« ForrigeFortsæt »
chiefs had perceived the beneficial operation of knowledge, and more particularly of art, upon the outward estate of their people. Not being able to raise their minds above the notion of a local or tutelary god, the inhabitants of Polynesia, like all other tribes at the same stage of social existence, showed on every occasion a desire to measure the power of a new divinity by the amount of the advantages which he had conferred upon his worshippers. In this respect, they formed their judgment on a ground similar to that adopted by the Americar savages, who said, they “would always speak reverently of the Englishman's god, who had done so much better for them than any other gods had done for their votaries.
In point of fact, the conversions throughout the islands of the South Sea have, in the first instance at least, been the result of authority, rather than of conviction produced by an appeal to the reason or the conscience. Fora proof of this assertion, it will be sufficient to refer to the happy change which was so suddenly produced at Atiu, Mitiaro, and Mauke. The king, whose own belief in his native superstition was very speedily shaken, issued immediate orders to all his subjects to demolish the marais, burn the idols, and to commence forthwith the erection of a house for the service of Jehovah. Within twentyfour hours after he had first heard of the gospel, he expressed a desire to purchase an axe from his christian visiters, that he might cut down trees for the “posts of God's house.” In an equally short space was the new religion established throughout all his dominions; and his people, as soon as they could be informed that their ruler had renounced the ceremonies of his ancestors, were ranked among the followers of the apostles, and forbidden to worship any carved image. Well might one who witnessed these events exclaim, “ were three islands ever converted from idolatry in so short a time ! pectedly !-islands almost unknown, and two of them
Winthrop's Journal, p. 297.
never before visited by any European vessel! In, as it were, one day, they were induced to consent to the destruction of what former generations had venerated, and they themselves had looked upon as most sacred. The sun had risen with his wonted splendour, gilding the eastern heavens with his glory; and little did the inhabitants of Mauke and Mitiaro imagine, that before he retired beneath the horizon on the western sky, Ichabod would be written upon the glory of their ancestors.'
The Sandwich Islands present another instance, not very dissimilar in principle, where the example of the monarch became a rule of faith to the people. In order to secure the overthrow of a system of belief which had inthralled the minds of all classes during many ages, Rihoriho found it unnecessary to use any other means than to place a dish of unwonted food on the table of his ladies. At Otaheite, too, the lessons of the missionaries had been received, with more or less respect, not fewer than sixteen years before any perceptible effect was produced. It is acknowledged by the zealous individuals themselves, who went forth on that mission of the purest benevolence, that, though the gospel had been constantly preached in most of the Georgian Islands, " there was no individual on whom they could look as benefited by their instructions; no one whose mind was savingly enlightened, or whose heart had experienced any moral change.” Smitten with a deep feeling of despair, arising not less from the want of success than the apprehension of personal danger, they at length abandoned the undertaking, considered as an impracticable attempt to convey the blessings of light and salvation to a benighted race. At length they were recalled to their post by Pomare, whose reverses in the field of battle had led him to doubt either the power or the favour of his paternal deities. He, too, manifested his contempt for the ancient rites by cooking and eating meat in an unusual manner; and from that moment the wall of partition was broken
* Williams' Missionary Enterprises, p. 90.
down; the idols ceased to be either adored or dreaded ; the marais were no longer regarded as sacred; and the power of taboo was confined to certain individuals whose religion rested more on usage than on principle. The change, to use the language of the natives themselves, “burst upon them like the light of the morning."
Mr Ellis supplies an additional fact, highly illustrative of the deference paid to authority in matters of belief among the islanders of the Pacific. When at Owhyhee, he was introduced to one of the royal ladies, to whom, as she seemed to be an intelligent person, he was desirous to recommend the gospel. “ I asked her if she did not wish to learn to read, to know and serve the true God; and she answered, yes; but said, we cannot unless the king does. If he embraces the new religion, we shall all follow."
The same writer, whose candour and intelligence invite the most unbounded reliance in his statements, observes, in reference to the first conversions in the Georgian Islands, that neither the time, the circumstances, nor the means, can in any degree account for the result; and therefore he concludes that the amazing change, in all its departments, bears the impress and exhibits in the
Ellis, vol. ii. p. 88. + Polynesian Researches, vol. iv. p. 41. We may add, that Kahumanu, the lady in question, soon afterwards embraced the true faith, and became an active assistant to the missionaries. It may perhaps be considered unjust to the character of these good men, to leave unqualified the assertion in the text, that most of the conversions, in the first instance, were the result of authority, not of conviction produced by a regular series of theological instructions. We mean not to insinuate that the christian teachers suggested, or in any degree countenanced, the employment of coercive measures on the part of the rulers, in order to accomplish the great object of their vocation. Though not unwilling to regard the chiefs as “ nursing fathers and nursing mothers" to the church, nor at all reluctant to invite the arm of power for the enforcement of moral obligation, they did not in any case attempt to supersede argument by the intervention of pains and penalties. We simply mention, that thousands left their old paths, and turned their faces towards the new, for no other reason than because they found an example in the person of their sovereign.
clearest manner the sovereignty and the power of the Almighty. During no period in the history of the mission could “the time to favour” the nation have appeared more unlikely. Public ordinances, it is admitted, were entirely discontinued. The missionaries had but recently returned from their banishment, and the work of instruction had scarcely been resumed. Considering the twelve years they had spent in Otaheite as so much time lost, they were commencing afresh their endeavours in another island, and could hardly expect that at this time, after so protracted a delay, God would at once prosper their enterprise.
Nor did the gospel gain its first triumph in Polynesia during a period of peace and leisure, when the minds of the inhabitants might have been invited to weigh its evidences or appreciate its doctrines. On the contrary, the change took place amidst war, terror, and defeat. It was a time of humiliation, darkness, and distress, when the people were torn by factions at home, and threatened with extinction by a powerful enemy abroad. Their teachers, it has been shown, were not more favourably circumstanced. Few in number compared to what they had been when they maintained their former station at Matavai, and prevented by personal indisposition and other causes from engaging in their usual labours, their exertions, much to their own regret, were exceedingly circumscribed. In addition to these discouragements, the prejudices of many of the king's most valuable friends were unusually strong, as they considered the continuance of his misfortunes to arise, in part at least, from the countenance he was supposed to bestow on the creed of the foreigners.
Hence it is manifest, that in regard to the means employed prior to the great religious movement, there was nothing extraordinary. “From the time of my arrival in the island,” says one, “I had always a great desire to know whether any change had been made by the early preachers in their discourses and other means employed at this period; but I have not been able to learn that there was any thing extraordinary; they do not appear to have varied in any respect the manner or the matter of their instructions. I have often asked Mr Nott and others who were on the spot, if there was any alteration in the mode of instruction, or the nature of their addresses, as to the prominency of any of the doctrines of the gospel, which had not been so fully exhibited before ; but I have invariably learned, that they were not aware of the least difference in the kind of instruction, or the manner of representing the truths taught at this period, and those inculcated during their former residence."*
The difficulty connected with such inquiries will be greatly diminished, if we take into consideration the important fact, that rude minds are more easily moved by an appeal to the senses than to the reason—by a shock from without than by a process of argument operating within. It will accordingly be found, that the sanguinary war in which Pomare was engaged, with the fears, sufferings, and humiliations resulting from it, had a much closer connexion with his change of theological views than can be claimed for the discourses of the missionaries, however earnest and persuasive. One of the most distinguished of these zealous men observes,
it is a very remarkable fact, that in no island of importance has Christianity been introduced without a war.”+ The
shaking of the nations” is not less necessary now than it was in the ancient days, viewed as an instrument for opening a path towards true knowledge and the means of salvation. The loss of a battle has often been succeeded by a more decided and permanent result than could have been produced by the united powers of eloquence, zeal, and the profoundest learning.
In Raiatea, a memorable conflict took place, which almost immediately led to the subversion of idolatry in that and the neighbouring island. One of the vanquished, when a prisoner in the hands of the hostile chief,
* Polynesian Researches, vol. ii. p. 181.