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
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!"...
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
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
... 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
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
"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)