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The question of origin has been examined with considerable success by Mr Williams, the late missionary, who, in regard to the copper-coloured Polynesians, perceives no difficulty. Their physical conformation, their general character, and the Malay countenance, furnish, he thinks, indubitable evidence of their Asiatic origin. He adverts, likewise, to the proofs already adduced, arising from the similarity of the caste of India and the taboo of the South Sea Islands; the sameness of the opinions which prevail respecting women, and the treatment they receive in Bengal and Otaheite, more especially the common practice of forbidding them certain kinds of food, or to partake of any in the presence of men; their inhuman conduct to the sick; and the immolation of the wives at the funeral of their husbands. The argument is, moreover, strengthened by a reference to the language of the Malays and Polynesians, in which, it is maintained, there is a great resemblance. Many of the words are the same in all the dialects of the several insular groups; but the identity is very remarkable in the speech of the New Zealanders, Rarotongans, and others, who introduce the hard consonants and nasal utterance.
Nor was this intelligent author ignorant of the objections usually urged against his hypothesis, namely, the distance of the Malay coast from the Society Islands ; the prevalence of easterly winds within the tropics ; and the unfitness of canoes for performing so long a voyage. In reference to the first, it is admitted that the distance would prove an insuperable obstacle, were there not the means of accomplishing the run by stages comparatively short. For example, assuming that the first settlers in the southern isles of the Pacific had proceeded from the Malay coast or Sumatra, they would reach Borneo after a sail of only 300 miles; and then, by crossing the Straits of Macassar, not more than 200 miles broad, they would arrive at Celebes. From thence to New Guinea the distance is about 400 miles; but there intervene the two large islands of Bessy and Ceram. The New Hebrides might next be attained by similar movements, whence the voyage to the Fijees, the Friendly, the Navigators', the Harvey, the Society, and all the remoter clusters might be performed even in such vessels as the natives at present possess.
In reaching New Zealand from Tongataboo or the Fijee Islands, little difficulty would be experienced. The distance is about 1200 miles; but if the wind happened to be from the north-east, which is a frequent occurrence, the voyage could be performed in a few days. The missionary's own boat was on one occasion driven from Otaheite to Atiu, and on another from Rarotonga to Tongataboo, a distance altogether of 1500 miles. He mentions also, that some natives of Aitutaki had been drifted in a single canoe to Proby's Island, which is situated 1000 miles westward of their own.
As to the prevalence of the easterly trade-winds, deemed by some a conclusive argument against the Asiatic origin of the South Sea Islanders, the difficulty is by no means insuperable. Every two months there are westerly gales, which continue some time ; and in February there are what the natives call toerau maehaa, or the westerly twins, when the wind blows from that point several days, and then veers round the compass. This breeze from the west sometimes continues a fortnight. The longest voyage from Sumatra to Otaheite would not exceed 700 miles ; and Mr Williams himself, in his first trip to the Navigators' Islands, sailed 1600 miles due east in a few days.
It ought to be observed, too, in respect to the means possessed by the Malays in former times, that long before they were visited by Europeans there were some powerful maritime states in the Indian Archipelago. In 1573, the King of Acheen appeared with a fleet, which is described as covering the Straits of Malacca. He ordered an attack upon three Portuguese frigates that were in the road protecting some vessels loaded with provisions; and the onset was executed with such a furious discharge of artillery, that the ships were instantly destroyed with all their crews. In 1582, the same king again appeared before Malacca with a flotilla of 150 sail ; and in 1615, one of his successors attacked the settlement with an armament including 500 vessels of various size and 60,000 men.
It is obvious that a people so far advanced in the art of navigation could easily accomplish a voyage to the remotest parts of the Pacific. Nay, we are informed by a recent authority, that the northern coast of New Holland has been known to the Malays many years; and a fleet, to the number of 200 proas, annually leaves Macassar for the fishery there. It sails in January, during the westerly monsoon, and coasts from island to island till it reaches the north-eastern shore of Timor, when it steers east and south south-east, which courses carry them to the coast of New Holland. The body of the fleet then proceeds eastward, leaving here and there a division of fifteen or sixteen proas, under the command of an inferior rajah, who is the only person provided with a compass. After having fished along the shore in that direction, until the westerly monsoon breaks up, they return; and by the last day of May, each detached squadron leaves the coast without waiting to collect into one body.t
The class of men to whom these remarks apply, and who, by the consent of all travellers, are in respect of origin associated with the natives of the north-eastern borders of Asia, are distinguished, as we have already mentioned, by complexions of a yellowish-brown colour, with faces somewhat flat, and long black hair. But this race does not possess the whole of the intertropical islands ; on the contrary, there is another, perhaps the more ancient of the two, who, in their physical characters, approach to the least favoured portion of the African negroes, having skins nearly black, projecting jaws, with hair crisp and frizzled, and growing in tufts. These occupy not only New Holland and the group of New Guinea, but also several islands in both the Hither and Farther Polynesia, and even the interior of the Malayan Peninsula itself. Though they have national appellations in different parts of the Pacific, they are known, as a body, by the general term Papúah. By the Spaniards, who first revealed their existence to Europeans, they were called Negritos, and by our own early navigators they were distinguished as New Guinea negroes. Their numerous languages, varying, as it should seem, with every tribe, bear no radical affinity to those used by the fairer descriptions of the Polynesian family; although, in consequence of plundering expeditions and the abstraction of females, many words peculiar to the latter have been adopted by the black population.
* Marsden's History of Sumatra, p. 431. Williams' Missionary Enterprises, p. 510.
+ King's Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia (2 vols 8vo, Lond. 1827), vol. i.
The two classes seem to be divided by the prime meridian, or that which passes through the 180th degree from Greenwich. Part of the Fijees, together with those islands which are situated between them and the eastern coast of New Holland, are inhabited by the negro race ; more especially, New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, the Archipelago of Louisiade, the Solomon Isles, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, and part of the Ladrones. There is, indeed, in most of the islands a partial intermixture of the races ; but the geographical distinction now stated will be found to hold with sufficient accuracy:
A difficulty still remains in regard to the singular fact, that a nation so very different should be interposed between the Malays and the islands to which so large a body of them have at various periods migrated. To account for this circumstance it has been suggested, that the negro race may have possessed the whole of the islands prior to the invasion of the copper-coloured tribes from the north-west, and that the latter, being a more civilized and warlike people, succeeded in extirpating them from the smaller groups on both sides of the equator.
Mention is likewise made of a third order of natives, who generally occupy the interior and less accessible parts of the islands, especially of those situated to the eastward of Borneo, and are known in European literature under the ambiguous names of Haraforas and Alfoorees. Although frequently mentioned by such Spanish, Dutch, and English authors as have written on the more distant regions of the South Sea, our information respecting them is still extremely limited, and no vocabulary of their speech has been hitherto obtained. It may, at the same time, be suspected, that some of the ruder tribes, of whose dialects no specimens have been collected, such as the Dayaks and Idaan of Borneo, are in fact the same description of people with those to whom the term Alfoorees is elsewhere applied ; and that, under a general designation, they are no other than the unconverted natives who have been driven into the mountains by the Malays, their Mohammedan persecutors, who seized the lowlands of their country, which they still possess.
In person, complexion, and hair, they are said to resemble the fairer Polynesian race ; having no physical peculiarities in common with the negrito tribes, however nearly they may approach them in their habits of life.*
Having presented a sketch of the country and people to whom our attention is to be more particularly directed in the course of this volume, we shall now proceed to describe the condition in which they were found when first visited by Europeans.
* On the subjects treated in this chapter, the reader will find fuller information in the works of Forster, Marsden, and Lang, already cited, and also in Malte-Brun, vol. iii. p. 414-421. Reland's Dissertations, vol. iii. diss. xi. De Linguis Insularum Quarundam Orientalium. Crawfurd's History of the Indian Archipelago, vol. ii. p. 8-120. Archæologia, vols vi. viii. Dr Leyden “On the Languages and Literature of the Indo-Chinese Nations,” in Asiatic Researches, vol. x. Sir William Jones' Works. The History of Java, by Sir S. Raffles. Bruckner's Javanese Grammar. And above all, the volumes of the Missionaries, to whom Polynesian languages and antiquities have become a regular study.