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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

The Island of Tahiti

The Island of Tahiti

Produces cocoanuts, oranges, guavas, bread-fruit, banana, &c. It is "crossed on all sides by splendid mountains, of which the highest is 7000ft. All these mountains are surrounded by a belt of land, which is inhabited, and skirted by splendid forests." Tahiti has been called the Queen of the Pacific. In 1797, "missionaries first entered the Matavai Bay, and were enchanted with the beauty of the Island." The natives are tall, graceful, the skin not dark, and their hair is sometimes red or flaxen. They have big mouths, flat noses, and white teeth. The women annoint their skin with cocoanut oil. They have short hair. The chiefs keep very long nails, and are tatooed. " The native dress is formed of a kind of cloth, resembling paper, made from the bark of certain trees, particularly of the paper-mulberry. They are vegetarians. The island abounds in birds, ducks, green turtle-doves, pigeons, parrots, king-fishers, cuckoos, herons. Snakes there are none. The climate is decidedly warm and healthy." They retire to rest shortly after dark—a good custom. They "use a kind of oily nut, stuck upon a piece of wood for a candle. The mats in their houses are woven in a wonderfully clever and dexterous manner, of rushes, grass, and the bark of trees. They also make very nice baskets, ropes, and lines, from the bark of a tree, and thread from the fibre of the cocoanut," &c.

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Fishing lines are made of nettle, nets of grass, and hooks of mother-of-pearl. They have also stone hatchets, chisels of human bone, and rasps of coral. Now they get plenty of European tools. The general complaint is "that the missionaries give them plenty of word, talk, and prayer, but very few knives, axes, scissors or cloth."

The Tahitian tongue was "the first Polynesian language reduced to writing." At first they were "in a deplorable condition of ignorance and superstition. They worshipped idols, killed their own children, and offered human sacrifice to their gods, especially to their principal deity, Oro, who was nothing but a straight log of hard wood, six feet long, and decorated with feathers." The king, Pomare, was first converted, then a powerful priest, Potu, and at last, in the year 1814, "five or six hundred had renounced idol-worship, and the following year it was totally overthrown." In the space of less than 20 years Tahiti became Christianized.

An aged chief confessed at a meeting of missionaries that he had murdered his 19 children on the very spot where they were gathered together. "What a contrast between his present moral state and the black ignorance of crime that formerly reigned in his heart!"