|Queen Marau in her later years|
Ariitaimai never recovered from Pri’s death and followed her to the grave in 1897. With the matriarch gone, the family promptly fell apart. The brothers and sisters – once so close and loyal to each other – became embroiled in a bitter quarrel over their mother’s lands and possessions.
Tati, the new chief, explained the situation in a letter to Henry Adams. “Shortly before her death, Mother wanted to share out all her assets amongst the children and personally decide what each share should include. The plots in town [Papeete] were distributed with no problems... Then came the district lands. When all the shares were allotted and the documents ready for signature, Marau contested the division so strongly, objecting that my share was more valuable than her own, that the affair was brought to a halt and no conclusion has been reached.”
The dispute dragged on, becoming nastier over time. Marau was able to hold out because she had her pension from the French government to live on. But the other siblings, especially Tati and Narii, suffered because the land and property involved in the dispute was frozen by the court until a settlement could be reached. As Tati explained to Adams in despair, “Our quarrels prevent us from doing much because until each heir receives his allotted share, there is no point in undertaking any improvements... Huge sums of money have been spent needlessly [on lawyers]... A while ago the land was very valuable and, if there had been no court case, we could have sold a part of it for a big profit, but no one would buy now.”
In August 1904, seven years after the dispute began, there was a week-long celebration marking the inauguration of a new Teva family mausoleum at Papara. Tati extended an olive branch to Marau by asking her to attend the ceremony. In the mood of goodwill engendered by the occasion, Marau finally agreed to drop her lawsuit against her siblings. However, she did not offer to contribute any money towards the celebrations, and the rift between the ex-Queen and the rest of her family was never completely healed. And by this time the lawyers had feasted on the carcass of the family’s fortunes.
Meanwhile, the Branders had been engaged in similar legal battles for many years. After the death of John Brander in 1877, Titaua married George Darsie, another Scot, who proceeded to mismanage the House of Brander and drive it into the ground. In 14 years, he reduced his wife’s personal inheritance from her first husband from $500,000 to no more than $150,000. The older Brander children sued their mother and her husband several times but were unable to prevent the hemorrhage of money from the family firm. By 1891, Darsie cut his losses. He sold the few remaining assets of his business and moved with Titaua, their three children and the two youngest Brander girls to his home town of Anstruther on the east coast of Scotland. Titaua died there six years later at the age of 58, thousands of miles from Tahiti.
The five Brander boys, left behind in Tahiti, had not been raised to have to work for a living. As Henry Adams reported, “The boys, who were educated on the scale of a million apiece, were reduced to practically nothing, or just enough for a modest bachelor’s establishment in Papeete.” In just one generation, the ambition of John Brander, a self-made man, to turn his sons into landed gentlemen had come to nothing.
Thus, in the space of less than a century, the Salmon/Brander family had its rise and then its fall. Narii and his son went down with their schooner in a terrible cyclone in 1906. Paea died in 1914 followed by Tati and Manihinihi in the Spanish flu epidemic in December 1918. Only two of the eight Salmon siblings survived after the war and the flu - Queen Marau and Moetia Atwater. Their long alienation from each other was finally over as their shared memories became more important than the quarrels that had driven them apart. They lived on into venerable old age, dying within months of each other in 1935.
Marau was the only Salmon to retain any social and political influence into her old age. Visitors to the island paid court to her and, while she was always welcoming, she seemed to grow more regal with age. In 1924, the French government awarded her the Legion of Honor “for services rendered to the French cause,” the award which had been promised but never delivered to her parents 77 years earlier.
Not long before she died, she wrote a book detailing all of the pre-Christian legends, traditions and historical stories of Tahiti that she had been able to glean throughout her lifetime, and this manuscript was published posthumously in 1971. To this day, Queen Marau is considered a legendary figure in Tahitian history for her assiduous work in preserving its culture.