On the following Saturday ten days after diving operations had commenced the men, at Barry's request, were given three full days' liberty. Some of them wanted to make a fishing excursion, others to hunt for robber crabs at night-time on the adjoining islets, others to attend to the puraka plantations of the deserted village.
The absence of bread was made up for by the flesh of half-grown coconuts and cooked puraka gigantic species of taro which thrives well in the sandy soil of the Equatorial islands of the Pacific.
My arrival at the island caused no little commotion among the young bloods, each of whose chances of gaining the girl of his heart, and being united to her by the local Samoan missionary teacher, depended in a great measure upon his ability to provide sustenance for her from the sea; for Nanomaga, like the rest of the Ellice Group, is but little more than a richly-verdured sandbank, based upon a foundation of coral, and yielding nothing to its people but coconuts and a coarse species of taro, called puraka.
During our absence the women and children had been most industrious; the weather-worn, dilapidated huts had been made habitable with freshly-plaited kapaus coarse mats of green coconut leaves, the floors covered with clean white pebbles, sleeping mats in readiness, and heaps of young drinking nuts piled up in every corner, whilst outside smoke was arising from a score of ground ovens in which taro and puraka were being cooked, together with bundles of atuli wrapped in leaves.
About seventy people were to go, and all that day the little village busied itself in preparing for the Nanomeans gifts of foods cooked PURAKA, fowls, pigs, and flying-fish. Atupa, the heathen chief, was troubled in his mind in those days of August 1872. The JOHN WILLIAMS had touched at the island and landed a Samoan missionary, who had pressed him to accept Christianity.
"It must be a hundred years or more since any one worked at these puraka patches," he said to Hendry, as he sat upon the top of a bank and looked down. "Look at the big trees growing all around us on the banks. There can't be natives living anywhere on the atoll now, so I don't think we need to keep a night watch as long as we stop here."
Generally, the fish is cooked in the usual native ground-oven as quickly as possible, care being taken to wrap it closely up in the broad leaves of the puraka plant a species of gigantic taro in order that none of the oil may be lost.
Here and there were to be seen traces of former inhabitants depressions of an acre or so in extent, surrounded by high banks of soil, now thickly clothed with verdure, and which Chard, who had had a fair experience of the South Seas, knew were once plantations of puraka, the gigantic taro plant of the low-lying islands of the South and North Pacific.