Habits of the Islanders—Unsocial in domestic life—Humiliating circumstances of the females—Irregular mode of life—Time of taking food—Cleanliness—Frequent bathing—Manner of wearing the hair, and removing the beard—Artificial flowers—Native toilet—Occupations—Agriculture—Implements, &c.—Fishing—Enclosures—Salmon and other nets—Use of the spear—Various kinds of hooks and lines—The vaa-tira—Fishing by torch light — Canoes used among the islands—Origin of the name — Skreened canoe and Maihi.
The habits of the South Sea Islanders were in many respects interesting and commendable; yet in these, as in their moral character and dispositions, they often presented the most strange contradictions. Patriotism and public spirit were often strongly manifested. In their universal passion for public amusements they appear a social people, yet their domestic habits were unsocial and cheerless. This is probably to be attributed to the invidious distinction established by their superstition, and enforced by tabu between the sexes.
The father and the mother, with their children, never, as one social happy band, surrounded the domestic hearth, or, assembling under the grateful shade of the verdant grove, partook together, as a family, of the bounties of Providence. The nameless but delightful emotions, experienced page 129 on such occasions, were unknown to them, as well as all that we are accustomed to distinguish by the endearing appellation of domestic happiness. The institutes of Oro and Tane inexorably required, not only that the wife should not eat those kinds of food of which the husband partook, but that she should not eat in the same place, or prepare her food at the same fire. This restriction applied not only to the wife, with regard to her husband, but to all the individuals of the female sex, from their birth to their death. In sickness or pain, or whatever other circumstances, the mother, the wife, the sister, or the daughter, might be brought into, it was never relaxed. The men, especially those who occasionally attended on the services of idol worship in the temple, were considered ra, or sacred; while the female sex was considered noa, or common: the men were allowed to eat the flesh of the pig, and of fowls, and a variety of fish, cocoa-nuts, and plantains, and whatever was presented as an offering to the gods: these the females, on pain of death, were forbidden to touch; as it was supposed, they would pollute them. The fires at which the men's food was cooked, were also sacred, and were forbidden to be used by the females. The baskets in which their provision was kept, and the house in which the men ate, were also sacred, and prohibited to the females under the same cruel penalty. Hence the inferior food, both for wives, daughters, &c. was cooked at separate fires, deposited in distinct baskets, and eaten in lonely solitude by the females, in little huts erected for the purpose.
The most offensive and frequent imprecations which the men were accustomed to use towards each other, referred also to this degraded condition page 130 of the females. E taha miti noa oe na to medua, Mayest thou become a bottle, to hold salt water for thy mother; or another, Mayest thou be baked as food for thy mother; were imprecations they were accustomed to denounce upon each other: or, Take out your eye-ball, and give it to your mother to eat.
Their domestic habits were not only unsocial, but irregular, alike in their periods for refreshment and sleep, and their seasons of labour or amusement.
The natives of the South Sea Islands had no regular times for eating, but arranged their meals, in a great measure, according to their avocations, or the supply of their provision. They usually eat some time in the forenoon; but their principal meal is taken towards the evening. Their food being lighter, and of a less stimulating kind, than that of Europeans, is usually consumed by them in much larger quantities at a time. They do not appear ever to have been very temperate in their diet, excepting from necessity, and many seem to have made the gratification of their appetite the means of shortening their existence.
They had no stated periods for labour or rest. The morning they regard as the best part of the day: they rise early, generally with, and frequently before, day-break, though it is often late before they retire to rest, especially when the mild light of the moon illuminates their cool and pleasant evening hours. Much of their time, however, is passed in sleep, and unless urgent engagements forbid, all classes without hesitation resign themselves to slumber during the sultry hours of the middle of the day. A strong healthy man feels it no disgrace to lie stretched on his mat from morning page 131 till evening, scarcely rising, except to eat, unless some amusement, or other call, urgently require it.
Although irregular, the people are cleanly; but to the influence of climate, the habit of frequent bathing, so prevalent among the South Sea Islanders, is probably to be attributed. This salutary custom is followed alike by all classes, without regard to sex or age. The infant immediately after its birth is with its mother taken to the sea; and the last effort often made by the aged and decrepit, is to crawl or totter to the water, and enjoy its refreshing influence. Their loose light mode of dressing, and the abundance of cool, clear, and secluded streams meandering through almost every valley in the islands, probably favour the frequency of the practice, and its grateful effects render it one of their greatest luxuries.
Contrary to the practice of those who are accustomed to resort to the sea-side for the purpose of bathing in salt-water, the natives of these islands, without exception, prefer on every account to bathe in the mountain streams. It is a principal remedy in many of their diseases; yet doubtless it often aggravates what they design to alleviate. It is, however, a practice of great benefit: for this, as well as every other purpose, they prefer the fresh water; and even those whose avocations lead them to frequent the sea for fishing, although they may have plunged beneath the wave fifty times in the day, yet invariably repair to the nearest stream to bathe, before they return to their houses. They say the sea-water produces an irritation which is peculiarly unpleasant. Children not more than three or four years of age, are often seen playing in groups along the margin of the sea, without the page 132 least apprehension of danger, and they as frequently resort for amusement to the rivers. It is probable that the people in general bathe less now than they were accustomed to do formerly, yet there are none, perhaps, who omit bathing once, and many who visit the river twice, in the course of the day. The universality and frequency of this custom is highly conducive to health, and produces a degree of personal cleanliness seldom met with among an uncivilized race.
Although some of their practices are offensive to every feeling of delicacy and propriety, yet they are certainly a remarkably cleanly people. This regards not only their repeated ablutions, but their care to remove every thing unsightly from their persons. No hair was allowed on their limbs; formerly it was plucked out by the roots, or shaved with a shell or a shark's tooth; and those who do not wear the European dress, are still very particular in removing the hair from their legs and arms. This is usually done with a knife, the razors they have among them being reserved for removing the beard.
The adults formerly wore their hair in a variety of forms; the heads of their children they always shaved with a shark's tooth. This operation was frequently repeated during their juvenile years. The females generally cut their hair short, but the men wore theirs in every diversity of form—sometimes half the head almost shaved, the hair being cut short, and the other half covered with long hair—sometimes the crown cut, and the edges left the original length. Frequently it was plaited in a broad kind of tail behind, or wound up in a knot on the crown of the head, or in two smaller ones above each ear. Since the introduction of Christianity it page 133 has been worn remarkably neat: the men's hair is usually short, the females the same, excepting in the front, though some wear it long, curled in front, and bound up on the crown.
Nothing at first sight produces a stronger impression on the most careless observer, in the difference between the inhabitants of an island where paganism prevails, and those of one where Christianity has been introduced, than the appearance of their hair. I have often seen one who was an idolater, or who had but recently embraced Christianity, and whose hair was uncut and his beard unshaven, standing in a group of Christians, and I have been struck with the contrast.
Sometimes the men plucked the beard out by the roots, shaved it off with a shark's tooth, or removed it with the edges of two shells, acting like the blades of a pair of scissors, by cutting against each other; while others allowed the beard to grow, sometimes twisting and braiding it together. These fashions, however, have all disappeared, and the beard is generally at least shaved once a week, and by the chiefs more frequently. These cut their whiskers rather singularly sometimes, and leave a narrow strip of their beard on the upper lip, resembling mustachios: the greater part, however, remove the beard altogether, which must often be no easy task. There are no barbers by profession, yet every man is not his own barber, but contrives to shave his neighbour, and is in return shaved by him. Some of the most ludicrous scenes ever exhibited in the islands occur while they are thus employed. Only a few of the chiefs are so far advanced in civilization as to use soap; the farmers cannot understand how it can help to remove the beard, they therefore dispense with it altogether. page 134 When the edge of the razor or knife is adjusted, the person to undergo the operation, in order to be quite stationary, lies flat on his back on the ground, sometimes in his house, at other times under the shade of a tree, and his friend kneels down over him, and commences his labour. When he has finished, he lays himself down, and the man who is shaved gets up, and performs the same office for his friend. Sometimes the razor becomes rather dull, and something more than a little additional strength is necessary. A whetstone is then applied to the edge; but if this be not at hand, the man gets up half shaved, and both go together to the nearest grindstone; and I have beheld that the transition from the grindstone to the chin is sometimes direct, without any intermediate application to the edge of the razor. The hone and the strap, however, have been introduced, and ere long will probably supersede the use of the grindstone, and also of the whetstone.
The islanders appear to have paid at all times great attention, not only to cleanliness, but to personal ornaments. On public occasions, their appearance was in a high degree imposing. At their dances, and other places of amusement or festivity, they wore a profusion of ornament, and on ordinary occasions, with the exception of the aged and decrepit, devoted much time to the improvement of their appearance. The hair of the females, which was neatly dressed, and sometimes appeared in short loose curls, was an object of great attention; the eye-brows were also reduced, or shaped according to their ideas of beauty. The hair was ornamented with elegant native flowers, sometimes exhibited in great profusion and variety, at others with only one or two page 135 single jessamine blossoms, or a small wreath interwoven with their black and shining ringlets. They displayed great taste in the use of flowers, and the adorning of their hair. Frequently I have seen them with beautiful wreaths of yellow flowers, worn like fragrant necklaces on their bosoms, and garlands of the same around their brows, or small bunches of the brilliant scarlet hibiscus rosæ chinensis fastened in their hair. Though totally unacquainted with what we are accustomed to call artificial flowers, yet the brilliant and varied odoriferous plants, that grew spontaneously among their mountains or their valleys, did not suffice to gratify their wishes; they were therefore accustomed to manufacture a kind of artificial flowers, by extracting the petals and leaflets of the most fragrant plants and flowers, and fastening them with fine native thread, to the wiry stalk of the cocoanut leaf, which they saturated with monoi, or scented oil, and wore in each ear, or fixed in the native bonnet, made with the rich yellow cocoanut leaf. The men, though unaccustomed to adorn their hair with flowers, were careful of preserving and dressing it. They generally wore it long, and often fastened in a graceful braid on the crown, or on each side of the head, and spent not a small portion of their time in washing and perfuming it with scented oil, combing and adjusting it. When it was short, they sometimes dressed it with the gum of the bread-fruit tree, which gave it a shining appearance, and fixed it as straight as if it had been stiffened with rosin. The open air was the general dressing-place of both sexes; an a group of females might often be seen sitting under the shade of a clump of wide-spreading trees, or in the cool mountain-stream, employing page 136 themselves for hours together in arranging the curls of the hair, weaving the wreaths of flowers, and filling the air with their perfumes. Their comb was a rude invention of their own, formed by fixing together thin strips of the bamboo-cane. So important was the arrangement and adorning of the hair formerly considered, that there was a god of hair-dressers or combers, called To-toropotaa, whose aid was invoked at the toilet. Their mirror was one supplied by nature, and consisted in the clear water of the stream, contained in a cocoa-nut shell.
The attention of the people to personal decoration rendered looking-glasses valuable articles of trade in their early intercourse with foreigners; and although the habit has very much declined, and their taste with regard to ornament, &c. is materially changed, looking-glasses are still, with many, desirable articles. Those, however, who have furnished them, have often made a mistake in sending, on account of their cheapness, an inferior kind, which, in consequence of a defect in the glass, exhibits the face in a distorted and ludicrous shape. Nothing will more offend a Tahitian than to ask him to look in one of these glasses. They call them hio maamaa, foolish glasses, and, instead of purchasing them, would sometimes hardly be induced to accept them as presents.
Since the introduction of Christianity, the use of flowers in the hair, and fragrant oil, has been in a great degree discontinued—partly from the connexion of those ornaments with the evil practices to which they were formerly addicted, and partly from the introduction of European caps and bonnets, the latter being now universally worn.page 137
Like the semi-civilized inhabitants of most tropical countries, they are strongly inclined to indolence, which is probably increased, not only by the warmth of the climate, but by the abundance in which the fruits of the earth are spontaneously produced, and the facility with which the means of subsistence may be procured. For an uncivilized people, however, though there were no established trades, or regular divisions of labour, they may be considered as industrious, and their occupations, though few, considerably varied. The principal were agriculture, fishing, building, cloth-making, and cooking. Agriculture among them was but in its infancy; their implements were few and simple. The chief, and almost only implement used, was the ô, a stick sharpened at the point, and used in loosening and turning up the earth. Formerly they hardened the end with which they penetrated the soil, by charring it in the fire. An implement of this kind is still their greatest favourite. No ploughs or harrows have yet been introduced, for the want of oxen or horses. They are not very fond of English spades, hoes, &c. The spade, they say, takes up too much earth at once, and, besides the stooping required, is a heavier load than they like to lift repeatedly. The tool most frequently employed, is a long stick with a narrow sharp piece of iron, like a broad chisel, at the end; and, as much of the ground is stony, in such places it is found very convenient. The rudeness of the tool increases the labour of the person using it, while his singular position must render it exceedingly fatiguing. No use is made of the foot in thrusting the spade into the soil, but the person digging assumes a crouching attitude, pierces the ground, and breaks up the page 138 earth by the strength of the hands and arms. The making and repairing fences also occupies much of the time of those engaged in the cultivation of the soil. According to one of their legends, Matabu-fenua was the god of agriculturists.
The peculiar situation of the islanders, and their amphibious habits, lead them to seek a great part of their subsistence from the ocean that surrounds them. Many are fishermen by profession.
Their methods of fishing are numerous, some of them rude, others remarkably ingenious. In the shallow parts of their lakes they erect enclosures of stones for taking a number of small and middling-sized fish. This enclosure they call a aua ia, a fish fence.
A circular space, nine or twelve feet in diameter, is enclosed with a stone wall, built up from the bottom of the lake, to the edge of the water. An opening, four or six inches deep, and a foot or two wide, is left in the upper part of the wall. From each side of this opening, a wall of stone is raised to the edge of the water, extending fifty or a hundred yards, and diverging from the aperture, so that the wall leaves a space of water within, of the shape of a wedge, the point of which terminates in the circular enclosure. These walls diverge in a direction from the sea, so that the fish which enter the lake are intercepted only in their return. They are so numerous through the whole extent of the shallow parts of the lake, that it seems scarcely possible for a fish to escape. These enclosures are valuable; fish are usually found in them every morning, which furnish a means of subsistence to the proprietors, who have no other trouble than simply to take them out with a hand-net. They page 139 are also excellent preserves, in which fish may be kept securely till wanted for use. Each enclosure has its distinct owner, whose right to the fish enclosed is always respected. Most of the fish from the lake are taken this way. The net and the spear are occasionally employed, but here the line is rarely used.
They have a singular mode of taking a remarkably timorous fish, which is called au or needle, on account of its long sharp head. The fishermen build a number of rafts, which they call motoi; each raft is about fifteen or twenty feet long, and six or eight wide, and it is made with the light branches of the hibiscus or purau. At one edge a kind of fence or skreen is raised four or five feet, by fixing the poles horizontally, one above the other, and fastening them to upright sticks, placed at short distances along the raft. Twenty or thirty of these rafts are often employed at the same time. The men on the raft go out at a distance from each other, enclosing a large space of water, having the raised part or frame on the outside. They gradually approach each other till the rafts join, and form a connected circle in some shallow part of the lake. One or two persons then go in a small canoe towards the centre of the enclosed space, with long white sticks, which they strike in the water with a great noise, and by this means drive the fish towards the rafts. On approaching these, the fish dart out of the water, and in attempting to spring over the raft, strike against the raised fence on the outer side, and fall on the surface of the horizontal part, when they are gathered into baskets, or canoes, on the outside. In this manner, great numbers of these and other kinds of fish, that are accustomed to spring out of page 140 the water when alarmed or pursued, are taken with facility.
Among the reefs, and near the shore, many fish are seized by preparing an intoxicating mixture from the nuts of the hutu, betonica splendida, or the hora, another native plant. When the water is impregnated with these preparations, the fish come from their retreats in great numbers, float on the surface, and are easily caught.
The favour of the gods was formerly considered essential to success in fishing. The gods of fishermen were numerous, though Tamai or Tahaura and Teraimateti were the principal. Matatine, or Autâ, was the deity of those who manufactured nets.
Fishing nets were various; all were remarkably well made, and carefully preserved. Their light casting-nets were used with great dexterity, generally as they walked along the beach. When a shoal of small fish appeared, they would throw the net with the right-hand, and enclose sometimes the greater part of them. The nets used in taking operu, or herrings, were exceedingly large, and generally made of the twisted bark of the hibiscus. Several nets were used at the same time, the meshes of the outside net being very large, and those within smaller, for the purpose of detaining the fish. This kind of fish visit the coasts in shoals at one or two seasons of the year only, and as they do not design their nets to last longer than one season, they are not very carefully prepared.
Upea is the common name for net. The upea ava, or salmon net, is the most important, and is seldom possessed by any but the principal chiefs; it is sometimes forty fathoms long, and twelve or more feet deep. One of this kind was made by Hautia, the governor of Huahine, soon after our page 141 arrival. Although the former pagan ceremonies, and offerings at the marae, were discontinued, some of the ancient usages were observed, one of which appeared rather singular. As is customary on all occasions of public work, the proprietor of the net required the other chiefs to assist in its preparation. Before he began, two large pigs were killed and baked. When taken from the oven, they were cut up, and the governor's messenger sent with a piece to every chief; on delivery, the quantity was stated which each was desired to prepare towards the projected net. If the piece of pig was received, it was considered as an agreement to furnish it; but to return it, was, in effect, to refuse compliance with the requisition. At this time, however, no one returned the tarahu, or price, but all agreed to furnish one or two fathoms of the net. When any other chief wanted a net, he took the same course.
The cord was about a quarter of an inch in diameter, and made with the tough white bark of the mate, ficus prolixa, which, next to the romaha, or flax, is considered more durable than any other indigenous vegetable substance. The cord was twisted with the hand across the knee, in two or three strands or threads, and was even and firm. The meshes were about four inches square.
The servants of the chief furnished their quantity of netting, and the needle with which they wrought was not unlike that used by European workmen. As the other parties brought in their portions, the chief and his men joined them together. On entering the house of Hautia, I have found him in a profuse perspiration, toiling in the midst of his men at the manufacture of the net.
The floats were made with short pieces of dry, page 142 light, buoyant hibiscus; and the bottom was hung with stones, generally circular and smooth, about three inches in diameter. These were not perforated, but enveloped in pieces of the matted fibre of the cocoa-nut husk, tied together at the ends, and attached to the lower border of the net.
The first wetting of a new net was formerly attended with a number of prayers, offerings, &c. at the temple, and on the beach. I recollect, at Afareaitu, when they were going to take out, for the first time, a large salmon-net, and had put it upon the canoe, the whole party, including the fishermen and chiefs of the district, kneeled down upon a pebbly beach, and offered a prayer to the true God, that they might be successful. This was about day-break; and as the sun rose above the waves, I saw them rowing cheerfully out to sea. Though these nets were called upea ava, salmonnets, a variety of large fish was taken in them; a shark was not unfrequently enclosed, which sometimes made great havock among the fishermen, before they could transfix him with their spears.
This kind of fishing was followed not only as a means of procuring food, but as an amusement. The chiefs were exceedingly fond of it, and often strove to excel. Hautia was celebrated for his skill and strength in taking some kinds of fish. Their country was little adapted for hunting, and the only quadrupeds they ever pursued were the wild hogs in the mountains; but the smoothness and transparency of the sea within the reefs, was favourable to aquatic sports; and a chief and his men, furnished with their spears, &c. often set out on their fishing excursions with an exhilaration of spirits equal to that with which a European nobleman pursues the adventures of the chase. page 143 The more daring of the young chiefs were generally among the foremost in pursuing the shark, or other dauntless fish; while others, more advanced in years, remained in their canoes at a distance, gratified to behold the sport, and share in some degree the excitement it produced. When the tautai or fishing party returned, the nets were hung up on the branches of trees near the shore, as they appear in the view of Fa-re harbour. Besides the herring, hand, and salmon nets, they had a number of others, adapted to particular places, or kinds of fish.
Next to the net, the spear was most frequently used. It was variously formed, according to the purpose for which it was designed. Since their intercourse with foreigners, the best spears have been made with iron, barbed only on one side. Two or three small spear-heads were occasionally fastened to a single handle. Another kind of spear, in frequent use, was entirely of wood. Nine, ten, or twelve pointed pieces of hard wood, six or eight inches long, were fastened to a handle, from six to eight feet in length. When using this, they generally waded into the sea as high as the waist, and, standing near an opening between the rocks of coral, or near the shore, and watching the passage of the fish, darted the spear, sometimes with one hand, but more frequently with both, and often struck them with great precision.
Their aim with this spear, however, is much less certain than with one headed with iron; which some throw with great dexterity, though others are exceedingly awkward. When fishing on the reefs, they often wear a kind of sandal, made of closely netted cords of the bark of the native auti, or cloth-plant. This was designed to preserve their page 144 feet from the edges of the shells, the spikes of the echinus, &c. They use the angle or the spear in fishing at the edge of the reef, when the surf is low. I have often, when passing across the bay, stopped to gaze on a group of fishermen standing on a coral reef, or rock, amidst the roar of the billows and the dashing surf and foam, that broke in magnificent splendour around them. With unwavering glance, they have stood, with a little basket in one hand, and a pointed spear in the other, striking with unerring aim such fish as the violence of the wave might force within their reach.
They have a curious contrivance for taking several kinds of ray and cuttle-fish, which resort to the holes of the coral rocks, and protrude their arms or feet for the bait, but remain themselves firm within the retreat. The instrument employed consists of a straight piece of hard wood, a foot long, round and polished, and not half an inch in diameter. Near one end of this, a number of the most beautiful pieces of the cowrie or tiger-shell are fastened one over another, like the scales of a fish or the plates of a piece of armour, until it is about the size of a turkey's egg, and resembles the cowrie. It is suspended in an horizontal position, by a strong line, and lowered by the fisherman from a small canoe, until it nearly reaches the bottom. The fisherman then gently jerks the line, causing the shell to move as if inhabited by a fish. This jerking motion is called tootoofe the name of the singular contrivance.
The cuttle-fish, attracted, it is supposed, by the appearance of the cowrie, (for no bait is used,) darts out one of its arms or rays, which it winds round the shell, and fastens among the openings page 145 between the plates. The fisherman continues jerking the line, and the fish puts forth another and another arm or ray, till it has quite fastened itself to the shells, when it is drawn up into the canoe, and secured.
They use the hook and line both in the smooth water within the reef, and in the open sea; and in different modes display great skill. In this department they seldom have any bait, excepting a small kind of oobu, a black fresh-water fish, which they employ when catching albicores and bonitos. Their hooks usually answer the double purpose of hook and bait. Their lines are made with the tough elastic romaha, or flax, twisted by the hand.
In no part of the world, perhaps, are the inhabitants better fishermen; and, considering their former entire destitution of iron, their variety of fishing apparatus is astonishing. Their hooks were of every form and size, and made of wood, shell, or bone, frequently human bone. This was considered the most offensive use to which the bones of an enemy could be applied: and one of the most sanguinary modern wars in Tahiti originated in a declaration made by a fisherman of one party, that he had a hook made with the bone of a rival chief who had been slain in a former war.
The hooks made with wood were curious; some were exceedingly small, not more than two or three inches in length, but remarkably strong; others were large. The wooden hooks were never barbed, but simply pointed, usually curved inwards at the point, but sometimes standing out very wide, occasionally armed at the point with a piece of bone. The best were hooks ingeniously made with the small roots of the aito tree, casuarina, or page 146 iron wood. In selecting a root for this purpose, they chose one partially exposed, and growing by the side of a bank, preferring such as were free from knots and other excrescences. The root was twisted into the shape they wished the future hook to assume, and allowed to grow till it had reached a size large enough to allow of the outside or soft parts being removed, and a sufficiency remaining to make the hook. Some hooks thus prepared are not much thicker than a quill, and perhaps three or four inches in length. Those used in taking sharks are formidable looking weapons; I have seen some a foot or fifteen inches long, exclusive of the curvatures, and not less than an inch in diameter. They are such frightful things that no fish, less voracious than a shark, would approach them. In some, the marks of the shark's teeth are numerous and deep, and indicate the effect with which they have been used. I do not think the Tahitians take as many sharks as the Sandwich Islanders do: they, however, seldom spare them when they come in their way; and though sharks are not eaten now, the natives formerly feasted on them with great zest.
The shell, or shell and bone hooks, were curious and useful, and always answered the purpose of hook and bait; the small ones are made almost circular, and bent so as to resemble a worm, but the most common kind is the aviti, used in catching dolphins, albicores, and bonitos; the shank of the hook is made with a piece of the mother-of-pearl shell, five or six inches long, and three-quarters of an inch wide, carefully cut, and finely polished, so as to resemble the body of a fish. On the concave side, a barb is fastened by a firm bandage of finely twisted romaha, or flax; the page 147 barb is usually an inch and a half in length, and is of shell or bone. To the lower part of this, the end of the line is securely fastened, and being braided along the inner or concave side of the shell, is again attached to the upper end. Great care is taken in the manufacture of these pearl-shell hooks, and they are considered much better than any made in Europe.
The line is fastened to the hook in a curious manner, and, when taken to sea, is attached to a strong bamboo-cane, about twelve or fifteen feet long; light single canoes are preferred for catching dolphins, bonitos, or albicores. Two or three persons usually proceed to sea, and when they perceive a shoal of these fish, those who angle sit in the stern of the canoe, and hold the rod at such an elevation, as to allow the hook to touch the edge of the water, but not to sink. When the fish approach it, the rowers ply their paddles briskly, and the light bark moves rapidly along, while the fisherman keeps the hook near the surface of the water. The deception of the hook is increased by a number of hairs or bristles being attached to the end of the shell, so as to resemble the tail of a flying-fish. The bonito, &c. darting after, and grasping its prey, is itself secured. During the season, two men will sometimes take twenty or thirty large fish in this way in the course of the forenoon.
The most ingenious method, however, of taking these large fish is by means of what is termed a tira, or mast. A pair of ordinary sized canoes is usually selected for this purpose, and the lighter and swifter, the more suitable are they esteemed. Between the fore-part of the canoes, a broad deep oblong kind of basket is constructed, with the page 148 stalks of a strong kind of fern, interwoven with the tough fibres of the ieie, this is to contain the fish which may be taken, and thus secure them, without impeding the operations of the fishermen or rowers. To the fore-part of the canoes a long curved pole is fastened, branching in opposite directions at the outer end; the foot of this rests in a kind of socket, fixed between the two canoes.
From each of the projecting branches, lines with pearl-shell hooks are suspended, so adjusted as to be kept near the surface of the water. To that part of the pole which is divided into two branches, strong ropes are attached; these extend to the stern of the canoe, where they are held by persons watching the seizure of the hook. The tira, or mast, projects a considerable distance beyond the stem of the canoe, and bunches of feathers are fastened to its extremities. This is done to resemble the aquatic birds which follow the course of the small fish, and often pounce down and divide the prey which the large ones pursue. As it is supposed that the bonitos follow the course of page 149 the birds, as much as that of the fishes, when the fishermen perceive the birds, they proceed to the place, and usually find the fish. The undulation of the waves occasions the canoe to rise and sink as they proceed, and this produces a corresponding motion in the hook suspended from the mast; and so complete is the deception, that if the fish once perceives the pearl-shell hook, it seldom fails to dart after it; and if it misses the first time, is almost sure to be caught the second. As soon as the fish is fast, the men in the canoe, by drawing the cord, hoist up the tira, and drag in the fish, suspended as it were from a kind of crane. When the fish is removed, the crane is lowered; and as it projects over the stem of the canoe, the rowers hasten after the shoal with all possible celerity.
During the rainy season, or on the occurrence of a flood, when the rivers are swollen and rapid, discolouring the water of the sea to a great extent, a number of large fish approach the mouths of the rivers, for the purpose of preying on the eels and other fresh-water fish carried down in the torrent; at such seasons the fishermen are on the alert, and usually return from the sea richly laden
These, and a variety of other methods of fishing, are pursued by day-light; but many fish are taken by night: sometimes the fishery is carried on by moon-light, occasionally in the dark, but fishing by torch-light is the most picturesque. The torches are bunches of dried reeds firmly tied together. Sometimes they pursue their nocturnal sport on the reef, and hunt the totara, or hedge-hog fish. Large parties often go out to the reef; and it is a beautiful sight to behold a long line of rocks illuminated by the flaring torches. These the fishermen hold in one hand, and stand with the poised page 150 spear in the other, ready to strike as soon as the fish appears.
In the rivers they also fish by torch-light, especially for eels; and though the circumstances are varied, the impression is not inferior. Few scenes present a more striking and singular effect than a band of natives walking along the shallow parts of the rocky sides of a river, elevating a torch with one hand, and a spear in the other; while the glare of their torches is thrown upon the overhanging boughs, and reflected from the agitated surface of the stream. Their own bronze-coloured and lightly clothed forms, partially illuminated, standing like figures in relief; while the whole scene appears in bright contrast with the dark and almost midnight gloom that envelops every other object.
Since their intercourse with Europeans, English-made steel hooks have been introduced. They like their sharpness at the point, but usually complain of them as too open or wide. For some kinds of fish they are preferred, but for most they find the mother-of-pearl hooks answer best. Every fisherman, I believe, would rather have a wrought-iron nail three or four inches long, or a piece of iron-wire of the size, and make a hook according to his own mind, than have the best European-made hook that could be given to him. Most of the nails which they formerly procured from the shipping were used for this purpose, and highly prized.
Their ideas of the nature of these valuable articles were very singular. Perceiving, in their shape and colour, a resemblance to the young shoots or scions that grow from the roots of the bread-fruit trees, they imagined that they were a hard kind of plant, and procured in the same way. page 151 Anxious to secure a more abundant supply, they divided the first parcel of nails ever received, carried part to the temple, and deposited them on the altar; the rest they actually planted in their gardens, and awaited their growth with the highest anticipation. In the manufacture of hooks from nails, they manifested great patience and persevering labour: they had no files, but sharpened the points, and rounded the angles, by rubbing the nail on a stone; they also used a stone in bending it to the required shape. The use of files, however, has greatly facilitated their manufacture of fishhooks.
In connexion with this subject, a striking instance of native simplicity and honesty occurred about the time of our arrival. Two Christian chiefs, Tati and Ahuriro, were walking together by the water-side, when they came to a place where a fisherman had been employed in making or sharpening hooks, and had left a large file, (a valuable article in Tahiti,) lying on the ground. The chiefs picked it up; and, as they were proceeding, one said to the other, “This is not ours. Is not our taking it a species of theft?” “Perhaps it is,” replied the other. “Yet, as the true owner is not here, I do not know who has a greater right to it than ourselves.” “It is not ours,” said the former, “and we had better give it away.” After further conversation, they agreed to give it to the first person they met, which they did; telling him they had found it, and requested that if he heard who had lost such a one, he would restore it.
The isolated situation of the islanders, and their dependence upon the sea for much of their subsistence, necessarily impart a maritime character to their habits, and render the building, fitting, and page 152 managing of the vessels one of the most general and important of their avocations. It also procures no small respect and endowment for the Tahua tarai vaa, builder of canoes. Vaa waa, or vaka, is the name of a canoe, in most of the islands of the Pacific; though by foreigners they are uniformly called canoes, a name first given to this sort of boat by the natives of the Caribbean Islands,∗ and adopted by Europeans ever since, to designate the rude boats used by the uncivilized natives in every part of the world.
∗After his first interview with the natives of the newly discovered islands, in the Caribbean sea, we are informed by Robertson, that Columbus returned to his ship, accompanied by many of the islanders in their boats, which they called canoes; and though rudely formed out of the trunk of a single tree, they rowed them with surprising dexterity.
The canoes of the Society Islanders are various, both in size and shape, and are double or single. Those belonging to the principal chiefs, and the public district canoes, were fifty, sixty, or nearly seventy feet long, and each about two feet wide, and three or four feet deep; the sterns remarkably high, sometimes fifteen or eighteen feet above the water, and frequently ornamented with rudely carved hollow cylinders, square pieces, or grotesque figures, called tiis. The rank or dignity of a chief was supposed, in some degree, to be indicated by the size of his canoe, the carving and ornaments with which it was embellished, and the number of its rowers.
Next in size to these was the pahi, or war canoe. I never saw but one of these: the stern was low, and covered, so as to afford a shelter from the stones and darts of the assailants; the bottom was round, the upper part of the sides narrower, page 153 and perpendicular; a rude imitation of the human head, or some other grotesque figure, was carved on the stern of each canoe. The stem, often elevated and curved like the neck of a swan, terminated in the carved figure of a bird's head, and the whole was more solid and compact than the other vessels. In some of their canoes, and in the pahi among the rest, a rude sort of grating, made with the light but tough wood of the bread-fruit tree, covered the hull of the vessels, the intervening space between them, and projected a foot or eighteen inches over the outer edges. On this the rowers usually sat; and here the mariners, who attended to the sails, took their stations, and found it much more convenient and secure than standing on the narrow edges of the canoes, or the curved and circular beams that held them together. There was also a kind of platform in the front, or generally near the centre, on which the fighting men were stationed: these canoes were sometimes sixty feet long, between three and four page 154 feet deep, and, with their platforms in front or in the centre, were capable of holding fifty fighting men.∗ The vaatii, or sacred canoe, was always strong and large, more highly ornamented with carving and feathers than any of the others. Small houses were erected in each, and the image of the god, sometimes in the shape of a large bird, at other times resembling a hollow cylinder, ornamented with various coloured feathers, was kept in these houses. Here their prayers were preferred, and their sacrifices offered.
∗In Cook's voyages a description is given of some, one hundred and eight feet long.
Their war canoes were strong, well-built, and highly ornamented. They formerly possessed large and magnificent fleets of these, and other large canoes; and, at their general public meetings, or festivals, no small portion of the entertainment was derived from the regattas, or naval reviews, in which the whole fleet, ornamented with carved images, and decorated with flags and streamers, of various native-coloured cloth, went through their different tactics with great precision. On these occasions the crews by which they were navigated, anxious to gain the plaudits of the king and chiefs, emulated each other in the exhibition of their seamanship. The vaati, or sacred canoes, formed part of every fleet, and were generally the most imposing in appearance, and attractive in their decorations.
The peculiar and almost classical shape of the large Tahitian canoes, the elevated prow and stern, the rude figures, carving, and other ornaments, the loose-flowing drapery of the natives on board, and the maritime aspect of their general places of abode, are all adapted to produce a singular effect page 155 on the mind of the beholder. I have often thought, when I have seen a fleet of thirty or forty approaching the shore, that they exhibited no faint representation of the ships in which the Argonauts sailed, or the vessels that conveyed the heroes of Homer to the Trojan shores.
Every large canoe had a distinct name, always arbitrary, but frequently descriptive of some real or imaginary excellence in the canoe, or in memory of some event connected with it. Neither the names of any of their gods, or chiefs, were ever given to their vessels; such an act, instead of being considered an honour, would have been deemed the greatest insult that could have been offered. The names of canoes, in some instances, appear to have been perpetuated, as the king's state canoe was always called Anuanua, or the rainbow. The most general and useful kind of canoe is the tipairua, or common double canoe, usually from twenty to thirty feet long, strong and capacious, with a projection from the stem, and a low shield-shaped stern. These are very valuable, and usually form the mode of conveyance for every chief of respectability or influence, in the island. They are also used to transport provisions, or other goods, from one place to another.
One of these, in which we voyaged to Afareaitu soon after our arrival, was between thirty and forty feet in length, strong, and, as a piece of native workmanship, well built. The keel was formed with a number of pieces of tough tamanu wood, inophyllum callophyllum, twelve or sixteen inches broad, and two inches thick, hollowed on the inside, and rounded without, so as to form a convex angle along the bottom of the canoe; these were fastened together by lacings of tough elastic page 156 cord, made with the fibres of the cocoa-nut husk. On the front end of the keel, a solid piece, cut out of the trunk of a tree, so contrived as to constitute the forepart of the canoe; was fixed with the same lashing; and on the upper part of it, a thick board or plank projected horizontally, in a line parallel with the surface of the water. This front piece, usually five or six feet long, and twelve or eighteen inches wide, was called the ihu vaa, nose of the canoe, and without any joining, comprised the stem, bows, and bowsprit of the vessel.
The sides of the canoe were composed of two lines of short plank, an inch and a half or two inches thick. The lowest line was convex on the outside, and nine or twelve inches broad; the upper one straight. The stern was considerably elevated, the keel was inclined upwards, and the lower part of the stern was pointed, while the upper part was flat, and nine or ten feet above the level of the sides. The whole was fastened together with cinet, not continued along the seams, but by two, or, at most, three holes made in each board, within an inch of each other, and corresponding holes made in the opposite piece, and the lacing passed through from one to the other. A space of nine inches or a foot was left, and then a similar set of holes made. The joints or seams were not grooved together, but the edge of one simply laid on that of the other, and fitted with remarkable exactness by the adze of the workman, guided only by his eye: they never used line or rule. The edges of their planks were usually covered with a kind of pitch or gum from the bread-fruit tree, and a thin layer of cocoa-nut husk spread between them. The husk of the cocoa-nut swelling when in contact with water, page 157 fills any apertures that may exist, and, considering the manner in which they are put together, the canoes are often remarkably dry. The two canoes were fastened together by strong curved pieces of wood, placed horizontally across the upper edges of the canoes, to which they were fixed by strong lashings of thick coiar cordage.
The space between the two bowsprits, or broad planks projecting from the front of our canoe, was covered with boards, and furnished a platform of considerable extent; over this a kind of temporary awning of platted cocoa-nut leaves was spread, and under it the passengers sat during the voyage. The upper part of each of the canoes was not above twelve or fifteen inches wide; little projections were formed on the inner part of the sides, on which small moveable thwarts or seats were fixed, whereon the men sat who wrought with the paddle, while the luggage was placed in the bottom, piled up against the stern, or laid on the elevated stage between the two canoes. The heat of the sun was extreme, and the awning afforded a grateful shade.page 158
The rowers appeared to labour hard. Their paddles, being made of the tough wood of the hibiscus, were not heavy; yet, having no pins in the sides of the canoe, against which the handles of the paddles could bear, but leaning the whole body over the canoe, first on one side, and then on the other, and working the paddle with one hand near the blade, and the other at the upper end of the handle, and shovelling as it were the water, appeared a great waste of strength. They often, however, paddle for a time with remarkable swiftness, keeping time with the greatest regularity. The steersman stands or sits in the stern, with a large paddle; the rowers sit in each canoe two or three feet apart; the leader sits next; the steersman gives the signal to start, by striking his paddle violently against the side of the canoe; every paddle is then put in and taken out of the water with every stroke at the same moment; and after they have thus continued on one side for five or six minutes, the leader strikes his paddle, and the rowers instantly and simultaneously turn to the other side, and thus alternately working on each side of the canoe, they advance at a considerable rate. There is generally a good deal of striking the paddle when a chief leaves or approaches the shore, and the effect resembles that of the smacking of the whip, or sounding of the horn, at the starting or arrival of a coach.
They have also a remarkably neat double canoe, called Maihi, or twins, each of which is made out of a single tree, and are both exactly alike. The stem and stern are usually sharp; although, occasionally, there is a small board projecting from each stem. These are light, safe, and swift, easily managed, and seldom used but by the chiefs. The page 159 late king Pomare was fond of this kind of conveyance.
The single canoes are built in the same manner, and with the same materials, as the double ones. Their usual name is tipaihoe, and they are more various in their kind than the others. The small buhoe, the literal name of which is single shell, is generally a trunk of a tree, seldom more than twenty feet in length, rounded on the outside, and hollow within; sometimes sharp at both ends, though generally only at the stem. It is used by fishermen among the reefs, and also along the shore, and in shallow water, seldom carrying more than two persons. The single maihi is only a neater kind of buhoe.