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Typee

Herman Melville

Chapters 24–26

Chapters 19–24

Chapters 27–30

Summary

Chapter 24

Although Tommo still does not understand the purpose of the Feast of Calabashes, he recognizes that it has a religious connotation and this leads him to discuss religion amongst the Typees. Generally, European missionaries have condemned these natives as the religious savages, but the narrator feels that many of these claims have been overexaggerated and possibly even false. For example, rumors of natives having human bodies on their altars seems to be entirely unfounded as he witnessed nothing of the kind nor did he ever witness natives involved in overtly-evil, religious doings.

Kory-Kory helps to educate Tommo about the native religion by showing him the religious idols, or statues in the valley. Tommo sees the mausoleum of a deceased warrior-chief, seated on a carved canoe facing a lake. The canoe allows the chief, Kory-Kory explains, to paddle towards eternity.

The main God of the Typees is called "Mon Artua." He is represented with a small wooden statue, which is usually kept safe by the main priest, Kolory. Mehevi and the chieftains frequently call upon Kolory for religious rituals. Kolory then takes the idol of Mon Artu and whispers into his ear. Mon Artu does not seem to hear him, but Kolory then places him in a wooden box face down on the ground. Mehevi and the chiefs all applaud. When Kolory takes Mon Artu out of the box and talks to it again, the idol now seems to be able to talk back. This ritual is one of the more important ones.

In general, Tommo suggests that the Typees have lately been slacking in their religious beliefs, as many of their idols now appear to be rotting. On one occasion he watches Kory-Kory kick a wooden idol. Tommo believes that the native religion could use a good revival.

Chapter 25

Tommo finds the Typees to be the most beautiful native people that he ever has seen. Their complexions and hair are almost perfect. Both the men and women are spry, healthy, and beautiful, quite different from their European counterparts. Women wear their hair long and frequently adorn it with oils, as they do their skin. They wear simple Polynesian clothing, except for, on a few occasions, when some European calicos are seen. The Typees all seem to be in the same social class, with the exception of the chiefs. When a chief gives an order, it is obeyed promptly, yet still the chiefs do not live on a highly elevated plane as many other monarchies, both European and native (such as Hawaiian) demand. After a while, Tommo realizes that Mehevi is the main chieftain. Furthermore, the Ti is his palace. It still is one of Tommo's favorite places as they just sit all afternoon talking and smoking freely as one would in a bachelor pad.

Chapter 26

Tommo believes that Mehevi's status is akin to being a "King," but again notes that Mehevi's behavior is less formal than many Europeans Kings. For example, Tommo has seen Mehevi, on a few occasions, making love to a young native girl. Tommo always thought Mehevi was a bachelor, but now he knows that Mahevi has a steady relationship with this girl. Furthermore, she has a child that looks like him.

Native culture differs from European culture in that women have more than one husband or lover. Mehevi's woman, for example, lives with another man, who makes love to her as well. On certain occasions, Tommo has seen both Mehevi and the other man courting the woman at the same time. Generally, Tommo has observed that women often live with one man who first appears to be her husband, but then another man moves in as well and he becomes her lover too. Tommo believes this practice takes place because there are far fewer men than women in the Typee valley. The idea of having two male lovers is widely accepted by everyone. For example, he has often seen another man trying to make love to Tinor, the matron of his house. Even though Marheyo, Tinor's "husband," watches the whole exchange, he does not seem to care.

Although Typee women have more than one lover, it is notable that they seem to stick with certain men, rather than just sleeping with everyone. Many other native Polynesians, such as the Tahitians, tend to have no fixed relationship with any set person. Their open sexuality has led to trouble with European men. As such, large groups of Tahitian women have been killed off as a result of contracting European venereal diseases.

The narrator has never seen a death amongst the Typees, so he cannot report on the Typee practices in that regard, but he generally believes that bodies are embalmed before being buried.

Analysis

This section continues with the quasi-anthropological tone of the previous section. The narrative becomes very descriptive here, with Tommo rarely even talking about himself. Instead, he details the native form of religion and the native marital practices. Both of these topics are fascinating and both, to a large extent, are meant to shock readers, especially the conservative, religious readers that Melville seems to so enjoy tormenting.

Melville's description of Typeean sexuality most obviously shows how Melville meant to shock. For us today, his entire discussion may seem mild, since sexual education is widespread today and far more racy, sexualized images litter films and television. But we must understand that readers of Melville's era did not openly speak about sex. Sex was as "taboo" in America as certain cultural practices were amongst the Typees. Melville knows that his description of sexual practices will fascinate readers, which is perhaps why he dwells upon these practices at length. Of particular interest, of course, is the ability for women to have more than one sexual partner, a practice forbidden in Christian countries. Melville's willingness to accept this practice as natural and good, although slightly intriguing, is an affront to those Christian leaders who argue that such sexual behavior is bad.

Melville's open discussion of venereal disease additionally reverses common beliefs on sexuality. First off, Melville discusses a group of natives, Tahitian women, who basically sleep with everyone that they like—a sexual practice that would be considered harlotry in Christian countries. The mere mention of such behavior might offend. But Melville takes it one step further by accepting their behavior as natural and fine. The fault lies with the European men who come as merchants and colonists and who spread venereal disease to these poor girls. Even though the disease is not actually named, Melville rather forcefully hints at it. Melville's assessment again suggests that natives would be better off if they never met up with Europeans. Furthermore, he accurately traces venereal disease to these men, whereas most preachers and missionaries would argue that those who contracted the disease did so because of their "sinful" sexual deviancy. Melville throws off such narrow-minded interpretations with his argument, and in doing so, the argument proves highly controversial.

Melville's presentation of the Typee religious beliefs seems a classic cultural profile. Yet, while Melville's description is cultural, he also uses it to further mock the Christian missionaries whom he so dislikes. His discussion first fails to acknowledge the supremacy of the Christian faith. Melville profiles the native religion in a respectful way, never suggesting, as a good Christian should, that their worship of false idols is at all inappropriate. Furthermore, since he believes them to be culturally superior to Europeans, he may even subtly be saying that the Typee religion is better than Christianity, a highly inappropriate idea to Europeans.

Melville's true mockery of the missionaries, however, can be seen in the way that he describes the Typeean religion. His style mimics the tone that Christian missionaries use against other American Christians. For example, he suggests that the Typees are backsliding in their faith because of "religious sloth." Their flocks "are going astray," because of excessive consumption of breadfruit and coconut. They need a spiritual "revival." Melville's sarcastic condemnation of the Typees for their religious laziness is meant to mock similar arguments offered up by religious leaders in America and overseas. Melville is rubbing religious rhetoric in the face of those who use it. If understood, Melville's words are actually shocking in their sarcastic mockery as well as comic in their mimicry of style.

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