Life in Feejee, or, Five Years among the Cannibals
Architects tell us that the vestibule of a building should correspond with the edifice into which it conducts us. It should correspond in architecture, in proportion and in taste, so that the vestibule should not cause us to anticipate in the building what we do not find when we enter it.
Something of this relation should the introduction of a book bear to the book itself. There should be proportion in length, correctness in statement, appropriateness in imagery, and in all, a scrupulous avoiding of anticipating for the reader, in the body of the volume, what he does not meet when he arrives there.
The work before us possesses some features of unusual merit and interest. It contains an account of a strange and savage people; of whose manners and customs little has been known, until within the last few years; a people whom it has been difficult and dangerous to approach.
The natives of the Feejee Islands have, heretofore, been regarded as the Ishmaelites of the South Pacific Ocean, who would never endure the discipline of civilization, and who, if ever converted to Christianity, would be the last brought into the kingdom of page viiiheaven. Their natural ferocity and habits of cannibalism have discouraged all attempts even to civilize them, much more to make them the followers of the meek and lowly Jesus.
Since, however, the residence of Christian missionaries among them, they have been found, in some respects, an interesting people. Beneath their wild and uncouth exterior, have been found marks of intellectual power and sagacity. Minds have been discovered there, which, under the discipline of refined culture, might have ranked high upon the scale of mental attainment. The record of their traditions and wonderful events would, if given in full to the historian, afford him material, unsurpassed in value and interest.
Their improvement in civilization within the last ten years has been, to a certain extent, truly wonderful. Many of these islanders have abandoned their cannibalism, and introduced into their habits of living, the manners and forms of humanized life. Their hideous looks and attitudes have been changed for the decent appearance and deportment of civilized society.
And no less wonderful has been the change in their moral natures and condition. Many of these tribes have not only become civilized, but Christianized. They have not only abjured cannibalism, but have embraced the gospel.
These changes, so astonishing in their character, have been, under God, wrought by the English Wesleyan Methodists, a sect always ready to every good work, and found wherever the sons of men are to be page ixenlightened and saved. They have gone to these islands of the sea, planted their missions, and in a measure unexpected by themselves, and surprising to others, have gained access to the minds and hearts of these besotted and ferocious islanders. In some instances whole tribes have abjured their obscene rites and fearful customs, and have worshipped the living and true God. Places, which once witnessed their cruel feasts, have resounded with the voice of prayer; and their habitations of cruelty have been converted into habitations of mercy and love.
The source from which this information comes to us, can be relied upon. This has not always been the case. Occasionally we have been furnished by narrators with brief accounts of the Feejeeans. The medium through which they have received their knowledge, has not, however, always been of the most truthful character. Navigators have sometimes entered upon their journals information imparted to them by those whose policy it was to describe every thing connected with this people, as marvellously as possible. Those who have written upon their manners and customs have not, in many cases, been eye witnesses of what they describe.
But not so has it been with the author of this volume. For five or six years she has been personally acquainted with these strange tribes of the South Pacific, either by residing in the families of missionaries, or living in her floating-house in their harbors. She was the first white female that many of these islanders had ever seen. On this account, they were disposed to regard her with superstitious reverence and page xfear. Uncivilized and savage as they were, they approached her with a deference and respect which they had not shown to any one else.
She has been a part of the history which she writes, visiting their dwellings, witnessing their scenes, and has been a guest at their entertainments. For these reasons, her opportunity for becoming acquainted with their nature and character, for observing their manners and customs, was what other writers had not been favored with. On account of these superior advantages which she enjoyed, we may safely confide in the contents of this volume, as not exaggerated in statement, or overcolored in drapery. And yet we confess, in reading some sections of the work, one might be half inclined to think the author is dealing in hyperbole; that, forgetting herself, she is reveling in fiction, and not narrating sober facts; that, like the dusky Moor before the Senate of Venice, when speaking
"Of the cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders,"
she has a suit to gain, so marvellously strange are some of the incidents and scenes which she describes. But whatever, in her rare knowledge of this people, has tempted her fruitfully imaginative mind, to write a book exaggerated in statement, or overcolored in drapery, we are sure such a temptation has been disregarded, and that no volume of narration has been before the public more true to the reality, than the one before us.page xi
We have said that the introduction to a book should not anticipate for us in the book itself, what we do not find on perusing it. That we have not departed from this rule, we trust will be found true in our remarks upon the style of the author. There is a pleasantry in the manner of narration, which gives increasing interest to the contents of the volume. Its descriptions we regard as unsurpassed. In following our author in her delineations of facts and incidents, we seem to be gazing upon a moving panorama, where all its scenes and shadings are vivid and impressive, or upon a stage, across which, as the actors move, we see all their features and mark all their costume. And, then, there is a change of character, so graphically described, that, while we see a difference in the parts performed, we can hardly persuade ourselves that the different parts are performed by the same persons. Here, the ferocious islander appears with his formidable war-club—and there it is exchanged for the implement of husbandry. Here, descending with savage cries upon a neighboring island to murder its unsuspecting inhabitants—and there assembled with them in the same sanctuary, listening to the words of eternal life. Here, around the burning pile, feasting upon the flesh of their slaughtered captives—and there around the communion-table, celebrating the dying love of Him in whom they have believed.
And here we are disposed to pause and ask, what has wrought such a change in these once barbarous islanders? What has converted them into enlightened and peaceful communities? What has opened page xiitheir bays and rivers to the quiet entrance of our commerce, and sent them to the sea-shore to welcome us to their confidence and friendship? It is the gospel, the glorious gospel of the blessed God, taught in their dwellings and preached at their mission stations. Surely the gospel has wrought a change here, which is marvellous in our eyes. In has, indeed, been the power of God unto salvation.
To the public, then, we commend this volume of rare information and interest; a volume, unprecedented in its scenes and events; a volume, which should obtain a wide circulation, not only among our communities in general, but especially among those who love to contemplate the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit upon benighted minds and depraved hearts, and more especially among that religious and devoted sect, who have been successful in winning so many of these degraded tribes to Christ.