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adams : polynesian letters , 1891 

Henry Adams : Letters from Polynesia, 1891.

Extracts from
Adams, Henry: Letters of Henry Adams, Volume 1.
Edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford.
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1930.
Kraus Reprint Co., New York, 1969.

Internet Archive
http://archive.org/details/lettersofhenryad028297mbp


Introduction.
Adams' comment on page 476, "neither dance nor game have I seen or heard of; nor surf-swimming," is often cited as evidence of the demise of surfriding inTahiti by the end of the 19th century.

In The Surf Blub of 24th February 2013, Herve Magnificat identified a report and illustrations from John La Farge at Papara, Tahiti in 1891.
He noted  "Strangely, La Farge was travelling with historian Henry Adams, who didnít notice any surf in Tahiti at all."
Cleary, Adams' comment is misleading.

Adams and La Farge journeyed from Papeete to Papara, on the southern coast, on or about the 26th February, where they stayed for several days.
Here, Adams described the house of Tati, their host:

"The house stands flat on the seashore, and as I shook hands with Tati, and his old mother and his sister, I caught glimpses of an intense blue sea, through the open doors and windows behind; a sea that came close up to the grass, and had three lines of surf rolling in, through an opening in the reef, and rolling close up till they sent small waves into the entrance of the little river that flows close by the house." -pages 470-471.

While staying at Paparai, Adams was most impressed with "Old Mrs. Salmon" (Hinari?), Tati's mother, who "when she is inclined to talk, she tells us about pagan Tahiti; old songs, superstitions and customs."
Importantly, she noted:
"the women ... no longer dance or swim on the reef.
Long ago, each district had its professional beauties who were carried about on malangas and matched with the professional beauties of other districts.
The great swells made songs for themselves, to be sung when they went out to show their figures by riding their planks on the surf.
No more beauties exist." -page 471.

At the end of the month, Adams and La Farge  travelled to Tautira, the residence of Robert Louis Stevenson located on the south-east coast. Here, Adams, possibly contemplating the stories of Mrs. Salmon, wrote that he had neither "seen or heard of .. surf-swimming."
Dated 23rd March, it is conceivable that at this point neither he or La Farge had not observed surf riding.
This is perhaps not unexpected, given the ephemeral nature of suitable surf riding conditions.

The party returned to Papara in early April, Adams described the ceremonial opening of a newly constructed bridge on the 3rd, where "beyond, hardly a stone's-throw away, the surf rolling in miles of foam straight up to our hands." -page 478.

La Farge's report of surf riding at Papara is dated 7th April, and describes girls swimming in the mouth of a stream, presumably "the little river" near Tati's house, while "the boys and one of the men ...  were carried along the shore leaning on their boards."
Although Adams had also returned to Papara (he wrote letters from Papara dated 4th and 8th April), it appears he may not have been at the beach to witness the surf riding.
However, it seems highly unlikely that it was not at least mentioned later in conversation by the  travelling companions.
In preparing his letters for publication, Adams did not revise his earlier (premature) entry.

See:
1891 John La Farge : Surfriding at Papara, Tahiti.

Also note
Taaroa,Marau and Adams, Henry: The Memoirs of Arii Taimai, a history of Tahiti.
Paris, 1901
HTML edition by Ray Davis
Chapter 11.
http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/tahiti/11.html


Page 410

HILO, Sept. 18.
If you do not know where Hilo is don't look for it on the map.
One's imagination is the best map for travellers.
You may remember Hilo best because it is the place where Clarence King's waterfall of old-gold girls was situated.
The waterfall is still here, just behind the Severance house where we are staying.
Mrs. Severance took us down there half an hour ago.
She said nothing about the girls, but she did say that the boys used habitually to go over the fall as their after-school amusement; but of late they have given it up, and must be paid for doing it.
The last man who jumped off the neighboring high rock required fifteen dollars.
Mrs. Severance told this sadly, mourning over the decline of the arts and of surf-bathing.
A Bostonian named Brigham took a clever photograph of a boy, just. half way down, the fall being perhaps twelve or fifteen feet.
So passes the glory of Hawaii, and of the old-gold girl- woe is me!

Page 469

[To Elizabeth Cameron]
...
Papara, 26 February.
We escaped from Papeete two days ago.
Unlike Samoa, Tahiti has a road.
The French built it, and it is not bad, at least on this side of the island.

Page 470

If Darwin and Dana choose to sing this song of McGinty, and insist that Tahiti must have sunk to the bottom of the sea, I, who
swear by them, have no scruple in adopting and believing their faith only the road from Papeete here runs the whole distance along the foot of an old line of sea-cliffs, carved and modelled in charming variety by water-action, and evidently extremely ancient. At the foot of these old sea-cliffs is a strip of flat ground, evidently the old coral reef, sometimes a few yards wide, sometimes half a mile or more, and elevated barely ten feet above the sea-level.
Out at sea, sometimes near, but never very far away, is the more modern barrier reef with its surf as usual.
...
At eleven o'clock we arrived at Papara, and were set down at Tati's door.
Door is not the right word, for one is not very conscious of doors hereabouts; but Tati's house is an old French affair, and though not very different from a Mexican adobe house, is planned with some regard to exits and entrances.
From the first moment, I felt contented and I assure you, the sensation was both pleasant and unaccustomed, for some months have passed since I have felt disposed to say to the passing moment Stay!
The house stands flat on the seashore, and as I shook hands with Tati, and his old mother and his

Page 471

sister, I caught glimpses of an intense blue sea, through the open doors and windows behind; a sea that came close up to the grass, and had three lines of surf rolling in, through an opening in the reef, and rolling close up till they sent small waves into the entrance of the little river that flows close by the house.

The present lady of the house, ad interim is Tati's sister, a young lady lately returned from Hamburg, with health affected by a German climate, and with no small amount both of intelligence and beauty of the Miriam type.
In her, Miriam is stronger than the old mother, who is pure native, and delightful; almost untouched by Europe as my Samoan matrons were.
Old Mrs. Salmon will not sit at table with us; she sits on the floor, like a lady, and takes her food when she wants it.
When she is inclined to talk, she tells us about pagan Tahiti; old songs, superstitions and customs.
We know almost all of it, for we have been over the ground in Samoa, and we recognise here the wreck of what was alive there;
but here the women wear clothes and no longer dance or swim on the reef.
Long ago, each district had its professional beauties who were carried about on malangas and matched with the professional beauties of other districts.
The great swells made songs for themselves, to be sung when they went out to show their figures by riding their planks on the surf.
No more beauties exist.

Page 476

Tautira, Sunday March 23
...
We have read all the works in Tahiti, and as for me, I am so tired of reading about the virtues and vices of the Tahitians that I wish I could see some.
As for the Tahitians that have come within my acquaintance, except when they happened to be Jews, they have been the most commonplace, dreary, spiritless people I have yet seen.
If they have amusements or pleasures, they conceal them.
Neither dance nor game have I seen or heard of; nor surf-swimming nor ball-playing nor anything but the stupid mechanical himene.
They do not even move with spirit.
If I were not afraid of extravagance I should say that they were more melancholy than Hawaiians.

Page 477

With Tati and Meserve, we went on the reef one afternoon.
The reef is an excessively curious coral wall, standing some two feet above the level of the lagoon, and averaging forty or fifty feet wide, like a superb boulevard, with a shining surface, absolutely unbroken by the smallest stone or inequality for miles.
The outside surf constantly washes over it, and the surges of boiling foam every few minutes swamp one up to the knees, and often take one unexpectedly in a way that disturbs one's scientific reflections La Farge was luckier.
He was delighted with the picturesqueness of the reef, with the water always rushing in little cataracts over its inner walls, and dashing in blue and green masses, dissolving into what Shelley calls star-showers, on the outer plane.
Apart from a little nervousness as to the particular kind of poisonous coral, or slimy mass of tentacles, or purple or red animated bladders with indefinite worm-like arms, on which one walks, one is not reasonably nervous, for a big wave would knock one clear into the lagoon where one would be perfectly safe in three feet of water.
The natives who go outside in canoes to fish, are sometimes, in heavy weather, obliged to jump the reef on a big wave, and do it
generally all right.

Page 478

Papara, April 4.
Back again at Tati's.
The festivity is on account of the opening of a bridge, which took place yesterday. ...
There was Hinari, our old grandmother,- sitting on her mats surrounded by small grandchildren; ...  no end of smaller children, dogs, chickens, occasional pigs, horses and domestics; and beyond, hardly a stone's-throw away, the surf rolling in miles of foam straight up to our hands.

Page 479

Papara, 8 April.
Very unwillingly we shall probably leave Tati's hospitality tomorrow.
Our visit here has been one of the bright spots of our travels.


Adams, Henry: Letters of Henry Adams, Volume 1.
Edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford.
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1930, 1938.
Kraus Reprint Co., New York, 1969.

Internet Archive
http://archive.org/details/lettersofhenryad028297mbp


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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2007-2013) : Henry Adams : Letters from Polynesia, 1891.
http://www.surfresearch.com.au/1891_Adams_Letters.html
Also note
Taaroa,Marau and Adams, Henry: The Memoirs of Arii Taimai, a history of Tahiti.
Paris, 1901
HTML edition by Ray Davis
Chapter 11.
http://www.pseudopodium.org/repress/tahiti/11.html
1890-92

Adams travels with artist John La Farge to Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, and Ceylon from August 1890 to September 1891.

1893
Privately prints Memoirs of Marau Taaroa, Last Queen of Tahiti.

1901
Revises and enlarges the Tahiti memoir as Memoirs of Arii Taimai for private distribution.

1918
Dies in Washington March 27 at the age of eighty.

A Chronology of Henry Adams's Life
(Adapted from the "Chronology" contained in the three-volume Library of America edition of Adams' major works.)
http://www.univie.ac.at/Anglistik/easyrider/data/AdamsChronology.htm


Mrs. Severance
See
Bird, Isabella L.: Six Months in the Sandwich Isles-
Amoung Hawai'i's Palm Groves, Coral Reefs and Volcanoes.
John Murray, London, 1875. Letter XIV, Pages .
G. P. Putman's Sons, New York, 1881.
Mutual Publishing, 1215 Center Street, Suite 210
Honolulu, Hawaii 96816. 1988, 2001, 2004.

1842
Clarence Rivers King born on January 6th  to James Rivers King and Caroline Florence Little of Newport, Rhode Island.

1867
Congress approves 40th Parallel Survey with King in charge
King begins survey with study of Comstock Lode in Nevada.

1871
Rocky Mountain/Great Plains field work
Wrote articles about active glaciers in American Journal of Science and Atlantic Monthly
Winters in Hawaii

1880
King becomes first director of United States Geological Survey.

1901
 King dies from tuberculosis on December 24 in Phoenix, Arizona
Mt.Shasta Companion
http://www.siskiyous.edu/shasta/env/king/time.htm