Cockfighting—Aquatic sports—Swimming in the surf—Danger from sharks—Juvenile amusements—Account of the Areois, the institution peculiar to the inhabitants of the Pacific—Antiquity of the Areoi society—Tradition of its origin—Account of its founders—Infanticide enjoined with its establishment—General character of the Areois—Their voyages—Public dances—Buildings for their accommodation—Marine exhibitions—Oppression and injury occasioned by their visits—Distinction of rank among them—Estimation in which they are held—Mode of admission—Ceremonies attending advancement to the higher orders—Demoralizing nature of their usages—Singular rites at their death and interment—Description of Rohutunoanoa, the Areois heaven—Reflections on the baneful tendency of the Areoi society, and its dissolution.
The most ancient, but certainly not the most innocent game among the Tahitians, was the faatitoraumoa, literally, the causing fighting among fowls, or cock-fighting. The traditions of the people state, that fowls have existed in the islands as long as the people, that they came with the first colonists by whom the islands were peopled, or that they were made by Taaroa at the same time that men were made. The traditions and songs of the islanders, connected with their amusements, are as ancient as any in existence among them. The Tahitians do not appear to have staked any property, or laid any bets, on their favourite birds, but to have trained and fought them for the sake of the page 222 gratification they derived from beholding them destroy each other. Long before the first foreign vessel was seen off their shores, they were accustomed to train and to fight their birds. The fowls designed for fighting were fed with great care; a finely carved fatapua, or stand, was made as a perch for the birds. This was planted in the house, and the bird fastened to it by a piece of cinet, braided flat that it might not injure the leg. No other substance would have been secure against the attacks of his beak. Their food was chiefly poe, or bruised bread-fruit, rolled up in the hand like paste, and given in small pieces. The fowl was taught to open his mouth to receive his food and his water, which was poured from his master's hand. It was also customary to sprinkle water over these birds to refresh them.
The natives were universally addicted to this sport. The inhabitants of one district often matched their birds against those of another, or those of one division of a district against those of another. They do not appear to have entertained any predilection for particular colour in the fowls, but seem to have esteemed all alike. They never trimmed any of the feathers, but were proud to see them with heavy wings, full-feathered necks, and long tails. They also accustomed them to fight without artificial spurs, or other means of injury. In order that the birds might be as fresh as possible, they fought them early in the morning, soon after day-break, while the air was cool, and before they became languid from heat. More than two were seldom engaged at once, and so soon as one bird avoided the other, he was considered as vi, or beaten. Victory was declared in favour of his opponent, and they were immediately page 223 parted. This amusement was sometimes continued for several days successively, and, as well as the other recreations, was patronized by their idols. Ruaifaatoa, the god of cockfighters, appears among the earliest of their inferior divinities.
Like the inhabitants of most of the islands of the Pacific, the Tahitians are fond of the water, and lose all dread of it before they are old enough to know the danger to which we should consider them exposed. They are among the best divers in the world, and spend much of their time in the sea, not only when engaged in acts of labour, but when following their amusements. One of their favourite sports is the horue or faahee, swimming in the surf, when the waves are high, and the billows break in foam and spray among the reefs. Individuals of all ranks and ages, and both sexes, follow this pastime with the greatest avidity. They usually selected the openings in the reefs, or entrances of some of the bays, for their sport; where the long heavy billows of the ocean rolled in unbroken majesty upon the reef or the shore. They used a small board, which they called papa fahee—swam from the beach to a considerable distance, sometimes nearly a mile, watched the swell of the wave, and when it reached them, resting their bosom on the short flat pointed board, they mounted on its summit, and, amid the foam and spray, rode on the crest of the wave to the shore: sometimes they halted among the coral rocks, over which the waves broke in splendid confusion. When they approached the shore, they slid off the board which they grasped with the hand, and either fell behind the wave, or plunged toward the deep, and allowed it to pass over their heads. Sometimes they were thrown with violence page 224 upon the beach, or among the rocks on the edges of the reef. So much at home, however, do they feel in the water, that it is seldom any accident occurs.
I have often seen, along the border of the reef forming the boundary line to the harbour of Fa-re, in Huahine, from fifty to a hundred persons, of all ages, sporting like so many porpoises in the surf, sometimes mounted on the top of the wave, and almost enveloped in spray; at other times plunging beneath the mass of water that has swept in mountains over them, cheering and animating each other; and, by the noise and shouting they made, rendering the roaring of the sea, and the dashing of the surf, comparatively imperceptible. Their surf-boards are inferior to those of the Sandwich Islanders, and I do not think swimming in the sea as an amusement, whatever it might have been formerly, is now practised so much by the natives in the south, as by those in the north Pacific. Both were exposed in this sport to one common cause of interruption; and this was, the intrusion of the shark. The cry of a mao among the former, and a manò among the latter, is one of the most terrific they ever hear; and I am not surprised that such should be the effect of the approach of one of these voracious monsters. The great shouting and clamour which they make, is principally designed to frighten away such as may approach. Notwithstanding this, they are often disturbed and sometimes meet their death from these formidable enemies.
A most affecting instance of this kind occurred very recently in the Sandwich Islands, of which the following account is given by Mr. Richards, and published in the American Missionary Herald:page 225
“At nine o'clock in the morning of June 14th, 1826, while sitting at my writing-desk, I heard a simultaneous scream from multitudes of people, Pau i ka mano! Pau i ka mano! “Destroyed by the shark! Destroyed by the shark!” The beach was instantly lined by hundreds of persons, and a few of the most resolute threw a large canoe into the water, and, alike regardless of the shark and the high rolling surf, sprang to the relief of their companion. It was too late. The shark had already seized his prey. The affecting sight was only a few yards from my door, and while I stood watching, a large wave almost filled the canoe, and at the same instant a part of the mangled body was seen at the bow of the canoe, and the shark swimming towards it at her stern. When the swell had rolled by, the water was too shallow for the shark to swim. The remains, therefore, were taken into the canoe, and brought ashore. The water was so much stained by the blood, that we discovered a red tinge in all the foaming billows, as they approached the beach.
“The unhappy sufferer was an active lad about fourteen years old, who left my door only about half an hour previous to the fatal accident. I saw his mother, in the extremity of her anguish, plunge into the water, and swim towards the bloody spot, entirely forgetful of the power of her former god.
“A number of people, perhaps a hundred, were at this time playing in the surf, which was higher than usual. Those who were nearest to the victim heard him shriek, perceived him to strike with his right hand, and at the same instant saw a shark seize his arm. Then followed the cry which I heard, which echoed from one end of Lahaina to page 226 the other. All who were playing in the water made the utmost speed to the shore, and those who were standing on the beach saw the surf-board of the unhappy sufferer floating on the water, without any one to guide it. When the canoe reached the spot, they saw nothing but the blood with which the water was stained for a considerable distance, and by which they traced the remains, whither they had been carried by the shark, or driven by the swell. The body was cut in two by the shark, just above the hips; and the lower part, together with the right arm, were gone.
“Many of the people connect this death with their old system of religion; for they have still a superstitious veneration for the shark, and this veneration is increased rather than diminished by such occurrences as these.
“It is only about four months since a man was killed in the same manner at Waihee, on the eastern part of this island. It is said, however, that there are much fewer deaths by the sharks than formerly. This, perhaps, may be owing to their not being so much fed by the people, and therefore they do not visit the shores so frequently.”
Besides the faahee, or surf-swimming, of which Huaouri was the presiding god, and in which the adults principally engaged, there were a number of aquatic pastimes peculiar to the children, among these, the principal was erecting a kind of stage near the margin of a deep part of the sea or river, leaping from the highest elevation into the sea, and chasing each other in the water, diving to an almost incredible depth, or skimming along the surface. Large companies of children, from nine or ten to fifteen or sixteen years of age, have page 227 often been seen, the greater part of the forenoon, eagerly following this apparently dangerous game, with the most perfect confidence of safety. Another amusement, which appears to afford high satisfaction to the children of the islanders, is the construction of small canoes, boats, or ships, and floating them in the sea. Although they are rude in appearance, and soon destroyed, many of the boys display uncommon ingenuity in constructing this kind of toy. The hull is usually made with a piece of light wood of the hibiscus, the cordage of bark, and the sails are either of the leaflets of the cocoa-nut, or the native cloth. The owners of these little vessels frequently go in small parties, and, taking their small-craft in their hands, wade up to their waist or arm-pits in the sea, and sometimes swim still further out; and then, launching their miniature fleets, consisting of ships, brigs, sloops, boats, canoes, &c. return towards the shore. They usually fix a piece of stone at the bottom of the little barks, which keeps them upright; and as the wind wafts them along the bay, their owners run along up to their knees in the sea, splashing and shouting as they watch their progress.
Such were some of the amusements of the natives in the South Sea Islands. In these, when not engaged in war, they spent much of their time. There were also others, of a less athletic kind, and of less universal prevalence. Among these, the aperea was one of the most prevalent; it consisted in jerking a reed, two feet and a half or three feet in length, along the ground. The men seldom played at it, but it was a common diversion for the women and children. Timo, or timotimo, was another game with the same class. The parties sat on the ground, with a heap of stones by their side, page 228 held a small round stone in the right hand, which they threw several feet up into the air, and, before it fell, took up one of the stones from the heap, which they held in the right hand till they caught that which they had thrown up, when they threw down the stone they had taken up, tossed the round stone again, and continued taking up a fresh stone every time they threw the small round one into the air, until the whole heap was removed. The teatea mata was a singular play among the children, who stretched open their eyelids by fixing a piece of straw, or stiff grass, perpendicularly across the eye, so as to force open the lids in a most frightful manner. Tupaurupauru, a kind of blind-man's-buff, was also a favourite juvenile sport.
They were very fond of the tahoro, or swing, and frequently suspended a rope from the branch of a lofty tree, and spent hours in swinging backwards and forwards. They used the rope singly, and at the lower end fastened a short stick, which was thus suspended in a horizontal position; upon this stick they sat, and, holding by the rope, were drawn or pushed backwards and forwards by their companions. Walking in stilts was also a favourite amusement with the youth of both sexes. The stilts were formed by nature, and generally consisted of the straight branches of a tree, with a smaller branch projecting on one side. Their naked feet were placed on this short branch, and thus, elevated about three feet from the ground, they pursued their pastime.
The boys were very fond of the uo, or kite, which they raised to a great height. The Tahitian kite was different in shape from the kites of the English boys. It was made of light native cloth, page 229 instead of paper, and formed in shape according to the fancy of its owner.
These are only some of the principal games or amusements of the natives; others might be added, but these are sufficient to shew that they were not destitute of sources of entertainment, either in their juvenile or more advanced periods of life. With the exception of one or two, they have all, however, been discontinued, especially among the adults; and the number of those followed by the children is greatly diminished. This is, on no account, matter of regret. Many were in themselves repulsive to every feeling of common decency, and all were intimately connected with practices inimical to individual chastity, domestic peace, and public virtue. When we consider the debasing tendency of many, and the inutility of others, we shall rather rejoice that much of the time of the adults is passed in more rational and beneficial pursuits. The practice of useful mechanic arts, of agriculture, and of fishing, are better adapted to preserve the robustness and vigour of their constitutions, and at the same time to exempt them from the moral evils of their games. Few, if any of them, are so sedentary in their habits, as to need these amusements for exercise; and they are not accustomed to apply so closely to any of their avocations, as to require them merely for relaxation.
The greatest source of amusement to the people, as a nation, was most probably the existence of a society, peculiar to the Islands of the Pacific, if not to the inhabitants of the southern groups. This was an institution called the Areoi society. Many of the regulations of this body, and the practices to which they were addicted, cannot be page 230 made public, without violence to every feeling of propriety; but, so far as it can be consistently done, it seems desirable to give some particulars respecting this most singular institution. Although I never met with an account of any institution analogous to this, among the barbarous nations in any parts of the world, I have reason to believe it was not confined to the Society group, and neighbouring islands. It does not appear to have existed in the Marquesas or Sandwich Islands; but the Jesuit Missionaries found an institution, bearing a striking resemblance to it, among the inhabitants of the Caroline or Ladrone Islands; a privileged fraternity, whose practices were, in many respects, similar to those of the Areois of the southern islands. They were called uritoy; which, omitting the t, would not be much unlike areoi: a greater difference exists in the pronunciation of words known to be radically the same.
How long this association has existed in the South Sea Islands, we have no means of ascertaining with correctness. According to the traditions of the people, its antiquity is equal to that of the system of pollution and error with which it was so intimately allied; and, by the same authority, we are informed that there have been Areois almost as long as there have been men. These, however, were all so fabulous, that we can only infer from them that the institution is of ancient origin According to the traditions of the people, Taaroa created, and, by means of Hina, brought forth when full grown, Orotetefa and Urutetefa. They were not his sons; oriori is the term employed by the people, which seems to mean create. They were called the brothers of Oro, and were numbered among the inferior divinities. They remained page 231 in a state of celibacy; and hence the devotees were required to destroy their offspring. The origin of the Areois institution is as follows.
Oro, the son of Taaroa, desired a wife from the daughters of Taata, the first man; he sent two of his brothers, Tufarapainuu and Tufarapairai, to seek among the daughters of man a suitable companion for him; they searched through the whole of the islands, from Tahiti to Borabora, but saw no one that they supposed fit to become the wife of Oro, till they came to Borabora. Here, residing near the foot of Mouatahuhuura, red-ridged mountain, they saw Vairaumati. When they beheld her, they said one to the other, This is the excellent woman for our brother. Returning to the skies, they hastened to Oro, and informed him of their success; told him they had found among the daughters of man a wife for him, described the place of her abode, and represented her as a vahine purotu aiai, a female possessed of every charm. The god fixed the rainbow in the heavens, one end of it resting in the valley at the foot of the red-ridged mountain, the other penetrating the skies, and thus formed his pathway to the earth.
When he emerged from the vapour, which, like a cloud, had encircled the rainbow, he discovered the dwelling of Vairaumati, the fair mistress of the cottage, who became his wife. Every evening he descended on the rainbow, and returned by the same pathway on the following morning to the heavenly regions. His wife bore a son, whom he called Hoa-tabu-i-te-rai, friend, sacred to the heavens. This son became a powerful ruler among men.
The absence of Oro from his celestial companions, page 232 during the frequent visits he made to the cottage of Vairaumati in the valley of Borabora, induced two of his younger brothers, Orotetefa and Urutetefa, to leave their abode in the skies, and commence a search after him. Descending by the rainbow in the position in which he had placed it, they alighted on the earth near the base of the red-ridged mountains, and soon perceived their brother and his wife in their terrestrial habitation. Ashamed to offer their salutations to him and his bride without a present, one of them was transformed on the spot into a pig, and a bunch of uru, or red feathers. These acceptable presents the other offered to the inmates of the dwelling, as a gift of congratulation. Oro and his wife expressed their satisfaction at the present; the pig and the feathers remained the same, but the brother of the god assumed his original form.
Such a mark of attention, on such an occasion, was considered by Oro to require some expression of his commendation. He accordingly made them gods, and constituted them Areois, saying, Ei Areoi orua i te ao, nei, ia noaa ta orua tuhaa: “Be you two Areois in this world, that you may have your portion, (in the government,” &c.) In the commemoration of this ludicrous fable of the pig and the feathers, the Areois, in all the taupiti, and public festivals, carried a young pig to the temple; strangled it, bound it in the ahu haio, (a loose open kind of cloth,) and placed it on the altar. They also offered the red feathers, which they called the uru maru no te Areoi, “the shadowy uru of the Areoi,” or the red feathers of the party of the Areoi.
It has been already stated that the brothers, who were made gods and kings of the Areois lived page 233 in celibacy; consequently they had no descendants. On this account, although they did not enjoin celibacy upon their devotees, they prohibited their having any offspring. Hence, one of the standing regulations of this institution was, the murder of their children. The first company, the legend states, were nominated, according to the Oro's direction, by Urutetefa and Orotetefa, and comprised the following individuals: Huatua, of Tahiti; Tauraatua, of Moorea, or Eimeo; Temaiatea, of Sir Charles Sanders' Island; Tetoa and Atae, of Huahine; Taramanini and Airipa, of Raiatea; Mutahaa, of Tahaa; Bunaruu, of Borabora; and Marore, of Maurua. These individuals, selected from the different islands, constituted the first Areoi society. To them, also, the gods whom Oro had placed over them delegated authority, to admit to their order all such as were desirous to unite with them, and consented to murder their infants.∗ These were always the names of the principal Areois in each of the islands; and were borne by them in the several islands at the time of their renouncing idolatry; when the Areois name, and Areois customs, were simultaneously discontinued.
∗The above is one of the most regular accounts of the origin of the Areoi institution, extant among the people. Mr. Barff, to whom I am indebted for it, received it from Auna, and Mahine the king of Huahine.
It is a most gratifying fact, that some of those who bore these names, and were ringleaders in all the vice and cruelty connected with the system, have since been distinguished for their active benevolence, and moral and exemplary lives. Auna, one of the first deacons in the church at Huahine, one of the first native teachers sent out page 234 by that church to the heathen, and who has been the minister of the church in Sir Charles Sanders' Island, an indefatigable, upright, intelligent, and useful man, as a Christian Missionary in the South Sea Islands, was the principal Areoi of Raiatea. He was the Taramanini of that island, until he embraced Christianity.
They were a sort of strolling players, and privileged libertines, who spent their days in travelling from island to island, and from one district to another, exhibiting their pantomimes, and spreading a moral contagion throughout society. Great preparation was necessary before the mareva, or company, set out. Numbers of pigs were killed, and presented to Oro; large quantities of plantains and bananas, with other fruits, were also offered upon his altars. Several weeks were necessary to complete the preliminary ceremonies. The concluding parts of these consisted in erecting, on board their canoes, two temporary maraes, or temples, for the worship of Orotetefa and his brother, the tutelar deities of the society. This was merely a symbol of the presence of the gods; and consisted principally in a stone for each, from Oro's marae, and a few red feathers from the inside of the sacred image. Into these symbols the gods were supposed to enter when the priest pronounced a short ubu, or prayer, immediately before the sailing of the fleet. The numbers connected with this fraternity, and the magnitude of some of their expeditions, will appear from the fact of Cook's witnessing, on one occasion, in Huahine, the departure of seventy canoes filled with Areois.
On landing at the place of destination, they proceeded to the residence of the king or chief, and presented their marotai, or present; a similar page 235 offering was also sent to the temple and to the gods, as an acknowledgment for the preservation they had experienced at sea. If they remained in the neighbourhood, preparations were made for their dances and other performances.
On public occasions, their appearance was, in some respects, such as it is not proper to describe. Their bodies were painted with charcoal, and their faces, especially, stained with the mati, or scarlet dye. Sometimes they wore a girdle of the yellow ti leaves; which, in appearance, resembled the feather girdles of the Peruvians, or other South American tribes. At other times they wore a vest of ripe yellow plantain leaves, and ornamented their heads with wreaths of the bright yellow and scarlet leaves of the hutu, or Barringtonia; but, in general, their appearance was far more repulsive than when they wore these partial coverings.
Upaupa was the name of many of their exhibitions. In performing these, they sometimes sat in a circle on the ground, and recited, in concert, a legend or song in honour of their gods, or some distinguished Areoi. The leader of the party stood in the centre, and introduced the recitation with a sort of prologue, when, with a number of fantastic movements and attitudes, those that sat around began their song in a low and measured tone and voice; which increased as they proceeded, till it became vociferous and unintelligibly rapid. It was also accompanied by movements of the arms and hands, in exact keeping with the tones of the voice, until they were wrought to the highest pitch of excitement. This they continued, until, becoming breathless and exhausted, they were obliged to suspend the performance.
Their public entertainments frequently consisted page 236 in delivering speeches, accompanied by every variety of gesture and action; and their representions, on these occasions, assumed something of the histrionic character. The priests, and others, were fearlessly ridiculed in these performances, in which allusion was ludicrously made to public events. In the taupiti, or oroa, they sometimes engaged in wrestling, but never in boxing; that would have been considered too degrading for them. Dancing, however, appears to have been their favourite and most frequent performance. In this they were always led by the manager or chief. Their bodies, blackened with charcoal, and stained with mati, rendered the exhibition of their persons on these occasions most disgusting. They often maintained their dance through the greater part of the night, accompanied by their voices, and the music of the flute and the drum. These amusements frequently continued for a number of days and nights successively at the same place. The upaupa was then hui, or closed, and they journeyed to the next district, or principal chieftain's abode, where the same train of dances, wrestlings, and pantomimic exhibitions, was repeated.
Several other gods were supposed to preside over the upaupa, as well as the two brothers who were the guardian deities of the Areois. The gods of these diversions, according to the ideas of the people, were monsters in vice, and of course patronized every evil practice perpetrated during such seasons of public festivity.
Substantial, spacious, and sometimes highly ornamented houses, were erected in several districts throughout most of the islands, principally for their accommodation, and the exhibition of page 237 their performances. The house erected for this purpose, which we saw at Tiataepuaa, was one of the best in Eimeo. Sometimes they performed in their canoes, as they approached the shore; especially if they had the king of the island, or any principal chief, on board their fleet. When one of these companies thus advanced towards the land, with their streamers floating in the wind, their drums and flutes sounding, and the Areois, attended by their chief, who acted as their prompter, appeared on a stage erected for the purpose, with their wild distortions of person, antic gestures, painted bodies, and vociferated songs, mingling with the sound of the drum and the flute, the dashing of the sea, and the rolling and breaking of the surf, on the adjacent reef; the whole must have presented a ludicrous imposing spectacle, accompanied with a confusion of sight and sound, of which it is not very easy to form an adequate idea.
The above were the principal occupations of the Areois; and in the constant repetition of these, often obscene exhibitions, they passed their lives, strolling from the habitation of one chief to that of another, or sailing among the different islands of the group. The farmers did not in general much respect them; but the chief's, and those addicted to pleasure, held them in high estimation, furnishing them with liberal entertainment, and sparing no property to gratify them. This often proved the cause of most unjust and cruel oppression to the poor cultivators. When a party of Areois arrived in a district, in order to provide daily a sumptuous entertainment for them, the chief would send his servants to the best plantations in the neighbourhood; and these grounds, without any page 238 ceremony, they plundered of whatever was fit for use. Such lawless acts of robbery were repeated every day, so long as the Areois continued in the district; and when they departed, the gardens often exhibited a scene of desolation and ruin, that, but for the influence of the chiefs, would have brought fearful vengeance upon those who had occasioned it.
A number of distinct classes prevailed among the Areois, each of which was distinguished by the kind or situation of the tatauing on their bodies. The first or highest class was called Avae parai, painted leg; the leg being completely blackened from the foot to the knee. The second class was called Otiore, both arms being marked, from the fingers to the shoulders. The third class was denominated Harotea, both sides of the body, from the arm-pits downwards, being marked with tatau. The fourth class, called Hua, had only two or three small figures, impressed with the same material, on each shoulder. The fifth class, called Atoro, had one small stripe, tataued on the left side. Every individual in the sixth class, designated Ohemara, had a small circle marked round each ankle. The seventh class, or Poo, which included all who were in their noviciate, was usually denominated the Poo faarearea, or pleasure-making class, and by them the most laborious part of the pantomimes, dances, &c. was performed; the principal or higher orders of Areois, though plastered over with charcoal, and stained with scarlet dye, were generally careful not to exhaust themselves by physical effort, for the amusement of others.
In addition to the seven regular classes of Areois, there were a number of individuals, of both page 239 sexes, was attached themselves to this dissipated and wandering fraternity, prepared their food and their dresses, performed a variety of senile occupations, and attended them on their journeys, for the purpose of witnessing their dances, or sharing in their banquets. These were called Fanaunau, because they did not destroy their offspring, which was indispensable with the regular members.
Although addicted to every kind of licentiousness themselves, each Areoi had his own wife, who was also a member of the society; and so jealous were they in this respect, that improper conduct towards the wife of one of their own number, was sometimes punished with death. This summary and fatal punishment was not confined to their society, but was sometimes inflicted, for the same crime, among other classes of the community.
Singular as it may appear, the Areoi institution was held in the greatest repute by the chiefs and higher classes; and, monsters of iniquity as they were, the grand masters, or members of the first order, were regarded as a sort of superhuman beings, and treated with a corresponding degree of veneration by many of the vulgar and ignorant. The fraternity was not confined to any particular rank or grade in society, but was composed of individuals from every class. But although thus accessible to all, the admission was attended with a variety of ceremonies; a protracted noviciate followed; and it was only by progressive advancement, that any were admitted to the superior distinctions.
It was imagined that those who became Areois were generally prompted or inspired to adopt this course by the gods. When any individual therefore wished to be admitted to their society, he page 240 repaired to some public exhibition, in a state of apparent neneva, or derangement. He generally wore a girdle of yellow plantain or ti leaves round his loins; his face was stained with mati, or scarlet dye; his brow decorated with a shade of curiously platted yellow cocoa-nut leaves; his hair perfumed with powerfully scented oil, and ornamented with a profusion of fragrant flowers. Thus arrayed, disfigured, and adorned, he rushed through the crowd assembled round the house in which the actors or dancers were performing, and, leaping into the circle, joined with seeming frantic wildness in the dance or pantomime. He continued in the midst of the performers until the exhibition closed. This was considered an indication of his desire to join their company; and if approved, he was appointed to wait, as a servant, on the principal Areois. After a considerable trial of his natural disposition, docility, and devotednesss in this occupation, if he persevered in his determination to join himself with them, he was inaugurated with all the attendant rites and observances.
This ceremony took place at some taupiti, or other great meeting of the body, when the principal Areoi brought him forth arrayed in the ahu haio, a curiously stained sort of native cloth, the badge of their order, and presented him to the members who were convened in full assembly. The Areois, as such, had distinct names, and, at his introduction, the candidate received from the chief of the body, the name by which in future he was to be known among them. He was now directed, in the first instance, to murder his children; a deed of horrid barbarity, which he was in general too ready to perpetrate. He was then page 241 instructed to bend his left arm, and strike his right hand upon the bend of the left elbow, which at the same time he struck against his side, whilst he repeated the song or invocation for the occasion; of which the following is a translation.
“The mountain above, moua tabu,∗ sacred mountain. The floor beneath Tamapua,† projecting point of the sea. Manunu, of majestic or kingly bearing forehead. Teariitaria,‡ the splendour of the sky. I am such a one, (pronouncing his new Areoi name,) of the mountain huruhuru.” He was then commanded to seize the cloth worn by the chief woman present, and by this act he completed his initiation, and became a member, or one of the seventh class.
∗The conical mountain near the lake of Maeva.
†The central district on the borders of the lake, lying at the foot of the mountain.
‡The hereditary name of the king or highest chief of Huahine.
The lowest members of the society were the principal actors in all their exhibitions, and on them chiefly devolved the labour and drudgery of dancing and performing, for the amusement of the spectators. The superior classes led a life of dissipation and luxurious indolence. On this account, those who were novices continued a long time in the lower class; and were only admitted to the higher order, at the discretion of the leaders or grand masters.
The advancement of an Areoi from the lower classes, took place also at some public festival, when all the members of the fraternity in the island were expected to be present. Each individual appointed to receive this high honour, attended in the full costume of the order. The ceremonies page 242 were commenced by the principal Areoi, who arose, and uttered an invocation to Te buaa ra, (which, I presume, must mean the sacred pig,) to the sacred company of Tabutabuatea, (the name of a principal national temple in Raiatea,) belonging to Taramanini, the chief Areoi of that island. He then paused, and another exclaimed, Give us such an individual, or individuals, mentioning the names of the party nominated for the intended elevation.
When the gods had been thus required to sanction their advancement, they were taken to the temple. Here, in the presence of the gods, they were solemnly anointed, the forehead of each person being sprinkled with fragrant oil. The sacred pig, clothed or wrapped in the haio or cloth of the order, was next put into his hand, and offered to the god. Each individual was then declared, by the person officiating on the occasion, to be an Areoi of the order to which he was thus raised. If the pig wrapped in the sacred cloth was killed, which was sometimes done, it was buried in the temple; but if alive, its ears were ornamented with the orooro, or sacred braid and tassel, of cocoa-nut fibre. It was then liberated, and being regarded as sacred, or belonging to the god to whom it had been offered, was allowed to range the district uncontrolled till it died.
The artist or priest of the tatau was now employed to imprint, with unfading marks, the distinctive badges of the rank or class to which the individuals had been raised. As this operation was attended with considerable suffering to the parties invested with these insignia of rank, it was usually deferred till the termination of the festival which followed the ceremony. This was generally furnished with an extravagant profusion: every page 243 kind of food was prepared, and large bales of native cloth were also provided, as presents to the Areois, among whom it was divided. The greatest peculiarity, however, connected with this entertainment was, that the restrictions of tabu, which prohibited females, on pain of death, from eating the flesh of the animals offered in sacrifice to the gods, were removed, and they partook, with the men, of the pigs, and other kinds of food considered sacred, which had been provided for the occasion. Music, dancing, and pantomime exhibitions, followed, and were sometimes continued for several days.
These, though the general amusements of the Areois, were not the only purposes for which they assembled. They included
‘All monstrous, all prodigious things;’
and these were ‘abominable, unutterable.’ In some of their meetings, they appear to have placed their invention on the rack, to discover the worst pollutions of which it was possible for man to be guilty, and to have striven to outdo each other in the most revolting practices. The mysteries of iniquity, and acts of more than bestial degradation, to which they were at times addicted, must remain in the darkness in which even they felt it sometimes expedient to conceal them. I will not do violence to my own feelings, or offend those of my readers, by details of conduct, which the mind cannot contemplate without pollution and pain. I should not have alluded to them, but for the purpose of shewing the affecting debasement, and humiliating demoralization, to which ignorance, idolatry, and the evil propensities of the human heart, when uncontrolled or unrestrained by the institutions and relations of civilized society and sacred truth, are page 244 capable of reducing mankind, even under circumstances highly favourable to the culture of virtue, purity, and happiness.
In these pastimes, in their accompanying abominations, and the often-repeated practices of the most unrelenting, murderous cruelty, these wandering Areois passed their lives, esteemed by the people as a superior order of beings, closely allied to the gods, and deriving from them direct sanction, not only for their abominations, but even for their heartless murders. Free from labour or care, they roved from island to island, supported by the chiefs and the priests; and often feasted on plunder from the gardens of the industrious husbandman, while his own family was not unfrequently deprived thereby, for a time, of the means of subsistence. Such was their life of luxurious and licentious indolence and crime. And such was the character of their delusive system of superstition, that, for them, too, was reserved the Elysium which their fabulous mythology taught them to believe was provided, in a future state of existence, for those so preeminently favoured by the gods.
A number of singular ceremonies were, on this account, performed at the death of an Areoi. The otohaa, or general lamentation, was continued for two or three days. During this time the body remained at the place of its decease, surrounded by the relatives and friends of the departed. It was then taken by the Areois to the grand temple, where the bones of the kings were deposited. Soon after the body had been brought within the precincts of the marae, the priest of Oro came, and, standing over the corpse, offered a long prayer to his god. This prayer, and the ceremonies connected therewith, were designed to divest the body page 245 of all the sacred and mysterious influence the individual was supposed to have received from the god, when, in the presence of the idol, the perfumed oil had been sprinkled upon him, and he had been raised to the order or rank in which he died. By this act it was imagined they were all returned to Oro, by whom they had been originally imparted. The body was then buried as the body of a common man, within the precincts of the temple, in which the bodies of chiefs were interred. This ceremony was not much unlike certain portions of the degrading rites performed on the person of a heretic, in connexion with an auto de fé, in the Romish church.
The resources of the Areois were ample. They were, therefore, always enabled to employ the priest of Romatane, who was supposed to have the keys of Rohutu noanoa, the Tahitian's paradise. This priest consequently succeeded the priest of Oro, in the funeral ceremonies: he stood by the dead body, and offered his petitions to Urutaetae, who was not altogether the Charon of their mythology, but the god whose office it was to conduct the spirits of Areois and others, for whom the priest of Romatane was employed, to the place of happiness.
This Rohutu noanoa, literally, (perfumed or fragrant Rohutu,) was altogether a Mahomedan paradise. It was supposed to be near a lofty and stupendous mountain in Raiatea, situated in the vicinity of Hamaniino harbour, and called Temehani unauna, splendid or glorious Temehani. It was, however, said to be invisible to mortal eyes, being in the reva, or aerial regions. The country was described as most lovely and enchanting in appearance, adorned with flowers of every form page 246 and hue, and perfumed with odours of every fragrance. The air was free from every noxious vapour, pure, and salubrious. Every species of enjoyment, to which the Areois and other favoured classes had been accustomed on earth, was to be participated there; while rich viands and delicious fruits were supposed to be furnished in abundance, for the celebration of their sumptuous festivals. Handsome youths and women, purotu anae, all perfection, thronged the place. These honours and gratifications were only for the privileged orders, the Areois and the chiefs, who could afford to pay the priests for the passport thither: the charges were so great, that the common people seldom or never thought of attempting to procure it for their relatives; besides, it is probable that the high distinction kept up between the chiefs and people here, would be expected to exist in a future state, and to exclude every individual of the lower ranks, from the society of his superiors.
Those who had been kings of Areois in this world, were the same there for ever. They were supposed to be employed in a succession of amusements and indulgences similar to those to which they had been addicted on earth, often perpetrating the most unnatural crimes, which their tutelar gods were represented as sanctioning by their own example.
These are some of the principal traditions and particulars relative to this singular and demoralizing institution, which, if not confined to the Georgian and Society Islands, appears to have been patronized and carried to a greater extent there than among any other islands of the Pacific. Considering the imagined source in which it origrinated, page 247 the express appointment of Oro, their powerful god, the antiquity it claimed, its remarkable adaptation to the indolent habits and depraved uncontrolled passions of the people, the sanction it received here, and the prospect it presented to its members, of the perpetuity, in a future state, of gratifications most congenial to those to whom they were exhibited, the Areoi institution appears a master-piece of satanic delusion and deadly infatuation, exerting an influence over the minds of an ignorant, indolent, and demoralized people, which no human power, and nothing less than a Divine agency, could counteract or destroy.