Maui Girl

These stories from Donna Austin come from her rich Maui history and heritage.

18 August 2006

Sandwich Islands: Story Five

(5)
“Rose, tell us your story!” begged Flora, who hadn’t forgotten about the tale Rose had promised.
“Yes!” chimed the other children, “Tell us about the parrot”
Rose smiled her sweet smile and her eyes twinkled in the candlelight.
“Well, once father took me to the dock with him when I was 6 years old. He had brought a load of corn, bananas, and mangoes to trade with the sea captains in Kahalui Harbor. He left me on the wharf, while he did his bargaining and I wandered around drinking in all the strange sights and smells and sounds. Sailors were stacking boxes of tea and coffee, bales of material and piles of salt cod. I saw a load of Chinese men, wearing pointed hats, come down the ramp of the ship. They looked bewildered and homesick. I felt sorry for them because I know they would be working 26 days a month, 9 hours a day, for only $3 a month. That was barely enough to buy soap and clothes and still save enough to escape bondage some day. If they tried to run away, they were thrown in jail for breaking their contract. I wondered how they could ever better their situation.”
“As I meandered around, enjoying the sounds of all the different languages, German, English, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, I heard some very loud squawks coming from a slatted crate. Being very curious, I walked around the box to see what was inside and was astounded to behold the strangest, most colorful bird, I have ever seen in my life. He was beautiful and seemed to know it. When he saw me looking at him, he fluffed and preened his colorful red, orange and green feathers for my inspection. He strutted on his perch and turned his head full circle, keeping his beady black eyes on me the whole time.”
“A passing sailor stopped when he saw me gazing at the bird, wide eyed with admiration.
“Say little girl, don’t put your finger near his cage. He may be beautiful, but he’s ornery and mean. Have you ever seen a parrot before? He’s the sailors pet mascot, and their lucky charm”.
I shook my head and said, “No, I’ve never seen a parrot before and thank you for the warning.” Then I carefully stepped back.
Just as I started to turn away, the bird astonished me further by saying, “Hello, how are you?” Amazement and disbelief warred inside my head. But the sailor assured me that it really was the parrot talking and not a ventriloquist or the work of the devil.
The sailor explained that “He doesn’t know what he’s saying, he just rattles off words he’s heard before. He is what you call a mimic or copy cat.”
Then the sailor left, whistling a Portuguese sea chantey. Timidly I said to the parrot, “Hello, what is your name? My name is Rose.”
The parrot promptly mimicked me and said, “Hello, my name is Rose! My name is Rose! My name is Rose! And then he started whistling the sea chantey I had just heard from the passing sailor.
“By this time, I was getting a little embarrassed,” Rose said, “Because the parrot was screeching and whistling and talking so loudly that people were beginning to stare.”
“Unfortunately, just as I started to leave, the parrot realized it was losing its audience, and yelled, “Ai que diabo” (the devil take you) and following that was a strong string of filthy words and oaths never heard in the Portuguese language before by God fearing people. My ears burned and I could feel my face turn red from the roots of my hair to the tips of my toes. I turned and ran, while the sailors who had stopped to watch, roared with laughter. I was so embarrassed that I ran to our wagon and hid my face among the flour and sugar sacks at the bottom of the buckboard. I didn’t lift my head again until pãe (father) came back with a sack of coffee and a pile of salt cod. I was so ashamed that I never told a soul until this day.”
The family laughed at Rose’s story which she told so well, but they understood her embarrassment even while enjoying the humor of the situation.

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