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Polynesian Researches


page 298

Efforts of the natives to propagate Christianity—Amount of early contributions—Effect of annual meetings—Exertions of the first converts—Description of the Paumotus, or Dangerrous Archipelago—Visits of the people to Tahiti—Their reception of Christianity—The number and situation of the Marquesas—Their appearance and productions—Population, dress, and figure of the natives—Tatauing—Disposition—Government—War and canibalism—Attempts to introduce Christianity among their inhabitants—Piccairn's Island—Descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty—Waihu or Easter Island—Cape Horn—Juan Fernandez—Alexander Selkirk.

Christianity universally received, and, we have reason to believe, firmly established in the Georgian and Society Islands, having overcome the combined opposition of idolatry, priestcraft, interest, and pride, with the barriers of depravity and abomination, which so long despised its authority, and resisted its appeals—and having survived the more fatal treachery of the enemies that have adopted its name, and assumed its grab—has not been confined to those islands.

Acknowledging the command of Christ to “teach all nations, and preach the gospel to every creature,” to be obligatory on all his disciples imbibing somewhat of the true spirit of Christianity, page 299 which is not restrictive and selfish, but expansive and communicative—animated by the spirit of the primitive Christians, and, imitating their example—the members of the first Polynesian churches no sooner enjoyed the advantages of religion themselves, than they adopted vigorous measures for imparting them to others.

Some notice of their efforts to communicate a knowledge of Christianity to other tribes in the Pacific, of the islands to which they have sent their Missionaries, and others more or less connected with these, will, it is presumed, not be unacceptable, as presenting a more distinct view of the relation these islands bear to Tahiti and the adjacent group.

An account has already been given of the formation of Missionary societies in Tahiti, Eimeo, and Huahine. Others were afterwards established. Their first remittance to London was in 1821, and amounted to nearly £1900. The Raiatean society, besides maintaining at its own expense six native Missionaries, sent to England, in 1827, £300. This sum, and the liberal contributions from other associations, would have been greatly increased, could the productions, in which the native subscriptions were furnished, have been disposed of to the best advantage.

The anniversaries of the native societies, and their public Missionary meetings, continue to prove to the inhabitants seasons of delightful satisfaction. At these meetings their pleasure has been heightened by the details of native Missionaries who have returned from distant islands, and the exhibition of rejected idols from countries where formerly they had been worshipped. Inhabitants of remote islands have appeared at their meetings, page 300 as ambassadors from the tribes to which they belonged, requesting that books and teachers might be sent to their native land; and chiefs and kings have also at these periods publicly, with gratitude to the true God, returned the native churches their acknowledgments for sending them instructors.

At the Missionary anniversary held at Raiatea, in 1828, the king of Rarotoa, an island seven hundred miles distant, and containing six or seven thousand people, stood up, and, in his native dialect, thanked the Raiatean Christians for sending the gospel to his island, and delivering him and his people from the bondage of idolatry, and sin, and death.

The native churches are daily extending the range of their benevolent operations; their vessels penetrate where no ships ever went before, and their Missionaries land where no foreigner has dared to set his foot on shore. Yet, wherever they have been, the merchant or the sailor may now safely follow, and he will meet with hospitality and kindness. The following account will appropriately illustrate this remark.

On his passage from Tahiti to New South Wales, in 1825, in the brig Brutus, Mr. Nott touched at Aitutake, (the Whylootakie of Cook.) Native teachers had been there above three years. The inhabitants were Christians. The passengers landed; and when the natives found a Missionary among them, they requested he would preach to them, and about 1000 soon assembled. The islanders shewed their visitors every possible kindness, accompanied them to the ship when they embarked, and carried a number of supplies as a present to the captain. After stating these page 301 facts, Mr. Nott, in a letter, dated May, 1825, continues—

“The next island we called at was one of the Friendly Islands, Eooa, as written by Cook, and as we have it written on the charts, but which should be Ua. At this island, also, as there is no anchorage, we were obliged to stand off and on while the boat went on shore. Here a circumstance took place, which, among many others, might be brought forward, to show the value of Missionary establishments. The boat reached the land with Capt. Forbes, the chief mate, and Mr. Torrance. They began to barter with the natives, and obtained several pigs, some plantains, cocoa-nuts, &c., but suddenly they were seized, and every thing was taken from them, without any offence being given. Axes were held over their heads, and knives applied to their throats; a rope was also brought, and formed with a noose, and hung over their heads, to signify to them what they must expect, if they offered to escape or resist. A ransom was then demanded, before they would let them return to us on board the brig, and the chief mate was sent off in the boat to fetch the property. But as it was dark when the boat reached the brig, it was not proper that she should return to the shore until morning. During the night, the prisoners, Capt. Forbes, Mr. Torrance, and another of the boat's crew, were kept in the greatest terror, with a strict guard, and continual threats. In the morning, the boat was sent on shore with muskets, (or rather fowling-pieces of considerable value,) powder, and cloth, to the amount of £30 or £40, and a New Zealander, who was on board with us, was sent, to negotiate the affair, the people being afraid to venture on shore page 302 again. The chief received the property, and Capt. Forbes was permitted to come on board the brig, but Mr. Torrance was detained till more property should be sent on shore, which was done by the boat, and taken on shore by the New Zealander. Mr. Torrance was then permitted to come off to us. At this instant Captain Forbes exclaimed, ‘O, Mr. Nott! we see now, more than ever, what has been done by you and the Missionaries on the islands where you have resided, and the trouble you have had in bringing the natives, from what they were, to what they are now.’”

We have already noticed Pomare, the first convert in the islands, visiting the different districts for the purpose of persuading its inhabitants to renounce their idols, and embrace the Christian faith. We have seen Mahine, the king of Huahine, sending his messenger to that island for the same purpose; and we have seen Tapa, and the chiefs of Raiatea, prosecuting, in 1816, the work commenced by Mr. Nott and his companion in 1814, and engaged in subverting idolatry and preparing his people to receive Christianity, before any European Missionary had taken up his abode on their islands. Mai and Tefaora not only distinguished themselves by their zeal in the destruction of the idols and temples of Borabora, but the latter sailed over to Maurua, and induced the chief and people of that island to follow his example, and discontinue the worship of their idols.

It is not probable that all who thus distinguished themselves were fully acquainted with the gospel, or entirely under the influence of the high and sacred motives it inspires, but they are convinced page 303 of its superiority to the system of delusion and iniquity from which they had been released; and hence, perhaps, chiefly originated their exertions to induce its reception by others.

The knowledge of Christianity was early conveyed to the Paumotus, which lie to the north and east of Tahiti.

To the southward of the Marquesas, innumerable clusters and single islands, of a totally different structure and appearance from the larger islands, cover the bosom of the ocean, and render navigation exceedingly dangerous. They are low narrow islands, of coralline formation, and though among them some few, as Gambier's Islands, are hilly, the greater number do not rise more than three feet above the level of high water. The names of Crescent, Harp, Chain, Bow, &c., which some of them have received, from their appearance, have been supposed to indicate their shape. Those already known seem to be increasing in size, while others are constantly approaching the surface of the water. Sometimes they rise, like a perpendicular wall, from the depths of the ocean to the level of its surface; at other times, reefs or groves of coral, of varied and beautiful form and colour, extend, in the form of successive terraces below the water, to a considerable distance around. Here islands may be seen in every stage of their progress; some presenting little more than a point or summit of a branching coralline pyramid, at a depth scarcely discernible through the transparent waters; others spreading, like submarine gardens or shruberies, beneath the surface; or presenting here and there a little bank of broken coral and sand, over which the rolling wave occasionally breaks; while page 304 a number rise, like long curved or circular banks of sand, broken coral, and shells, two or three feet above the water, clothed with grass, or adorned with cocoa-nut and palm trees. They generally form a curved line, sometimes bent like a horseshoe; the bank of soil or rock is seldom more than half a mile or a mile across, yet it is often clothed with the richest verdure. Within this enclosure is a space, sometimes of great extent. In the island of Hao, the Bow Island of Captain Cook, it is said, ships may sail many miles after entering the lagoon. The narrow strip of coral and sand enclosing the basin is sixty or seventy miles in length, although exceedingly narrow. Their lagoons are either studded with smaller reefs, or form a bay of great depth. The stillness of the surface of the bright blue water, within the lagoon, the border of white coral and sand by which it is surrounded, the dark foliage of the lofty trees by which it is sheltered, often reflected from the surface of the water, impart to the interior of these low islands an aspect of singular beauty and solitude, such as is but seldom presented by the more bold and romantic scenery of the higher lands. These islands have received different names: by some they have been called the Labyrinth, by others the Pearl Islands, on account of the pearls obtained among them. The natives of Tahiti designate the islands and their inhabitants Paumotus, but by navigators they are usually denominated the Dangerous Archipelago.

The islands vary in extent, but are usually small; most of them, however, are inhabited, and in some the population is numerous. Their inhabitants are tall and robust, dark coloured, and page 305 amongst the most rude and savage tribes of the eastern Pacific. Their food principally consists of fish and cocoa-nuts, as there is but little land capable of cultivation. Their means of subsistence are often scanty, and always precarious. They are exceedingly ferocious, and addicted to war, which they prosecute with cruelty, and are said generally to feast on the slain: a captive child has been fed with the flesh of her own parent. The trees on the island are but small, yet the natives formerly built better vessels than any other nation in the eastern part of the ocean, and they are more daring and successful navigators than the more favoured and civilized tribes which they occasionally visit. Their canoes were dignified by the Tahitians with the name of pahi, a term applied only to their own war-canoes, and the vessels of foreigners, and they are still superior to any in this part of the Pacific, excepting those recently constructed at Tahiti in the European manner.

The miseries of war had, in the early part of the reign of Pomare II., king of Tahiti, driven many of the inhabitants of these islands to the Georgian group for security. They were protected and hospitably entertained by Pomare; and when his own subjects renounced idolatry, they also cast away the gods they had brought with them, and were instructed by the Missionaries. In 1817 great numbers returned to their native islands, accompanied by Moorea, one of their countrymen, who was a pious man, and had been taught to read. On reaching Anna, or Chain Island, his birth-place, he began to instruct the people with such success, under the Divine blessing, that, with the exception of the inhabitants page 306 of one district, the population agreed to renounce heathenism.

Moorea was subsequently charged with having deceived his countrymen in the accounts he had given of the change at Tahiti, and was obliged to leave the island, as his life was threatened. The idolaters, convinced afterwards that they had accused him falsely, burnt their idols, and demolished their temples. About four hundred of them then sailed to Tahiti, for books and instruction. They obtained a supply of books, and became the pupils of Mr. Crook, who had the satisfaction of admitting several of them to fellowship with the Christians under his care. Early in 1822, Moorea and Teraa were publicly designated, by the members of the church in Wilkes' Harbour, as Christian teachers, and sailed for Anna. Shortly afterwards, a canoe from this island, which is situated in 17. S. lat. 145. W. long. arrived at Tahiti. These dauntless sailors, who, in order to procure books, had traversed, in their rudely built vessels, a distance of three hundred miles, brought the pleasing tidings, that the inhabitants of Anna were willing to receive Christianity, were building a place of worship in every district, that war, cannibalism, and other atrocities of idolatry, had ceased. Two other teachers, Manao and Mareuu, were afterwards sent to these islands.

Anna, when visited by Mr. Crook, in January, 1825, presented a scene of ruin and desolation, occasioned by a violent tempest, which had been accompanied by an impetuous inundation of the sea. Hundreds of large trees, torn up by the roots, lay strewn in wild confusion on the shore: a number of dewllings, and fourteen places of worship, were levelled to the ground. The calamity had been as sudden as it was severe: the page 307 falling of the trees, and the rising of the sea over those entangled among their trunks, and the ruins of their houses, had occasioned the loss of many lives. Besides the distress caused by the above afflictive visitation, he received the unpleasant tidings of the defection of two of the native techers; but was gratified to learn, that Manao and Mareuu were stedfast, and that the inhabitants of ten other islands, among those so thickly spread over the ocean, between Tahiti and the Marquesas, had received native teachers. The influence of Christianity had been salutary, in softening the barbarous character of the natives of Anna, yet their savage dispositions were occasionally manifested. Desirous to extend the knowledge of the new religion, they sent two native teachers to Amanu. The inhabitants of this island attacked the strangers, wounded one of the teachers, killed both their wives, and obliged the survivor and his friends to seek their safety in flight. The wife of one of the teachers was the daughter of the chief of Anna. The report of her murder so enraged many of the inhabitants, that, forgetting the principles of forbearance inculcated by the gospel, and so nobly exhibited by their countrymen on another occasion, they fitted out a fleet, sailed to Amanu, and punished with death a number of the inhabitants.

Captain Beechey, who recently visited this archipelago, has furnished an interesting account of the appearance, extent, and structure of many of these islands, with an affecting description of the state of the inhabitants; and although he must have been misled in the report the received of the Chain Islanders being cannibals, notwithstanding their having embraced Christianity, his account of the native teachers, whom he met with, shews the page 308 favourable impression their deportment left upon his mind. Speaking of his intercourse with the people on an island in 19. 40. S. lat. and 140. 29. W. long., which he has designated Byam Martin Island, he observes, “We soon discovered that our little colony were Christians: they took an early opportunity of convincing us of this, and that they had both Testaments and hymn-books printed in the Otaheitan language, &c. Some of the girls repeated hymns, and the greater part evinced a respect for the sacred books, which reflects much credit upon the Missionaries under whose care, we could no longer doubt, they had at one time been.”

∗Beechey's Voyage, vol. i. p. 164.

The frigate afterwards visited Bow Island; and having spoke of the state of the inhabitants, the tyranny and brutality of the men, and the debasement and misery of the females, Captain Beechey, mentioning the presence of the Dart, an English vessel, states, “The supercargo of the Dart had hired a party of the natives of Chain Island to dive for shells: among these was a native Missionary, a very well-behaved man, who used every effort to convert his new acquaintances to Christianity. He persevered amidst much silent ridicule, and at length succeeded in persuading the greater part of the islanders to conform to the ceremonies of Christian worship. It was interesting to contemplate a body of savages abandoning their superstitions, silently and reverently kneeling upon the sandy shore, and joining in the morning and evening prayers to the Almighty.”

†Ibid. vol. i. p. 178.