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Polynesian Researches


page 130


Distillation of ardent spirits—Description of a native still—materials employed in distillation—Murderous effects of intoxication—Seizure of the Queen Charlotte—Murder of the officers—Escape of Mr. Shelly—Seizure of the Daphne—Massacre of the captain and part of the crew—Public triumph over idolatry in Eimeo—Visit of the Queen and her sister to Tahiti—Emblems of the gods committed to the flames—Account of Farefau—Projected assassination of the Bure Atua—Manner of their escape—War in Tahiti—Pomare's tour of Eimeo.

The anarchy, crime, and wretchedness, which now desolated Tahiti, were increased by intemperance, which at this time prevailed to an awful and unprecedented degree. By the Sandwich Islanders, who had arrived some years before, the natives had been taught to distil ardent spirits from the saccharine ti root, which they now practised to a great extent; and exhibited, in a proportionate degree, all the demoralizing and debasing influence of drunkenness.

Whole districts frequently united, to erect what might be termed a public still. It was a rude, unsightly machine, yet it answered but too well the purpose for which it was made. It generally consisted of a large fragment of rock, hollowed in a rough manner, and fixed firmly upon a solid pile of stones, leaving a space underneath for a fire-place. page 131 The but-end of a tree was then hollowed out, and placed upon the rough stone boiler for a cap. The baked ti root, called Dracanæ terminalis, macerated in water, and already in a state of fermentation, was then put into the hollow stone, and covered with the unwieldy cap. The fire was kindled underneath; a hole was made in the wooden cap of the still, into which a long, small, bamboo cane, placed in a trough of cold water, was inserted at one end, and, when the process of distillation was commenced, the spirit flowed from the other into a calabash, cocoa-nut shell, or other vessel, placed underneath to receive it.

Tahition Still

Tahition Still

When the materials were prepared, the man and boys of the district assembled in a kind of temporary house, erected over the still, in order to drink the ava, as they called the spirit. The first that issued from the still being the strongest, they called the ao; it was carefully received, and given to the chief: that subsequently procured, was drunk by page 132 the people in general. In this employment they were sometimes engaged for several days together, drinking the spirit as it issued from the still, sinking into a state of indescribable wretchedness, and often practising the most ferocious barbarities.

Travellers among the natives experienced greater inconvenience from these district stills than from any other cause, for when the people were either preparing one, or engaged in drinking, it was impossible to obtain either their attention, or the common offices of hospitality. Under the unrestrained influence of their intoxicating draught, in their appearance and actions they resembled demons more than human beings.

Sometimes, in a deserted still-house might be seen the fragments of the rude boiler, and the other appendages of the still, scattered in confusion on the ground; and among them the dead and mangled bodies of those who had been murdered with axes or billets of wood in the quarrels that had terminated their debauch.

It was not only among themselves that their unbridled passions led to such enormities. One or two European vessels were seized, and the crews inhumanly murdered. The first was the Queen Charlotte, of Port Jackson, the vessel by which we arrived in the islands.

Towards the autumn of 1813, Mr. Shelly, formerly a Missionary in Tongatabu, and subsequently in Matavai, arrived as master of the Queen Charlotte, at Eimeo, on his way to the Paumotu, or Pearl Islands. These lie to the eastward of Tahiti, and form what is denominated the Dangerous Archipelago. The vessel was but imperfectly manned, and a number of natives, of Raiatea and Tahiti, were taken on board, to dive among the lagoon page 133 islands for the pearl oyster. They proceeded to their destination, but had scarcely commenced their pearl-fishing, when the natives attacked the crew, barbarously murdered the first and second officers, who were men of fine stature and benevolent dispositions; and killing one of the seamen, took possession of the ship. Mr. Shelly's life was threatened, and only spared at the instance of two Tahitians, who, anxious to save him, requested that he might be kept, to navigate the vessel to Tahiti, whither they intended to return. One of these natives was Upaparu, a chief of rank, present secretary to the government of Tahiti, and a steady friend to foreigners. When the vessel arrived at Tahiti, Pomare succeeded in securing to Mr. Shelly its restoration, though most of the property had been plundered. Matting was procured for sails, and the vessel, pursuing her homeward voyage, reached Port Jackson in safety.

Flushed with the success that had attended the savage and daring effort of the Raiateans, the Tahitians, whom Captain Fodger had employed on board his vessel the Daphne, for the purpose of diving among the pearl islands, rose upon the ship's company, murdered the captain and some of the men, took possession of the vessel, and brought her to Tahiti. Mr. G. Bicknell, a nephew of Mr. Bicknell, was on board at the time, but his life was spared, amidst the general carnage that attended the assault. The mutinous natives returned to their own island, but were met as they were about to enter the harbour by Capt. Walker of the Endeavour, who succeeded in retaking the vessel, and thus deprived them of their plunder.

These acts of daring outrage and appalling crime, on the one side, and of increasing and page 134 decided attachment to the principles of order, humanity, and religion, on the other, seemed to indicate that matters in Tahiti were fast verging to an important issue, and that, before long, some violent convulsion in society must follow. The Missionaries could not view these things with in sensibility, as they saw what they had to except, should they fall into the hands of those who had been guilty of such wanton cruelty; their support was, however, derived from the conviction, that their God was governor among the nations, and that the Lord omnipotent reigned.

In the close of 1814, Pomare-vahine, the daugh ter of the king of Raiatea, and the sister of Pomare's queen, paid a visit to Eimeo, from the Leeward Islands, and in the month of May, 1815, made a voyage to Tahiti, in company with her sister the queen, and a numerous train of companions and attendants, most of whom professed to be Christians. Their object was to make the tour of Tahiti, with the visitor from the Leeward Islands. Previously, however, to their embarkation, a signal triumph was achieved in favour of Christianity, at a public festival, in which they were the most conspicuous party.

It has ever been considered a mark of respect due to every distinguished visitor, to prepare, soon after the arrival of such an individual, a sumptuous feast, termed by the natives a faamuraa, or feeding; not, however, by furnishing a rich and splendid entertainment at the habitation of the propritors, and inviting as guests the parties in honour of whom it was prepared, but by cooking a number of whole pigs, fowls, and fish, with a proportionate accompaniment of vegetables, puddings, and what may be called their made-dishes, and page 135 carrying the whole to the encampment of the visitor, with a considerable addition of the choicest fruits the season may afford.

An expensive and sumptuous entertainment of this kind was furnished by the chiefs of Eimeo for the queen's sister. A large quantity of every valuable kind of food was dressed and presented, together with several bundles of native cloth. On such occasions, it was customary for a priest or priests to attend; and before any of it was eaten, to offer the whole to the gods, by taking parts of the animals, and particular kinds of the fruit, to the temple, and depositing them upon the altar. The king and his friends were desirous on this occasion to prevent such an acknowledgment. When, therefore, the food was presented to Pomare-vahine, before any article was touched by the attendants, and while the spectators were expecting the priests to select the customary offerings to the idols, one of her principal men, who was a Christian, came forward, uncovered his head, and, looking up to heaven, offered in an audible voice their acknowledgments and thanksgivings to Jehovah, who liberally gave them food and raiment and every earthly blessing. The assembled multitude were confounded and astonished; and the food being, by this act, offered as they considered to Jehovah, no one dared to take any part of it to the idol temple.

When the party reached Tahiti, they landed in Pare, the hereditary dictrict of Pomare's family, where they were welcomed by the friends of the king, and the guardian of Aimata, his only child, who with her nurse resided here.

From the few Christians in the neighbourhood, they were happy to learn that the inhabitants of page 136 large sections of Pare, and the adjacent district of Matavai, the former residence of their teachers, had renounced idolatry, and were desirous to receive Christian instruction.

By the queen, or her sister, the king sent over a new book to Aimata, his infant daughter, which being considered as an indication of his purpose that she should be trained up in the new religion, was a source of great encouragement to the converts, and of corresponding dissatisfaction to the idolaters, who already began to meditate on the means of effecting the destruction of the Christians.

It was not in Pare and Matavai alone that the professed worshippers of God were to be found. Some openly avowed their attachment to the new order of things, maintaining, in the midst of the heathen around them, daily worship in their families, and morning and evening devotion in private; others, for fear of giving offence to their chiefs or neighbours, maintained secretly their profession, and at the hour of midnight met together, as the persecuted Christians in England have often formerly done, in the depths of the woods, or the retired glens of the valleys, for conference or social prayer.

The state of affairs in Tahiti was such, as to prevent the queen and her sister from proceeding on their intended tour of the island; but while they remained at Pare, a circumstance occurred similar to that which had transpired in Eimeo, though probably more decisive and important in its immediate result.

When a present of food and cloth was brought to the visitors by some of the chiefs of Tahiti, the priests also attended, and, observing the party disinclined to acknowledge or render the customary page 137 homage to the gods, began to expatiate on the power of the gods, and, pointing to some bunches of uru, or red feathers, which were always considered emblematical of their deities, employed insulting language, and threatened with vengeance the queen's companions. One of Pomare-vahine's men, the individual who had offered their acknowledgments to God, on the presentation of food in Eimeo, hearing this, and pointing to the feathers, said, “Are those the mighty things you so extol, and with whose anger you threaten us? If so, I will soon convince you of their inability even to preserve themselves.” Running at the same time to the spot where they were fixed, he seized the bunches of feathers, and cast them into a large fire close by, where they were instantly consumed. The people stood aghast, and uttered exclamations of horror at the sacrilegious deed; and it is probable that this act increased the hatred already rankling in the bosoms of the idolatrous party.

The individual who acted so heroic and conspicuous a part on these occasions was Farefau, a native of Borabora, but attached to the household of Pomare-vahine, with whom he had arrived from the Leeward Islands in 1814. When he reached Eimeo, he was an idolater, but soon became a pupil in the school; and, in the close of the same year, desired that this name might be recorded among the converts. He occupied a prominent station in all the struggles between paganism and Christianity; maintaining an unblemished character, and an unwavering profession, through the varied scenes of that unsettled period. He engaged with diligence in teaching the inhabitants of the remote and rocky parts of Taiarabu the catechism page 138 and the art of reading; and after a lingering illness, during which he enjoyed the presence and support which true religion alone can impart, delivered, as he expressed himself on the last day of his life, from the fear of death, and having his hopes fixed or relying on the Son of God as the only Saviour, he died in peace, at our Missionary station in Afareaitu, on the 29th of July, 1817, nearly two years after the total overthrow of idolatry in 1815.

He was a man of decision and daring enterprise; and though, on the occasion in Tahiti above referred to, he may have acted with a degree of zeal somewhat imprudent, it was a zeal resulting, not from ignorant rashness, but enlightened principle, and holy indignation against the boasting threatening and lying vanities of the priests of idolatry; to whose arts of deception he had formerly been no stranger.

The influence of the Bure Atua in the nation, from the rank many of them held, and the confidence with which they maintained the superiority of their religion, together with the accessions that were daily made to their numbers from various parts of the island, not only increased the latent enmity against Christianity which the idolaters had always cherished, but awakened the first emotion of apprehension lest this new word should ultimately prevail, and the gods, their temples, and their worship, be altogether disregarded. To avoid this, they determined on the destruction, the total annihilation, of every one in Tahiti who was known to pray to Jehovah.

A project was formed by the pagan chiefs of Pare, Matavai, and Apaiano, to assassinate, in one night, every individual of the Bure Atua. page 139 The persecuted party was already formidable in point of numbers and rank, and the idolaters, in order to ensure success in their murderous design, invited the chiefs of Atchuru and Papara to join them. The time was fixed for the perpetration of this bloody deed. At the hour of midnight they were to be attacked, their property plundered, their houses burnt, and every prisoner secured, to be slaughtered on the spot. The parties, who for a long time had been inveterate enemies to each other, readily agreeing to the proposed confederation, were made friends on the occasion, and cordially united in the plan of destroying the Christians. The intended victims of this treachery were unconscious of their danger, until the evening of the 7th of July; when, a few hours only before the horrid massacre was to have commenced, they received secret intelligence of the ruin that was ready to burst upon them.

Circumstances, unforeseen and uncontrollable by their enemies, had prevented the different parties from arriving punctually at their respective points of rendezvous; otherwise, even now escape would have been impracticable, and destruction inevitable, as the Porionu, inhabitants of Pare, Matavai, and Apaiano, would have been on the one side, and in their rear, and the party from Atehuru and Papara on the other. The delay in the arrival of some of these, afforded the only hope of deliverance.

At this remarkably critical period, the whole of the party having to attend a meeting either for public worship, or for some other general purpose, assembled in the evening near the sea. No time was to be lost. Their canoes were lying on the beach. They were instantly launched; and, hurrying page 140 away what few things they could take, they embarked soon after sunset, and reached Eimeo in safety on the following morning, grateful for the happy and surprising deliverance they had experienced. The different parties, as they arrived towards midnight, learned, with no ordinary remorse and disappointment, that their prey had been alarmed, and had escaped.

A large body of armed and lawless warriors, belonging to different and rival chieftains, thus brought together under irritated feelings, and perhaps mutually accusing each other as the cause of their disappointment, were not long without a pretext for commencing the work of death among themselves. Ancient animosities, restrained only for the purpose of crushing what they considered a common enemy, were soon revived, and led to an open declaration of war between the tribes assembled. The inhabitants of Atehuru and Papara, who had been invited by the Porionu to join them in destroying the Bure Atua, attacked the Porionu; and, in the battle that followed, obtained a complete victory over them, killing one of their principal chiefs, and obliging the vanquished to seek their safety in flight.

After this affair, the people of Taiarabu joined the victors. The whole island was again involved in war, and the conquering party scoured the coast from Atehuru to the eastern side of the isthmus, burning every house, destroying every plantation, plundering every article of property, and reducing the verdant and beautiful districts of Pare, Faaa, the romantic valleys of Hautaua, Matavai, and Apaiano, and the whole of the north-eastern part of the island, to a state of barrenness and desolation.

Success did not bring peace or rest to the victorious page 141 party. Proud of their triumph, insolent in crime, and impatient of control, the Atehuruans and natives of Papara quarrelled with the Taiarabuans, who had joined them in destroying the Porionu. A battle followed. The natives of Taiarabu were defeated, and fled to their fortresses in the mountains of their craggy peninsula, leaving the Oropaa masters of the island.

Numbers of the vanquished fled to Eimeo, where they were received by the king, or protected by the chiefs, who had taken no part whatever in the wars that were now desolating Tahiti, and who determined to observe the strictest neutrality; or, if they acted at all, to do so only on the defensive, should invasion be attempted.

Besides the refugees, who in consequence of defeat in Tahiti had taken shelter in Eimeo, numbers who had secretly embraced Christianity, and feared ultimate destruction from the idolaters, although religion appeared to have no influence in the present commotion, came over to Eimeo, and joined the Christians. The aggregate of those whose names were written down as such, amounted at this period to nearly four hundred, and the pupils in the school were between six and seven hundred. Want of books alone prevented its being considerably enlarged.

Notwithstanding the Bure Atua had escaped the machinations of their enemies, and the murderous counsel of the idolaters had issued in their own defeat, yet it was impossible, that, amidst the agitation which prevailed in Tahiti, the adjacent island of Eimeo should remain free from apprehension and disquiet; and although the king had sent repeated messages of a peaceable tendency to the conquerors, and had received assurances that page 142 there was no feeling of hostility towards him and his adherents, yet they knew, by past experience, that no reliance was to be placed on such professions.

When the queen went over to Tahiti, Pomare undertook a journey round Eimeo, purposing, by conversation with the chiefs of the different districts, to inform them of the nature of Christianity, endeavour to induce them to receive it, and recommend it to the people. He was at first ridiculed in this undertaking; for many of the chiefs and landed proprietors in Eimeo were not strongly attached to his family; they were, moreover, at that time the firm supporters of idolatry, and considered his neglect of the gods as the cause of his own troubles, and the war then desolating Tahiti. By some of the natives, this journey has been regarded as a measure of policy adopted by the king, to prevent the chiefs of the eastern part of Eimeo joining his enemies in Tahiti, and to attach them to his own interest. It has also been stated, that in his reception and treatment of the refugees, he was not acting more from the dictates of his own generosity, than from the suggestions of the chief heathen prophet of the nation, who had engaged, provided his advice was followed, to restore to him the dominion in Tahiti. This priest, it is stated by some of the natives, proposed to go to Tahiti to excite persecution against the Christians, and procure their banishment; then to stir up war among the idolatrous insurgents themselves, until their numbers should be so diminished as to render them unable to withstand the force which Pomare, by uniting the refugees with his adherents in Eimeo, and his auxiliaries from the Leeward Islands, might bring against them. By page 143 whatever political considerations he may have been actuated, and whatever may have been the influence of Christian principles on his own mind, in this or subsequent periods of his life, Pomare certainly was convinced of the excellency of Christianity, and desirous to introduce it among his people, and was employed by the Almighty as an instrument most effectually to promote the important process, which was at this time changing altogether the moral and religious aspect of the nation. The success that attended his endeavours appears from a letter which he addressed to the Missionaries while in the district of Maatea. In this letter, he stated his delight in beholding the chiefs inclined to obey the word of God; which, he said, Jehovah himself was causing to grow, so that it prospered exceedingly. Thirty-four or thirty-six, in one district, had, to use his own expression, “laid hold of the word of God.”

At Maatea, the district from which the king wrote, ninety-six renounced idolatry while he was there, in addition to others who had done so before. The change appeared to be general here. The chiefs, priests, and people, publicly committed their idols to the flames, and attended public worship.

The Bure Atua had hitherto escaped the ruin intended for them by their enemies; and though these were masters of Tahiti, in Eimeo, and secretly in Tahiti, the number of those who had joined the Christians was greatly increased.