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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The General Character of the Typees
By Herman Melville (1819–1891)
 
From ‘Typee’

I HAVE already mentioned that the influence exerted over the people of the valley by their chiefs was mild in the extreme; and as to any general rule or standard of conduct by which the commonalty were governed in their intercourse with each other, so far as my observation extended, I should be almost tempted to say that none existed on the island, except indeed the mysterious “Taboo” be considered as such. During the time I lived among the Typees, no one was ever put upon his trial for any offense against the public. To all appearances there were no courts of law or equity. There were no municipal police for the purpose of apprehending vagrants and disorderly characters. In short, there were no legal provisions whatever for the well-being and conservation of society, the enlightened end of civilized legislation. And yet everything went on in the valley with a harmony and smoothness unparalleled, I will venture to assert, in the most select, refined, and pious associations of mortals in Christendom. How are we to explain this enigma? These islanders were heathens! savages! ay, cannibals! and how came they, without the aid of established law, to exhibit in so eminent a degree that social order which is the greatest blessing and highest pride of the social state?  1
  It may reasonably be inquired, How were these people governed? how were their passions controlled in their every-day transactions? It must have been by an inherent principle of honesty and charity towards each other. They seemed to be governed by that sort of tacit common-sense law, which, say what they will of the inborn lawlessness of the human race, has its precepts graven on every breast. The grand principles of virtue and honor, however they may be distorted by arbitrary codes, are the same all the world over; and where these principles are concerned, the right or wrong of any action appears the same to the uncultivated as to the enlightened mind. It is to this indwelling, this universally diffused perception of what is just and noble, that the integrity of the Marquesans in their intercourse with each other is to be attributed. In the darkest nights they slept securely, with all their worldly wealth around them, in houses the doors of which were never fastened. The disquieting ideas of theft or assassination never disturbed them. Each islander reposed beneath his own palmetto thatching, or sat under his own bread-fruit tree, with none to molest or alarm him. There was not a padlock in the valley, nor anything that answered the purpose of one; still there was no community of goods. This long spear, so elegantly carved and highly polished, belongs to Wormoonoo; it is far handsomer than the one which old Marheyo so greatly prizes,—it is the most valuable article belonging to its owner. And yet I have seen it leaning against a cocoanut-tree in the grove, and there it was found when sought for. Here is a sperm-whale tooth, graven all over with cunning devices: it is the property of Karluna; it is the most precious of the damsel’s ornaments. In her estimation its price is far above rubies. And yet there hangs the dental jewel by its cord of braided bark in the girl’s house, which is far back in the valley; the door is left open, and all the inmates have gone off to bathe in the stream….  2
  There was one admirable trait in the general character of the Typees which, more than anything else, secured my admiration: it was the unanimity of feeling they displayed on every occasion. With them there hardly appeared to be any difference of opinion upon any subject whatever. They all thought and acted alike. I do not conceive that they could support a debating society for a single night: there would be nothing to dispute about; and were they to call a convention to take into consideration the state of the tribe, its session would be a remarkably short one. They showed this spirit of unanimity in every action of life: everything was done in concert and good-fellowship….  3
  Not a single female took part in this employment [house-building]; and if the degree of consideration in which the ever adorable sex is held by the men, be—as the philosophers affirm—a just criterion of the degree of refinement among a people, then I may truly pronounce the Typees to be as polished a community as ever the sun shone upon. The religious restrictions of the taboo alone excepted, the women of the valley were allowed every possible indulgence. Nowhere are the ladies more assiduously courted; nowhere are they better appreciated as the contributors to our highest enjoyments; and nowhere are they more sensible of their power. Far different from their condition among many rude nations, where the women are made to perform all the work while their ungallant lords and masters lie buried in sloth, the gentle sex in the valley of Typee were exempt from toil; if toil it might be called, that even in that tropical climate, never distilled one drop of perspiration. Their light household occupations, together with the manufacture of tappa, the platting of mats, and the polishing of drinking-vessels, were the only employments pertaining to the women. And even these resembled those pleasant avocations which fill up the elegant morning leisure of our fashionable ladies at home. But in these occupations, slight and agreeable though they were, the giddy young girls very seldom engaged. Indeed, these willful, care-killing damsels were averse to all useful employment. Like so many spoiled beauties, they ranged through the groves, bathed in the stream, danced, flirted, played all manner of mischievous pranks, and passed their days in one merry round of thoughtless happiness.  4
  During my whole stay on the island I never witnessed a single quarrel, nor anything that in the slightest degree approached even to a dispute. The natives appeared to form one household, whose members were bound together by the ties of strong affection. The love of kindred I did not so much perceive, for it seemed blended to the general love; and where all were treated as brothers and sisters, it was hard to tell who were actually related to each other by blood.  5
 
 
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