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. 'Please, will you all listen! Mauruuru roa. Thank you very much. The high priest and priestess will now pray the Gods to make the fire safe for the villagers. I ask you to remember that this is a religious ceremony, very ancient; please behave as you would in your own church. Because -'
An extremely old kanaka interrupted; he and the translator exchanged words in a language not known to me Polynesian, I assumed; it had the right liquid flow to it. The younger kanaka turned back to us.
'The high priest tells me that some of the children are making their first walk through fire today, including that baby over there in her mother's arms. He asks all of you to keep perfectly silent during the prayers, to insure the safety of the children. Let me add that I am a Catholic. At this point I always ask our Holy Mother Mary to watch over our children - and I ask all of you to pray for them in your own way. Or at least keep silent and think good thoughts for them. If the high priest is not satisfied that there is a reverent attitude, he won't let the children enter the fire - I've even known him to cancel the entire ceremony.
'There you have it, Gerald,' said the Authority-on-Everything in a third-balcony whisper. 'The build-up. Now the switch, and they'll blame it on us.' He snorted.
The Authority - his name was Cheevers - had been annoying me ever since I had joined the ship. I leaned forward and said quietly into his ear, 'If those children walk through the fire, do you have the guts to do likewise?'
Let this be a lesson to you