Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Polynesian Researches


page 87


Conduct of the rebels–Discouraging impression under which the Missionaries abandoned the islands–Invitation from Pomare to return–State of the king's mind during his exile in Eimeo–His reception of the Missionaries–Death of three of their number–Influence of domestic bereavement on the Missionary life–Pomare's profession of Christianity–Application for baptism–Demonstration of the impotency of their idols–Proposal to erect a place of worship–Extracts from his correspondence–Influence of his steady adherence to Christianity–Ridicule and persecution to which he was exposed–Visit of Missionaries to Tahiti–Valley of Hautaua–Oitu and Tuahine.

The rebels were no sooner masters of the island, than they resoved to purseue the most efficacious methods of establishing and perpetuating their power: arms and ammunition, they regarded as the best means of accomplishing this; and in order to secure these, as well as extend their conquests, they determined to murder the captain and officers, and to seize the first vessel that should arrive. The Missionaries, aware of this, wrote a letter of precaution, which they gave to a native, to hand to the master of the first ship that might touch there. The Venus schooner, however, arrived, and was seized by the people, before the native could deliver his letter: the master and seamen were not murdered, but kept prisoners, to be offered in sacrifice to Oro. The Hibernia, Captain page 88 Campbell, also arrived shortly afterwards; but Captain Campbell, receiving the letter, was warned of his danger, and not only secured his own vessel, but succeeded in rescuing the schooner and her crew.

In the year 1809, Mr. Nott alone remained with the king and the people in the island of Eimeo; the other Missionaries, with the exception of Mr. Hayward, removed from Huahine to Port Jackson. Although the gospel had been faithfully and constantly preached, for some years in Tahiti, occasionally in most of the other islands, and many of the people had imbibed a tolerably clear speculative knowledge of the leading doctrines taught in the sacred volume, yet there was no individual on whom they could look, as having been benefited by their instructions—no one whose mind was savingly enlightened, or whose heart had experienced any moral change. Discouraging as these circumstances were, the Missionaries would not have abandoned their station, but for the destruction with which the civil war, and the defeat of the king, seriously threatened them; and, in addition to this darkened aspect of affairs, as it regarded the success of their enterprise, the state of feeling, bordering on hopeless despair, under which they departed from the islands, greatly augmented their distress. On their arrival in New South Wales, they were received with kindness by their friends, and a feeling of compassion at their disasters, and sympathy in their distress, was manifested by the governor, the Rev. S. Marsden, the principal chaplain, and other friends of the Mission.

While in Port Jackson, they received affectionate and encouraging letters from the Society, and their friends in England, and communicatons of a page 89 most touching, yet confident kind, from the king, who invited their return.

The way being thus opened for the resumption of their work, and depending on the blessing of God, they again embarked, in the autumn of 1811, for the islands. During their absence, Pomare had remained excluded from his hereditary dominions, and in exile on the island of Eimeo. Whether the melancholy reverses he had experienced, and the depression of spirits consequent upon the dissolution of his government, and the desolation of his family, led him to doubt the truth of that system of idol-worship to which he had been devoted, and on which he had invariably relied for success in every enterprise—or whether the leisure it afforded for contemplation and inquiry, under the influence of these feelings, inclined him to reflect more seriously on the truth of those declarations he had often heard respecting the true God, and to consider his present condition as the chastening of that Being whom he had refused to acknowledge—it is impossible to determine; but these disastrous events had evidently subdued his spirit, and softened his heart.

When the Missionaries who returned from Port Jackson landed in Eimeo, the king received them with the warmest demonstrations of joy. Mr. and Mrs. Bicknell, the first who arrived, resided some time in the same house with him. He spent much of his time in reading and writing, in conversation, and in earnest inquiry about God, and the way of acceptance with Him, through Jesus Christ,—and sometimes spoke in terms astonishing even to the Missionaries themselves. One or two other natives appeared also favourably impressed in regard to the religion of the Bible. Under these auspicious appearances, page 90 although prevented by the unsettled state of Tahiti from resuming their station in Matavai, the Missionaries were enabled to commence their labours in the island of Eimeo. They also indulged a hope of establishing a Mission in Raiatea, one of the Leeward or Society Islands, when a series of domestic trials frustrated their plans of extended usefulness, and confined them for several years to this island.

On the 28th of July, 1812, Mrs. Henry finished her earthly career. She had accompanied her husband from her native country in the ship Duff, with the first Missionaries who landed in Tahiti. In all the trials of the Mission she had sustained her part; and, with unwavering devotedness to its interests, had endeavoured to perform with efficiency and cheerfulness the duties of her station, until her life fell a sacrifice to the privations and toils of her eventful and perilous career. It was, however, a sacrifice cheerfully offered on her part. Her memory was greatly esteemed by those who had borne with her the burden of the day, and survived her in the field. In a letter to the Directors of the London Missionary Society, under the date of June 24, 1813, the Rev. S. Marsden thus wrote of Mrs. Henry—“No woman, in my opinion, could be more sincere, and more devoted to the work, than she was. Her natural disposition was amiable, her piety unaffected, and her love for the poor heathens unfeigned. I trust she is now resting from her labours in Abraham's bosom; and that some poor heathens, amongst whom she has lived, have gone before, and that some will follow after, to glory.” This afflictive bereavement was followed by another equally painful, namely, the death of page 91 Mrs. Davies,—which took place on the fourth of the following September. Her disconsolate partner had scarcely received the sympathies of his companions in exile and labour, when the newly closed grave of the mother was opened again, to receive the remains of an infant daughter, who survived its parent but three short weeks. In one week more, Mrs. Hayward terminated in death her sufferings, and was buried by the side of her departed sisters. Hence, the letters which conveyed to England the animating tidings of the first dawning of a brighter day on Tahiti, conveyed also the sad recital of these inroads of death; and well might the Missionaries on that occasion “sing of mercy and of judgment.”

When death enters a family, and removes a wife and a mother from the domestic circle, though every alleviation which society, friendship, and religion can impart are available, there is a chasm left, and a wound inflicted on the survivors, which must be felt in order to be understood: when death repeatedly enters in this way a family connexion, the distress is proportionably augmented; but it is impossible to form an adeaquate idea of the desolateness of the Mission family, (for such it might be called,) at this time, and the cheerless solitude of those thus bereft of the partners of their days, and the mothers of their childern. They were left to sustain alone the toils, sorrows, and privations of their remote and isolated station, and privations of their remote and isolated station, and to pursue in solitary pilgrimage the arduous and rugged track in which the providence of God had called them to walk, far from the sympathy of the kindred and friends of the departed. They were equally remote from all the kind attentions of tenderest friendship, the rich consolations of Christian page 92 intercourse, and the public ordinances of that religion, which is alone adapted to impart effectual consolation. Cut off also from the endearments of home, the pleasures of society in civilized life, the satisfaction derived from books, and the reciprocal interchange of all the offices of friendship, the only earthly solace a Missionary enjoys among an uncivilized people, except what he derives from his work, is found in the social endearments of the domestic circle. However remote from the land of his nativity may be its locality, however humble its structure, however rude its appendages, or limited its sources of comfort, compared with what in other parts may be enjoyed,—around his rustic hearth, and in the bosom of his family, he finds the scene of his richest earthly felicity. In any situation, bereavements such as those which befel the little band at Eimeo at this time, would have been distressing: to the Missionaries they were peculiarly so. The channels of comfort were dried up, and though they had free access to the Fountain of all blessedness and consolation, and were enabled to say, “He hath done all things well,” yet their trial must have been peculiarly poignant and oppressive. It is remarkable, that at a period of such unparalleled domestic distress, the most encouraging appearances of the Divine favour towards the nation around them, should have been afforded; and it is probable that the very cheering prospects under which they were at this time called upon to pursue their Missionary engagements, greatly alleviated their sorrow.

They had established public worship; Mr. Davies had opened a school; an increased and pleasing attention had been manifested, by several, to the page 93 instructions communicated; and only ten days before the death of Mrs. Henry, Pomare, the king of Tahiti, publicly professed his belief in Jehovah the true God, and his determination to serve him. He also requested to be baptized, and to become one of the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, assuring the Missionaries that his resolution to give himself up to God, was the result of long and increasing conviction of the truth and superiority of the religion of the Bible, expressing at the same time his desire to be more fully instructed in the matters to which it referred.

Pomare had for some time past shewn his contempt for the idols of his ancestors, and his desire to be taught a more excellent way, that he might obtain the favour of the true God. The natives had watched the change in his mind with the most fearful apprehension, as to its results upon the minds of his subjects. They were powerfully affected on one occasion when a present was brought him of a turtle, which had always been held sacred, and dressed with sacred fire within the precincts of the temple, part of it being invariably offered to the idol. The attendants were proceeding with the turtle to the marae, when Pomare called them back, and told them to prepare an oven, to bake it in his own kitchen, and serve it up, without offering it to the idol. The people around were astonished, and could hardly believe the king was in a state of sanity, or was really in earnest. The king repeated his direction; a fire was made, the turtle baked, and served up at the next repast. The people of the king's household stood, in mute expectation of some fearful visitation of the god's anger, as soon as he should touch a morsel of the fish; by which he had, in this instance, committed, as they page 94 imagined, an act of daring impiety. The king cut up the turtle, and began to eat it, inviting some that sat at meat with him to do the same; but no one could be induced to touch it, as they expected every moment to see him either expire, or writhe in strong convulsions. The king endeavoured to convince his companions that their idea of the power of the gods was altogether imaginary, and that they had been the subjects of complete delusion; but the people could not believe him: and although the meal was finished without any evil result, they carried away the dishes with many expressions of astonishment, confidently expecting some judgment would overtake him before the morrow, for they could not believe that an act of sacrilege, such as he had been guilty of, could be committed with impunity.

The conduct and conversation of Pomare in reference to the gods, on this and similar occasions, must necessarily have weakened the influence of idolatry on the minds of those by those by whom he was attended; and if it produced no immediate and salutary effect on them, it doubtless confirmed his own belief in the vanity of idols, and the folly of indulging either hope or fear respecting them. A number of the principal chiefs of the Leeward Islands, as well as the adherents to his cause, and the friends of his family in Tahiti, constantly resided with the king, after his expulsion from the island of his ancestors, and accompained him on his return to resume his former government. He spared no efforts, favourably to impress them in regard to Christianity; but to no purpose for a long time. When he offered himself for baptism, he stated that he had endeavoured to persuade Tamatoa, his father-in-law, and Tapoa, the king and page 95 principal chief of Raiatea, to renounce idolatry, and become the disciples of Jesus Christ; but they had assured him, whatever he might do, they would adhere to Oro. Others expressed the same determination; and Pomare came forward alone, requesting baptism, and desiring to hear and obey the word of God, as he said “he desired to be happy after death, and to be saved at the day of judgment.” He did not confine his efforts to private conversation, but in public council urged upon Tamatoa and Mahine, the chiefs of Raiatea and Huahine, the adoption of the Christian religion; hereby publicly evincing his own determination to adhere to the choice he had made.

The Missionaries had every reason to believe that the king was sincere in his desires to become a Christian; but as they then deemed only those who were true converts to Christianity, proper subjects for the rite of baptism, and feared that his mind might not be sufficiently informed on the nature and design of that ordinance, and that he was rather an earnest inquirer after divine truth, than an actual possessor of its moral principle and spiritual influence, they proposed to him to defer his baptism until he had received more ample instruction. They were also desirous to receive additional evidence of his sincerity, and of the uprightness and the purity of his conduct, during a longer period than they had yet observed it. The king acquiesced in their proposal, and requested their instructions.

At the same time that the king thus publicly desired to profess Christianity, he proposed to erect a large and substantial building for the worship of the true God. His own affairs remained unsettled and discouraging; he was still in exile; page 96 and rumours of war not only prevailed in Tahiti, but invasion threatened Eimeo. This island the Missionaries considered only as a temporary residence, till they should be able to resume their labours in Tahiti, or establish a mission in the Leeward Islands, and therefore recommended him to defer it. But he replied, “No, let us not mind these things, let it be built.”

Shortly after this important event, which may justly be considered as the dawning of that day, and the first ray of that light, which has since shed such lustre, and beamed with such power, upon these isles of the sea, two chiefs arrived from Tahiti, inviting Pomare to return, and resume his government, promising an amicable adjustment of their differences. The interests of his kingdom appeared to require his concurrence with their proposal; and, on the thirteenth of August, in less than a month after the pleasing event referred to, he sailed with them from Eimeo, followed by the chiefs and people from the Leeward Islands, and most of the inhabitants of Papetoai and its vicinity. His departure, in his critical state of mind, was much to be regretted, as it deprived him of the instructions of his teachers, exposed him to many temptations, and much persecution.

Pomare, in infancy, had been rocked in the cardle of paganism, and trained under its influence through subsequent life. His father Pomare, and his mother Idia, were probably more infatuated with idolatry, and more uniformly attached to the idols, and every institution connected with their worship, than even the priests, or perhaps any other individuals in the islands. He had been early initiated in all the mysteries of falsehood and abomination connected with the system, and had page 97 engaged with avidity in the bloody and murderous rites of idol worship. In addition to this, he had been nurtured amid the debasing and polluting immorality, for which his country, ever since its discovery, had been distinguished; and although his ideas of the moral perfections of the true God might be but mdistinct, and his views of the purity required by the gospel but partial, yet it might naturally be expected, that the convictions of guilt in such an individual, when first awakened to a sense of the nature and consequence of sin, would be deep and severe. That this was actually the case, appears from several letters which he wrote to the Missionaries soon after his arrival in Tahiti, as well as from the conversation they had with him on the subject.

In a letter, dated Tahiti, September 25, 1812, he thus expresses himself: “May the anger of Jehovah be appeased towards me, who am a wicked man, guilty of accumulated crimes,—of regardlessness and ignorance of the true God, and of an obstinate perseverance in wickedness! May Jehovah also pardon my foolishness, unbelief, and rejection of the truth! May Jehovah give me his good Spirit to sancify my heart, that I may love what is good, and that I may be enabled to put away all my evil customs, and become one of his people, and be saved through Jesus Christ, our only Saviour! I am a wicked man, and my sins are great and accumulated. But O that we may all be saved, through Jesus Christ.” Referring to his illness about this time, he said, “My affliction is great; but if I can only obtain God's favour before I die, I shall count myself well. But Oh! should I die with my sins unpardoned, it will be ill indeed with me. O ! may my sins be pardoned, page 98 and my soul saved, through Jesus Christ! May Jehovah regard me before I die, and then I shall rejoice, because I have obtained favour of Jehovah.”

In another letter, written about a fortnight afterwards, he observes, “I continue to pray to God without ceasing. Regardless of other things, I am concerned only that my soul may be saved by Jesus Christ! It is my earnest desire, that I may become one of Jehovah's people; and that God may turn away his anger from me, which I deserve, for my wickedness, my ignorance of him, and my accumulated crimes!” In February, 1813, he wrote to the following effect. “The Almighty can (or will) make me good. I venture with my guilt, (or evil deeds) to Jesus Christ, though I am not equalled in wickedness, not equalled in guilt, not equalled in obstinate disobedience, and rejection of the truth, hoping that this very wicked man may be saved by Jehovah Jesus Christ.”

Such was the interesting state of Pomare's mind, at the close of the year 1812, and the commencement of 1813. At the same time that this event shed such light upon the prospects of the Missionaries, other circumstances concurred, to confirm them in the conviction, that God was about to favour in a signal manner their enterprise, to follow their labours with his blessing, and with still greater success. Of one or two other natives they had every reason to hope most favourably, while one, who died about this time, left a pleasing testimony behind, of repentance, and reliance on the pardoning mercy of God.

The king's visit to Tahiti did not succeed so well as the messengers had promised, or his friends page 99 had anticipated: rumours of war prevailed in the western and southern parts of the island, and many of the chiefs sent professions of subjection; but the continuance of such acknowledgment was uncertain. Some of his ablest allies, especially Tapoa the chief of Raiatea, was removed by death, and the others prepared to return to their own islands. Early in the following year, the district of Matavai was surrendered to Pomare, but he was justly doubtful of the sincerity of the surrender. Amidst all these unfavourable circumstances, he continued bold and uncompromising in his renunciation of the idols, and every rite of idolatry; observing the sabbath, and, on every suitable occasion, exhibiting the truth and excellency of the religion of Jesus Christ. Although this honourable conduct produced a surprising effect upon the minds of many of the inhabitants of Tahiti and Eimeo, who considered the king better acquainted both with the religion of the natives, and that of the foreigners, than any other person in the islands; it procured him many enemies, and exposed him to no ordinary degree of ridicule and persecution, or contempt, not only from his idolatrous rivals, but from his allies, and the members of his household and family. These attributed all his reverses to the respect he had shewn the Missionaries, and the inclination he had indulged towards their God; and declared that he need not expect his affairs to be retrieved, since he had for saken the gods of his ancestors, and insulted those to whom his family was indebted for the elevated distinction to which it had been raised in Tahiti, and the neighbouring islands. Pomare, however, was uninfluenced by any of these representations, and, notwithstanding the embarrassed state of his page 100 affairs, and the uncertainty of the result, to which the present agitation, and the approaching national assembly of chiefs and people, might lead; and though his friends added insult and reproach to his misfortunes, he remained stedfast.

The communications between Tahiti and Eimeo were now frequent, and the repeated accounts of Pomare's persevering and laudable endeavours to enlighten the minds of his subjects, were not the only cheering tidings they received. Mr. Bicknell went over in a vessel bound to the Pearl Islands, and in a few days returned, with the pleasing report that a spirit of inquiry had been awakened among some of the inhabitants of that island, and that two of those they had formerly instructed, had occasionally met to pray to God. In order to ascertain the nature and extent of the desire which had been excited, and to confer with the individuals under its influence, Messrs. Scott and Hayward, having been deputed by their companions to visit Tahiti, sailed over from Eimeo, on the 15th of June, 1813. Although the king was residing in Matavai, they landed in the district of Pare, and, proceeding to the valley of Hautaua, they learned that the report was correct, and that in the neighbourhood there were some who had renounced idolatry, and professed to believe in Jehovah, the true God.

On the following morning, according to the usual practice when travelling among the people, they retired to the bushes near their lodgings, for meditation and secret prayer. The houses of the natives, however large they might be, never contained more than one room; and were generally so crowded with people, that retirement was altogether unattainable. While seeking this, about page 101 the dawn of the day, on the morning after their arrival, Mr. Scott heard a voice at no great distance from his retreat. It was not a few detached sentences that were spoken, but a continued address; not in the lively tone of conversation, but solemn, as devotion; or pathetic, as the voice of lamentation and supplication.

A variety of feelings led him to approach the spot whence these sounds proceeded, in order to hear more distinctly. O, what hallowed music must have broken on his listening ear, and what rapture must have thrilled his soul, when he distinctly recognized the voice of prayer, and heard a native, in the accents of his mother-tongue, with an ardour that proved his sincerity, addressing petitions and thanksgivings to the throne of mercy. It was the first time he knew that a native on Tahiti had prayed to any but his idols; it was the first native voice in praise and prayer, that he had ever heard, and he listened almost entranced with the appropriate and glowing language of devotion, then employed, until his feelings could be restrained no longer. Tears of joy started from his gladdened eye, and rolled in swift succession down his cheeks, while he could scarcely forbear rushing to the spot, and clasping in his arms the unconscious author of his ecstacy. He stood transfixed as it were to the earth, till the native retired; when he bowed his knees, and, screened from human observation by the verdant shrubs, offered up, under the canopy of heaven, his grateful adoration to the Most High, under all the melting of soul, and the excitement of spirit, which the unprecedented, unexpected, though long-desired events of the morning had inspired. When the Missionaries met at the house in which page 102 they had lodged, the good tidings were communicated; the individual was sought out; and they were cheered with the simple yet affecting account he gave of what God had done for his own soul, and of the serious impressions then operating on the minds of several of his countrymen.

His name was then Oito, though it is now Petero; he had formerly been an inmate of the Mission family at Matavai, and had received instructions there. He had occasionally been with the king since his return to Tahiti, and some remarks from Pomare had awakened convictions of sin in his conscience. Anxious to obtain direction and relief, yet having no one to whom he could unburden his mind with hopes of suitable guidance, he applied to Tuahine, who had for a long time lived with the Missionaries; hence Oito inferred he would be able to direct him aright. Tuahine has since rendered the most important services to the Mission, by aiding Mr. Nott in the translations. When the Gospel by John, and the Acts of the Apostles, were finished, and Mr. Nott left Huahine, in July 1819, he removed to Raiatea, his native island, where he has since been not only a useful member of society, and an ornament to the religion he professes, but an officer in the Christian church in Raiatea.

Tuahine's mind, on the subject of the Christian religion, was at this period in a state resembling that of Oito's. Their conversation deepened their impressions; they frequently met afterwards for this purpose, and often retired to the privacy of the sequestered valleys or verdant shrubberies adjacent to their dwellings, for conversion and prayer. The singularity of their conduct, together with the report of the change in the sentiments of the king, soon page 103 attracted observation: many derided them, but several young men and boys attached themselves to Oito and Tuahine, and this little band, without any Missionary to teach them, or even before any one was acquainted with the circumstance, agreed to refrain from worshipping the idols—from the evil practices of their country—to observe the Sabbath-day,—and to worship Jehovah alone. They had established among themselves a meeting for prayer, which they held on the Sabbath, and often assembled at other times for social worship.

This intelligence was like life from the dead to the Missionaries; they thanked God, and took courage; but, before commencing their journey round Tahiti, they wrote to their brethren in Eimeo an account of what they had seen and heard: declaring all that they had heard was true, that God had “also granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life,” that some had cast away their idols, and were stretching out their hands in prayer to God, &c. The effect of their letter was scarcely less on the minds of the Missionaries in Eimeo, than the recital had been to themselves in Tahiti. They were deeply affected, even unto tears. I have often heard Mr. Nott speak, with evident indications of strong feeling, of the emotions with which this letter was read. And when we consider the long and cheerless years, which he and some of his associates had spent in fruitless, hopeless toil, on that unpromising field, the reasonable prospect of an ultimate harvest, which these facts certainly warranted, was adapted to produce unusual and exalted joys,—emphatically a Missionary's own,—joys “that a stranger intermeddleth not with.”

Messrs. Scott and Hayward made the tour of Tahiti, preaching to the people whenever they page 104 could collect a congregation, and then returned to Eimeo with Tuahine, Oito, and their companions,—who accompanied them, in order to attend the school, and receive more ample instruction in those things, respecting which, though formerly so indifferent, they were now most anxious to be informed.

Tuahine was born in the island of Raiatea, but had been some time residing in the inland parts of the district of Pare. Oito was an inhabitant, if not a native, of Hautaua, and in this lovely, verdant, and sequestered valley, the first native meeting for prayer was held, and the first associated vows were paid to Heaven.

I was personally acquainted with Oito while he resided in Eimeo, and have often passed along the mouth or opening of this valley, but regret that I never had an opportunity of traversing its interior, and visiting the abode of Oito, or the sites of the rural oratories of the first Christiains in Tahiti. Hautaua valley is an interesting spot, not only on account of the events connected spot, not only on account of the events connected with the early history of Christianity, which transpired within its borders, but also from the peculiarity of its scenery.