Voyage to Raiatea—Landing at Tipaemau—Description of the islands—Arrival at Vaóaara—Singular reception—Native salutations—Improvement of the settlement—General state of society—Former modes of living—Proposed improvement in the native dwellings—Method of procuring lime from the coral-rock—First plastered house in the South Sea Islands—Progress of improvement—Irregularity of the buildings—Public road—Effect on the surrounding country—Duration of native habitations—Building for public worship—Division of public labour—Manner of fitting up the interior—Satisfaction of the people—Chapel in Raiatea—Native chandeliers—Evening services.
During the first years of our establishment in Huahine, frequent voyages to the adjacent islands were necessary; and, early in 1819, circumstances rendered it expedient that we should revisit Raiatea. As we expected to be absent for several weeks, Mrs. Barff and Mrs. Ellis acompanied us; Mr. Orsmond, who had visited Huahine, was returning to his station, and we embarked in his boat, although it was scarcely large enough to contain our party and half a dozen native rowers. The morning on which we sailed was fine; the sea gently rippled with the freshening breeze, which was fair and steady, without being violent. Our voyage was pleasant; and soon after two in the afternoon of the same day, we entered an opening in the reef, a few miles to the northward of that leading to Opoa. This entrance is called by the page 331 inhabitants Tipae mau, True, or permanent, landing (place.)
We landed on one of the small islets which define, shelter, and adorn the entrance to the harbour, partook of some refreshment under the shade the brushwood afforded, while our boat's crew climbed the trees, and afterwards made an agreeable repast on the nuts which they gathered. We planted, as memorials of our visit, the seeds of some large oranges, which we had brought with us; then launched our boat, and prosecuted our voyage within the reef towards the settlement on the other side of the island. This part of our voyage, for twelve or fourteen miles, was delightful. The beauty of the wooded or rocky shores now appeared more rich and varied than before; the stillness of the smooth waters around was only occasionally disturbed by the passage of a light nautilus-like canoe, with its little sail of white native cloth, or the rapid flight of a shoal of flying-fish, which, when the dashing of our oars or the progress of our boat intercepted their course or awakened their alarm, sprang from their native element, and darted along, three or four feet above the water.
Ioretea, the Ulitea of Captain Cook, or, as it is now more frequently called by the natives, Raiatea, is the largest of the Society Islands. Its form is somewhat triangular, and its circumference about fifty miles. The mountains are more stupendous and lofty than those of Huahine, and in some parts equally broken and picturesque. The northern and western sides are romantic; several pyramidal and conical mountains rising above the elevated and broken range, that stretches along in a direction nearly parallel with the page 332 coast, and from one to three miles distant from the sea. Though the shore is generally a gradual and waving ascent from the water's edge to the mountain, it is frequently rocky and broken. At Mahapoto, about half way between Opoa, the site of their principal temple, the ancient residence of the regning family, and Utumaoro at the north-east angle of the island, there is a deep indentation in the coast. The rocks rise nearly perpendicular in some places on both sides, and the smooth surface of the ocean extends a mile and a half, or two miles, towards the mountains. The shores of this sequestered bay are covered with sand, shells, and broken coral. At the openings of several of the little glens which surround it, the cottages of the natives are seen through the luxuriant foliage of the pandanus, or the purau; while the cultivated plantations in various parts extend from the margin of the sea to the foot of the mountains. The rivers that flow along their rocky courses from the head of the ravines to the ocean below—and the distant mountains, that rise in the interior—combine to form, though on a limited scale, rich, romantic, and beautiful landscapes. The islands in general are well supplied with water. The mountains are sufficiently elevated to intercept the clouds that are wafted by the trade-winds over the Pacific; being clothed with verdure to their very summits, while they attract the moisture, they also prevent its evaporation. Most of the rivers or streams rise in the mountainous parts, and though, from the peculiar structure of these parts, and the circumscribed extent of the islands, the distance from their source to their union with the sea is short; yet the body of water is often page 333 considerable, and the uneven ground through which they have cut their way, the rocky projections that frequently divide the streams, and the falls that occur between the interior and the shore, cause the rivers to impart a charming freshness, vivacity, and splendour to the inland scenery.
Next to Tahiti, Raiatea perhaps is better supplied with rivers, or streams of excellent water, than any other island of the group. Its lowland is extensive, and the valleys, capable of the highest cultivation, are spacious, and conveniently situated for affording to the inhabitants intercourse with other parts of the island. On the north-west is a small but very secure harbour, called Hamaniino. Most of the ships formerly visiting Raiatea anchored in this convenient and sequestered harbour. Such vessels usually entered the reefs that surround the two islands, either at the opening called Teavapiti, a little to the southward of Utumaora, or at that denominated Tomahahotu, opposite the south end of the island of Tahaa. They then proceeded within the reefs along the channel between the islands, to the harbour.
Water and wood were at all times procured with facility from the adjacent shore; and supplies of stock, poultry, and vegetables might generally be obtained by barter with the inhabitants. The mountains of the interior sheltered the bay from the strong eastern and southerly winds; and the wide opening in the reef, opposite the mouth of the valley forming the head of the bay, favoured the departure of vessels with the ordinary winds. A small and partially wooded island on the north side of the opening in the reefs oposite the harbour, distinctly points out the passage, and is very page 334 serviceable to ships going to sea. A few miles beyond the harbour of Hamaniino, Vaóaara is situated, which was the former Missionary station, the residence of the chiefs, and principal part of the population. There are two open bays on the east side of the island, Opoa and Utumaoro. They were occasionally visited by shipping; and the latter has, sicne the removal of the Missionary station, become the general place of anchorage. But although they are secured from heavy waves by the reefs of coral that stretch along the eastern shore, they are exposed to the prevailing winds, excepting so far as they are sheltered by the islands at the entrance from the sea.
There are no lakes in Raiatea or Tahaa, but both islands are encircled in one reef, which is in some parts attached to their shores, and in others rises to the water's edge, at the distance of two or three miles from it. The water within the reefs is as smooth as the surface of a lake in a pleasure-ground, though often from eighteen to thirty fathoms deep. The coral reefs form natural and beautiful breakwaters, preserving the lowland and the yielding soil of the adjacent shore from the force and encroachment of the heavy billows of the ocean. Numbers of verdant little islands, situated like those of Tipaemau, at the openings in the reef, are remarkably useful as sea-marks, and furnish convenient temporary residences for the fishermen, who resort to them during the season for taking the operu, scomber scomber of Linneus, and other fish, periodically visiting their shores. Here they dry and repair their nets while watching the approach of the shoals, and find them remarkably advantageous in prosecuting the most important of their fisheries.page 335
The sun had nearly set when wer reached the setlement at Vaóaara. As we approached the shore, crowds of the natives, who had recognized some of our party, came off to meet us, wading into the sea above their waist, in order to welcome our arrival. While gazing on the motley group that surrounded our boat, or thronged the adjacent shore, and exchanging our salutations with those nearest us, before we were aware of their design, upwards of twenty stout men actually lifted our boat out of the water, and raised it on their shoulders, carrying us, thus elevated in the air, amid the shouts of the bearers, and the acclamations of the multitude on the shore, first to the beach, and then to the large court-yard in front of the king's house, where, after experiencing no small apprehension from this unusual mode of conveyance, we were set down safe and dry upon the pavement. Here we experienced a hearty welcome from the chiefs and people. Their salutations were cordial, though unaccompanied by the observances that were formerly regarded as indispensable. Considering the islanders as an uncivilized people, they seem to have been remarkably ceremonious. This peculiarity appears to have accompanied them to the temples, to have distinguished the homage and the service they rendered to their gods, to have marked their affairs of state, and the carriage of the people towards their rulers, to have pervaded the whole of their social intercourse, and to have been mingled with their diversified amusements. Their salutations were often exceedingly ceremonious. When a chieftain from another island, or from any distant part, arrived, he seldom proceeded at once to the shore, but usually landed, in the first instance, on some of the small page 336 islands near. The king often attended in person, to welcome his guest, or, if unable to do this himself, sent one of his principal chiefs.
When the canoes of the visitor approached the shore, the chiefs assembled on the beach. Long orations were pronounced by both parties before the guests stepped on the soil: as soon as they were landed, a kind of circle was formed by the people; the king or chiefs on the one side, and the strangers on the other; the latter brought their marotai, or offering, to the king and the gods, and accompanied its presentation with an address, expressive of the friendship existing between them: the priest, or orators of the king, then brought the presents, or manufaiti, bird of recognition. On some occasions, two young plantain-trees and two pigs, or other articles of value, were first presented by the strangers, one for te atua, the god; the other for te hoa, the friend. A plantain-tree and a pig were brought by the residents for the king, a similar offering for the god; this was followed by a plantain and a pig, for the toe moe, perhaps sleeping hatchet. A plantain-tree and a dog were then brought for the taura, the cord or bond of union, and then a plantain and a pig for the friend.∗
∗Forster's Voyage, vol. i. 375.
In some of their ceremonies, a plantain-tree was substituted for a man, and in the first plantain-trees offered in this ceremony to the god and the friend, they might perhaps be so regarded. Considerable ceremony attended the reception of a company of Areois. When they approached a village or district, the inhabitants came out of their doors, and, greeting them, shouted Manava, Manava, long before they reached the place. They usually answered, Teie, “Here,” and so proceeded page 337 to the rendezvous appointed, where a present was given to the king, and a similar offering to the god.
Our mode of saluting by merely shaking hands, they consider remarkably cold and formal. They usually fell upon each others necks, and tauahi, or embraced each other, and saluted by touching or rubbing noses. This appears to be the common mode of welcoming a friend, practised by all the inhabitants of the Pacific. It also prevails among the natives of Madagascar. During my visit to New Zealand, I was several times greeted in this manner by chiefs, whose tataued countenances, and ferocious appearance, were but little adapted to predispose for so close a contact. This method of saluting is called by the New Zealanders Ho-goi, Honi by the Sandwich Islanders, and Hoi by the Tahitians. In connexion with this, the custom of cutting themselves with sharks' teeth, and indulging in loud wailing, was a singular method of receiving a friend, or testifying gladness at his arrival; it was, however, very general when Europeans first arrived.
In the court-yard of the king we were met by our friends Messrs. Williams and Threlkeld, in whose society we spent about fourteen days, and who, considering the short time they had been among the people, had been the means of producing an astonishing change, not only in their habits and appearance, but even in the natural face of the district. A carpenter's shop had been erected, the forge was daily worked by the natives, neat cottages were rising in several directions, and a large place of worship was building. The wilderness around was cleared to a considerable extent; the inhabitants of other parts were repairing to Vaóaara, and erecting their habitations, that they page 338 might reap the advantage of instruction. A large school was in daily operation, and a numerous and attentive congregation met for public worship in the native chapel every Sabbath. Having adjusted our public arrangements, we returned to Huahine on the Haweis, in which Messrs. Barff, Williams, and myself, proceeded to Tahiti.
The change which had taken place in Tahiti and Eimeo, in consequence of the abolition of idol worship, had been exceedingly gratifying, as it egarded the general conduct of the people, their professed belief in the truth of revelation, and their desire to regulate their lives by its injunctions; but the visible change which resulted from the establishment of the Missions in Huahine and Raiatea, was more striking, and did not fail to attract the notice, and command the approbation, of the most superficial observer.
We did not deem what is usually termed civiliation essential to their receiving the forgiveness of sin, enjoying the favour of God, exercising faith in Christ, and being after death admitted to the heavenly state; yet we considered an improvement of their circumstances, and a change in their occupations, necessary to their consistent profession of Christianity, and the best means of counteracting that inveterate love of indolence to which from infancy they had been accustomed. Habits of application were also essential to the cultivation of intellect, the increase of knowledge, and enjoyment in the present life. This was peculiarly desirable in reference to the rising generation, who were to be the future population, and who would arrive at years of maturity under circumstances and principles as opposite as light and darkness to those under which their parents had page 339 been reared. Under these impressions, those who were stationed in the Leeward Islands, next to religious instruction, directed their attention to the promotion of industry among the people and the improvement of their temproal condition. We had already persuaded them to extend the culture of the soil beyond the growth of the articles necessary for their support during the season when the bread-fruit yielded no supply, and to raise cotton and productions, which they might exchange for clothing, tools, &c. We now directed them to the improvement of their dwellings, which, generally speaking, were temporary sheds, or wide unpartitioned buildings, by no means favourable to domestic comfort or Christian decency.
When we landed at Fare in Huahine, I do not think there were more than ten or twelve houses in the whole district. Four, besides those we occupied, were of considerable size, belonging to the chiefs; the others were mere huts. In the latter, the inmates took their food, and rested on their mats spread upon the floor, which, had it been simply of earth, would have been comparatively clean and comfortable. The temporary roof of thatch was often pervious to the rays of the sun, and the drops of the frequently descending shower. In these cabins, parents, children, dogs, and frequently pigs and fowls, passed the night, and the greater part of the day. The houses of the chiefs were better built, and more capacious; the roofs generally impervious, and the sides frequently enclosed with straight white poles of the hibiscus tree. Their interior, however, was but little adapted to promote domestic comfort. The earthen floor was usually covered with long grass. This page 340 by being repeatedly trodden under foot, became dry, broken, and filled with dust, furnishing also a resort for vermin, which generally swarmed the floors in such numbers, as to become intolerable. In these houses the people took their meals, sitting in circles on the grass-spread floor. Here, the fresh water used in washing their hands, the cocoanut water which was their frequent beverage, and the sea-water in which they dipped their food, was often spilt. Moisture induced decay, and although over these parts of the floor they often spread a little fresh grass, yet many places in the native houses frequently resembled a stable, or a stable-yard, more than a suitable dwelling-place for human beings.
In the drier parts of the house, along each side, the inmates slept at night. However large the building might be, there were no partitions or skreens. Some of their houses were two hundred feet long; and on the floor, hundreds have, at times, lain down promiscuously to sleep. They slept on mats manufactured with palm-leaves, spread on the ground. These mats were generally rolled up like a sailor's hammock in the morning, and spread out at night. The chief and his wife usually slept at one end of the house, without the least partition between them and the other inmates of their dwelling. Instead of a single mat, three or four, or even ten, were sometimes spread one upon the other, to give elevation and softness; and this, with the finer texture of the mats, was the only difference between the bed of the chief, and that on which the meanest of his dependents slept. Instead of being spread on the floor, the mats were sometimes spread on a low bedstead, raised nine or twelve inches above the floor. The sides and buttom of this bedstead were made page 341 with the boards of the bread-fruit tree. Next to the chief, the members of his own family spread their mats on the floor, and then the friends and attendants—the females nearest the chief, the men towards the opposite end of the building.
I have sometimes entered the large houses in Huahine, soon after our arrival there, and have seen, I think, forty, fifty, or sixty sleeping places of this kind, in one house, consisting of a mat spread on the ground, a wooden pillow or bolster in the shape of a low stool, next the side or wall, and a large thick piece of cloth, like a counterpane or shawl, which they call ahu taoto, sleeping-cloth, and which is their only covering, lying in the middle of each mat. There was no division or skreen between the sleeping places, but the whole ranged along in parallel lines from one end of the house to the other. What the state of morals must necessarily have been among such a community, it is unnecessary to shew; yet such were the modes of life that prevailed among many, even after they had renounced idolatry. Such we found society in Huahine, and such our friends in Raiatea found it there. One of the reasons which they gave why so many slept in a house, was, their constant apprehensions of evil spirits, which were supposed to wander about at night, and grasp or strangle the objects of their displeasure, if found alone. Great numbers passing the night under the same roof, removed this fear, and inspired a confidence of security from the attacks their idolatrous absurdities led them to expect.
The evils necessarily resulting from these habits were too palpable to allow us to delay attempting an alteration. We recommended each family to build distinct and comfortable cottages for themselves, page 342 and the chiefs to partition bed-rooms in their present dwellings, in which they must reside while building others; even in these we recommended them to reduce the number of their inmates, and to erect distinct sleeping rooms for those they retained.
We were happy to perceive on their part a willingness to follow our advice. The first native improvement was made by Mai, the chief of Borabora, residing at that time at Fare in Huahine; and we believe this was at the request of his daughter. He directed his servants to clear out all the grass from the floor of the house he occupied; they then levelled the earth, procured lime, and plastered it over nearly an inch thick with mortar; this hardened, and formed an excellent, solid, durable, and clean floor. With this material we had made the floors of our own temporary dwellings, in which we had erected slight partitions of poles, covered with thick native cloth, to separate the different apartments from each other. In this also we soon perceived the chiefs promptly following our example. At the same time we commenced the erection of permanent places of residence for ourselves, and spared no pains to induce the people to do the same. Our first effort was to build a lime-kiln, on which we bestowed considerable labour, though it did not ultimately answer. The natives prepared their lime by burning it in a large pit, in a manner resembling that in which they had prepared their ovens for opio. This was done with greater facility than they could burn it in the kiln they had built, though with less economy in fuel.
Specimens of fibrous limestone, and small fragments of calcarious rock, have been occasionally page 343 found in some of the islands, but not in quantity or kind to be available in the preparation of lime for building. Shells might be procured in tolerable abundance; but the white coral rock, of which the extensive reefs surrounding these islands are composed, and which appears inexhaustible, is used in the manufacture of lime.
The natives dive into the sea, sometimes several fathoms deep, in order to procure the solid or sponge-shaped coral, which for this purpose is better than the forked or branching kinds. They also prefer that which is attached to the main reef, and growing, or as they sometimes call it, live coral, to that which is broken off and hardened or dead. The large fragments or blocks of coral, sometimes three or four feet in diameter, are conveyed on rafts to the shore, where they are broken into small peices. A capacious hole is then dug, wherein fuel in immense logs is piled up till it assumes the appearance of a mound four or five feet high. On the outside of this, the pieces of coral are placed, twelve or eighteen inches thick. The pile is then kindled, the fuel consumed, and the lime, thus burnt, sinks into the pit. They are generally so impatient to see whether it is well burnt, that they throw water upon it often before the fire is extinct; and if they find it crumble and become pulverized, they cover it over with cocoanut leaves, and use it as occasion requires.
The coral rock makes excellent lime, not perhaps so strong as that made from rock-limestone, but fine, beautifully white, and durable. It may be obtained in any quantity, but the labour of procuring the fuel necessary for preparing it on the present plan, is exceedingly irksome. Could they be induced to erect kilns, and burn it after the page 344 European manner, it might be furnished with great facility, and the fact of their being able to prepare with little trouble, lime from the coral rock, would encourage them in building comfortable houses.
Our friends in Raiatea were perhaps more urgent than ourselves, in their recommendation of improved dwellings. On our first visit to Raiatea, in January 1819, the servants of Tamatoa, the king of that island, were plastering a house for his residence: it was nearly finished; the outside was completed, and they were at work within. A day or two after our return to Huahine, we were delighted to see one in the district of Fare actually finished. It was smaller than Tamatoa's, and differently shaped, his being oval, and this being nearly square, with high gable-ends. It belonged to an ingenious and industrious young man, whose name was Navenavehia, and who, although an inferior chief in Huahine, had accompanied Mahine to Eimeo, where he had resided in the family of Mr. George Bicknell, by whom he had been taught the use of tools, and the art of burning lime. It is not easy, nor is it material, to determine which of these two houses was finished first. They were certainly both in hand at the same time, and the periods of their completion were probably not very remote from each other. A new order of architecture was thus introduced to the nation, and the names of Tamatoa, king of Raiatea, and of Navenavehia, the more humble chief in Huahine, ought not to be forgotten, in connexion with the introduction of a style of building which has since prevailed extensively among the people, augmenting their social and domestic comforts, changing the appearance of their villages, and improving the beautiful scenery of their islands.page 345
These two houses were not only the first in the Leeward group, but they were the first of the kind ever erected, for their own abode, by any of the natives of the South Sea Islands.
The success of these individuals encouraged others, although we found great difficulty in persuading them to persevere in the labour this improvement required, particularly as they were now employed in the erection of a spacious chapel, and the frames of our dwellings. It was no easy task for them to build houses of this kind; there were no regular carpenters and masons. Every man had, in the first place, to go to the woods or the mountains, and cut down trees for timber, shape them into posts, &c. and remove them to the spot where his house was to be built, then to erect the frame, with the doorway and windows. This being done, he must again repair to the woods for long branches of hibiscus for rafters, with which he framed the roof.
The leaves of the pandanus were next gathered, and soaked, and sewed on reeds, with which the roof was thatched. This formerly would have completed his dwelling, but he now had to collect, with great labour, a large pile of firewood, to dig a pit, to dive into the sea for coral rock, to burn it, to mix it with sand so as to form mortar, wattle the walls and partitions of his house, and plaster them with lime. He then had to ascend the mountains again, for trees, which he must either split or saw into boards for flooring his apartments, manufacturing doors, windows, shutters, &c. This was certainly a great addition of labour; and hence many occupy their cottages as soon as they have finished the roof, the walls, and the door—levelling the ground for the floor, and spreading page 346 grass over it—occupying one part, while they board or plaster the other.
In this state we found Navenavehia's house, when we paid him our first visit. We recommended him to perservere in completing it, and, in order to encourage him, promised him nails to make doors, and whatever else was wanting. He assured us of his intention to board the floor, and partition off their bed-room; but said, he thought they might as well live in it while he was doing this, and therefore had occupied it as soon as the walls were dry.
The settlements in the Leeward Islands now began to assume a new aspect. Multitudes flocked from the different districts, to attend the means of instruction in the school, and on the Sabbath. The erection of a house upon the improved plan, regulating its size by the rank or means of the family for whom it was designed, became a kind of test of sincerity in professions of desire to be instructed; for, to embrace Christianity, with the precepts which it inculcated, nothing could be more at variance than the habits of indolence and unsightly filthiness of their former habitations.
Activity was now the order of the day. Frames of buildings were seen rising, with astonishing rapidity, in every part of the district; and houses of every size, from the lowly snug little cottage with a single door and window in front, to the large two-storied dwelling of the king or the chief. Buildings, also, in every stage of their progress, might be seen in a walk through the settlement: sometimes only a heap of spars and timber lay on the spot where the house was to be raised, but at other places the principal posts of the houses were erected, others were thatched, and some partially page 347 or entirely enclosed with the beautiful white coral-lime plaster. Axes, hatchets, planes, chisels, gimlets, and saws, were, next to their books, the articles in greatest demand and highest esteem.
No small portion of our time was occupied in directing and encouraging them in their labours. We had, however, occasion to regret, that we were sometimes at as great a loss as the people themselves. They usually formed the walls of their dwellings, either by mortising upright posts into large trees laid on the earth, or planting the posts in the ground about three feet apart. The spaces between the posts, excepting those for doors or windows, were filled with a kind of hurdle-work, or wattling of small rods or sticks, of the tough casuarina. This they plastered with the mortar, forming a plain surface, and covering also the posts on the outside, but leaving them projecting within.
The next object was to make the doors and window-shutters: thus far they had been able to proceed in the erection of their dwellings without nails; but to make doors and shutters without these, brought them at first to a stand. We were glad to furnish the chiefs and others with these most valuable articles, so far as our stock would allow, but it was useless to think of supplying the wants of the entire population; we only regretted that we could not have more ready access to our friends in England, many of whom, we had no doubt, would readily have supplied them with an article easily procured in abundance there, but here exceedingly scarce. Nails are still among the most valuable manufactures they can receive.page 348
Their invention and perseverance at length overcame the difficulty, and they constructed their doors by fastening together three upright boards, about six feet long, by means of three narrow pieces across, one at each end, the other in the middle. These latter were fastened to the long boards by strong wooden pegs. What the pegs wanted in strength, they determined to supply by numbers, and I think I have seen upwards of fifty or sixty hard pegs driven through one of these cross-pieces into the boards forming the door. In order to prevent their dropping out when the wood shrunk by the heat, they drove small wedges into the ends of the pegs, which frequently kept them secure. In the same manner they fastened most of their floors to the sleepers underneath, using, however, large pegs resembling the treenails in a ship's plank, more than the nails in a house-floor.
When the door was made, it was necessary to hang it; but only a few of the chiefs were, for many years, able to procure iron hinges. Some substituted tough pieces of fish-skin, pieces of the skin of other animals, or leather procured from the ships; but these soon broke, and many of the natives set to work to make wooden hinges. They were generally large, and, when attached to a light thin door, looked remarkably clumsy: but they were made with great industry and care, and the joints very neatly fitted. A man would sometimes be a fortnight in making a single pair of hinges. After all, they were easily broken, and made a most unpleasant noise every time the door was opened or shut.
In our walks through the native settlements, we were often amused at the state in which we found page 349 the houses occupied by their proprietors. Some appeared with only the walls on the outside plastered, others with both sides plastered; some having their doors and window-shutters fixed, others with a low fence only across the door-way; some with grass spread over the whole floor, while others had a portion boarded sufficiently large to contain their sleeping-mats at night. A few, whose dwellings were completely finished, inhabited them with all the conscious satisfaction attending the enjoyment of what had cost them great and persevering labour. All confessed that the new kind of houses were better than the old; that when the weather was warm, they could have as much air as was agreeable; and when the night was cold and the wind high, or the rain drifting, they had not, as formerly, to rise and move their beds, or secure their clothing from wet, but could sleep on, sheltered from the elements without.
This was the state of the settlement in Huahine when visited by Captain Gambier, of H. M. ship Dauntless, Captain Elliot, and other naval officers, whom I had the pleasure of meeting there. The account of the settlement given by the former, and the emotions excited in his own mind by his visit, are so interesting, that I think it would be almost unjust to deprive the readers of these pages of the satisfaction his description is adapted to afford.
In reference to Tahiti, and the change generally, Captain Gambier observes, “The testimony is a strong one: as I had never felt any interest in the labours of Missionaries, I was not only not prepossessed in favour of them, but I was in a measure suspicious of their reports. It will appear as clear as light to the spiritual mind, that the account of their state, and the gratification experienced page 350 in the contemplation of it, was altogether of a temporal nature; that the progress made towards civilization and earthly happiness, in consequence of the moral influence of Christianity, was the cause of that delight. The hand of a superintending Providence is generally acknowledged, it is true, but it is so only with respect to the temporal state. So true it is, that the mind itself, untaught by the Divine Spirit, knows nothing of the awful and overwhelming importance of the eternal interests of the soul over the things of this short-lived scene.”
In reference to Huahine, and the station now described, though not more forward than others in the same group, Captain Gambier observes: “At about ten o'clock on the morning of the 20th of January, 1822, the ship being hove-to outside the reef, a party of us proceeded towards the village of Fare. After passing the reef of coral which forms the harbour, astonishment and delight kept us silent for some moments, and was succeeded by a burst of unqualified approbation at the scene before us. We were in an excellent harbour, upon whose shores industry and comfort were plainly perceptible; for, in every direction, white cottages, precisely English, were seen peeping from amongst the rich foliage, which every where clothes the lowland in these islands. Upon various little elevations, beyond these, were others, which gave extent and animation to the whole. The point on the left, in going in, is low, and covered with wood, with several cottages along the shore.∗ On the right, the high land of the interior slopes down with gentle gradual page 351 descent, and terminates in an elevated point, which just out into the harbour, forming two little bays. The principal and largest is to the left, viewing them from seaward; in this, and extending up the valley, the village is situated. The other, which is small, has only a few houses—but so quiet, so retired, that it seems the abode of peace and perfect content. Industry flourishes here. The chiefs take a pride in building their own houses, which are now all after the European manner; and think meanly of themselves, if they do not excel the lower classes in the arts necessary for the construction. Their wives also surpass their inferiors in making cloth. The queen and her daughter-in-law, dressed in the English fashion, received us in their neat little cottage.
∗This part of Fare Harbour is represented in the frontispiece to vol. iii.
“The furniture of her house was all made on the island, and by the natives with a little instruction originally from the Missionaries. It consisted of sofas with backs and arms, with (cinet) bottoms, really very well constructed; tables and bedsteads by the same artificers. There were curtains to the windows, made of white cloth, with dark leaves stained upon it for a border, which gave a cheerful and comfortable air to the rooms. The bed-rooms were up stairs, and were perfectly clean and neat. These comforts they prize exceedingly; and such is the desire for them, that a great many cottages, after the same plan, are rising up every where in the village.
“The sound of industry was music to my ears. Hammers, saws, and adzes, were heard in every direction. Houses in frame met the eye in all parts, in different stages of forwardness. Many boats, after our manner, were building, and lime burning for cement and whitewashing.page 352
“Upon walking through the village, we were very much pleased to see that a nice, dry, elevated foot-path or causeway ran through it, which must add to their comfort in wet weather, when going to prayers in their European dresses. As we stopped occasionally to speak to some of the natives standing near their huts, we had frequent opportunities of observing the value they set upon the comforts of our English style of cotage, and other things introduced among them of late. They said they were ashamed to invite us into their huts, but that their other house was building, and then they would be happy to see us there.
“Afterwards I walked out to the point forming the division between the two bays. When I had reached it, I sat down to enjoy the sensations created by the lovely scene before me. I cannot describe it; but it possessed charms independent of the beautiful scenery and rich vegetation. The blessings of Christianity were diffused amongst the fine people who inhabited it; a taste for industrious employment had taken deep root; a praiseworthy emulation to excel in the arts which contribute to their welfare and comfort, had seized upon all, and, in consequence, civilization was advancing with rapid strides.”
The scene described by Captain Gambier is represented in the accompanying engraving, which exhibits the progress of the buildings along the shore at the time. There is something peculiarly pleasing in watching the porcess which periodically changes the face of the natural world. The swelling bud—the opening blossom—the expanding leaves—the tiny fruit-formations, as they regularly pass under the eye of the observer, are not less interesting than the bough page 353 bending with ripened fruit. The process which effects the changes marking the progress from birth to maturity in the animal creation, is not less curious; and at this time we beheld a work advancing, which was rapidly transforming the character and habits of a nation, and materially altering even the aspect of the habitable portions of their country. This gave a peculiar interest to the nondescript sort of dwelling, half native hut, and half European cottage, which many of the people at this time inhabited. They marked the steps, and developed the process, by which they were rising from the rude and cheerless degradation of the one, to the elevation and enjoyment of the other. These sensations were often heightened by our beholding, in the neighbourhood of these half-finished houses, the lonely and comfortless hut they had abandoned, and the neatly finished cottage in which the inmates enjoyed a degree of comfort, that, to use their own powerful expression, made them sometimes ready to doubt whether they were the same people who had been contented to inhabit their former dwellings, surrounded by pigs and dogs, and swarms of vermin, while the wind blew over them, and the rain beat upon them.
The greater number of houses, already erected, contain only two or three rooms on one floor, but several of the chiefs have built spacious, and, considering the materials with which they are constructed, substantial habitations, with two stories, and a number of rooms in each, having also some of the windows glazed. Mahine, the king of Huahine, was, we believe, the first native of the South Sea Islands, who finished a house with upper rooms. When done, it was quite a curiosity page 354 among the natives of the Leeward Islands, and multitudes came on purpose to see it. It was built with care, and, considering it as a specimen of native workmanship, was highly creditable to their industry, perseverance, and ingenuity. Many of the natives, especially those who have been native house-builders, are tolerably good carpenters, and handle tools with facility. They have also been taught to saw trees into a number of boards, instead of splitting them into two planks, which was their former practice.
The stone in the northern parts of the island is a kind of compact ancient lava, and, though rather hard, is, we think, adapted for buildings. We were desirous to induce some of the chiefs to attempt the erection of a stone house; but they had no proper tools for preparing the stone, and the labour was also greater than in their present state of civilization they were disposed to undertake. It is not, however, improbable that stone buildings will ultimately supersede the neat, yet, compared with those erected of less perishable materials, temporary dwellings they are now occupying. The coral rock is also more durable than the plaster; and although soft, and easily hewn when first taken out of the sea, it afterwards assumes a degree of hardness which resists the weather for a long series of years. A chapel has been built with this material in the island of Eimeo, and it will probably last longer than any other yet erected.
When we arrived in Eimeo, Messrs. Hayward and Bicknell were residing in boarded dwellings with chambers, and Mr. Nott in a house, the walls of which were neatly plastered. The earth in some parts of the islands would probably answer page 355 for bricks; and the Missionaries formerly made one or two attempts to prepare them for ovens, &c. but did not succeed. Individuals professing to understand making bricks have once or twice offered to teach the natives; but much as we have wished to possess permanent brick houses for ourselves, or to recommend the natives to prepare such, we are convinced that the labour would be too great, and the failures in burning them too frequent, to allow at present of their being made with advantage,—yet we hope they will follow the plastered cottage, just as that now occupies the place of the native hut.
The timber principally employed in their buildings, is the wood of the bread-fruit; and although they are careful of this valuable tree, it is necessary frequently to urge the duty of planting, in order to ensure a future supply not only of timber but of food, as the large trees are now comparatively few, and the population is evidently in creasing.
In the commencement of a new settlement, or the establishment of a town, like that rising around us at the head of Fare harbour, we were desirous that it should assume something like a regular form, as it regarded the public buildings and habitations of the chiefs and people. We sometimes advised them to build their houses and form their public roads in straight lines, and to leave equal distances between the roads and the houses, and also between each dwelling. Our endeavours, however, were unavailing. They could perceive nothing that was either desirable or advantageous in a straight road, or regularity in the site, or uniformity in the size or shape, of their habitations. Every one, therefore, followed his own page 356 inclinations. The size of the building was regulated by the number in the family, the rank or the means of its proprietor, and the shape by his fancy. It was oblong or square, with high gable, or circular ends covered with thatch, so that the building resembled an oval more than any other shape.
The situations selected were either parts of their own ground, or such places as accorded with their taste and habits. Those who were frequently upon the waters, and enjoyed the gentle sea-breezes, or wished to excel their neighbours, built a massy pier or causeway in the sea, and, raising it four or five feet above high-water mark, covered it with smooth flat stones, and then erected their houses upon the spot they had thus recovered from the sea, by which it was on three sides surrounded. The labour required for effecting this, prevented any but chiefs from building in such situations. Others, actually building upon the sand, erected their dwelling upon the upper edge of the beach, within four or five yards of the rising tide.
The public road, from six to twelve feet wide, which led through the district, extending in a line parallel with the coast, presented all its curvatures. Some of the natives built their houses facing the sea; others, turning their fronts towards the mountain, reared them within five or six feet of the road; while several, of a more retiring disposition, built in the centre of their plantations, or under the embowering shade of a grove of bread-fruit trees, enclosing them within the fence that surrounded their dwelling. Some of the leading chiefs, in order to enjoy a more extensive prospect, and to breathe a purer atmosphere, left the humility and shade of the lowland and the valley, and built their houses on the sides of the verdant hills page 357 that rise immediately behind the bay, and form the connecting link between the rocks around the beach and the high mountains of the interior.
A settlement thus formed could never possess any approximation to uniformity; yet it frequently seemed to us as if the variety in size and shape among the buildings, and the irregularity of their situation, were in perfect keeping with the wild, untrained luxuriant loveliness, and romantic appearance, of the rocks, the hills, the mountains, the valleys, and every other natural object by which the rising settlement was surrounded. The chiefs vied with each other in the size, elevation, or conveniences of their houses: some being, like Pohuetea's and Teriitaria's, built upon a pier in the sea; others preparing to attach verandas, by which they could remain cool under a meridian sun; others erected rude covered balconies, in which they might enjoy a more extended prospect, be shaded from the sun, and breathe purer air. The rustic palm-leaf thatch, and beautifully white plastered walls, of all the buildings, whether standing on the sea-beach, on the mountain's side, embowered under the bread-fruit and cocoa-nut grove, or situated in the midst of their plantations, with a walk strewed with fragments of coral and shells leading from the road to the door, appeared in delightful contrast with the thick dark foliage of the trees, the perpetual luxuriance of vegetation, and the variegated blossoms of the native flowers.
The duration of the buildings was in general according to the nature of the thatch; the same house frequently received two or three new roofs, and if the frame was well put together, and the timber seasoned, a plastered cottage would probably page 358 last ten or fifteen years. Many, however, from the rude and hurried manner in which they were built, became dilapidated in a much shorter period.
While individuals and families were thus engaged in the erection of their domestic habitations, the people of the island were occupied in raising a spacious and substantial chapel. They commenced it in the beginning of 1819, and completed it early in the follwing year. It was one hundred feet long, and sixty wide. The sides were fourteen or sixteen feet high, and the centre not less than thirty. The walls were plastered within and without. The roof was covered with pandanus leaves, the windows closed with sliding shutters, and the doors hung with iron hinges of native workmanship. Altogether, the building was finished in a manner highly creditable to their public spirit, skill, and industry. All classes cheerfully united in the work, and the king of the island—assisted by his only son, a youth about seventeen years of age—might be seen every day directing and encouraging those employed in the different parts of the building, or working themselves with the plane or the chisel, in the midst of their chiefs and subjects.
The interior of the roof was remarkable for the neatness of its appearance, and the ingenuity of its structure. The long rafters, formed with slender cocoa-nut, casuarina, or hibiscus trees, were perfectly straight, and polished at the upper end. The lower extremities were ornamented with finely-woven variegated matting, or curiously braided cord, stained with brilliant red or black and yellow native colours, ingeniously wound round the polished wood, exhibiting a singularly neat and page 359 chequered appearance. The ornament on the rafter terminated in a graceful fringe or bunch of tassels.
The pulpit, situated at a short distance from the northern end, was hexagonal, and supported by six pillars of the beautiful wood of the pua, which resmbles, in its grain and colour, the finest satinwood. The panels were of rich yellow bread-fruit, and the frame of mero, a fine-grained, dark, chesnut-coloured wood. The stairs, reading-desk, and communion table, were all of deep umber-coloured bread-fruit; and the whole, as a specimen of workmanship, was such as the native carpenters were not ashamed of. The floor was boarded with thick sawn planks, or split trees; and, although it exhibited great variety of timber and skill, was by no means contemptible.
According to ancient usage in the erection of public buildings, the work had been divided among the different chiefs of the islands; these had apportioned their respective allotments among their peasantry or dependants, and thus each party had distinct portions of the wall, the roof, and the floor. The numbers employed rendered these allotments but small, seldom more than three of six feet in length, devolving on one or two families. This, when finished, they considered their own part of the chapel; and near the part of the wall they had built, and the side of the roof they had thatched, they usually fitted up their sittings. The principal chiefs, however, fixed their seats near the pulpit.
Uniformity was as deficient in the sittings of the chapel, as in the houses of the town, each family fitting up their own according to their inclination or ability. For a considerable extent around the page 360 pulpit, the seats were in the form of low boarded pews neatly finished. Behind them appeared a kind of open, or trellis-work line of pews, which were followed by several rows of benches with backs; and, still more remote from the pulpit, what might be called free or unapporpriated sittings, were solid benches or forms, without any support for the back or arms.
The colour and the kind of wood, used in the interior, was as diversified as the forms in which it was employed; it was, nevertheless, only when empty, that its irregularity and grotesque variety appeared. When well filled with respectably dressed worshippers, as it generally was on the Sabbath, the difference in the material or structure of the places they occupied, was not easily noticed.
A remarkably ingenious and durable low fence called by the natives aumoa, was erected round it, and the area within the enclosure was covered with small fragments of white branching coral, called anaana, and found on the northern shores of the day.
In the month of April, 1820, it was finished, and on the 3d of May opened for Divine service.
A distressing epidemic had raged for some time among the people, and still confined many to their habitations, yet there were not fewer than fifteen hundred present. Many of them were arrayed in light European dresses, and all evidently appeared to feel a high degree of satisfaction in assembling for the public adoration of the Almighty in a building, in many respects an object of astonishment through the island, and which their own toil and perseverance had enabled them to finish.page 361
Individuals in England, who have materially contributed by personal exertions or pecuniary aid to the erection or enlargement of a church or chapel, have, when the object of their solicitude and their toil has been accomplished, experienced emotions of satisfaction during the subsequent opportunities they have had of rendering divine homage there; but the satisfaction of the Tahitians, though the same in kind, I am disposed to believe, is stronger in degree, when standing on the floor, the trees constituting which, they cut down in the forest—when skreened from the wind by that portion of the wall their own hands reared, and covered by that section of the roof which they had thatched.
While the inhabitants of Huahine were thus laudably engaged in providing the means of increasing their domestic enjoyments, and accommodating the assemblies for public worship, their neighbours in the adjacent island of Raiatea were not behind them in the rapidity of their improvement. They had erected a number of dwelling-houses, and a building for divine service, larger than that at Huahine, but inferior in elevation and breadth; being forty-two feet wide, and at the sides about ten feet high. It was finished a week or two earlier than the chapel in Huahine, and was opened on the 11th of April in the same year; when upwards of 2,400 inhabitants of that and the adjacent islands assembled within its walls.
To the natives of Raiatea, this work of their own hands appeared a wonderful specimen of architecture; the manner in which its interior was finished perfectly astonished them, and appeared no less surprising to the natives of the other islands. It was not only furnished with a pulpit, page 362 a desk, a boarded floor throughout, constructed of the tough planks of the reva, and filled with pews and seats, but, by the invention and ingenuity of the Missionaries, it was subsequently furnished with a rustic set of chandeliers.
By this contrivance it could be lighted up for an evening congregation, while we were under the necessity of concluding all our public services before the sun departed. These chandeliers, as they may perhaps with propriety be called, were not indeed of curious workmanship of dazzling brilliancy, in polished metal or cut-glass, but of far more common materials, and simplicity of structure. The frame was of light tough wood, and the lamps, instead of being coloured and transparent, were opaque cocoa-nut shells. They were, however, the only inventions of the kind the natives had ever seen; and on the night when the chapel was first illuminated by their aid, as they came in one after another, and saw the glare of such a number of lights suspended from the roof in a manner that they could not at first understand, they involuntarily stopped to gaze as they entered the door, and few proceeded to their seats without an exclamation of admiration or surprise. Their astonishment was probably greater than would be experienced by an English peasant from a retired village, on beholding, for the first time, a spacious public building splendidly lighted up with gas.
Although we were pleased with the effect produced on the minds of the natives, and a thousand delightful associations revived in our bosoms the first time we mingled with a crowded evening congregation, we did not recommend our people to follow the example their ingenious neighbours had page 363 set them. It appeared more desirable, in the partially organized state of society then prevailing in the islands, to conclude all our public meetings by daylight, rather than call the people from home after sunset.