of the
trees and on the spars of the German schooner which lies
by the shore. Every night in Pape-ete one is surprised
afresh by this deafening noise, which comes out only in the
darkness, like the sweet scents with which it is so inextricably
bound up in sensation ; as if nature, which had been silent
in the presence of man, insisted on declaring itself when he
has gone. There is too much outcry for understanding ;
it is like bells ringing inside the skull ; one feels a
certain uneasiness, a vague stirring of regret and undefined
desire.

There is no nobler pleasure in life than that which fills the
heart of the wayfarer setting forth with staff and bundle on
an unknown road, loving the way for its own sake and not as
a means to a destination. He has thrown off the tedium of
his ordinary life, left care and ambition behind him and be-
come a part of the macrocosm. The trees, the clouds, the
birds are his, the brown earth and the smell of plants, the
towns, the hamlets, the habitations of men ; a music runs in
his head and his feet beat out the rhythm of it on stone, on
gravel, grass or sand. Strangers meet him by the way or at
his resting-place like characters in a tale ; they will tell him
stories of themselves and other people, will be strangely wise
on things of which he is ignorant, or illuminatingly ignorant
on things of which he is tired of being wise.

My hat was crowned by Vava for the journey with a gar-
land of an aromatic plant, like feathery parsley, which they
called taretare. There was something in its feathery leaves
and spicy smell which seemed to me peculiarly poetical in
this plant. I tried to ascertain its name. I showed a sprig
of it to an American once ; he said he did not know what
we called it in England, but in the States it was known as
4 lady's chewin' tobacco.' I found in the end that it was,
in fact, caraway, of which taretare is the Tahitianisation.
It is a customary grace of hospitality to make garlands of
different scents for the parting traveller, and I can distin-
guish in memory the different stages of my journey by the
different perfumes associated with them. They have a
language of smells.

This gave rise to something like a dissertation on my part
on the different sorts of beauty in the world : of the stately
beauty of nature on the one hand, which rouses our highest
admiration, yet leaves our hearts unshaken, and of the
beauty of women on the other, which is not so easily for-
gotten when the spectacle is ended, but works fatal changes
in the inward hearts of men. I praised the excellent safety
of the one sort of beauty and spoke of the gouffres and
precipices in which the other abounds. I commended
the choice of the monks and nuns, who now lay peacefully
asleep in the buildings which bordered the garden ; and all
this with thifc cicada song ringing in my ears, the moon
shining bounteously down, and every plant breathing out
its perfume as we passed.

Inside the hut lay Ponau, the foster-mother's husband,
crippled with ofati. We sate down to talk awhile, and the
old woman anointed our heads with monoi, or coco-nut oil
scented with herbs, a savage perfume of mingled sweet and
sour, like all the beauty of the island. She brought us
flowers too, to adorn our heads for the festival, and leaves of
the ante or hibiscus torn in strips to hang over our shoulders
and exhale their fresh scent in our nostrils.

As the ship went in by night through the doorway of the
barrier-reef 1 the coral wall that makes a half-mile ring of
harbour all about the island suddenly there was no wind,
no clouds, no cold ; but a star-lit sky with a silver scorpion
sprawling magnificently down from the zenith with out-
spread claws ; a soft warm air, a perfume of leaves and
flowers ; a pigeon-grey mountain sloping gently down from
a central peak like a gipsy tent ; and at the foot of it,
spreading in a long and narrow line, the twinkling lights of
Pape-ete, reflected in a bay as still as the canal in a Venetian
picture. Moving lights too of bicycles coming down to the
quay from every side to greet the new arrival ; and other
lights shifting on the reef behind us, lights of men and
women catching fish with torch and spear.

I willingly consented, as I had loitered and the morning
was already growing late. They brought me a tender-shelled
young coco-nut full of fragrant water to quench my thirst.
They were old people, these natives, and, like most of the old
people, could speak very little French. But the matter in
hand was simple.

Amaru and Vava staggered a little in their walk as we
returned, and exhaled a strong fragrance of orange ; but he
picked up Te Hei, and carried him safely when the children
met us near the cove. Vava was little better till we got near
the house, when both returned to their normal state, only
they still exhaled a pleasant scent of oranges.

Our way takes us often to a hollow of the hill where orange-
trees grow, and the air is heavy with the scent of the fallen
fruit. It is being devoured by myriads of tiny flies, which
seem to exist for this special purpose ; they never attack the
fruit on the trees. The boughs hang heavily to the ground
with oranges ; we covet those that seem bigger and more
golden up overhead. First cut or break down a long, thin
pole of the pwrao-tree, strip it of twigs and leaves, and with a
thong of its own bark tie a short stick of it across diagonally
near the top to make a sort of crane's bill at the end. Catch
your orange twig behind the orange in this bill and twist it
round and round till it breaks, and the orange remains en-
tangled in your pole-end, and lower it to the ground. If
you beat them down they will break on the earth and must
be eaten at once. This is, in fact, what happens as a rule
when we go orange-hunting ; we come back with full bellies
and empty sack.

As Aritana and I walked forth one night along the highway
to the East, to enjoy the moonlight, we found a narrow, dark
path by the roadside and pursued it. After a short time we
emerged suddenly in a vast, open space, with deep-shadowed
thickets of bananas, a grove of coco-palms before us, and the
mountain lilac-grey beyond. It was still and fresh and
sweet-scented, with the intoxicating song of the cicadas a
little subdued by the majesty of the surroundings. The
roses of the Taruna looked white in the moonlight. A
broader path led us into an avenue of coco-palms and we
followed r, back towards the town.

On the hill-side and cliffs above and below me grow a
hundred different sorts of trees and bushes of which I do
not know the names : big-leaved after the tropical manner,
little-leaved, with an air of England. Some places have been
propitious to one sort, some to another. Here there is a
long line of hotu-toees, tall, solid and threatening, as if
cast in metal, with fat, dark, shiny poisonous fronds, like
gigantic laurel leaves, too stiff and heavy to move to the
impulse of so delicate a breeze. There at a rocky corner,
where there is no soil, grows a cluster of iron-wood trees l
with grim stems like Scotch firs, and a thin mist of bristling
needles instead of leaves, as a smoke among the boughs, the
ghost of foliage a Peter Schlemihl of trees, throwing no
shadow. This hard-wood represents the type of heroism
to the Tahitians, the bare, hard, unluxurious man. Aito
or toa is the epithet of a great warrior. The aeho,
or sweet-scented rush grass, hangs with a certain dainty,
angular coquettishness over the path, and at times the way
is blocked with purumu, stiff, straight lines of a privet-
like bush.

Tahiti the golden (1902)
Keeler, Charles Augustus, 1871-1937


One might fancy himself upon the island of an
enchanter, so unreal and spectacular it all appears.
Indeed, we see a hole in one of the lofty crags where
a genie of old hurled his spear through the peak*
But enough of this South Sea wonderland! He
who has once visited it will forever after be haunted
with its bewitching charm! The fragrance of the
tiere flower will be wafted to him by mysterious
winds. The roll of drums, the wild cadences of im-
petuous singers iterating and reiterating their melodious
syllables, with swaying bodies and impassioned gestures,
will haunt his fancy* He will see the palm-fringed
lagoon, with outrigger canoes floating upon the glassy
tide* Smiling, dusky faces will peer upon him from
the coverts of memory and cry out to him blithe
" loranas." He who has eaten of the fei will ever
after think of Tahiti with longing fancies, for its
gentle people, its balmy air, its bounty of all green
things upon the land and its royal sweep of envel-
oping blue, deep, tender and serene, its glory of cloud
forms unknown in the temperate zone, all will conspire
to enchain his memory and make him often dwell
upon its peerless charms* lorana, Tahiti-nui marearea!

Tahiti; the island paradise ([c1906])
Senn, Nicholas


The far-away little island of Tahiti is the gem
of the South Pacific Ocean. If any place in this
world deserves to be called a paradise, Tahiti
can make this claim. This charming spot in the
wide expanse of the peaceful ocean has attrac-
tions which we look for in vain anywhere else.
From a distance, the grandeur of its fro^vning
cliffs rivets the eye, and, in coming nearer, its
tropic beauty charms the visitor and imprints
upon his memory pictures single and panoramic
that neither distance nor time can efface. The
scenic beauty of this island is unsurpassed. The
calming air, redolent with the perfume of fragrant
flowers of exquisite beauty, on the seashore, in
the valleys and on the precipitous mountain
sides; the luxuriant vegetation; the forest fruit-
gardens and the sweet music of the surf remind
one of the original habitation of man. The
natives, a childlike people, friendly, courteous
and hospitable, are the happiest people on earth,
free from care and worries which in other less
favored parts of the world make life a drudgery.

The cultivation of the aromatic vanilla-bean is
one of the principal industries of Tahiti. The
bean grows luxuriantly in the shady forests in the
lowlands along the coast, and requires but little
care. The climate and soil of Tahiti are spec-
ially adapted to the cultivation of the vanilla-
bean, as the very best quality is grown here. The
Vanilla aromatica is a genus of parasitic Orchi-
dacece, a native of tropic parts of America and
Asia, which springs at first from the ground
and climbs with twining stems to the height of
from twenty to thirty feet on trees, sending into
them fibrous roots, produced from nodes, from
which the leaves grow. These roots, drawing the
sap from the trees, sustain the plant, even after
the ground-root has been destroyed. Flower
white; corolla tubular; stigma distant from
anthers, rendering spontaneous fructification dif-
ficult; leaves oblong, light green, fleshy, with an
exceedingly acrid juice; flowers in spikes, very
large, fleshy and generally fragrant. The fruit
is a pod-like, fleshy capsule, opening along the
side. The ripe bean is cylindrical, about nine
inches in length, and less than half an inch
thick. It is gathered before it is entirely ripe,
and dried in the shade. It contains within its
tough pericarp a soft black pulp, in which many
minute seeds are Imbedded. The plant is cul-
tivated by cuttings. In Mexico and South
American countries, the insects effect impreg-
nation; in Tahiti, this is done artificially. With
a small, sharp stick the pollen is conveyed to
the stigma of the pistil. Artificial impregnation
of fifteen hundred flowers is considered a good
day's work.



Add to the pleasures flashed upon the mind by
the ravished eye, the perfumed, soothing air of
the tropics, the sweet sounds of the aeolian harp
as the gentle breeze strikes its well-timed chords
in the fronded crowns of the palms overhead, the
bubbling of the ripples of the near-by ocean as
they kiss the sandy rim of the island shore, and
the clashes of the breakers as they strike with un-
erring regularity the coral reef, the outer wall of
the calm lagoon, and your soul will be in a mood
to join the poet in singing the praises of nature :
O Nature!
Enrich me with knowledge of thy works:
Snatch me to heaven! Thomson.

We pass through or near the quaint native
villages peopled with naked children, scantily
dressed women, and men whose only garment
consists of a much-checkered, many-colored calico
loin-cloth. We cross rivers, brooks and rivulets
without number, and looking for their source
we see glimpses, here and there, of cascades and
cataracts, high up on the mountainside, in the
form of streaks of silver in the clefts of the
deep green ocean of trees. We see butterflies
by the hundreds, of all colors, playing in the
sunshine or eagerly devouring the nectar of the
sweetest flowers. We admire the richness and
variety of the floral kingdom, and inhale the
perfume of the fragrant flowers, suspended in
the pure air and wafted to us by the cool land
breeze sent down from the top of the mountains.
As the sun approaches the horizon, and the short,
bewitching twilight sets in, with the gorgeous
display of colors in the sky and the wonderful
effects of light and shadow on sea and shore,
we can realize that-
Softly the evening came. The sun from the western
horizon
Like a magician extended his golden wand o'er the
landscape ;
Twinkling vapors arose; and sky, and water, and
forest.
Seemed all on fire at the touch, and melted and mingled
together.
Longfellow.


The floral wealth of Tahiti is immense. Mr.
McDaniel, of Los Angeles, Cal., during a several-
months' visit to the island, analyzed and classi-
fied two thousand different kinds of plants. Some
of the flowers are gorgeous, others yield a sweet
perfume which is diffused through the pure air,
imparting to it the balmy character for which it
has become famous. An acquaintance with these
flowers suggests :
Were I, O God, in churchless lands remaining,
Far from all voice of teachers or divines,
My soul would find, in flowers of thy ordaining,
Priests, sermons, shrines.
Shakespeare.

Nature awoke from her noonday slumber, the
glossy leaves resumed their natural shape and
freshness, the drooping flowers revived, ex-
panded and exhaled their fragrance, perfuming
the evening air. The birds had found shelter and
protection for the night in the leafy domes of
the many beautiful shade and ornamental trees.
It was solemn eveningtide, when the heart of
man is most receptive for noble and pure impres-
sions. It was the time to turn away the thoughts
from the busy, selfish world and reflect upon the
wonders of creation. It was the time to look
upward to the calm, pale, blue sky, feebly illum-
inated by the soft light of countless tiny lamps
suspended by invisible cords from the limitless
space above. It was the time to look beyond
earthly things. It was the time to understand :
The beauty of the world and the orderly arrangement
of everything celestial makes us confess that there is
an excellent and eternal nature, which ought to be
worshiped and admired by all mankind. Cicero.