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Polynesian Researches


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Improved circumstances of the females—Instruction in needle-work—Introduction of European clothing—Its influence upon the people—Frequent singularity of their appearance—Development of parental affection—Increased demand for British manufactures—Native hats and bonnets—Reasons for encouraging a desire for European dress, &c.—Sabbath in the South Sea Islands—Occupations of the preceding day—Early morning prayer-meetings—Sabbath Schools—Order of divine service—School exercises—Contrast with idolatrous worship.

While the enclosure of plantations and gardens, the erection of neat and commodious dwellings, schools, and the spacious place of worship, after the European plan, were rapidly altering the aspect of the settlement, the natives themselves were undergoing a change of appearance in perfect harmony with this transformation. The females, no longer exposed to that humiliating neglect to which idolatry had subjected them, enjoyed the comforts of domestic life, the pleasure resulting from the culture of their minds, the ability to read the scriptures, and to write in their own language, in which several excelled the other sex; they also became anxious to engage in employments which are appropriated to their own sex in civilized and Christian communities. They were therefore taught to work at their needle, and soon made a pleasing proficiency.

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The Missionaries' wives had taught some few in Eimeo prior to our arrival; but, until their reception of Christianity, they considered it degrading to attach themselves to the household of foreigners, or to learn any of their arts and customs; they also thought their own manner of wearing a piece of native or foreign cloth, cast loosely round the body, preferable to the European mode of dress, and consequently had no inducement to learn needlework, or any other female employment. They were, however, now anxious not only to adopt the English style of clothing, but also to be able to make their own dresses. This was a kind of instruction which our wives were competent to impart, even before they had acquired a sufficient knowledge of the language to enable them to teach in the schools. Mrs. Ellis had engaged in it ever since our arrival in Eimeo; and, as soon as we were settled in the Leeward Islands, some were daily occupied in teaching the native females to sew.

In Huahine a large class attended every afternoon from two o'clock till five, alternately at our respective houses, where Mrs. Barff and Mrs. Ellis met, and spent the afternoon pleasantly in each other's society, and unitedly teaching the females by whom they were surrounded. The natives, in general, now considered it a great favour to be taught, though it was sometimes found that they had entertained very incorrect ideas of the motives by which their instructors were influenced. A young woman had attended very regularly for some weeks, and had learned to use her needle as well as could be expected in that time. One Saturday night she presented herself with our native domestics, and begged to be paid her wages for learning page 390 to sew! Mrs. Ellis said, Why should I pay you ? in our country it is customary for those instructed to pay their teachers. The woman answered with some earnestness, You asked me to come and learn—I have been here so long—I have learnt. It must be in some way advantageous to you, or you would not have been so anxious about it; and as I have done what you wished me to do, you ought to pay me for it. She was told that the labour of teaching had been gratuitous, and the advantage resulting was all her own; and appeared satisfied when assured, that now she had learned, she should be regularly paid for the needlework she might do. This, however, at the time to which I now refer, 1819, was a rare occurrence; although, in the earlier periods of the Mission, it had been frequently manifested, not only in regard to needlework, but every department of instruction.

Accustomed only to perform those services that were for the advantage of foreigners, the natives had been usually paid for the same. They could not conceive, notwithstanding the frequent explanations given, why the Missionaries should be so desirous for their learning to read, &c. if they were not, in some way or other, benefited thereby: hence, many of the early scholars expected to be paid for learning, and I believe some for appearing at the chapel. This, however, was only manifested during the time when very few could be induced to attend, and none perhaps came from the influence of that desire for Christian instruction which attended the general profession of Christianity. After this period, it was only shewn by those who were actuated by a desire to obtain the favour of their superiors.

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European cloths, cottons in particular, had long been favourite articles of barter with the natives, on account of their durability compared with native manufacture, their adaptation to the climate, variegated and showy colours, and the trifling injury they sustained from wet. They no longer traded for ardent spirits, muskets, powder, &c. and were consequently enabled to procure larger quantities of British woven cloth. Hitherto, however, they had generally worn the European cottons, &c. in the native manner, either as a light tehei, thrown over the shoulder, a pareu wound round the waist, or ahu buu, a kind of large scarf or shawl, loosely covering the greater part of the body. They were now desirous to assimilate their dresses in some degree to ours. Mrs. Nott and Mrs. Crook made one or two loose dressing-gowns for Pomare, after a pattern from us. This introduced the fashion, and many of the women made others for their husbands.

The first garment in general use among the females, was a kind of Roman tunic, usually of white or blue calico, these being their favourite colours. It was fastened round the neck with a short collar, which, if possible, was united by a bright gilt or plated button. The sleeves were long and loose, and buttoned at the wrists, while the lower parts reached nearly to the ankles. On the outside of this, they wore the pareu round the waist, and reaching below the knees. The colour of these articles was generally in perfect contrast. When the loose European dress was white, the pareu, worn round the waist on the outside of it, was of dark blue; one end of it was sometimes thrown carelessly over the shoulder, or hung loosely on the arm, heightening the novel and not page 392 unpleasing effect produced by their blending, in the apparel of the same individual, the ancient native with the modern European costume. Their dress thus indicated, equally with their half-native and half-foreign dwellings, the peculiar plastic, forming state of the nation, and the advancement of that process which was then constantly imparting to it some fresh impression, and developing new traits of character with rapid and delightful progression.

As the natives experienced the convenience of the new dresses, their desire for them increased, and the long loose dress soon became an every-day garment, while others of a finer texture, made after the European fashion, were procured for special occasions. From making plain, straight-forward garments, the more expert were anxious to advance still higher; and in process of time, frills appeared round the neck; and, ultimately, caps covered the heads, and shoes and stockings clothed the feet. Our assemblies now assumed quite a civilized appearance, every one, whose means were sufficient to procure it, dressing in a garment of European cloth.

These changes in the exterior of the people were sometimes attended with rather humorous circumstances. I shall not soon forget the first time the queen, and about half a dozen of the chief women of Huahine, appeared in public, wearing the caps which had been sent as a present by some ladies in England. It was some time after the adoption of the English dress. When they first entered with their bonnets on, much surprise was not excited; but when these were removed, and the cap appeared, they viewed each other for some time most significantly, without, page 393 however, saying a word, yet each seeming to wonder whether her head, with its new appendages, resembled in appearance that of her neighbour. The attendants, and others who were not so distinguished, after recovering from evident astonishment at seeing the Huahinian ladies for the first time in European caps, were by no means sparing in their remarks. Some observed, they were perhaps designed to keep the head cool; others, to keep it warm; and others supposed they were to preserve it from the flies and the musquitoes. All agreed that they looked very strange, and the wearers appeared to think so themselves; but it was supposed to be according to the usage of ladies in England,—and to the despotism of fashion, even here, all minor considerations were rendered subservient.

The desire to obtain foreign clothing was now very great, equal to that with which they sought iron tools; and whenever they procured one article of it, it was worn forthwith, without waiting till the suit was completed. This often rendered their appearance to a European eye exceedingly ludicrous. There was a degree of propriety usually manifested by all classes of the females in their dress: they either paid more attention to their appearance than the other sex, or were better informed; and the only inconsistency we ever observed was that of a woman's sometimes wearing a coat or jacket belonging to her husband or brother. The men, however, were less scrupulous: and whether it resulted from their fondness of variety, or a supposition that the same clothes, worn in different ways, would appear like distinct articles of dress, I am not able to say; but I have seen a stocking sometimes on the leg, and sometimes page 394 on the arm, and a pair of pantaloons worn one part of the day in a proper manner, and during another part thrown over the shoulders, the arms of the wearer stretched through the legs, and the waistband buttoned round the chest.

Their own dress was remarkably simple in its form and appearance, and was generally more or less suited to their vocation. When employed in agricultural pursuits, or in fishing, in which occupation they were as much in the sea as out of it, the men seldom wore any other dress than their tihere or maro, a broad girdle passed several times round the body. At other times they wore a pareu, which reached from the waist to the calf of the leg. Over the shoulders, when not at work, they wore a loose ahu buu, a kind of scarf or mantle, in some degree resembling the Roman toga; or they appeared in the tiputa, an article of dress, having an aperture in the centre through which the head is passed, the other parts extending over the shoulders, breast, and back. The tiputa was generally worn by the chiefs and all persons of respectability.

This article is common to all the South Sea Islanders, and resembles in every respect, excepting the material of which it is fabricated, the poncho worn by the aborigines of South America, inhabiting the countries adjacent to the Pacific. The combination of these with some parts of the men's apparel worn in Europe, produced an effect less pleasing than the apparel of the females. Appearance and convenience, however, were not much considered by the Society Islanders, and it was often amusing to see a native sans culotte, without waistcoat or shirt, with a maro or pareu round his waist, and a fashionably made black coat page 395 on his back. The men are generally above the middle stature, and proportionably stout, so that few of the coats, &c. belonging to the captains or officers of vessels touching at the islands were large enough. If, however, they could by any means thrust their large muscular arms through the sleeves, it was thought to fit very well. Notwithstanding the warmth of the climate, they are fond of wearing the coat buttoned; and although when thus fastened it appeared less repulsive to our opinions of propriety, than when, standing open, it exposed the naked breast of the wearer, it was often quite distressing to see the imprisoned and pinioned arms occasionally struggling for liberty, and the perspiration oozing from the pores of the skin, indicating the laborious confinement of the body it enclosed.

These were scenes witnessed immediately after the general adoption of European clothing. Most of those who wear it now are able to procure at least one complete suit, and consequently appear less singular. In the arrangement, however, of the different articles of a complete dress, they were at first equally unhappy, and not unfrequently presented an appearance which it was impossible to behold with gravity. A tall man was sometimes seen with a hat and shoes, without stockings, a long surtout black-cloth coat, with the collar truned up and buttoned close to his chin, and over his black coat a white frilled shirt, the collar unbuttoned, and the bosom thrown open, the sleeves drawn up towards the elbows, and the outline of the other parts appearing in strong contrast with the black coat underneath, which reached to his ankles. Such an appearance was more than once presented, and the reason assigned for it was, that the shirt page 396 was so much smaller than the coat, that had it, instead of the coat, been put underneath, it would not have been seen. Although exhibited in the person of a chief, the incongruity of such an arrangement furnished matter of ridicule even for themselves, and is now never seen.

European articles of dress are in the greatest demand; this method of clothing being adopted by all whose means enable them to procure either cotton or woollen cloth; and there are few, who, by preparing arrow-root, feeding pigs, manufacturing cocoa-nut oil, or other labour, cannot purchase from the shipping a suit of foreign clothing. I have frequently been delighted to see families of natives going on board the vessels, or repairing to the market-house on shore with the produce of their labour, and when they have arrived at the place of barter, and the captain or the merchant has spread before them his attractive goods, glossy and bright in all the shining colours of which they are so fond, the parent's eye has often glanced over them, in wonder when and how they were made. They have been seen occasionally looking down to notice what had attracted the attention of a little boy or girl, standing, perhaps, beside them; and if they thought the child could not distinctly see the different pieces, they have lifted it up, that it might look over the table, and then have asked the child which it would like to have. Sometimes the child would smile and hang its head, and fall upon its mother's shoulder, as if it knew not which to choose. At other times it would point to one, upon which the merchant has been directed to cut off so much as would make a frock or gown: it has been folded up, and given to the child; and while the parents' eyes have page 397 marked the pleasure of the child as it has held the new frock on its arm, the smile on their own countenances has declared the pleasure they experienced. In many instances I have seen a garment for the mother next selected; and then the father, with the remainder of their native produce, has purchased some articles for himself. Their first effort now is generally to purchase, and to learn to make light clothing for their children; and there are perhaps few parents in the islands who would think of purchasing a garment for themselves, while their little one was destitute.

It is a pleasing fact, which demonstrates unequivocally that the South Sea Islanders are not deficient in capacity, but are capable, when inducement sufficient is offered, of acquiring habits of close industry, that in the islands of Raiatea and Huahine, or any of the stations in the Leeward Islands, there was hardly an adult female, excepting the aged and infirm, who could not use her needle so as to make her own clothes, and those required by other members of the family. I have not had equal opportunity of knowing what progress the females in the Windward Islands have made, but have reason to believe it is highly creditable to their application.

The occupation furnished by the new order of things that has followed the introduction of Christianity, is one of the important sources of their present enjoyment. But this is not the only advantage resulting therefrom. It has opened a new channel for commercial enterprise, and has actually created a market for British manufactures, the consumption of which, among the islands of the Pacific that have received the Gospel, is already considerable. Mr. Stewart estimates that the page 398 trade of four American merchants in the Sandwich Islands amounts to one hundred thousand dollars a year; this, however, is a far greater amount than that of all the other islands of Polynesia. The demand will increase in the exact proportion in which industry shall augment the produce of the islands, and the property of their inhabitants. This is a consideration which, though confessedly very inferior to many, ought not to be disregarded by those who take an interest in the alteration of society which is now attending Missionary efforts in various parts of the world, but particularly in such countries as Africa, Madagascar, and the islands of the Pacific.

Shoes and hats are not much less in demand than cottons or woollens; and these also must, for the present, and probably for many years to come, be supplied from England or America. Although the light hats, made with a fine sort of grass, or the bark of a tree, are, in our estimation, remarkably well adapted to the climate, most of the men, making any pretensions to respectability, strive to possess an English hat. We were for a long time surprised at the partiality of the natives for woollen cloth, and hardly knew how to account for it, as it does not altogether arise from its being more durable. At one time, no article of dress was more acceptable to the men than a thick shaggy great coat, which, to us, it was quite oppressive even to behold. Many purchased with avidity a thick blanket, which they would wear as an ahubuu over the shoulders, or a pareu round the waist. Frequently, when we have been burdened with the lightest crape or nankeen dress, a native, by no means deficient in corpulency, would walk several miles with an ordinary great coat, page 399 without seeming to experience more than usual inconvenience. I never heard them complain of the heat; and the cause of their apparent insensibility to its oppressive influence is probably to be found in their being early exposed, and constantly habituated, to the climate.

Early in the year 1820, another important change took place in the dress of the Society Islanders; affecting not only their appearance, but tending perhaps ultimately to alter their physical structure. This was the introduction of hats and bonnets. If the skulls of those nations that wear no covering on their heads, are thicker than those who do, there is reason to suppose the craniums of the Tahitians will be much thinner in a few generations, than they have been prior to this period; since, from their earliest history, they appear to have gone abroad bareheaded. The inhabitants formerly wore a kind of bonnet, or rather shade for the eyes, made of the leaves of the cocoa-nut, in a variety of forms, many of them tasteful and elegant. They were called taupoo or taumata, and, as the latter name signifies, were designed to skreen the face or eyes; it being composed of tau, to hang upon or cover, and mata, face or eyes. It was worn on the forehead immediately below the hair, and fastened by a narrow leaflet passing round the back of the head above each of the ears, leaving the whole of the back and upper part of the head entirely exposed.

The first native bonnet we have heard of, as manufactured in the islands, was finished while we resided in Afareaitu, by Mrs. Ellis. It was made for our infant daughter, with leaflets of the fan-leaved palm, brought from the Marquesas; and the first hat we ever saw that had been made page 400 there, was one the same individual made for me at Huahine, with the same kind of leaves, which were platted by a sailor in Eimeo. Hats and bonnets were, however, introduced among the natives by our friends in Raiatea, with whom many valuable improvements have originated; and the first hats and bonnets ever made in the islands, and worn by the natives, were made by Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Threlkeld, in the spring of 1820. Their appearance on the heads of the natives of Raiatea produced no slight sensation there; and the report of their use, as it spread through the islands, occasioned a considerable stir.

Highly approving of whatever had a tendency to civilize the natives, or to furnish them with useful employment, we rejoiced at their introduction, and endeavoured to persuade the natives of Huahine to follow the example of their Raiatean neighbours. Whether, however, they were influenced by a feeling of pride which made them averse to imitate the Raiateans, or an unwillingness to increase their domestic employments, we do not know; but the females in general, the queen and chief women in particular, seemed at first determined to resist the innovation. The men rejoiced at the idea of making hats; and yet, notwithstanding this, and the repeated offers of Mrs. Barff and Mrs. Ellis to teach the females to plat, and to make the plat into bonnets and hats, they were exceedingly averse to learn. Following the example of those in Raiatea, their teachers made bonnets for themselves with the bark of the purau; and though the chief women acknowledged that they looked very well on them, they said they had not yet procured the articles necessary to form a complete European dress, that page 401 many were still without shoes and stockings, and that it would be quite ridiculous for the head to be covered with a bonnet after the fashion of the foreigners, while the feet, like those of the islanders in general, were without shoes. A short time afterwards, several of the natives of our island sailed over to Raiatea, and returned with very flattering accounts of the improved appearance of those who wore hats and bonnets. This induced in several of the chief women, who had at least one complete English dress, a desire to learn to make them, and ultimately to substitute the European bonnet for the antive taumata. A visit which a number of chiefs and their wives, from Raiatea, paid to Huahine, increased their eagerness for this new article of dress—which, when once adopted, was never laid aside.

The desire now became general, and was not confined to those who possessed other articles of foreign dress, it being extended even to such as had none. Thus, wearing a hat and bonnet was the first advance they made towards a more civilized appearance and dress. Our houses were now thronged by individuals anxious to be instructed; and so soon as Mrs. Barff or Mrs. Ellis had taught any of the females, these immediately taught others; and those who excelled in the fineness of their platting, or in putting it together, were fully employed by the chiefs and others, and derived no small emolument from their new avocation. Dress making and straw-bonnet making, now profitable employments to a number of females, were certainly the first regular female occupations from civilized society being introduced into the islands. The hats and bonnets were at first made with the inner bark of the page 402 slender branches of the purau, or the leaves of a fine species of rush. The former was beautifully white and glossy, while the latter was of a yellow colour, and much more firm and durable, on which account it was preferred for hats. The only hats I wore in the islands during the subsequent years of my residence there, were made with this material; and in that climate I should never desire any other. The use of hats increased so rapidly, that all the European thread in the islands was soon expended. There were no haberdashers' shops at hand, whence a supply could be procured; recourse was therefore had to native productions. Some employed the long filaments of the dried plantain-stalk; and others split the thin bark of the purau into fine threads or fibres, and, though not equal in strength to the twisted thread, both answered remarkably well.

The bonnets were in many instances scarcely finished, when another difficulty met their possessors. They had observed that the wives and daughters of the Missionaries, however plain their dress, wore a riband and strings to their bonnets, and they had often observed a greater profusion of trimmings attached to those worn by the wives of the captains, or the female passengers, in any of the vessels that touched at the islands; they therefore imagined that in point of improvement they might almost as well appear without a bonnet, as with one destitute of these appendages. These, however, it was no easy matter to procure, and they would at that time, certainly, have been the last article a captain or trader would have thought of taking to the South Sea Islands for barter. A few of the chief women were furnished with an English riband, which was considered as valuable as an page 403 embroidery of gold would be in some circles of society.

The greater portion of the inhabitants were, however, under the necessity of exercising their ingenuity to provide a substitute. Those they furnished were various, and such perhaps as few English females would have thought of. A part of a black coat, or a soldier's red jacket, cut into strips about two inches wide, was greatly esteemed. Next to this, ribands of native cloth, dyed with showy colours, were employed; while others used a string of the bark from a branch of the purau, with the outer rind scraped off, the inner bark washed and bleached, passed round the bonnet, and tied under the chin.

Trimmings are not so scarce now as formerly, but the supply taken is still inadequate to the requirements of the people, among whom bonnets and hats are now so common, that before I left the Leeward Islands, scarcely a man, woman, or child was to be seen out of doors without one—many of them possessing two, and sometimes three or four.

They are made entirely by the females, who manufacture not only for themselves, their husbands, and their children, but, in some of the stations, several have formed themselves into a kind of society, for the purpose of making bonnets for the poor and the aged, who are unable to make for themselves. The bonnets are either sewn together, or woven throughout, after the manner of Leghorns, and are made not only with the leaves of the mau, and the bark of the purau, but of the fine white layers of the inside of the plantain stalk, the leaf of the sugar-cane, and a strong and beautiful species of fine grass.

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It may perhaps be supposed, by those who are unacquainted with the circumstances, that the wives of the Missionaries have not acted judiciously in introducing and cherishing a desire for dress. It may be thought that it has a tendency to engender pride, occupy the head and the hands about trifles, to the neglect of more important matters, inducing them to devote to the adorning of the person that time which might with greater advantage be appropriated to the cultivation of morals, and the improvement of their minds. The Missionaries, however, have not, in any degree, introduced the love of finery; they found it there, and cannot be supposed to have produced any change for the worse, in the taste of a people, by whom a black coat fringed round the edge with red feathers was considered a suitable dress even for a high-priest. The most showy English dress they ever saw, would probably, in the estimation of every beholder, appear comparatively plain, when placed by the side of those the natives formerly wore. The splendid appearance of the loose and flowing ahu puu, or the richness of the tiputa, dyed in their bright and favourite scarlet and yellow colours, together with some of their head-dresses of tropicbird feathers, and garlands of the gayest flowers, gave them certainly an imposing appearance. The former continued to be worn after their renunciation of idolatry; and the Missionaries knew no reason why they should recommend the discontinuance of a dress to which the nation was accustomed, merely on account of its gay appearance.

Convinced it is not in the dress with which the person is invested, but in the feelings of the heart page 405 with which that dress is regarded, that the evil exists—and that pride does not consist in the wearing of apparel superior to that to which an individual may have been accustomed, or to that worn by others, provided it be suitable to his circumstances, and the society with which he associates—they did not disapprove of the native dresses. But considering the danger to arise from substituting external adornment for internal worth, and imaging that distinction in dress confers an advantage on its wearer, or entitles him to that which he would not otherwise assume—the Missionaries were led to conclude, that a Tahitian, arrayed in a scarlet and yellow tiputa, or invested in the rich fold of his ahu puu, was perhaps as humble in mind as those who appeared desirous to divest themselves of every exterior ornament. Their principal aim, however, was to encourage habits of industry; and this, from the heat of the climate, the spontaneous productions of the soil, and other causes, appeared likely to be done by the introduction of what might be called artificial wants, which should operate on the native mind with power sufficient to induce labour for their supply. Idleness has been a most fruitful source of many of their vices and sufferings; and when we have seen the females working with their needle, or with the straw for their bonnets, &c. we could not but deem it an occupation far more conducive to their enjoyment, than indolence, or their former unprofitable and often injurious pastimes. It is not to be expected that a people unaccustomed to mental effort should be constantly engaged with their books. They did not relax in their attendance at the school, or page 406 any of the meetings for public instruction; and we observed with satisfaction, their altered appearance in all public assemblies, as indicating an improvement in civilization, and an increase of industry.

Their regular and early attendance on the Sabbath, ever has been, and still is, remarkably conspicuous; the day is to them a season of holy rest and devotional enjoyment. Excepting in Tahiti and Eimeo, there is now no island on which more than a single Missionary resides, and consequently public preaching only at the station which he occupies. The principal families in most of the islands have removed to the settlement, for the benefit of regular instruction. Others, however, occupy lands which are at some distance; and even those who have erected their dwellings near the residence of their teacher, having plantations situated in a remote district, are often absent for several days together. Most of them, however, repair to the settlement for the Sabbath; and it is a spectacle that has often gladdened our hearts, when, on the Saturday afternoon, we have seen parties from every direction approaching, by land or by water, the bay, at the head of which our settlement was formed.

In a walk through the village, on the afternoon of the day preceding the Sabbath, looking along the shore, we have often beheld the light canoe doubling a distant point of land, and, with its native cloth or matting sail, wafted towards the station. Others nearer the shore, with their sails lowered, have been rowed by the men; while the women and children were sitting in the stern, screened from the sun by a temporary awning. page 407 Along the coast, many were unlading their canoes, or drawing them upon the beach for security.

The shore presented a scene of activity. The crackling fire or the light column of smoke might be seen rising through the district, and the natives busily engaged in cooking their victuals for the Sabbath. On account of their food being dressed for the Sabbath on the Saturday, that day is called mahana maa, food-day. As the evening approached, multitudes were met returning from the inland streams, whither they had repaired, to bathe after the occupations of the day; the men bringing home their calabashes of water for drinking, or their aanos of water for washing the feet; while the females were carrying home bundles of the broad leaves of the hibiscus, which they had gathered, to serve instead of plates for Sabbath meals. On entering the dwellings on the Saturday evening, every thing would appear remarkably neat, orderly, and clean—their food in baskets—their calabashes filled with fresh water—their fruit gathered—and broad hibiscus leaves plucked and carefully piled up for use—their clean garments were also laid out ready for the next day. The hours of the evening, instead of being a season of the greatest care and hurry, are, I believe, often seasons of preparation—“prelude to hours of holy rest.”

The sacred day was not only distinguished by a total cessation from labour, trade or barter, amusements, and worldly pleasure—but no visits were made, no parties of company entertained, no fire lighted, nor food cooked, except in cases of illness. This strict observance of the Sabbath, especially in regard to the latter points, whereby the Tahitian page 408 resembled the Jewish more perhaps than the Christian Sabbath, was not directly inculcated by the Missionaries, but resulted from the desire of the natives themselves to suspend, during this day, their ordinary avocations, and also from their imitation of the conduct of the Missionaries in this respect.

We have always been accustomed to have our usual beverage prepared in the morning and afternoon; but this is the only purpose for which, in ordinary seasons, a fire has ever been lighted for any of the Missionary families; and when destitute of these articles, which in the earlier periods of the Mission was often the case, no fire was lighted on the Sabbath; their food was invariably dressed on the preceding day, and the warmth of the climate prevented their requiring fire for any other purpose. In this proceeding they were influenced by a desire that their domestics, and every member of their families, might have an opportunity of attending public worship.

The example, thus furnished by their teachers, has led to the strict and general observance of the Sabbath by the nation at large. Their private devotions are on this, as well as other mornings, usually concluded by sunrise, and shortly afterwards the greater part of the inhabitants assemble for their Sabbath morning prayer-meeting. Besides a service in English, the Missionaries preach twice in the native language, and visit the Sabbath school; these services are as many as they are able to undertake: the service at the morning prayer-meeting is therefore performed by the natives. We have, however, sometimes attended, and always with satisfaction.

It is impossible to conceive the emotions of page 409 delight produced by witnessing six or eight hundred natives assembling at this hour in the respective chapels, and, on entering, to see a native, one who was perhaps formerly a warrior or Areoi, or even an idolatrous priest, stand up, and read a psalm or hymn, which the congregation rise, and sing. A portion of the scriptures, in the native language, is then read; and the thanksgivings and petitions of the assembly are offered to Almighty God, with a degree of fervour, appropriate use of scripture language, and chastened devotional feeling, that is astonishing, when it is considered that, but a few years before, they were ignorant and barbarous idolaters. A second hymn is sung, another portion of scripture read, and prayer offered by another individual—when the service closes, and the assembly retires.

Soon after eight o'clock the children repair to the Sabbath-schools, those for the boys and girls being distinct. About four hundred usually attend in Fare: they are divided into classes, under native teachers. About a quarter before nine, the congregation begins to assemble, and at nine the morning service commences. I have often heard with pleasure, as I have passed the Sabbath-schools rather earlier perhaps than usual, the praises of the Saviour sung by between three and four hundred juvenile voices, who were thus concluding their morning exercise. The children are then conducted to the chapel, each class led by its respective teacher, the girls walking first, two abreast and hand-in-hand, clothed very generally in European dresses; wearing bonnets made with a fine species of grass, or the bark of a tree; each carrying in her hand a neat little basket, made with page 410 similar materials, and containing a catechism, hymn-book, and testament: the little boys following in the same order; more frequently, however, arrayed in the native costume, having a little finely-platted white mat, fringed at the edges, wound round their loins; another of the same kind, or a light scarf, dyed with glowing native colours, passed across their breasts, and thrown loosely over their shoulders; their feet naked, and their hair often cut short, but sometimes hanging in ringlets over their open countenances; and their heads covered with a neat little grass or straw hat, made by their mothers or their sisters.

Before the service began, they were usually led to the seats appropriated for them in the chapel; and where there have been galleries, these have been occupied by the scholars. Frequently we have been approaching the place of worship at the same time that the schools have entered it, and it has often afforded us satisfaction to behold a father or a mother, with an infant in arms, standing under the shade of a tree that grew by the side of the road near the chapel, to see, in the line of scholars, a son or daughter pass by. When the object of affection has approached, a smile of pleasure has indicated the gratification of the child at the notice taken by the parent, and that smile has been reciprocated by the parent, who, in silent gladness, followed to the house of God.

The morning service commences with singing, during which the congregations stand; a portion of scripture is then read, and prayer offered, the congregation kneeling or standing. This is followed by singing a second time; a sermon is then page 411 preached, after which a short hymn is sung, prayer presented, and the benediction given; with which the service closes, between half past ten and eleven o'clock.

Although the religious exercises are now rather longer than they were when the people first began to attend, they seldom exceed an hour and a half on the Sabbath, and little more than an hour at other times. It has always appeared preferable, even to multiply the services, should that be necessary, than weary the attention of the people by unduly protracting them. In the religious services, the repeated singing, the reading prayers, and preaching, afford sufficient variety to prevent their being irksome or dull, while there is nothing childish and unmeaning, or purely ceremonial. When the congregation has dispersed, the children are conducted to the schools in the same order in which they came to the chapel, and are there dismissed by one of their teachers.

In the afternoon they assemble in the schools, and read the scriptures, and repeat hymns, or portions of the catechism, and are questioned as to their recollection of the sermon of the forenoon. We have sometimes been surprised at the readiness with which the children have recited the text, divisions, and leading thoughts in a discourse, without having written it down. Often it has been most cheering to see them thus employed; exhibiting all the native simplicity of childhood, mingled with the indications of no careless exercise of mind on the important matters of religion. It is always delightful to watch the commencement and progress of mental improvement, and the early efforts of intellect; but it was peculiarly so here. In the Sabbath-schools of the South Sea Islands, page 412 the mechanical parts of instruction (namely, learning to read, spell, &c.) are not attended to; the time is wholly occupied in the religious improvement of the pupils, and is generally of a catechetical kind.

Many of the parents attend as spectators at the Sabbath-schools, and it is not easy to conceive the delight they experience in beholding the improvement of their children, and in attending at an exercise often advantageous to their own minds. The greater part of the people, however, spend the middle of the day in their own dwellings. Formely they were accustomed to sleep, but we believe this practice is by many discontinued.

The public service in the evening commences, in most of the stations, about a quarter before four, and is performed in the same manner as that in the forenoon. Meetings for reading the scriptures and prayer are held at some of the native houses in the evening, and we usually read a sermon in the English language in our own families.

The attendance of the people is regular, and the attention seldom diverted. At first we perceived a great inclination to drowsiness, especially during the afternoon: at this we were not surprised, when we recollected that this was the manner in which they were accustomed to spend several hours every day, and that they were also unaccustomed to fixedness of attention, or exercise of thought on a particular subject, for any length of time. This habit, however, has, we have reason to believe, very greatly diminished in all the islands, and more particularly where congregations regularly assemble.

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The scrupulous attention to the outward observance of the Sabbath, may perhaps in some degree be the result of the impression left on the minds of the people by the distinguishing features of their former system, in which all the efficacy of their services consisted in the rigid exactness with which sacred days were kept, and religious ceremonies performed, without the least regard to the motives and dispositions of the devotees. To have kindled a fire, or to have failed in the observance of any rite enjoined, or restriction imposed, during their tabu, or sacred seasons, would have been sufficient, not only to have neutralized all the advantages expected from the most costly offerings or tedious services, but would have exposed the offenders to the anger of the god, and perhaps to death, as its consequence.

With many, the influence of a system so inflexible has probably operated powerfully in producing this uniform attention, at least to the outward duties of the Sabbath, the only sacred day now recognized amongst them; with others, there is reason to believe it arises from the influence of example, and the respectability it was at this time supposed to impart to individual character; but with many it originates in far higher motives, and is the result of christian principle in regard to what they consider a duty.

A number of instances, strikingly illustrative of this fact, might be adduced: I will, however, only refer to one. A man came to the Monday evening meeting on one occasion, and said his mind was troubled, as he feared he had done wrong. He was asked in what respect; when he answered that, on the preceding day, which was the Sabbath, when returning from public worship, he observed page 414 that the tide, having risen higher than usual, had washed out to sea a large pair of double canoes, which he had left on the beach. At first he thought of taking a smaller canoe, fetching back the larger ones, and fixing them in a place of security; but while he was deliberating, it occurred to his recollection that it was the Sabbath, and that the scriptures prohibited any work. He therefore allowed the canoes to drift towards the reef, until they were broken on the rocks. But, he added, though he did not work on the Sabbath, his mind was troubled on account of the loss he had sustained, and that he thought was wrong. He was immediately told that he would have done right, had he fetched the canoes to the shore on the Sabbath. When, however, it was considered, that perhaps this pair of canoes had cost him nearly twelve months' labour, and that, before they were lost, he was comparatively richer than many an English merchant is in the possession of a five or six hundred ton vessel, it appears a remarkable instance of conscientious regard for the Sabbath-day.

Since the abolition of idolatry, no part of the conduct of the South Sea Islanders has impressed the minds of foreign visitants more forcibly than their attention to the observance of the Sabbath. I never saw any, even the most irreligious, or those unfriendly to Missions, who were not constrained to confess that it surpassed all they had heard or imagined could have been exhibited; while others, more favourably disposed, have publicly declared its effect on their own minds.

When Mr. Crook arrived in 1816, the ship reaching Tahiti on the Sabbath, no canoe put off, no native was seen on the beach, no smoke in any page 415 part of the district—and they began to apprehend either that the population had been swept off by some contagious disease, or that they had all gone to battle. At length their fears were removed by one of the party, who had been there before, observing, that it was the Sabbath, and that on that day the natives did not launch their canoes, or light their fires, &c. In 1821, Captain Grimes “was surprised at the regularity and good order observed; the children of the Sabbath-school were ushered in by their teachers in their different classes, with as much uniformity as we see in public schools in London.” Several masters of South Sea whalers, captains and officers in his majesty's navy, have borne the most decided testimony to these facts. A naval officer, who was at Tahiti in 1822, stated, that he visited the islands under a considerable degree of prejudice against the Missionaries, and suspicion respecting the reported change among the people,—but that his visit had entirely removed both. It was Friday when the vessel arrived; the natives thronged the ship with fowls, fruit, vegetables, &c. for sale, manifesting considerable earnestness and address in the disposal of their goods. The same was continued through the second day; but on the third, to the great astonishment of all on board, no individual came near the ship, assigning, afterwards, as a reason, that it was the Sabbath. On the day following, however, the trade was as brisk as it had been on that of their arrival. Captain Gambier, who visited them in the same year, in the extracts from his journal, which have been published, states, in reference to the manner of attending the duties of the Sabbath among the young, that, “The silence—the order preserved—the devotion page 416 and attention paid to the subject, surprised and pleased me beyond measure.” “Children,” he adds, “are seen bringing their aged parents to the church, that they may partake of the pleasure they derive from the explanation of the Bible.” The general attention to the public worship of God, and the exemplary christian deportment of many of the people, have proved not only delightful, but beneficial, to their visitors; and we are grateful to know, that occasional and transient visits to the christian islands of the Pacific, have been the means of advantage to the visitors; and there are probably many instances of good, which the revelations of the last day alone will disclose.

It is a privilege to visit a country, and a happiness to live in a community, where the Sabbaths are thus spent, and prove to multitudes—

“Foretastes of heaven on earth—pledges of joy
Surpassing fancy's flights and fiction's story,
The preludes of a feast that cannot cloy,
And the bright out-courts of immortal glory!”

This universal observance of the Sabbath-day appears to an Englishman in humiliating contrast with its profanation in many favoured sections of his own country. The contrast is still more striking when compared with the manner in which it is perverted into a season of activity, business, and unwonted gaiety in the pursuit of pleasure, in Catholic countries—but it never appears so surprising as when viewed in comparison with the actual state of the people themselves only a few years ago. No Sabbath had then dawned no happy multitudes met for praise and prayer, no lovely throngs of children gathered in the page 417 Sabbath-schools, no inspired page or christian preacher directed their attention to the Lord of the Sabbath; but when the devotees met for public worship, it was under the gloom of overshadowing trees, amid the recesses of some rude temple, before some rustic altar, or in the presence of some deity of frightful form and fearful attributes, the offspring of their own imagination.