Billeder på siden

The next question which naturally presents itself to the consideration of a philosophical inquirer is that which respects the origin and character of the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands. In the first place, it is clearly ascertained that there are two distinct races of men who, from a very remote period, have occupied Polynesia, whose physical qualities are different, and whose languages have hardly any elenients in common. The one class bear a considerable resemblance to the negro tribes ; having a black complexion, woolly hair, and depressed features. The other, from their colour and general appearance, seem to claim an affinity to the eastern Asiatics, and are supposed to have found their way, at an early age, from the Malayan Peninsula to those clusters of islands that gird the equator at a greater distance towards the east.

It has been said that a tabular view of certain words in the Malayan, the Asiatic, the American, and the Polynesian tongues, would probably show that at some remote period the inhabitants of these several parts of the world maintained frequent intercourse, or, at all events, that colonies from some one of them originally contributed to people the others. The striking analogy between sundry parts of speech, not less than the similarity of customs prevailing among the aborigines of Madagascar, the Malays, and the Eastern Islanders, would make manifest that they are essentially one people, or at least, that they had migrated from the same source. It is alleged, too, that in many points the language and traditions of the Americans so strongly resemble those of Asia as to lead to the inference that they also must have made their way from the eastern shores of the old continent.

But whether some of the tribes, whose motion from west to east across Behring's Straits we are now assuming, became the progenitors of the race who at present possess the Aleutian Islands; and whether, at some subsequent era, the settlers on the American coast were driven by the trade-winds to the Sandwich group, whence they

afterwards proceeded to others southward of the line, are questions which cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. Nor is it more easy to decide whether those of them who, in the course of time, had penetrated so far down as the valleys of Chili and Peru, trusted themselves at length to the Pacific, peopled Easter Island, and continued in their progress towards the west till they met the tide of emigration flowing from Java and Sumatra, where the Malays are still found to constitute the majority of the inhabitants. At all events, from a variety of facts connected with those countries, it has been supposed by several authors, either that part of the people who dwell in the islands of the South Sea must have proceeded from America, or that certain tribes of Polynesians, at some former epoch, had accomplished a passage thither, and formed a permanent settlement.

Some writers have maintained that numerous skeletons discovered in the caverns of Kentucky and Tennessee are the remains of a Malay tribe ; and this opinion seems to be founded on the circumstance, that some of the bodies were wrapped in feather cloaks similar to those used in the Sandwich and Fijee Islands, and also that the best defined specimens of art among the antiquities of Ohio are clearly of a Polynesian character. From these facts it has been inferred that the North Americans, South Sea Islanders, and Malays were formerly the same people, or descended from one common origin as natives of Eastern Asia.

As to the difficulties which must have attended the passage of the first inhabitants from the American continent to the most eastern of the islands in the Pacific, these, it is asserted, are not greater than would necessarily oppose the migration of an equally rude people from the Society to the Sandwich Archipelago; and yet the identity of the inhabitants of these two clusters has never been disputed. It is, indeed, by no means obvious which of the two portions now mentioned of the Farther Polynesia was first colonized. Evidence of a great antiquity may be adduced in favour of both ; but Mr Ellis, no mean

judge, is, for various reasons, disposed to conclude that the Sandwich Islands were settled before the Society, the Georgian, and the Friendly, on the opposite side of the equator. Their genealogies, he remarks, extend much farther back; and several names are used in Otaheite and its dependencies, which seem to have been borrowed from Owhyhee as a parent state. If, then, according to this hypothesis, it be supposed that any part of the American continent was planted by a maritime people, whether Malayan or Japanese, a portion of the same tribe who settled in Nootka, and whose relics are said to have been discovered in Tennessee, might possibly proceed at a later period to the Sandwich Islands, and from thence, in different ages, spread over the whole of Eastern Polynesia.

Zuniga, the learned author of a history of the Philippine Isles, has urged, with considerable ingenuity, a number of reasons in support of the conclusion that the Polynesians must originally have emigrated from the American continent. For example, he draws confirmation to his opinion from the singular circumstance that the names of places in the interior of South America are very similar to those of the Philippines. A great many other words, it is added, are either actually of Malayan derivation, or assimilate closely to that language. In examining the structure of the two tongues, he felt himself compelled to adopt the opinion that they flow from one source; and he affirms, accordingly, that the Indians resident in the Philippines are descended from the aborigines of Chili and Peru.*

The facts stated by this writer, though somewhat questionable on philological grounds, are not only admitted by more recent inquirers, but are even employed by them to establish the position that the Indo-Americans and Polynesians are one people. On this head, indeed, there seems to be little difference of opinion ; but while Zuniga and perhaps Mr Ellis maintain that

* Historia de les Isles Philippinas.

the progenitors of the latter tribes must have proceeded from Mexico, others pronounce such a conclusion to be inadmissible for the following reasons :—First, It implies that the inhabitants of the western coast of America were a maritime community, though, by the very nature of their country, they seem to have been at all times precluded from navigation and commerce; and, secondly, It is based on the groundless assumption, that not only were they addicted to the sea, but also that they must have been in the habit of making long voyages into the Pacific. Besides, though it is not improbable that a single canoe belonging to Easter Island, driven accidentally off the land by a westerly gale, might, in the course of a few weeks, reach the American continent, it is almost certain, that out of a thousand sailing from Chili, not one would discover that diminutive spot in the midst of the waves.*

On the other hand, the Malays have long been distinguished for their enterprise as a nautical people, as well as for their adventures in distant commerce. During several ages, they have had a fishery on the northern coast of New Holland, whither they resort annually with a large fleet; and, in such circumstances, it is extremely probable that chance, or the indulgence of a natural curiosity, would carry some of them to the New Hebrides or even the Friendly Islands. We learn besides, on the authority of La Perouse, that westerly winds are as frequent as those from the eastward, in a zone of not less than seven or eight degrees on each side of the equator; and, moreover, that in those regions they are so variable as to render it little more difficult to make a voyage in the one direction than in the other. The observations of this distinguished seaman have been amply confirmed by the reports of later voyagers; and, in point of fact, the uniformity of the trade-winds near the equinoctial line is no longer maintained by the best writers on hydrography. Hence,

• Lang's View of the Origin and Migrations of the Polynesian Nation, 12mo, Lond. 1834.

it is inferred, that the western winds of the Indian seas having once driven the Malays into the Pacific, these adventurous sailors would subsequently pass from one island to another, until they peopled the numerous groups of that extensive ocean.

But it is farther maintained by another class of authors, on the grounds of philology, tradition, physical properties, and distinctive habits, that the South Sea Islands could not have been peopled from America. Their reasoning generally proceeds on the assumption, that between the natives of the Pacific and the inhabitants of Mexico and Peru, there is no such resemblance in the particulars now stated as would be required to establish the conclusion of their having sprung from the same lineage; whereas, with reference to these grand characteristics, there appears satisfactory evidence that, at least, the light-coloured tribes of Polynesia must have migrated directly from the Asiatic shores.*

First, there is the distinction of caste, the most ancient, and, at the same time, the most remarkable feature of society among the people of Eastern Asia. This principle of discrimination, as applied to the several orders of the inhabitants, prevails to a great extent in the South Sea ; and at Otaheite, more especially, as we shall afterwards have occasion to observe, it was wont to interfere with the most ordinary transactions of life. In all the Friendly Islands, the several castes are not less minutely defined; and, as elsewhere, the priestly class rank so high, that on certain occasions their chief takes precedence of the king.

Next may be mentioned the singular institution of Taboo, which is also regarded as having had its rise in Asia. This restriction, it is well known, extends to persons, places, and things; and whatever is subjected to its operation acquires for the time a character of sacredness which cannot be neglected without incurring the severest penalty. In some cases, abstractedly from the religious

* Lang's Polynesian Nation, p. 5, &c.

« ForrigeFortsæt »