[Marxism] Typee religion

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 10 06:46:07 MDT 2004

(Concluding paragraphs of ch. 24 of Melville's "Typee")

On the whole, I am inclined to believe, that the islanders in the 
Pacific have no fixed and definite ideas whatever on the subject of 
religion. I am persuaded that Kolory himself would be effectually posed 
were he called upon to draw up the articles of his faith and pronounce 
the creed by which he hoped to be saved. In truth, the Typees, so far as 
their actions evince, submitted to no laws human or divine—always 
excepting the thrice mysterious Taboo. The 'independent electors' of the 
valley were not to be brow-beaten by chiefs, priests, idol or devils. As 
for the luckless idols, they received more hard knocks than 
supplications. I do not wonder that some of them looked so grim, and 
stood so bolt upright as if fearful of looking to the right or the left 
lest they should give any one offence. The fact is, they had to carry 
themselves 'PRETTY STRAIGHT,' or suffer the consequences. Their 
worshippers were such a precious set of fickle-minded and irreverent 
heathens, that there was no telling when they might topple one of them 
over, break it to pieces, and making a fire with it on the very altar 
itself, fall to roasting the offerings of bread-fruit, and at them in 
spite of its teeth.

     In how little reverence these unfortunate deities were held by the 
natives was on one occasion most convincingly proved to me.—Walking with 
Kory-Kory through the deepest recesses of the groves, I perceived a 
curious looking image, about six feet in height which originally had 
been placed upright against a low pi-pi, surmounted by a ruinous bamboo 
temple, but having become fatigued and weak in the knees, was now 
carelessly leaning against it. The idol was partly concealed by the 
foliage of a tree which stood near, and whose leafy boughs drooped over 
the pile of stones, as if to protect the rude fane from the decay to 
which it was rapidly hastening. The image itself was nothing more than a 
grotesquely shaped log, carved in the likeness of a portly naked man 
with the arms clasped over the head, the jaws thrown wide apart, and its 
thick shapeless legs bowed into an arch. It was much decayed. The lower 
part was overgrown with a bright silky moss. Thin spears of grass 
sprouted from the distended mouth, and fringed the outline of the head 
and arms. His godship had literally attained a green old age. All its 
prominent points were bruised and battered, or entirely rotted away. The 
nose had taken its departure, and from the general appearance of the 
head it might have, been supposed that the wooden divinity, in despair 
at the neglect of its worshippers, had been trying to beat its own 
brains out against the surrounding trees.

     I drew near to inspect more closely this strange object of 
idolatry, but halted reverently at the distance of two or three paces, 
out of regard to the religious prejudices of my valet. As soon, however, 
as Kory-Kory perceived that I was in one of my inquiring, scientific 
moods, to my astonishment, he sprang to the side of the idol, and 
pushing it away from the stones against which it rested, endeavoured to 
make it stand upon its legs. But the divinity had lost the use of them 
altogether; and while Kory-Kory was trying to prop it up, placing a 
stick between it and the pi-pi, the monster fell clumsily to the ground, 
and would have infallibly have broken its neck had not Kory-Kory 
providentially broken its fall by receiving its whole weight on his own 
half-crushed back. I never saw the honest fellow in such a rage before. 
He leaped furiously to his feet, and seizing the stick, began beating 
the poor image: every moment, or two pausing and talking to it in the 
most violent manner, as if upbraiding it for the accident. When his 
indignation had subsided a little he whirled the idol about most 
profanely, so as to give me an opportunity of examining it on all sides. 
I am quite sure I never should have presumed to have taken such 
liberties with the god myself, and I was not a little shocked at 
Kory-Kory's impiety.

     This anecdote speaks for itself. When one of the inferior order of 
natives could show such contempt for a venerable and decrepit God of the 
Groves, what the state of religion must be among the people in general 
is easy to be imagined. In truth, I regard the Typees as a back-slidden 
generation. They are sunk in religious sloth, and require a spiritual 
revival. A long prosperity of bread-fruit and cocoanuts has rendered 
them remiss in the performance of their higher obligations. The wood-rot 
malady is spreading among the idols—the fruit upon their altars is 
becoming offensive—the temples themselves need rethatching—the tattooed 
clergy are altogether too light-hearted and lazy—and their flocks are 
going astray.

full: http://pd.sparknotes.com/lit/typee/section26.html


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