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Chita: A Memory of Last Island


After Lafcadio Hearn wrote the St Malo article in the Harpers Weekly in 1883, he worked on CHITA, A Memory of Last Island. I skimmed through the book a few years ago and I recently found an online version.  Tagalog words like “maganda” appear in the novel.

“Tagalog words like “maganda” appear in the novel.”

Excerpts (scripts) from the novel…

Chita: A Memory of Last Island
There is money in notes and in coin--in purses, in pocketbooks, and in pockets: plenty of it! There are silks, satins, laces, and fine linen to be stripped from the bodies of the drowned,--and necklaces, bracelets, watches, finger-rings and fine chains, brooches and trinkets ... "Chi bidizza!--Oh! chi bedda mughieri! Eccu, la bidizza!"  That ball-dress was made in Paris by--But you never heard of him, Sicilian Vicenzu ... "Che bella sposina!"  Her betrothal ring will not come off, Giuseppe; but the delicate bone snaps easily: your oyster-knife can sever the tendon ... "Guardate! chi bedda picciota!"  Over her heart you will find it, Valentino--the locket held by that fine Swiss chain of woven hair--"Caya manan!" And it is not your quadroon bondsmaid, sweet lady, who now disrobes you so roughly; those Malay hands are less deft than hers,--but she slumbers very far away from you, and may not be aroused from her sleep. "Na quita mo! dalaga!--na quita maganda!" ... Juan, the fastenings of those diamond ear-drops are much too complicated for your peon fingers: tear them out!--"Dispense, chulita!"...

Caya manan=wealth
Maganda= pretty
Dalaga= maiden
Na quita mo= Did you see?

There's really no need to purchase this archaic book written by Hearn sometime in the middle of 1880, but he was a very interesting character himself. He wrote several macabre stories that remind me of Edgar Allan Poe. Something must had happened when he went down to the Bayou of Saint Malo and allowed the lives of strange lake dwellers to inspire him.  Hearn's description:

Under their emerald shadows curious little villages of palmetto huts are drowsing, where dwell a swarthy population of Orientals,--Malay fishermen, who speak the Spanish-Creole of the Philippines as well as their own Tagal, and perpetuate in Louisiana the Catholic traditions of theIndies. There are girls in those unfamiliar villages worthy to inspire any statuary,--beautiful with the beauty of ruddy bronze,--gracile as the palmettoes that sway above them....

In his Saint Malo article published on March 1883 in the Harper’s Journal of Civilization, the only Filipino-Americans he saw were Manila men living in houses sitting on stilts - Badjao houses with open air balconies and gardens in the back. There were only 13 houses, and I call them our original 13 colonies of the United States. Filipino-American Historians still debate how they got there. He wrote about their existence, was fascinated and swayed to the mysterious eastern culture. 
 I describe the houses as badjao. Badjao or badjau is not just house style (bahay,) but also a way of life (buhay of sea gypsies. "Badjao" refers to a sea-faring indigenous group concentrated in the Sulu Archipelago. They usually live on houseboats that are traditionally made without nails. They are off-shore houses on stilts
This white man (he is Greek-Irish) wrote the novel “Chita” and fell in love with the Oriental language and culture. He sailed west and changed his name into a Japanese one. It was a transformation so complete that it was he virtually re-invented himself as made in Japan. His works became sort of folklores in Japan and the rest of the world. Judging from the way he spelled the words in the novel “Chita”  one might conclude that he learned it firsthand from conversations during his stay in Saint Malo, in a place halfway around the world over century ago.
What happen to St Malo could be answered in this novel, Lost Island.

that the Voice of the Sea is never one voice, but a tumult of many voices--voices of drowned men,--the muttering of multitudinousdead,--the moaning of innumerable ghosts, all rising, to rage against the living, at the great Witch call of storms....
... So the hurricane passed,--tearing off the heads of the prodigious waves, to hurl them a hundred feet in air,--heaping up the ocean against the land,--upturning the woods. Bays and passes were swollen to abysses; rivers regorged; the sea-marshes were changed to raging wastes of water. Before New Orleans the flood of the mile-broad Mississippi rose six feet above highest water-mark. One hundred and ten miles away, Donaldsonville trembled at the towering tide of the Lafourche. Lakes strove to burst their boundaries. Far-off river steamers tugged wildly at their cables,--shivering like tethered creatures that hear by

In 1895 the last killer storm of the century swept all the houses in Saint Malo.The location Saint Malo could be best described in the opening of the novel.

Travelling south from New Orleans to the Islands, you pass through a strange land into a strange sea, by various winding waterways. You can journey to the Gulf by lugger if you please; but the trip may be made much more rapidly and agreeably on someone of those light, narrow steamers, built especially for bayou-travel, which usually receive passengers at a point not far from the foot of old Saint-Louis Street, hard by the sugar-landing, where there is ever a pushing and flocking of steam craft--all striving for place to rest their white breasts against the levee, side by side,--like great weary swans. But the miniature steamboat on which you engage passage to the Gulf never lingers long in the Mississippi: she crosses the river, slips into some canal-mouth, labors along the artificial channel awhile, and then leaves it with a scream of joy, to puff her free way down many a league of heavily shadowed bayou. Perhaps thereafter she may bear you through the immense silence of drenched rice-fields, where the yellow-green level is broken at long intervals by the black silhouette of some irrigating machine;--but, whichever of the five different routes be pursued, you will find yourself more than once floating through sombre mazes of swamp-forest,--past assemblages of cypresses all hoary with the parasitic tillandsia, and grotesque as gatherings of fetich-gods. Ever from river or from lakelet the steamer glides again into canal or bayou,--from bayou or canal once more into lake or bay; and sometimes the swamp-forest visibly thins away
from these shores into wastes of reedy morass where, even of breathless nights, the quaggy soil trembles to a sound like thunder of breakers on a coast: the storm-roar of billions of reptile voices chanting in cadence,--rhythmically surging in stupendous crescendo and diminuendo,--a monstrous and appalling chorus of frogs!

....the advent of the steamer is the great event of the week. There are no telegraph lines, no telephones: the mail-packet is the only trustworthy medium of communication with the outer world, bringing friends, news, letters. The magic of steam has placed New Orleans nearer to New York than to the Timbaliers, nearer to Washington than to Wine Island, nearer to Chicago than to Barataria Bay. And even during the deepest sleep of waves and winds there will come betimes to sojourners in this unfamiliar archipelago

After the demise of St Malo the Manila men moved couple of miles west to create a man made island. Called the Manila Village or simply Platform. This description from CHITA would also fit

Some queer camp of wooden dwellings clustering around a vast platform clustering around a vast platform that stands above the water upon a thousand piles; --over the
miniature wharf you can scarcely fail to observe a white sign-board painted with crimson ideographs. The great platform is used for drying fish in the sun; and the fantastic characters of the sign, literally translated, mean: "Heap--Shrimp--Plenty."

The novel is all about exotic girls life in the last island. Romanticized but parallel the real life men of St Malo. He created men sitting in an island transported from the bayous. There was not a single female present when Hearn went to Saint Malo, as he heard only in whisper about the tragedy of the few girls that lived there when he interviewed the men.
Over time the men slowly assimilated in the City of New Orleans. The city described by Lafcadio having "Occasional swarthy visitors,--men of the Manilla settlements."

Check my other related webpages: The complete Saint Malo Article and Manila Village (Shrimp Platform)

Mr Hearn's publisher had urged him to write less colorfully (!) and his reply was about the power of words.

"Because people cannot see the color of words, the tints of words, the secret ghostly motion of words;
"Because they cannot hear the whispering of words, the rustling of the procession of letters, the dream-flutes and dream-drums, which are thinly and weirdly played by words;
"Because they cannot perceive the pouting of words, the frowning and fuming of words, the weeping, the raging and racketing and rioting of words;
"Because they are insensible to the phosphorescing of words, the fragrance of words, the noisomeness of words, the tenderness or hardness, the dryness or juiciness of words — the interchange of values in the gold, the silver, the brass and the copper of words —
"Is that any reason why we should not try to make them hear, to make them see, to make them feel?"
— Lafcadio Hearn (1850 - 1904)

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