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1845 __ « Typee » — vocal telegraph
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
Original excerpt : « Chapter Ten.[...] Deterred by the frightful stories related of its inhabitants, ships never enter this bay, while their hostile relations with the tribes in the adjoining valleys prevent the Typees from visiting that section of the island where vessels occasionally lie. At long intervals, however, some intrepid captain will touch on the skirts of the bay, with two or three armed boats' crews and accompanied by interpreters. The natives who live near the sea descry the strangers long before they reach their waters, and aware of the purpose for which they come, proclaim loudly the news of their approach. By a species of vocal telegraph the intelligence reaches the inmost recesses of the vale in an inconceivably short space of time, drawing nearly its whole population down to the beach laden with every variety of fruit. The interpreter, who is invariably a 'tabooed Kanaka'*, leaps ashore with the goods intended for barter, while the boats, with their oars shipped, and every man on his thwart, lie just outside the surf, heading off the shore, in readiness at the first untoward event to escape to the open sea. As soon as the traffic is concluded, one of the boats pulls in under cover of the muskets of the others, the fruit is quickly thrown into her, and the transient visitors precipitately retire from what they justly consider so dangerous a vicinity. [...]Chapter Fourteen.[...] One morning as I lay on the mats in the house, plunged in melancholy reverie, and regardless of everything around me, Toby, who had left me about an hour, returned in haste, and with great glee told me to cheer up and be of good heart; for he believed, from what was going on among the natives, that there were boats approaching the bay. These tidings operated upon me like magic. The hour of our deliverance was at hand, and starting up, I was soon convinced that something unusual was about to occur. The word 'botee! botee!' was vociferated in all directions; and shouts were heard in the distance, at first feebly and faintly; but growing louder and nearer at each successive repetition, until they were caught up by a fellow in a cocoanut tree a few yards off, who sounding them in turn, they were reiterated from a neighbouring grove, and so died away gradually from point to point, as the intelligence penetrated into the farthest recess of the valley. This was the vocal telegraph of the islanders; by means of which condensed items of information could be carried in a very few minutes from the sea to their remotest habitation, a distance of at least eight or nine miles. On the present occasion it was in active operation; one piece of information following another with inconceivable rapidity. [...]Chapter Twenty-Eight.[...] All the South Sea Islanders are passionately fond of fish; but none of them can be more so than the inhabitants of Typee. I could not comprehend, therefore, why they so seldom sought it in their waters, for it was only at stated times that the fishing parties were formed, and these occasions were always looked forward to with no small degree of interest. During their absence the whole population of the place were in a ferment, and nothing was talked of but 'pehee, pehee' (fish, fish). Towards the time when they were expected to return the vocal telegraph was put into operation.the inhabitants, who were scattered throughout the length of the valley, leaped upon rocks and into trees, shouting with delight at the thoughts of the anticipated treat. As soon as the approach of the party was announced, there was a general rush of the men towards the beach; some of them remaining, however, about the Ti in order to get matters in readiness for the reception of the fish, which were brought to the Taboo Groves in immense packages of leaves, each one of them being suspended from a pole carried on the shoulders of two men. [...] »
Source : Melville, Herman (1845 [1996]), "Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life", Penguin Classics.
Source : Melville, Herman (1845 [1952], “Taïpi”, traduit de l'anglais par Théo Varlet et Francis Ledoux., Paris : Gallimard, 1952'''''.
Urls : http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1900/1900-h/1900-h.htm (last visited )

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