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Polynesian Researches


page 218


Erection of a printing-office—Increased demand for books—Establishment of the printing press—Eager anticipations of the people—First printing in the island done by the king—Materials employed in binding native books—Printing the Gospel of St. Luke—Liberal aid from the British and Foreign Bible Society—Influence of the process of printing, &c. on the minds of the people—Visit of a party of natives from the eastern archipelago—Distribution of elementary books—Desire of the inhabitants for the scriptures—Applicants from different islands—Estimation in which the scriptures are held—Influence of the press in the nation—Number of works printed.

In a short time after our arrival at Afareaitu, the people began to erect the printing-office, and the frame of our dwelling. According to the directions of the king, and the arrangements among themselves, the work was divided between several parties. The people of Afareaitu erected the printing-office; and those of Maatea, a neighbouring district, my dwelling. The king wrote a letter to the chief of the district, hastening him in the undertaking, and in a few weeks came over himself, in order to encourage the parties engaged in the work, which advanced with celerity, and was in a short time completed.

When the printing-office was finished, as the purau branches composing the walls afforded but an indifferent shelter from the rain and wind the page 219 sides of the printing-office were boarded, and one or two glass windows introduced; probably the first ever seen in Eimeo. The floor was covered partly with the trunks of trees split in two, and partly paved with stone. In searching for suitable stones, we pulled down the remaining ruins of one or two maraes in the neighbourhood, and, finding among them a number of smooth and level-surfaced basaltic stones, we were happy to remove them from the temple, and fix them in the pavement of the printing-office floor; thus appropriating them to a purpose very different indeed from that for which they were primarily designed, by those who had evidently prepared them with considerable labour and care.

Numbers of the inhabitants of several parts of Tahiti and Eimeo flocked to Afareaitu, to attend the means of instruction, and the public ordinances of religion, as it was more convenient to many than Papetoai. They were also anxious to see this wonderful machine, the printing-press, in operation, having heard much of the facility with which, when once it should be established, they would be supplied with articles at that time more valuable, in their estimation, than any other.

A few copies of the spelling-book printed in England had been taken to the island in 1811. Some hundred copies of a smaller spelling-book, and a brief summary of the Old and New Testament, the latter containing about seventy-five 12mo. pages, had been printed at Port Jackson, and were in circulation; but many hundreds of the natives who had learned to read, were still destitute of a book. Others could repeat correctly, from memory, the whole of the books, and were anxious for fresh ones. In many families, where all were scholars, page 220 there was but one book; while others were totally destitute. The inhabitants of the neighbouring islands were in still greater need. I have seen many who had written out the whole of the spelling-book on sheets of writing paper; and others who, unable to procure paper, had prepared pieces of native cloth with great care, and then, with a reed immersed in red or purple native dye, had written out the alphabet, spelling, and reading lessions, on these pieces of cloth, made with the bark of a tree. It was also truly affecting to see many of them, not with phylacteries, but with portions of scripture, or the texts they had heard preached from, written on scraps of paper, or fragments of cloth, preserved with care, and read till fixed in the memory of their possessors. This state of affairs, together with the earnest desire of the people to increase their knowledge of sacred truth, rendered it desirable that the press should be set to work as soon as possible. Within three months after our arrival at Afareaitu, every thing was in readiness, and, on the 10th of June, 1817, the operations preparatory to printing were commenced.

Pomare, who was exceedingly delighted when he heard of its arrival, and had furnished every assistance in his power, both in the erection of the building, and the removal of the press, types, &c. from Papetoai, where they had been landed, was not less anxious to see it actually at work. He had for this purpose visited Afareaitu, and, on his return to the other side of the island, requested that he might be sent for whenever we should begin. A letter having been forwarded to inform him that we were nearly ready, he hastened to our settlement, and, in the afternoon of the day appointed, came to the printing-office, accompanied by a few page 221 favourite chiefs, and followed by a large concourse of people.

Soon after his arrival, I took the composing-stick in my hand, and, observing Pomare looking with curious delight at the new and shining types, I asked him if he would like to put together the first A B, or alphabet. His countenance was lighted up with evident satisfaction, as he answered in the affirmative. I then placed the composing-stick in his hand; he took the capital letters, one by one, out of their respective compartments, and, fixing them, concluded the alphabet. He put together the small letters in the same manner; and the few monosyllables, composing the first page of the small spelling-book, were afterwards added. He was delighted when he saw the first page complete, and appeared desirous to have it struck off at once; but when informed that it would not be printed till as many were composed as would fill a sheet, he requested that he might be sent for whenever it was ready. He visited us almost daily until the 30th, when, having received intimation that it was ready for the press, he came, attended by only two of his favourite chiefs. They were, however, followed by a numerous train of his attendants, &c. who had by some means heard that the work was about to commence. Crowds of the natives were already collected around the door, but they made way for him, and, after he and his two companions had been admitted, the door was closed, and the small window next the sea darkened, as he did not wish to be overlooked by the people on the outside. The king examined, with great minuteness and pleasure, the form as it lay on the press, and prepared to try to take off the first sheet ever printed in his dominions. page 222 Having been told how it was to be done, he jocosely charged his companions not to look very particularly at him, and not to laugh if he should not do it right. I put the printer's ink-ball into his hand, and directed him to strike it two or three times upon the face of the letters; this he did, and then placing a sheet of clean paper upon the parchment, it was coverred down, turned under the press, and the king was directed to pull the handle. He did so, and when the paper was removed from beneath the press, and the covering lifted up, the chiefs and assistants rushed towards it, to see what effect the king's pressure had produced. When they beheld the letters black, and large, and well defined, there was one simultaneous expression of wonder and delight.

The king took up the sheet, and having looked first at the paper and then at the types with attentive admiration, handed it to one of his chiefs, and expressed a wish to take another. He printed two more; and, while he was so engaged, the first sheet was shewn to the crowd without, who, when they saw it, raised one general shout of astonishment and joy. when the king had printed three or four sheets, he examined the press in all its parts with great attention. On being asked what he thought of it, he said it was very surprising; but that he had supposed, notwithstanding all the descriptions which had been given of its operation, that the paper was laid down, and the letters by some means pressed upon it, instead of the paper being pressed upon the types. He remained attentively watching the press, and admiring the facility with which, by its mechanism, so many pages were printed at one time, until it was near sunset, when he left us; taking with him the sheets he had page 223 printed, to his encampment on the opposite side of the bay.

When the benefits which the Tahitians have already derived from education, and the circulation of books, are considered, with the increasing advantages which it is presumed future generations will derive from the establishment of the press, we can not but view the introduction of printing as an auspicious event. The 30th of June, 1817, was, on this account, an important day in the annals of Tahiti; and there is no act of Pomare's life, excepting his abolition of idolatry, his clemency after the battle of Bunaauïaa, and his devotedness in visiting every district in the island, inducing the chiefs and people to embrace Christianity, that will be remembered with more grateful feeling than the circumstance of his printing the first page of the first book published in the South Sea Islands.

The spelling-book being most needed, was first put to press, and an edition of 2600 copies soon finished. The king with his attendants passed by the printing-office every afternoon, on their way to his favourite bathing-place, and seldom omitted to call, and spend some time in watching the progress of the letters, and appeared surprised when he found that, in sixteen pages of the spelling-book, there were upwards of five thousand of the letter a. An edition of 2300 copies of the Tahitian Catechism, and a Collection of Texts, or Extracts from Scripture, were next printed; after which, St. Luke's Gospel, which had been translated by Mr. Nott, was put to press.

While the spelling-book was in hand, Mr. and Mrs. Orsmond arrived in the islands, and took up page 224 their residence at Afareaitu; increasing thereby the enjoyment of our social hours.

The first sheet of St. Luke's Gospel was nearly printed, when the Active, with six Missionaries from England, arrived. Among them were our fellow-voyagers, Mr. and Mrs. Threlkeld, and our esteemed friends Mr. and Mrs. Barff; we had parted with them in England, and were truly rejoiced to welcome them to the distant shores of our future dwelling-place. By the same vessel, a supply of printing paper was sent from the British and Foreign Bible Society. Its arrival was most providential. The paper sent by the Missionary Society was only sufficient, after the elementary books had been finished, to enable us to print 1500 copies of the Gospel; but the arrival of the liberal grant from the Bible Society enabled us at once to double the number of copies. Although the demand has increased, and larger editions of the subsequent books have been necessary, the British and Foreign Bible Society has generously furnished the paper for every subsequent portion of the Scriptures that has been printed in the islands.

The composition and press-work of the elementary books, and of the greater portion of the edition of nearly 3000 copies of St. Luke's Gospel, was performed almost entirely by Mr. Crook and myself. In the mean time, two natives were instructed to perform the most laborious parts; and, before the books were finished, they were able, under proper superintendence, to relieve us from the mechanical labour of press-work,—a department in which, they with others have been ever since employed; receiving regular payment for the same. In all works subsequently published, page 225 the Missionries, on whom the management of printing has devolved, have been in a great measure relieved by the aid of those instructed in that department of this useful art.

We laboured eight, and sometimes ten, hours daily, yet found that the work advanced but slowly. Notwithstanding all the care that had been exercised in selecting the printing materials and the accompanying apparatus, many things were either deficient or spoiled; here we could procure no proper supply, and the edition was not completed until the beginning of 1818. It was entitled, “Te Evanelia na Luka, iritihia ei parau Tahiti,” literally, The Gospel of Luke, taken out to be, or transferred to, the language of Tahiti; E-parau hae-rehia te parau maitai o te hau nei e ati paa toai te ao nei ia ite te mau fenua atoa, was the motto. “This good word (or gospel) of the kingdom shall be published in all the world,” Matt. xxiv. 14. and the imprint was, Neneihia i te nenei raa parau a te mau Misionari, 1818. Pressed at the (paper or book) presser of the Missionaries.—There being no term in the native language answering to the word translated Gospel, the Greek word Euangelion was introduced, some of the consonants being omitted in conforming it to the native idiom.

The curiosity awakened in the inhabitants of Afareaitu by the establishment of the press, was not soon satisfied: day after day Pomare visited the printing-office; the chiefs applied to be admitted inside, while the people thronged the windows, doors, and every crevice through which they could peep, often involuntarily exclaiming, Be-ri-ta-ni-e! fenua paari: O Britain! land of skill, or knowledge. The press soon became a matter of universal page 226 conversation; and the facility with which books could be multiplied, filled the minds of the people in general with wonderful delight. Multitudes arrived from every district of Eimeo, and even from other islands, to procure books, and to see this astonishing machine. The excitement manifested frequently resembled that with which the people of England would hasten to witness, for the first time, the ascent of a balloon, or the movement of a steam-carriage. So great was the influx of strangers, that for several weeks before the first portion of the Scriptures was finished, the district of Afareaitu resembled a public fair. The beach was lined with canoes from distant parts of Eimeo and other islands; the houses of the inhabitants were thronged, and small parties had erected their temporary encampments in every direction. The school during the week, and chapel on the Sabbath, though capable of containing 600 persons, were found too small for those who sought admittance. The printing-office was daily crowded by the strangers, who thronged the doors, &c. in such numbers, as to climb upon each others backs or on the sides of the windows, so as frequently to darken the place. The house had been enclosed with a fence five or six feet high; but this, instead of presenting an obstacle to the gratification of their curiosity, was converted into the means of facilitating it: numbers were costantly seen sitting on the top of the railing; whereby they were able to look over the heads of their companions who were round the windows.

Among the various parties in Afareaitu, at this time, were a number of the natives of the Paumotu, or Pearl Islands, which lie to the northeast of Tahiti, and constitute what is called the page 227 Dangerous Archipelago. These numerous islands, like those of Tetuaroa to the north, are of coralline formation, and the most elevated parts of many of them are seldom more than two or three feet above high-water mark. The principal, and almost only edible vegetable they produce, is the fruit of the cocoa-nut: on these, with the numerous kinds of fishes resorting to their shores, or found among the coral reefs, the inhabitants entirely subsist. They appear a hardy and industrious race, capable of enduring great privations. The Tahitians believe them to be cannibals; but as to the evidence or extent of this charge, we cannot speak confidently. They are in general firm and muscular, but of a more spare habit of body than the Tahitians. Their limbs are well formed, their stature generally tall. The expression of their countenance, and the outline of their features, greatly resemble those of the Society Islanders; their manners are, however, more rude and uncourteous. The greater part of the body is tataued, sometimes in broad stripes, or large masses of black, and always without any of the taste and elegance frequently exhibited in the figures marked on the persons of the Tahitians. By the latter, the natives of the Tahitians. By the latter, the natives of the Pearl Islands were formerly regarded with the greatest contempt, as taehae and maua, savages and barbarians. It was some months since they had arrived from their native islands, which they had left for the purpose of procuring books and teachers for their countrymen. From the time of their landing, Pomare had taken them under his protection; and when he came over to Eimeo, they followed in his train.

A considerable party of the Aura tribe came one day to the printing-office, to see the press page 228 When they were admitted, and beheld the native printer at work, their astonishment was great. They were some time before they would approach very near, and appeared at a loss whether to consider the press as an animal or a machine. As their language is strikingly analagous to that spoken in the Society Islands, I entered into conversation with them. They were very urgent to be supplied with spelling-books, which I regretted my inability to effect to and extent, as our edition was nearly expended. Learning that they had discontinued odol-worship, I asked why they had abandoned their gods. They replied, that they were evil spirits, and had never done them any good, but had caused frequent and desolating wars. Moorea, they said, was their teacher, and had instructed them concerning the true God, for whose worship in the island of Anaa, whence most of them came, they had already erected three chapels.

∗He had been a professor of Christianity, and a pupil in the Mission-school, some time before our arrival.

†Prince of Wales's Island.

But little time was allowed for the drying of the printed sheets. The native were in want of books, and most eager for them: the first inquiry of every party that arrived, usually was, “When will the books be ready?” The presses were therefore fixed, and, having acquired some knowledge of bookbinding as well as printing, before leaving England, I proceeded, as soon as the printing was finished, to binding, though but inadequately furnished with materials.

The first bound copy was sent to Papetoai, and is still, I believe, in Mr. Nott's possession; the second, half-bound in red morocco, was presented page 229 to the king, who received it with high satisfaction. The queen and chiefs were next supplied, and preparations made for meeting the demands of the people. In order to preserve the books, it was deemed inexpedient to give them into the hands of the natives, either unbound, or merely covered as pamphlets. We had only a small quantity of mill-boards, and it was necessary to increase them on the spot; a large quantity of native cloth, made with the bark of a tree, was therefore purchased, and females employed to beat a number of layers or folds together, usually from seven to ten. These were after submitted to the action of a powerful screw-press, and, when gradually dried, formed a good stiff pasteboard. For their binding, the few sheep-skins brought from England were cut into slips for the backs and corners, and a large bundle of old newspapers dyed, for covers to the sides. In staining these papers, they were covered over with the juice of the stems of the mountain plantain, or fei. The young plants brought from the mountains were generally two or three inches in diameter at the lower end. The root was cut off above the part that had been in the ground, and the stem being then fixed over a vessel, half a pint sometimes of thick purple juice exuded from it. This was immediately spread upon the paper, imparting to the sheet, when dried in the sun, a rich glossy purple colour, which remained as long as the paper lasted. If lime-juice was sprinkled upon it, a beautiful and delicate pink was produced. When the juice of the fei was allowed to remain till the next day, the liquor became much thinner, assumed a brownish red tinge, and imparted only a slight colour to the paper.

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The process of binding appeared to the natives much more simple than that of printing; yet, in addition to those whom we were endeavouring to instruct, each of the principal chiefs sent one of his most clever men, to learn how to put a book together. For some time we bound every book that was given to the natives; but our materials being expended long before they were supplied, and the people continuing impatient for the books, even in sheets—rather than keep them destitute of the Scripture already printed, they were thus distributed.

Those among the natives who had earned to bind were now overwhelmed with business, and derived no inconsiderable emolument from their trade, as they required each person to bring the pasteboard necessary for his own books, and also a piece of skin or leather for the back, or for the whole cover. Many soon learned to sew the sheets together, others cut pieces of wood very thin, instead of pasteboard, which were fastened to the sides; the edges of the leaves were then cut with a knife; and the book used in this state daily, while the owner was searching for a skin or a piece of leather, with which to cover it for more effectual preservation. This was the most difficult article to procure, and many books were used without it for many months.

Leather was now the article in greatest requisition among all classes; and the poor animals, that had heretofore live in undisturbed ease and freedom, were hunted solely for their skins. The printing-office was converted into a tanyard; old canoes, filled with lime-water, were prepared; and all kinds of skins brought to have the hair extracted, and the oily matters dissipated. It was page 231 quite amusing to see goats' dogs' and cats' skins collected to be prepared for book-covers. Sometimes they procured the tough skin of a large dog, or an old goat, with long shaggy matted hair and beard attached to it, or the thin skin of a wild kitten taken in the mountains. As soon as the natives had seen how they were prepared, which was simply by extracting the hair and the oil, they did this at their own houses; and in walking through the district at this period, no object was more common than a skin stretched on a frame, and suspended on the branch of a tree, to dry in the sun.

All the books, hitherto in circulation among the people, had been gratuitously distributed; but when the first portion of Scripture was finished, as it was a larger book than had yet been published, it was thought best to require a small equivalent for it, lest the people should expect that books afterwards printed would be given also, and lest, from the circumstance of their receiving them without payment, they should be induced to undervalue them. A small quantity of cocoa-nut oil, the article they could most easily procure, was therefore demanded for each book, and cheerfully paid by every native. This was not done with a view of deriving any profit from the sale of the books, but merely to teach the people their value; as no higher price was required than what it was supposed would cover the expense of paper and printing materials,—and we still continued to distribute elementary books gratuitously.

The season occupied in the printing and binding of these books was one of incessant labour, which, in a tropical climate, and at a season when the sun was vertical, was often found exceedingly oppressive; page 232 yet it was one of the happiest periods of my life. It was cheering to behold the people so prepared to receive the sacred volume, and anxious to possess it. I have frequently seen thirty or forty canoes from distant parts of Eimeo, or from some other island, lying along the beach; in each of which, five or six persons had arrived, whose only errand was to procure copies of the Scriptures. For these, many waited five or six weeks, while they were printing. Sometimes I have seen a canoe arrive with six or ten persons for books; who, when they have landed, have brought a large bundle of letters, perhaps thirty or forty, written on plantain leaves, and rolled up like a scroll. These letters had been written by individuals, who were unable to come, and apply personally for a book, and had therefore thus sent, in order to procure a copy. Often, when standing at my door, which was but a short distance from the sea-beach, as I have gazed on the varied beauties of the rich and glowing landscape, and the truly picturesque appearance of the island of Tahiti, fourteen or eighteen miles distant, the scene has been enlivened by the light and nautilus-like sail of the buoyant canoe, first seen in the distant horizon as a small white speck, sometimes scarcely distinguishable from the crest of the waters, at others brilliantly reflecting the last rays of the retiring sun, and appearing in bold and beautiful relief before

“The impassioned splendour of those clouds
That wait upon the sun at his departure.”

The effect of this magnificent scene has often been heightened by the impression that the voyagers, whose approaching bark became every moment more conspicuous among the surrounding page 233 objects, were not coming in search of pearls or gems, but the more valuable treasure contained in the sacred Scriptures, deemed by them “more precious than gold, yea, than much fine gold.” One evening, about sunset, a canoe from Tahiti with five men arrived on this errand They landed on the beach, lowered their sail, and, drawing their canoes on the sand, hastened to my native dwelling. I met them at the door, and asked them their errand. Luka, or Te Parau na Luka, “Luke, or, The Word of Luke,” was the simultaneous reply, accompanied with the exhibition of the bamboo-canes filled with cocoa-nut oil, which they held up in their hands, and had brought as payment for the copies required. I told them I had none ready that night, but that if they would come on the morrow, I would give them as many as they needed; recommending them, in the mean time, to go and lodge with some friend in the village. Twilight in the tropics is always short—it soon grew dark; I wished them good night, and afterwards retired to rest, supposing they had gone to sleep at the house of some friend; but, on looking out of my window about daybreak, I saw these five men lying along on the ground on the outside of my house, their only bed being some platted cocoa-nut leaves, and their only covering the large native cloth they usually wear over their shoulders. I hastened out, and asked them, if they had been there all night: they said they had; I then inquired why they did not, as I had directed them, go and lodge at some house, and come again. Their answer surprised and delighted me: they said, “We were afraid that, had we gone away, some one might have come before us this morning, and have taken what page 234 books you had to spare, and then we should have been obliged to return without any; therefore, after you left us last night, we determined not to go away till we had procured the books.” I called them into the printing-office, and, as soon as I could put the sheets together, gave them each a copy: they then requested two copies more, one for a mother, the other for a sister; for which they had brought payment. I gave these also. Each wrapped his book up in a piece of white native cloth, put it in his bosom, wished me good morning, and without, I believe, eating or drinking, or calling on any person in the settlement, hastened to the beach, launched their canoe, hoisted their matting sail, and steered rejoicing to their native island. This is only one istance among many that occurred at the time, both at Afareaitu and Papetoai, exhibiting the ardent desire of the people in general to possess the Scriptures as soon as they could be prepared for them. They frequently expressed their apprehensions lest the number of the books should not be sufficient for those who were waiting; and have more than once told us, that the fear of being disappointed has often deprived them of sleep.

Many were doubtless influenced by motives of curiosity, others by a desire to possess an article of property now so highly esteemed by all parties, but many were certainly influenced by a desire to become more fully acquainted with the revelation God had made to man, and to read for themselves, in their own language, those truths that were able to make them “wise unto salvation.” By some, after the first emotion of curiosity had subsided, the books were neglected; but by most they were carefully and regularly read, becoming page 235 at once the constant companion of their possessors, and the source of their highest enjoyment.

When the Gospel of Luke was finished, an edition of Hymns in the native language was printed, partly original and partly translations from our most approved English compositions; and although the book was but small, it was acceptable to the people, who are exceedingly fond of metrical compositions, their history and traditions having been preserved in a metrical kind of ballad. This circumstance rendered the Hymn-book which was completed at Huahine, quite a favourite, and afforded the means, not only of assisting them in the matter of their praises to Almighty God, but enabled us to convey the most important truths of revelation in the manner most attractive and familiar to the native mind.

While engaged in these labours, the principal object besides, that occupied our attention, was the study of the language. Several hours every day were devoted to its acquisition, and twice a week we met, when we were assisted by the instructions of Mr. Davies, who favoured us with the use of his manuscript vocabulary, and the outlines of a grammar, which he had prepared several years before. In addition to these means, I found the composing, or setting, of the types for the Tahitian books, the best method of acquiring all that was printed in the language. Every letter in every word passing repeatedly, not only under my eye, but through my hand, I acquired almost mechanically the orthography. The number of natives by whom we were always surrounded, afforded the best opportunities for learning the meaning of those words which we did not understand. The structure of many sentences was also page 236 acquired by the same means; and, in much less than twelve months, I could converse familiarly on any common subject. My acquisition of the language was thus facilitated by attention to printing in the native tongue.

The use of the press in the different islands, we naturally regard as one of the most powerful human agencies that can be employed in forming the mental and moral character of the inhabitants, imparting to their pursuits a salutary direction, and promoting knowledge, virtue, and happiness. It is not easy to estimate correctly the advantages already derived from this important engine of improvement. The sacred Scriptures, and the codes of laws, are the only standard works of importance yet printed. The whole of the New, and detached portions of the Old Testament, have been finished, and the remaining parts are in progress.

In the native language, they also possess Old and New Testament histories—several large editions of spelling-books, reading lessons, and different catechisms—a short system of arithmetic—the codes of laws for the different islands—regulations for barter, and their intercourse with shipping. Numerous addresses on the subject of Christian practice—several editions of the native hymn-book—the reports of their different Societies —and, lastly, they have commenced a periodical publication called the Repository. I have received the first number, and most earnestly hope they will be able to carry it on. Every work yet printed has been prepared by the Missionaries, with the assistance of the most intelligent among the people. But we look forward, with pleasing anticipation, to the time when the natives themselves page 237 shall become writers. In the investigation and illustration of many things connected with the peculiar genius and character of their own countrymen, they will have advantages which no individual, who is a foreigner, can ever possess; and we may hope that the time is not far distant, when they will not only have standard works by native authors, but that their periodical literature will circulate widely, and spread knowledge and piety among all classes of the people.