Comparative numbers of the inhabitants—Indications and causes of depopulation—Beneficial tendency of Christianity—Origin of the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands—Traditions—Legends of Taaroa and Hina—Resemblance to Jewish history—Coincidences in language, mythology, &c. with the language, &c. of the Hindoos and Malays, Madagasse, and South Americans—Probable source of population—Difficulty of reaching the islands from the west—Account of the different native voyages—Geographical extent over which the Polynesian race and language prevail.
It is impossible for any one who has visited these islands, or traversed any one of the districts, to entertain the slightest doubt that the number of inhabitants in the South Sea Islands was formerly much greater than at present. What their number, in any remote period of their history, may have been, it is not easy to ascertain: Captain Cook estimated those residing in Tahiti at 200,000. The grounds, however, on which he formed his conclusions were certainly fallacious. The population was at all times so fugitive and uncertain, as to the proportion it bore to any section of geographical surface, that no correct inference, as to the amount of the whole, could be drawn from the numbers seen in one part. Captain Wilson's calculation, in 1797, made the population of Tahiti only about 16,000; and, not many years afterwards, the Missionaries declared it as their opinion, that this island did not contain more than 8000 souls; and I page 102 cannot think that, within the last thirty years, it has ever contained fewer inhabitants.
The present number of natives is about 10,000; that of Eimeo and Tetuaroa probably 2,000. The Leeward Islands perhaps contain nearly an equal number. The Austral Islands have about 5,000 inhabitants; 4,000 of whom reside in the islands of Rapa and Raivavai.∗ Rarotogna, or Rarotoa, has a population of nearly 7,000; and the whole of the Harvey Islands contain not less than ten or eleven thousand. Connected with these may be considered the Paumotu, or Pearl Islands, of whose population it is difficult to form any correct estimate, as there are no means of ascertaining their numbers, excepting from the reports of the natives, and the observations of masters of vessels, who generally make a very short stay among them. Anaa, or Prince of Wales's Island, is said to be inhabited by several thousands, and as the islands are numerous, though small, it is to be presumed that their population does not amount to less than ten thousand. From these statements it will appear, that the population of the Georgian and Society Islands, together with the adjacent clusters, with which the natives maintain constant intercourse, and to which Christianity has been conveyed by native or European teachers, comprises between forty-eight and fifty thousand persons. In this number, the Marquesas, to which native teachers have gone, and which one of the Missionaries has recently visited, are not included. Their population is probably about thirty or forty thousand.
∗Since this estimate was first published, a severe epidemic has swept through these two latter islands, and considerably diminished the population.
With respect to the Society and neighbouring page 103 islands, although no ancient monuments are found indicating that they were ever inhabited by a race much further advanced in civilization than those found on their shores by Wallis, Cook, and Bougainville; yet that race has evidently, at no very remote period, been much more numerous than it was when discovered by Europeans. In the bottom of every valley, even to the recesses in the mountains, on the sides of the inferior hills, and on the brows of almost every promontory, in each of the islands, monuments of former generations are still met with in great abundance. Stone pavements of their dwellings and court-yards, foundations of houses, and ruins of family temples, are numerous. Occasionally they are found in exposed situations, but generally amidst thickets of brushwood or groves of trees, some of which are of the largest growth. All these relics are of the same kind as those observed among the natives at the time of their discovery, evidently proving that they belong to the same race, though to a more populous æra of their history. The stone tools occasionally found near these vestiges of antiquity demonstrate the same lamentable fact.
The present generations, deeply sensible of the depopulation that has taken place even within the recollection of those most advanced in years, have felt acutely in prospect of the annihilation that appeared inevitable. Their priests formerly denounced the destruction of the nation, as the greatest punishment the gods could inflict, and the following was one of the predictions: E tupu te fau, e toro te farero, e mou te taata: “The fau (hibiscus) shall grow, the farero (coral) shall spread or stretch out its branches, but man shall cease.”—The fau is one of the most spreading trees, and is page 104 of quickest growth; it soon over-runs uncultivated lands; while the branching coral, farero, is perhaps more rapid in its formation than any of the coral-lines that close up the openings in the reefs, and, wherever it is shallow, rises to the water's surface, so as to prevent the passage of the canoe, and destroy the resort of the fish. This was denounced as the punishment that would follow disobedience to the injunctions or requisitions of the priest, delivered in the name, and under the authority, of the gods. Tati, however, remarked to Mr. Davies, that it was the observing, not the neglecting of the directions of the priest, that had nearly produced its actual accomplishment.
At the time when the nation renounced idolatry, the population was so much reduced, that many of the more observant natives thought the denunciation of the prophet was about to be literally fulfilled. Tati, the chief of Papara, talking with Mr. Davies on this subject, in 1815, said, with great emphasis, that “if God had not sent his word at the time he did, wars, infant-murder, human sacrifices, &c. would have made an end of the small remnant of the nation.” A similar declaration was pathetically made by Pomare soon after, when some visitors from England, I think the Deputation from the Missionary Society, waited upon him at his residence. He addressed them to the following effect: “You have come to see us under circumstances very different from those under which your countrymen formerly visited our ancestors. They came in the æra of men, when the islands were inhabited, but you are come to behold just the remnant of the people.” I have often heard the chiefs speak of themselves and of the natives as only a small toea, remainder, left after the extermination of Satani, or page 105 the evil spirit; comparing themselves to a firebrand unconsumed among the mouldering embers of a recent conflagration. These figures, and others equally affecting and impressive, were but too appropriate, as emblems of the actual state to which they were reduced. Under the depopulating influence of vicious habits—the dreadful devastation of diseases that followed, and the early destruction of health—the prevalence of infanticide—the frequency of war—the barbarous principles upon which it was prosecuted, and the increase of human sacrifices, it does not appear possible that they could have existed, as a nation, for many generations longer.
An inquiry naturally presents itself in connexion with this subject, viz.—To what cause is this recent change in the circumstances of the people to be attributed? It is self-evident, that if these habits had always prevailed among the Tahitians, they must long since have been annihilated. Society must, at some time, have been more favourable, not only to the preservation, but to the increase of population, or the inhabitants could never have been so numerous as they undoubtedly were a century or a century and a half ago. There is no question that depopulation had taken place to a considerable extent prior to their discovery by Captain Wallis, and it is not easy to discover the causes which first led to it. Infanticide and human sacrifices, together with their wars, appear to have occasioned the diminution of the inhabitants before the period alluded to. Whether wars were more frequent immediately preceding their discovery, than it had been in earlier ages, we have not the means of knowing, nor have we been able to ascertain, with any great accuracy, how long the Areoi page 106 society had existed, or child-murder was practised. There is reason to believe that infanticide is not of recent origin, and the antiquity of the Areoi fraternity, according to tradition, is equal to that of the first inhabitants.
Human sacrifices, we are informed by the natives, are comparatively of modern institution: they were not admitted until a few generations antecedent to the discovery of the islands. They were first offered at Raiatea, in the national marae at Opoa, having been demanded by the priest in the name of the god, who had communicated the requisition to his servant in a dream. Human sacrifices were presented at Raiatea and the Leeward Islands for some time before they were introduced among the offerings to the deities of Tahiti; but soon after they began to be employed, they were offered with great frequency, and in appalling numbers: but of this, an account will hereafter be given.
The depopulation that has taken place during the last two or three generations, viz. since their discovery, may be easily accounted for. In addition to a disease, which, as a desolating scourge, spread, unpalliated and unrestrained, its unsightly and fatal influence among the people, two others are reported to have been carried thither—one by the crew of Vancouver in 1790; and the other by means of the Britannia, an English whaler, in 1807. Both these disorders spread through the islands; the former almost as fatal as the plague, the latter affecting nearly every individual throughout all the islands. The maladies originally prevailing among them, appear, compared with those by which they are now afflicted, to have been few in number and mild in character.
Next to these diseases, the introduction of fire-arms, page 107 although their use in war has not perhaps rendered their engagements more crued and murderous than when they fought hand to hand with club and spear—has most undoubtedly cherished, in those who possessed them, a desire for war, as a means of enlarging their territory, and augmenting their power. Pomare's dominion would never have been so extensive and so absolute, but for the aid he derived, in the early part of his reign, from the mutineers of the Bounty, who attended him to battle with arms which they had previously learned to use with an effect, which his opponents could not resist. Subsequently, the hostile chieftains, having procured fire-arms, and succeeding in attaching to their interest European deserters from their ships, considered themselves, if not invincible, at least equal to their enemies, and sought every opportunity for engaging in the horrid work of accelerating the depopulation of their country. Destruction was the avowed design with which they commenced every war, and the principle of extermination rendered all their hostilities fatal to the vanquished party.
Another cause most influential in the diminution of the Tahitian race, has been the introduction of the art of distillation, and the extensive use of ardent spirits. They had, before they were visited by our ships, a kind of intoxicating beverage called ava, but the deleterious effects resulting from its use were confined to a comparatively small portion of the inhabitants. The growth of the plant from which it was procured was slow; its culture required care; it was usually tabued for the chiefs; and the common people were as strictly prohibited from appropriating it to their own use, as the peasantry are in reference to game in England. page 108 Its effects also were rather sedative, than narcotic or inebriating.
But after the Tahitians had been taught by foreign seamen, and natives of the Sandwich Islands, to distil spirits from indigenous roots, and rum had been carried to the islands in abundance as an article of barter, intoxication became almost universal; and all the demoralization, crimes, and misery, that follow in its strain, were added to the multiplied sorrows and wasting scourges of the people. It nurtured indolence, and spread discord through their families, increased the abominations of the Areoi society, and the unnatural crime of infanticide. Before going to the temple to offer a human sacrifice to their gods, the priests have been known to intoxicate themselves, in order that they might be insensible to any unpleasant feelings this horrid work might excite.
These causes operating upon a people, whose simple habits of diet rendered their constitutions remarkably susceptible of violent impressions, are, to a reflecting mind, quite sufficient to account for the rapid depopulation of the islands within the last fifty or sixty years.
The philanthropist, however, will rejoice to know, that although sixteen years ago the nation appeared on the verge of extinction, it is now, under the renovating and genial principles of true religion, and the morality with which this is inseparably connected, rapidly increasing. When the people in general embraced Christianity, we recommended that a correct account of the births and deaths occurring in each of the islands should be kept. From the operation of the causes above enumerated, for some years even after the crimes in which they originated had ceased, the number page 109 of deaths exceeded that of births. About the years 1819 and 1820 they were nearly equal, and since that period population has been rapidly increasing.
It was not till the account of deaths and births was presented, that we had an adequate idea of the affecting depopulation that had been going on; and if, for several years after infanticide, inebriation, human sacrifices, and war, were discontinued, the number of deaths exceeded that of the births; how appalling must that excess have been, when all these destructive causes were in full operation! There is now, however, every ground to indulge the expectation that the population will become greater than it has been in any former period of their history; and it is satisfactory, in connexion with this anticipation, to know—that an extent of soil capable of cultivation, and other resources, are adequate to the maintenance of a population tenfold increased above its present numbers.
The origin of the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands, in common with other parts of Polynesia, is a subject perhaps of more interest and curiosity, than of importance and practical utility. The vast extent of geographical surface covered by the race of which they form an integral portion, the analogy in character, the identity in language, &c., the remote distance at which the different tribes are placed from each other, and the isolated spots which they occupy in the vast expanse of surrounding water, render the source whence they were derived, one of the mysteries connected with he history of our species.
To a Missionary, the business of whose life is with the people among whom he is stationed, every thing relating to their history is, at least, page 110 interesting; and the origin of the islanders has often engaged our attention, and formed the subject of our inquiries. The early history of a people destitute of all records, and remote from nations in whose annals contemporaneous events would be preserved, is necessarily involved in obscurity. The greater part of the traditions of this people are adapted to perplex rather than facilitate the investigation.
A very generally received Tahitian tradition is, that the first human pair were made by Taaroa, the principal deity formerly acknowledged by the nation. On more than one occasion, I have listened to the details of the people respecting his work of creation. They say, that after Taaroa had formed the world, he created man out of araea, red earth, which was also the food of man until bread-fruit was produced. In connexion with this, some relate that Taaroa one day called for the man by name. When he came, he caused him to fall asleep, and that, while he slept, he took out one of his ivi, or bones, and with it made a woman, whom he gave to the man as his wife, and that they became the progenitors of mankind. This always appeared to me a mere recital of the Mosaic account of creation, which they had heard from some European, and I never placed any reliance on it, although they have repeatedly told me it was a tradition among them before any foreigner arrived. Some have also stated that the woman's name was Ivi, which would be by them pronounced as if written Eve. Ivi is an aboriginal word, and not only signifies a bone, but also a widow, and a victim slain in war. Notwithstanding the assertion of the natives, I am disposed to think that Ivi, or Eve, is the only page 111 aboriginal part of the story, as far as it respects the mother of the human race. Should more careful and minute inquiry confirm the truth of their declaration, and prove that this account was in existence among them prior to their intercourse with Europeans, it will be the most remarkable and valuable oral tradition of the origin of the human race yet known.
Another extensive and popular tradition referred the origin of the people to Opca, in the island of Raiatea, where the tiis, or spirits, formerly resided, who assumed of themselves, or received from the gods, human bodies, and became the progenitors of mankind. The name of one was Tii Maaraauta; Tii, branching or extending towards the land, or the interior: and of the other, Tii Maaraatai; Tii, branching or spreading towards the sea. These, however, are supposed to be but other names for Taaroa. It is supposed that prior to the period of Tii Maaraauta's existence, the islands were only resorted to by the gods or spiritual beings, but that these two, endowed with powers of procreation, produced the human species. They first resided at Opoa, whence they peopled the island of Raiatea, and subsequently spread themselves over the whole cluster. Others state, that Tii was not a spirit, but a human being, the first man made by the gods; that his wife was sometimes called Tii, and sometimes Hina; that when they died, their spirits were supposed to survive the dissolution of the body, and were still called by the same name, and hence the term tii was first applied to the spirits of the departed, a signification which it retained till idolatry was abolished.
In the Ladrone Islands, departed chiefs, or the spirits of such, are called aritis, and to them page 112 prayers were addressed. The tiis of Tahiti were also considered a kind of inferior deities, to whom, on several occasions, prayers were offered. The resemblance of this term to the demons or dii of the ancients, is singular, and might favour the conjecture that both were derived from the same source.
The origin of the islands, as well as their inhabitants, was generally attributed to Taaroa, or the joint agency of Taaroa and Hina; and although one of their traditions states that all the islands were formerly united in one fenua nui, or large continent, which the gods in anger destroyed, scattering in the ocean the fragments, of which Tahiti is one of the largest; yet others ascribe their formation to Taaroa, who is said to have laboured so hard in the work of creation, that the profuse perspiration induced thereby, filled up the hollows, and formed the sea; accounting, by this circumstance, for its transparency and saltness. Others attribute the origin of the world, the elements, the heavenly bodies, and the human species, to the procreative powers of their deities; and, according to their account, one of the descendants of Taaroa, and the son of the sun and moon, and, in reference to his descent, the Manco Capac of their mythology, embracing the sand on the sea shore,—begat a son, who was called Tii, and a daughter, who was called Opiira. These two, according to their tradition, were the father and mother of mankind.
But the most circumstantial tradition, relative to the origin of mankind, is one for which, as well as for much valuable information on the mythology and worship of the idols of the South Sea Islanders, I am indebted to the researches of my esteemed friend and coadjutor, Mr. Barff. According to this page 113 legend, man was the fifth order of intelligent beings created by Taaroa and Hina, (of whom an account will hereafter be given,) and was called the Rahu taata i te ao ia Tii, “The class, or order of the world, of, or by, Tii.” Hina is reported to have said to Taaroa, “What shall be done, how shall man be obtained? Behold, classed or fixed are gods of the po, or state of night, and there are no men.” Taaroa is said to have answered, “Go on the shore to the interior, to your brother.” Hina answered, “I have been inland, and he is not.” Taaroa then said, “Go to the sea, perhaps he is on the sea; or if on the land, he will be on the land.” Hina said, “Who is at sea?” The god answered, “Tiimaaraatai.” Who is Tiimaaraatai? is he a man?” “He is a man, and your brother,” answered the god; “Go to the sea, and seek him.” When the goddess had departed, Taaroa ruminated within himself as to the means by which man should be formed, and went to the land, where he assumed the appearance and substance which should constitute man. Hina returning from her unsuccessful search for Tiimaaraatai at sea, met him, but not knowing him, said, “Who are you?” “I am Tiimaaraatai,” he replied. “Where have you been?” said the goddess: “I have sought you here, and you were not; I went to the sea, to look for Tiimaaraatai, and he was not.” “I have been here in my house, or abode,” answered Tiimaaraatai,” and behold you have arrived, my sister, come to me.” Hina said, “So it is, you are my brother; let us live together.” They became man and wife; and the son that Hina afterwards bore, they called Tii. He was the first-born of mankind. Afterwards Hina had a daughter, who was called Hinaereeremonoi; she became the wife of Tii, and bore to page 114 him a son, who was called Taata, the general name (with slight modification) for man throughout the Pacific. Hina, the daughter and wife of Taaroa, the grandmother of Taata, being transformed into a beautiful young woman, became the wife of Taata or Man, bore him a son and a daughter, called Ouru and Fana, who were the progenitors of the human race.
One account states that the visible creation has two foundations or origins, that Taaroa made the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, heaven and hell: and that Tii made man of the earth. According to this tradition, they believed that of the earth at Ati-auru, a place in Opoa, Tii made a woman, dwelt with her in a house called Fare-pouri, in Opoa, that she bore him a daughter who was called Hina-tumararo; she became the wife of Tiimaaraatai, and from these the world was peopled: Tii and Taaroa, the people imagined to be one and the same being, but that Taaroa dwelt in the region of chaos, and Tii in the world of light.
Another tradition stated, that the first inhabitants of the South Sea Islands originally came from a country in the direction of the setting sun, to which they say several names were given, though none of them are remembered by the present inhabitants.
Their traditions are numerous, often contradictory, and though it is difficult to obtain a correct recital of them from any of the present inhabitants; yet more might have been inserted, but they can scarcely be said to impart any valuable information as to the country whence the inhabitants originally came. Some additional evidence, small indeed in quantity, but rather more conclusive, may be gathered from the traditions of the mythology, page 115 customs, and language preserved among the Tahitians, and inhabitants of other isles of the Pacific, when they are compared with those prevailing in different parts of the world. One of their accounts of creation, that in which Taaroa is stated to have made the first man with earth or sand, and the very circumstantial tradition they have of the deluge, if they do not, as some have supposed, (when taken in connexion with many customs, and analogies in language,) warrant the inference that the Polynesians have an Hebrew origin; they show that the nation, whence they emigrated, was acquainted with some of the leading facts recorded in the Mosaic history of the primitive ages of mankind. Others appear to have a striking resemblance to several conspicuous features of the more modern Hindoo, or Braminical mythology. The account of the creation given in Sir W. Jones's translation of the Institutes of Menu, accords in no small degree with the Tahitian legends of the production of the world, including waters, &c., by the procreative power of their god. The Braminical account is, that “He (i. e. the divine Being) having willed to produce various beings from his own Divine substance, first, with a thought, created the waters, and placed in them a productive seed. That seed became an egg, bright as gold, blazing like the luminary with a thousand beams, and in that egg he was born himself, in the form of Brama, the great forefather of all spirits. The waters were called nara, because they were the production of narau, the Spirit of God; and since they were his first ayana, or place of motion, he is thence named Narayana, or moving in the waters. In the egg the great power sat inactive a whole year (of the page 116 creator;) at the close of which, by his thought alone, he caused the egg to divide itself. From its two divisions he formed the heavens (above) and the earth (beneath)” &c. It is impossible to avoid noticing the identity of this account, contained in one of the ancient writings of the Bramins, with the ruder version of the same legend in the tradition prevailing in the Sandwich Islands, that the islands were produced by a bird, a frequent emblem of deity, a medium through which the gods often communicated with men; which laid an egg upon the waters, which afterwards burst of itself, and produced the islands; especially, if with this we connect the appendages Tahitian tradition furnishes, that at first the heavens joined the earth, and were only separated by the teva, an insignificant plant, draconitum polyphillum, till their god, Ruu, lifted up the heavens from the earth. The same event is recorded in one of their songs, in the following line:
Na Ruu i to te rai:
Ruu did elevate or raise the heavens.
Meru, or Mount Meru, the abode of the gods, the heaven of the Hindoos, is also the paradise of some classes of the South Sea Islanders, the dwelling-place of departed kings, and others who have been deified.
The institutes of Menu∗ also forbade a Bramin to eat with his wife, or to be present when she ate; and in this injunction may have originated the former universal practice among these islands, of the man and his wife eating their meat separately. page 117 Varuna and Vahni are among the gods of the Hindoos; the latter, among the eight guardian deities of the world, appears to have been the Neptune of the Bramins, as we learn from the following lines in Sir W. Jones's beautiful translation of the hymn to Indra; “Green Varuna, whom foaming waves obey:” and also, “Vahni flaming like the lamp of day.” Both the terms in the South Sea language for spirit, or spiritual being, bear a strong resemblance to these names; the one being varua, in which the n only is omitted; and in many words, as they are used among the other islanders, some of their consonants are omitted by the Tahitians. Vaiti is also another apparently more ancient term for spirit used by them, which, somewhat resembles the Vahni of the Hindoos. Bishop Heber, the most recent writer on the usages and appearance of the Hindoos, informs us, in his admirable Journal, that many things which he saw among the inhabitants of India, especially of Ceylon, reminded him of the plates in Cook's voyages.
∗Menu was the Noah of the Hindoos; and Miru, pronounced Meru, was the first king of the Sandwich Islands.
The points of resemblance between the Polynesians and the Malayan inhabitants of Java, Sumatra, and Borneo, and the Ladrone, Caroline, and Philippine Islands, are still greater. In some parts the word for god or spirit is dewa. Among the Battas of Sumatra, men and women eat separately, cannibalism prevails, and they are much addicted to gaming. War is determined, and its results predicted, by observing the entrails, and the appearance, of the animals offered in sacrifice; these all prevail in the isles of the Pacific.
The principal portion of the marriage ceremony, in some of these islands, consists in the bridegroom throwing a piece of cloth over the bride, or the page 118 friends throwing it over both. This is also practised among the Tahitians. The bodies of the dead are kept by the inhabitants of the Caroline Islands, in a manner resembling the tupapaus of Tahiti; and, in the Ladrones, they feast round the tomb, and offer food, &c. to the departed. This practice also prevailed extensively in the South Sea Islands. The fables of the inhabitants of the Ladrone Islands, which led them to regard a rock as the father of their race, accords with some of the Tahitian traditions.
In the former also, according to the accounts of the Jesuit Missionaries, a licentious society existed, called by the people Uritoy, strikingly analogous, in all its distinguishing features, to that institution in the South Seas called the Areoi society. Their implements of war are alike. Dr. Buchanan states, that in Pulo Panang he saw a chief of the Malay tribe, who had a staff, the head of which was ornamented with a bushy lock of human hair, which the chief had cut from the head of his enemy when he lay dead at his feet. This exactly accords with the conduct of the Marquesans; many of whose clubs, and even walking-sticks, I have seen decorated with locks of human hair taken from those slain in battle.
Between the canoes and the language, of these islands and the southern groups, there is a more close resemblance. Their language has a remarkable affinity with that of the eastern Polynesia. There are also many points of resemblance in language, manners, and customs, between the South Sea Islanders and the inhabitants of Madagascar in the west; the inhabitants of the Aleutian and Kurile islands in the north, which stretch along the mouth of Behring's straits, and form page 119 the chain which connects the old and the new worlds; and also between the Polynesians and the inhabitants of Mexico, and some parts of South America. The general cast of feature, and frequent shade of complexion—the practice of tatauing, which prevails among the Aleutians, and some of the tribes of America—the process of embalming the dead bodies of their chiefs, and preserving them uninterred—the form and structure of their massy pyramidal stone temples and places of sepulture—the game of chess among the Araucanians—the word for God being tew or tev—the exposure of their children—their games—their mode of dressing the hair, ornamenting it with feathers—the numerous words in their language resembling those of Tahiti, &c.; their dress, especially the poncho, and even the legend of the origin of the Incas, bear no small resemblance to that of Tii, who was also descended from the sun.
The points of resemblance are not so many as in the Asiatic continent and islands; but that probably arises from the circumstance of the great facilities furnished by the Hindoo records, and the absence of all original writings relating to the history, mythology, manners, language, &c. of the aborigines of South America. Were we better acquainted with the history and institutions of the first inhabitants of the new world, more numerous points of resemblance would be discovered.
Other coincidences, of a more dubious character, occur in the eastern, western, and intermediate or oceanic tribes; among which might be mentioned the account given by Sir John Mandeville. He is stated to have commenced his travels early in the fourteenth century. In a country near the river Indus, he met with the fountain of youth, the water page 120 of which being odoriferous, tasted of all manner of spices; and of this, whoever drank for a few days upon a fasting stomach, was quickly cured of every internal disorder with which he might be afflicted. To this description he added, it was certain those who lived near, and drank frequently of it, had a wonderful appearance of youth through their whole lives, and that he himself drank of it three or four times, and imagined his health was better afterwards. The expedition which led to the discovery of Florida was undertaken not so much from a desire to explore unknown countries, as to find an equally celebrated fountain, described in a tradition prevailing among the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, as existing in Binini, one of the Lucayo Islands. It was said to possess such restorative powers as to renew the youth and vigour of every person who bathed in its waters. It was in search of this fountain, which was the chief object of their expedition, that Ponce de Leon ranged through the Lucayo Islands, and ultimately reached the shores of Florida.∗ Although it may throw no light on the origin of the South Sea Islanders, nor furnish any evidence of their former connexion with the inhabitants either of India or America, the coincidence is striking between these fabulous traditions, and those so circumstantially detailed by the natives of some of the islands of the Pacific, especially in the Hawaiian account of the voyage of Kamapiikai, to page 121 the land where the inhabitants enjoyed perpetual health and youthful beauty, where the wai ora (life-giving fountain) removed every internal malady, and external deformity or decrepitude, from all those who were plunged beneath its salutary waters. A tabular view of a number of words in the Malayan, Asiatic, or the Madagasse, the American, and the Polynesian languages, would probably show, that at some remote period, either the inhabitants of these distant parts of the world maintained frequent intercourse with each other, or that colonies from some one of them, originally peopled, in part or altogether, the others. The striking analogy between the numerals and other parts of the language, and several of the customs, of the aborigines of Madagascar, and those of the Malays who inhabit the Asiatic islands, many thousands of miles distant in one direction, and of the Polynesians more remote in another, shows that they were originally one people, or that they had emigrated from the same source. Many words in the language, and several of the traditions, customs, &c. of the Americans, so strongly resemble those of Asia, as to warrant the inference that they originally came from that part of the world. Whether some of the tribes who originally passed from Asia, along the Kurile or Aleutian Islands, across Behring's straits, to America, left part of their number, who were the progenitors of the present race inhabiting those islands; and that they, at some subsequent period, either attempting to follow the tide of emigration to the east, or steering to the south, were by the north-east trade-winds driven to the Sandwich Islands, whence they proceeded to the southern groups; or whether those who had traversed the north-west coast of America, page 122 sailed either from California or Mexico across the Pacific, under the favouring influence of the regular easterly winds, peopled Easter Island, and continued under the steady easterly or trade-winds advancing westward till they met the tide of emigration flowing from the larger groups or islands, in which the Malays form the majority of the population—it is not now easy to determine. But a variety of facts connected with the past and present circumstances of the inhabitants of these countries, authorize the conclusion, that, either part of the present inhabitants of the South Sea Islands came originally from America, or that tribes of the Polynesians have, at some remote period, found their way to the continent.
∗In reference to this enterprise, Robertson remarks: “That a tale so fabulous should gain credit among the uninstructed Indians, is not surprising; that it should make any impression on an enlightened people, appears, in the present age, altogether incredible. The fact, however, is certain.
If the opinion of some American antiquaries be correct, that the skeletons found in the caverns of Kentucky and Tennessee are those of a Malay tribe, and some of the bodies were wrapped in feather cloaks, similar to those used “in the Sandwich and Figi islands,” and “the best defined specimens of art among the antiquities of Ohio and Kentucky are clearly of a Polynesian character;” it would appear that the North Americans, Polynesians, and Malays were formerly the same people, or had one common origin. The difficulties in the passage of the first inhabitants from the American continent, to the most eastern islands of the Pacific, are not greater than must have attended the passage of the same tribe between the Society and Sandwich Islands; and yet the identity of the inhabitants of these is unequivocal. It is difficult to say which group was first peopled. Evidence of great antiquity, compared with the peopling of smaller islands, may be adduced in favour of each; but I am, for various reasons, disposed to think the northern page 123 islands were first settled. Their genealogies extend much farther back. I am not aware that Tahiti, or the name of any of the southern islands, is given to any part of the Sandwich Islands; yet in some of their traditions, Hawaii is mentioned as the ancient name of Opoa; and Oro, who is by some described as both god and man, as having two bodies or forms, or being a kind of connecting link between the gods and men, is described as the first king of Hawaii, or Opoa in Raiatea. If it be supposed that any part of the American continent was settled by a maritime people, whether Malayan or Japanese, a portion of the same tribe who settled in Nootka, or whose remains are discovered in North America, might, in vessels corresponding with those in which they passed the straits, proceed southward to the Sandwich Islands, and thence spread over eastern Polynesia.
In the practice of tatauing, and in other respects, the Battas of Sumatra, and the tribes found in some of the islands to the south-west of Sumatra, who are regarded by Marsden as the descendants of the original inhabitants of this archipelago, especially the natives of the Poggi, or Nassau Islands, resemble the natives of Polynesia. Resemblances nearly, if not equally as strong, are found on the American continent.
La Perouse describes the inhabitants of the country in the neighbourhood of the Baie des Français, as remarkably fair; and in their features, complexion, &c. bearing a strong resemblance to the inhabitants of Mangeea, or, as the natives call it, Maonia, and the lighter coloured islanders of the Pacific. About lat. 36. N. the natives of the coast visited by Vancouver, are page 124 described as a people of pleasing and courteous deportment, and gentle expression of countenance, their features resembling those of Europeans; their complexion was of a light olive, and their skins tataued like those of the South Sea Islanders.∗
∗Pritchard's Physical Hist. of Mankind, vol. ii. p. 394.
The origin of the inhabitants of the Pacific is involved in great mystery, and the evidences are certainly strongest in favour of their derivation from the Malayan tribes inhabiting the Asiatic Islands; but, allowing this to be their source, the means by which they have arrived at the remote and isolated stations they now occupy, are still inexplicable. If they were peopled from the Malayan Islands, they must have possessed better vessels, and more accurate knowledge of navigation, than they now exhibit, to have made their way against the constant trade-winds prevailing within the tropics, and blowing regularly, with but transient and uncertain interruptions, from east to west. The nations at present inhabiting the islands of the Pacific, have undoubtedly been more extensively spread than they now are. In the most remote and solitary islands occasionally discovered in recent years, such as Pitcairn's, on which the mutineers of the Bounty settled, and on Fanning's Island near Christmas Island, midway between the Society and Sandwich Islands, although now desolate, relics of former inhabitants have been found. Pavements of floors, foundations of houses, and stone entrances, have been discovered; and stone adzes or hatchets have been found at some distance from the surface, exactly resembling those in use among the people of the North and South Pacific at the time of their discovery. These facts prove that the nations page 125 now inhabiting these and other islands have been, in former times, more widely extended than they are at present. The monuments or vestiges of former population found in these islands are all exceedingly rude, and therefore warrant the inference that the people to whom they belonged were rude and uncivilized, and must have emigrated from a nation but little removed from a state of barbarism—a nation less civilized than those must have been, who could have constructed vessels, and traversed this ocean six or seven thousand miles against the regularly prevailing winds, which must have been the fact, if we conclude they were peopled only by the Malays.
On the other hand, it is easy to imagine how they could have proceeded from the east. The winds would favour their passage, and the incipient stages of civilization in which they were found, would resemble the condition of the aborigines of America, far more than that of the Asiatics. There are many well-authenticated accounts of long voyages performed in native vessels by the inhabitants of both the North and South Pacific. In 1696, two canoes were driven from Ancarso to one of the Philippine islands, a distance of 800 miles. “They had run before the wind for 70 days together, sailing from east to west.” Thirty-five had embarked, but five had died from the effects of privation and fatigue during the voyage, and one shortly after their arrival. In 1720, two canoes were drifted from a remote distance to one of the Marian islands. Captain Cook found in the island of Wateo Atiu inhabitants of Tahiti, who had been drifted by contrary winds in a canoe, from some islands to the eastward, unknown to the natives. Several parties have, within the last few page 126 years, reached the Tahitian shores from islands to the eastward, of which the Society Islands had never before heard. In 1820, a canoe arrived at Maurua, about thirty miles west of Borabora, which had come from Rurutu, one of the Austral Islands. This vessel had been at sea between a fortnight and three weeks, and, considering its route, must have sailed seven or eight hundred miles. A more recent instance occurred in 1824: a boat belonging to Mr. Williams of Raiatea, left that island with a westerly wind for Tahiti. The wind changed after the boat was out of sight of land. They were driven to the island of Atiu, a distance of nearly 800 miles in a south-westerly direction, where they were discovered several months afterwards. Another boat, belonging to Mr. Barff of Huahine, was passing between that island and Tahiti about the same time, and has never since been heard of; and subsequent instances of equally distant and perilous voyages in canoes or open boats, might be cited. The traditions of the inhabitants of Rarotogna, one of the Harvey Islands, preserve the most satisfactory accounts, not only of single parties, at different periods for many generations back, having arrived there from the Society Islands, but also derive the origin of the population from the island of Raiatea. Their traditions according with those of the Raiateans on the leading points, afford the strongest evidence of these islands having been peopled from those to the eastward.
If we suppose the population of the South Sea Islands to have proceeded from east to west, these events illustrate the means by which it may have been accomplished; for it is a striking fact, that every such voyage related in the accounts of page 127 voyagers, preserved in the traditions of the natives, or of recent occurrence, has invariably been from east to west, directly opposite to that in which it must have been, had the population been altogether derived from the Malayan archipelago.
From whatever source, however, they have originated, the extent of geographical surface over which they have spread themselves, the variety, purity, and copiousness of their language, the ancient character of some of the best traditions, as of the deluge, &c. justify the supposition of their remote antiquity. Yet their ignorance of letters, of the use of iron till a short time prior to their discovery, and the rude character of all their implements, and of the monuments of their ancestry, seem opposed to the idea of their having been derived, as supposed by some eminent modern geographers, from an ancient, powerful nation, which cultivated maritime habits, but which has been frittered down into detached local communities unknown to each other.