Power of the chiefs and proprietors of land—Banishment and confiscation—The king's messenger—The niau, an emblem of authority—Ancient usages in reference to crime, &c.—Fatal effects of jealousy—Seizure of property—Punishment of theft—Public works—Supplies for the king—Despotic rapacity—Extortion of the king's servants—Unorganized state of civil polity—Desire a code of Christian laws—Advice and conduct of the Missionaries—Preparation of the laws—Public enactment by the king in a national assembly at Tahiti—Capital punishments—Manner of conducting public trials—Establishment of laws in Raiatea—Preparation of those for Huahine.
Every chief was the sovereign of his own district, though all acknowledged the supremacy of the king. Each island was divided into a number of large portions, or districts, called Maataina, a term also applied to the inhabitants of a district. These maataina had distinct names, and were under the government of a chieftain of rank or dignity belonging to the reigning family, or to the raatiras. This individual was the baron of the domain, or the lord of the manor, and was succeeded in his possessions and office by his son, or the nearest of his kindred, with a fresh appointment from the king.page 120
For treason, rebellion, or withholding supplies, individuals were liable to banishment, and confiscation of property. The king had the prerogative of nominating his successor, but could not appropriate the lands of the exile to his own use. The removal of a chief of high rank, or of extensive influence, was seldom attempted, unless the measure was approved by the other chiefs. The sovereign was, therefore, more desirous to conciliate their esteem, and engage their co-operation, than to prejudice them against his person or measures. As he had no permanent armed force at his disposal, he could not, on every occasion, accomplish his wishes; and, at times, when he has issued his mandate for the banishment of a raatira, if the other raatiras deemed his expulsion unwarrantable, they have desired him to keep possession of his lands, and then, remonstrating with the king, have declared their determination to maintain the cause of the injured party, even by force of arms. The extent of power possessed by the raatiras, in the number of their tenantry and dependants, was one of the greatest sources of embarrassment to the government, whose measures were only regulated by the will of the ruler, or the exigencies of the state.
In the division of their country, the natives appear to have had a remarkable predilection for the number eight. Almost every island, whatever its size, is divided into eight districts, and the inhabitants into an equal number of maataina, or divisions. In each district the power of the chief was supreme, and greater than that which the king exercised over the whole. This power extended to the persons and lives, as well as the property, of the people.page 121
The inferior chiefs also exercised the same authority over their dependants. The father was magistrate in his own family; the chief in his own district; and the king nominally dispensed law and justice to the whole. The final appeal, in all matters of dispute, was made to the chief ruler; and the parties who resorted to his decision usually regarded it as binding. There was no regular police, for the maintenance of public order. The chief of each district was accountable for the conduct of the people under his own jurisdiction. The chieftains who were in attendance on the king, with the servants of his establishment, were the agents usually employed to carry his measures into effect. The servants of the raatiras performed the same duty in their respective localities, and the king often sent his order to the district chief, who employed his own men in its execution.
Notwithstanding the many acts of homage paid to the head and other branches of the reigning family, and their imagined connexion with the gods, the actual influence of the king over the haughty and despotic district chieftains, was neither powerful nor permanent, and he could seldom confide in their fidelity in any project which would not advance their interests as well as his own. Every measure was therefore planned with the most cautious deliberation, the approval and aid of a number of these nobility of the country being essential to carry it into effect; but when the interests of the reigning family and those of the chieftains were opposed, it produced no small embarrassment. These raatiras, who resembled the barons of the feudal system, kept the people under them in a state of the greatest subjection, and received from them not only military page 122 service, but a portion of the produce of their lands, and personal labour whenever required.
Whenever a measure affecting the whole of the inhabitants was adopted, the king's vea, or messenger, was despatched with a bundle of niaus, or leaflets. On entering a district, he repaired to the habitation of the principal chiefs, and, presenting a cocoa-nut leaf, delivered the orders of the king. The acceptance of the leaf was a declaration of their compliance with the requisition, and to decline taking it was regarded as an intimation of hostility to the measure proposed.—Hence the messenger or herald, when he had travelled round the island, reported to the king, who had received and who had refused the niau. When the chiefs approved of the message, they sent their own messengers to their respective tenants and dependants, with a cocoa-nut leaf for each, and the orders of the king.
The niau, or leaflet of the cocoa-nut tree, was the emblem of authority throughout the whole of the Georgian and Society Islands; and requisitions for property or labour, preparations for war, or the convocation of a national assembly, were formerly made by sending the cocoa-nut leaf to those whose service or attendance was required. To return or refuse the niau was to offer an insult to the king, and to resist his authority.
If the king felt himself strong enough, he would instantly banish such an individual, and send another to take possession of his lands, and occupy his station as chief of the district. Should the offender have been guilty of disobedience to the just demands of the king, though the lands might be his hereditary property, he must leave them, and become, as the people expressed it, a page 123 wanderer “upon the road;” but if the king's conduct was considered arbitary, and the individual justified in his refusal by the other chiefs, they would tapea, or detain him, and protest to the king against his removal. The parties generally knew each other's strength and influence, and those who had little hopes of succeeding by an appeal to arms, usually conceded whatever was required. Personal security, and the rights of private property, were unknown; and the administration of justice by the chiefs in the several districts, and the king over the whole, was regulated more by the relative power than by the merits of their cause.
They had no regular code of laws, nor any public courts of justice, and, excepting in offences against the king and chiefs, the rules were seldom appealed to. The people in general avenged their own injuries. Death or banishment was the punishment usually inflicted by the chiefs, and frequently the objects of their displeasure were marked out as victims for sacrifice.
Destitute, however, as they were of even oral laws or institutes, there were many acts, which, by general consent, were considered criminal, and deserving punishment. These were orure hau, rebellion, or shaking the government, withholding supplies, or even speaking contemptuously of the king or his administration. So heinous was this offence, that the criminal was not only liable to banishment, or the forfeiture of his life, but a human sacrifice must be offered, to atone for the guilt, and appease the displeasure of the gods against the people of the land in which it had been committed. Lewdness was not regarded as a crime, but adultery was sometimes punished page 124 with death. Those among the middle or higher ranks who practised polygamy, allowed their wives other husbands. It is reported that brothers, or members of the same family, sometimes exchanged their wives, while the wife of every individual was also the wife of his taio or friend.
Their character in this respect presents a most unnatural mixture of brutal degradation with infuriated and malignant jealousy; for while their conduct with respect to the taio, &c. exhibits an insensibility to every feeling essential to conjugal happiness, the least familiarity with the wife, unauthorized by the husband, even a word or a look, from a stranger, if the husband was suspicious, or attributed it to improper motives, was followed by instant and deadly revenge.
There is a man now residing in Huahine, whose face and shoulders are frightfully marked with deep scars, inflicted by blows with a carpenter's axe, on this account. A husband and wife were once sitting together, when another man joined the party, and sat down with them. He wore a taupoo, or bonnet, of platted cocoa-nut leaves: lifting his hand, and taking hold of it by the part that shaded his brows, he waved his hand towards the inland part of the district, in removing his bonnet from his head. The suspicious husband, observing the motion of his hand, considered it as an assignation, that the stranger was to meet his wife there; and without a word, I believe, being spoken by either party, he rose up, took down his spear, which was suspended from the inside of his dwelling, and ran the man through the body, accusing him at the same time of the crime of which he supposed him guilty. Several of the murders of the Europeans, that have been committed page 125 in the islands of the Pacific, have originated in this cause.
Theft was practised, but less frequently among themselves than towards their foreign visitors. They supposed it equally criminal, yet they do not in general appear to have attached any moral delinquency to the practice; but they imagined they were more likely to avoid detection when stealing from strangers, than when robbing their own countrymen. Stealing was always considered as a crime among them, and every precaution was taken to guard against it. On this account, their large bales of valuable cloth, and most articles of property not in constant use, were kept suspended from the ridge-pole or rafters of their dwellings; their smaller rolls of cloth were often laid by their pillows; and their pigs were driven under their beds at night, to prevent their being stolen.
This nefarious practice, strange as it may appear, was supported by their false system of religion, and sanctioned by the patronage of the gods, especially by Hiro, a son of Oro, who was called the god of thieves. The aid of this god was invoked by those who went on expeditions of plunder, and the priests probably received a portion of the spoils. Chiefs of considerable rank have sometimes been detected in the act of stealing, or have been known to employ their domestics to thieve, receiving the articles stolen, and afterwards sheltering the plunderers. This, however, has generally been practised on the property of foreigners.
Among themselves, if detected, the thief experienced no mercy, but was often murdered on the spot. If detected afterwards, he was sometimes dreadfully wounded or killed. Two very affecting instances of vengeance of this kind are page 126 recorded by the early Missionaries. I have also heard that they sometimes bound the thief hand and foot, and, putting him into an old rotten canoe, towed him out to sea, and there left him adrift, to sink in the ocean, or become a prey to the sharks.
The haru raa, or seizing all the property of delinquents, was the most frequent retaliation, among the lower class, for this and other crimes. The servants of the chiefs, or injured party, went to the house of the offenders, and took by force whatever they found, carrying away every article worth possessing, and destroying the rest. If the inhabitants of the house received previous intimation of their purpose, they generally removed or secreted their most valuable property, but seldom attempted to resist the seizure, even though every article of food and clothing, and the mats on which they slept, should be taken away.
This mode of retaliation for theft, or other injury, was so generally recognized as just, that, although the party thus plundered might be more powerful than those who plundered them, they would not attempt to prevent the seizure: had they done so, the population of the district would have assisted those, who, according to established custom, were thus punishing the aggressors. Such was the usual method resorted to for punishing petty thefts committed among themselves. They were generally satisfied with seizing whatever they could find in the houses, yards, or gardens of the offenders; but when it was practised by order or he king or chiefs, the culprit was banished from his house or lands, and reduced to a state of complete destitution.
Great difficulty was often experienced in discovering page 127 the thief, or the property stolen; and, on these occasions, they frequently resorted to divination, and employed the sorcerer to discover the offender. The thief, when detected, generally received summary punishment. Mr. Bourne states, that, in one of the Hervey Islands, a man found a little boy, about eight years of age, stealing food; the man instantly seized the juvenile delinquent, and, tying a heavy stone to his leg, threw him into the sea. The boy sunk to the bottom, and would soon have paid for his crime with his life, had not one of the native techers plunged into the water, rescued him, and taken him to his own house, where he has ever since resided.
The resources of the government consisted in the personal services of the people, and the produce of the soil. From these the revenue was derived. All public works, such as the erection of national temples, fortifications, enclosures from the sea, dwellings for the king, &c. were performed by the whole population. In each district, the king had a viceroy, or deputy, to whom his orders were sent with a cocoa-nut leaf. The chiefs sometimes assembled together, and divided the work among themselves. At other times, the king appointed to each his particular share. Every chief then issued orders to the raatiras under his authority, who prepared the materials, and performed the work. Canoes for the king's use were furnished in the same way, and also cloth for himself and his household.
Every district brought provisions at stated intervals for the king's use, or for the maintenance of his numerous retinue. Besides what they regularly furnished, orders were often issued for extraordinary supplies, for the entertainment of a page 128 distinguished guest, or the celebration of a national festival. No regular system of taxation prevailed, but every kind of property was furnished by the chiefs and people in great abundance, not only for the king, but for the purpose of enriching those who were the objects of his favour.
However abundant the supplies might be which the king received, he was in general more necessitous than many of the chiefs. Applications from the chiefs, for food, for cloth, canoes, and every other valuable article furnished by the people, were so frequent and importunate, that more than was barely sufficient for his own use seldom remained long in his possession. A present of food was usually accompanied with several hundred yards of native cloth, and a number of fine large double canoes; yet every article was often distributed among the chiefs and favourites on the very day it arrived; and so urgent were the applicants, that they did not wait till the articles were brought, but often extorted from the king a promise that he would give them the first bale of cloth, or double canoe, he might receive. At times they went beyond this; and when a chief, who considered the king under obligations to him, knew that the inhabitants of a district were preparing a present for their sovereign, which would include any articles he wished to possess, he would go to the king, and tapao, mark or bespeak it, even before it was finished. A promise given under these circumstances was usually regarded as binding, though it often involved the king in difficulties, and kept him necessitous.
In the estimation of the people, generosity was among the greatest virtues of a king; and illiberality was most unpopular. In describing a page 129 good chief, or governor, they always spoke of him as one who distributed among his chiefs whatever he received, and never refused any thing for which they asked.
Notwithstanding this generosity on the part of the king, the conduct of the government was often most rapacious and unjust. The stated and regular supplies, furnished by the inhabitants, were inadequate to the maintenance of the numbers who, attaching themselves to the king's household, passed their time in idleness, but were fed at his table. Whenever there was a deficiency of food for his followers or guests, a number of his servants went to the residence of a raatira, or farmer, and, sometimes without even asking, tied up the pigs that were fed near the dwelling, plundered the abode, ravaging, like a band of lawless robbers, the plantations or the gardens, and taking away every article of food the poor, oppressed labourer possessed. Sometimes they launched a fine canoe that might be lying near, and, loading it with their plunder, left the industrious proprietor destitute even of the means of subsistence; and, as they were the king's servants, he durst not complain.
When the king travelled, he was usually attended by a company of Areois, or a worthless train of idlers; and often when they entered a district that was perhaps well supplied with provisions for its inhabitants, if they remained any length of time, by their plundering and wanton destruction it was reduced to a state of desolation. Sometimes the king sent his servants to take what they wanted from the fields or gardens of the people; but often, unauthorized by him, they used his name to commit the most lawless and injurious outrage page 130 upon the property of the inhabitants; whose lives were endangered, if they offered the least resistance.
Mahamene, a native of Raiatea, gave, at a public meeting in that island, the following account of their behaviour. “These teuteu,” (servants of the king,) said he, “would enter a house, and commit the greatest depredations. The master of the house would sit as a poor captive, and look on, without daring to say a word. They would seize his bundle of cloth, kill his largest pigs, pluck the best bread-fruit, take the largest taro, (arum roots,) the finest sugar-cane, the ripest bananas, and even take the posts of his house for fuel to cook them with. Is there not a man present who actually buried his new canoe under the sand, to secure it from these desperate men?”
Nothing fostered tyranny and oppression in the rulers, and reduced the population to a state of wretchedness, so much as these unjust proceedings. Those who, by habits of industry, or desire of comfort for themselves and families, might be induced to cultivate more land than others, were, from this very circumstance, marked out for despoliation. They had no redress for these wrongs, and therefore, rather than expose themselves to the mortifying humiliation of seeing the fruits of their labour taken to feed a useless and insulting band that followed the movements of the king, they allowed their lands to remain untilled, and chose to procure a scanty means of subsistence from day to day, rather than suffer the insults to which even their industry exposed them.
So far were these shameless extortions practised, that during the journey of an European through the country, he has been attended by a servant of page 131 the king, and when, in return for provisions furnished, or acts of kindness shewn, by the hospitable inhabitants, he has made them a trifling present, it has been instantly seized by the vassal of the chief, who has followed him for that purpose. The poor people were also allowed to dispose of their produce to the captains or merchants that might visit them for the purpose of barter, but the king or chief frequently requested the greater part, or even the whole, of what they might receive in return for it.
That they should have improved in industry, or advanced in civilization, under such a system, was impossible, and that they should, under such circumstances, have tilled a sufficient quantity of ground to furnish supplies for the shipping, is a matter of greater surprise, than that they should not have cultivated more. The humiliating degradation to which it reduced the farmers, and the constant irritation of feelings to which this wretched system exposed them, were not the only evils that resulted from it. It naturally led the raatiras to regard their chiefs as enemies, and generated disaffection to their administration. It also greatly diminished their resources, for, under the discouragements resulting from constant liability to plunder, the people were unable to furnish those supplies, which they would otherwise have found it a satisfaction to render.
This system of civil polity, disjointed and ill adapted as it was to answer any valuable purpose, was closely interwoven with their sanguinary idolatry, and sanctioned by the authority of the gods. The king was not only raised to the head of this government, but he was considered as a sort of vicegerent to the supernatural powers presiding page 132 over the invisible world. Human sacrifices were offered at his inauguration; and whenever any one, under the influence of the loss he had sustained by plunder, or other injury, spoke disrespectfully of his person and administration, not only was his life in danger, but human victims must be offered, to cleanse the land from the pollution it was supposed to have contracted.
The intimate connexion between the government and their idolatry, occasioned the dissolution of the one, with the abolition of the other; and when the system of pagan worship was subverted, many of their ancient usages perished in its ruins. They remained for some years without any system or form of government, excepting the will of the king, to whom the inhabitants usually furnished liberal supplies of all that was necessary for the maintenance of his household, and the accomplishment of his designs.
The raatiras exercised the supreme authority in the divisions over which the king had placed them. But when circumstances occurred, in which, under idolatry, they would have acted according to their ancient custom, they felt embarrassed. Many of the people, free in a great degree from exposure to seizure, and the more dreadful apprehension of being offered to the gods, evinced a disinclination to render the king the supplies and support he needed.
The sacrificing of human victims to the idols had been one of the most powerful engines in the hands of the government, the requisition for them being always made by the ruler, to whom the priests applied when it was pretended the gods required them: the king, therefore, sent his herald to the petty chieftain, who selected the victims. An individual page 133 who had shewn any marked disaffection towards the government, or incurred the displeasure of the king and chiefs, was usually chosen. The people knew this, and therefore rendered the most unhesitating obedience: but the subversion of idolatry having annihilated this feeling, many, free from the restraint it had imposed, seemed almost to refuse lawful obedience, and to withhold rightful support.
Their government continued in this unsettled state for four or five years; during which, the people brought provisions and supplies to the king, and furnished the accustomed articles for his establishment, either according to arrangements made among themselves, or in obedience to his requisitions. The superior and subordinate rulers over the people endeavoured to preserve the peace of society, and promote the public welfare, by punishing offenders according to the nature of their crimes, but without any regular or uniform procedure. The only punishment inflicted was banishment, and, in a few instances, seizure for theft. It was, however, evident that another system must be introduced, instead of that which, with the tabu and idolatry, had been abolished.
It is a fact worthy of note, that although no people in the world could be more vicious than they were prior to their renunciation of paganism, yet such was the moral influence of the precepts of Christianity on the community at large, and consequently on the conduct of many who were Christians only by profession, that for some time crimes affecting the peace of society were but few. Theft, to which ever since their discovery they have been proverbially addicted, was rarely committed. It was not, however, to be expected that this state page 134 of things would be permanent; and after a few years, the force of example, and the restraining influence of the preceptive parts of Christian truth, began to diminish on the minds of those over whom it had exerted no decisive power, and who, in their altered behaviour, had rather followed popular sentiment and practice, than acted from principle. When therefore this class of persons began to act more according to their true character, the chiefs found it necessary to visit their delinquency with punishment; and the welfare of the nation required that measures should be adopted for maintaining the order and peace of the community.
Having as a nation embraced Christianity, they were unanimous in desiring that their civil and judicial proceedings should be in perfect accordance with the spirit and principles of the Christian religion. Hence they were led to seek the advice of their teachers, as to the means they should adopt for accomplishing this object. The Missionaries invariably told them that it was no part of their original design to attempt any change in their political and civil institutions, as such; that these matters belonged to the chiefs and governors of the people, and not to the teachers of the religion of Jesus Christ. To this they generally replied—that under the former idolatrous system they should have been prepared to act in any emergency, but they were not familiar with the application of the principles of Christianity, especially in reference to the punishment of crime.
In compliance with these solicitations, the Missionaries illustrated the general principles of scripture, that in all the public stations they sustained, they were to do unto others as they would that page 135 others should do unto them—that with regard to government, Christianity taught its disciples to fear God and honour the king—to render to Cesar the things which were Cesar's, as well as to God the things which were God's—that the power which existed was appointed of God—and that magistrates were for a terror to evil-doers, and a praise to them that do well. These general principles were presented and enforced as the grounds of proceeding in all affairs of a civil or political nature.
The Missionaries, though frequently appealed to by the people, generally left the determination of the matter to their own discretion, declining to identify themselves with either party, in any of their differences. They promised, however, to the chiefs such assistance as they could render in the preparation of their code of laws, and constitution of government, but were exceedingly anxious that it should be the production of the king and chiefs, and not of themselves. They had hitherto avoided interfering with the government and politics of the people, and had never given even their advice, excepting when solicited by the chiefs. When the conduct of petty chiefs or others had affected their own servants, or persons in their employment, if they have taken any steps, it has been as members of the community, and not as ministers of religion.
After the introduction of Christianity, the chiefs were among the first to perceive that the sanguinary modes of punishment to which they had been accustomed were incompatible with the spirit and precepts of the gospel, and earnestly desired to substitute measures that should harmonize with the new order of things. The king applied for assistance in this matter, soon after the general page 136 change that took place in 1815. The Missionaries advised him to call a general council of the chiefs, and consult with them on the plans most suitable to be adopted. Whether his recollection of the unpropitious termination of former councils influenced him, or whether he was unwilling to delegate any of that power to others, with which heretofore he had been solely invested, is uncertain; but he objected to the assembling of the chiefs at that time, still requesting advice from the Missionaries. This they readily afforded, both as to the general principles of the British constitution, the declarations of scripture, and the practice of Christian nations. Their own sentiments, in reference to their duty at this time, will best appear from the following extract of a public letter, bearing date July 2, 1817.—
“During many years of our residence in these islands, we most carefully avoided meddling with their civil and political affairs, except in a few instances, where we endeavoured to promote peace between contending parties. At present, however, it appears almost impossible for us, in every respect, to follow the same line of conduct. We have told the king and chiefs, that, being strangers, and having come to their country as teachers of the word of the true God, and the way of salvation by Jesus Christ, we will have nothing further to do with their civil concerns, than to give them good advice; and with that view several letters have passed between us and the king. We have advised him to call a general meeting of all the principal chiefs, and, with their assistance and approbation, adopt such laws and regulations as would tend to the good of the community, and the stability of his government; and that in these page 137 things, if he desired it, we would give him the best advice in our power, and inform him of what is contained in the word of God, and also of the laws and customs of our own country, and other civilized nations.”
The first code of laws was that enacted in Tahiti in the year 1819; it was prepared by the king and a few of the chiefs, with the advice and direction of the Missionaries, especially Mr. Nott, whose prudence and caution cannot be too highly spoken of, and by whom it was chiefly framed. The code was remarkably simple and brief, including only eighteen articles. It was not altogether such as the Missionaries would have wished the nation to adopt, but it was perhaps better suited to the partial light the people at that time possessed, and to the peculiar disposition of Pomare. He was exceedingly jealous of his rights and prerogatives, and unwilling to admit the chiefs to a participation in his power. His will still continued to be law, in all matters not included in their code; and with regard to the revenue which the people were required to furnish for his use, he would admit of no rule but his own necessities, and consequently continued to levy exactions as his ambition or commercial engagements might require.
The Missionaries would have regarded with higher satisfaction an improvement in the principles recognized as the basis of the relation subsisting between the king, chiefs, and people, some division of the power of government—enactments proportioning the produce of the soil to be furnished for the king, and securing the remainder to the cultivators. But having recommended these points to the consideration of the rulers, they did page 138 not think it their duty to express any dissatisfaction with the code, imperfect as it was, and they uniformly avoided expressing any opinion which might weaken the power of the king, being desirous rather to afford him every facility in the settlement of the government of the country, than to throw difficulties in his way.
In the month of May, 1819, the king, and several thousands of the people from Tahiti and Eimeo, assembled at Papaoa, for the purpose of attending the opening of the Royal Mission Chapel, and the promulgation of the new laws. The anniversary of the Tahitian Missionary Society being held at the same time, the Missionaries from the several stations, in these two islands, were then at Papaoa.
The thirteenth day of the month was appointed for this solemn national transaction; and the spacious chapel which the king had recently erected was chosen as the edifice in which this important event should take place. It was thought no desecration of a building reared for public devotion, and solemnly appropriated to the worship of the Almighty, and other purposes directly connected with the promotion of his praise, that the grave and serious engagements by which the nation agreed to regulate their social intercourse, should be ratified in a spot where they were led to expect a more than ordinary participation of the Divine benediction. During the forenoon, the chiefs and people of Tahiti and Eimeo assembled in the Royal Chapel, and about the middle of the day the king and his attendants entered. The Missionaries were also present—but, regarding it as a civil engagement, attended only as spectators. The king, however, requested Mr. Crook to solicit page 139 the Divine blessing on the object of the meeting. He therefore read a suitable portion of the sacred volume, and implored the sanction of the King of kings upon the proceedings that were to follow. Nothing could be more appropriate than thus acknowledging the Power by whom kings reign, and seeking His blessing upon those engagements by which their public conduct was to be regulated. The blessing of the Most High having been thus sought, the king, who had previously taken his station in the central pulpit, arose, and, after viewing for a few moments the thousands of his subjects who were gathered round him, commenced the interesting proceedings of the day, by addressing Tati, the brother and successor of the late Upufara, who was the leader of the idolatrous and rebel army defeated in November, 1815. “Tati,” said the king, “what is your desire? what can I do for you?” Tati, who sat nearly opposite the pulpit, arose and said, “Those are what we want—the papers you hold in your hand—the laws; give them to us, that we may have them in our hands, that we may regard them, and do what is right.” The king then addressed himself to Utami, the good chief of Te Oropaa, and in an affectionate manner said, “Utami, and what is your desire?” He replied, “One thing only is desired by us all, that which Tati has expressed—the laws, which you hold in your hand.” The king then addressed Arahu, the chief of Eimeo, and Veve, the chief of Taiarabu, nearly in the same manner, and they replied as the others had done. Pomare then proceeded to read and comment upon the laws respecting murder, theft, trespass, stolen property, lost property, sabbathbreaking, rebellion, marriage, adultery, the judges, page 140 court-houses, &c., in eighteen articles. After reading and explaining the several particulars, he asked the chiefs if they approved of them. They replied aloud, “We agree to them—we heartily agree to them.” The king then addressed the people, and desired them, if they approved of the laws, to signify the same by holding up their right hands. This was unanimously done, with a remarkable rushing noise, owing to thousands of arms being lifted at once. When Pomare came to the law on rebellion, stirring up war, &c. he seemed inclined to pass it over, but after a while proceeded. At the conclusion of that article, Tati was not content with signifying his approbation in the usual way only, but, standing up, he called in a spirited manner to all his people to lift up their hands again, even both hands, setting himself an example, which was universally followed. Thus all the articles were passed and approved.
The public business of the day was closed by Mr. Henry's offering a prayer unto Him by whom princes decree judgment; and the people retired to their respective dwellings.
Pomare subsequently intimated his intention of appropriating Palmerston's Island as a place of banishment for Tahitian convicts, and proposed to the Missionaries to publish his request that no vessel should remove any who might be thus exiled. The laws which the king read to the people were written by himself, and were the first written code that ever existed in the islands; he afterwards wrote out, in a fair, legible, and excellent hand, a copy for the press. Printed copies were distributed among the people, but the original manuscript, in the king's hand-writing, signed by himself, is in the possession of the London Missionary page 141 Society. The laws were printed on a large sheet of paper, and not only sent to every chief and magistrate throughout both islands, but posted up in most of the public places.
The sentence to be passed on individuals who should be found guilty of many of the crimes prohibited by these laws, was left to the discretion of the judge or magistrate; but to several, the penalty of death was annexed; and, only a few months after their enactment, the sentence of capital punishment was passed on two individuals, whose names were Papahia and Horopae. They were inhabitants of the district of Atehuru, and were executed on the twenty-fifth of October, 1819, for attempting to overturn the government. Papahia had been a distinguished warrior, and was in the very prime of life. He was a man of daring character, and turbulent conduct. He came several times to my house, during our residence at Eimeo; and although, in consequence of his restless and violent behaviour, I was not prepossessed in his favour, my personal acquaintance made me feel additional interest in the melancholy fate of the first malefactor on whom the dreadful sentence of the law was inflicted. The lives of these unhappy men were not taken by thrusting a spear through the body, or beating out the brains with a club, or by decapitation, which were the former modes of punishment, but they were hanged on a cocoa-nut tree, in a conspicuous part of the district. In the year 1821, a conspiracy was formed to assassinate the king, and two men, who were proceeding to the accomplishment of their murderous purpose, were apprehended, with others concerned in the plot. The names of the two leaders were Pori and Mariri. Sentence of death was passed page 142 upon them, and they were hanged on a rude gallows, formed by fastening a pole horizontally between two cocoa-nut trees. These are the only executions that have taken place in the islands. It is not probable that many will be thus punished. The Missionaries interceded on behalf of the culprits, and secured a mitigation of punishment for the rest of the offenders.
The judicial proceedings in the different districts of Tahiti, were divested, as much as possible, of all formality; and though some trifling irregularities, and slight embarrassments, as might be expected, were occasionally experienced, among a people totally unaccustomed to act in these matters according to any prescribed form, yet, upon the whole, the administration of justice by the native magistrates, was such as to give general satisfaction. The following account by an eyewitness∗ of their proceedings on one of these occasions, will not be uninteresting.
∗Capt. G. C. Gambier, R. N.
“At the time appointed, a great many people, of both sexes and all ages, assembled under some very fine trees, near the queen's house. A small bench was brought for the two judges; the rest either stood or sat upon the ground, forming something less than a semicircle. We were provided with low seats near the judges. The two prisoners were seated crosslegged upon the ground, under the shade of a small tree, about twenty paces in front of the judges. They were both ill-looking men; dressed in the graceful tiputa. When all was ready to begin, one of the judges rose, and addressed the prisoners at considerable length. He explained to them the accusation which brought them there, and read to them the page 143 law under which, if proved guilty, they would be punished. When he had finished, and called upon them to say whether it was true or not, one of them got up, and answered with great fluency, and good action. He maintained their innocence, and called a witness to confirm it. The witness, very artfully, turned his evidence to the account of the prisoners. Others also, in some way or other, favoured the accused, and the defendants were therefore discharged, from want of evidence.”
On the 12th of May, 1820, a code of laws was unanimously and publicly adopted in Raiatea, and recognized as the basis of public justice by the chiefs and people of Tahaa, Borabora, and Maupiti. The substance of the Raiatean laws was copied from those enacted by the government of Tahiti during the preceding year. They extended to twenty-five articles, imbodying several most valuable enactments omitted by the Tahitian code. The most important of these was the institution of Trial by Jury. This was certainly the greatest civil blessing the inhabitants of the Pacific had yet received; and future generations will cherish with gratitude the memory of the Missionaries of Raiatea, at whose recommendation, and with whose advice, it was established by law in these islands.
Naturally violent and merciless under a sense of injury, we often found them too severe towards offenders; and while we occasionally interceded on behalf of those whose punishment appeared greater than their crime, we lost no opportunity of conveying just and humane, as well as scriptural deas on matters of jurisprudence, without, however, interfering with their proceedings, or countenancing page 144 the misdeeds of those we might recommend to mercy.
The new laws had now been nearly three years established in Tahiti and Eimeo. Those of Raiatea, Tahaa, and Borabora had also been for more than twelve months in operation among the inhabitants of these islands. The chiefs of Huahine had virtually made the latter the basis of their administration of justice, but no code had yet been officially promulgated.
They had already applied to us for assistance in preparing the laws for the islands under their dominion. This we had cheerfully rendered to the best of our ability, at the same time recommending them still to defer their public enactments until they had deliberately observed the effect of those already in force among the inhabitants of the adjacent islands. It was also proper to obtain the sanction of the queen's sister, then residing at Tahiti, who is nominally the sovereign of Huahine, the government of the island having been formerly presented to her by Mahine, the resident and hereditary chieftain. This grant, which transpired several years before any of the parties embraced Christianity, has often occasioned inconvenience. The internal government of the island has always been maintained by the resident chiefs, but in all matters materially affecting the people, or their relation to the governments of other islands, it has been considered necessary, as a matter of etiquette, or courtesy at least, to consult Teriitaria; and hence it was thought desirable to submit the laws to her inspection, and receive her sanction. Though affecting only the resident chiefs and people, and maintained entirely by the authority of the former, they were to be promulgated page 145 in her name, as well as that of Mahine, and the other chiefs of the island. The introduction of new laws being a matter of importance to the nation, it was deemed suitable that a deputation from the chiefs should proceed to Tahiti, for the purpose of receiving the queen's approval. It was also desirable that Mr. Barff, or myself, should accompany this embassage, that we might make inquiries of Mr. Nott, and others, relative to the adaptation of the laws in force there, to the circumstances of the people, and might alter, if necessary, those prepared for Huahine.