Billeder på siden


On the Condition in which the Inhabitants were found when first discovered by Europeans.

Simple State in which Natives were found-Account of their Habits and Usages-No Works of ancient CivilisationMythology and Traditions-Form of Government-Sanctity attached to Person of King-Accession of Son at BirthCaptives made Slaves-Various Classes-Inflated Language of the Court-Spirit of Government-Code of Laws-Its Connexion with Religion-Theological Notions-Traditions of the Deluge-Objects of Worship-Notions of a Future State-Immortality of Animals-Natives possess good Abilities - Physical Qualities-Colour-Strength-Marriage Ceremonies - Polygamy-Sorcery-Divination-Augury—Sufferings resulting from Superstition—Areois.

THE natives of the South Sea Islands, those especially which fall under the denomination of the Eastern or Farther Polynesia, were found by the first discoverers in a state of great simplicity, and, as it might seem, in possession of more than the usual share of human happiness. The climate, it has been already stated, has all the charms which belong to the fairest scenes of poetical fancy. A mild sky sheds down upon the inhabitants the sweetest influences of the atmosphere; the earth yields to them at all seasons a plentiful supply of the necessaries of life, and even offers, at the expense of little labour, a great variety of luxuries. The scenery of the principal islands is described as delightful in the highest degree, consisting of the most beautiful alternations of hill and valley, and exhibiting the rare feature of mountains rising to the clouds covered almost to their

summits with fine trees or flowering shrubs. There, the richest verdure is contrasted, on one side with precipitous rocks of a dark hue, and on the other with the everchanging face of the vast ocean which dashes its long waves on the coral beach. Otaheite, in particular, appeared to the eyes of the first Europeans who landed on its shores as an earthly paradise, the abode of contentment and repose, the asylum of all those mild virtues which had fled from the disputes and rivalry of civilized nations.

But simplicity of manners, and even a gentle disposition, are not always accompanied with innocence. It was accordingly soon discovered that the vices incident to society every where else, were not unknown even in those primitive communities, among whom, it might be imagined, the more turbulent passions could find no excitement, and where the artificial wants of life would not as yet have roused either avarice or ambition. Like all savages they were much addicted to theft, which they seemed to consider in the light of an ingenious. dexterity, rather than as a practice that any one could justly condemn. Influenced by a feeling similar to that which was made a part of education in ancient Sparta, they set more value on a thing they had succeeded in stealing, though of no utility, than upon a useful article if obtained as a gift, or in the ordinary process of barter. Their worst actions, too, like those of uneducated children, were perpetrated without any warning from conscience that they were doing wrong; and though, as in the case of infanticide, reflection on an atrocious deed might bring regret, it never created any compunction. The usages of their fathers stood in the place of a moral law; and whatever had been done in the old days, might, they concluded, be done again with perfect impunity. Their emotions, on all occasions, appear to have been quick, but exceedingly transient. A rebuke reached their hearts, chased away the smile from the countenance, and made them assume for a moment an attitude of the utmost seriousness; but, having no depth of re

flection, they could not long suppress their merriment, nor preserve the decorum which they might feel due to the presence of their visiters. In them the moral sense was not fully formed; and, less advanced than the Greeks and Romans in the first age of the gospel, their judgments as to right and wrong were not so sufficiently distinct as to convey either excuse or accusation.

Of this interesting people we have not the means of attaining a more minute acquaintance than may be acquired from examining their present condition. The antiquities of an illiterate tribe must be sought, not in modern records, which are exceedingly imperfect, but in their usages and the ruins of their ancient structures. With respect to the Society Islands, it has been observed by a late traveller that no monuments are found which might serve to indicate that they were ever inhabited by a race much farther advanced in civilisation than the natives who first became known to Davis, Wallis, Cook, and Bougainville. In Easter Island, no doubt, there are the remains of those gigantic busts which excited the surprise of the Dutch navigators; but these have now suffered so much either from the hand of time or the more violent attacks of the inhabitants, that their original shape can scarcely be determined. The early narratives represent them as being dispersed generally over the whole island; though when Cook touched there, the number was considerably reduced, and he himself saw only two or three standing near the landing-place. His companions, who travelled over the country, observed many more, some of them twentyseven feet in height, and about nine in breadth across the shoulders, and each figure having on its head a large cylindrical block of a red colour, wrought perfectly round. They were made of a gray stone, apparently different from any belonging to the island; and the magnitude was such as rendered it extremely difficult to account for their erection, when viewed with a reference to the very limited mechanical powers at present possessed by the natives. Cook had no hesitation in main

taining the opinion that they must have been formed by an older race of men, of whom no other record now remains; and this conclusion seemed to him confirmed by the fact, that their successors have neither skill nor industry enough to prevent them from falling into hopeless ruin. Besides these colossal statues, which were acknowledged to bear the marks of a remote antiquity, many little heaps of stones were seen piled up along the coast; and some of the savages also possessed human figures, carved with considerable neatness, composed of pieces of wood about two feet long.*

Confining our attention to the Society and Georgian Islands, we discover no evidence that they have ever been occupied by an older or more polished people than the present inhabitants. But there are many proofs that the race which we now find scattered among the several groups, between the meridian of New Zealand and the 130th degree of west longitude, must have been in ancient times much more numerous than they were when recently discovered by Europeans. In each green valley, in the recesses of the highest mountains, on the sides of the hills, and on the brow of almost every promontory, monuments of former generations are still seen in great abundance. Stone pavements of their dwellings and court-yards, foundations of houses, and ruins of familytemples, are of frequent occurrence. But as these relics are precisely similar to the instruments and edifices found among them when our ships first touched their shores, they merely establish the fact that the Polynesians were once a more powerful people than they have been since the middle of the last century.t

They have amongst them, also, certain historical and mythological ballads, which are said to be well adapted to every order of society and every period of life. Such compositions, called udes, are recited by the children,

* An Historical Account of the Circumnavigation of the Globe (Edinburgh Cabinet Library, No. xxI.), p. 371.

Ellis' Polynesian Researches (4 vols 12mo, Lond. 1831), vol. i. p. 102; vol. iii. p. 93.


who are likewise taught to act them, for in some cases they have a pantomimic or dramatic character. At all events, they are highly figurative and impassioned; and what adds greatly to their value, while it proves their antiquity, is the fact that they contain many words which are no longer in use. Ignorant of chronology and the importance of dates, the authors pretend not to convey any knowledge of the past, or to preserve the slightest order in their narrative of the incidents on which they have fixed as the groundwork of their poems. So far as we can judge from the scanty specimens which the missionary press has supplied to the European reader, the descriptions refer chiefly to the ordinary occupations of their simple life, or to those more animating scenes which were from time to time connected with the ceremonies of their idolatrous worship. They had one song for the fisherman, another for the canoe-builder, a third for cutting down the tree, and one for the launching of the little vessel. The rites of their mythology were also wrapped up in a veil of poetical fiction; but as the strains employed on such occasions were equally mystical and obscure, they were discontinued as soon as the people renounced paganism. With all their imperfections, these traditionary songs possessed a species of authority, and were often appealed to for the purpose of determining any disputed point in their annals. It is added, that the fidelity of public recitals, viewed as the standard of historical truth, was not unfrequently questioned by the orators or chroniclers of two opposite parties; and the disputes which followed were carried on with great vehemence and pertinacity. As they had no written records to which either of the antiquaries could refer, they persevered in opposing one oral tradition to another, and thereby involved themselves in debates which could only be terminated by the fatigue of the speakers or the impatience of their audience. In most cases, however, a happy allusion to some verse in a popular poem set the matter at rest ; and it is supposed that many facts of great antiquity

« ForrigeFortsæt »