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Polynesian Researches


page 105


First record of the names of the professors of Christianity—Taaroarii's rejection of idolatrous ceremonies—Determination of Patii, the priest of Papetoai—Idols publicly burnt at Uaeva, in Eimeo—Increase of the scholars—Contempt and persecution on account of the profession of Christianity—Baneful influence of idolatry on social intercourse—Humiliating circumstances to which its institutes reduced the female sex—Happy change in domestic society, attending the introduction of Christianity—Persecution of the Christians—Worshippers of the true God sought as victims for sacrifice to the pagan idols—Notice of Aberahama—Martyrdom in Tahiti.

Soon after the return of Messrs Scott and Hayward from Tahiti, indications of the same convictions and inquiry were occasionally manifested in Eimeo; and on the 25th of July, 1813, which was the Sabbath, the first place for public worship erected in the island of Eimeo was opened. It was also the first building in the islands ever used by the natives for this sacred purpose. The exercises of the day were highly interesting both to the Missionaries and their little band of followers. At the close of the evenging service Mr. Davies gave notice, according to previous arrangements, that on the following morning a public meeting would be held; when all who had sincerely renounced their false gods, who had desired also to relinquish their evil customs, to receive Jehovah for their God, and to be instructed in his word, were invited to page 106 attend. Forty natives came at the time appointed; the design of the meeting was explained by Mr. Nott. It was, to urge those who were decided, and wished to become sincere disciples of Jesus Christ, to make their desires known—that the Missionaries might pay them special attention, and give them suitable instructions: they listened attentively, and many appeared deeply affected. They were afterwards individually interrogated as to their desires in reference to these important matters: during this inquiry thirty-one declared that they had renounced the idols, their worship, and every practice connected with idolatry; wishing to abandon every thing contrary to the word of God. These thirty-one requested to have their names written down, as those who desired to worship God, and to become disciples of Christ. Others said they intended to cast away their idols, but did not wish to have their names written down at that time. All who felt inclined to come were invited, but none were urged. The names of these thirtyone were written down; and among the first of them, Oito and Tuahine's were to be seen. In writing down the names of those who thus publicly professed Christianity, the Missionaries were influenced by a desire, not only to instruct them more fully, but to become personally acquainted with them, and to exercise over them a guardian care, which they could not do without knowing their names, places of abode, &c. To their number, eleven more were soon added; and with these they afterwards held frequent meetings, for the purpose of informing their minds, and encouraging them to faithfulness in their attachment to the Redeemer. Among the last number was Taaroarii, the young chief of Huahine and Sir Charles page 107 Sanders' Island, and Matapuupuu, a principal Areoi, and chief priest of Huahine, who had long been one of the main pillars of idolatry in the island to which he belonged.

On the 28th of July, 1813, a number of Areois visited Taaroarii's encampment at Teataebua, five miles from Papetoai, the Missionary settlement; prepared an entertainment, invited him to attend, and, before it commened, were about to perform some heathen rites connected with the food they were to eat, and to deliver an oration, in which his rank, descent, and connexion with the gods by origin and family, and his future place among them, were to have been detailed. This, Taaroarii strictly prohibited; declaring that he intended no longer to acknowledge the gods of Tahiti, which were no gods; that no more ceremonies should be performed on his account, as he purposed to worship Jehovah, He was anxious to know more respecting God, and wished them also to hear about Him; and, therefore, sent a message to Mr. Nott, requesting him to come down, and preach to the people at his place of abode.

Mr. Nott gladly complied with his request, and, accompanied by Mr. Hayward, repaired a few days afterwards to his encampment. When they arrived at Tiataebua, Puru, the king of Huahine, and the chief of Eimeo, received them cordially; said his son Taaroarii wished to be instructed in the word of God, to learn about Jehovah and Jesus Christ, of whom he had so frequently heard Pomare speak. The chief added, that although he had no desire after these things himself, he did not wish to oppose his son, or prevent his hearing whatever Mr. Nott might have to communicate. The hand of the Almighty was strikingly exhibited, page 108 in the door thus effectually opened for the preaching of the gospel. Puru and his adherents had not been much with the Missionaries. The people of Huahine and their chief were certainly among the most superstitious and idolatrous tribes of the Pacific. Pomare, and not the Missionary, had on this occasion been employed as the agent, under God, in influencing the mind of the young chief, who was likely to become the king of Huahine and Eimeo, and in a way which at once demonstrated that it was the purpose of God that he he should be made acquainted with divine truth. Hence he was induced to prohibit an acknowledgement to the gods of his ancestors, and to invite the teachers of Christianity to his camp, to speak unto him and his adherents words whereby they might be saved. While the Missionaries admired the means by which God had thus shewn them that the work was His, and not theirs, and thus deprived them of attributing any thing to their own influence, they rejoiced in the opportunity now afforded of proclaiming the glad tidings of mercy from the most High. Mr. Nott conversed a long time with them, and preached an instructive and affecting discourse from Isa.xlix. 6,7. I have often heard the young man's mother-in-law, and other members of the household, speak of this discourse as having deeply impressed their minds. When Mr. Nott left them, he invited the chief and his adherents to visit the station on the Sabbath, and cultivate an intercourse with other Christian chiefs.

On the following Sabbath, Taaroarii attended; his father also became, a few months afterwards, a sincere convert. They accompanied us to Huahine in 1818. Taaroarii died rather suddenly page 109 in 1821. His father is the venerable king of Huahine; and has, ever since his return, proved not only a father to the people, but a uniform and bright ornament to the religion of the Cross.

Besides these regular periods of instructions and times of public worship, the Missionaries frequently held special meetings with those whose names they had written down, for the purpose of unfolding more fully the sublime doctrines of revelation, and uniting with them in social worship. They had the delightful satisfaction of hearing some of the new converts engage in prayer, and were surprised and gratified, in a high degree, with their fluency and fervour, as well as the appropriateness of their language, when officiating in this sacred duty. They also learned with pleasure, that they were accustomed to retire morning and evening for secret prayer.

In one of the visits which Mr. Nott made to the residence of Taaroarii, for the purpose of preaching to this people, he was followed by Patii, the priest of the temple in Papetoai, the district in which the Missionaries resided. This individual appeared to listen most attentively to what was said; and after the conclusion of the service, he and Mr. Nott, proceeded together along the beach towards the settlement. As they walked, Patii fully disclosed the fellings of his mind to Mr. Nott, and assured him that on the morrow, at a certain hour, he would bring out the idols under his care, and publicly burn them. The declaration was astounding; it was too decisive and important in its nature, and promised results almost too momentous to be true. Mr. Nott replied, “I fear you are jesting with me, and stating what you think we wish, rather than what you intend. I can scarcely page 110 allow myself to believe what you say.” “Don't be unbelieving,” replied Patii, “wait till tomorrow, and you shall see.” The religion of Jesus Christ was the topic of conversation until they reached the settlement; when Patii took his leave, and Mr. Nott informed his colleagues of the success of his visit to the young chief of Huahine, and the determination which the priest of the district had made known to him. The impression which the intelligence of these events produced upon their minds, was that of mingled admiration, gratitude, and hope, to a degree that may be better imagined than expressed.

The arrival of the evening of the following day was awaited with an unusual agitation and excitement of feeling. Hope and fear alternately pervaded the minds of the Missionaries and their pupils, with regard to the burning of the idols, and the consequent tumult, devastation, and bloodshed that might follow. The public adherents of Christianity were but few, (less than fifty,) and surrounded by jealous and cruel idolaters—who already began to wonder “whereunto this thing might grow.” Patii, however, was faithful to his word. He, with his friends, had collected a quantity of fuel near the sea-beach; and, in the afternoon, the wood was split, and piled on a point of land in the western part of Papetoai, near the large national marae, or temple, in which he had officiated. The report of his intention had spread among the people of the district, and multitudes assembled to witness this daring act of impiety, or the sudden vengeance which they expected would fall upon the sacrilegious criminal. The Missionaries and their friends also attended. The varied emotions of hope and fear, of dread and expectation, with a page 111 strange air of mysterious foreboding, agitating the bosoms of the multitude, were strongly marked in the countenances of the spectators; resembling, perhaps in no small degree, the feeling depicted in the visages of the assembled Israelites, when the prophet Elijah summoned them to prove the power of Baal, or to acknowledge the omnipotence of the Lord God of Israel. A short time before sun-set, Patii appeared, and ordered his attendants to apply fire to the pile. This being done, he hastened to the sacred depository of his gods, brought them out, not indeed as he had been on some occasions accustomed to do, that they might receive the blind homage of the waiting populace,—but to convince the deluded multitude of the impotency and the vanity of the objects of their adoration and their dread. When he approached page 112 the burning pile, he laid them down on the ground. They were small carved wooden images, rude imitations of the human figure; or shapeless logs of wood, covered with finely braided and curiously wrought cinet of cocoa-nut fibres, and ornamented with red feathers. The representations in the preceding page will convey some idea of the shape and appearance of the former kind.

Patii tore off the sacred cloth in which they were enveloped, to be safe from the gaze of vulgar eyes; stripped them of their ornaments, which he cast into the fire; and then one by one threw the idols themselves into the crackling flames—sometimes pronouncing the name and pedigree of the idol, and expressing his own regret at having worshipped it—at others, calling upon the spectators to behold their inability even to help themselves. Thus were the idols which Patii, who was a powerful priest in Eimeo, had worshipped, publicly destroyed. The flames became extinct, and the sun cast his last beams, as he sunk behind the western wave, upon the expiring embers of that fire, which had already mingled with the earth upon which had been kindled, the ashes of some of the once obeyed and dreaded idols of Eimeo.

Patii on this occasion was not prompted by a spirit of daring bravado, but by the conviction of truth, deeply impressed upon his heart, and a desire to undeceive his deluded countrymen; probably considering, that as his conduct and instruction had heretofore done much to extend and propagate the influence of idolatry, so his thus publicly abandoning it, and exposing himself to all the consequences of their dreaded ire, would most effectually weaken their confidence in the gods, and lead them to desire instruction concerning page 113 that Being, who, he was convinced, was the only living and true God,—who was a spirit, and was to be worshipped, not with human or other sacrifices, save those of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, or the sacrifices of thanksgiving and of praise.

Although many of the spectators undoubtedly viewed Patii with feelings analogous to those with which the Melitians viewed the apostle Paul when the viper fastened on his hand, and were, many of them, evidently disappointed when they saw no evil befal him, they did not attempt to rescue the gods, when insulted, and perhaps riven by the axe, or stripped to be cast into the flames. No tumult followed, and no one came forward to revenge the insult offered to the tutelar deities of their country. Probably, Gamaliel-like, they thought it best not to interfere at that time, as their belief in the power of the gods had hitherto remained unshaken, and they doubtless expected that, in their own way, the gods would take signal vengeance on those by whom, in the sight of the nation, they had been thus dishonoured.

The watchful providence of God, over His infant cause in these islands, was remarkably conspicuous in preserving Patii and his friends, and allowing them, after the events of the evening, safely and peacefully to retire. There were many present, who were indignant at the insult, and filled with rage at the impiety of the act, as well as convinced, that if this conduct should be imitated by others, not only would their craft and their emoluments be endangered, but they would no longer be able to exercise that unquestioned influence over the people, to which they had hitherto been accustomed; nor to indulge their page 114 base propensities, and live in the luxurious ease they then enjoyed. Had any popular tumult followed this heroic act, the idolaters were so numerous and powerful, and the Christians so weak, that their destruction would have been inevitable; and even the lives of the Missionaries, who would have been considered as the cause of all the disturbances, might not have been secure. God, however, preserved them, and they returned, to render to him the thanks and the glory due unto his name.

The conduct of Patii, when it became more extensively known, produced the most decisive effects on priests and people. Numbers in Tahiti and Eimeo were emboldened, by his example—not only in burning their idols, but demolishing their maraes or temples; their altars were also stripped and overthrown, and the wood employed in their construction converted into fuel, and used in the native kitchens.

Patii became a pupil of the Missionaries, and a constant worshipper of the true God, persevering amidst much ridicule and persecution. Whether his mind had at this time undergone a divine and decisive change, it is not necessary now to inquire; every evidence that could be required, has since been given, of the sincerity of his profession of Christianity, and the influence of its principles on his heart. His conduct, from this period, has been uniformly moral and upright, his mind humble, his disposition affectionate and mild, and his habits of life reformed and industrious. The influence of his character in Papetoai, where he is best known, has occasioned his election to an important office in the Christian church. He is a valuable and steady friend, and an assistant, in page 115 whom the Missionaries can repose confidence. Although not a chief of the highest rank, he had been raised by the king and people to the office of a magistrate, in his own district. His conduct on the above occasion gave idolatry a stab more deadly than any which it had before received, and inflicted a wound, from which, with all the energy subsequently manifested, it never could recover.

On the 5th of October, 1813, the native Christians engaged for the first time with their teachers, in the monthly meetings for prayer for the spreading of the gospel. On the 2nd of December, in the same year, Mui, one of the early scholars, and one whose name had been written among the first that professed Christianity, departed to the world of spirits, under the consolation that pure religion imparts in the hour of death. He was often heard to say, while confined to his couch, when he saw his former companions going to the school, or the place of worship, “My feet cannot follow, but my heart goes with you.” He did not pretend to know much, but he knew that he was a sinner, and that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and this knowledge removed from his mind the fear of death.

Early in the same year, the number of pupils, and of those who professed Christianity in Eimeo, was considerably increased, and favourable intelligence continued to arrive from the adjacent island.

The report of the increase of the Christians, and their advancement in knowledge, &c. had already circulated throughout Tahiti; the minds of many were unsettled, and numbers were halting between two opinions. Upaparu, a chief of rank and influence page 116 in the eastern part of Tahiti, with his wife, and twelve or thirteen of his people, came over to Eimeo, in order to receive instruction. The inhabitants of the Leeward Islands, whose encampment he passed when on his way to Papetoai, strongly persuaded him to join their party, and carry the flag of the gods to Raiatea, entreating him to adhere to the religion of his fathers, and to beware of Matapuupuu, a man of influence, an Areoi, and a high-priest, from Huabine, who had recently joined the Christian converts, and Utami, a well-informed and enterprising man, chief in the island of Tahaa, who, with his wife, had also attached himself to their number.

Fifty had now given in their names, as having renounced idolatry, desiring to acknowledge Jehovah alone as God, and to be instructed in the obedience his word required. Others attended in such numbers, that it was found necessary to enlarge the first place of worship they had ever used in the islands. The converts were punctual and regular in their observance of the outward ordinances of religion, in frequent social meetings for prayer, and seasons of retirement for private devotion. Their whole moral conduct seemed changed; the things they once delighted in, they now abhorred, and found enjoyment in what had formerly been a source of ridicule or aversion. Their habit of invariably asking a blessing, and returning thanks at their meals, and their frequent attention to prayer, attracted the notice of their countrymen, and procured for them, as a term of reproach from their enemies, the designation of Bure Atua, literally, Prayers to God; from Bure, to pray, and Atua, God; the meaning of which was, the people who prayed to God, or the praying people. Bure page 117 Atua is a designation in no respect dishonourable to those to whom it was applied, and of which they have never been ashamed, though considered as an epithet of contempt or opprobrium, and applied in a manner similar to that in which the term Saint or Methodist is used in the present day, or the designation of Nazarene or Christian was given to the first disciples. Since the profession of Christianity has become general, it has been much less used than formerly. Haapii parau, learners, or brethren, friends, and disciples, are the terms most frequently employed by the converts themselves.

On the 16th of January, 1814, Idia, the king's mother, died. Like her husband, she had been uniformly friendly to the Missionaries, but continued to the last an enemy to the Christian faith. Two months afterwards Mr. Nott, accompanied by Mr. Hayward, visited Huahine, Raiatea, and Tahaa, the principal of the Society Islands, conversing with the inhabitants, travelling round the islands, and preaching to the people wherever it was convenient. In every place they were welcomed and entertained with hospitality. The inhabitants frequently assembled to hear their instructions as soon as they knew of their arrival in a district or village; whereas, on every former occasion, it had required much time and labour, by personal application, to assemble the smallest congregations. Many appeared to listen with earnestness and satisfaction to the message they delivered, called God, the good Spirit, and scrupled not to designate their own gods as varua maamaa, and varua ino, foolish spirits, and evil spirits.

In the autumn of the same year, Mr. Wilson went on board a vessel at Eimeo, which was driven page 118 to the Leeward Islands, where contrary winds detained him and his companions for three months. During this period he was much among the people, preached to attentive congregations on the Sabbath and other days, and was happy to find that those whose names had been written down at Tahiti continued stedfast. He also added to their number thirty-nine others, whose names, at their own desire, were recorded as the professed worshippers of the true God. When he left them, they expressed the deepest regret, and requested that one of the Missionaries would come and reside among them. Pomare was also on board the same vessel when it was driven from the shores of Eimeo, and exerted his influence to persuade the people of the Leeward Islands to embrace the Christian religion.

Before Mr Nott visited the Society Islands, he finished the translation of the Gospel of Luke; and, in the course of the same year, the Missionaries sent a copy of their catechism to New South Wales, to be printed there. They were exceedingly anxious to obtain a supply of elementary books, as the spelling books from England were expended, and the desire for instruction had increased to such a degree, that upwards of two hundred scholars attended their school at Papetoai.

About this time, several of the chiefs of Raiatea, &c. and many of their adherents, who had come up in 1811 to assist Pomare in the recovery of his government and authority in Tahiti, returned to their own islands; not, however, without most earnestly requesting the Missionaries to send them teachers and books.

Tamatoa and his brother, with other chiefs, had been residing for some time at the Missionary page 119 station in Eimeo; they had attended the school and public instruction in the place of worship; and several, among the most promising of whom was Paumoana, at present a valuable native Missionary in the Hervey islands, appeared to be under the decisive influence of Christian principles.

After an absence of two years, during which he had resided in Tahiti, vainly expecting the restoration of his government, and endeavouring to recover his authority in his hereditary dominions, Pomare returned to Eimeo in the autumn of 1814, accompanied by a large train of adherents and dependants, all professors, at least, of Christianity. These regularly attended the school, and increased the congregation to such a degree, that it was necessary again to enlarge the place of worship. The king had been unable to withstand the temptation with which he had been assailed at Tahiti, to use ardent spirits; and although not addicted to entire intoxication, yet it induced the Missionaries to fear that he, like Agrippa, was but almost a Christian. They could not but indulge unfavourable apprehensions on his account; yet, considering his previous habits, that intemperance had ever been the vice to which he was most addicted, and the peculiar temptations to which his residence in Tahiti had exposed him, they could not readily relinquish the hopes they had entertained respecting him.

The numerous attendance and increasing earnestness of the people, induced the Missionaries to meet them for Divine worship twice on the Lord's day, and once during the week. In addition to these public instructions, they held a meeting every Sabbath evening with those whose names had been written down as the disciples of Christ, and spent much time in more private endeavours to direct page 120 the views, and confirm the belief, of those who were desirous to be added to their number. These sacred exercieses were enlivened by the natives, who united with their teachers in celebrating the praises of Jehovah, a number of the natives having been taught to sing hymns that had been composed in the native language. The Missionaries had often, with mingled feelings of horror and pity, heard their songs of licentiousness or of war, as well as the cantillations of their heathen worship, and their songs in honour of their idols; and it is scarcely possible to form an adequate idea of the delightful transport with which, at first, they must have heard the high praises of the Almighty preferred by native voices.

Upaparu, a principal chief in the eastern part of Tahiti, came over to Eimeo for the express purpose of seeking Christian instruction, and attending the assemblies for public worship. He was accompanied by his wife, Maihota, and twelve of his people, equally anxious with himself, to know more respecting these important matters. On the 15th of April they reached the Missionary station. The following day was the Sabbath. They attended public worship in the forenoon; and when they saw the congregation stand up, and heard them sing the praises of Jehovah in their native tongue, they were for some time mute with astonishment, and some of them so deeply affected, as to be unable to refrain from tears. An excellent discourse was afterwards delivered by Mr. Scott, to which they listened with mingled feelings of wonder and delight.

A variety of events occurred at this time, to confirm the attachment of those who had professed themselves favourable to Christianity, and to induce those who were undecided to join page 121 them. On one occasion, a family in Eimeo were plunged into great distress, on account of the sufferings of one of its members, and the prospect of a fatal issue. A priest was sent for, who implored the assistance of his god; but, continuing his intercesson for a long time, without any apparent relief to the sufferer, he desisted, and left the family in hopeless disappointment. A native, who was a worshipper of Jehovah, was among the attending friends. He kneeled down, and offered up a fervent prayer to the true God. While he was thus engaged, relief was afforded, and the weeping and forebodings of the family turned into grateful wonder, and joyous gratulations. I simply state the fact, as it is recorded by the Missionary in the island at the time, without making any comment; which, indeed, it neither requires nor admits. On the minds of the family, and the inhabitants of the place, it produced a powerful impression. They hastened to the idol temple of the district, which they demolished, breaking down the altars, and bringing forth their gods, which they execrated as false, and publicly committed to the flames.

∗In recording this incident, it is proper to state, that the Missionaries disclaim all idea of miraculous interposition. At the same time, the providential coincidence of the events, and the encouragement which the word of God gives to “fervent and effectual prayer,” demand attentive consideration, and grateful acknowledgment.—Psa.cvii.43.

A similar instance occurred early in this year. One of the scholars, the wife of an Areoi, who had for some time, with her husband's consent, attended the school, was suddenly taken ill. The members of the family were alarmed; and, accustomed to attribute every calamity to the anger of page 122 the gods, immediately concluded that her illness was occasioned by their displeasure, which she had probably incurred by attending the school and the Christian worship of the Missionaries. Patii, the priest of the district, was instantly sent for. On his arrival, a small pig and a young plantain were procured, and handed to Patii; who, in offering them to his god, thus addressed him: O Satani! eiaha oe e riri, faaora, faaora, Teie te hapa, ua faarue ia oe, ua haavarehia e te papaa, Teie te buaa, eiaha e riri; “O Satan ! be not angry, restore, restore; this is the sin, deceived by the foreigners (she) has forsaken you. Here is a pig (as an atonement,) be not angry.” In this address it is singular to notice the application of the term Satan to the god Patii invoked. It was introduced by the Missionaries, and at this time adopted by the Christians, when speaking of any of the idols of Tahiti. Although dangerously ill at the time these efforts were made, the woman recovered, and, notwithstanding all the fearful representation of consequences, made by her friends, attended the school again, so soon as her strength admitted. Her infatuation, as they conceived it to be in this respect, not only encouraged her school-fellows, but, with other circumstances which occurred about the same time, made a considerable impression on the minds of the idolaters, and occasioned some of the priests publicly to declare their conviction “that the religion of the foreigners would prevail, in spite of all opposition.

The progress of Divine truth was so rapid among the natives, that, in the close of 1814, not fewer than 300 hearers regularly attended the preaching of the gospel. Upwards of 200 had given in their names, as professors of Christianity. Three hundred page 123 scholars attended the means of instruction in Eimeo; besides which, there were a number in Sir Charles Sander's Island, Huahine, and Raiatea; so that, at this time there is reason to believe that between five and six hundred had renounced idolworship.

These encouraging appearances, in regard to the affairs of the Christians, only appeared to arouse the anger of their idolatrous enemies, who were no longer satisfied with simply ridiculing, and treating with contempt, the objects of their hatred, but proceeded to more alarming plans of resistance against the progress of the new principles which were daily gaining ground among the people. It was by no means an uncontested triumph, nor an undisputed possession, that Christianity acquired in those islands; every inch was reluctantly surrendered; and, at several periods, persecution raged, amid the Elysian bowers of Tahiti and Eimeo, as much as ever it had done in the valleys of Piedmont, or the metropolis of the Roman empire. Many, in Tahiti especially, were plundered of their property, banished from their homes and their possessions; their houses were burnt, and they themselves hunted for sacrifices to be offered to Oro, merely because they were Bure Atua, prayers to God. In some places, the persecutions were so inveterate as to produce remonstrances, even from several of the inferior chiefs, who were themselves idolaters.

The commencement of the year 1815 is distinguished, in the annals of Tahiti, by changes in society, affecting deeply, not only the religious, but the domestic condition of the people, especially of the females. Idolatry had exerted all its withering and deadly influence, not only over every page 124 moment of their earthly existence, but every department of life, destroying, by its debasing and unsocial dictates, every tender feeling, and all the enjoyments of domestic intercourse.

To this cheerless humiliation, the female sex had been for ages subject, from the direct injunctions of their false system of religion; and as its cumbrous fabric began to give way, this barbarous and arbitrary imposition was proportionably disregarded. Not only were the sacred materials with which the altars, and the appendages of the temple, had been constructed, converted into fuel; but the food, considered sacred, was esteemed so no longer, the invidious and debasing distinctions attached to the females were removed, and both sexes, among those who professed Christianity, sat down together to their cheerful meal.

Under the influence of these encouraging prospects, although enfeebled by frequent indisposition, the Missionaries prosecuted their work; their scholars increased in the same degree that the profession of Christianity prevailed, and a supply of four hundred copies of their abridgment of the New Testament, and a thousand copies of small elementary books, which had been printed in New South Wales, arrived very opportunely about this time; spelling books they were still much in want of, as those formerly printed in England had long been expended.

Such was the pleasing state of things in the commencement of 1815. The importance and advantages of education appeared to be more extensively appreciated, and between forty and fifty, principally adults, regularly attended the Mission school. The agents of vice, idolatry, and cruelty, were not inactive. The struggle between page 125 light and darkness, truth and error, order and anarchy, benevolence and barbarism, had never appeared more intense and conspicuous than at this time. The little band of scholars in the Mission school, and worshippers in the chapel, unwilling to enjoy their privileges alone, employed every proper and persuasive means to induce their friends and relatives to attend to these things; at least to make a trial of the school, and to hear what was said about the true God. The latter, however, frequently became indignant at the very proposal, charging the God of the foreigners with all the maladies under which they suffered, and the disturbances that agitated the country; accusing them also of bringing down the vengeance of their own gods upon the family, by deserting their altars, and worshipping with the strangers. Frequently, however, they answered their entreaties only with ridicule and scorn, tauntingly inquiring, Where is the good of which you speak so much—the salvation of which you tell us? the foreigners themselves die, their pupils die, or suffer the same pain that we do; and what good have you derived from going to their schools? Let us see—if you go this week, and bring home a good bundle of cloth, or scissors, or knives, or any thing else worth having, then we will go too; if not, we will have nothing to do with such profitless work. The state of things resembled greatly that described by the Saviour, when speaking of the results that should follow the promulgation of his gospel. In many a family, the husband was an idolater, and the wife a Christian,—or the reverse; the parents addicted to the gods of their ancestors, and the child a disciple of Jesus Christ; and many a wife was beaten by her husband, and page 126 many a child driven from the parental roof, solely on account of their attachment to the new religion. In Tahiti, the idolaters proceeded to the greatest acts of lawless violence and horrid murder.

More than once, individuals were selected to be offered in sacrifice to the gods, only because they were Christians. Mr. Davies, in his journey round Tahiti, in 1816, met with the murderer of the young man who was offered in sacrifice by the people of Taiarabu, to insure success in their last attack upon the people of Atehuru and Papara, and whose tragical death, he justly considered, ought to be recorded, because it is hoped it was “the last human sacrifice offered in Tahiti,” and because the victim was selected “on account of his attachment to Christianity.”

Aberahama, an interesting and intelligent young man, who was a pupil in our school at Eimeo, was marked out as a victim; and, when the servants of the priests came to take him, being obliged to fly for his life, he was pursued by the murderers, shot at, wounded, and but narrowly escaped. When he received the ball, he fell, and, unable to save himself by flight, crawled among the bushes, and hid himself so completely, as to elude the vigilant search of his enemies, although it was continued for some time, and they often passed near his retreat. Under cover of the darkness of night, he crept down to the dwelling of his friends, who dressed his wound, and conveyed him to a place of safety. But, although he recovered from the shot, and lives, not only to enjoy the blessings of the gospel in this world, and to be useful in imparting its benefits to others, he will, to adopt the language of Mr. Davies, “carry the honourable scar to his grave.”

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An immolation, equally affecting, was related to me by Mr. Nott. A fine, intelligent young man, on becoming a disciple of Christ, and a public worshipper of Jehovah, was ridiculed by his family; this proving ineffectual, flattering promises were made of temporal advantages, if he would again unite with those who had been his former associates in idol worship; these he also declined. He then was threatened with all their weight of vengeance; and, still remaining firm to his determination, he was banished from his father's house, and forced to leave the neighbourhood. Not satisfied with this, that rage and malignant hatred of Christianity, which is gendered by ignorance and idolatry, and cherished by satanic infatuation, pursued him still. A heathen ceremony was at hand, for which a human victim was required, and this young man was selected by his persecutors, because he professed to be a worshipper of the true God. A more acceptable sacrifice they thought they could not offer, as the revenge they should thereby wreak upon him, would not only gratify their own insatiate malice, but be so acceptable to the gods whom he had rejected, as certainly to render them propitious. It is probable they also expected, by this summary vengeance, to deter others from following his example. On the evening of the day preceding that on which the ceremony was to take place, the young man, as his custom was, had retired to the brow of a hill that overlooked the valley where he dwelt; and there, seated beneath the embowering shade of an elegant clump of trees, was absorbed in meditation, previous to offering up his evening supplications to his God. While thus engaged, his seclusion was invaded, and his solitude disturbed, by the page 128 appearance of a band, similar, in some respects, to that which broke in upon the Saviour's retirement in Gethsemane. A number of the servants of the priests and chiefs approached the young man, and told him that the king had arrived, and, wishing to see him, had sent them to invite him down. He knew of the approaching ceremony, that a human sacrifice was then to be offered,—and he no sooner saw them advancing to his retreat, than a sudden thought, like a flash of lightning, darted through his mind, intimating that he was to be the victim. He received it as a premonition of his doom; and, in reply to the request, told them, calmly, that he did not think the king had arrived, and that, therefore, it was unnecessary for him to go down. They then told him that the priest, or some of his friends, wished to see him, and again invited him to descend. “Why,” said he, “do you thus seek to deceive me? The priest, or friends, may wish to see me, but it is under very different circumstances from what your message would imply: I know a ceremony approaches, that a human victim is then to be offered—something within tells me I am to be that victim, and your appearance and your message confirms my conviction. Jesus Christ is my keeper, without his permission you cannot harm me; you may be permitted to kill my body, but I am not afraid to die! My soul you cannot hurt; that is safe in the hands of Jesus Christ, by whom it will be kept beyond your power.” Perceiving there was but little prospect of inducing him, by falsehood, to accompany them towards the beach, and irritated, probably, by his heroical reply, they rushed upon him, wounded, and murdered him, and then, in a long basket made with the leaves of the overshadowing cocoanut page 129 tree, bore his body to the temple, where, with exulation, it was offered in sacrifice to their god They had, perhaps, beheld, with fiend-like joy, his writhing agonies in death, and listened with equal delight to his expiring groans. The unconscious earth had been saturated with his blood; and, when they placed his body on the rude altar, or suspended it from the sacred tree, in the presence of their god, they not only supposed they offered a sacrifice at once acceptable and efficacious, but, doubtless, viewed the immolation as one by which they had achieved for idolatry a triumph over humanity and Christian principle. Before, however, these feelings could be exercised, and the earth had drunk up his blood, or his insulted corpse was deposited on their altar, his liberated and ransomed spirit had winged its way to the realms of blessedness, had joined “the noble army of martyrs;” and united in ascriptions of grateful homage unto Him who had loved him, and not only made him faithful to the end, but triumphant over death. Those who heard the young man's dying words, and witnessed his calm unshaken firmness in the moment of trial, with many, among whom the report circulated, were probably led to think differently of the religion he professed, than they had done before. The blood of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the church; and, from an exhibition of principles so unequivocal in their nature, and so happy in their effects, it is not too much to presume that it proved so on the present occasion.