Customs of the islanders—Infanticide—Numbers destroyed—Universality of the crime—Mode of its perpetration—Reasons assigned for its continuance—Disproportion it occasioned between the sexes—Former treatment of children—Ceremonies performed at the temple on the birth of chiefs—Manner of carrying their children—Evils of neglecting parental discipline—Practice of tatauing—Tradition of its origin—Account of the dye instruments and process of tatauing—Variety of figures or patterns—The operation painful, and frequently fatal—Marriage contracts—Betrothment—Ancient usages—Ceremonies in the temple—Conduct of the relatives—Prevalence of polygamy.
Next to the occupations and amusements of the islanders, such of their customs and observances as were peculïar or striking require to be briefly noticed. Many of their usages were singular, some remarkably interesting, and others horribly cruel. Among the latter kind, the murder of their children, violating the closest and tenderest sympathies of human nature, and seizing its victims with their first consciousness of existence, stands prominently forward.
Infanticide, the most revolting and unnatural crime that prevails, even amongst the habitations of cruelty which fill the dark places of the earth, was intimately connected with the execrable Areoi institution. This affecting species of murder was page 249 not peculiar to the inhabitants of the Pacific. It has prevailed in different parts of the world, in ancient and modern times, among civilized as well as barbarous nations: but, until the introduction of Christianity, it was probably practised to a greater extent, and with more heartless barbarity, by the South Sea Islanders, than by any other people with whose history we are acquainted. Although we have been unable accurately to ascertain the date of its introduction to Tahiti and the adjacent isles, the traditions of the people warrant the inference, that it is of no very recent origin. I am, however, inclined to think it was practised less extensively in former times than during the fifty years immediately preceding the subversion of their ancient system of idolatry. There is every reason to suppose that, had the inhabitants murdered their infants during the early periods of their history, in any great degree, much less to the extent to which they have carried this crime in subsequent years, the population would never have become so numerous, as it evidently was, not many generations prior to their discovery.
It is difficult to learn to what extent infanticide was practised at the time Wallis discovered Tahiti, or the subsequent visits the islanders received from Cook; but its frequency and avowed perpetration was such as to attract the attention of the latter. Captain Cook's general conduct among the natives, notwithstanding the harsh measures he deemed it expedient to pursue towards the inhabitants of Eimeo, was humane; he took every opportunity of remonstrating with the king and chiefs, against a usage so merciless and savage.
When the Missionaries arrived in the Duff, this was one of the first and most affecting appendages page 250 of idolatry that awakened their sympathies, and called forth their expostulation and interference. Adult murder sometimes occurred; many were slain in war; and during the first years of their residence in Tahiti, human victims were frequently immolated. Yet the amount of all these and other murders did not equal that of infanticide alone. No sense of irresolution or horror appeared to exist in the bosoms of those parents who deliberately resolved on the deed before the child was born. They often visited the dwellings of the foreigners, and spoke with perfect complacency of their cruel purpose. On these occasions, the Missionaries employed every inducement to disuade them from executing their intention, warning them, in the name of the living God, urging them also by every consideration of maternal tenderness, and always offering to provide the little stranger with a home, and the means of education. The only answer they generally received was, that it was the custom of the country; and the only result of their efforts, was the distressing conviction of the inefficacy of their humane endeavours. The murderous parents often came to their houses almost before their hands were cleansed from their children's blood, and spoke of the deed with worse than brutal insensibility, or with vaunting satisfaction at the triumph of their customs over the persuasions of their teachers.
In their earliest public negociations with the king and the chiefs, who constituted the government of the island, the Missionaries had enjoined, from motives of policy, as well as humanity and a regard to the law of God, the abolition of this cruel practice. The king Pomare acknowledged that he believed it was not right; that Captain page 251 Cook, for whom they entertained the highest respect, had told him it ought not to be allowed; and that for his part he was willing to discontinue it. These, however, were bare professions; for his own children were afterwards murdered, as well as those of his subjects.
In point of number, the disproportion between the infants spared and those destroyed, was truly distressing. It was not easy to learn exactly what this disproportion was; but the first Missionaries have published it as their opinion, that not less than two-thirds of the children were murdered by their own parents. Subsequent intercourse with the people, and the affecting details many have given since their reception of Christianity, authorize the adoption of the opinion as correct. The first three infants, they observed, were frequently killed; and in the event of twins being born, both were rarely permitted to live. In the largest families more than two or three children were seldom spared, while the numbers that were killed were incredible. The very circumstance of their destroying, instead of nursing their children, rendered their offspring more numerous than it would otherwise have been. We have been acquainted with a number of parents, who, according to their own confessions, or the united testimony of their friends and neighbours, had inhumanly consigned to an untimely grave, four, or six, or eight, or ten children, and some even a greater number. I feel hence, the painful and humiliating conviction which I have ever been reluctant to admit, forced upon me from the testimony of the natives themselves, the proportion of children found by the first Missionaries, and existing in the population at the time of our arrival—that during the generations immediately page 252 preceding the subversion of paganism, not less than two-thirds of the children were massacred A female, who was frequently accustomed to wash the linen for our family, had thus cruelly destroyed five or six. Another, who resided very near us, had been the mother of eight, of which only one had been spared. But I will not multiply instances, which are numerous in every island, and of the accounts of which the recollection is most distinct. I am desirous to establish beyond doubt the belief of the practice, as it is one which, from every consideration, is adapted to awaken in the Christian mind liveliest gratitude to the Father of mercies, strongest convictions of the miseries inseparable from idolatry, tenderest commiseration for the heathen, and vigorous efforts for the amelioration of their wretchedness.
The universality of the crime was no less painful and astonishing than its repeated perpetration by the same individuals. It does not appear to have been confined to any rank or class in the community; and though it was one of the indispensable regulations of the Areoi society, enforced on the authority of those gods whom they were accustomed to consider as the founders of their order, it was not peculiar to them. It was perhaps less practised by the raatiras, or farmers, than any other class, yet they were not innocent. I do not recollect having met with a female in the islands, during the whole period of my residence there, who had been a mother while idolatry prevailed, who had not imbrued her hands in the blood of her offspring. I conversed more than once on the subject with Mr. Nott, during his recent visit to his native country. On one occasion, in answer to my inquiry, he stated, that he did not recollect page 253 having, in the course of the thirty years he had spent in the South Sea Islands, known a female, who was a mother under the former system of superstition, who had not been guilty of this unnatural crime. Startling and affecting as the inference is, it is perhaps not too much to suppose, that few, if any, became mothers, in those later periods of the existence of idolatry, who did not also commit infanticide. Recent facts confirm this melancholy supposition. During the year 1829, Mr. Williams was conversing with some friends in his own house in the island of Raiatea, on this subject. Three native females were sitting in the room at the time, the eldest not more than forty years of age. In the course of conversation he observed, “Perhaps some of these females have been guilty of this crime.” The question was proposed, and it was found that no one was guiltless; and the astonishment of the parties was increased, when it was reluctantly confessed, that these three females had destroyed not fewer than one-and-twenty infants. One had destroyed nine, another seven, and the third five. These individuals were not questioned as having been more addicted to the practice of this crime than others, but simply because they happened to be in the room when the conversation took place. Without reference to other deeds of barbarism, they were in this respect a nation of murderers; and, in connexion with the Areoi institution, murder was sanctioned by their laws.
The various methods by which infanticide was effected are most of them of such a nature as to prohibit their publication. It does not appear that they ever buried them alive, as the Sandwich Islanders were accustomed to do, by digging a hole, sometimes page 254 in the floor of the dwelling, laying a piece of native cloth upon the infant's mouth, and treading down the earth upon the helpless child. Neither were the children as liable to be destroyed, after having been suffered to live for any length of time. The horrid deed was always perpetrated before the victim had seen the light, or in a hurried manner, and immediately after birth. The infants, thus disposed of, were called tamarii huihia, uumihea, or tahihia, children stabbed or pierced with a sharp - pointed strip of bamboo cane, strangled by placing the thumbs on the throat, or tahihia, trodden or stamped upon. These were the mildest methods; others, sometimes employed, were too barbarous to be mentioned.
The parents themselves, or their nearest relatives, who often attended on the occasion for this express purpose, were the executioners. Often, almost before the new-born babe could breathe the vital air, gaze upon the light of heaven, or experience the sensations of its new existence, that existence has been extinguished by its cruel mother's hand; and the “felon sire,” instead of welcoming, with all a father's joy, a daughter or a son, has dug its grave upon the spot, or among the thick-grown bushes a few yards distant. On receiving the warm palpitating body from its mother's hand, he has, with awful unconcern, deposited the precious charge, not in a father's arms, but in its early sepulchre; and instead of gazing, with all that thrilling rapture which a father only knows, upon the tender babe, has concealed it from his view, by covering its mangled form with the unconscious earth; and, to obliterate all traces of the deed, has trodden down the yielding soil, and strewed it over with green boughs, or covered it page 255 with verdant turf. This is not an exaggerated description, but the narrative of actual fact; other details, more touching and acute, have been repeatedly given to me in the islands, by individuals who had been themselves employed in these unnatural deeds.
The horrid act, if not committed at the time the infant entered the world, was not perpetrated at any subsequent period. Whether this was a kind of law among the people, or whether it was the power of maternal affection, by which they were influenced, it is not necessary now to inquire; but the fact is consolatory. If the little stranger was, from irresolution, the mingled emotions that struggled for mastery in its mother's bosom, or any other cause, suffered to live ten minutes or half an hour, it was safe; instead of a monster's grasp, it received a mother's caress and a mother's smile, and was afterwards nursed with solicitude and tenderness. The cruel act was indeed often committed by the mother's hand; but there were times when a mother's love, a mother's feelings, overcame the iron force of pagan custom, and all the mother's influence and endeavours have been used to preserve her child. Most affecting instances, which I forbear reciting, have been detailed by some, who now perhaps are childless, of the struggles between the mother to preserve, and the father and relatives to destroy, the infant. This has arisen from the motives of false pride by which they were on some occasions influenced.
The reasons assigned for this practice, though varied, were uniformly shameful and criminal. The first is the regulation of the Areoi institution, in order to be a member of which it was necessary, in obedience to the express injunction of the tutelar page 256 gods of the order, that no child should be permitted to live. Another cause was the weakness and transient duration of the conjugal bond, whereby, although the marriage contract was formed by individuals in the higher ranks of society, with persons of corresponding rank, fidelity was seldom maintained.
The marriage tie was dissolved whenever either of the parties desired it; and though amongst their principal chiefs it was allowed nominally to remain, the husband took other wives, and the wife other husbands. These were mostly individuals of personal attractions, but of inferior rank in society. The progeny of such a union was almost invariably destroyed, if not by the parents themselves, by the relatives of those superior in rank, lest the dignity of the family, or their standing in society, should be injured by being blended with those of an inferior class. More infant murders have probably been committed under these circumstances, from barbarous notions of family pride, than from any other cause. One of my Missionary companions∗ states, that by the murder of such children, the party of inferior birth has been progressively elevated in rank, and that the degree of distinction attained, was according to the number of children destroyed,—that by this means, parties, before unequal, were considered as corresponding in rank, and their offspring allowed to live.
The raatiras, or secondary class of chiefs, and others by whom it was practised, appear to have been influenced by the example of their superiors, or the shameless love of idleness. The spontaneous productions of the soil were so abundant, that little care or labour was necessary to provide page 257 the means of subsistence: the climate was so warm, that the clothing required, as well as the food, could be procured with the greatest facility; yet they considered the little trouble required as an irksome task. A man with three or four children, and this was a rare occurrence, was said to be a taata taubuubuu, a man with an unwieldy or cumbrous burden; and there is reason to believe that, simply to avoid the trifling care and effort necessary to provide for their offspring during the helpless periods of infancy and childhood, multitudes were consigned to an untimely grave. A Malthusian motive has sometimes been adduced, and they have been heard to say, that if all the children born were allowed to live, there would not be food enough produced in the islands to support them. This, however, has only been resorted to when other methods of defending the practice have failed.
During the whole of their lives, the females were subject to the most abasing degradation; and their sex was often, at their birth, the cause of their destruction: if the purpose of the unnatural parents had not been fully matured before, the circumstance of its being a female child, was often sufficient to fix their determination on its death. Whenever we have asked them, what could induce them to make a distinction so invidious, they have generally answered,—that the fisheries, the service of the temple, and especially war, were the only purposes for which they thought it desirable to rear children; that in these pursuits women were comparatively useless; and therefore female children were frequently not suffered to live. Facts fully confirm these statements.
In the adult population of the islands at the time page 258 of our arrival, the disproportion between the sexes was very great. There were, probably four or five men to one woman. In all the schools established on the first reception of Christianity, the same disproportion prevailed. In more recent years the sexes are nearly equal. In addition to this cruel practice, others, equally unnatural, prevailed, for which the people had not only the sanction of their priests, but the direct example of their respective deities.
Without pursuing this painful subject any further, or inquiring into its antiquity or its origin, which is probably co-eval with that of the monstrous Areoi institution; these details are of a kind that must impress every mind, susceptible of the common sympathies of humanity, with the greatest abhorrence of paganism, under the sanction of which such cruelties were perpetrated. They are also adapted to convey a most powerful conviction of the true character of heathenism, and the miseries which its votaries endure.
The abolition of this practice, with the subversion of idolatry, of which an account will be found in the succeeding pages, is a grateful reward to those who have sent the mild and humanizing principles of true religion to those islands. This single fact demands the gratitude of every Christian parent, especially of every Christian female, and affords the most cheering encouragement to those engaged in spreading the gospel throughout the world.
The child of a king, or chief of high rank, soon after its birth, was taken to the temple, and delivered to the paia, or priest, whose office it was to perform the required rites. The sacred implements of war, which were regarded as emblems of page 259 greatness, were placed in prescribed order on the pavement. Over them a large leaf of the arum costatum was laid, and filled with water, in which he bathed the infant, laying upon it the sacred knife, or sting-ray bone. Tiarai, and the other priests who officiated, now offered over the infant an ubu, called the prayer of life, which was preferred to the tutelar god of the island. A surgical operation was now performed, and the infant was removed to the fare apaa, a kind of tent, made by bending four pliant sticks or canes over a small mat; each end of the sticks being fixed in the ground, they formed a circular arch over the little bed. Upon the sticks the sacred cloth of the god was spread, to indicate that the child was admitted to the society of the gods, and exalted above ordinary men. Another temporary building, within the precincts of the temple, was prepared, to receive the infant, as soon as this ceremony terminated. In this building, called farehua, it remained five or six days, when it was taken to its parents' dwelling. During the time the infant remained at the marae, the kindling of fire, launching of a canoe, or beating of cloth, was prohibited, on pain of death.
From these ceremonies, and the privileges they were supposed to confer, all female children, except those of the king or highest chiefs, were excluded.
The raatiras, or inferior chiefs, imitating the example of their superiors, endeavoured to secure renown for their children, by performing corresponding ceremonies at their family maraes, but no attention was paid to it, except by the members of the relatives and dependents.
In the treatment of those children belonging to this class, formerly spared, a number of singular customs page 260 were observed, and several ceremonies performed. The mother bathed in the sea immediately after a profuse perspiration had been induced, and the infant was taken to the water almost as soon as it entered the world. It was also taken to the marae, where a variety of ceremonies were celebrated. In some of the islands, a number of these were attended to before its birth. When the mother repaired to the temple, the priest, after presenting costly and numerous offerings, caught the god in a kind of snare or loop, made with human hair, and also offered up his prayer that the child might be an honour to his family, a benefit to the nation, and be more famous than any of his ancestors had been. This usage prevailed in the Hervey Islands. A number of ceremonies were performed in the Society Islands. The child was, soon after its birth, invested with the name and office of its father, who was henceforward considered its inferior. This, however, during the minority of the child, was merely nominal: the father exercised all authority, though in the name of the child. The children were frequently nursed at the breast till they were able to walk, although they were fed with other food.
As soon as the child was able to eat, a basket was provided, and its food was kept distinct from that of the parent. During the period of infancy, the children were seldom clothed, and were generally laid or carried in a horizontal position. They were never confined in bandages, or wrapped in tight clothing, but though remarkably plump and healthy in appearance, they were generally very weak until nearly twelve months old. As soon as able to sit up, the child was not, when taken out, carried in the arms, so as to rest on the bosom, but page 261 nursed or carried at the side, seated on the hip of the person by whom it was borne.
The Tahitian parents and nurses were careful in observing the features of the countenance, and the shape of the child's head, during the period of infancy, and often pressed or spread out the nostrils of the females, as a flat nose was considered by them a mark of beauty. The forehead and the back of the head, of the boys, were pressed upwards, so that the upper part of the skull appeared in the shape of a wedge. This, they said, was done, to add to the terror of their aspect, when they should become warriors. They were then careful to haune, or shave, the child's head with a shark's tooth. This must have been a tedious, and sometimes a painful operation, yet it was frequently repeated; and although every idolatrous ceremony, connected with the treatment of their children, has been discontinued for a number of years, the mothers are still very fond of shaving the heads, or cutting the hair of their infants as close as possible. This often gives them a very singular appearance. The children are in general large, and finely formed; and, but for the prevalence of the disease which produces such a distortion of the spine, there is reason to believe that a deformed person would be very rarely seen among the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands.
No regular parental discipline was maintained in the native families. As soon as the child was able to will or act for itself, it was generally exempt from all control, and given up to the influence of its own inclinations. If ever control was attempted, it was only by the father, the mother was always disregarded, and the father has often encouraged the insult and violence, while all interference page 262 of the mother has been resisted by the child. Their years of childhood and youth were passed in indolence, irregularity, and the unrestrained indulgence in whatever afforded gratification. One of the earliest and singular usages to which they attended was that of tatauing or marking the skin. This was generally commenced at the age of eight or ten years, and continued at intervals, perhaps, till the individual was between twenty and thirty.
Tatauing, usually called tatooing, is not confined to them, but pervades the principal groups, and is extensively practised by the Marquesians and New Zealanders. Although practised by all classes, I have not been able to trace its origin. It is by some adopted as a badge of mourning, or memorial of a departed friend; and from the figures we have sometimes seen upon the persons of the natives, and the conversation we have had, we should be induced to think it was designed as a kind of historical record of the principal actions of their lives. But it was adopted by the greater number of the people merely as a personal adornment; and tradition informs us, that to this it owes its existence.
The following is the native account of the origin of tatauing. Hina, the daughter of the god Taaroa, bore to her father a daughter, who was called Apouvaru, and who also became the wife of Taaroa. Taaroa and Apouvaru looked stedfastly at each other, and Apouvaru, in consequence, afterwards brought forth her first-born, who was called Matamataaru. Again the husband and the wife looked at each other, and she became the mother of a second son, who was called Tiitiipo. After a repetition of this visual intercourse, a daughter was born, who was called Hinaereeremonoi. As she grew up, in order to preserve her chastity, she was page 263 made pahio, or kept in a kind of enclosure, and constantly attended by her mother. Intent on her seduction, the brothers invented tatauing, and marked each other with the figure called Taomaro. Thus ornamented, they appeared before their sister, who admired the figures, and, in order to be tataued herself, eluding the care of her mother, broke the enclosure that had been erected for her preservation, was tataued, and became also the victim to the designs of her brothers. Tatauing thus originated among the gods, and was first practised by the children of Taaroa, their principal deity. In imitation of their example, and for the accomplishment of the same purposes, it was practised among men. Idolatry not only disclosed the origin, but sanctioned the practice. The two sons of Taaroa and Apouvaru were the gods of tatauing. Their images were kept in the temples of those who practised the art professionally, and every application of their skill was preceded by a prayer addressed to them, that the operation might not occasion death, that the wounds might soon heal, that the figures might be handsome, attract admirers, and answer the ends of wickedness designed.
Tatauing, which must have been a painful operation, was seldom applied to any extent at the same time. There were tahua, professors of the art of tatauing, who were regularly employed to perform it, and received a liberal remuneration.
The colouring matter was the kernel of the candle-nut, aleurites triloba, called by the natives tiairi. This was first baked, then reduced to charcoal, afterwards pulverized, and mixed with oil. The instruments were rude, though ingenious, and consisted of the bones of birds or page 264 fishes, fastened with fine thread to a small stick. Another stick, somewhat heavier, was also used, to strike the above when the skin was perforated. The figure, or pattern to be tataued, was portrayed upon the skin with a piece of charcoal, though at times the operation was guided only by the eye.
When the idolatrous ceremonies attending its commencement were finished, the performer, immersing the points of the sharp bone instrument in the colouring matter, which was a beautiful jet, applied it to the surface of the skin, and, striking it smartly with the elastic stick which he held in his right hand, punctured the skin, and injected the dye at the same time, with as much facility as an adder would bite, and deposit her poison.
So long as the person could endure the pain, the operator continued his work, but it was seldom that a whole figure was completed at once. Hence it proved a tedious process, especially with those who had a variety of patterns, or stained the greater part of their bodies. Both sexes were tataued.
The tatauing of the Sandwich and Palliser Islanders, though sometimes abundant, is the rudest I have seen; that of the New Zealanders and the Marquesians is very ingenious, though different in its kind. The former consists principally in narrow, circular, or curved lines, on different parts of the face; the lines in the latter were broad and straight, interspersed with animals, and sometimes covered the body so as nearly to conceal the original colour of the skin, and almost even to warrant the description given by Schouten of the inhabitants of Dog Island, who, he observes, “were marked with snakes and dragons, and such page 265 like reptiles, which are very significant emblems of their own mischievous nature.”
The Tahitian tatauing is more simple, and displays greater taste and elegance than either of the others. Though some of the figures are arbitrary, such as stars, circles, lozenges, &c.; the patterns are usually taken from nature, and are often some of the most graceful. A cocoa-nut tree is a favourite object; and I have often admired the taste displayed in the marking of a chiefs' legs, when I have seen a cocoa-nut tree correctly and distinctly drawn, its root spreading at the heel, its elastic stalk pencilled as it were along the tendon, and its waving plume gracefully spread out on the broad part of the calf. Sometimes a couple of stems would be twined up from the heel, and divided on the calf, each bearing a plume of leaves.
The ornaments round the ankle, and upon the instep, make them often appear as if they bore the elegant eastern sandal. The sides of the legs are sometimes tataued from the ankle upward, which gives the appearance of wearing pantaloons with ornamented seams. From the lower part of the back, a number of straight, waved, or zigzag lines, rise in the direction of the spine, and branch off regularly towards the shoulders. But, of the upper part of the body, the chest is the most tataued. Every variety of figure is to be seen here: cocoanut and bread-fruit trees, with convolvolus wreaths hanging round them, boys gathering the fruit, men engaged in battle, in the manual exercise, triumphing over a fallen foe; or, as I have frequently seen it, they are represented as carrying a human sacrifice to the temple. Every kind of animal—goats, dogs, fowls, and fish—may at times be seen on this page 266 part of the body; muskets, swords, pistols, clubs, spears, and other weapons of war, are also stamped upon their arms or chest.
They are not all crowded upon the same person, but each one makes a selection according to his fancy; and I have frequently thought the tatauing on a man's person might serve as an index to his disposition and his character. The neck and throat were sometimes singularly marked. The head and the ears were also tataued, though among the Tahitians this ornament was seldom applied to the face.
The females used the tatau more sparingly than the men, and with greater taste. It was always the custom of the natives to go barefooted, and the feet, to an inch above the ankles, of the chief women, were often neatly tataued; appearing as if they wore a loose sandal, or elegant open-worked boot. The arms were frequently marked with circles, their fingers with rings, and their wrists with bracelets. The thin transparent skin over the black dye, often gave to the tatau a tinge of blue.
The females seldom, if ever, marked their faces; the figures on their feet and hands were all the ornaments they exhibited. Many suffered much from the pain occasioned by the operation, and from the swelling and inflammation that followed, which often continued for a long time, and ultimately proved fatal. This, however, seldom deterred others from attempting to secure this badge of distinction or embellishment of person.
On account of the immoral practices invariably connected with the process of tatauing, the chiefs prohibited it altogether, and, excepting a few foreign seamen, who often evinced as great a desire to have some figure tataued on their arms or hands, page 267 as the natives themselves, the practice was discontinued for some years.
The celebration of marriage frequently took place among the Tahitians at an early age, with females at twelve or thirteen, and with males when two or three years older. Betrothment was the frequent method by which marriage contracts were made among the chiefs, or higher ranks in society. The parties themselves were not often sufficiently advanced in years to form any judgment of their own, yet, on arriving at maturity, they rarely objected to the engagements their friends had made.
The period of courtship was seldom protracted among any class of the people; yet all the incident and romantic adventure that was to be expected in a community in which a high degree of sentimentality prevailed, was occasionally exhibited, and the unsuccessful suitor, perhaps, led to the commission of suicide, under the influence of revenge and despair. Unaccustomed to disguise either their motives or their wishes, they generally spoke and acted without hesitation; hence, whatever barriers might oppose the union of the parties, whether it was the reluctance of either of the individuals, or of their respective families, the means used for their removal were adopted with much less ceremony than is usually observed in civilized society. Several instances of this kind occurred during our residence in Huahine: one regarded a chief of Eimeo, who had followed Taaroarii the king's son. His figure was tall and gigantic, his countenance and manners not unpleasing, and his disposition mild. He was upwards of twenty years of age. Some time after our arrival in Huahine, he became attached to the page 268 niece of the principal raatira in the island, and tendered proposals of marriage. Her family admitted his visits, and favoured his design, but the object of his choice declined every proposal he made. No means to gain her consent were left untried, but all proved unavailing. He discontinued his ordinary occupations, left the establishment of the young chief who had selected him for his friend, and repaired to the habitation of the individual whose favour he was so anxious to obtain. Here he appeared subject to the deepest melancholy, and, leaving the other members of the family to follow their regular pursuits, from morning to night, day after day, he attended his mistress, performing humiliating offices with apparent satisfaction, and constantly following in her train whenever she appeared abroad.
His friends interested themselves in his behalf, and the disappointment, of which he was the subject, became for a time the topic of general conversation in the settlement. At length the object of his attachment was induced to accept his offer; they were publicly married, and lived very comfortably together. Their happiness, however, was but of short duration, for his wife, for whom he appeared to cherish the most ardent affection, died a few months afterwards.
Another instance of rather a different kind, subsequently occurred. A party of five or six persons arrived in a canoe from Tahiti, on a visit to their friends in the Leeward Islands. Though Borabora was their destination, they remained several weeks at Huahine, the guests of Taraimano. During this period, a young woman, one of the belles of the island belonging to the household of their hostess, became exceedingly fond of page 269 the society of one of the young men, and it was soon intimated to him that she wished to become his companion for life. The intimation, however, was disregarded by the young man, who expressed his intention to prosecute his voyage. The young woman became unhappy, and made no secret of the cause of her distress. She was assiduous in redoubling her efforts to please the individual whose affection she was desirous to obtain. At this period I never saw him either in the house of his friend, or walking abroad, without the young woman by his side.
Finding the object of her attachment, who was probably about eighteen years of age, unmoved by her attentions, she not only became exceedingly unhappy, but declared, that if she continued to receive the same indifference and neglect, she would either strangle or drown herself. Her friends endeavoured to dissuade her from her purpose; but, as she declared her determination was unaltered, they used their endeavours with the stranger, who afterwards returned the attentions he had received, and the parties were married at Huahine. His companions pursued their voyage to Borabora, and afterwards returned to Tahiti, while the new-married couple continued to reside with Taraimano. Their happiness was of short duration; not that death dissolved their union, but that attachment, which had been so ardent in the bosom of the young woman before marriage, was superseded by a dislike as powerful; and although I never heard the slightest charge of unkindness preferred against the husband, his wife not only treated him with insult, but finally left him. Instances of such unhappy marriages, though not unusual formerly, are now of rare occurrence.page 270
It is only among the middle and lower ranks of society, that the contract is made by the parties themselves. I am not aware that the husband received any dowry with his wife, unless the rank of her family was inferior to that of his own. The suitor often made presents to the parents of the individual whom he wished to marry, in order to gain their consent.
Among the higher ranks, the individuals themselves were usually passive, and the arrangements were made by their respective friends. They were often betrothed to each other during childhood, and the female thus betrothed was called a vahine pahio. As she grew up, for the preservation of her chastity, a small platform, of considerable elevation, was erected for her abode, within the dwelling of her parents. Here she slept, and spent the whole of the time she passed within doors. Her parents, or some member of the family, attended her by night and by day, supplied her with every necessary, and accompanied her whenever she left the house. Some of their traditions warrant the inference that this mode of life, in early years, was observed by other females besides those who were betrothed.
When the time fixed for the marriage arrived, and the parties themselves agreed to the union, great preparations were made for the dances, amusements, and festive entertainment, usual on such occasions. A company of Areois generally attended, and, on the day preceding the nuptials, commenced their upaupa, or dance, and pantomimic exhibitions.
On the morning of the marriage-day, a temporary altar was erected in the house of the bride. The relics of her ancestors, perhaps their skulls or page 271 bones, were placed upon it, and covered with fine white native cloth; presents of white cloth were also given by her parents, and those relatives of the family who attended.
The sanction of the gods they considered essential to the marriage contract, and these preliminaries being adjusted, the parties repaired to the marae, or temple. The ceremony was generally performed in the family marae, excepting when the parties were connected with the reigning family, which rendered it necessary that it should be solemnized in the temple of Oro or of Tane, the two principal national idols. On entering the temple; the bride and bridegroom changed their dresses, and arrayed themselves in their wedding garments, which were afterwards considered sacred; they took their stations in the place appointed for them, the bride on one side of the area, and the bridegroom on the other, five or six yards apart.
The priest now came forward, clad in the habiliments of his office, and, standing before them, addressed the bridegroom usually in the following terms: Eita anei oe a faarue i ta oe vahine? “Will you not cast away your wife?” to which the bridegroom answered, Eita; “No.” Turning to the bride, he proposed to her the same question, and received a similar answer. The priest then addressed them both, saying, “Happy will it be, if thus with ye two.” He then offered a prayer to the gods in their behalf, imploring for them that they might live in affection, and realize the happiness marriage was designed to secure.
The relatives now brought a large piece of white cloth, which they call ahu vauvau, spreading cloth: it was spread out on the pavement of the page 272 marae. The bridegroom and bride took their station upon this cloth, and clasped each other by the hand. The skulls of their ancestors, which were kept carefully preserved by survivors, who considered the spirits of the proprietors of these skulls as the guardian spirits of the family, were sometimes brought out and placed before them.
The relatives of the bride then took a piece of sugar-cane, and, wrapping it in a branch of the sacred miro, placed it on the head of the bridegroom, while the new-married pair stood holding each other's hands. Having placed the sacred branch on the bridegroom's head, they laid it down between them. The husband's relatives then performed the same ceremony towards the bride. On some occasions, the female relatives cut their faces and brows with the instrument set with shark's teeth, received the flowing blood on a piece of native cloth, and deposited the cloth, sprinkled with the mingled blood of the mothers of the married pair, at the feet of the bride.
By the latter parts of the ceremony, any inferiority of rank that might have existed was removed, and they were considered as equal. The two families, also, to which they respectively belonged, were ever afterwards regarded as one. Another large piece of cloth, called the tapoi, covering, was now brought, and the ceremony concluded by the relatives throwing it over the bridegroom and bride.
The cloth used on these occasions, as well as the dress, was considered sacred, and was taken to the king, or appropriated to the use of the Areos. The parties returned to their habitation, where sumptuous feasting followed, the duration of which page 273 was according to the rank or means of the families thus united.
Such were the marriage ceremonies formerly observed among the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands. They exhibited much that was curious and affecting, especially in the blood of their parents, and the skulls of their ancestors, presented before the parties. The one, perhaps, as the emblem of their union, and the other as an intimation that the inhabitants of the world of spirits were witnesses of the agreement. Considering these, and other significant usages, it is surprising how a people, so uncivilized and rude as in many respects they certainly were, should ever have instituted observances so singular and impressive, in connexion with the marriage contract.
Notwithstanding all this ceremony and form in entering into the engagement, the marriage tie was probably one of the weakest and most brittle that existed among them; neither party felt themselves bound to abide by it any longer than it suited their inclinations and their convenience. The slightest cause was often sufficient to occasion or to justify their separation, though among the higher classes the relation was nominally continued long after it had actually ceased.
Polygamy was practised more extensively by the Tahitians than by the inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands, and probably prevailed to as great an extent among them as among any of the Polynesian tribes. Many of the raatiras, or inferior chiefs, had two or three wives, who appeared to receive an equal degree of respect and support. With the higher chiefs, however, it was different; although they might, like Hamanemane, keep a number of females, it was rather a system of concubinage, page 274 than a plurality of wives, that prevailed among them. The individual to whom the chief was first united in marriage, or whose rank was nearest his own, was generally considered as his wife, and, so long as she lived with her husband, the other females were regarded as inferior. When the rank of the parties was equal, they often separated; the husband took other wives, and the wife other husbands; and if the rank of the wife was in any degree superior to that of her husband, she was at liberty to take as many other husbands as she pleased, although still nominally regarded as the wife of the individual to whom she had been first married.