Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

In proportion as we become acquainted with the habits of the South Sea Islanders, we perceive more clearly the grounds and reasons of their original laws. The removal of some of the old restrictions has not added either to their comfort or their domestic improvement. In the time of Tamehameha, they were strictly forbidden to sleep, eat, and drink together, as they now do, in the same room, and a breach of this regulation was punished with death ; but the missionaries having abolished the

taboo as applicable to these usages, it cannot be surpris- ing that the people generally have less regard to cleanliness.

In defence of missions, the following facts are adduced, which are not in any degree exaggerated or too highly coloured. Answering the question, “ what good have they done?" the journalist remarks, that “ in 1819, the Sandwich Islanders were all inveterate thieves, and they considered guilt to consist only in not concealing a theft. When a white man landed, he could scarcely call his hat his own; the men and women cohabited promiscuously; idolatry of a horrid nature existed ; and human sacrifices were practised. The high-priest could pray, or rather frighten, any one to death. How different is it now! A foreigner can sleep with his doors open, and expose every article of his luggage without the least danger of being robbed. The natives seriously believe, that if they break the eighth commandment, their bodies, after death, will be condemned to everlasting flames. In many other respects their morals are wonderfully changed for the better. The women no longer swim on board ships; the marriage ceremony is regularly established ; infanticide has

“The encouragement of industry and profitable labour, we feel to be an important object at which we ought to aim, not only as the means of an honourable and comfortable life, but as a grand safeguard against immorality and every vice, and as a christian duty inculcated in the Sacred Scriptures.

“I hope my statement may assist in furnishing some estimate of the real state of things at the islands. I still hope to meet you before you leave. If not, allow me to beg that you will favour me with your address, and believe me to be," &c.

been abolished ; and something like ties of domestic happiness are beginning to be visible. In short, the islanders believe that the missionaries have pointed out to them a short way to heaven, and do not doubt of punishment and reward in a future world. Many of them, too, act according to their belief, so far as the natural weakness of human nature will permit. The state of society has consequently been improved. Besides, thirty thousand of the natives can now read and write ; many can cipher as far as long division, whilst others are learning navigation, that is, the use of the compass, and how to ascertain the latitude and longitude. Their teachers are the missionaries, who have translated and printed the New Testament in the Kanaka language; and when I left, they were about publishing a book on geography, interspersed with historical tales suited to the understanding of their pupils. Add to all this, that the missionaries are certainly sincere in their evangelical labours; that their moral conduct is exemplary; and that they are always ready to extend the field of conversion, by exposing themselves among the ferocious inhabitants of other isles ; and thus you will admit, that their over-zeal deserves to be judged with moderation. I will always maintain that great, very great, praise is due to them for christianizing the natives; because the effects are decidedly good in a moral point of view, not to say any thing of the still more important object of saving souls.”

In reviewing the conduct of missionaries, it should not be forgotten, that people in a rude state must be made to feel the bonds imposed upon them by religion. The faith of a barbarian applies to his daily habits, his food, his dwelling, and his raiment; and though it may prove a yoke too heavy for him to bear, his reverence for the gods whom he has been taught to acknowledge, induces him every day to do and suffer many things to which no feeling but the dread of an avenging power could command his submission. Some time must therefore elapse before the native of Otaheite, Woahoo, or New Zealand, can be held qualified to enjoy the intellectual or spiritual liberty

wherewith the gospel will in due time make all mankind free. Those who were so long accustomed to the taboo could not at once be safely emancipated from all restraint; and assuredly in no respect did the teachers in the Sandwich and Georgian islands exercise their authority with greater wisdom than in proscribing the use of intoxicating fluids, licentious games, and promiscuous bathing. The only error with which they seem chargeable, is the attempt to extend similar restrictions to foreign residents, to the masters of ships, and even to the families of the British and American consuls; some of whom appear to complain that “ thirst is elevated into the rank of a christian virtue."*

It is gratifying to read the following details regarding the progress of religion and learning at Lahaina, in the island of Mowee. " In the evening we went to look at a meeting-house, a handsome stone building, not quite finished, with galleries for the congregation. This church, when completed, will accommodate at least four thousand persons. The belfry and pulpit, indeed all the masonry and carpentry, are of excellent workmanship; and the whole, including a spacious burial-ground, is enclosed with a stone-wall five feet high and two feet thick. The meeting-houses at the other missionary stations on the islands are equally capacious, although not sufficiently so for the very numerous congregations that attend them ; but they are constructed merely of posts, rafters, and dried grass, and will not stand more than four or five years. At Lahaina, it was intended to commence in a few days the building of a college or high

* In the diary now before us, we observe several entries which animadvert rather severely on the “extreme religious zeal which partakes so much of bigotry.” But the uthor, nevertheless, admits, that the missionaries have done incalculable good to the ignorant aborigines. “Were it not, indeed, for this circumstance,” he adds, “ it would require the patience of Job to conform or listen to their never-ending religious acts. On board we had prayers and grace eight times a day, that is, before and after breakfast, dinner, and tea, below; and in the morning and evening on deck, for the benefit of all hands."

school, for teaching mathematics, geography, navigation, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. I ought to have mentioned, that wherever there is a church, there is a school; besides which, others under the direction of native teachers are scattered about pretty thickly throughout the islands, all being numerously and constantly attended, not only by children, but also by full-grown men and women, many upwards of fifty years of age. It is as surprising as pleasing to observe the great progress the old and young have made in reading, writing, and ciphering, and how much they are taken up with their books and slates. It is computed that upwards of 20,000 can communicate by letter, which they are extremely fond of doing; and every vessel that passes from one island to another conveys an extensive correspondence. I have been amused to see them finish, fold up, wafer, and direct their letters, all which they do in a very odd and peculiar manner.”

It is extremely gratifying to find, that in the Sandwich Islands social improvement follows closely in the path of learning and religion. To the south-east of Honoruru is a fine plain of two miles in extent, which is used as a mall or drive every evening in the week except Sunday. The king, the foreign merchants, and numerous natives of both sexes, are seen riding in this public place a little before sunset; amounting sometimes to a hundred equestrians, whose presence gives an airof gayety not less agreeable than surprising to the transient visiter, especially as the riders, male and female, display no small skill in the management of their horses, which have been introduced from Mexico and Chili. The “corso” can generally boast of four or five neat gigs and stanhopes, and now and then of a four-wheeled carriage belonging to the governor, drawn by kanakas instead of horses, when he goes short distances. Kahumanu, the queen-dowager, used to be drawn about in a like manner, in a sort of wicker-box placed on four wheels. It is admitted, at the same time, that the foreign society is not, in general, very polished, and even that some of the residents are of doubtful character, having made their appearance on the islands how and whence no one knows. The occasional visiters are chiefly the masters of American whale-ships, whose pursuits and conversation do not contribute much to the refinement of the natives. There are, however, besides the consuls and missionaries, several highly respectable individuals, who have acquired considerable property by means of trade and commercial speculations. The billiard-room at Honoruru is described as “the best that can be seen in any part of the world. It forms a separate building, compact and neatly finished. The table is on the second floor, in a spacious apartment, kept exceedingly clean, being well ventilated by day, and tastefully lighted up at night.”

But amidst these tokens of improvement, painful proofs are every where making themselves manifest, that the natives are doomed to extinction, from the operation of causes more or less connected with the arrival of the white men. In reference to the Sandwich Islands, it is maintained that their number has diminished at least one-half since the days of Captain Cook, who estimated the population of the whole group at four hundred thousand. The same great navigator calculated that the inhabitants of Otaheite amounted to not less than two hundred and four thousand. They are now, we are assured, reduced to eight thousand ; and the same comparative diminution has taken place in the contiguous isles, so that the gross sum does not exceed sixteen thousand, including all ages and degrees.

There is reason to believe, that the grounds on which Captain Cook founded his conclusions were extremely fallacious; the population at all times being so fugitive and uncertain in any particular place, that no correct inference could be drawn as to the amount of the whole. It is the opinion of the missionaries, that the Georgian and Society Islands, with their dependencies, contain nearly fifty thousand inhabitants. But they do not conceal that the natives themselves, deeply sensible of the decrease which has taken place, even within the re

« ForrigeFortsæt »