"YAH! YAH! YAH!"
by Jack London
He was a whiskey-guzzling Scotchman, and he downed
his whiskey neat, beginning with his first tot
punctually at six in the morning, and thereafter
repeating it at regular intervals throughout the
day till bedtime, which was usually midnight. He
slept but five hours out of twenty-four, and for
the remaining nineteen hours he was quietly and
decently drunk. During the eight weeks I spent
with him on Oolong Atoll, I never saw him draw a
sober breath. In fact, his sleep was so short that
he never had time to sober up. It was the most
beautiful and orderly perennial drunk I have ever
McAllister was his name. He was an old man, and
very shaky on his pins. His hand trembled as with
a palsy, especially noticeable when he poured his
whiskey, though I never knew him to spill a drop.
He had been twenty-eight years in Melanesia,
ranging from German New Guinea to the German
Solomons, and so thoroughly had he become
identified with that portion of the world, that
he habitually spoke in that bastard lingo called
"beche-de-mer." Thus, in conversation with me,
sun he come up meant sunrise; kai-kai he stop
meant that dinner was served; and belly belong
me walk about meant that he was sick at his
stomach. He was a small man, and a withered one,
burned inside and outside by ardent spirits and
ardent sun. He was a cinder, a bit of a clinker
of a man, a little animated clinker, not yet
quite cold, that moved stiffly and by starts
and jerks like an automaton. A gust of wind
would have blown him away. He weighed ninety
But the immense thing about him was the power
with which he ruled. Oolong Atoll was one
hundred and forty miles in circumference.
One steered by compass course in its lagoon.
It was populated by five thousand Polynesians,
all strapping men and women, many of them
standing six feet in height and weighing a
couple of hundred pounds. Oolong was two hundred
and fifty miles from the nearest land. Twice a
year a little schooner called to collect copra.
The one white man on Oolong was McAllister,
petty trader and unintermittent guzzler; and
he ruled Oolong and its six thousand savages
with an iron hand. He said come, and they came,
go, and they went. They never questioned his
will nor judgment. He was cantankerous as
only an aged Scotchman can be, and interfered
continually in their personal affairs. When
Nugu, the king's daughter, wanted to marry
Haunau from the other end of the atoll, her
father said yes; but McAllister said no, and
the marriage never came off. When the king
wanted to buy a certain islet in the lagoon
from the chief priest, McAllister said no.
The king was in debt to the Company to the
tune of 180,000 cocoanuts, and until that
was paid he was not to spend a single
cocoanut on anything else.
And yet the king and his people did not love
McAllister. In truth, they hated him horribly,
and, to my knowledge, the whole population, with
the priests at the head, tried vainly for three
months to pray him to death. The devil-devils
they sent after him were awe-inspiring, but since
McAllister did not believe in devil-devils, they
were without power over him. With drunken Scotchmen
all signs fail. They gathered up scraps of food
which had touched his lips, an empty whiskey
bottle, a cocoanut from which he had drunk, and
even his spittle, and performed all kinds of
deviltries over them. But McAllister lived on.
His health was superb. He never caught fever;
nor coughs nor colds; dysentery passed him by;
and the malignant ulcers and vile skin diseases
that attack blacks and whites alike in that
climate never fastened upon him. He must have
been so saturated with alcohol as to defy the
lodgment of germs. I used to imagine them falling
to the ground in showers of microscopic cinders
as fast as they entered his whiskey-sodden aura.
No one loved him, not even germs, while he loved
only whiskey, and still he lived.
I was puzzled. I could not understand six thousand
natives putting up with that withered shrimp of
a tyrant. It was a miracle that he had not died
suddenly long since. Unlike the cowardly Melanesians,
the people were high-stomached and warlike. In
the big graveyard, at head and feet of the graves,
were relics of past sanguinary history--blubber-spades,
rusty old bayonets and cutlasses, copper bolts,
rudder-irons, harpoons, bomb guns, bricks that
could have come from nowhere but a whaler's
trying-out furnace, and old brass pieces of the
sixteenth century that verified the traditions of
the early Spanish navigators. Ship after ship had
come to grief on Oolong. Not thirty years before,
the whaler Blennerdale, running into the lagoon
for repairs, had been cut off with all hands. In
similar fashion had the crew of the Gasket, a
sandalwood trader, perished. There was a big French
bark, the Toulon, becalmed off the atoll, which
the islanders boarded after a sharp tussle and
wrecked in the Lipau Passage, the captain and a
handful of sailors escaping in the longboat.
Then there were the Spanish pieces, which told
of the loss of one of the early explorers. All
this, of the vessels named, is a matter of history,
and is to be found in the South Pacific Sailing
Directory. But that there was other history,
unwritten, I was yet to learn. In the meantime I
puzzled why six thousand primitive savages let
one degenerate Scotch despot live.
One hot afternoon McAllister and I sat on the
veranda looking out over the lagoon, with all
its wonder of jewelled colors. At our backs, across
the hundred yards of palm-studded sand, the outer
surf roared on the reef. It was dreadfully warm.
We were in four degree south latitude and the sun
was directly overhead, having crossed the Line a
few days before on its journey south. There was
no wind--not even a catspaw. The season of the
southeast trade was drawing to an early close,
and the northwest monsoon had not yet begun to
"They can't dance worth a damn," said McAllister.
I had happened to mention that the Polynesian
dances were superior to the Papuan, and this
McAllister had denied, for no other reason than
his cantankerousness. But it was too hot to
argue, and I said nothing. Besides, I had never
seen the Oolong people dance.
"I'll prove it to you," he announced, beckoning
to the black New Hanover boy, a labor recruit,
who served as cook and general house servant.
"Hey, you, boy, you tell 'm one fella king come
The boy departed, and back came the prime minister,
perturbed, ill at ease, and garrulous with
apologetic explanation. In short, the king
slept, and was not to be disturbed.
"King he plenty strong fella sleep," was his
McAllister was in such a rage that the prime
minister incontinently fled, to return with the
king himself. They were a magnificent pair, the
king especially, who must have been all of six
feet three inches in height. His features had
the eagle-like quality that is so frequently
found in those of the North American Indian.
He had been both moulded and born to rule. His
eyes flashed as he listened, but right meekly
he obeyed McAllister's command to fetch a couple
of hundred of the best dancers, male and female,
in the village. And dance they did, for two
mortal hours, under that broiling sun. They
did not love him for it, and little he cared,
in the end dismissing them with abuse and
The abject servility of those magnificent
savages was terrifying. How could it be? What
was the secret of his rule? More and more I
puzzled as the days went by, and though I
observed perpetual examples of his undisputed
sovereignty, never a clew was there as to how
One day I happened to speak of my disappointment
in failing to trade for a beautiful pair of
orange cowries. The pair was worth five pounds
in Sydney if it was worth a cent. I had offered
two hundred sticks of tobacco to the owner, who
had held out for three hundred. When I casually
mentioned the situation, McAllister immediately
sent for the man, took the shells from him, and
turned them over to me. Fifty sticks were all
he permitted me to pay for them. The man accepted
the tobacco and seemed overjoyed at getting off
so easily. As for me, I resolved to keep a bridle
on my tongue in the future. And still I mulled
over the secret of McAllister's power. I even
went to the extent of asking him directly, but
all he did was to cock one eye, look wise, and
take another drink.
One night I was out fishing in the lagoon with
Oti, the man who had been mulcted of the cowries.
Privily, I had made up to him an additional
hundred and fifty sticks, and he had come to
regard me with a respect that was almost
veneration, which was curious, seeing that he
was an old man, twice my age at least.
"What name you fella kanaka all the same
pickaninny?" I began on him. "This fella trader
he one fella. You fella kanaka plenty fella too
much. You fella kanaka just like 'm dog--plenty
fright along that fella trader. He no eat you,
fella. He no get 'm teeth along him. What name
you too much fright?"
"S'pose plenty fella kanaka kill 'm?" he asked.
"He die," I retorted. "You fella kanaka kill 'm
plenty fella white man long time before. What
name you fright this fella white man?"
"Yes, we kill 'm plenty," was his answer. "My
word! Any amount! Long time before. One time,
me young fella too much, one big fella ship he
stop outside. Wind he no blow. Plenty fella
kanaka we get 'm canoe, plenty fella canoe,
we go catch 'm that fella ship. My word--we
catch 'm big fella fight. Two, three white men
shoot like hell. We no fright. We come alongside,
we go up side, plenty fella, maybe I think
fifty-ten (five hundred). One fella white Mary
(woman) belong that fella ship. Never before
I see 'm white Mary. Bime by plenty white man
finish. One fella skipper he no die. Five fella,
six fella white man no die. Skipper he sing out.
Some fella white man he fight. Some fella white
man he lower away boat. After that, all together
over the side they go. Skipper he sling white
Mary down. After that they washee (row) strong
fella plenty too much. Father belong me, that
time he strong fella. He throw 'm one fella
spear. That fella spear he go in one side that
white Mary. He no stop. My word, he go out
other side that fella Mary. She finish. Me no
fright. Plenty kanaka too much no fright."
Old Oti's pride had been touched, for he
suddenly stripped down his lava-lava and
showed me the unmistakable scar of a bullet.
Before I could speak, his line ran out suddenly.
He checked it and attempted to haul in, but
found that the fish had run around a coral
branch. Casting a look of reproach at me for
having beguiled him from his watchfulness, he
went over the side, feet first, turning over
after he got under and following his line down
to bottom. The water was ten fathoms. I leaned
over and watched the play of his feet, growing
dim and dimmer, as they stirred the wan
phosphorescence into ghostly fires. Ten
fathoms--sixty feet--it was nothing to him,
an old man, compared with the value of a hook
and line. After what seemed five minutes, though
it could not have been more than a minute, I
saw him flaming whitely upward. He broke surface
and dropped a ten pound rock cod into the canoe,
the line and hook intact, the latter still fast
in the fish's mouth.
"It may be," I said remorselessly. "You no
fright long ago. You plenty fright now along
that fella trader."
"Yes, plenty fright," he confessed, with an
air of dismissing the subject. For half an
hour we pulled up our lines and flung them
out in silence. Then small fish-sharks began
to bite, and after losing a hook apiece, we
hauled in and waited for the sharks to go
"I speak you true," Oti broke into speech,
"then you savve we fright now."
I lighted up my pipe and waited, and the
story that Oti told me in atrocious
beche-de-mer I here turn into proper English.
Otherwise, in spirit and order of narrative,
the tale is as it fell from Oti's lips.
"It was after that that we were very proud.
We had fought many times with the strange
white men who live upon the sea, and always
we had beaten them. A few of us were killed,
but what was that compared with the stores
of wealth of a thousand thousand kinds that
we found on the ships? And then one day, maybe
twenty years ago, or twenty-five, there came
a schooner right through the passage and into
the lagoon. It was a large schooner with
three masts. She had five white men and maybe
forty boat's crew, black fellows from New Guinea
and New Britain; and she had come to fish
beche-de-mer. She lay at anchor across the
lagoon from here, at Pauloo, and her boats
scattered out everywhere, making camps on
the beaches where they cured the beche-de-mer.
This made them weak by dividing them, for
those who fished here and those on the schooner
at Pauloo were fifty miles apart, and there
were others farther away still.
"Our king and headmen held council, and I
was one in the canoe that paddled all afternoon
and all night across the lagoon, bringing word
to the people of Pauloo that in the morning
we would attack the fishing camps at the one
time and that it was for them to take the
schooner. We who brought the word were tired
with the paddling, but we took part in the
attack. On the schooner were two white men,
the skipper and the second mate, with half a
dozen black boys. The skipper with three boys
we caught on shore and killed, but first eight
of us the skipper killed with his two revolvers.
We fought close together, you see, at hand
"The noise of our fighting told the mate what
was happening, and he put food and water and
a sail in the small dingy, which was so small
that it was no more than twelve feet long. We
came down upon the schooner, a thousand men,
covering the lagoon with our canoes. Also, we
were blowing conch-shells, singing war-songs,
and striking the sides of the canoes with our
paddles. What chance had one white man and
three black boys against us? No chance at all,
and the mate knew it.
"White men are hell. I have watched them much,
and I am an old man now, and I understand at
last why the white men have taken to themselves
all the islands in the sea. It is because they
are hell. Here are you in the canoe with me.
You are hardly more than a boy. You are not
wise, for each day I tell you many things you
do not know. When I was a little pickaninny,
I knew more about fish and the ways of fish
than you know now. I am an old man, but I
swim down to the bottom of the lagoon, and
you cannot follow me. What are you good for,
anyway? I do not know, except to fight. I
have never seen you fight, yet I know that
you are like your brothers and that you will
fight like hell. Also, you are a fool, like
your brothers. You do not know when you are
beaten. You will fight until you die, and then
it will be too late to know that you are beaten.
"Now behold what this mate did. As we came
down upon him, covering the sea and blowing
our conches, he put off from the schooner in
the small boat, along with the three black
boys, and rowed for the passage. There again
he was a fool, for no wise man would put out
to sea in so small a boat. The sides of it
were not four inches above the water. Twenty
canoes went after him, filled with two hundred
young men. We paddled five fathoms while his
black boys were rowing one fathom. He had no
chance, but he was a fool. He stood up in the
boat with a rifle, and he shot many times. He
was not a good shot, but as we drew close many
of us were wounded and killed. But still he
had no chance.
"I remember that all the time he was smoking a
cigar. When we were forty feet away and coming
fast, he dropped the rifle, lighted a stick of
dynamite with the cigar, and threw it at us. He
lighted another and another, and threw them at
us very rapidly, many of them. I know now that
he must have split the ends of the fuses and
stuck in match-heads, because they lighted so
quickly. Also, the fuses were very short.
Sometimes the dynamite sticks went off in the
air, but most of them went off in the canoes.
And each time they went off in a canoe, that
canoe was finished. Of the twenty canoes, the
half were smashed to pieces. The canoe I was
in was so smashed, and likewise the two men
who sat next to me. The dynamite fell between
them. The other canoes turned and ran away.
Then that mate yelled, Yah! Yah! Yah!' at us.
Also he went at us again with his rifle, so
that many were killed through the back as they
fled away. And all the time the black boys in
the boat went on rowing. You see, I told you
true, that mate was hell.
"Nor was that all. Before he left the schooner,
he set her on fire, and fixed up all the powder
and dynamite so that it would go off at one
time. There were hundreds of us on board, trying
to put out the fire, heaving up water from
overside, when the schooner blew up. So that
all we had fought for was lost to us, besides
many more of us being killed. Sometimes, even
now, in my old age, I have bad dreams in which
I hear that mate yell, Yah! Yah! Yah!' In a
voice of thunder he yells, Yah! Yah! Yah!' But
all those in the fishing camps were killed.
"The mate went out of the passage in his
little boat, and that was the end of him we
made sure, for how could so small a boat, with
four men in it, live on the ocean? A month went
by, and then, one morning, between two rain
squalls, a schooner sailed in through our
passage and dropped anchor before the village.
The king and the headmen made big talk, and
it was agreed that we would take the schooner
in two or three days. In the meantime, as it
was our custom always to appear friendly, we
went off to her in canoes, bringing strings
of cocoanuts, fowls, and pigs, to trade. But
when we were alongside, many canoes of us, the
men on board began to shoot us with rifles,
and as we paddled away I saw the mate who had
gone to sea in the little boat spring upon
the rail and dance and yell, Yah! Yah! Yah!'
"That afternoon they landed from the schooner
in three small boats filled with white men.
They went right through the village, shooting
every man they saw. Also they shot the fowls
and pigs. We who were not killed got away in
canoes and paddled out into the lagoon. Looking
back, we could see all the houses on fire.
Late in the afternoon we saw many canoes
coming from Nihi, which is the village near
the Nihi Passage in the northeast. They were
all that were left, and like us their village
had been burned by a second schooner that had
come through Nihi Passage.
"We stood on in the darkness to the westward
for Pauloo, but in the middle of the night we
heard women wailing and then we ran into a big
fleet of canoes. They were all that were left
of Pauloo, which likewise was in ashes, for a
third schooner had come in through the Pauloo
Passage. You see, that mate, with his black
boys, had not been drowned. He had made the
Solomon Islands, and there told his brothers
of what we had done in Oolong. And all his
brothers had said they would come and punish
us, and there they were in the three schooners,
and our three villages were wiped out.
"And what was there for us to do? In the morning
the two schooners from windward sailed down upon
us in the middle of the lagoon. The trade-wind
was blowing fresh, and by scores of canoes they
ran us down. And the rifles never ceased talking.
We scattered like flying-fish before the bonita,
and there were so many of us that we escaped
by thousands, this way and that, to the islands
on the rim of the atoll.
"And thereafter the schooners hunted us up and
down the lagoon. In the nighttime we slipped
past them. But the next day, or in two days or
three days, the schooners would be coming back,
hunting us toward the other end of the lagoon.
And so it went. We no longer counted nor
remembered our dead. True, we were many and
they were few. But what could we do? I was in
one of the twenty canoes filled with men who
were not afraid to die. We attacked the smallest
schooner. They shot us down in heaps. They threw
dynamite into the canoes, and when the dynamite
gave out, they threw hot water down upon us.
And the rifles never ceased talking. And those
whose canoes were smashed were shot as they
swam away. And the mate danced up and down
upon the cabin-top and yelled, "Yah! Yah! Yah!"
"Every house on every smallest island was burned.
Not a pig nor a fowl was left alive. Our wells
were defiled with the bodies of the slain, or
else heaped high with coral rock. We were
twenty-five thousand on Oolong before the three
schooners came. Today we are five thousand.
After the schooners left, we were but three
thousand, as you shall see.
"At last the three schooners grew tired of
chasing us back and forth. So they went, the
three of them, to Nihi, in the northeast. And
then they drove us steadily to the west. Their
nine boats were in the water as well. They beat
up every island as they moved along. They drove
us, drove us, drove us day by day. And every
night the three schooners and the nine boats
made a chain of watchfulness that stretched
across the lagoon from rim to rim, so that we
could not escape back.
"They could not drive us forever that way,
for the lagoon was only so large, and at last
all of us that yet lived were driven upon the
last sand-bank to the west. Beyond lay the open
sea. There were ten thousand of us, and we
covered the sand-bank from the lagoon edge to
the pounding surf on the other side. No one
could lie down. There was no room. We stood
hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder. Two days
they kept us there, and the mate would climb
up in the rigging to mock us and yell, 'Yah!
Yah! Yah!' till we were well sorry that we
had ever harmed him or his schooner a month
before. We had no food, and we stood on our
feet two days and nights. The little babies
died, and the old and weak died, and the wounded
died. And worst of all, we had no water to
quench our thirst, and for two days the sun
beat down on us, and there was no shade. Many
men and women waded out into the ocean and
were drowned, the surf casting their bodies
back on the beach. And there came a pest of
flies. Some men swam to the sides of the
schooners, but they were shot to the last one.
And we that lived were very sorry that in our
pride we tried to take the schooner with the
three masts that came to fish for beche-de-mer.
"On the morning of the third day came the
skippers of the three schooners and that mate
in a small boat. They carried rifles, all of
them, and revolvers, and they made talk. It
was only that they were weary of killing us
that they had stopped, they told us. And we
told them that we were sorry, that never again
would we harm a white man, and in token of
our submission we poured sand upon our heads.
And all the women and children set up a great
wailing for water, so that for some time no
man could make himself heard. Then we were
told our punishment. We must fill the three
schooners with copra and beche-de-mer. And we
agreed, for we wanted water, and our hearts
were broken, and we knew that we were children
at fighting when we fought with white men who
fight like hell. And when all the talk was
finished, the mate stood up and mocked us,
and yelled, 'Yah! Yah! Yah!' After that we
paddled away in our canoes and sought water.
"And for weeks we toiled at catching beche-de-mer
and curing it, in gathering the cocoanuts and
turning them into copra. By day and night the
smoke rose in clouds from all the beaches of
all the islands of Oolong as we paid the
penalty of our wrongdoing. For in those days
of death it was burned clearly on all our
brains that it was very wrong to harm a white
"By and by, the schooners full of copra and
beche-de-mer and our trees empty of cocoanuts,
the three skippers and that mate called us all
together for a big talk. And they said they
were very glad that we had learned our lesson,
and we said for the ten-thousandth time that
we were sorry and that we would not do it again.
Also, we poured sand upon our heads. Then the
skippers said that it was all very well, but
just to show us that they did not forget us,
they would send a devil-devil that we would
never forget and that we would always remember
any time we might feel like harming a white
man. After that the mate mocked us one more
time and yelled, 'Yah! Yah! Yah!' Then six of
our men, whom we thought long dead, were put
ashore from one of the schooners, and the
schooners hoisted their sails and ran out
through the passage for the Solomons.
"The six men who were put ashore were the
first to catch the devil-devil the skippers
sent back after us."
"A great sickness came," I interrupted, for
I recognized the trick. The schooner had had
measles on board, and the six prisoners had
been deliberately exposed to it.
"Yes, a great sickness," Oti went on. "It
was a powerful devil-devil. The oldest man
had never heard of the like. Those of our
priests that yet lived we killed because
they could not overcome the devil-devil.
The sickness spread. I have said that there
were ten thousand of us that stood hip to
hip and shoulder to shoulder on the sandbank.
When the sickness left us, there were three
thousand yet alive. Also, having made all
our cocoanuts into copra, there was a famine.
"That fella trader," Oti concluded, "he like
'm that much dirt. He like 'm clam he die
kai-kai (meat) he stop, stink 'm any amount.
He like 'm one fella dog, one sick fella
dog plenty fleas stop along him. We no
fright along that fella trader. We fright
because he white man. We savve plenty too
much no good kill white man. That one fella
sick dog trader he plenty brother stop along
him, white men like 'm you fight like hell.
We no fright that damn trader. Some time he
made kanaka plenty cross along him and kanaka
want 'm kill 'm, kanaka he think devil-devil
and kanaka he hear that fella mate sing out,
'Yah! Yah! Yah!' and kanaka no kill 'm."
Oti baited his hook with a piece of squid,
which he tore with his teeth from the live
and squirming monster, and hook and bait sank
in white flames to the bottom.
"Shark walk about he finish," he said. "I
think we catch 'm plenty fella fish."
His line jerked savagely. He pulled it in
rapidly, hand under hand, and landed a big
gasping rock cod in the bottom of the canoe.
"Sun he come up, I make 'm that dam fella
trader one present big fella fish," said Oti.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~