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  • A Little Scholarship Recipient from Auti
  • Taaria Walker (bio)
    Translated by Kareva Mateata-Allain (bio)

It was the end of 1939, and the schools had just closed for summer vacation. After Sunday evening prayers, the mūto'i read the announcements at the meeting house. The next morning, we were alarmed to find when we awoke that our mother was not at home. We rushed to the kitchen, where our father, loyal as always to his chores, was setting the table.

"Daddy, where is Maman?" our older sister demanded. "Have you already done the wake-up prayer?"

"Yes, I said the prayer while you were still asleep," he replied. "But your mother was awake all night. She was upset after hearing the announcements that Pare had received a scholarship to go to school in Tahiti."

"Is a scholarship bad? Will it harm us?" my sister asked.

"I'm not quite sure what a scholarship is, but your mother is very upset. She insists that Pare's choice to accept the scholarship is God's punishment for Maman's not respecting her parents' wishes when she married me."

The situation was getting even more confusing. The more the conversation continued, the more I trembled from fear. I lost my appetite and started bawling. Just then, Maman burst through the door, her hair disheveled, her pāreu crooked, her eyes bloodshot. She immediately confronted me.

"You are certainly the granddaughter of your great-grandmother. They were all pagans and now you are one of them, bringing bad luck. Your great-aunt Turaura is right: a child of lies attracts lightning from the sky. Stop that crying unless you want a slap across the face. Only children of the devil cry for nothing, since they are incapable of repenting."

Deeply touched by my tears, Papa picked me up, took me over to the 'ā'ano to wash my face, and held out a hankie for me to blow my nose with. Sniffling, I asked him why Maman was yelling at me.

"Don't cry anymore," he said. "She is the one who is the devil! You must be strong enough to confront all the devils in the village and gather your energy for school. You know very well that I can't read; my only wish is to have children who are intelligent, like your mother, and as educated as Mme. Titi, the schoolteacher."

To be honest, my father spoke like a prophet—the way most Rurutu people did—although he didn't know how to read or write. My mother had, however, taught him to write "Tu," which was short for his first name, Tuari'i, so that he [End Page 38] could recognize his bags when he traveled. Because of his ignorance, he couldn't read the Bible and was never able to join the church. Maman taught him biblical verses by heart so that when he went to evening service he could sing the tārava he loved.

When we took him our slates scribbled with lines of writing and drawings, he would proudly do a village tour, showing our work to all his fēti'i so that they could see the light under which we lived.

That morning, he didn't parade in the streets like our mother to show his disapproval and despair. He went straight to the schoolteacher, Mme. Titi, who explained to him in detail the reason I was awarded the scholarship. From that day on, I became tapu, and Papa begged Maman to not worry anymore; he said he would take care of any expenses and would not allow anyone to be put out just so that I could go to school.

In all his evening and morning prayers, I heard him ask God for help and a long life so that he could live to see me finish my studies successfully.

Days went by, and Maman gathered our homemade crafts and all the goods from the garden, and Papa took the animals he had raised to the Chinese merchant. Mme. Titi had given the merchant a list of all that I needed for my boarding school in Tahiti.

What's more, the schoolteacher was...