Estimation in which fighting men were held—Weapons— Dress—Ornaments—Various kinds of helmet and armour—Ancient arms, &c. superseded by the introduction of fire-arms—Former ideas respecting the musket, &c.—Divination or augury—Savage and merciless conduct of the victors—Existence of wild men in the mountains Account of one at Bunaauïa who had fled from the field of battle—Treatment of the captives and the slain—Division of the spoil, and appropriation of the country—Maritime warfare—Encampments—Fortifications—Instance of patriotism—Methods of concluding peace—Religious ceremonies and festivities that followed— Present sentiments of the people in reference to war—Triumph of the principles of peace—Incident at Rurutu.
Provision for war was attended to when every other consideration was disregarded. In the perpetration of the unnatural crime of infanticide, boys were more frequently spared than female children, solely with a view to their becoming warriors. In all our schools, we were surprised at the disproportion between the boys and the girls that attended, and at the small number of women in the adult population; and on inquiring the cause, were invariably told that more girls than boys were destroyed, because they would, if spared, be comparatively useless in war. War therefore, being esteemed by the majority as the most important end of life, every kind of training for its successful pursuit was held in the highest repute.page 296
In times of war, all capable of bearing arms were called upon to join the forces of the chieftain to whom they belonged, and the farmers, who held their land partly by feudal tenure, were obliged to render military service whenever their landlord required it. There were, besides these, a number of men celebrated for their valour, strength, or address in war, who were called aito, fighting-men or warriors. This title, the result of achievements in battle, was highly respected, and proportionably sought by the daring and ambitious. It was not, like the chieftainship and other prevailing distinctions, confined to any class, but open to all; and many from the lower ranks have risen, as warriors, to a high station in the community.
Originally their weapons were simple, and formed of wood; they consisted of the spear, which the natives called patia or tao, made with the wood of the cocoa-nut tree, or of the aito, iron-wood, or casuarina. It was twelve or eighteen feet long, and about an inch or an inch and a half in diameter at the middle or the lower end, but tapering off to a point at the other. The spears of the inhabitants of Rurutu, and other of the Austral Islands, are remarkable for their great length and elegant shape, as well as for the high polish with which they are finished.
The omore, or club, was another weapon used by them; it was always made of the aito, or iron-wood, and was principally of two kinds, either short and heavy like a bludgeon, for the purpose of close combat, or long, and furnished with a broad lozenge-shaped blade. The Tahitians did not often carve or ornament their weapons, but by the inhabitants of the southern islands they were page 297 frequently very neatly, though partially, carved. The inhabitants of the Marquesas carve their spears, and ornament them with human hair;∗ and the natives of the Hervey Islands, with the Friendly and Figian islanders, construct their weapons with taste, and carve them with remarkable ingenuity.
∗This practice corresponds with that of the Malayans, among whom Dr. Buchanan saw a chief, the top of whose spear was ornamented with a tuft of hair, which he had taken from a vanquished foe, as he lay dying or dead at his feet.
The paeho was a terrific sort of weapon, although it was principally used at the heva, or seasons of mourning. It resembled, in some degree, a club; but having the inner side armed with large sharks' teeth, it was not used for striking a blow, but for almost embowelling those assailed. Another weapon of the same kind resembled a short sword, but, instead of one blade it had three, four, or five. It was usually made of a forked aito branch; the central and exterior branches, after having been pointed and polished, were armed along the outside with a thick line of sharks' teeth, very firmly fixed in the wood. This was only used in close combat, and, when applied to the naked bodies of the combatants, must have been a terrific weapon. The bowels or lower parts of the body were attacked with it, not for the purpose of piercing, as a dagger is used, but drawn across like a saw.
They do not use the patia, or dagger, of the Sandwich Islands, but substitute an equally fatal weapon, the aero fai, a serrated back-bone of the sting-ray, and the hoto, a short dart-like weapon, barbed and pointed with this or other fish-bones, page 298 which being rugged on the edges, and barbed towards the point, is very destructive in a dexterous hand. Some of the natives of the Palliser Islands used the ihi, javelin or short spear, while fighting at a distance, and the South Sea Islanders use the tiora, a polished dart about three feet long, cast from the hand generally in their naval engagements, but occasionally on land. The paro, or large mother-of-pearl oyster shell, was also used in cutting the throats, or severing the head from the bodies, of those who were overcome.
The dress and ornaments of the warriors of Tahiti, and the adjacent islands, were singular, and unlike those of most savage nations, being often remarkably cumbersome. Their helmets, though less elegant and imposing than the fine Grecian-formed helmet of the Hawaiians, were adapted to produce considerable effect. Some of the Tahitians wore only a fillet or bandage round the temples, but many had a quantity of cloth bound round in the form of a high turban, which not only tended to increase their apparent stature, but broke the force of a blow from a club, or a thrust from a spear.
The most elegant head-dresses, however, were those worn by the inhabitants of the Austral Islands, Tubuai, Rurutu, &c. Their helmets were considerably diversified in form, some resembling a tight round cap, fitted closely to the head, with a light plume waving on the summit. Those used by the natives of Tubuai, and High Island, resembled an officer's cocked hat, worn with the ends projecting over each shoulder, the front beautifully ornamented with the green and red wing and tail feathers of a species of paroquet. The page 299 Rurutuan helmet∗ is graceful in appearance, and useful in the protection it affords to the head of the wearer. It was a cap fitted to the head, and reaching to the ears, made with thick stiff native cloth, on a cane frame-work. The lower part of the front is ornamented with bunches of beautiful red and green feathers, tastefully arranged, and above these a line of the long slender tail-feathers of the tropic, or man-of-war bird, is fixed on a wicker-frame; the hinder part of the cap is covered with long flowing human hair, of a light brown or tawny colour, said to be human beard; this is fastened to a slight net-work attached to the crown of the helmet, and, being detached from any other part, often floats wildly in the wind, and increases the agitated appearance of the wearer.
∗A Rurutuan helmet, a number of spears, a paeho, and many of the implements of war here described, have been deposited in the Missionary Museum, Austin Friars, London.
On each side, immediately above the ears, numerous pieces of mother-of-pearl, and other shells, are fastened, not as plates or scales, but depending in a bunch, and attached to the helmet by a small strong cord, similar to those passing under the chin, by which the helmet is fastened to the head. These shells, when shaken by the movements of the wearer's head, produce a rattling noise, which heightens the din of savage warfare
The Rurutuan helmet, though more complete and useful, was far less imposing than the fau worn by the Georgian and Society Islanders. This was also a cap fitted closely to the head, surrounded by a cylindrical structure of cane-work, ornamented with the dark glossy feathers of aquatic birds. The hollow crown frequently towered page 300 two or three feet above the head, and, being curved at the top, appeared to nod or bend with every movement of the wearer.
This was a head-dress in high esteem, and worn only by distinguished men, who were generally sought out by the warriors in the opposing army. To subdue or kill a man who wore a fau, was one of the greatest feats. I have been often told, by a gigantic man who resided some time in my house, and was one of the warriors of Eimeo, that when the army of the enemy has come in sight, they used to look out for the fau rising above the rest of the army, and when they have seen one, pointing to it, animate each other by the exclamation, “The man with the fau; ha! whosoever shall obtain him, it will be enough.” But, however imposing in appearance these high helmets may have been, they afforded no defence; and, although formed only of cane-work and feathers, must have been inconvenient.
The slingers, and the most light and agile among the fighting men, wore, in battle, only a maro, a loose mantle, or ahubu.
Some of the fighting men wore a kind of armour of net-work, formed by small cords, wound round the body and limbs, so tight, as merely to allow of the unencumbered exercise of the legs and arms, and not to impede the circulation of the blood: or the Ruuruu, a kind of wooden armour for the breast, back, and sides, covered with successive folds of thick cloth, bound on with ropes. Over this a costly cloth was spread. The head was guarded with a corresponding quantity of cloth; and thus defended, the warrior, secure against either club or spear, was generally stationed with the main body of the army, though so encumbered page 301 as to render retreat impracticable, and, in the event of the defeat of his companions, was invariably captured or slain. In general, the dress of the Tahitian warriors must have been exceedingly troublesome. To make an imposing appearance, and defend their persons, seem to have been the only ends at which they aimed; differing greatly in this respect from the Hawaiians, who seldom thought of guarding themselves, but adopted a dress that would least impede their movements.
The Tahitians went to battle in their best clothes, sometimes perfumed with fragrant oil, and adorned with flowers; and whether they wore only the light tiputa, or the cumbrous ruuruu, which left only the arms at liberty, the whole was bound round the waist with a finely braided sash or girdle. On the breast they wore a handsome military gorget, ingeniously wrought with mother-of-pearl shells, white and coloured feathers, and dog's hair.
Their ancient dresses and weapons have, since their intercourse with Europeans, been superseded in a great degree by the introduction of fire-arms, the bayonet, and the sword. Pupuhi is the general name for gun. Puhi signifies to blow with the mouth, pupuhi to blow repeatedly, and this name has been given to a musket, from the circumstance of the foreigners, whom the natives first saw firing, bending down the head on one side to take aim, and bringing the mouth nearly in contact with the piece, into or through the barrel of which they supposed the person blew, and thus produced the explosion; hence it is called the blower.
They imagined that the first ships they saw were islands; their inhabitants supernatural, vindictive, page 302 and revengeful beings. The flag of one of the first vessels hanging from the ship into the water, a native approached, and took a piece of it away; this being perceived, he was fired at, and wounded, as they all supposed, by the thunder.
When we consider this, we shall not be surprised at their ideas of the source of motion in the ball. The opinion of its being blown from the mouth of the musketeer, has long been corrected; still the name is retained, and a cannon is called pupuhi fenna, to blow land, or country, from its contents spreading over a wide tract of country; the musket they call pupuhi roa, long gun; the blunderbuss vaharahi, wide or great mouth; the pistol pupuhi teuumu; a swivel, pupuhi tioi, turning gun; the bullets or balls they call ofai, or stones. Arms, ammunition, and ardent spirits, were formerly the principal articles in demand by all classes; and being the most valuable kinds of barter, they maintained a high price. Ten or twelve hogs, worth at least from one to two pounds a head, was, for a long time, the regular price of a musket; and one hundred pigs have been paid for a cannon. I have seen upwards of seventy tied up on the beach, at Fa-re, as the price of a single old cannon, which had been preserved from the wreck of an English vessel, at another island. These articles have, however, long ceased to be in demand among the Tahitians.
It does not appear that their wars were more sanguinary and cruel when they fought at a distance with muskets, than when they grappled hand to hand with club and spear. The numbers killed might be greater, but fewer were wounded. Although familiar with the musket during their last wars, they are by no means expert marksmen: page 303 they understand little about taking aim, and often fire without placing the butt-end of the musket against the shoulder, or presenting their piece. They grasp it in the most awkward manner, holding it above the head, or by the side, and in this singular position fire it off. I was once with a party of natives, when one of them fired at a bullock but a few yards distant, and missed it.
War was seldom proclaimed or commenced with promptitude, being always considered as one of the most important matters in which the nation could engage. Hence the preparatory deliberations were frequent and protracted.
The greatest importance was always attached to the will of the gods: if they were favourable, conquest was regarded as sure; but if they were unfavourable, defeat, if not death, was as certain. Divination, or enchantment, was employed for the purpose of knowing their ultimate decision, and at these times they always pretended to follow implicitly supernatural intimation, though all this juggling and contrivance was designed only to deceive the people into a persuasion that the god sanctioned the views of the king and government. The divinations were connected with the offerings, and the success or failure of the expedition was often chiefly augured from the muscular action in the heart or liver of the animal offered, the involuntary acts and writhing contortions of the limbs of the human sacrifice in the agonies of death; or the appearance of the slaughtered victim, after it had been placed upon the altar.
When the murder and destruction of actual conflict terminated, and the vanquished sought security in flight, or in the natural strong-holds of the mountains, some of their conquerors pursued them page 304 to their hiding-places, while others repaired to the villages, and destroyed the wives, children, infirm and afflicted relatives, of those who had fled before them in the field. These defenceless wretches seldom made much resistance to the lawless and merciless barbarians, whose conduct betrayed a cowardly delight in torturing their helpless victims. Plunder and revenge were the principal objects in these expeditions. Every thing valuable they destroyed or bore away, while the miserable objects of their vengeance were deliberately murdered. No age or sex was spared. The infant that unconsciously smiled in its mother's arms, and the venerable gray-haired father or mother, experienced unbridled and horrid barbarity. The aged were at once despatched, though embowelling and every horrid torture was practised. The females experienced brutality and murder, and the tenderest infants were perhaps transfixed to the mother's heart by a ruthless weapon—caught up by ruffian hands, and dashed against the rocks or the trees—or wantonly thrown up in the air, and caught on the point of the warrior's spear, where it writhed in agony and died. A spear was sometimes thrust through the infant's head from ear to ear, a line passed through the aperture, and when the horrid carnage has been over, and the kindling brand has been applied to the dwellings, while the flames have crackled, the dense columns of smoke ascended, and the ashes mingled with the blood from the victims, the cruel warriors have retired with fiendish exultation, some bearing the spoils of plunder, some having two or three infants hanging on the spear they bore across their shoulders, and others dragging along the sand those that were strung together by a line through their heads, or a page 305 cord round their necks. This cruelty was not confined to the slain; the living captives, adults and children, were sometimes thus strung together by cords passed through the head from ear to ear, by holes made with the spears.
When those who had been vanquished in the field did not return to battle, but remained in their strong-holds, another religious ceremony was performed by the conquerors, called the Hora. A large quantity of property, the spoil of victory, was taken to the priests of Oro, partly as an acknowledgment for past success, but chiefly to encourage them to increased intercession that the destruction the god had commenced might not cease till their enemies were annihilated, for their wars were wars of extermination.
One singular result of their dreadful wars, and their horrid sacrifice of human beings is, the existence of a number of wild men inhabiting the fastnesses of the interior mountains of Tahiti. I have not heard of any having been seen in any other island, but they have been more than once met with in the neighbourhood of Atehuru. When I visited this station in 1821, I saw one of these men, who had been some time before taken in the mountains; he was comparatively tame, yet I shall not soon forget his appearance. He was above the middle size, large-boned, but not fleshy. His features and countenance were strongly marked; his complexion was not darker than those of many around, but his aspect was agitated and wild. His beard was unshaven, and his hair had remained uncut for many years. It appeared about a foot and a half in length, in some parts perhaps longer. He wore it parted in the middle of his forehead, but hanging uncombed an page 306 dishevelled on the other parts of his head. On the outside it was slightly curled, and hung in loose ringlets. The colour was singular; at the roots, or close to his head, it was dark brown or black, six inches from his head it was of a tawny brown, while the extremities exhibited a light and in some places bright yellow. Many attempts had been made to persuade him to have it cut, but to this he would never consent.
His only clothing was a maro, or girdle, with sometimes a light piece of cloth over his shoulder. His nails, for the sake of convenience, he had cut. He said but little, and though he came and looked at us once or twice, he seemed averse to observation, and retired when I attempted to converse with him. He had been driven to the mountains in a time of war, had remained in solitude for years, had been at length discovered by persons travelling in these regions, secured, and brought down, where with great difficulty he had been induced to remain. Mr. Darling said, he was very quiet, but appeared uninterested in most of what was passing around him.
Since Mr. Darling's residence at Bunaauïa, others have been in the mountains, and one was secured by the people of Burder's Point. They had gone to the mountains for the bark of the tiairi, which they use in dying native cloth; on their way they perceived a man lying on his side asleep, and exclaiming this is a taehae, a wild man, one of them went round among the bushes, in order to get on the opposite side, while the other was to advance slowly towards him: as they approached he awoke, and startled by their appearance, rose, flinging over his shoulders his hair, which the natives described as reaching to his page 307 waist, and darted into the woods; where he was stopped by one of the men who saw him, and finally secured. He was evidently enfeebled from recent illness, or, as the natives expressed themselves, they could neither have caught or retained him. Terror seemed to have absorbed every feeling. It was in vain they assured him that they meant him no injury, he appeared either not to understand, or not to regard any thing they said, but constantly exclaimed, “Ye are murderers, ye are murderers,” occasionally supplicating them with, “Do not murder me, do not murder me.” They conducted him to the settlement, gave him food and clothing, and, treating him with kindness, he appeared somewhat calmed, but still manifested a most restless apprehension, and for a long time the only sounds he uttered were, “Do not kill me.” He was taken to the school and the chapel, but appeared distressed by the noise, yet pleased with letters, and ultimately even learned the elements of reading, but took the first opportunity of fleeing to the mountains. About a fortnight afterwards he was again secured, and brought to the settlement; but whether or not he has since returned to the woods, I have not the means of knowing. He is supposed to have originally fled for fear of being sacrificed to the gods, and, under the panic which seized those who were defeated in some of the battles that within the last fifty years have been fought in these portions of the island, to have retreated to the mountain fastnesses in its more central parts, where perhaps he had experienced a degree of mental aberration which had deprived him of memory, and induced him to wander like a demoniac among the lonely rocks and valleys.page 308
On another occasion, some people from Bunaauïa saw a large party, four or five, with two women and some children. These, the persons who saw them thought it most prudent to leave unmolested, and, though a large party have since sought them, I have not heard of their being met with. It is reported by the natives, that others have been seen, and that some of the inhabitants of the lowlands have been in danger of losing their lives from coming in contact with them. After the evidence of the facts above mentioned, we cannot doubt the existence of such unhappy victims; but at the same time, the circumstance of their being so seldom seen, warrants the hope that they are not numerous.
The captives taken in war, called ivi or titi, were murdered on the spot, or shortly afterwards, unless reserved for slaves to the victors. The bodies of the slain were treated in a most savage manner; they were pierced with their spears; and at times the conduct of the victors towards their lifeless remains was inconceivably barbarous. They were regarded as belonging to the king, and were disposed of according to his direction, and either left on the field, or taken to the places appropriated to the bodies of the slain.
On the day following the battle, the bure taata was performed. This consisted in collecting the bodies of the slain, and offering them to Oro, as trophies of his prowess, and in acknowledgment of their dependence upon his aid. Prayers were preferred, imploring a continuance of his assistance.
The bodies were usually left exposed to the elements, and to the hogs or wild dogs, and the crabs that preyed upon them.—The victors took page 309 away the lower jaw-bones of the most distinguished among the slain, as trophies, and often the bones of the arms or legs, forming with them tools for building canoes, or fish-hooks, while others converted the skulls of the slain into drinking vessels to be used at the feast of victory. Sometimes they piled the bodies in a heap, and built the skulls into a kind of wall around the temple, as at Opoa, but they were commonly laid in rows near the shore, or in front of the camp, their heads all in the same direction. Here the skulls were often so battered with the clubs, that no trace of the countenance or human head remained. The bodies of females slain in war were presented to two of the daughters of Taaroa, and were treated with equal barbarity, and a degree of brutality, as inconceivable as it was detestable.
In addition to the preceding indignities, their bodies were sometimes laid in rows along the beach, and used as rollers, over which they dragged their canoes, on landing, or launching them after a battle. We do not know that the Tahitians ever feasted on the bodies of the slain in a regular banquet, although this is practised by the Marquesians on the one side, and the New-Zealanders on the other—by the inhabitants of the Dangerous Archipelago in the immediate neighbourhood of the Georgian Islands in the east—and in several of the Hervey Islands in the west, especially Aitutake, where it continued till the abolition of idolatry in 1823.
Here the warriors were animated to the murderous combat by allusions to the inhuman feast it would furnish at the close. In New-Zealand, it is stated that a warrior has been known, when exulting over his fallen antagonist, to sever his page 310 head from his body, and, while the life-blood has flowed warm from the dying trunk, to scoop it up in his hands, and, turning to his enemies with fiend-like triumph, drink it before them. The Tahitians were not, however, altogether free from cannibalism; and, occasionally, a warrior, out of bravado or revenge, has been known to eat two or three mouthfuls of a vanquished foe, generally the fat from the inner side of the ribs.
Besides the atore, embowelling, which was frequently inflicted, they sometimes practised what they called tiputa taata. When a man had slain his enemy, in order fully to satiate his revenge, and intimidate his foes, he sometimes beat the body flat, and then cut a hole with a stone battleaxe through the back and stomach, and passed his own head through the aperture, as he would through the hole of his tiputa or poncho; hence the name of this practice. In this terrific manner, with the head and arms of the slain hanging down before, and the legs behind him, he marched to renew the conflict. A more horrific act and exhibition it is not easy to conceive of, yet I was well acquainted with a man in Fare, named Taiava, who, according to his own confession, and the declaration of his neighbours, was guilty of this deed during one of their recent wars. The bodies of celebrated warriors were often pinihia for the amusement of the spectators. The legs and arms were broken, round the feet and hands a kind of fringe of ti-leaves was tied, a rope was tied round the neck, by which the body was drawn up towards the branch of a tree, from which it remained suspended; a small cord, attached to one of the feet, was held in the hand of the exhibitor; by means of these cords the body was page 311 drawn up and down: other dead bodies were placed on the ground beneath, and beaten with the stalk of the cocoa-nut leaf, in the place of drums; to the horrid music, thus produced, the suspended body was made to move, for the mirth of the thousands who assembled to witness the sport; and such was the interest of these exhibitions, that the natives say they never thought of taking food at the time.
Other brutalities were practised towards the slain, which I never could have believed, had they not been told by the individuals who had been engaged in them, but which, though I do not doubt their authenticity, are improper to detail. I should not have dwelt so long on the distressing facts that have been given, but to exhibit in the true, though by no means strongest colours, the savage character and brutal conduct of those, who have been represented as enjoying, in their rude and simple state, a high degree of happiness, and cultivating all that is amiable and benevolent.
The bodies of the slain being now abandoned by the victors, they turned their attention to the division of the spoils, the appropriation of the country, &c. In connexion with this, the rani arua was performed, and was indeed considered as a part of the ceremony of devoting the slain to the gods. A human sacrifice was procured, and offered, principally to secure the return of the occupations and amusements of peace; feasting, dancing, &c. The burden of the prayer was—Tutavae aua i te po, Roonui arena homai te ao, &c. and which may be rendered, “Let the god of war return to the world of night: Let Roo the god of peace preside in the world, or place of light,” &c.
The local situation of the people, and their page 312 familiarity with the sea, led them to feel at home upon the water, and on this element many of their bloodiest battles were fought. A description of their pahis, or war canoes, has been already given. Their fleets were often large. The Huahinian expedition, according to the account of those still living who were in the battle of Hooroto, amounted to “ninety ships, each twenty fathoms long,” on which it is probable a number of smaller canoes were in attendance. When the engagement took place within the reefs, the canoes were often lashed together in a line, the stem of one being fastened to the stern of the canoe before it. This they called api, and adopted it to prevent the breaking of their line, or retreat from the combat. The opposing fleet was, perhaps, lashed or fastened in the same way; and thus the two fleets, presenting one continued line of canoes, with the revas or streamers flying, were paddled out to sea, the warriors occupying the platform raised for their defence, and enabling them to command each part of the canoe.
At a distance, stones were slung; on a nearer approach, light spears or javelins were hurled, until they came close alongside of each other, when, under the excitement of rage, infatuation, ambition, or despair, they fought with the most obstinate fury.
It is not easy to imagine a conflict more sanguinary and horrid than theirs must have been. Although the victors, when faatini'd or supplicated, sometimes spared the fallen, it was rarely they gave any quarter. Retreat there was none—and, knowing that death or conquest must end the fray, they fought under the influence of desperation.page 313
At times, both fleets retired, as at Hooroto; but when victory was evidently in favour of one, the warriors in that fleet sometimes swept through the other, slaughtering all who did not leap into the sea, and swim toward the canoe of some friend in the opposing fleet. I have been informed by some of the chiefs of Huahine, who have been in their battles, that they have seen a fleet towed to the shore by the victors, filled with the wounded and the dead—the few that survived being inadequate to its management.
When the canoes of a fleet were not fastened together, as soon as the combatants perceived that they were overpowered, they sought safety in flight, and, if pursued, abandoned their canoes on reaching the shore, and hastened to their fortress in the mountains.
They did not enclose their temporary encampments in the open field, but each party considered a fortification as a security against invasion, and a refuge after defeat in action.
Their places of defence were rocky fortresses improved by art—narrow defiles, or valleys sheltered by projecting eminences—passes among the mountains, difficult of access, yet allowing their inmates a secure and extensive range, and an unobstructed passage to some spring or stream. The celebrated Pare, in Atehuru, was of this kind; the mouth of the valley in which it was situated was built up with a stone wall, and those who fled thither for shelter, were generally able to repel their assailants.
Sometimes they cut down trees, and built a kind of stage or platform called pafata, projecting over an avenue leading to the para; upon this they collected piles of stone and fragments of rock, page 314 which they hurled down on those by whom they were attacked. In some of the Hervey Islands they planted trees around their places of encampment, and thus rendered them secure against surprise.—These enclosures they called pa, the term which is used to designate a fort in the Sandwich Islands.
If those who had been routed on the field of battle were allowed by their pursuers time to wall up the entrances of their places of refuge, they were seldom exposed to assault, though they might be decoyed from them by stratagem, or induced to leave from hunger. The pari in Boraboro, and some places in Tahiti, are seldom excelled as natural fortresses. Several of these places were very extensive; that at Maeva, in Huahine, bordering on a lake of the same name, and near Mounatabu, is probably the best artificial fortification in the islands. Being a square of about half a mile on each side, it encloses many acres of ground well stocked with bread-fruit, containing several springs, and having within its precincts the principal temple of their tutelar deity. The walls are of solid stonework, in height twelve feet. They are even and regularly paved at the top. On the top of the walls, (which in some places were ten or twelve feet thick,) the warriors kept watch, and slept. Their houses were built within, and it was considered sufficiently large to contain the whole of the population. There were four principal openings in the wall, at regular distances from each other, that in the west being called the king's road. They were designed for ingress and egress, but during a siege were built up with loose stones, when it was considered a pari haabuea, an impregnable fortress, or, as the term indicates, place of refuge and life. page 315 Such as fled to the rocks or mountains were called meho.
If those who had escaped were numerous, and the conquering army wished to subdue them, the war often assumed a protracted form. When the assailants had determined on reducing them, they endeavoured to decoy them out; if they failed, they seldom succeeded in scaling or forcing their ramparts. Famine often reduced the besieged to the greatest distress, so that they ate the pohue, or wild convolvolus stalks, and other rude kinds of food. They frequently made desperate sallies, but were often driven back with great slaughter.
In a sally made during one of the wars which occurred in the year 1802, called in the annals of Tahiti, “the war of Rua,” this chief, and a number of his fighting-men, were taken, and killed on the spot by the king's order. The next day the king marched to the fortress, but found it well manned, and the greatest determination to resist manifested by the warriors.
An ambassadress, with a flag of truce, passed between the parties, but the besieged manifested an uncommon degree of dauntless obstinacy. When told of the numbers and the persons slain, they appeared as if but little affected by it, pretended not to know them, excepting the chief, who, they said, it was far more likely had been drowned in the river, than that he had fallen into their hands. This they evidently did, to shew that what they thought would induce them to make an unconditional surrender, had not so subdued them; and the survivor, Taatahee, directed the ambassadress to say to Pomare, “When I have experienced the same fate as Rua then, and not till then, he may expect peace.”page 316
When the reduction of a fortress was a matter of importance, the co-operation of the gods was again invoked, and the Hiamoea performed. This was a religious ceremony, in which the finest mats, cloth, and other valuable spoils, were taken by the victorious party, as near to the fortress as it was safe to approach. Here they took the different articles of property in their hands, and, holding them up, offered them to the gods, who, it was supposed, had hitherto favoured the besieged; the priests frequently exclaiming to the following effect—Tane in the interior or fortress, Oro in the interior or fortress, &c. come to the sea, here are your offerings, &c. The priests of the besieged, on the contrary, endeavoured to detain the gods, by exhibiting whatever property they possessed, if they considered the god likely to leave them. A warrior would sometimes offer himself, and say, Eiaha e haere, “Leave us not, here is your offering, O Oro! even I!” It is hardly possible to avoid admiring the patriotism evinced on such occasions. It was a devotion worthy of a better cause.
Although the besieged might offer their human sacrifices, they must perform what, under these circumstances, would be called Taaraa-moua, the fall from the mountain, and which they carried as near the temple of the tutelar deity as their enemies would allow them to approach, when, having deposited their offering, they fled to the fortress, determined to defend it; yet, if the property which the victors had there offered, and devoted as it were to the gods, was valuable and abundant, the besieged became dispirited, believing that the gods had left them, and gone to the party by whom these offerings had been made. They always imagined that the gods were influenced by motives page 317 similar to those which governed their own conduct; and when once the vanquished party imbibed the impression that the gods had forsaken them, their defence was comparatively feeble, and they consequently fell a prey to their enemies, who were often indebted more to the superstitious apprehensions of their foes, than to their own skill or power. It is amusing (were it not too serious a subject) to notice the absurdity, and childish conduct occasionally exhibited. When a party wished for peace, they sometimes offered the taata o meia roa, a young plantain tree, taken up by the roots, put in a basket, and carried to the temple, as they were accustomed to carry a human victim. The men who bore it, shouting to the god, exclaimed, “Here is the man, long plantain; give us peace in abundance. Compassionate your devotees—cause the war to cease. If you do not attend, we will not worship you again. Compassionate your pigs, feeders, pearl divers, scarlet feather seekers. If you do not deliver us, you are an evil working god.”
If the conquered party surrendered at discretion, their land and property were divided by the conquerors, and the captives either murdered, reduced to slavery, or reserved for sacrifices when the gods might require human victims. The bodies of such as were killed in their forts, were treated with the same indignity as those slain in the field; parts of the bodies were eaten by the priests, the rest piled up in heaps on the sea-coast, where the effects of decomposition have been so offensive, that the people have forborne to fish in the adjacent parts of the sea. On the contrary, when neither party had been subdued, and, by intimation from the gods, or any other cause, one party desired page 318 peace, an ambassador was sent with a flag of truce which was usually of native cloth, a bunch of the sacred miro, or a bunch of feathers fixed to the end of a reed, and called the manufaiti, and proposals of peace. If the other party were favourable, an interview followed between the leaders, attended by the priests and national orators.
They usually sat in council on the ground, either under a shady grove, or on the sandy beach. The orators of those who had sent the proposals made the first harangue; this was followed by a reply from the orator of the other party, who was sitting on the ground opposite, and ten or twenty yards distant. Each held in his hand a bunch of the sacred miro. The king or chiefs sat beside them, while the people stood around, at some distance. When the terms were agreed upon, the wreath of peace was woven with two or three green boughs, furnished by each, as the bond of reconciliation and friendship. Two young dogs were then exchanged by the respective parties, and the apa pia brought; this was sometimes a long strip of apa, or cloth, white on one side, and red on the other; the cloth was joined together, by both parties, in token of their union, and imprecations were invoked on those who should hae, or rend, the apaa pia, or band of peace. The apaa pia and the green boughs were then offered to the gods, and they were called upon to avenge the treachery of those who should rend the band, or break the wreath. Divinations were also used, to know whether it would be of a long or short continuance. Sometimes a chief desirous of peace, sent a herald with the red and yellow feathers, and the apaa pia fastened at opposite ends of a cane, saying, “Fly to the dark water, (opposing page 319 army) with this manufaiti;” which was also called the restorer of peace, by which the dark sky became bright and cloudless.
Feasting followed the ceremony, together with the usual native games; besides which, religious rites were performed. The first was the maioi when vast quantities of food were taken to the king, and large offerings to the gods, together with prayers for the establishment and prosperity of the reign. Another was called the oburoa na te arii, and consisted also in offerings to the gods, with prayers for their support, and a large present of food to the principal warrior chief, under the king, as an acknowledgment of his important service in the recent struggles, and his influence in establishing the king in his government.
But the most important ceremony, in connexion with the ratification of peace, was the upoofaataa, &c. It was commemorative of the establishment of the new government, and designed to secure its perpetuity, and the happiness of the community. A leading raatira was usually the chief proprietor of the entertainment, and master of the ceremonies. The festival was convivial and religious. Food and fruits, in the greatest profusion, were furnished for the altars of the gods, and the banquet of the king.
A heiva, or grand dance, formed a part of this ceremony. It was called the dance of peace, and was performed in the presence of the king, who, surrounded by a number of chiefs and warriors, sat at one end of the large house in which it took place. A number of men, and sometimes women, fantastically dressed, danced to the beating of the dram and the warbling of the vivo, or flute; and though the king was surrounded by a number of page 320 attendants as body-guards, towards the close of the exhibition the men sought to approach the king's person, and kiss his hand, or the females to salute his face; when one or the other succeeded in this, the heiva, or dance, was complete, and the performance discontinued.
This, however, was only part of the ceremony, for while they were thus employed, the priests were engaged in supplicating the gods that these amusements might be continued, and their enjoyments in feasting, dancing, and the pursuits connected with them, might not be again suspended or disturbed by war. Peace was now considered as established, the club and spear were cleaned, varnished, and hung up in their dwellings; and the festive entertainments, pagan rites, and ordinary avocations of life, resumed, till some fresh quarrel required an appeal to their weapons, and again led them to the field of plunder and of death.
I have dwelt longer on this subject than I intended, and perhaps than it required; but the former frequency of war, the motives influencing the parties engaging in the ceremonies connected with it, and the manner in which it was prosecuted, were all adapted to convey, next to their mythology, a correct idea of the national character of the people, who made war, paganism, and vicious amusements, the business of life. In all our converse with them relative to their former state, no subject was so frequently introduced. No event in history, no character in their biography, appeared unconnected with some warlike expedition, or feat of arms; and almost all the illustrations of the most powerful and striking expressions which we sought to investigate, were drawn from the wars.