Inhabitants of the islands of the Pacific—Oceanic negroes—Eastern Polynesians—General account of the South Sea Islanders—Physical character—Expression of countenance—Stature, colour, &c.—Mental capacity—Ancient division and computation of time—Tahitian numerals—Extended calculations—Aptness in receiving instruction—Moral character—Hospitality—Extensive and affecting moral degradation—Its enervating influence—Former longevity of the islanders.
The islands of the Pacific are inhabited by two tribes of men totally distinct, and in some respects entirely different from each other. The most ancient tribe is composed of what are designated Oceanic negroes, who are distinguished by the darkness of the skin, smallness of stature, and particularly by their black woolly or crisped hair. The other tribe exhibits many of the distinguishing features which belong to the physical character of the Malayan and aboriginal American tribes. The former race more properly belong to Australasia, as by them New Holland, New Guinea, New Britain, New Caledonia, and the New Hebrides, are peopled, while on one of the islands, still farther to the westward, both tribes take up their abode, and yet remain distinct; the Oceanic negroes dwelling in the interior, and among the mountain fastnesses, while those of a fairer complexion form their settlements along the shore. In the vicinity of the Friendly Islands they appear to be blended. The greater part of Polynesia appears to be inhabited page 79 by those who present in their physical character many points of resemblance to the Malays and South Americans, but yet differ materially from either, and seem to form an intermediate race.
Although, with very few exceptions, all the inhabitants of these islands, to which the designation of Polynesia is given, exhibit the leading marks of the tribe to which they belong, the people of each cluster are distinguished by some minor peculiarities. The following description refers to the inhabitants of the Georgian, Society, and adjacent islands, which, for the sake of brevity, are designated Tahitians, or Society Islanders.
The Tahitians are generally above the middle stature; but their limbs are less muscular and firm than those of the Sandwich Islanders, whom in many respects they resemble. They are, at the same time, more robust than the Marquesans, who are the most light and agile of the inhabitants of Eastern Polynesia. In size and physical power they are inferior to the New Zealanders, and probably resemble in person the Friendly Islanders, as much as any others in the Pacific; exhibiting, however, neither the gravity of the latter, nor the vivacity of the Marquesans. Their limbs are well formed, and although, where corpulency prevails, there is a degree of sluggishness, they are generally active in their movements, graceful and stately in their gait, and perfectly unembarrassed in their address. Those who reside in the interior, or frequently visit the mountainous parts of the islands, form an exception to this remark. The constant use of the naked feet in climbing the steep sides of the rocks, or the narrow defiles of the ravines, probably induces them to turn their toes inwards, which renders their gait exceedingly awkward.page 80
Among the many models of perfection in the human figure that appear in the islands, (presenting to the eye of the stranger all that is beautiful in symmetry and graceful in action,) instances of deformity are now frequently seen, arising from a loathsome disease, of foreign origin, affecting the features of the face, and muscular parts of the body. There is another disease, which forms such a curvature of the upper part of the spine, as to produce what is termed a humped or broken back. The disease which produces this distortion of shape, and deformity of appearance, is declared, by the natives, to have been unknown to their ancestors; and, according to the accounts some of them give of it, was the result of a disease left by the crew of Vancouver's ship. It does not prevail in any of the other groups; and although such numbers are now affected with it, there is no reason to believe, that, formerly, except the many disfigurements produced by the elephantiasis, which appears to have prevailed from their earliest antiquity, a deformed person was seldom seen.
The countenance of the Society Islander is open and prepossessing, though the features are bold, and sometimes prominent. The facial angle is frequently as perpendicular as in the European structure, excepting where the frontal and the occipital bones of the skull were pressed together in infancy. This was frequently done by the mothers, with the male children, when they were designed for warriors. The forehead is sometimes low, but frequently high, and finely formed; the eye-brows are dark and well defined, occasionally arched, but more generally straight; the eyes seldom large, but bright and full, and of a jet-black colour; the cheek-bones not high; the nose either rectilinear page 81 or aquiline, often accompanied with a fulness about the nostrils; it is seldom flat, not-withstanding it was formerly the practice of the mothers and nurses to press the nostrils of the female children, a flat and broad nose being by many regarded as more handsome than otherwise. The mouth in general is well formed, though the lips are sometimes large, yet never so much so as to resemble those of the African. The teeth are always entire, excepting in extreme old age, and, though rather large in some, are remarkably white, and seldom either discoloured or decayed. The ears are large, and the chin retreating or projecting, most generally inclining to the latter. The form of the face is either round or oval, and but very seldom exhibits any resemblance to the angular form of the Tartar visage, while their profile frequently bears a most striking resemblance to that of the European. Their hair is a shining black or dark brown colour; straight, but not lank and wiry like that of the American Indian, nor, excepting in a few solitary instances, woolly like the New Guinea or New Holland negroes. Frequently it is soft and curly, though seldom so fine as that of the civilized nations inhabiting the temperate zones.
There is a considerable difference between the stature of the male and female sex here, as well as in other parts of the world, yet not so great as that which often prevails in Europe. The females, though generally more delicate in form and smaller in size than the men, are, taken altogether, stronger and larger than the females of England, and sometimes remarkably tall and stout. A roundness and fulness of figure, without extending to corpulency, distinguishes the people in general, particularly the females.page 82
It is a singular fact in the physiology of the inhabitants of this part of the world, that the chiefs, and persons of hereditary rank and influence in the islands, are, almost without exception, as much superior to the peasantry or common people, in stateliness, dignified deportment, and physical strength, as they are in rank and circumstances; although they are not elected to their station on account of their personal endowments, but derive their rank and elevation from their ancestry. This is the case with most of the groups of the Pacific, but peculiarly so in Tahiti and the adjacent isles. The father of the late king was six feet four inches high; Pomare was six feet two. The present king of Raiatea is equally tall. Mahine, the king of Huahine, but for the effects of age, would appear little inferior. Their limbs are generally well formed, and the whole figure is proportioned to their height; which renders the difference between the rulers and their subjects so striking, that Bougainville and some others have supposed they were a distinct race, the descendants of a superior people, who at a remote period had conquered the aborigines, and perpetuated their supremacy. It does not, however, appear necessary, in accounting for the fact, to resort to such a supposition; different treatment in infancy, superior and more regular diet, bathing, distinct habits of life, and the relation that often prevails between the physical character of parents and their children, are sufficient. Some individuals among the lower classes exhibit a stature equal to that of the chiefs; but this is of rare occurrence, and that circumstance alone does not facilitate the admission of its possessor to the higher ranks in society, though in the matrimonial alliances of their chiefs, they undoubtedly had respect to the physical superiority of page 83 their rulers. Hence, in one of their songs, the following sentiments are inculcated:—“If black be the complexion of the mother, the son will sound the conch-shell; if vigorous and strong the mother, the son will be a governor.”
The prevailing colour of the natives is an olive, a bronze, or a reddish brown—equally removed from the jet-black of the African and the Asiatic, the yellow of the Malay, and the red or copper-colour of the aboriginal American, frequently presenting a kind of medium between the two latter colours. Considerable variety, nevertheless, prevails in the complexion of the population of the same island, and as great a diversity among the inhabitants of different islands. The natives of the Paliser or Pearl Islands, a short distance to the eastward of Tahiti, are darker than the inhabitants of the Georgian group. It is not, however, a blacker hue that their skin presents, but a darker red or brown. The natives of Maniaa, or Mangeea, one of the Harvey cluster, and some of the inhabitants of Rurutu, and the neighbourhood to the south of Tahiti, designated by Malte Brun, “the Austral Islands,” and the majority of the reigning family in Raiatea, are not darker than the inhabitants of some parts of southern Europe.
At the time of their birth, the complexion of Tahitian infants is but little if any darker than that of European children, and the skin only assumes the bronze or brown hue as they grow up under repeated or constant exposure to the sun. Those parts of the body that are most covered, even with their loose draperies of native cloth, are, through every period of life, much lighter coloured than those that are exposed; and, notwithstanding the dark tint with which the climate appears to dye page 84 their skin, the ruddy bloom of health and vigour or the sudden blush, is often seen mantling the youthful countenance under the light brown tinge, which, like a thin veil, but partially conceals its glowing hue. The females who are much employed in beating cloth, making mats, or other occupations followed under shelter, are usually fairer than the rest; while the fishermen, who are most exposed to the sun, are invariably the darkest portion of the population.
Darkness of colour was generally considered an indication of strength; and fairness of complexion, the contrary. Hence, the men were not solicitous either to cover their persons, or avoid the sun's rays, from any apprehension of the effect it would produce on the skin. When they searched the field of battle for the bones of the slain, to use them in the manufacture of chisels, gimlets, or fish-hooks, they always selected those whose skins were dark, as they supposed their bones were strongest. When I have seen the natives looking at a very dark man, I have sometimes heard them say, Taata ra e, te ereere! ivi maitai tona: “The man, how dark! good bones are his.” A fair complexion was not an object of admiration or desire. They never considered the fairest European countenance seen among them, handsomer than their own; and sometimes, when a fine, tall, well-formed, and personable man has landed from a ship, they have remarked as he passed along, “A fine man that, if he were but a native.” They formerly supposed the white colour of the European's skin to the effect of illness, and hence beheld it with pity. This opinion probably originated from the effects of a disease with which they are occasionally afflicted—a kind of leprosy, which turns the skin of the parts affected, white. page 85 This impression, however, is now altogether removed by the lengthened intercourse they have had with foreigners, and the residence of European families among them.
The mental capacity of the Society Islanders has been hitherto much more partially developed than their physical character. They are remarkably curious and inquisitive, and, compared with other Polynesian nations, may be said to possess considerable ingenuity, mechanical invention, and imitation. Totally unacquainted with the use of letters, their minds could not be improved by any regular continued culture; yet the distinguishing features of their civil polity—the imposing nature, numerous observances, and diversified ramifications of their mythology—the legends of their gods—the historical songs of their bards—the beautiful, figurative, and impassioned eloquence sometimes displayed in their national assemblies—and, above all, the copiousness, variety, precision, and purity of their language, with their extensive use of numbers—warrant the conclusion, that they possess no contemptible mental capabilities. This conclusion is supported by a variety of circumstances connected with their former state.
Though unacquainted with the compass, they have names for the cardinal points. The north they call Apatoa; the south, Apatoerau; the east, Te hitia o te ra, the rising of the sun; and the west, the Tooa o te ra, the falling or sinking of the sun.
Their genealogies and chronological traditions do not appear to have been so correctly preserved as those of the Hawaiians, one or two of which I have, that appear, at least for nearly thirty generations, tolerably correct, though they go back one hundred generations. They were, however, as correct in page 86 their methods of computing time as their northern neighbours, if not more so. One mode of reckoning time was by ui's, or generations; but the most general calculation was by the year, which they call matahiti, and which consisted of twelve or thirteen lunar months, by the tau or matarii, season or half-year, by the month of thirty days, and by the day or night. They had distinct names for each month; and though they all agreed about the length of the year, they were not unanimous as to the beginning of it, or the names of the months, each island having a computation peculiar to itself.
The following is a statement of their divisions of time, copied from a small book on arithmetic, &c. prepared by Mr. Davies, which I printed at Huahine in 1819. It is the method of computation adopted by the late Pomare and the reigning family.
|1.||Avarehu||The new moon that appears about the summer solstice of Tahiti, and generally answers to the last ten days of December or the beginning of January.|
|2.||Faaahu||January, and part of February—The season of plenty.|
|3.||Pipiri||February, and part of March.|
|4.||Taaoa||March, and part of April—The season of scarcity.|
|5.||Aununu||April, and part of May.|
|6.||Apaapa||May, and a part of June.|
|7.||Paroro mua||June, and a part of July.|
|8.||Paroro muri||July, and a part of August.|
|9.||Muriaha||August, and a part of September.|
|10.||Hiaia||September, and part of October.|
|11.||Tema||October, and part of November—The season of scarcity.|
|12.||Te-eri||The whole, or a part of, November—The uru, or young bread-fruit, begins to flower.page 87|
|13.||Te-tai||The whole, or a part of, December—The uru, or bread-fruit, nearly ripe.|
Their calculations, however, were not very exact. Thirteen moons exceed the duration of the solar year. But, in order to adapt the same moons to the same seasons, as they successively occur, the moon generally answering to March, or the one occurring about July, is omitted; and, in some years, only twelve moons are enumerated.
Another computation commenced the year at the month Apaapa, about the middle of May, and gave different names to several of the months. They divided the year into two seasons, of the Matarii, or Pleiades. The first they called Matarii i nia, Pleiades above. It commenced when, in the evening, these stars appeared on or near the horizon; and the half year, during which, immediately after sunset, they were seen above the horizon, was called Matarii i nia. The other season commenced when, at sunset, the stars were invisible, and continued until at that hour they appeared again above the horizon. This season was called Matarii i raro, Pleiades below.
The islanders had three seasons besides these. The first they called Tetau, autumn, or season of plenty, the harvest of bread-fruit. It commenced with the month Tetai, December, and continued till Faahu. This is not only the harvest, but the summer of the South Sea Islands. It is also the season of most frequent rain. The next is Te tau miti rahi, the season of high sea. This commences with Tieri, November, and continues until January. The third is the longest, and is called the Te tau Poai, the winter, or season of drought and scarcity. It generally commences in Paroromua, July, and continues till Tema, October.
The natives have distinct names for each day page 88 and each night of the month or moon. They do not, however, reckon time by days, but by nights. Hence, instead of saying, How many days since? they would inquire, Rui hia aenei? “How many nights?” The following are the different nights of each moon.
The Nights of the Moon
Omarae.—Te-maramaati, or the moon with a round and full face.
O-Terieo.—This is the night or day the moon dies, or is changed.
The seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth nights, or nights immediately succeeding the full moon, were considered as seasons when spirits wander more than at any other time; they were also favourable to the depredations of thieves. They do not appear to have divided their months into weeks, or to have had any division between months and days. Totally ignorant of clocks or watches, they could not divide the day into hours. They, however, marked the progress of the day with sufficient exactness, by noticing the position of the sun in the firmament, the appearance of the atmosphere, and the ebbing and flowing of the tide.page 89
Midnight they called the Tui ra po.
One or two in the morning—Maru ao.
Cock-crowing, or about three o'clock in the morning—Aaoa te moa; aaoa being an imitation of the crowing of a cock.
The dawn of day—Tatahiata.
Morning twilight—Marao rao.
When the flies begin to stir—Ferao-rao.
When a man's face can be known—Itea te mata taata.
The first appearance of the upper part of the sun—Te hatea ra o te ra.
Sunrise, or morning—Poi poi.
The sun above the horizon—Ofao tuna te ra.
The sun a little higher, sending his rays on the land—Matiti titi te ra.
About seven o'clock—Tohe pu te ra.
Eight o'clock—Pere tia te ra.
About nine—Ua paare te ra.
Ten or eleven—Ua medua te ra.
Noon-day, or the sun on the meridian—Avatea.
One or two in the afternoon—Taupe te ra.
About three in the afternoon—Tape-tape te ra.
Nearly four—Tahataha te ra.
About five—Hia-hia te ra.
Between five and six—Ua maru maru te ra.
Sun-setting, Ahiahi—Evening—Mairi te ra, Falling of the sun.
The beginning of darkness—Arehurehu.
Night, or the light quite gone—Po.
When the sea begins to flow towards the land—Pananu te tai.
About eleven at night—Tia rua te rui.
In order to facilitate their commercial transactions, and their intercourse with civilized nations, the names for the months, and the days of the week, used in England, have been introduced. They have also been instructed in our methods of calculating the leap-years, &c.
The English method of mensuration has been introduced, and, with regard to short distances, they begin to understand it. The word hebedoma has been introduced, to signify a week. It is not; page 90 however, so frequently employed by the people, as the word Sabbath. If a native wished to say he had been absent on a voyage or journey six weeks, he would generally say six Sabbaths, or one moon and two Sabbaths.
Considering their uncivilized state, and want of letters, their method of computing time is matter of astonishment, and shews that they must have existed as a nation for many generations, to have rendered it so perfect. It is also an additional proof that they are not deficient in mental capacity.
Their acquaintance with, and extensive use of numbers, under these circumstances, is still more surprising. They did not reckon by forties, after the manner of the Mexicans and the Sandwich Islanders, but had a decimal method of calculation. These numerals were,
|Atahi, one.||Aono, six.|
|Arua, two.||Ahitu, seven.|
|Atoru, three.||Avaru, eight.|
|Amaha, four.||Aiva, nine.|
|Arima, five.||Ahuru, ten.|
Eleven would be Ahuru matahi, ten and one; and so on to twenty, which was simply Erua ahuru, two tens; twenty-one, two tens and one; and proceeding in this way till ten tens, or one hundred, which they called a Rau. The same method was repeated for every successive rau, or hundred, till ten had been enumerated, and these they called one Mano, or thousand. They continued in the same way to enumerate the units, ahurus or tens, raus or hundreds, and manos or thousands, until they had counted ten manos, or thousands; this they called a Manotini, or ten thousand. Continuing the same process, they page 91 counted ten manotinis, which they called a Rehu, or one hundred thousand. Advancing still farther, they counted ten rehus, which they called an Iu, which was ten hundred thousand, or one million.
They had no higher number than the iu, or million: they could, however, by means of the above terms or combinations, enumerate, with facility, tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of millions.
The precision, regularity, and extent of their numbers has often astonished me; and how a people, having, comparatively speaking, but little necessity to use calculation, and being destitute of knowledge of figures, should have originated and matured such a system, is still wonderful, and appears, more than any other fact, to favour the opinion that these islands were peopled from a country whose inhabitants were highly civilized.
Many of their numerals are precisely the same as those used by the people of several of the Asiatic islands, and also in the remote and populous island of Madagascar. Occasionally the islanders double the number, by simply counting two instead of one. This is frequently practised in counting fish, bread-fruit, or cocoa-nuts, and is called double counting, by which all the above terms signify twice as large a number as is now affixed to them.
In counting, they usually employ a piece of the stalk of the cocoa-nut leaf, putting one aside for every ten, and gathering them up, and putting a longer one aside for every rau, or hundred. The natives of most of the islands, adults and children, appear remarkably fond of figures and calculations, and receive the elements of arithmetic with great facility, and seeming delight.page 92
They estimate the distance of places by the length of time it takes to travel or sail from one to the other. Thus, if we wished to give them an idea of the distance from the islands to England, we should say it was five months; and they would say the distance from Tahiti to Huahine was a night and a day, and from Huahine to Raiatea, from sunrise to nearly noon, &c.
That their mental powers are not inferior to those of the generality of mankind, has been more fully shown since the establishment of schools, and the introduction of letters. Not only have the children and young persons learned to read, write, cipher, and commit their lessons to memory with a facility and quickness not exceeded by individuals of the same age in any country; but the education of adults, and even persons advanced in years—which in England, with every advantage, is so difficult an undertaking, that nothing but the use of the best means and untiring application ever accomplished it—has been effected here with comparative ease. Multitudes, who were upwards of thirty or forty years of age when they commenced with the alphabet, have, in the course of twelve months, learned to read distinctly in the New Testament, large portions, and even whole books of which, some of them have in a short period committed to memory.
They acquired the first rules of arithmetic with equal facility, and have readily received the different kinds of instruction hitherto furnished, as fast as their teachers could prepare lessons in the native language. It is probable that not less than ten thousand persons have learned to read the Scriptures, and that nearly an equal number are either capable of writing, or are under page 93 instruction. In the several stations and branch stations, many thousands are still receiving daily instruction in the first principles of human knowledge and divine truth.
The following extract from the journal of a Tahitian, now a native Missionary in the Sandwich group, is not only most interesting from the intelligence it conveys, but creditable to the writer's talents. It was published in the American Missionary Herald, and refers to the young princess of the Sandwich Islands, the only sister of the late and present king.
“Nahienaena, in knowledge and words, is a woman of matured understanding. All the fathers and mothers of this land are ignorant and left-handed; they become children in the presence of Nahienaena, and she is their mother and teacher. Her own men, women, and children, those composing her household, (or domestic establishment,) listen to the good word of God from her lips. She also instructs Hoapiri and wife in good things. She teaches them night and day. She is constantly speaking to her steward, and to all her household. Very numerous are the words which she speaks, to encourage, and to strengthen them in the good way.
“The young princess has always been pleasant in conversation. Her words are good words. She takes pleasure in conversation, like a woman of mature years. She orders her speech with great wisdom and discretion, always making a just distinction between good and evil. She manifests much discernment in speaking to others the word of God, and the word of love. It was by the maliciousness of the people, old and young, that she was formerly led astray. She was then ignorant of the devices of the wicked. They have given her no rest; but have presented every argument befoe her that this world could present, to win her over to them.
“Nahienaena desires now to make herself very low. She does not wish to be exalted by men. She desires to cast off entirely the rehearsing of names; for her rejoicing is not now in names and titles. This is what she desires, and longs to have rehearsed— ‘Jesus alone; let him be page 94 lifted up; let him be exalted; let all rejoice in him; let our hearts sing praise to him.’ This is the language of her inmost soul.”
On a public occasion, in the island of Raiatea, during the year 1825, a number of the inhabitants were conversing on the wisdom of God; which, it was observed, though so long unperceived by them, was strikingly exhibited in every object they beheld. In confirmation of this, a venerable and gray-headed man, who had formerly been a sorcerer, or priest of the evil spirit, stretched forth his hand, and, looking at the limbs of his body, said, “Here the wisdom of God is displayed. I have hinges from my toes to my finger ends. This finger has its hinges, and bends at my desire—this arm, on its hinge, is extended at my will—by means of these hinges, my legs bear me where I wish; and my mouth, by its hinge, masticates my food. Does not all this display the wisdom of God?
The above will show, that the inhabitants of these distant isles, though shut out for ages from intercourse with every other part of the world, and deprived of every channel of knowledge, are, notwithstanding, by no means inferior in intellect or capacity to the more favoured inhabitants of other parts of the globe. These statements also warrant the anticipation, that they will attain an elevation equal to that of the most cultivated and enlarged intellect, whenever they shall secure the requisite advantages.
They certainly appear to possess an aptness for learning, and a quickness in pursuit of it, which is highly encouraging, although in some degree counteracted by the volatile disposition and fugitive habits of their early life, under the influence of which their mental character was formed; and a page 95 love of indolence, fostered by the warmth of the climate, and the fertility of the soil.
The moral character of the South Sea Islanders, though more fully developed than their intellectual capacity, often presents the most striking contradictions. Their hospitality has, ever since their discovery, been proverbial, and cannot be exceeded. It is practised alike by all ranks, and is regulated only by the means of the individual by whom it is exercised. A poor man feels himself called upon, when a friend from a distance visits his dwelling, to provide an entertainment for him, though he should thereby expend every article of food he possessed; and he would generally divide his fish or his bread-fruit with any one, even a stranger, who should be in need, or who should ask him for it.
I am willing to afford them every degree of credit for the exercise of this amiable disposition; yet, when it is considered that a guest is not entertained day after day at his friend's table, but that after one large collection of food has been presented, the visitor must provide for himself, while the host frequently takes but little further concern about him—we are induced to think, that the force of custom is as powerful in its influence on his mind, as that of hospitality. In connexion with this, it should be recollected, that for every such entertainment, the individual expects to be reimbursed in kind, whenever he may visit the abode of his guest. Their ancient laws of government, also, imperiously required the poor industrious landholder, or farmer, to bring forth the produce of his garden or his field for the use of the chiefs, or the wandering and licentious Areois, whenever they might half at his residence; and more individuals page 96 have been banished, or selected as sacrifices, for withholding what these daring ramblers required, than perhaps for all other crimes. To withhold food from the king or chiefs, when they might enter a district, was considered a crime next to resisting the royal authority, or declaring war against the king; and this has in a great degree rendered the people so ready to provide an entertainment for those by whom they may be visited.
Next to their hospitality, their cheerfulness and good nature strike a stranger. They are seldom melancholy or reserved, always willing to enter into conversation, and ready to be pleased, and to attempt to please their associates. They are, generally speaking, careful not to give offence to each other: but though, since the introduction of Christianity, families dwell together, and find an increasing interest in social intercourse, yet they do not realize that high satisfaction experienced by members of families more advanced in civilization. There are, however, few domestic broils; and were fifty natives taken promiscuously from any town or village, to be placed in a neighbourhood or house—where they would disagree once, fifty Englishmen, selected in the same way, and placed under similar circumstances, would quarrel perhaps twenty times. They do not appear to delight in provoking one another, but are far more accustomed to jesting, mirth, and humour, than irritating or reproachful language.
Their jests and raillery were not always confined to individuals, but extended to neighbourhoods, or the population of whole islands. The inhabitants of one of the Leeward Islands, (Tahaa, I believe,) even to the present time furnish matter for mirthful jest to the natives of the other islands of the group, page 97 from the circumstance of one of their people, the first time she saw a foreigner who wore boots, exclaiming, with astonishment, that the individual had iron legs. It is also said, that among the first scissors possessed by the Huahineans, one pair became exceedingly dull, and the simple-hearted people, not knowing how to remedy this defect, tried several experiments, and at length baked the scissors in a native oven, for the purpose of sharpening them. Hence the people of Huahine are often spoken of in jest by the Tahitians, as the feia eu paoti, or people that baked the scissors. The Tahitians themselves were in their turn subjects of raillery, from some of their number, who resided at a distance from the sea, attempting, on one occasion, to kill a turtle by pinching its throat, or strangling it, when the neck was drawn into the shell, on which they were surprised to find they could make no impression with their fingers. The Huahineans, therefore, in their turn, spoke of the Tahitians as the feia uumi honu, the people that strangled the turtle.
Their humour and their jests were, however, but rarely what might be termed innocent sallies of wit; they were in general low and immoral to a disgusting degree. Their common conversation, when engaged in their ordinary avocations, was often such as the ear could not listen to without pollution, presenting images, and conveying sentiments, whose most fleeting passage through the mind left contamination. Awfully dark, indeed, was their moral character, and notwithstanding the apparent mildness of their disposition, and the cheerful vivacity of their conversation, no portion of the human race was ever perhaps sunk lower in brutal licentiousness and moral degradation, than this isolated people,page 98
“The Paphian Venus driven from the west,
In Polynesian groves long undisturbed,
Her shameful rites and orgies foul maintained.
The wandering voyager at Tahiti found
The veil of oblivion must be spread over this part of their character, of which the appalling picture, drawn by the pen of inspiration in the hand of the apostle, in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, revolting and humiliating as it is, affords but too faithful a portraiture.
The depraved moral habits of the South Sea Islanders undoubtedly weaken their mental energies, and enervate their physical powers; and although remarkably strong men are now and then met with among them, they seem to be more distinguished by activity, and capability of endurance, than by muscular strength. They engage in various kinds of work with great spirit for a time, but they soon tire. Regular, steady habits of labour are only acquired by long practice. When a boat manned with English seamen, and a canoe with natives, have started together from the shore—at their first setting out, the natives would soon leave the boat behind, but, as they became weary, they would relax their vigour; while the seamen, pulling on steadily, would not only overtake them, but, if the voyage occupied three or four hours, would invariably reach their destination first.
The natives take a much larger quantity of refreshment than European labourers, but their food is less solid and nutritive. They have, however, the power of enduring fatigue and hunger in a greater degree than those by whom they are visited. A native will sometimes travel, in the course of a day, thirty or forty miles, frequently over mountain page 99 and ravine, without taking any refreshment, except the juice from a piece of sugar-cane, and apparently experience but little inconvenience from his excursion. The facility with which they perform their journeys is undoubtedly the result of habit, as many are accustomed to traverse the mountains, and climb the rocky precipices, even from their childhood.
The longevity of the islanders does not appear to have been, in former times, inferior to that of the inhabitants of more temperate climates. It is, however, exceedingly difficult to ascertain the age of individuals in a community destitute of all records; and although many persons are to be met with, whose wrinkled skin, decrepit form, silver hair, impaired sight, toothless jaws, and tremulous voice, afford every indication of extreme age; these alone would be fallacious data, as climate, food, and habits of life might have prematurely induced them. Our inferences are therefore drawn from facts connected with comparatively recent events in their history, the dates of which are well known. When the Missionaries arrived in the Duff, there were natives on the island who could recollect the visit of Captain Wallis: he was there in 1767. There are, in both the Sandwich and Society Islands, individuals who can recollect Captain Cook's visit, which is fifty years ago; there are also two now in the islands, that were taken away in the Bounty, forty years since; and these individuals do not look more aged, nor even so far advanced in years, as others that may be seen. The opinion of those Missionaries who have been longest in the islands is, that many reach the age of seventy years, or upwards. There is, therefore, every reason to believe, that the period of human life, in the South page 100 Sea Islands, is not shorter than in other parts of the world, unless when it is rendered so by the inordinate use of ardent spirits, and the influence of diseases prevailing among the lower classes, from which they were originally exempt, and the ravages of which they are unable to palliate or remove.
The mode of living, especially among the farmers, their simple diet, and the absence of all stimulants, their early hours of retiring to rest, and rising in the morning with or before the break of day, their freedom from irritating or distressing cares, and sedentary habits, which so often, in artificial or civilized society, destroy health, appear favourable to the longevity of this portion of the inhabitants, and present a striking contrast to the dissipated and licentious habits of the Areois dancers, and votaries of dissipation and pleasure.