Polynesia; A popular description of the physical features, inhabitants, natural history, and productions of the islands of the Pacific. With an account of their discovery, and the progress of civilisation and christianity amongst them.
Chapter XIII. — The Society Islands; and the Paumotu, or Low Archipelago
The Society Islands; and the
Paumotu, or Low Archipelago.
The name of "the Georgian Isles" was afterwards bestowed on the eastern or windward portion of the group, which includes Tahiti; all the islands of both the adjoining clusters are now, however, more generally included under the better-known title of the Society Islands.
The Society Islands were discovered by Fernandez de Quiros in 1605; and were subsequently visited by Wallis in 1767, by Bougainville in 1768, and by Cook in 1769. The latter navigator, on his second voyage, bringing away with him Omai, a native of Raietea or Ulietea, one of the leeward group, and the first Polynesian islander ever seen in Britain—who, being conveyed back on Cook's third voyage, relapsed again into the barbarism and idolatry that then prevailed in his country. In 1772 the viceroy of Peru sent two Spanish vessels to examine various groups of islands in the eastern Pacific; this expedition visited Tahiti, from whence two natives were taken to Lima, and instructed in the Christian religion there. Two years afterwards another voyage was made from Peru to the Georgian Islands; and these natives were sent back along with two missionary priests, for whom a house was erected, and who were taken under the protection of the chiefs. So gratified were the people of Tahiti with the visit of the Spaniards, that they acknowledged by acclamation the King of Spain to be the page 282sovereign of Tahiti and the neighbouring islands. In 1775, however, the Spanish vessels took their departure for Peru; nor does it appear that a third expedition was afterwards attempted from that quarter. Twenty-two years later the first Protestant missionaries arrived in Tahiti, their advent commencing a new era in the history of the island.
The Georgian group consists of five islands, besides several inconsiderable islets. These are Tahiti, Eimeo, Maitea, Maiaviti, and Tituaroa. Tahiti, which is the seat of the native government, as well as that of the French, since its subjugation by that power in 1846, is by far the most considerable island of the group, its circumference being variously estimated at from 110 to 130 miles. It is formed by two distinct mountains of great elevation, their peaks rising to a height of upwards of 7000 feet above the sea; these are connected by a low narrow isthmus of about three miles in width. The coasts are fringed by a coral reef from ten to twenty yards broad, at distances varying from a dozen yards to two miles from the shore.
The geological features of Tahiti present no remains of craters to indicate their former existence, although traces of fire, and volcanie substances stratified, broken, and thrown up in the wildest disorder, are everywhere to be met with. The peaked central mountains are mostly composed of basalt; and the sides of the raised valleys around the mountains are covered in many places with layers of light earth, or strata of marl. The less elevated lands, which form a border all round the island, page 283possess a rich alluvial soil, and are fertile almost beyond conception.
The capital of the island, and principal port of Tahiti, is Papiete, which town exhibits the same combination of European houses and native dwellings as does the capital of the Sandwich Islands. The harbour of Papiete is a capacious sheet of smooth water, of a circular shape, and so completely land-locked as rather to resemble a large dock-basin than a natural harbour. The entrance to it is between the reefs, and there is water at the entrance sufficiently deep to admit of large vessels. This harbour, previously to the restrictions imposed by the French protectorate government, was a favourite resort of the South Sea whaling ships. The town lies to the eastward of the entrance to the harbour, and is commanded by a fort erected by the French. Several foreign merchants, resident at Papiete, carry on a commerce, which consists chiefly in the export of pearl-shells (which are obtained in the islands of the neighbouring Paumotu Archipelago), sugar, cocoa-nut oil, fruit, and arrowroot, and the importation of goods of European or American manufacture.
The climate of Tahiti is pleasant and agreeable. Though situated so far within the tropics, the thermometer in summer ranges between 75° and 85° degrees, seldom exceeding the latter temperature, as the trade-winds from the surrounding ocean moderate the heat. The rainy season takes place when the sun is vertical, but rain falls occasionally at all seasons; and although storms occur at times, page 284they are less violent and frequent than they are in some of the neighbouring groups.
The population of Tahiti, although erroneously estimated at the time of Captain Cook's visit at upwards of 100,000, was computed by Captain Wilson, in 1797, after a careful enumeration, to amount to 16,000; probably, at the present period, there are not more than from 8,000 to 10,000 inhabitants. The introduction of European diseases and of ardent spirits, infanticide, and various causes arising out of the contact of the aboriginal race with white men, became so destructive in their effects, that at the time of the arrival of the missionaries the population had been fearfully reduced. The temperance movement, introduced by the missionaries at a later period, and headed by the queen and leading chiefs, had a beneficial influence in checking the use of ardent spirits, which was so rapidly demoralizing this interesting people.
One of the principal streams of the island flows along the valley of Tia-auru, joining the sea near Point Yenus, at Matavai Bay, where Captain Cook's vessels anchored, and his observatory was erected on shore. This river has its source at the base of one of the loftiest central pinnacles, which rises to a height of above 7,000 feet. The entire island is so mountainous, that the only way to penetrate into the interior is to follow up the valleys. The following extract, from a description of an excursion in Tahiti by some of the officers of H.M.S. "Beagle," will convey an idea of the scenery of this island, so famed for its picturesque beauty:—"Our road, page 285at first, lay through woods which bordered each side of the river; and the glimpses of the loftycentral peaks, seen as through an avenue, with here and there a waving cocoa-nut tree on one side, were extremely picturesque. The valley soon began to narrow, and the sides to become lofty and more precipitous. At length, the width of the ravine scarcely exceeded that of the bed of the stream, and on each hand the walls of rock were nearly vertical; yet, from the soft nature of the volcanic strata, trees, and a rank vegetation spring from every projecting ledge. These precipices must have been some thousand feet high; and the whole formed a mountain gorge far more magnificent than anything which I had ever before beheld. The first ascent from the valley was very dangerous; for it was necessary to pass a steeply-inclined face of naked rock with ropes we had brought with us. We then crept along a ledge, above which a beautiful cascade, some hundred feet high, poured down its waters, and beneath, another high cascade fell into the main stream in the valley below. We continued to ascend, sometimes along ledges covered with overhanging ferns and lilies, and sometimes along knife-edged ridges, having on each hand profound ravines. On each side of the ravines there were great beds of the mountain banana covered with ripe fruit. In the evening we reached a flat little spot on the banks of the stream we had continued to follow, where we bivouacked for the night. By the aid of strips of bark for rope, the stems of bamboos for rafters, and the large leaf of the banana page 286for a thatch, the Tahitians in a few minutes built us an excellent house; and with withered leaves made a soft bed. They then proceeded to make a fire, and cook our evening meal. A light was procured by rubbing a blunt-pointed stick into a groove made in another, until by the friction the dust became ignited. The natives having made a small fire of sticks, placed a score of stones, about the size of cricket-balls, on the burning wood. In about ten minutes the sticks were consumed and the stones hot. They had previously folded up in small parcels of leaves, pieces of beef, fish, ripe and unripe bananas, and the tops of the wild arum. These green parcels were placed between two layers of the hot stones, and the whole covered up with earth, so that no smoke or steam could escape. In about a quarter of an hour, the whole was most deliciously cooked. The choice green parcels were now laid on a cloth of banana leaves, and with a cocoanut shell we drank the cool water of the running stream.
"On every side were forests of banana; the fruit of which, though serving for food in various ways, lay in heaps decaying on the ground. In front of us there was an extensive brake of wild sugar-cane; and the stream was shaded by the darkgreen knotted stem of the 'ava,' so famous, in former days, for its powerful intoxicating effects. Close by was the arum, the roots of which, when well baked, are good to eat, and the young leaves are better than spinach. There was the wild yam, and a plant called 'ti,' which has a soft brown root, which in page 287shape and size resembles a huge log of wood: this served us for dessert, for it is as sweet as treacle, and with a pleasant taste. There were, moreover, around us several other wild fruits and useful vegetables; and the little stream, besides its cool water, produced eels and cray-fish, which our guides procured."
The published accounts of the voyages of Wallis, Cook, and others to the South Seas, and the visit of Omai, the Society Islander, to England, excited, towards the close of the last century, an intense interest in the spiritual condition of so interesting a people as those of Tahiti; whilst the death of Captain Cook, and, subsequently, the extraordinary adventures of Captain Bligh, who, being despatched in the ship "Bounty" to Tahiti, for the purpose of procuring plants of the bread-fruit tree to be carried to the West Indies, was turned adrift by mutineers, and accomplished one of the most extraordinary boat voyages ever effected, traversing the Pacific from near Tahiti to the coast of Australia, and thence to Timor—the seizure and trial of some of the mutineers, and the mystery long attaching to the fate of the rest, who settled at Pitcairn Island, kept the public attention constantly alive to the state of the Polynesian islanders. The celebrated Countess of Huntingdon is said to have recommended the prosecution of a mission of the Gospel to the South Seas to her chaplain, Dr. Haweis, as her last earthly desire.
In the year 1796 the London Missionary Society sent out their first missionaries to Tahiti: but their page 288prospects were for a long time unpromising, and they laboured with very little success to draw the attenta on of the natives from their cruel superstitions to the purer faith of the Gospel. About 1814, however, they began to meet with success. In the neighbouring island of Eimeo about fifty persons voluntarily renounced idolatry and embraced Christianity. Pomare, the king, was amongst their earliest converts; and soon afterwards the great body of the inhabitants renounced idolatry, and destroyed their idols, or gave them up to the missionaries. Along with religion they have been instructed in the mechanical arts of Europe; have been taught to read and write, and to cast accounts; the natives, with singular industry, teaching each other. Great numbers have been taught to read in the Tahitian language, which the missionaries have reduced to writing, and into which the Scriptures and other books have been translated. Consequent upon the general reception of Christianity was the abolition of the profligate practices of the Areoi Society. The dwellings of the king and chiefs were enlarged and beautified; and schools for the girls were established by the wives of the missionaries, in which these excellent women gave instruction in reading, writing, and sewing.
Pomare, the King of Tahiti, and the first convert to Christianity, was born about 1774. He died in the year 1821, and was succeeded by his son, Pomare III., who was crowned in 1824, being then only four years of age. Shortly afterwards, he was placed at the South Sea academy, in the island of page 289Eimeo, for the purpose of receiving, with, the children of the missionaries, an English education. He died in 1827, and was succeeded by a daughter of Pomare II, who is still nominally queen of the Georgian Isles, although the French, under the name of a protectorate, have taken forcible possession of Tahiti and its dependencies. The defenceless queen appealed in vain to Europe for the restitution of her country, which her people had bravely defended for two years; but being at length betrayed into the hands of the French, resistance ceased, and Tahiti has since been in its policy, commerce, and religious institutions, under the rule and authority of France.
Mr. Darwin, who visited Tahiti shortly before it became occupied by the French, bears the following testimony to the good effects of missionary labour there. He says, "On the whole, it appears to me that the morality and religion of the inhabitants are highly creditable. There are many who attack both the missionaries, their system, and the effects produced by it. Such reasoners never compare the present state with that of the island only twenty years ago. They forget that human sacrifices, and the power of an idolatrous priesthood—a system of profligacy unparalleled in any other part of the world-infanticide, a consequence of that system—bloody wars, where the conquerors spared neither women nor children—that all these have been abolished; and that dishonesty, intemperance, and licentiousness, have been greatly reduced by the introduction of Christianity."page 290
Mr. S. S. Hill, an American traveller, visiting Tahiti still more recently, remarks, " Anomalies the most anomalous, both physical and moral, strike the stranger in a particular manner in this island. A simple race of men, just turned from their idolatrous worship, and their degrading superstitions, by the efforts of one European people; checked in their progress by the conquest of their country by another European people; and exposed to an attempt to change their faith by means unworthy of the tolerant spirit of the conquerors as a nation, and, probably, even without the assent of their government—an isle, under European military rule, declared an independent kingdom under a necessary protectorate—a port, said to have been established for the refuge and protection of the ships of all nations, subjected to such regulations as to oblige even the very whalers of the protecting power, as it has happened, that formerly frequented it, to take shelter in other harbours in other islands—a population, composed of one of the finest races, physically speaking, found upon the face of the globe, sickening amidst the superabundance of the native productions of the soil, and in the healthiest of climates."
A letter, written by a person lately visiting Tahiti, says, "Tahiti is a lovely place, and, without doubt, the gem of the Pacific. You can stroll for hours through its beautiful orange groves, the delicious perfumes from which are wafted on every breeze. The natives of the island, of both sexes, are much given to dissipation. The stringent laws of the page 291French bear heavily on the poor natives, who entertain a bitter feeling of hostility against their foreign rulers. The French have erected a good fort commanding the entrance to the harbour, and have a frigate of forty-eight guns, and one war steamer, now anchored here, with a force of about 300 soldiers on the island. The resources of the place are greatly diminished, and it is now with difficulty that ships can obtain supplies. This destitute condition of the island is owing to the French monopolizing everything. Queen Pomare does not feel her degradation so much as her husband, who is a fine-looking old fellow, but somewhat careworn."
Of the Tahitians themselves Mr. Darwin says, "I was pleased with nothing so much as with the inhabitants. There is a mildness in the expression of their countenances which at once banishes the idea of a savage; and an intelligence which shows that they are advancing in civilization. Most of the men are tattooed, and the ornaments follow the curvature of the body so gracefully that they have a very elegant effect. One common pattern, varying in its details, is somewhat like the crown of a palmtree. It springs from the central line of the back, and gracefully curls round both sides. The women are tattooed in the same manner as the men, and very commonly on their fingers. They wear a white or scarlet flower in the back of the hair, or through a small hole in each ear; and a crown of woven cocoa-nut leaves is also worn as a shade for the eyes."
The Tahitians and the inhabitants of the sur-page 292rounding islands are a fine-looking people, belonging to the true Polynesian or Malaysian race. In stature they are somewhat above the middle height; but less masculine than the Sandwich Islanders or the New Zealanders. The women are usually slight, with tall, graceful figures; and are only a shade darker than the brunettes of Sicily or the south of Spain; whilst the men, who are constantly exposed to the sun, are of a much deeper bronze colour. They have fine black eyes, regular and white teeth, a soft skin, and limbs of beautiful proportions. Their jet-black hair is perfumed with fragrant oils, and ornamented with flowers. The chiefs are taller than the common people, being seldom under six feet in height.
At the time of their birth the complexion of Tahitian infants is but little, if any, darker than that of European children, and the skin only assumes the bronze hue as they grow up under constant exposure to the sun. Those parts of the body that are covered with their tappa dresses are, through every period of life, much lighter than those that are exposed; and, notwithstanding the dark tint with which the climate appears to dye their skin, the ruddy bloom of health and vigour, or the sudden blush, is often seen mantling the youthful countenance under the light brown tinge which but partially conceals its glowing hue.
The dress of the two sexes is nearly the same; except that the men wear the "maro," a piece of tappa cloth which covers the loins, and passes between the limbs; another oblong piece, with a hole to let the head through, hangs before and page 293behind; a third is wrapped about the middle, whilst a sort of square mantle covers the whole.
Tattooing was formerly practised, not merely for the sake of ornament, but as connected with the political and religious institutions of the people. The different stages of this operation were regarded as sacrifices agreeable to the gods; and the instruments with which a prince had been tattooed were deposited in the "morai," or tomb of his ancestors.
Their dwellings are only used as places of rest during the night, and of retreat during the extreme heat of the day. They are very elegantly shaped huts, consisting of small wooden pillars, arranged in an oval form, and supporting a roof of palm leaves. The sides are sometimes covered with mats, and sometimes open, according to the state of the weather. The floor is strewed over with dried grass, upon which are laid mats of beautiful workmanship. These rustic dwellings are scattered about in the valleys, and upon the plains, in a manner the most agreeable and picturesque, in the midst of smiling plantations, or groves of palms, bananas, or bread-fruit trees.
The most prominent feature in the Tahitian character appears to be their love of indolence, in which the too great bounty of nature has permitted them to indulge. They appear to have been hitherto an exception to that common law of nature, which has seemed everywhere else to have imposed toil in a greater or less degree upon all men. Their magnificent valleys abound not alone in luxuriant forests that attract and charm the eye, but also in trees page 294bearing sufficient food to supply all their proper wants. The trees which produce the bread-fruit, the banana, the orange, the cocoa-nut, and the cheremoya, seem to contend with one another for the palm of superior strength and beauty, and for the quantity of their spontaneous abundance. Their hogs require no care, and feed upon fruits which would otherwise rot and waste upon the ground; and their coasts abound in fish of every kind, which can be obtained at the price of no more labour than such as might be termed an agreeable pastime.
They make use of their mountain streams by constructing weirs across them, at spots where the valleys between the steep sides of the hills enlarge. The water thus collected they admit into their "taro" plantations, by means of which system of irrigation the taro produces large tuberous roots.
The natives of Tahiti, both men and women, are scrupulously clean: they wash their bodies in running water three times a day; once in the morning when they rise, once at noon, and again before they sleep. Their clothes, as well as their persons, are kept without spot or stain; so that in a large company nothing is suffered but the heat, which, perhaps, is more than can be said of an assembly of Europeans.
Their war canoes in former times, as described by Cook, were double vessels fastened together side by side, at the distance of about three feet, by strong poles of wood, which were laid across them, and lashed to the gunwales. They varied in length, some measuring upwards of seventy feet, while their breadth was page 295not more than two. The head and stern were raised considerably above the body of the vessel, in a semicircular form, particularly the stern, which was sixteen or eighteen feet high. Upon the forepart of these canoes, a stage or platform was erected, about ten feet long, supported by pillars six feet high, on which the warriors or fighting men were accustomed to stand, armed with slings and spears. Below these stages sat the rowers, who received below any that were wounded, and supplied fresh men to take their place.
The costumes formerly worn by the women of the Society Islands in the performance of their domestic dances were remarkably graceful and elegant. On their heads they wore a quantity of plaited hair, which was brought round several times, and adorned with the blossoms of the cape-jessamine, which were stuck in with much taste, forming a really beautiful head-dress. Their necks, shoulders, and arms were uncovered; below this they wore a sort of black cloth fitting close to the body. At the side of each breast, next the arm, was placed a rosette of black feathers; upon their hips rested a quantity of cloth plaited very full, which reached up to the breast, and fell down below into long petticoats, which quite concealed their feet; the plaits above the waist were brown and white alternately; whilst the flowing skirts were all white. In their ears they frequently wore large pearls, which were so highly valued that nothing would tempt them to part with them.
Cooking and eating occupy but a small portion of page 296the time of the Society Islanders. Their food consists principally of bread-fruit, taro, banana, viapple, oranges, cocoa-nuts, sugar-canes, fowls, and fish. They eat no salt, but employ instead of it a sort of sop, made of sea-water, cocoa-nut milk, and the root of the "ti." Their mode of eating is somewhat disagreeable, for the bread-fruit or taro is dipped in the sop, and then sucked into the mouth with a smacking sound, that may be heard at some distance. The children are fed upon "poe" which is made of bread-fruit and taro mixed, and pounded together with a little sugar. The child is laid on its back, and is crammed with balls of "poe" of the size of a walnut, at which it shows its delight by throwing about its arms and legs, and chirping like a young bird.
That singular institution called the Areöi Society appears to have been peculiar to the people of the Society and Georgian Islands, although the Jesuit missionaries found an institution bearing a striking resemblance to it amongst the inhabitants of the Caroline and Ladrone Islands. The Areöis were a sort of privileged libertines, or strolling players, who formed themselves into a society for the worship of the god Oro; and the practice of immoral dances and pantomimes. They spent their time in travelling from island to island, and from one district to another, exhibiting their performances, and spreading a moral contagion throughout society. Great preparations were necessary before the company set out: numbers of pigs were killed, and presented in sacrifice to Oro; and large quantities of fruits page 297were offered upon his altars. On board the canoes in which they travelled they erected temporary temples, for the worship of the tutelar deities of their society. The numbers connected with this fraternity, and the magnitude of their expeditions, will appear from the fact of Captain Cook's witnessing, on one occasion, in Huahine, the departure of seventy canoes filled with Areöis. On public occasions they painted their bodies with charcoal, and stained their faces with a scarlet dye. At times they wore a girdle of ripe yellow plantain leaves, and ornamented their heads with the bright yellow and scarlet leaves of the Barringtonia. Their entertainments consisted in delivering speeches ludicrously referring to public events, in pantomimic exhibitions, in wrestling, and in dancing during the night to the music of the flute and drum. In the constant display of these often obscene exhibitions, they passed their lives, strolling from one place or island to another. There were several distinct ranks amongst the Areöis, which were distinguished by the various styles of tattooing on their bodies. The society was not confined to the male sex, but numbered many female members, who attached themselves to this dissipated and wandering fraternity. One of the standing regulations of the society was the murder of any children that might be born to them; the gods of the Areöis, living in celibacy themselves, were supposed to forbid their followers to have any descendants. A number of singular ceremonies were performed at the death of an Areöi; and those of the higher class were supposed to attain after death page 298to the "Rohutu noanoa," literally, the "fragrant Rohutu" or Tahitian paradise. This region was said to be near a stupendous mountain in Raiatea, but invisible to mortal eyes, being in the aërial regions. It was described as a country most lovely and enchanting in appearance, adorned with flowers of every form and hue, and perfumed with odours of exquisite fragrance. The air was free from every noxious vapour, pure, and salubrious. Every species of enjoyment to which the Areöis and other favoured classes had been accustomed on earth was to be participated in there; while rich viands and delicious fruits were to be furnished in abundance for the celebration of their sumptuous festivals. Handsome youths and virgins, all perfection, thronged the place. This paradise was, however, reserved only for the privileged orders, who could afford to pay the priests for their passport thither, and the kings of Areöis, who were to remain in the enjoyment of the same high office for ever, and be employed in a succession of amusements and indulgences similar to those to which they had been addicted on earth.
The highest ambition of a Tahitian was to have a splendid "moräi," or family tomb; and their funerals were of a solemn and affecting character. Songs of a plaintive nature were sung, and the mourners, with sharks' teeth, drew blood from their bodies, which mingled with their tears; offerings placed on the bier, mock fights, fastings, and numerous religious ceremonies were all employed to give a sensible expression of their grief. The sacred sheds, under page 299which the dead bodies remained exposed until they were dried, and the walled and paved "moräis," or cemeteries, in which the bones were deposited, were placed in romantic situations, where the shadows of funereal trees, the frowning face of the rocks, and the murmur of rivulets and waterfalls, would invite to retirement and melancholy.
Captain Cook, in his first voyage, thus describes a moral which he visited in Tahiti: "It was a pile of stone-work raised pyramidically upon an oblong base or square, 267 feet long and 87 wide. It was built like the small pyramidal mounds upon which we sometimes fix the pillar of a sun-dial, where each side is a flight of steps; the steps, however, at the sides were broader than those at the ends; so that it terminated not in a square of the same figure with the base, but in a ridge, like the roof of a house. There were eleven of these steps, each of which was four feet high, so that the height of the pile was forty-four feet. Each step was formed of one course of white coral stone, which was neatly squared and polished, some of the blocks measuring three feet and a half by two and a half. The whole of this pyramid formed part of one side of a spacious square, which was walled in with stone, and paved with flat stones throughout its whole extent, notwithstanding which there were growing in it several of the trees they call "etoa," and plantains. About one hundred yards west of this building was anothor paved court, in which were several small stages raised on wooden pillars about seven feet high, and which seemed to be a kind of altar, as upon these page 300were placed provisions of all kinds as offerings to their gods. We found here the skulls of above fifty hogs, besides those of a great number of dogs."
On one occasion, as Captain Cook and his partywere rambling in the "Tiarabu" district, they came upon a basket-work image of one of the Tahitian gods, that of Mauwe, their great ancestor, which is thus described: "It was something more than seven feet high, and rather bulky in proportion. The wicker skeleton was completely covered with feathers, which were white where the skin was to appear, and black in the parts which it is their custom to stain or 'tattoo,' and upon the head, where there was to be a representation of hair. On the head were also four protuberances, three in front and one behind, which we should have called horns, but which the natives dignified with the name of 'tate ete,' 'little men.' "
The king and his consort formerly always appeared in public on men's shoulders, and travelled in this manner whenever they journeyed by land. They were seated on the neck or shoulders of their bearers, who were generally stout, athletic men. The persons of these bearers, in consequence of their office, were regarded as sacred. The individuals thus elevated appeared to sit with ease and security, holding slightly by the head, while their feet hung down on the breast, and were clasped in the arms of the bearer. When they travelled they proceeded at a tolerably rapid pace, frequently six miles an hour. A number of attendants ran by the side of the bearers, or followed in their train; and page 301when the men who carried the royal personages grew weary, they were relieved by others. It is said that Pomare II. once remarked that he thought himself a greater man than King George, who only rode a horse, while he himself rode on the shoulders of a man.
The present queen of Tahiti is described by Darwin as being "a large awkward woman, without any beauty, grace, or dignity. She has only one royal attribute-a perfect immoveability of expression under all circumstances, and that a rather sullen one."
Ten miles west from Tahiti is the beautiful and picturesque island of Eimeo, which is about forty miles in circumference, wild and mountainous, but with a fair proportion of level land and magnificent scenery. It has a population of about 900 souls. It is here that the South Sea Academy is established, for the education of the children of missionaries and others in the Polynesian islands. This excellent institution was first founded in 1824, and is situated on a delightful spot commanding a view over the fine deep harbour called Cook's Bay, with the sea in the distance, and the bold rugged mountains on the opposite side of the bay. A large grass field is in front of it, which serves as a playground for the students. The house itself is large, long, and in every way commodious. There is a broad gallery, or piazza, raised high from the ground, running its whole length, forming either an agreeable promenade or a delightful place to sit on and enjoy the cool, refreshing trade-winds, or gaze upon one of the page 302finest landscapes in the world. The offices are also extensive; and the educational and domestic arrangements reflect much credit on all connected with its management. This establishment has received aid from the English and American Mission Societies, besides contributions in money, select books, and philosophical and mathematical instruments, from both countries. The missionary in the eastern Polynesian islands can now obtain for his children a good education, without the anxiety and expense of sending them to England, or even to New Zealand; and the parents have the happiness to know that a few days' or even hours' sail from the neighbouring islands will enable them to see their children at any time. Some of the royal family of Tahiti have received instruction at this academy; and the merchants and respectable traders in the various islands are all anxious that their children should be sent to it, knowing that constant kindness and excellent instruction awaits them at Eimeo.
The other islands of the Georgian group are but thinly inhabited, and present no features of peculiar interest.
The western group, or Society Islands proper, are six in number (besides small coral islets), the names of which are Raiatea (or Ulietea), and Tahaa (both encompassed by the same coral reef), Huahine, Borabora, Tubai, and Maurua. The climate, productions, and people are very similar to those of Tahiti. The coral reefs that everywhere surround these islands form numerous safe and commodious harbours for shipping; and supplies of hogs, fowls, page 303plantains, yams, cocoa-nuts, &c., are generally to be obtained in abundance by vessels visiting the Society group.
The surfaces of all these islands are uneven and hilly, and in some parts extremely rugged and mountainous; the hills are finely wooded, and the low lands exceedingly fertile. Like the Georgian group they are of volcanic origin, displaying extinct craters. Borabora has in its center a lofty, double-peaked volcanic mountain, which, however, is not active at the present time. The scenery of these islands generally much resembles that of Tahiti and Eimeo, being romantic and beautiful in the extreme, with mountain peaks towering into the sky, and fertile valleys and ravines, with neat villages nestling beneath groves of bread-fruit or cocoa-nut trees.
In the Society Islands are many copious springs of cool and limpid water: one of these, in the island of Raiatea, is compared by Forster (who accompanied Captain Cook) to the "fons blandusiæ" of Horace. He says, "The natives had enlarged it to a fine reservoir, surrounded by large stones in a rustic manner. Groups of the finest trees and flowering shrubs, together with the venerable and impending rocks, from whence the water issued, involved it in a constant shade, and preserved a delicious coolness. The crystal stream constantly running from this reservoir, beneath the verdure of the trees, invited the traveller in these hot regions to a refreshing ablution of his weary limbs, from which he rose with new vigour to support the sultriness of the climate."page 304
The idolatry which obtained in these islands was similar to that of Tahiti, but was more zealously maintained, as Raiatea was supposed to be the cradle of their mythology. The destruction of idolatry in Tahiti, in 1815, was followed, a year or two afterwards, by the same change in Huahine, Raiatea, and Borabora; not, however, without much opposition, the lives even of the missionaries being frequently endangered by the contests and revolutions which agitated the country. The inhabitants of Tahaa, strongly attached to their ancient heathen worship, opposed the introduction of Christianity, and even went to war with the King of Raiatea because he had agreed to renounce idolatry. They were, however, defeated, and their king taken prisoner by the Raiateans, who, instead of putting him and his people to death, treated them with kindness, which had the effect of inducing them all to embrace the new religion.
Since 1817 the missionaries have been remarkably successful in educating the people, who are now all Christians, and many have gone to other islands, or are labouring in their own, as Christian teachers. Commodious churches and good school-houses have been erected; and a great change in their moral character, habits, dress, and mode of life has taken place amongst this interesting people.
They have been taught to build comfortable houses, and to manufacture furniture; and are described as a social, cheerful, and busy-moving community. Many engage in ship-building, unaided by Europeans, forging their own bolts, and performing page 305all the various branches of work with the skill of ordinary artizans. Several of the schooners thus built by them are of eighteen or twenty tons' burden; and they have often as many as ten upon the stocks at one time. The people of Huahine are active and enterprising traders, and their flag—which, in common with Raiatea and Borabora, is the same as the old red and white ensign of Tahiti—is well known and respected, even as far north as the Sandwich Islands and California.
In 1829 the British government officially recognized this flag as the national ensign of the whole of the Society Islands, including Tahiti.
A regular code of laws, respecting the due administration of justice, was solemnly enacted by the national assembly of Huahine in 1822; and, subsequently, similar laws and regulations have been established at the other islands of the group. A British consul resides at Raiatea; and a number of vessels, traders and whale ships, visit these islands annually.
The advance of the people in intelligence, civilization, and outward prosperity has, unfortunately, been retarded by the disturbance and civil war in which the whole of this western or leeward portion of the islands has been involved—the prevalence of epidemic diseases—and the injurious conduct of foreigners in promoting intemperance and vice amongst the inhabitants. To these evils must be added the disorganization produced by the proceedings of the French at Tahiti, and their forcible seizure of Huahine; from which they were expelled page 306by the natives who held the island, till they were assured, on the authority of Admiral Seymour, in 1847, that their independence, together with that of the other islands of the leeward group, was secured and guaranteed by an arrangement between the Engglish and French governments.
The present population is about 8,000.
It is a remarkable fact that the tides in the Society Islands are uniform throughout the year, both as to the time of the ebb and flow, and the height of the rise and fall; it being invariably high water at noon and at midnight; consequently, the water is at its lowest ebb at six o'clock in the morning and evening. Once or twice a year a very heavy sea rolls over the reefs, bursting with great violence on the shore. This periodical phenomenon invariably comes from the west or south-west, being the opposite direction to that from which the prevailing trade-wind blows.
The Paumotu Archipelago, or "Islands of the Shallow Waters," as the native name implies, extends to the eastward of the Society Islands, and consists mostly of low coral formations, so surrounded with reefs and shoals, as to render navigation amongst them both difficult and dangerous. These extend over a large area of ocean, and are also known as the Dangerous Archipelago, and the Low Archipelago. They are principally important for producing an abundance of pearl oysters; a fishery, in which several small vessels are engaged, being carried on amongst these islands, and the pearl shells taken to Tahiti, where they are re-shipped for page 307Europe. The shells are obtained by the natives by diving, in the same manner as in the fisheries of Ceylon.
The principal islands of the Paumotu group are Anaa, or Chain Island, Mauhi, Aratica, Metia, Rurick, King George's Island, Vincennes, Raraka, Waitohi, Bow Island, Gambier Island, Lord Hood Island, and Clermont de Tonnerre, besides a vast number of smaller islets, rising but a few feet above the level of the sea. The population of the entire group may be roughly estimated at about 10,000; one half of which number occupy Anaa, or Chain Island. The Tahitian missionaries have introduced Christianity into the principal islands in the western portion of the archipelago; but the inhabitants of some of the more distant and easterly ones are said to be still in a state of barbarism.
The people of the Paumotu group are described as a fine athletic race, darker in colour than the Society Islanders, yet somewhat resembling them in language and general customs.
The island of Anaa was formerly the principal seat of power; the natives of which frequently waged war on the other islands, and succeeded in conquering all to the westward of Bow Island. In the reign of the first Pomare, they even attempted the conquest of Tahiti, and succeeded in overcoming the small peninsula of Taiarabu. Anaa, although the most thickly populated, is one of the smaller islands of the archipelago. Its whole surface is one continued cocoa-nut grove; and its inhabitants page 308subsist on cocoa-nuts and fish. The missionaries have had an establishment there for many years; and the people of Anaa have the reputation of being an honest and trustworthy race.