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An Account of the Voyages undertaken by the order of His Present Majesty, for making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, and Captain Cook, in the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour: Drawn from the Journals which were kept by the several Commanders, and from the Papers of Joseph Banks, Esq. [Vol. II]

Chap. IX

Chap. IX.

A Description of the Inbabitants, their Habitations, Apparel, Ornaments, Food, Cookery, and Manner of Life.

The stature of the men in general is equal to the largest of those in Europe: they are stout, well limbed, and fleshy; but not fat, like the lazy and luxurious inhabitants of the islands in the South Seas: they are also exceedingly vigorous and active, and have an adroitness, and manual dexterity in an uncommon degree, which are discovered in whatever they do. I have seen the strokes of fifteen paddles on a side in one of their canoes made with incredible quickness, and yet with such minute exactness of time, that all the rowers seemed to be actuated by one common soul. Their colour in general is brown; but in few deeper than that of a Spaniard, who has been exposed to the sun; in many not so deep. The women have not a feminine delicacy in their appearance, but their voice is remarkably soft; and by that, the dress of both sexes being the same, they are principally distinguished: they have, however, like the women of other countries, more airy cheerfulness, and a greater flow of animal spirits, than the other sex. Their hair, both of the head and beard, is black: and their teeth extremely regular, and as white as ivory: the features of both sexes are good; they seem to enjoy high health and we saw many who appeared to be of a great age. The dispositions both of the men and the page 251 women seemed to be mild and gentle; they treat each other with the tenderest affection, but are implacable towards their enemies, to whom, as I have before observed, they never give quarter. It may perhaps, at first, seem strange, that where there is so little to be got by victory, there should so often be war; and that every little district of a country inhabited by people so mild and placid, should be at enmity with all the rest. But possibly more is to be gained by victory among these people than at first appears, and they may be prompted to mutual hostilities by motives which no degree of friendship or affection is able to resist. It appears, by the account that has already been given of them, that their principal food is fish, which can only be procured upon the sea-coast; and there, in sufficient quantities, only at certain times; the tribes therefore, who live inland, if any such there are, and even those upon the coast, must be frequently in danger of perishing by famine. Their country produces neither sheep, nor goats, nor hogs, nor cattle; tame fowls they have none, nor any art by which those that are wild can be caught in sufficient plenty to serve as provision. If there are any whose situation cuts them off from a supply of fish, the only succedaneum of all other animal food, except dogs, they have nothing to support life, but the vegetables that have already been mentioned, of which the chief are fern root, yams, clams, and potatoes; when by accident these sail, the distress must be dreadful; and even among the inhabitants of the coast, many tribes must frequently be reduced to nearly the same situation, either by the failure of their plantations, or the deficiency of their dry stock, during the season when but few fish are to be caught. These considerations will enable us to account, not only for the perpetual danger in which the people who inhabit this country appear to live, by the care which they take to fortify every village, but for the horrid practice of eating those who are killed in battle; for the hunger of him who is pressed by famine to fight, will absorb every feeling, and every scntiment which would restrain him from allaying it with the body of his adversary. It may however be remarked, that, if this account of the origin of so horrid a practice page 252 is true, the mischief does by no means end with the necessity that produced it: after the practice has been once begun on one side by hunger, it will naturally be adopted on the other by revenge. Nor is this all, for though it may be pretended, by some who wish to appear speculative and philosophical, that whether the dead body of an enemy be eaten or buried, is in itself a matter perfectly indifferent; as it is, whether the breasts and thighs of a woman mould be covered or naked; and that prejudice and habit only make us shudder at the violation of custom in one instance, and blush at it in the other: yet, leaving this as a point of doubtful disputation, to be discussed at leisure, it may safely be affirmed, that the practice of eating human flesh, whatever it may be in itself, is relatively and in its consequences, most pernicious: tending manifestly to eradicate a principle which is the chief security of human life, and more frequently restrains the hand of murder than the sense of duty, or even the fear of punishment.

Among those who are accustomed to eat the dead, death must have lost much of its horror; and where there is little horror at the sight of death, there will not be much repugnance to kill. A sense of duty, and fear of punishment, may be more easily surmounted than the feelings of Nature, or those which have been engrafted by Nature by early prejudice and uninterrupted custom. The horror of the murderer arises less from the guilt of the fact, than its natural effect; and he who has familiarised the effect, will consequently lose much of the horror. By our laws, and our religion, murder and theft incur the same punishment, both in this world and the next; yet, of the multitude who would deliberately steal, there are but very sew who would deliberately still, even to procure much greater advantage. But there is the strongest reason to believe, that those who have been so accustomed to prepare a human body for a meal, that they can with as little feeling cut up a dead man, as our cook-maids divide a dead rabbie for a fricassee, would feel as little horror in committing a murder as in picking a pocket, and consequently would take away life with as little compunction as property; so that men, under these page 253 circumstances, would be made murderers by the flight temptations that now make them thieves. If any man doubts whether this reasoning is conclusive, let him ask himself whether, in his own opinion, he should not be safer with a man in whom the horror of destroying life is strong, whether, in consequence of natural instinct unsubdued, or of early prejudice, which has nearly an equal influence, than in the power of a man who under any temptation to murder him would be restrained only by considerations of interest; for to these all motives of duty may be reduced, as they must terminate either in hope of good, or fear of evil.

The situation and circumstances, however, of these poor people, as well as their temper, are favourable to those who shall settle as a colony among them. Their situation sets them in need of protection, and their temper renders it easy to attach them by kindness; and whatever may be said in favour of a savage life, among people who live in luxurious idleness upon the bounty of Nature, civilization would certainly be a blessing to those whom her parsimony scarcely furnishes with the bread of life, and who are perpetually destroying each other by violence, as the only alternative of perishing by hunger.

But these people, from whatever cause, being inured to war, and by habit considering every stranger as an enemy, were always disposed to attack us when they were not intimidated by our manifest superiority. At first, they had no notion of any superiority but numbers; and when this was on their side, they considered all our expressions of kindness as the artifices of fear and cunning, to circumvent them, and preserve ourselves: but when we are once convinced of our power, after having provoked us to the use of our fire-arms, though loaded only with small shot, and of our clemency, by our forbearing to make use of weapons so dreadful except in our defence, they became at once friendly, and even affectionate, placing in us the most unbounded confidence, and doing every thing which could incite us to put equal confidence in them. It is also remarkable, that when an intercourse was once established between us, they were page 254 very rarely detected in any act of dishonesty. Before, indeed, and while they considered us as enemies, who came upon their coast only to make an advantage of them, they did not scruple by any means to make an advantage of us; and would, therefore, when they had received the price of any thing they had offered to sell, pack up both the purchase and the purchase-money with all possible composure, as so much lawful plunder from the people who had no view but to plunder them.

I have observed that our friends in the South Seas had not even the idea of indecency, with respect to any object or any action; but this was by no means the case with the inhabitants of New Zealand, in whose carriage and conversation there was as much modest reserve and decorum with respect to actions, which yet in their opinion were not criminal, as are to be found among the politest people in Europe. The women were not impregnable; but the terms and manner of compliance were as decent as those in marriage among us, and according to their notions, the agreement was as innocent. When any of our people made an overture to any of their young women, he was given to understand that the consent of her friends was necessary, and by the influence of a proper present, it was generally obtained; but when these preliminaries are settled, it was also necessary to treat the wife for a night, with the same delicacy that is here required by the wife for life, and the lover who pre-suffied to take any liberties by which this was violated, was sure to be disappointed.

One of our gentlemen having made his addresses to a family of the better sort, received an answer, which, translated into our language, according to the mode and spirit of it, as well as the letter, would have been exactly in these terms: “Any of these young ladies will think themselves honoured by your addresses but you must first make me a suitable present, and you must then come and sleep with us on shore, for day-light must by no means be a witness of what passes between you.”

I have already observed, that in personal cleanliness they are not quite equal to our friends at Otaheite; page 255 because, not having the advantage of so warm a climate, they do not so often go into the water; but the most disgustful thing about them is the oil, with which, like the Islanders, they anoint their hair: it is certainly the fat either of fish or of birds, melted down, and though the better sort have it fresh, their inferiors use that which is rancid, and consequently are almost as disagreeable to the smell as a Hottentot; neither are their heads free from vermin, though we observed that they were furnished with combs, both of bone and wood: these combs are sometimes worn stuck upright in the hair as an ornament, a fashion which at present prevails among the ladies of England. The men generally wear their beards short, and their hair tied upon the crown of the head in a bunch, in which they stick the feathers of various birds, in different manners, according to their fancies; sometimes one is placed on each side of the temples, pointing forwards, which we thought made a very disagreeable appearance. The women wear their hair sometimes cropped short, and sometimes flowing over their shoulders.

The bodies of both sexes are marked with the black stains called Amoco, by the same method that is used at Otaheite, and called Tattowing; but the men are more marked, and the women less. The women in general stain no part of their bodies but the lips, though sometimes they are marked with small black patches on other parts: the men, on the contrary, seem to add something every year to the ornaments of the last, so that some of them, who appeared to be of an advanced age, were almost covered from head to foot. Besides the Amoco, they have marks impressed by a method unknown to us, of a very extraordinary kind: they are furrows of about a line deep and a line broad, such as appear upon the bark of a tree which has been cut through, after a year's growth: the edges of these surrows are afterwards indented by the same method, and being perfectly black, they make a most frightful appearance. The faces of the old men are almost covered with these marks: those who are young, black only their lips like the women: when they are somewhat older, they have generally a black page 256 patch upon one cheek, and over one eye, and so proceed gradually, that they may grow old and honourable together: but though we could not but be disgusted with the horrid deformity which these stains and furrows produced in the “human face divine,” we could not but admire the dexterity and art with which they were impressed. The marks upon the face in general are spirals, which are drawn with great nicety, and even elegance, those on one side exactly corresponding with those on the other: the marks on the body somewhat resemble the foliage in old chased ornaments, and the convolutions of fillagree work; but in these they have such a luxuriance of fancy, that of an hundred, which at first sight appeared to be exactly the same, no two were, upon a close examination, found to be alike. We observed, that the quantity and form of these marks were different in different parts of the coast, and that as the principal seat of them at Otaheite was the breech, in New Zealand it was sometimes the only part which was free, and in general was less distinguished than any other.

The skins of these people, however, are not only dyed, but painted, for as I have before observed, they smear their bodies with red oker, some rubbing it on dry, and some applying it in large patches mixed with oil, which is always wet, and which the least touch will rub off; so that the transgressions of such of our people as were guilty of ravishing a kiss from these blooming beauties, were most legibly written upon their faces.

The dress of a New Zealander is certainly, to a stranger at first sight, the most uncouth that can be imagined. It is made of the leaves of the flag, which has been described among the vegetable productions of this country: these leaves are split into three or four slips, and the slips, when they are dry, interwoven with each other into a kind of stuff between netting and cloth, with all the ends, which are eight or nine inches long, hanging out on the upper side, like the shag or thrumb mats, which we sometimes see lying in a passage. Of this cloth, if cloth it may be called, two pieces serve for a compleat dress; one of them is tied over their shoulders with a string, and reaches as low as the knees; to the end of this string is fastened a bodkin of bone, page 257 which is easily passed through any two parts of this upper garment, so as to tack them together; the other piece is wrapped round the waist, and reaches nearly to the ground: the lower garment, however, is worn by the men only upon particular occasions; but they wear a belt, to which a string is fastened, for a very singular use. The inhabitants of the South Sea islands slit up the prepuce so as to prevent it from covering the glans of the penis, but these people, on the contrary, bring the prepuce over the glans, and to prevent it from being drawn back by contraction of the part, they tie the string which hangs from the girdle round the end of it. The glans indeed seemed to be the only part of their body which they were solicitous to conceal, for they frequently threw off all their dress but the belt and string, with the most careless indifference, but shewed manifest signs of confusion, when, to gratify our curiosity, they were requested to untie the string, and never consented but with the utmost reluctance and shame. When they have only their upper garment on, and sit upon their hams, they bear some resemblance to a thatched house; but this covering, though it is ugly, is well adapted to the use of those who frequently sleep in the open air, without any other shelter from the rain.

But besides this coarse shag or thatch, they have two sorts of cloth, which have an even surface, and are very ingeniously made, in the same manner with that manufactured by the inhabitants of South America, some of which we procured at Rio-de Janeiro. One sort is as coarse as our coarsest canvas, and some hat resembles it in the manner of laying the threads, but it is ten times as strong: the other is formed by many threads lying very close one way, and a few crossing them the other, so as to bind them together; but these are about half an inch asunder, somewhat like the round pieces of cane matting which are sometimes placed under the dishes upon a table. This is frequently striped, and always had a pretty appearance; for it is composed of the fibres of the same plant, which are prepared so as to shine like silk. It is made in a kind of frame of the size of the cloth, generally about five feet long, and four broad, across which the long threads, which lie page 258 close together, or wrap, are strained, and the cross threads, or woof, are worked in by hand, which must be a very tedious operation.

To both these kinds of cloth they work borders of different colours, in stitches, somewhat like carpeting, or rather like those used in the samplers which girls work at school. These borders are of various patterns, and wrought with a neatness, and even an elegance, which, considering they have no needle, is surprizing: but the great pride of their dress consists in the fur of their dogs, which they use with such economy, that they cut it into stripes, and few them upon their cloth at a distance from each other, which is a strong proof that dogs are not plenty among them; these stripes are also of different colours, and disposed so as to produce a pleasing effect. We saw some dresses that were adorned with feathers instead of fur, but these were not common; and we saw one that was intirely covered with the red feathers of the parrot.

The dress of the man who was killed, when we first went ashore in Poverty Bay, has been described already; but we saw the same dress only once more during our stay upon the coast, and that was in Queen Charlotte's Sound.

The women, contrary to the custom of the sex in general, seemed to affect dress rather less than the men: their hair, which as I have observed before, is generally cropt short, is never tied upon the top of the head when it is suffered to be long, nor is it ever adorned with feathers. Their garments were made of the same materials, and in the same form, as those of the other sex, but the lower one was always bound fast round them, except when they went into the water to catch lobsters, and then they took great care not to be seen by the men. Some of us happening one day to land upon a small island in Tolaga Bay, we surprized several of them at this employment; and the chaste Diana, with her nymphs, could not have discovered more confusion and distress at the sight of Actaeon, than these women expressed upon our approach. Some of them hid themselves among the rocks, and the rest crouched down in the sea till they had made themselves a girdle and apron of such weeds as they could find, page 259 and when they came out, even with this veil, we could perceive that their modesty suffered much pain by our presence. The girdle and apron which they wear in common have been mentioned before.

Both sexes bore their ears, and by stretching them, the holes become large enough to admit a finger at least. In these holes they wear ornaments of various kinds, cloth, feathers, bones of large birds, and even sometimes a stick of wood; and to these receptacles of finery they generally applied the nails which we gave them, and every thing which it was possible they could contain. The women sometimes thrust through them the down of the albatross, which is as white as snow, and which, spreading before and behind the hole in a bunch almost as big as the fist, makes a very singular, and however strange it may be thought, not a disagreeable appearance. Besides the ornaments that are thrust thro' the holes of the ears, many others are suspended to them by strings; such as chisels or bodkins made of green tale, upon which they set a high value, the nails and teeth of their deceased relations, the teeth of dogs, and every thing else that they can get, which they think either curious or valuable. The women also wear bracelets and anclets, made of the bones of birds, shells, or any other substances which they can perforate and string upon a thread. The men had sometimes hanging to a string which went round the neck, a piece of green tale, or whalebone, somewhat in the shape of a tongue, with the rude figure of a man carved upon it; and upon this ornament they set a high value. In one instance, we saw the gristle that divides the nostrils, and called by anatomists, the septum nasi, perforated, and a feather thrust through the hole, which projected on each side over the cheeks: it is probable that this frightful singularity was intended as an ornament, but of the many people we saw, we never observed it in any other, nor even a perforation that might occasionally serve for such a purpose.

Their houses are the most inartificially made of any thing among them, being scarcely equal, except in size, to an English dog-kennel: they are seldom more than eighteen or twenty feet long, eight or ten broad, and page 260 five or six high, from the pole that runs from one end to the other, and forms the ridge, to the ground: the framing is of wood, generally slender sticks, and both walls and roof consist of dry grass and hay, which, it must be confessed, is very tightly put together; and some are also lined with the bark of trees, so that in cold weather they must afford a very comfortable retreat. The roof is sloping, like those of our barns, and the door is at one end, just high enough to admit a man, creeping upon his hands and knees: near the door is a square hole, which serves the double office of window and chimney, for the fire-place is at the end, nearly in the middle between the two sides: in some conspicuous part, and generally near the door, a plank is fixed, covered with carving after their manner: this they value as we do a picture, and in their estimation it is not an inferior ornament: the side walls and roof project about two feet beyond the walls at each end, so as to form a kind of porch, in which there are benches for the accommodation of the family. That part of the floor which is allotted for the fire-place, is inclosed in a hollow square, by partitions either of wood or stone, and in the middle of it the fire is kindled. The floor along the inside of the walls is thickly covered with straw, and upon this the family sleep.

The furniture and implements consist of but few articles, and one chest commonly contains them all, except their provision-baskets, the gourds that hold their fresh water, and the hammers that are used to beat their fern-root, which generally stand without the door: some rude tools, their clothes, arms, and a few feathers to stick in their hair, make the rest of their treasure.

Some of the better sort, whose families are large, have three or four houses inclosed within a court-yard, the walls of which are constructed of poles and hay, and are about ten or twelve feet high.

When we were on shore in the district called Tolaga, we saw the ruins, or rather the frame of a house, for it had never been finished, much superior in size to any that we saw elsewhere: it was thirty feet in length, about fifteen in breadth, and twelve high: the sides of it were adorned with many carved planks, of a workmanship page 261 much superior to any other that we had met with in the country; but for what purpose it was built, or why it was deserted, we could never learn.

But these people, though in their houses they are so well defended from the inclemency of the weather, seem to be quite indifferent whether they have any shelter at all during their excursions in search of fern-roots and fish, sometimes setting up a small shade to windward, and sometimes altogether neglecting even that precaution, sleeping with their women and children under bushes, with their weapons ranged round them, in the manner that has been already described. The party consisting of forty or fifty, whom we saw at Mercury Bay, in a district which the natives call Opoorage, never erected the least shelter while we stayed there, though it sometimes rained incessantly for four-and-twenty hours together.

The articles of their food have been enumerated already; the principal, which to them is what bread is to the inhabitants of Europe, is the roots of fern which grows upon the hills, and is nearly the same with what grows upon our high commons in England, and is called indifferently fern, bracken, or brakes. The birds which sometimes serve them for a feast, are chiefly penguins and albatrosses, with a few other species that have been occasionally mentioned in this narrative.

Having no vessel in which water can be boiled, their cookery consists wholly of baking and roasting. They bake nearly in the same manner as the inhabitants of the South Seas: and to the account that has been already given of their roasting, nothing need be added, but that the long skewer, or spit, to which the flesh is fastened, is placed sloping towards the fire, by setting one stone against the bottom of it, and supporting it near the middle with another, by the moving of which to a greater or less distance from the end, the degree of obliquity is increased or diminished at pleasure.

To the northward, as I have observed, there are plantations of yams, sweet potatoes, and cocoas, but we saw no such to the southward; the inhabitants therefore of that part of the country must subsist wholly upon page 262 fern-root and fish, except the scanty and accidental resource which they may find in sea-fowl and dogs; and that fern and fish are not to be procured at all seasons of the year, even at the sea-side, and upon the neighbouring hills, is manifest from the stores of both that we saw laid up dry, and the reluctance which some of them expressed at selling any part of them to us when we offered to purchase them, at least the fish, for seastores: and this particular seems to confirm my opinion, that this country searcely sustains the present number of its inhabitants, who are urged to perpetual hostilities by hunger, which naturally prompted them to eat the dead bodies of those who were slain in the contest.

Water is their universal and only liquor, as far as we could discover; and if they have really no means of intoxication, they are, in this particular, happy beyond any other people that we have yet seen or heard of.

As there is, perhaps, no source of disease, either critical or chronic, but intemperance and inactivity, it cannot be thought strange that these people enjoy perfect and uninterrupted health. In all our visits to their towns, where young and old, men and women, crowded about us, prompted by the same curiosity that carried us to look at them, we never saw a single person who appeared to have any bodily complaint; nor, among the numbers that we have seen naked, did we once perceive the slightest eruption upon the skin, or any marks that an eruption had left behind. At first, indeed, observing that some of them, when they came off to us, were marked in patches with a white flowery appearance upon different parts of their bodies, we thought that they were leprous, or highly scorbutic; but, upon examination, we found that these marks were owing to their having been wetted by the sprey of the sea in their passage, which, when it was dried away, left the salts behind it in a fine white powder.

Another proof of health, which we have mentioned upon a former occasion, is the facility with which the wounds healed that had left scars behind them, and that we saw in a recent state; when we saw the man who page 263 had been shot with a musket-ball through the fleshy part of his arm, his wound seemed to be so well digested, and in so fair a way of being perfectly healed, that if I had not known that no application had been made to it, I should certainly have inquired, with a very interested curiosity, after the vulnery herbs and surgical art of the country.

A farther proof that human nature is here untainted with disease, is the great number of old men that we saw, many of whom, by the loss of their hair and teeth, appeared to be very ancient, yet none of them were decrepit; and though not equal to the young in muscular strength, were not a whit behind them in cheerfulness and vivacity.