Tusitala Typewriter

Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson had stop travelling, he had been dying for too long.

The black lady had found him even on that remote Samoan Island – but had he ever lost her?

She had been walking by his side ever since he was a child, she was mother and sister to him and often spoke to him, but only at the beginning of a dream.

He had the deck-chair brought out on the veranda. Fanny tucked him up and brought him a glass od Bordeaux.

  • How many bottles are there left?
  • Many. – she lied
  • I hope there are enough

The sunset was short and intense, they did not want to miss a moment. They sat in silence hand in hand. He remembered the Scottish sunrise and sunset from the Monach lighthouse on Shilley Island. Robert’s father had hoped he would carry on the family tradition. Robert had the same name as his grandfather, the famous builder of lighthouses around the Scottish coast. His father, Thomas Stevenson, took him on tours of inspection. The sea was never too rough for him to enter his lighthouses. In the evening he enjoyed a glass of whiskey which he drank while walking outside the lighthouse.

  • Aren’t you afraid you might get splashed by sea water?
  • Never happened – and he would give him a sip to prove his point; Robert was 15 and wrote poetry, it was high time he learnt to appreciate whiskey.

“… and finally when sunrise ends the night and embraces the semicircle of the sea the lofty lighthouse seems even more ghostly and pale in the light… night has ended like a dream… the rotating light flashes and shines dimly against the sky from the tall white tower, with its yellow light shining through faded glass”.

Nobody had asked him for a long time to tell stories to the Vailima village. Those Scottish tales that the Samoans loved so much. He had been given his name for those stories: Tusitala the story-teller.

His new audience could not read nor had any literary instruction, but they could listen carefully and he could feel like an author again.

He let them do what they wanted, but he did not believe in cures anymore, neither native nor Scottish. The cook Thahiri prepared fish in coconut and give him the best bits, but he ate very little. He hadn’t touched the magic typewriter for a long time, the one that told him the stories.



One day Thahiri bravely asked him:

  • Why?
  • The typewriter has lost its spirit, and I do not know were to find the stories. The Gods are silent.

Thahiri covered her face with her hands: she had understood. She knew what happens when the Gods are silent for too long. She spoke about this to the elders and they decided to ask the chief.

Someone had an idea: maybe he can hear the voices of our Gods and tell us other stories. But the magic typewriter was still a problem, they could not steal it, it was sacred.

And it was sacred for Stevenson, an incredible heavy Hammond, it was crazy to carry it around the world, it was for sedentary authors. He was proud of it. He had been one of the first to have one, while his colleagues did not trust that machine. He loved hitting the keys hard, it was something from the future and he loved the future, he couldn’t care less about the past. 

They asked Thahiri’s son; Ainu had often taken Stevenson fishing and he loved him: he was brilliant with wood, if you gave him a knife he would carve a dolphin, a star, a girl’s face.

It took him many days and he worked in secret. He waited until the priest had held the ceremony in a night with a full moon, tying a strong spirit with a spell.

The priest and the chief were happy.

They took it to him in the evening with drums and torches:

  • This knows the stories of our people and you can tell them to us.

Stevenson looked at the small monument of wood, buttons and grasses with surprise.

It looked like a dream of a typewriter. He stood up with difficulty to thank them with dignity.

He put his hands over it, careful not to break any of the delicate sticks.

He heard clearly the sound of the battle bagpipes, he saw his clan approaching on the moor. He saw the big Monach lighthouse at the top of Mount Vaea. He pointed with his hand.

  • I will tell other stories, but promise to take me there, on the top of Mount Vaea, when the Gods call me to teach me more.

Thahiri was crying softly, Fanny was crushing her handkerchief. The chief agreed.

Eight days later on December 3rd 1894, forty chieftains from all over the islands carried Tusitala, the storyteller, to the top of Mount Vaea and placed his magical typewriter on the ground, the Samoans last gift to their great friend.

Teresa is Ainu, the creator of the “typewriter that knows the stories”.

Andrea Bocconi, writer