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LABOUR IN POLYNESIA, AND WHERE IT COMES FROM.
POLYNESIAN “labour' is mainly recruited from the Gilbert and Kingsmill Groups on the Equator. The natives are called Tokalaus (or North-Eastern) in Fiji ; Tapitaweans in Samoa, from the largest island of the Kingsmill Group ; and Arorais in Tahiti or Marquesas, that being the island from which they were first brought to Tahiti. They live on islands little more than large sand-banks surrounded by coral-reefs, and their principal food consists of cocoanuts, fish, and the dried fruit of the screw-palm. With cocoa-nuts their islands are well supplied, and numbers were planted every year even in the old days. Since white traders have come among them, and they have found a sale for their copra, they plant cocoa-nut-trees regularly, and in great numbers.
It is impossible to give the exact population of these groups of atolls on the Line ; but I do not think I am very far out in estimating that of the Kingsmills at three thousand. This shows a great decrease over what it must once have been ; as their inveterate toddy-drinking, with its invariable sequel of a freefight and consequent loss of life, has thinned the islanders for years.
The natives do not seem to know how they first learnt to make their terrible intoxicant, but I am inclined to believe that the art was taught them by whalers, perhaps fifty years ago.
The modus operandi of a Line Island distillery is as follows : the centre-shoot of the cocoa nut-tree is bent in an incline towards the ground, and each morning the men pare off an eighth of an inch, when the sap exudes, and drops into a bottle suspended beneath. By this process two to three pints a day are obtained. This liquid, if kept for twenty-four to thirty-six hours, becomes very intoxicating, and if fermented produces one of the strongest drinks in the world. A wineglassful is quite sufficient to make a powerful man, accustomed to plentiful libations of whisky and square gin,' mad drunk. The devotee at this particular shrine of Bacchus always gets up a fight, and will without the slightest provocation attack anybody and everybody he may meet. When whole villages have been having a 'good time with this toddy, the result may be imagined—if the reader can realise the pastime of a horde of demons.
Being perfectly well aware of the results of a drop too much being taken by a bosom friend, the Line islanders decline to live, so to speak, on the groun:lfloor, and perch their houses on poles. In the centre of the floor is a hole with a ladder, which they carefully take up with them when they 'go home.'
Their powers of fishing amount to an instinct, not only superior to any white people, but to such good fishers as the Samoans. In both fish-traps and rod and line they excel. They never lose their love for cocoa-nuts and fish, and do not take kindly to porridge of corn-meal, unless there is a certain amount of cocoa-nut mixed with it. They are straight-haired, and of the copper-coloured Polynesian race, called by most authorities the Micronesians. They are all great navigators, and many of them build large boats not unlike those to be found in the Indian Seas. Their arms are fairly made, and they manufacture a very elaborate suit of armour from the husk of the cocoanut, which covers the entire body. I brought home with me a corslet, which is really a magnificent specimen of defensive armour.
I do not think that as yet Christian teachers have made much impression among the Line islanders. Little is generally known in the Pacific as to their traditions. Mr. Whitmee says that when he visited the group, they were strict in the observance of their rites, and the shrines of their gods were numerous. Every house contains a domestic shrine, to which offerings of food are presented. The gods are chiefly the spirits of their ancestors, the priesthood and chieftainship being commonly combined in the same persons.
They believe that for three or four days after death, the form of a deceased person hovers around his home about dusk, and that his friends may see him and hear him whistling. Their dwelling after death is across the sea-in what direction I never could find out.
The traditions of the Tarapon race are numerous, and in many cases resemble those of the other groups to the south-east of them, such as Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa. Their traditions chiefly relate to the origin of the islands and the people. They assert that some of them came from the West, and that these were met by some from the East. Most of the descendants of those arriving from the East were however de. stroyed by the others, who were more numerous.
They tattoo their backs, but never their faces, and both sexes can fight very courageously. The men are very jealous of their many wives. As used to be the case in Samoa (and is so now to a certain extent), the man who marries the eldest girl of a family has a right over all the other daughters, and if he, perhaps wisely, declines to “ marry the whole family (I have heard of this being practically done outside the Kingsmills), the lovers of his sisters-in-law don't ask the consent of the parents, but the husband of the eldest young lady.
These people have been described as ferocious, but their ferocity is the natural result of gross ill-treatment. Like many other Polynesians, they have no idea of the sanctity of truth, and when it suits them can lie with sublime indifference.
They are decidedly the best labourers in the Pacific, as they understand the length of service on which they enter (four years), bring their women and children with them, work well, and if kindly treated are happy and contented. Their wants are small, and though they may have no word for gratitude, they are easily pleased and do not quickly forget a white man's kindness.
On the Samoan plantations their wages are $2 a month and their rations. In the Hawaiian kingdom they are paid from $5 to $6 a month ; while in Tahiti the men receive $6, and the women $4 a month. On the plantations of Samoa (chiefly those of the Messrs. Godeffroy) they are paid in 'trade,' i.e. goods, while in Tahiti and Hawaii cash is the rule.
For reasons best known to themselves, the Line islanders have acquired a very decided objection to having anything to do with the Messrs. Godeffroy, while they willingly go to Fiji, Tahiti, and Hawaii.
In the year 1879, the German firm despatched three labour-vessels to the Line Islands, and these three vessels returned respectively with seven, six, and one, labourers. It is to be supposed that Messrs. Godeffroy will not court any more Line Island rebuffs. Prior to their recent failure, the great Hamburg house employed on their plantations 1000 Line islanders and 200 people from the New Hebrides.
The largest of the Kingsmill Group is the Island of Apemama, the population of which may be set down at about 5000. This is ruled over by a king called Tem Baiteke, who has also sway over Kuria and Aranuka, these two islands having a total population of 2500. His power is absolute; he allows no man of his own people to look him in the face. His guards are armed with muskets, cartoucheboxes and swords. His dwelling consists of a very large house and several smaller ones, with stores for cocoa-nut oil and other produce. He has European furn:ture, and articles of utility and luxury of various