Business as Usual


ONE by one remote islands were left astern, trackless stretches of ocean crossed, storms weathered, and long glassy calms wallowed through. The monotonous sea days wore slowly away, and still the schooner moved farther and farther into a lonely sea, visiting islands even more remote from the populous haunts of men. I realized at last that the end of my journey was at hand.

Since childhood I have always liked to reach the end of things, finding a curious fascination in walking to the farthest point of a promontory, in climbing to the top of a mountain, or exploring the headwaters of a river, but I confess that I have never yet found the elusive apple of gold I have always hoped to find at the end of each journey. Nevertheless I have wandered on, not over the well-traveled sea tracks dear to the hearts of tourists, but to strange and lonely places dear to my own heart, hidden in the farthermost seas. Such a place, I knew, was the atoll Puka-Puka (or Danger Island, as it is commonly called), and I looked forward eagerly to my arrival there.

I had left Rarotonga as a representative of the Line Islands Trading Company, with a commission to take stock in Table Winning’s store on Penrhyn Island, to transact a pearl deal on Manihiki, and to go on to PukaPuka, where I was to open and manage a store of my own.

Three months had passed since we left Rarotonga, months of light winds and lingering calms, when for days together we lay motionless, lazily rocked on the backs of the long Pacific rollers. A fresh breeze would make up at times, only to die quickly away, as though the spirit presiding in that empty sea were reluctant to carry us to our last and loneliest port of call.

But at last we came to where the clouds of white terns announced the proximity of land. At sunset the captain led me to the cabin top, where he pointed out a tenuous black line breaking for a brief space the smooth circle of the horizon. Clouds hung over it, and from the farther side a golden sunset light streamed down, throwing the tiny crumb of land into intensely black relief. The schooner lumbered down the slope of a swell and the island vanished.

‘There’s your Puka-Puka,’ said Captain Viggo, ‘and my last port of call, thank God!’

A sharp puff of wind rattled the stops against the mainsail, and from the cabin below I heard the drawling notes of the supercargo’s accordion.

When I came on deck the following morning the schooner was resting easily in the lee of Puka-Puka. A fresh trade wind ruffled the surface of the lagoon, for now that we were at our journey’s end the long calm too was at an end, and the breeze seemed to be urging us to leave this lonely place, to return to the world we had come from.

To the south was a reef with a haze of sunlight-filtered mist hanging over the foaming breakers. A shorter tongue of reef lay to the north, and the lagoon was to the east, its clear water mottled by splotches of vivid coloring. I saw three islets, one at each corner of a triangular reef which completely encircled the lagoon.

Near by some men were fishing from canoes. Now and then they would glance indifferently at us, in strange contrast to the natives of some of the islands who, the moment the schooner was sighted, would paddle eagerly out to meet her, and clamber aboard, shouting and gesticulating, eager to buy things — to steal them, too —■ and to get the news from other islands.

‘Now there’s Puka-Puka for you,’ said Captain Viggo, pointing toward the canoes. There was a slight note of resentment in his tone. ‘The arrival of my schooner does n’t mean as much to these people as their Wednesday night himené. Look at the islet there, the horseshoe-shaped one where the settlements are: half a dozen children on the beach and no one else. Very likely their fathers and mothers don’t even know that we’ve come. The island is as dead asleep as it was before the three-fingered god, Maui, fished it out of the sea. Everything is asleep here; I ’ve never made this island except in a calm, and the wind singing through the palms seems to make you drowsier at Puka-Puka than it does at other islands. The people see no reason for getting up in the morning, and most of ’em don’t: they sleep all day, but at night they wake up and you’ll see them fishing by torchlight off the reef, eating, dancing, love-making on shore. Trading skippers — the few that know Puka-Puka — hate the island because they can’t get people to work loading their ships; but I’ve always liked the place. After all, why should they work, for me or anyone else? There’s not a single article in my trade room that they really need. When they sell me copra and buy my goods they are no more than accommodating me. They know it, too — that’s the worst of it!’

He laid his hand on my shoulder and, calling me by my island name, went on: ‘Ropati, you’ve seemed out of spirits most of this trip north. Now tell me, honestly, do you really want to stop at this out-of-the-way place? You won’t see another white man until I come back again, six or eight months from now. You can’t speak the language, and the natives will treat you about as friendly as those fishermen are treating us. You’ll be very lonesome, and you know white men often go insane under such conditions as you ’ll find here. I ’ll leave you if you ’re sure you want to stay; but if you’ve changed your mind, speak out now. I’ll take you back with me and there’ll be no harm done.’

That’s the way it was with Viggo: always fatherly, kind-hearted, and considerate of others even to the prejudice of his own interests. I glanced at the nearest islet dozing in the morning sunlight, with only two or three languid columns of smoke rising above the trees to tell of the life ashore. I thought of my long search in the Pacific for an island where I could be a law to myself and beyond the reach of even the faintest echo of the noisy clamor of civilization. I thought of my little library of five or six hundred books boxed up in the hold, and of my halfdozen kegs of fine old liquor from Tahiti. Then I visualized myself in a cool wattled hut, my brow fanned by the trade wind, and a charming PukaPukan ready to fill my pipe and call me to meals. Contentment’s motherly hand already seemed to rest on me soothingly. Here no officious relatives or friends would cry: ‘Young man, you are wasting your life! Here you are, nearing thirty, with nothing accomplished, with no plans for the future, with no bank account! You must reform ! It is your duty to keep the wheels of industry moving! Be efficient! Abstain from alcohol and tobacco! Join the church! Study Pelmanism!’

I squeezed Viggo’s arm. ‘No; I want to stay,’ I said. ‘Can I take my things ashore now? I ’ll come out in the morning to say good-bye.’


The next morning I returned to the schooner. Viggo assumed a cheery offhand manner, but I could see that he was worried, doubtful as to the advisability of leaving me here alone. Had I wished it, I am sure that he would gladly have gone to the trouble of bringing all my goods back to the ship.

But there were no misgivings in my mind as I paddled back across the reef; then I sat on the gunwales, the canoe aground in shallow water, and watched the schooner getting under way. Rounding the northern point, she swung her beam to me, and I could see Viggo by the break of the poop, waving his cap; then the schooner slipped behind the coconut palms of the leeward point. For a time the tops of her sails were visible, then only her topmasts, until, of a sudden, she was lost wholly to view. I was now irrevocably isolated from the world, but with a light heart I called to Benny (Peni), my newly acquired store boy. He jumped from the canoe and pulled it over the shallows to the bay.

In the course of time the store was ready. One room was equipped with rough shelves and one reserved for a storeroom. Upstairs I had my bedroom and a living room furnished with a table, a lamp, and an easy-chair. I stacked my books in some empty cases, hung an oil painting, by Viggo, of the brig Sea Foam over the door, and tacked a calendar by the table. These sufficed for decorative purposes.

The rest of the establishment consisted of a little cookhouse, where an old native named William (Uiliamu) and his wife, Mama (Metua), presided in leisurely fashion, to the envy of the other natives. They prepared all my food much to my taste, for there is an abundance of sea food here to satisfy my ichthyophagian appetite. Then I could buy fat fryers at a shilling each — as I still can — and eggs at sixpence per dozen; so, after teaching Mama that a chicken should be decapitated before frying, — a waste she greatly lamented, — and that when I said the coffee was too weak it did not mean that she was to make it as thick as porridge the next morning, I got along very nicely.

When William was not fishing, chopping wood, or sleeping, he would sit in the cookhouse and order Mama about with thundering curses that he had learned years ago aboard a whaler, whose tyrannical old skipper had made the ribs of his vessel tremble with his bellowing voice. But dear old Mama was accustomed to this and did not pay the slightest attention.

I opened the store early one Monday morning. Benny and I assumed the proper attitudes behind the counter with all our little trinkets arranged behind us in glittering rows of gilt and paint — and not a soul came to buy. Several hours passed, but toward noon a child peeped around the edge of the door, holding a coconut out at arm’s length. We were all attention, but unluckily, just as our first customer was about to make his purchase, his courage failed him, and he rushed whooping away. Whereupon Benny and I closed the station.

No sooner were the doors closed than some of the villagers woke up; and while Benny and I were eating our taro tops and roast chicken, with Mama waving her arms wildly over our heads in a vain effort to keep the flies away, a little crowd of natives gathered about the store. Then they surrounded the cookhouse to see the foolish white man eating with knife and fork. This sight always interested them.

‘Ah!’ said Benny, his mouth full of taro, ‘if we had only waited a few minutes longer we should have sold something.’ Benny’s favorite word was ‘if’ (naringa), as it is with all PukaPukans. Every day one hears such phrases as: ‘If I had gone fishing I should have had something to eat’; ‘If I had not been under the coconut tree the nut would not have fallen on me’; ‘If I had put a new roof on my house.’ If I had done this, that, and the other.

But Benny was not so bad in this respect as the other islanders. He had been to Rarotonga, where he had not only learned the language, but had also acquired industrious habits. I gave him a little lecture on the futility of the word ‘if,’ but I doubt whether he heard me, for he was crunching chicken bones with an appalling racket.

When we reopened the store the little space between the counter and the door was jammed with people. An old man whom I shall call Ezekiel, because his name sounds something like that, was the first customer. Elbowing his way through the crowd, he laid a pound note on the counter and, in a halting voice, asked for a tin of talcum powder. He gazed timidly at the surrounding crowd, smiling when he saw a dozen heads bobbing in approbation. As I reached for the talc there was a buzz of voices from the open doorway at the back, from the two windows, and from the crowd in front. I caught two words in the chatter: ‘Paura’ (powder), and ‘Ezekiel.’ This was the old dog’s day, and he was enormously puffed up with the stir he was making.

I wrapped the tin in a piece of ancient newspaper and handed it to the old man. When I turned to count out his change he moved to the door, where he became the centre of an envious group who examined the paper, while a young girl took the tin and shook the powder into her hair with screams of delight. Then everyone’s attention was turned to the girl; they smelled her hair, commenting in guttural tones on the fragrance of the powder, while they wrinkled up their noses and rolled out their lips like braying donkeys. At last Ezekiel retrieved his half-emptied tin and turned to leave the store. I had Benny call him back and put the change — seventeen and sixpence — in his hand.

He gazed in stupid amazement at the money, at me, at Benny, and back again at the money. Gradually a light came into his watery eyes — he understood that somehow or other it did not require all his pound to pay for a tin of talc.

His next purchase was a fiery red strip of split pongee, and the same dumbfounded expression came into his eyes when I took only a part of his money. Then he bought a box of matches. He decided to play the game with the remarkable white man, to get as much as possible for his money, for it was very evident that Captain Viggo’s first trader on Puka-Puka did not understand his business. Next he bought some tobacco, fishhooks, and a tin whistle. At last there was only sixpence left. He gazed long and wistfully at the various flashy trade goods, finally setting his choice on a red and yellow striped shirt worth, or rather priced, ten shillings. I tried to explain that there was not enough money left to pay for it, but he could not understand and went from the store convinced, I think, that I was cheating him.

My next customer was Ears (Taringa), the policeman of the Leeward Village, Yato. A very garrulous person, he approached the counter in a fog of verbiage. A thin, shark-toothed woman, his wife, followed in his wake, casting sharp malicious glances at all the other possible customers. She looked enviously at Ezekiel, who was still standing in the doorway gazing at his lone sixpence; then she nudged her husband and demanded that he buy two tins of talcum powder, for it would be a shame to let the Ezekiel faction outdo her in powder.

Ears pretended to know how to count money. ‘How much for one?’ he cried above the din of voices, rolling his eyes knowingly.

‘Two and sixpence.’

He laid down one and threepence with an air of great intelligence and then gazed abstractedly at the ceiling.

His face lengthened when I called for more, but in a moment he broke into a bellow of laughter. ‘A wise man, this white man,’ he said to the others. ‘I thought he might be poor at counting money, like Ezekiel, but now I see that he knows arithmetic as well as I do.’

Then he scratched his head, glanced questioningly at his wife, and tucked his pareu more tightly about his waist. Finally he shoved a pound across the counter, and again gazed at the ceiling. I took the correct amount and shoved the rest back.

He stared at the money with a perplexed frown; then he nodded his head in a self-important manner, and said: ‘I see that he is honest, this white man! I was testing him, I being the policeman of Leeward Village. I wanted to sec if he would steal my money, but he’s all right. He has given me the correct change to the last farthing!’ Then with a grandiose display of erudition he fingered the coins in a mock attempt at counting, whereupon he walked out of the store very well pleased with himself. He came back later, when the others had gone, to complete his purchases.

At that time, of course, I knew little of the Puka-Pukan language; it was Benny who explained later what the talk was about. I realized that my honesty would be sorely tried, for I could charge a penny or a pound and, with the exception of a half dozen of the ultralearned, no one would be the wiser. I resolved on that first day never to cheat these simple-minded folk. It is impossible fora Puka-Pukan to acquire a sense of values similar to a European’s. Native cloth is easier to make than fishhooks; one of the latter, in fact, requires days of toil, so a PukaPukan will look upon fishhooks as the more valuable of the two. In the old days sailing traders took advantage of this, asking fabulous sums for a nail, or an empty beef barrel; but today all the islanders, with the exception of the Puka-Pukans and a few others, are quite able to trade with the white race and beat them in the end.

It was Benny who told me about Ura’s One-Pound Trading Company, a story which fully explained Ezekiel’s surprise at receiving change from his pound note.

A few years before my arrival, a gullible Papeete trading company, disastrously managed by the islandfamous (and Jack-London-famous) Paumotuan, Mapui, established a trading station on Puka-Puka, with Ura, chief of police and sometimes deacon of the church, as trader. Although Ura was crafty, he was little better at arithmetic than his satellite, Ears, the policeman of Leeward Village. Therefore, in order to ascertain that no money was lost, Ura charged a pound sterling for each article in his store, no matter whether it was a pair of trousers or a sixpenny bottle of scent. Tobacco, matches, and fishhooks were exceptions; these he traded for coconuts, as Mapui had directed.

Ura weighed in copra at a pound for five bags, always going through the process of weighing for the appearance of the thing, but always paying the same price. He bought no smaller lots, claiming that his scales would not weigh less than five bags. They were steelyard scales, and, when not in service, Ura used the counterpoise iron weight for a canoe anchor. Eventually he lost the weight, but he blandly twisted a piece of wire around a lump of coral and used that quite as successfully, for five bags of copra still came to exactly one pound sterling.

Thus Mapui’s store prospered until one day when a hurricane struck the island. The crafty chief of police managed to save the bags of store money before the seas sweeping over the island sent him up a coconut palm. The store was completely destroyed, and when Mapui returned Ura met him with a long face, deploring the act of God that had swept away the store and all the bags of money as well. But it is an open secret on the island that when other ships came Ura spent handfuls of Chili dollars, for years wearing nothing but red silk shirts and buying bully beef by the case.


A few days after opening the store I broke open a case of lemon drops, marked ‘lollies’ after the New Zealand fashion. Benny and I ate a few and made it known that they were very good and cost only one coconut each. But the candy business was a failure until old William came to the rescue, bringing a couple of coconuts he had filched from my cookhouse. When he had made his purchase and was crunching the lemon drops, I explained that although it was quite correct for men to eat this confection it was suited to the tastes of children. Despite this suggestion the old men and women started bringing me their nuts, and by noon that day every adult on the island was sucking lollies. I realized a good 500 per cent profit, which trading companies consider a modest return from their commodities; but, so far as I know, none of the children benefited in the candy trade.

The money Viggo had paid for the island’s copra was soon exhausted; then the coconut trade started in earnest. I made a price list for Benny which still hangs in the store. The list reads as follows : —

1 stick tobacco 8 coconuts

1 ship’s biscuit 2 coconuts or 2 eggs

1 box matches 2 coconuts or 2 eggs

1 large fishhook 2 coconuts or 2 eggs

1 small fishhook 1 coconut or 1 egg

1 lolly 1 coconut or 1 egg

1 clay marble 1 coconut or 1 egg

From then on Benny looked aft er the sales most of the time. He was little more of a mathematician than Ears, but he could count coconuts and read my list. If a man called for a stick of tobacco and a box of matches, Benny would be at a loss to estimate their combined price in coconuts, so I made it a rule that he should sell but one thing at a time. Thus he would count the eight coconuts and deliver the stick of tobacco, afterward counting the remaining two for the box of matches. When anyone came into the store with money he always called me, lest the business should degenerate into the Ura One-Pound Trading Company class.

Sometimes, of course, innocent deceptions can be practised which have nothing in common with cheating. The natives having returned on one occasion from one of their periodical copra-making expeditions to the neighboring islets, I found myself for several days with enough to do. About twenty tons of copra had been dried, most of which belonged collectively to the villages, for there is no private ownership of land on PukaPuka. Each man is given his share of nuts to prepare, and receives his portion of money or trade goods derived from the sale of the copra. But after the villages have made their collective lots, the remaining coconuts are divided. Some are used for food, and the remainder split and the meat dried into individual batches of copra.

I had two village batches — from four to six tons each — to weigh, as well as several hundred individual bags, and paid for it at the rate of one penny (British) per pound. The nuts are remarkably uniform in weight, two of them being required to make a pound of copra, so that the natives receive an average of a halfpenny per nut.

There was some wrangling about the price, for even on Puka-Puka the inhabitants wake up sufficiently now and then to wonder whether they cannot get more for their copra and pay less for trade goods. On this occasion Windward Village held back its copra for two months, losing about 10 per cent through further shrinkage in weight. They expected me to raise the price, some of the more sanguine dreaming about five and six pence a pound.

I explained to them again and again that I could pay only a penny a pound, the current price all through the islands at the time of Viggo’s last visit. ‘Yes,’ they replied, ‘but maybe the price has risen since Viggo was here.’ ‘And maybe it’s gone down,’ I said. However, they would not listen, and still refused to sell their copra.

I became rather annoyed at this foolishness, and after thinking matters over I decided to have some sport with the Windward Villagers. All the natives had heard of wireless telegraphy from the missionaries, or from some native who had been as far as Rarotonga, where he had gaped at the aerial while some ‘civilized’ Rarotongan had related weird stories of the tua-tua reva (air talk). To a PukaPukan, of course, such a thing is sheer magic.

Knowing this, I had Benny stretch some wires from the roof of my store to that of the schoolhouse. Then I rigged up a mass of meaningless wires, flashlight batteries, boxes and tins painted red, green, and yellow, bolts and gadgets of all sorts. Then I fastened a string from a clicker on the table to a pedal beneath it so that I could make the clicker ‘speak’ by working my foot up and down. My phonograph supplied motive power to turn various clockworks and what-nots.

When all was ready I let it be known that I had constructed a wireless so as to pass my evenings in conversation with my friends in Tahiti and the Cook Islands, and with my great personal friend, William-Cowboy (William S. Hart), the famous movie star in the United States. I further explained that I should publish a daily bulletin of news from Rarotonga and other parts of the world.

My neighbors were so astonished and excited that no one slept that day. The store was crowded, and two or three natives who had been to Rarotonga took advantage of the opportunity to shine, explaining to the others what a wireless was, and minutely describing the mechanism. They declared that my wireless was exactly like the one in the great station at Rarotonga.

I started the thing going. It ticked merrily, and Benny, standing behind the gear, intermittently pressed a flash-light button behind some red tissue paper to give the appearance of high-voltage current. As the wireless ‘talked’ I wrote the messages on slips of paper.

One message caused me to pull a very long face. It was a message from London, which I wrote out in native, of course, and posted on the door. The translation is as follows: —

LONDON, ENGLAND, April 26, 19—. The price of copra has fallen to a halfpenny per pound. The warehouses are full of copra and there are no purchasers. Warning has been sent to the traders of Cook Islands to buy no more copra this year.

The next day Windward Village came to me in a body to weigh in their copra. I declined, saying that of course I could not possibly buy it in view of the news received from London. The village fathers met that night and there was a long and violent discussion. Those who had been against the idea of holding out for higher prices now had their innings, and the opinions they expressed of the more grasping members of the settlement were as vigorous as they were picturesque and uncomplimentary. I kept all the fathers on pins and needles for a week, when a message came through to the effect that, while the copra market was still unsteady, prices had again risen to a penny per pound. That same afternoon I purchased Windward Village’s copra, and the following day I dismantled the wireless station, owing to the fact that the batteries had given out.

I soon learned the peculiarities of the Puka-Pukan trade. Success depended principally on stocking the store with articles of no earthly use to the islanders, and avoiding everything that might have some intrinsic value. How like children my customers were! Why should they spend their money on umbrellas, or trousers, or toothbrushes when they could buy toy balloons, popguns, and firecrackers!

‘I need a new mouth organ,’ said Bones, the superannuated ‘lady-killer’ who has the honor of being the father of Letter and Table-Salt. His head is bald except for a wiry fringe around the base of his skull; his nose, like old William’s, is very large, and rheum is perpetually oozing from his faded watery eyes. His clothes were in tatters, and he was carrying a young pig, nursing it in his arms as though it were a baby.

‘Here you are, Bones,’ I said, ‘a fine Japanese mouth organ, well made, keyed true, and noisy: two and sixpence.’

Depositing his pig on the counter, he took the instrument, put it to his big sensual mouth, and breathed into it the most objectionable grunts and groans that could possibly be imagined. There was no tune to it, only amorous gruntings like those of some old satyr who had furnished music for Circe’s revels. In fact, if there is, in these modern days, a living image of one of those evil earthly spirits who prowled through the forest glades in t he world’s youth, then, surely, it is old Bones of Puka-Puka.

Once a customer entered the store with the demand, ‘I want a pair of shoes.’

Abel (Abera), a village buck of Windward Settlement, was the prospective purchaser.

I produced some footgear that shone beautifully with a coat of shellac. ‘Here you are, Abel,’ I said. ‘These are the kind of shoes that all the young men of Rarotonga and Tahiti wear. And William-Cowboy will have no other kind. They are the very finest shoes that can be bought anywhere.’

For some time Abel stared vacantly at them; then he asked, ‘Do they squeak?’

‘Squeak!’ I exclaimed, forgetting myself for the moment. ‘Of course they don’t squeak!’

‘Then I don’t want them,’ he said, shaking his head decisively. ‘What is the good of shoes that don’t squeak? I want noisy shoes so that people will hear them and admire them when I go to church.’

I perceived my error at once, and brought out another pair, exactly like the first, for I carry only one line of shoes.

‘I see, Abel, that you are a sensible customer, and you have a mind of your own: you know exactly what you want. I can’t shuffle off any second-rate, silent shoes on you. Now then, if you want a pair of the finest squeaking shoes, that can be heard a hundred yards off, here are the very ones! ’

Abel made his purchase and left, and the next Sunday I saw him walking to church in the midst of the clown parade, dressed in his necktie, his derby hat, and his fine new shoes, which squeaked as loudly as all the rats on Puka-Puka squeaking together. His face beamed when he noted the impression he was making on the young ladies, particularly on Everything’s fair and rotund daughters, who were intimate friends of his.

At another time the interest in trading had flagged so seriously that there was danger of having to close the station. I revived interest by opening a large tin of red roofing paint and selling it at two coconuts a daub. Thus some old grandfather would bring ten nuts, for which he could stick his finger into the pot five times and make as many daubs on his two cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. Such are the blessings of civilization brought to benighted savages by South Sea Island traders.


Three white men have tried to live on Puka-Puka before me. The first was a Frenchman employed by a Samoan firm. In three months he killed himself in a fit of morbid nostalgia. Next to his grave, in the little cemetery before the coral-lime church, is the grave of a missionary. He also lasted just three months, and I am told that he was quite neneva, or mad, when he died. The third grave in the foreign corner of the churchyard is that of Daniel, a Tahitian half-caste. He lasted six months. On his deathbed he swallowed a large diamond and a halfdozen pearls to make certain that they would be buried with him.

I am the fourth foreigner to have stopped here, and I have been the only white resident on the island for five years now. A few months after landing, the native parson took me into the cemetery and pointed out three neat graves, with white coral gravel banked over them. Legendless coral slabs enclosed them.

Karé, the parson, glanced at me with cold fishy eyes and coughed behind his hand as the Rarotonga missionary had taught him to do.

‘Ah, Ropati,’ he said with a deploring little shake of his head, ‘they die very quickly indeed, just like that ’ — and he brought his tongue down from the roof of his mouth with three clucking sounds. ‘You must be careful, Ropati, very, very careful. I advise you to learn the tabus and obey them; and whenever you are sick send quickly for Jeffrey (Tiavare), the witch doctor. Also, I advise you, as a friend, never to go fishing after you have beaten your wife, and to avoid stealing coconuts during the full of the moon.’

He moved a few paces farther and stared at an empty space beyond the Frenchman’s grave. ‘Hm,’ he muttered, compressing his lips. Unconsciously his fishy eyes turned toward me and then back to the empty space. I knew what was going on in his mind, and mentioned that it was time for me to open the store.

While walking out of the graveyard he gave me a final piece of advice. ‘Also, Ropati, you must read the Bible, go to church, and cook no food on Sunday. Every little thing helps.’