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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 XIV. — The Hervey, or Cook's Islands; and the Austral Islands

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Chapter XIV.
The Hervey, or Cook's Islands; and the Austral Islands.

a mission stat on in rarotonga.

a mission stat on in rarotonga.

The Hervey, or Cook's Islands, lie to the southwest of the Society Islands, and are situated between latitude 18° and 22° south, and longitude 157° to 160° west. This cluster consists of seven islands, viz., Rarotonga, Hervey Island, Mangaia, page 310Aitutaki, Atiu, Mauke, and Mitiaro. Several of these islands, including the one from which the group takes its name, were discovered by Captain Cook in 1773 and 1777; whilst the largest and most populous one, Rarotonga, was found by the Rev. John Williams, in his missionary vessel, in 1823, it having escaped the vigilant researches of the great circumnavigator.

The Hervey Islands are of different structure, Rarotonga being volcanic and mountainous, surrounded by a reef of coral. Others consist of ancient coral formations raised from twenty to two hundred feet above the sea, some of them lower, and all surrounded by living coral reefs. Most of the islands are fertile, and capable of supporting a much larger population than they at present possess. The inhabitants in general character and language much resemble the Samoans.

Makea, the King of Rarotonga, is described as being "a handsome man, six feet high, and very stout; of noble appearance, and very commanding aspect; his complexion light, and his body most beautifully tattooed, and slightly coloured with a preparation of turmeric and ginger, which gives it a light orange tint."

At the time of Mr. Williams first visiting Rarotonga the inhabitants were heathen; their idols and modes of worship corresponding with those of Tahiti: their government was a sort of feudalism; they were addicted to cruel wars; and were reputed to be cannibals. Their history is the history of the introduction and influence of Christianity; their page 311present intelligence, civilization, industry, and piety the effects of Christianity amongst them; and, according to the concurrent testimony of all who have visited them, these effects have been as extraordinary as they are satisfactory.

Rarotonga, the principal island of the group, with its encircling reef, is about thirty-five miles in cir cumference, the highest mountains being about 4000 feet above the sea. There are openings in the reef, but no secure harbour for shipping. The island is well watered and fertile, yielding the bread-fruit, cocoa-nut, banana, taro, and other Polynesian productions.

The population of Rarotonga is estimated at from 6000 to 7000. The ferocity and barbarism of the inhabitants was such that, when the first native missionaries were left amongst them, in 1823, they were obliged, after a short residence, to quit the island, one only venturing to remain. In 1827 the first European missionaries arrived; and although their efforts were for some time opposed by the people, they eventually succeeded in spreading Christianity amongst them; until, in a few years, the whole island became an educated, industrious, and civilized Christian community, increasing in intelligence and comforts as their industry in raising supplies brought ships in considerable numbers for refreshments; and the returns enabled them to provide European clothing, books, and many of the comforts of civilized life. At the present time, a large proportion of the people are clothed in European apparel, and dwell in comfortable houses, many page 312of them built of stone; they manufacture useful and even elegant articles of furniture; and have an abundance of food, the result of their own cultivation. They have regular market houses in which supplies for sale to the shipping are collected; and salesmen appointed to manage their trade with foreigners. About ten merchant and thirty whaling ships visit Rarotonga every year. Thirty years ago printing presses were set up on the island, and portions of Holy Scripture, spelling-books, and various elementary works on geography, arithmetic, astronomy, natural history, and other subjects, have emanated from thence in the Rarotongan language. Books in the language of the New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and other islands of western Polynesia, have also been printed. Upwards of 20,000 small books have been stitched up in covers, and 6000 volumes bound in leather, all accomplished by native young men, taught by the missionaries. The whole of the Bible has been translated by the missionaries, and printed for the people. Few, if any, of the young are unable to read or write; and there is an admirable institution for training native teachers in carpentry and the useful arts, as well as in the learning required for the efficient discharge of their duties in their own island, or as missionaries to other islands; and their steadfastness, energy, and the remarkable success which has attended their efforts, are evidence of the value of the training they have received.

They have at their respective mission stations spacious and substantial stone chapels, well built, page 313and handsomely fitted up by native workmen. Thirty years after the commencement of missionary labours amongst them, there were 7000 communicants connected with the churches; and nearly 1000 communicants had been removed by death.

This fine island has been repeatedly visited by hurricanes and the ravages of epidemic disease, which, with other causes, have greatly diminished the population, and retarded the progress of the people. The late Mr. Williams, who so wisely and successfully instructed these people in civilization and Christianity at the same time, felt a great attachment for Rarotonga, where he so long laboured; he built his missionary ship, the "Messenger of Peace," at this island: and, when he fell a martyr to his holy zeal as a Christian missionary at Erumanga, he was mourned as a father by the people whom he had so inestimably benefited.

Hervey's Island consists in reality of two small islands; and was named by Captain Cook in honour of Captain Hervey, R.N., one of the Lords of the Admiralty, and afterwards Earl of Bristol. It is surrounded by a reef, through which there is no entrance. At the period of the visit of Mr. Williams, in 1823, it was found that, in consequence of the exterminating wars of the inhabitants, the population had been reduced to about sixty souls; and on a subsequent visit, six or seven years later, the miserable remnant of this people amounted only to five men, three women, and a few children.

Mangaia is from twenty to twenty-five miles in circumference, of ancient coral formation, and mode-page 314rately high. The foliage and vegetation is rich; and the surrounding reef joins the shore; consequently, there is no safe anchorage for vessels. The population is between 2000 and 3000.

Aitutaki is hilly rather than mountainous, with rich and varied landscapes. It is eighteen miles in circumference, and is surrounded by a reef, having a good boat entrance. The population is about 2000.

Atiu, about the same size as Aitutaki, is a beautiful, verdant island, called by Captain Cook "Wateoo." The inhabitants number 2000. There are superb caverns of vast extent in the coral limestone of Atiu.

Mauke is a small, low, fertile island, fifteen miles Tound. By an invasion of a large fleet of canoes from one of the neighbouring islands, its once considerable population was reduced by the dreadful massacre that ensued to about 300, which has since increased. This island was first discovered by Messrs. Williams and Bourne, in 1823.

Mitiaro is a smaller island, very low, and somewhat similar to the preceding one; but the soil is so scanty that its productions ofttimes fail. Famine and invasion had, before the introduction of Christianity, almost depopulated it. It lies about twenty miles north-west of Mauke. Occasional hurricanes of a severe character sweep over these islands, doing much damage to the plantations and dwellings of the inhabitants.

Missionaries now reside on all the Hervey Islands; and the people are completely Christianized, maintaining their own institutions, and aiding liberally in extending the knowledge of Christianity to others. page 315The population of the whole group may be roughly estimated at from 14,000 to 15,000 persons. At the various islands not fewer than 100 vessels call annually, to trade with the natives and receive produce of their labour in exchange for manufactured goods, amounting to not less than to 3000l. per annum.

The inhabitants of the Hervey group, and of the island of Mangaia especially, are remarkable for the ingenuity they display in their various manufactures. Their canoes are large and beautifully carved; their "tappa" cloth displays a variety of elegant patterns; whilst their spears, bowls, and other articles, and, more particularly, the handles of their stone adzes, are elaborately carved, with a regularity, taste, and beauty, which is surprising, when it is to be remembered that the only tools they formerly possessed were sharks' teeth and shells. Their cocoa-nut drinking-cups are covered with carved and painted figures, and frequently with passages of Scripture beautifully executed.

The Hervey Islanders have a method of smokedrying the flying-fish, by which they can preserve them for any length of time. They also carry on fisheries by torchlight, along the back of the reefs, whither they proceed with double canoes. The fish, being frightened by the hollow sound of the headsman stamping on the box of the canoe, as well as by the splashing of the oars, and at the same time dazzled by the torches, are thus easily captured in large ring-nets fastened to poles ten or fifteen feet long.

Cattle introduced by the missionaries have multi-page 316plied rapidly in Rarotonga, as well as goats, pigs, and domestic poultry: whilst the vegetable produce of the principal islands of the group is very considerable.

The following account of the mission settlement at Ararongi, in the island of Rarotonga, from the pen of Mr. Williams, will convey a good idea of the stations generally in that beautiful island:—"The site of Ararongi was an extensive plot of flat land, stretching from the sea to the mountains. The houses stood several hundred yards from the beach, and were protected from the glare of the sea by the rich foliage of rows of large Barringtonia and other trees which girt the shore. The settlement was about a mile in length, and perfectly straight, with a wide road down the middle, on either side of which were rows of the tufted-top 'ti' tree, whose delicate and beautiful blossoms, hanging beneath their plume-crested tops, afforded an agreeable shade, and rendered the walks delightful. The cottages of the natives were built in regular lines, about fifty yards from the border of this broad pathway, and about the same distance from each other. The chapel and school-house stand in the centre of the settlement; and by their prominence both in size and situation, the natives would appear to express the high value they attach to the means of religious instruction. Every house has doors and Venetian windows, which are painted partly with lamp black, procured from the candlenut, and partly with red ochre and other preparations. The contrast between these and the snowy whiteness of the coral-lime gives the whole a chaste page 317and animated appearance; and as the houses are all new, and of nearly equal dimensions, the settlement presents a uniformity which is seldom found amongst the South Sea Islanders. The portion of ground between the pathway and the house is either tastefully laid out and planted as a garden, or strewed with black and white pebbles, which gives to the whole an air of neatness and respectability creditable alike to their ingenuity and industry."

When Captain Lord Byron visited Mauke, in H.M.S. "Blonde," he was much struck with the wonderful improvement that had already taken place amongst the inhabitants of that lately discovered and fertile island. He thus describes his visit to the houses and chapel of the native Tahitian missionaries located there:—"The road was rough over the fragments of coral; but it wound agreeably through the grove, which improved in beauty as we advanced; and at length, to our surprise and pleasure, terminated in a beautiful green lawn, where were two of the prettiest whitewashed cottages imaginable—the dwellings of the native teachers. The inside of these dwellings corresponded with their exterior neatness. The floors were boarded; there were a sofa and some chairs of native workmanship; windows, with Venetian shutters, rendered the apartments cool and agreeable. The rooms were divided from each other by screens of 'tapa,' and the floor was covered with coloured varnished 'tapa,' resembling oil-cloth. We were exceedingly struck with the appearance of cleanliness and elegance all around us, as well as with the page 318modest and decorous behaviour of the people, especially the women. After partaking of the refreshment offered us, which consisted of a baked pig, bread-fruit, and yams, we accompanied the teachers to their church. It stands on rising ground, about 400 yards from the cottages. A fence, composed of the trunks of cocoa-nut trees, surrounds the area in which it stands. Its form is oval, and the roof is supported by four pillars, which bear up the ridge. It is capable of containing 200 persons. Two doors and twelve windows give it light and air; the pulpit and reading-desk are nicely carved and painted with a variety of pretty designs, and the benches for the people are arranged neatly round. Close to the church is the burying-place, which is a mound of earth covered with green sward. On our return to the beach, one of the teachers accompanied us. As we retraced our steps through the wood, the warbling of the birds—whose plumage was as rich as it was new to us—the variously-tinted butterflies that fluttered across our path—the delicious climate—the magnificent forest-trees—and, above all, the perfect union and harmony existing among the natives—presented a succession of agreeable pictures which could not fail to delight us."

The Austral Islands lie to the south of the Society Islands, on the edge of the southern tropic. They are high and fertile, and consist of the island of Rurutu, or Oheteroa, with Rimatara, Raivavai, Oparo, and Rapa, together with a few smaller islets and atolls.

Rurutu is about seven miles in length, having a page 319high central peak, with lower eminences sloping towards the shore, and intervening valleys, through which flow fertilizing streams, supplied, in part, from mountain cascades.

The principal anchorage is in a beautiful crescentshaped bay, where the natives have erected a substantial pier, a quarter of a mile in length, constructed of blocks of coral, which affords a convenient landingplace. The plants, shrubs, and trees, are very similar to those of Tahiti. Around the foot of the mountains is a plain, about a quarter of a mile in breadth, which consists of a coral formation, well covered with earth washed from the flanks of the adjacent eminences, which has gradually constituted a soil teeming with luxuriant vegetation. Large coral masses rise here and there abruptly, in some instances to the height of more than 200 feet above the beach. In the sides of these cliffs are many caverns, richly adorned with stalactites, in which multitudes of sea-fowl build and rear their young. The following account of this charming island is given by Mr. Montgomery, in his narrative of the voyage of Messrs. Tyerman and Bennett:—"The principal village is situated at the head of the bay, consisting of the chapel and from sixty to seventy houses, scattered at pleasant distances among the trees. These are pretty oval structures, built on platforms of broad stones. The materials are timber and bamboos, very ingeniously put together, rounded at either end, having roofs which present the cove of a Gothic arched ceiling within. They are often fancifully ornamented, both externally and page 320internally; the people of this little island being distinguished above all others in these seas for their taste and skill in finery of every kind, from the feathered helmets of their warriors to the carving on their canoes, though the tattooing of their limbs appears less elegant than the style in which this barbarous art is executed in some of the neighbouring islands. In manners, dress, and language, the people of Rurutu very nearly resemble the inhabitants of Tahiti and Huahine. Their number is small, not exceeding 314 at this time, though a few years ago it is said the population exceeded 6000. A pestilential disease—ague and violent fever—broke out at that time, which continued, year after year, to sweep away multitudes; and, had not the plague been providentially stayed, Rurutu had, ere this, been a wilderness."

The introduction of Christianity into Rurutu in 1821 was effected in a remarkable manner by native agency. During the ravages of the epidemic, Auura, the principal chief, with his wife, and a certain number of their dependants, embarked in a double canoe, and left the island, to search for happier shores, where they might find refuge from the pestilence, or obtain help and deliverance for their countrymen. After a voyage of several days they reached Tubuai, an island belonging to the Austral group, about 100 miles from Rurutu. Here they were hospitably entertained; and, having refreshed themselves during a short sojourn, they reembarked for their own island, with the intention of persuading their countrymen to emigrate to Tubuai. page 321In this attempt they were frustrated; a hurricane drove them out of their track, and, after drifting about at sea for three weeks, they were providentially cast ashore at the island of Raiatea in the Society group. Here they were kindly received by the missionaries and the already Christianized inhabitants, instructed in the Christian religion, and taught to read. After a short sojourn, Auura, the chief, expressed his desire so strongly to return to his native land, and carry to his poor countrymen the knowledge of the faith he had embraced, that two native converts of Huahine volunteered to accompany him as teachers, and the whole party were conveyed back in a European brig that touched at Raiatea, the captain of which kindly consented to take these people to their homes. In a month after their arrival the entire population had renounced idolatry, and abandoned their idols; and the natives of Rimatara, a small island forty miles from Rurutu, speedily followed their example.

The gods of Rurutu were afterwards sent by the chief Auura to Raiatea, as trophies of the victory of Christianity over paganism. According to an account of them by an eye-witness, " One, in particular, 'Aa,' the national god of Rurutu, excited considerable interest; for, in addition to his being bedecked with little gods outside, a door was discovered at his back, on opening which he was found to be full of small gods; and no less than twenty-four were taken out, one after another, and exhibited to public view. This image was said to represent their page 322ancestor, by whom the island of Rurutu was peopled, and who, after death, was deified."

Christian missions have been most successful in the Austral Isles; and Mr. Chisholm, who visited them in 1858 says, "The inhabitants of Rurutu are the best specimens of a Polynesian people I have as yet seen: you cannot help fancying yourself in some pretty English village, amidst its happy, sunburnt rustics, on a fine summer's day. Oh! that the children of England could but have a peep at these two lovely isles, and their most interesting boys and girls, all looking as happy and intelligent as any company of children to be met with in Great Britain."