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Polynesian Researches


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Frequency of war in the South Sea Islands—Polynesian war-god—Religious ceremonies and human sacrifices, prior to the commencement of hostilities—National councils—Mustering of forces—Emblems of the gods taken to the war—Strength of their fleets or armies—The battle of Hooroto—Women engaging in battle— Tahitian banners—Martial music—Modes of attack—Single combats, challenges, &c.—The rauti, or orators of battle—Sacrifice of the first prisoner—Manifestation of affection, and motives to revenge—Auguries of the war—Use of the sling—Singular custom of the chiefs in marching to battle—Sanguinary and exterminating character of their engagements—Desolation of the country.

War among uncivilized nations is often an object of the highest ambition, the road to most envied distinction, and the source of most ardent delight. It was so among the South Sea Islanders. They appear to have been greatly addicted to it from the earliest periods of their history. It occurred very frequently, prior to the introduction of Christianity. During the fifteen years Mr. Nott spent in the islands, while the people were pagans, the island of Tahiti was involved in actual war ten different times. The Missionaries were painfully familiar with it. It surrounded their dwelling; and the wounded in battle have often, with their wounds fresh and bleeding, sought their houses for relief.

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Oro was the principal war-god, but he was not the only deity whose influence was important on these occasions. Tairi, Maahiti, Tetuahuruhuru, Tane, and Rimaroa, “long hand, or arm,” the ancient gods of war, were all deities of the first rank, having been created by Taaroa, according to their fabulous traditions, before Oro existed.

In modern times, however, Oro's influence has been principally sought in war. This they imagined was the chief object of his attention; and when it proceeded in its bloodiest forms, it was supposed to afford him the highest satisfaction. Somewhat of his imagined character may be inferred from the fact of his priest requiring every victim offered in sacrifice, to be covered with its own blood, in order to his acceptance. The influence ascribed to the gods in war may be in a measure inferred from the frequent and sanguinary appeals made to them at its commencement, and during every period of its progress.

When war was in agitation, a human sacrifice was offered to Oro, and was denominated the Matea: the ceremony connected with it was called—fetching the god to preside over the nuu or army. The image of the god was brought out; when the victim was offered, a red feather was taken from his person, and given to the party, who bore it to their companions, and considered it as the symbol of Oro's presence and sanction, during their subsequent preparations. The commencement of war, the violating of a treaty, was called the aoti a pito, the cutting of the cord of union; whenever this took place, a human victim was offered by the offending party, to prevent the gods from being angry at their treachery. A human victim, called the Amoatabu, was also page 277 offered by the party assailed, to secure protection from the gods, and punishment on their enemies. Another human sacrifice was now taken, called the Maui faatere, and was equivalent to the public declaration of war, and such it was also considered by the opposing party. In 1808, when the late Pomare heard that Taute, his former chief minister, and the most celebrated warrior in the nation, had joined the rebel chiefs, and that the Maui faatere had been offered, and the sanction of the gods thus implored, he was so affected that he wept; and it was in vain that one of his orators, in alluding to this event subsequently, exclaimed, Who is Taute? He is a man, and not a god, his head reaches not to the skies. Who is Taute? The king's spirits and courage never revived.

If it was a naval expedition, canoes were now collected and equipped, and the weapons put in order, the spears and clubs cleaned with a boar's tusk, pointed with bones of the sting-ray, and having been carefully polished, the handle of every weapon was covered with the resinous gum of the bread-fruit, that it might adhere to the warrior's hand, and render his grasp firm.

When the implements of destruction were ready, and this seldom occupied many days, another human sacrifice was offered, called the haea mati— the tearing of the mati in the presence of the gods, as the fibres of mati were torn at the temple, before being twisted into cord for the sacred net. This was immediately before the expedition started; and if accepted, Oro generally inspired one of his prophets, who declared that the fleet or army should be victorious. On all these occasions; human sacrifices, covered with their own blood, page 278 were offered to Oro, in numbers proportioned to the magnitude of the undertaking, or the force of the parties confederated.

While these ceremonies were proceeding, national councils were held. Peace, or war, was usually determined by a few leading individuals, including: the king, priests, and the principal chiefs. The prayers and sacrifices offered, oracles consulted, responses received, and councils held, were only parts of the external machinery by which, as it regarded the mass of the population, these movements were directed. This, however, was not always the case, and peace or war was often the result of the impressions produced by the popular orators on the general assemblies. These harangues were specimens of the most impassioned natural eloquence, bold and varied in its figures, and impressive in its effects.

I never had an opportunity of attending one of their national councils when the question of war was debated, under the imposing influence imparted by their mythology, whereby they imagined the contention between the gods of the rivals was as great as that sustained by the parties themselves. A number of the figures and expressions used on these occasions are familiar; but, detached and translated, they lose their force. From what I have beheld in their public speeches, in force of sentiment, beauty of metaphor, and effect of action, I can imagine that the impression of an eloquent harangue, delivered by an ardent warrior, armed perhaps for combat, and aided by the influence of highly excited feeling, could produce no ordinary effect; and I have repeatedly heard Mr. Nott declare, (and no one can better appreciate native eloquence,) he would at any time go page 279 thirty miles to listen to an address impassioned as those he has sometimes heard on these occasions.

When war was determined, the king's vea, or herald, was sent round the island, or through the districts dependent on the parties, and all were required to arm, and repair to the appointed rendezvous. Sometimes the king's flag was carried round. The women, the children, and the aged, called the ohua, were either left in the villages, or lodged in some place of security, while the men hastened to the filed.

Their arms were kept with great care, in high preservation. In some of the houses, on our arrival in the Leeward Islands, especially in the dwelling of Fenuapeho, the chief of Tahaa, every kind of weapon was in such order, and so carefully fixed against the sides of the house, that the dwelling appeared more like an armoury than a domestic abode. Many a one, whom the summons from the chief has found destitute in the morning, has been known to cut down or rive a tall cocoa-nut tree, finish his lance or his spear, and join the warriors at the close of the same day. The chief of each district lead his own tenantry to the war—reported, on his arrival, the number of men he had brought —and then formed his buhapa, or encampment, with the rest of the forces.

A number of ceremonies still remained to be observed. The priests were important personages in every expedition; their influence with the gods was considered the means of victory, and they received a proportionate share of consideration. The first service of this kind was called the taamu raa ra—the binding of the sacredness or supernatural influence; and while the chiefs and warriors had been employed in the preliminaries of war the page 280 priests had been unremitting in their prayers that the ra atua, &c. the influence of the gods, &c. might be turned against their enemies, or that the gods would leave them defenceless. When their prayers were successful, it was supposed that the gods of their enemies left them, and came to the party by whom they were thus implored, and, entering the canoes, clubs, spears, and other weapons of their army, insured its triumph. As a compensation for this important service, the chiefs assembled; a quantity of cloth, mats, and perhaps a canoe, was spread before them, surmounted by a branch of the sacred miro, and a few red feathers, emblematical of the tutelar gods. The priests were then sent for, and the whole presented to them from the heads of the army by an orator, the burden of whose address was— “This is the recompense for your fatigue in imploring the aid of the gods by night and by day.”

A second ceremony followed, called fairaro: a large quantity of cloth, mats, &c. were given to the priests, that they might persevere in their labours. This was succeeded by a third, of the same kind, called the haameii, in which, in addition to the other kinds of property, a number of fine pigs, each distinguished by a distinct name, were given to the priests, that they might redouble their vigilance to induce their own gods to keep with them, and the gods of their enemies to forsake those enemies, and, by means of the weapons of those who now sought their favour, to exert their power against the parties they had formerly aided.

The atoa fare ia Manaha—the building of the house of Manaha, or hosts of gods—was a singular ceremony. It was designed for the abode of the gods and spirits, who they supposed fought page 281 with them, and whose favour they desired. In order to propitiate the gods, a human sacrifice was offered. The work was begun, and the house must be finished in one day, on which day every individual must abstain from all kinds of food, no canoe must be launched, no fire lighted, while the work was in progress, and at the foot of the central pillar the body of a man offered in sacrifice was deposited. Into this house the toos, or images of the spirits, were sometimes taken; but although the priest always offered his prayer here, the gods were usually left in their sacred temples, and only a feather was taken from their images, which they supposed to be endowed with all their power.

The last religious ceremony, prior to the commencement of conflict, was the haumanava. Slight temples were erected in the sacred canoes of Oro, and the other gods. In these, the red feathers taken from the idols were deposited; they were called manutahi no Tane, &c. or single bird of Tane; all the gods were supposed to be present, having been brought from their elysian abodes by the prayers of the priests. There was a kind of intermediate race of beings, between men and gods, who were employed as messengers, to fetch the latter in cases of emergency; each god had his own messenger, hovering about the habitations of men, in the shape of a bird or a shark. When the priest by prayers sought the aid of these gods, they imagined that the messenger set off to the place of the god's abode, somewhere in fare papa, near “the foundation of the world,” and made the usual declaration—Mai haere i te ao, e tamae ti te ao, “Come to the world, or state of light, there is war in the world.”

The sacred feathers being deposited in the temporary page 282 maraes erected in the canoes, a large number of the finest hogs they could procure were killed, and baked in the temple on shore, the heads cut off, and placed on a small altar in the canoe, before the symbol of the idols' presence. The remaining part of the body was eaten by the priests, and those who feasted on the sacrifices. Whether they fought by sea or by land, as their principal engagements were near the shore, a fleet usually accompanied the army, and on board the canoes the principal idols were generally kept. The arrangements being now completed, with the emblems of their gods, and the offerings they made, they speedily set out for the combat, confident of victory.

Nuu and papaupea were the terms usually employed to designate an army, though it is probable the former was applied principally to an army, or fleet, filled with fighting men, and the latter to an army on shore, together with the multitude that followed for the purposes of plunder, &c. Their armies must formerly have been large: when Captain Cook was there in 1774, he supposed the fleet to consist of not fewer than 1700 canoes, each carrying forty men; making altogether 6000 fighting men. I think, however, there must have been some mistake in his calculation. In the last war but one, in which the people of Huahine were engaged with those of Raiatea, at the battle of Hooroto, in the latter island, according to the testimony of Mahine, the present king of Huahine, who was there, and whose father was the general of the forces, the fleet consisted of ninety ships, or war-canoes, each about one hundred feet long, filled with men, who, besides their ordinary arms, possessed the two guns left with Mai by Captain page 283 Cook, from the use of which they expected an easy victory. This was one of the most sanguinary conflicts that had occurred for many years. Tenana, the king of Huahine, went down to avenge the cause of Ohunehaapaa, whose son is still living in Raiatea. Ohunehaapaa had been banished by the Raiatean chiefs, and the chiefs and people of Huahine undertook to reinstate him. The Windward fleet anchored at Tipaemau, when the Raiateans fled to Tahaa. The Huahinean chief sent to demand from Tapoa the surrender of the land. This was refused, and both parties prepared for battle. Next day the hostile fleets met near Hooroto, and a most bloody and obstinate engagement ensued; both parties lost so many, that when piled up, on the day after the battle, the dead bodies are said to have formed a heap as high as the young cocoa-nut trees. They still determined to persevere till one party should be destroyed; but Mauai, a native of Borabora, inspired by Oro, intimated the will of the god that they should desist. An armistice was concluded; the warriors of two districts of Huahine, Faretou, and Fareihi, being comparatively uninjured, sailed over to Tahaa, for the purpose of plunder. They, however, met with a more determined resistance than they had expected, and were not only repulsed, but almost cut off. Mato, the father of the present king of Huahine, and general of the army, was slain. The survivors were glad to return to their own island, and the Raiateans were too much enfeebled to endeavour to prevent them.

In this war, the greater part of the chiefs and warriors of the Leeward or Society Islands were destroyed. The island of Huahine never recovered from the shock of this murderous conflict.

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Tamai or tuua is the general term for war, in all its diversified forms; the same word is also used to denote quarrelling; aro is the term for battle. The modes of attack and defence were various, and regulated by circumstances. Among the principal, were the fatatia, where two armies, led on by their respective sovereigns, advanced face to face; the duu mata, in which none turn back; the maiva, in which a select band, joining hands, rushed into the fiercest part of the conflict, and endeavoured to spread confusion and terror among the enemy; the aro nee, where only a small front was shown, and the main force concealed; the moohono, jointless backbone, and the aro ro, (ant-fight) in which the army is formed in lines, and the front line, when hard pressed, retires, while those immediately behind advance to sustain the conflict. Besides these there were a number of others, such as the butoa, coral rock, in which the army stood and repelled every assailant; the rapa-tahi, in which the assailants singled out the chiefs and leaders; but the most desperate was the uura tama faarere, when the warriors forsook land, house, wife, and children, and, determining to refuse quarter, went forth to conquer or die. The divisions of the army were: 1. The viro aro, front line, or advanced guard; 2. the apoa viri, second rank; 3. the tapono viri, shoulder viri, or third rank; 4. the hotuai, or fourth line; and 5. the hoe haabua, or last division, including the wives, children, baggage, and property of the warriors. The rank immediately in front of the king or principal chief, always contained the bravest men.

The forces were marshalled for the fight by the principal leader, who was said to tarai te aro, shape or form the battle; when this was accomplished, page 285 the signal was given, and uniting in the umera ia Ra, song of battle to the god of war, or in deafening shouts and imprecations, they rushed with bold and menacing impetuosity to u, or join in combat. Sometimes their attacks were made by night, but then they generally bore a rama, or torch. To ambuscades they seldom had recourse, though they occasionally adopted what was called the aro nee, or attack by stealth, surprising their enemies by an unexpected onset.

The flags of the gods, or the emblems of the idols, were carried to the battle, to inspire the combatants with confidence, and the martial banners they employed were formerly hoisted on board the different fleets, but more recently carried by the bravest of the warriors in the centre of their armies. Their flags were red, white, or black. Rude and harsh kinds of music animated the warriors in their fleets, and since the reign of Oro the combatants have marched to the battle, inspired by the sounds of the trumpet and the drum. Before this time, during the celestial supremacy of Tane and Ra, these gods were accustomed in action to advance before those bands of warriors whom they were disposed to aid, and to spread dismay through the ranks of their enemies by waving their tails, which the natives supposed resembled the tails of comets, or the luminous appearance called a falling or shooting star.

It is a singular fact, that although they left their images in their respective temples, no offerings were presented after the haumanava had been performed, and no sacrifice was deposited on the altars of any of the temples, lest the gods should hereby be induced to forsake the army, or remain behind.

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When their modes of attack were deliberate, the celebrated warriors of each army occasionally marched forward beyond the first line of the body to which they belonged, and, on approaching the ranks of the enemy, sat down on the sand or the grass. Two or three from one of these parties would then rise, and, advancing a few yards towards their opponents, boastfully challenge them to the combat. When the challenge was accepted, which it often was with the utmost promptitude, the combatants advanced with intimidating menaces.

These often addressed each other by recounting their names, the names and deeds of their ancestors, their own achievements in combat, the prowess of their arms, and the augmented fame they should acquire by the addition of their present foes to the number of those they had already slain; in conclusion, inviting them to advance, that they might be devoted to their god, who was hovering by to receive the sacrifice. With taunting scorn the antagonist would reply much in the same strain, sometimes mingling affected pity with his denunciations. When they had finished their harangue, the omoreaa, club of insult, or insulting spear, was raised, and the onset commenced. Sometimes it was a single combat, fought in the space between the two armies, and in sight of both.

At other times, several men engaged on both sides, when those not engaged, though fully armed and equipped, kept their seat on the ground. If a single combat, when one was disabled or slain, the victor would challenge another; and seldom thought of retreating, so long as one remained. When a number were engaged, and one fell, a warrior from his own party rose, and maintained the struggle; when either party retreated, the ranks of the army page 287 to which it belonged rushed forward to sustain it; this brought the opposing army on, and, from a single combat or a skirmish, it became a general engagement. The conflict was carried on with the most savage fury, such as might be expected in barbarous warriors, who imagined the gods, on whom their destinies depended, had actually entered into their weapons, giving precision and force to their blows, direction to their missiles, and imparting to the whole a supernatural fatality.

The din and clamour of the deadly fray were greatly augmented by the efforts of the Rauti. These were, as the Druids among the ancient Britons, the orators of battle. They were usually men of commanding person and military prowess, arrayed only in a girdle of the leaves of the ti-plant round their waist; sometimes carrying a light spear in the left, but always a small bunch of green ti-leaves in the right hand. In this bunch of leaves the principal weapon, a small, sharp, serrated, and barbed airo fai, (bone of the stingray,) was concealed, which they were reported to use dexterously when in contact with the enemy. The principal object of these Rautis was, to animate the troops by recounting the deeds of their forefathers, the fame of their tribe or island, the martial powers of their favouring gods, and the interests involved in the contest. In the discharge of their duties they were indefatigable, and by night and day went through the camp rousing the ardour of the warriors. On the day of battle they marched with the army to the onset, mingled in the fray, and hurried to and fro among the combatants, cheering them with the recital of heroic deeds, or stimulating them to achievements of daring and valour.

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Any attempt at translating their expressions would convey so inadequate an idea of their original force, as to destroy their effect. “Roll onward like the billows—break on them with te haruru o te tai, the ocean's foam and roar when bursting on the reefs—hang on them as te uira mau tai, the forked lightning plays above the frothing surf—give out the vigilance, give out the strength, give out the anger, the anger of the devouring wild dog,—till their line is broken, till they flow back like the receding tide.” These were the expressions sometimes used, and the impression of their spirit-stirring harangues is still vivid in the recollection of many, who, when any thing is forcibly urged upon them, often involuntarily exclaim, “Tini Rauti teie,” equal to a Rauti this.

If the battle continued for several successive days, the labours of the Rautis were so incessant by night through the camp, and by day amid the ranks in the field, that they have been known to expire from exhaustion and fatigue. The priests were not exempted from the battle; they bore arms, and marched with the warriors to the combat.

The combatants did not use much science in the action, nor scarcely aim to parry their enemy's weapons; they used no shield or target, and, believing the gods directed and sped their weapons with more than human force upon their assailants, they depended on strength more than art for success. Their clubs were invariably aimed at the head, and often, with the lozenge-shaped weapon, they would tapai, or cleave, the skulls of their opponents. Their spears they directed against the body, and the maui was often a deadly thrust, piercing through the heart.

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When the first warrior fell on either side, a horrid shout of exultation and of triumph was raised by the victors, which echoed along the line, striking a panic through the ranks of their antagonists, it being considered an intimation of the favour of the gods towards the victorious parties. Around the body the struggle became dreadful; and if the victors bore him away, he was despoiled of his ornaments, and then seized by the priests, or left to be offered to the gods at the close of the battle.

The first man seized on before quite dead was offered in sacrifice, and called te mataahaetumu Taaroa—the first rending of the root. The victim was not taken to the temple, but the head was bound round with sacred cinet brought from the temple, and the body laid alive upon a number of spears, and thus borne on men's shoulders along the ranks, in the midst or rear of the army, the priest of Oro walking by the side, offering his prayer to the god, and watching the writhings and involuntary agitation of the dying man. If a tear fell from his eye, it was said to be weeping for his land. If he clenched the fist, it was an indication that his party would resist to the last, and conquest to the captors was uncertain, &c. If these auguries were deemed favourable, he pronounced victory as certain. Such indications were considered most encouraging, as earnests of the god's co-operation. Sometimes the first victim was called Te ivi o te vai o Tu: the head was completely covered as low as the neck with successive bandages of cinet, carried to the temple, and burned before Taaroa; and was generally regarded as an earnest of the defeat of his party, and the destruction of his family.

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When a distinguished chief or warrior fell, the party, to which he belonged, retired a short distance, collected some of their bravest men, and then, in a body, with fury and revenge rushed upon their antagonists, to vaere toto, clear away the blood. The shock was terrific when they met the opposing ranks, and numbers frequently fell on both sides. Two brothers, or intimate friends, often manifested in battle an affecting strength of attachment and constancy; they fought side by side, especially in the Duumata, in which no retreat was allowed; and if one was killed, the survivor dipped his hand in the blood of his slain brother, and rubbed it on his own person, to manifest his affection, alleviate his grief, and stimulate to revenge.

During the engagement, the parties often retreated, so that there was a considerable space between the ranks, as when proceeding to the onset. The slingers were then employed; who often advanced in front of the ranks to which they belonged, and with boasting threats warned their enemies to fly or fall. The most dangerous missile was the uriti or stone, from the ma or sling. The latter was prepared with great care, and made with finely braided fibres of the cocoa-nut husk, or filaments of the native flax, having a loop to fasten it to the hand at one end, and a wide receptacle for the stone in the centre. The sling was held in the right hand, and, armed with the stone, was hung over the right shoulder, and caught by the left hand on the left side of the back. When thrown, the sling, after being stretched across the back, was whirled round over the head, and the stone discharged with grea force.

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The most expert slingers, as well as the most renowned among the warriors, were celebrated through the islands; and when one of these presented himself, a cry ran through the opposite ranks: Beware, or be vigilant, e ofai mau omea—an adhering stone is such a one; or e ofai tano e ofai buai—a sure or a powerful stone is such an one. The stones, which were usually about the size of a hen's egg, were either smooth, being polished by friction in the bed of a river, or sharp, angular, and rugged; these were called ofai ara—faced or edged stones. When thrown with any degree of elevation, they were seen and avoided, but they were generally thrown horizontally four or five feet from the ground, when they were with difficulty seen, and often did much execution. The slingers were powerful and expert marksmen.

The custom of the warriors sitting on the ground to wait for the combat, was not the only singular practice of the Tahitians in proceeding to battle. There was another, which they called pito. When two leading chiefs marched together to the onset, they not only walked side by side, but arm in arm. In this manner, Pomare-vahine, and Mahine, the chiefs of Huahine and Eimeo, marched to the battle of Narii. This was designed to shew their union, and that they would conquer or fall together. When a single chief led on his own men, he also walked in pito with his principal aito of warriors, two on each side, the nearest to him having, hold of his arms. On approaching the enemy they separated, but fought near the person of their chieftain, whose life it was considered their special duty to defend, at the exposure of their own.

The battle sometimes terminated by both parties retreating, to recover, and prepare for a fresh page 292 campaign, but it was more frequently continued till the flight of one party left the other master of the field.

The carnage and destruction which followed the fati or breaking, and hea or flying, of one of the armies, was dreadful. It was called tahaea, and in it the gods were supposed to engage as well as the men. Those who were vi, or beaten, fled to their canoes, or to their paris or fastnesses in the mountains, while the victors, who were called upoatia, erect heads, pursued them with reckless slaughter. A prostrate warrior, as he lay at the feet of his antagonist, wounded or disarmed, would perhaps supplicate mercy, exclaiming Tahitia iau ia ora wau—Spare me, may I live. If the name of the king or chief, of the victor, was invoked, the request was often granted; but frequently a reproach or taunt, and a deadly blow or thrust, was the only reply.

The slaughter of the routed army was continued till the evening closed on the scene of murder and of blood, or until the fugitives had either reached their fortifications and strongholds in the mountains, or had eluded the pursuit of their enemies.—When the men went to battle, the women generally remained; but some of them fearlessly attended their husbands to the field, and either followed in the rear, or fought in the midst of the ranks. They carried the same kind of weapons as the men, but frequently used only their nails and their hands. Many were slain in the field, or during the retreat.

By whatever considerations civilized and enlightened nations may be influenced in the practice of war, and upon whatever principles they may desire to conduct it, war, barbarous, page 293 murderous, unrelenting war, is the delight of savages; and among no portion of the most cruel and warlike of the human race has it perhaps prevailed more extensively, or proved a greater scourge, than among the interesting inhabitants of the islands of the Pacific. With the Society and Sandwich Islanders, it has, since the introduction of Christianity, ceased. In the Friendly, Figi, and other groups, it still prevails: in the Marquesas, and New Zealand, it rages with unabated violence, and spreads devastation and wretchedness among the infatuated and hapless people.

Among the Society Islanders, in consequence of the influence of the climate, luxurious mode of living, and effeminacy of character induced thereby, the obstinacy and the continuance of actual combat were not equal to that which obtained in other tribes; yet we learn from the frequency of its occurrence, and the deadly hatred which was cherished, that the passion for war was not less powerful with them than with the New Zealander or the Marquesian; and its consequent cruelties and demoralization were perhaps unequalled in any other part of the world. Their wars were most merciless and destructive. Invention itself was tortured to find out new modes of inflicting suffering; and the total extermination of their enemies, with the desolation of a country, was often the avowed object of the war. This design, horrid as it is, has been literally accomplished: every inhabitant of an island, excepting the few that may have escaped by flight in their canoes, has been slaughtered; the bread-fruit trees have been cut down, and left to rot; the cocoa-nut trees have been killed by cutting off their tops or crown, and leaving the stems in page 294 desolate leafless ranks, as if they had been shivered by lightning.

Their wars were not only sanguinary, but frequent; yet from a variety of ceremonies, which preceded the expeditions, they were seldom prompt in commencing hostilities. What they were prior to the first visits of foreigners, we have not the means of correctly ascertaining, but since that time, the only period during which correct dates can be affixed to events in their history, the short and simple annals of Tahiti are principally filled with notices of destructive wars; and the effects, of desolation still visible, prove that they have not been less frequent in the other islands.

The occasions of hostility were also at times remarkably trivial, though not so their consequences. The removal of a boundary mark; the pulling down of the king's flag; the refusing to acknowledge the king's son as their future sovereig; speaking disrespectfully of the gods, the king, or the chiefs; the slightest insult to the king, chiefs, or any in alliance or friendship with them; with a variety of more insignificant causes—were sufficient to justify an appeal to arms, or an invasion of the offender's territory with fire and spear. Although there were no standing armies or regular troops in the South Sea Islands, nor any class of men exclusively trained and kept for military purposes, war was followed as a profession as much as any other, and considered by many as one to which every other should be rendered sub-servient.