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addressed his brethren as follows :-“ This is my little speech. Let every one be allowed to follow his own inclination ; for my part, I will never again, to the day of my death, worship the gods who could not protect us in the hour of danger. We were four times the number of the praying people, yet they have conquered us with the greatest ease; Jehovah is the true God. Had we conquered them, they would at this moment have been burning in the house we made strong for the purpose ; but instead of injuring us, our wives or our children, they have prepared for us a sumptuous feast. Theirs is the religion of mercy; I will go and unite myself to this people.” This declaration, we are told, was listened to with so much delight, and similar sentiments were so universal, that every one of the heathen party bowed their knees that very evening, for the first time, in prayer to Jehovah. On the following morning, after worship, both Christiansand heathens issued forth and demolished every marai in Tahaa and Raiatea; so that in three days after this memorable battle, not a vestige of idol-worship remained in either of these islands! Nor must it escape notice, that all this took place under the sole superintendence of the natives themselves, for at that time there was no missionary in those parts. *
Such conversions, it is manifest, having so small a basis of principle, cannot be relied upon as the permanent foundation of enlightened faith or of a steadfast morality. The reader, therefore, will not be surprised to find that, in all the islands of the Pacific, there has been considerable vacillation, and that the belief which was so hastily acquired was not in all cases resolutely or consistently maintained. The missionary is too apt to forget that the era of conversion is but the beginning of his labour; and that his task, so far from being completed, is just about to commence. Among savages, there is a fickleness of nature which leads them, after the manner of children, to delight in change; and hence, when the
* Williams, p. 190.
first excitement connected with the profession of a new religion has begun to subside, they not unfrequently show themselves ready to relinquish it. Of this unsteadiness we are supplied with an example by Mr Williams, who, after detailing in a very interesting manner the circumstances which attended the introduction of Christi. anity into one of the islands, relates that, “at a meeting of the chiefs and people, whether convened by accident or design we could not ascertain, a proposition was made and carried to revive several of their heathen customs, and, immediately after, the barbarous practice of tattooing commenced in all directions, and numbers were seen parading the settlement decorated in the heathen trappings which they had abandoned for several years.” For a time, the missionaries deemed it expedient to yield; thinking it wise 6 to allow the people to take their own course, concluding that the young chiefs must have powerful supporters, or they would not have had the temerity to act as they did."*
Enlightened by the experience of many years, the christian philanthropist must now be convinced, that success in missionary enterprise is not always in proportion to the extent of the means employed; and, moreover, that the path which, in most cases, has led to a triumphant issue, was opened by circumstances which, to the human eye, appeared entirely accidental. Generally speaking, conversion has been preceded by a deep excitement arising from suffering or fear ; by the ravages of war or famine ; or by a bold innovation on the part of the chiefs, who had already opened their minds to infidelity relative to the power of their national gods. It seems absolutely necessary that, before his conscience can be affected with the sense of guilt, the spirit of the savage must be agitated by some external cause; and it
* Enterprises, p. 379. For some remarks already made by us on this subject, we refer to pages 103, 104 ; and we have now returned to it solely because we find a great difference of opi. nion subsisting among authors as to the most efficacious manner of converting heathen tribes.
is a singular fact, attested by evidence which cannot be questioned, that the first intercourse of Europeans with the natives of Polynesia has usually been fatal to the latter. Fever, dysentery, or other diseases which carried off great numbers of them, have in most cases attended the introduction of our people into all the groups; and at Rapa, more especially, about half of the population were by such means swept away. These painful losses induced reflection among the survivors, who, in many instances, were disposed to forsake their ancient faith, either because their gods were unable to protect them in the presence of white men, or were utterly indifferent to their interests. Hence, under the direction of Divine Providence, a way was paved for the missionaries, who laboured to withdraw their confidence from
ed, and to raise their thoughts to the contemplation of the great Creator.*
An intelligent native of Otaheite, it ought to be mentioned, proceeded on a different principle, and was converted by his reason and not by his fears. It is well known that a custom prevailed of offering pigs to the deity, which, for this purpose, were placed on a species of altar at the marai. From that moment they were considered sacred, and if afterwards any human being, the priests excepted, dared to commit so great a sacrilege as to partake of the offering, it was supposed that the offended god would punish the crime with instant death. The individual in question thought a breach of this law would be a fair criterion of the power of the idol, and
* Williams, p. 281, observes, “it is certainly a fact which cannot be controverted, that most of the diseases which have raged in the islands during my residence there have been introduced by ships ; and what renders this fact remarkable is, that there might be no appearance of disease among the crew of the ship which conveyed this destructive importation, and that the infection was not communicated by any criminal conduct on the part of the men. The reader will remember, that it was when Pomare was ill his people proposed to destroy the images of Oro, presuming that the god was either malignant or powerless.”
accordingly stole some of the consecrated meat, and retired to a solitary part of the wood to eat it, and perhaps to die. As he was partaking of the food, he expected at each mouthful to experience the vengeance he was provoking; but having waited a considerable time in awful suspense, and finding himself rather refreshed than otherwise by his meal, he quitted the retreat and went quietly home. For several days he kept his secret, but finding no bad effects from the transgression, he disclosed it to every one, renounced his religion, and embraced Christianity. *
But a great question remains to be solved as to the result of missionary exertion on the character of the natives, and the permanence of the change which has been effected by the advent of a civilized people among them. In attempting to arrive at truth on these interesting points, we are impeded by the difficulty which arises from the marked disagreement prevailing among voyagers in regard to the actual condition of the inhabitants, both at the Society and Sandwich Islands. Such discrepancy, we are satisfied, does not arise so much from want of candour, as from the different aspect under which the same objects are contemplated by two classes of persons who have so little in common as seamen and ministers of the gospel. Captain Beechey has justly ascribed to the circumstance now mentioned the great variety of opinion on this head which has found its way into recent publications. In allusion to a distinguished missionary, he remarks, that he has impressed his readers 6 with a more elevated idea of the moral condition of the natives, and with a higher opinion of the degree of civilisation to which they have attained, than they deserve, or at least than the facts which came under our observation authorize. There seems no doubt that he has drawn the picture generally as it was presented to him ; but he has unconsciously fallen into an error almost inseparable from a person of his profession, who, when
* Beechey's Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific, vol. i. p. 289.
mixing with society, finds it under that restraint which respect for his sacred office and veneration for his character create. As in our intercourse with these people they acted more from the impulse of their natural feelings, and expressed their opinions with greater freedom, we were more likely to obtain a correct knowledge of their real disposition and habits.”*
But, making due allowance for the laxity of morals which darkened the commencement of the young queen's reign at Otaheite, it will be freely acknowledged that, even in respect to manners and the usages of social life, a vast improvement has been introduced. In regard, again, to the more important interests of the eternal world, a revolution is accomplished, the effects of which must be permanent and progressive. The ancient idolatry can never be revived. The gods, whose most expressive emblem now figures as a post supporting the roof of a kitchen, cannot possibly recover their dominion in the Society Islands. No attempt, indeed, has been made, since the overthrow of the marais, to restore the wonted offering or to repeat the horrid sacrifice of human blood. The christian teacher has had to bewail, on too many occasions, indifference, and even apostasy,
tribe or class of men returned to the abominations of their fathers, and fallen down to the carved image as an object of worship. Henceforth the religion of the Polynesians will be that of the gospel, more or less pare; and their habits will be formed after the example of the Europeans who shall trade in their ports or act as their instructors.
Since the year 1832, to which, in the fourth chapter, we brought down the narrative as it respects the islands of the Southern Pacific, there has not occurred any event of such paramount importance as to give a new aspect to the progress of affairs. Barbarism has indeed walked hand in hand with civilisation; and the purity
* Beechey’s Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific, vol. i. p. 269.