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have been transmitted from one generation to another in the loose vehicle of national rhymes.
It might be inferred, perhaps, from the fixed and consolidated form of government which prevails throughout the islands of the South Sea, that their political institutions are not of recent origin. The king is invested with supreme power, which appears to descend in his family according to the rights of primogeniture, and may be inherited by sons or daughters. There was a queen in Otaheite, when it was discovered by Wallis, and Pomare the Second was succeeded by Aimata. In all respects, the sovereign authority was wont to be closely connected with the national religion ; the idols and the monarch were understood to divide between them the fealty of mankind. The prince even, on certain occasions, represented the divinity, receiving the homage and listening to the entreaties uttered by the crowds of supplicants; and, at other times, he officiated as the high-priest, offering up their
and thanksgiving. As in similar states of society in ancient Europe, the regal and sacerdotal functions were commonly united in the same individual ; the genealogy of the reigning house was piously traced back to the very origin of the tribe ; and in some of the islands, the early sovereigns were supposed to have descended from the gods themselves. Hence, it almost necessarily followed that their persons should be esteemed sacred, and their rank as well as office regarded by the people with the utmost veneration.
A singular inconvenience resulted from the feeling of sanctity now mentioned. Every thing in the least degree connected with the king or queen became also in some measure sacred, and could not be applied to any ordinary purpose. Not only the houses in which they dwelt, the canoes in which they sailed, but even the ground whereon they trode, and the syllables which composed their names, became so far holy that they could not be appropriated to any common use.
On account of this peculiarity, the royal personages never
entered any house that was not specially dedicated to their residence, nor walked on any piece of land not included in their hereditary possessions. To prevent the evils apprehended from the contact of either sovereign, these exalted individuals at no time appeared in public except on men's shoulders. They even performed their longest journeys in the same manner, proceeding at a pace of not less than six miles an hour, and changing their bearers at regular stages. In Owhyhee, whenever such chiefs as were supposed to be of divine extraction passed along the public way, the people prostrated themselves with their faces pressing on the ground. In Otaheite, on all occasions, when the king approached, his subjects, stripping down their upper garments, uncovered the body as low as the waist; a homage which was paid to no other except the gods, and to the places consecrated to their service. When passing these last, every individual, whether on foot or sailing in a canoe, removed whatever article of dress he wore on his shoulders and breast; and by this act he expressed the utmost respect to the deities of his country, to their altars, and to the spot where their presence was supposed to be more especially vouchsafed.
The reverence now described was required from all ranks, including even the father and mother of his majesty; indeed, they were generally the first to uncover themselves when his approach was announced. If by any accident the king appeared before the robe could be laid aside, it was instantly torn off, rent in pieces, and an atonement required. Had any individual hesitated to perform this ceremony, his life would have been exposed to the greatest danger; for to refuse this homage was considered not only as a proof of disaffection to the monarch, but as rebellion against the government, and impiety towards those invisible powers under whose protection both were placed.
An allusion has just been made to the reverence usually paid to the King of Otaheite by his own parents; a circumstance which can only be explained by referring to a him ;
singular usage connected with the law of primogeniture in that and some other of the surrounding islands. This was the abdication of the throne by the reigning sovereign as soon as his first son was born ; and whatever might be his age, his influence in the state, or the aspect of political affairs, the moment the heir came into the world, he relapsed into a subject; the babe was proclaimed the master of the people ; the royal name was conferred upon and the father was the first to acknowledge his supreme power by kissing his feet and pronouncing his title. A public herald was then despatched round the island with the flag of the infant monarch, which being unfurled at the proper places, the accession was duly proclaimed. If this emblem was allowed to pass, the chiefs were understood to concur in the expediency of the measure which it announced; but if the banner was insulted by them, or the bearer impeded in his progress, their conduct was regarded as an act of rebellion, or even as an open declaration of war.
Vancouver relates that he witnessed the ceremony of homage paid to Otoo, Pomare the Second, by his grandfather. A pig and a plaintain leaf were instantly procured, the old man stripped to the waist, and when the boy appeared in front of the marquee, the aged parent, whose limbs were tottering under the weight of years, met his grandson, and on his knees acknowledged his own inferiority by presenting this token of submission ; which, so far as could be discovered, was offered with a mixture of profound respect and paternal regard. The ceremony seemed to have little effect on the young monarch, who appeared to notice the humble posture of his grandsire with the most perfect indifference. This mode of behaviour, the navigator remarks, is to be attributed to the force of education rather than to a want of the proper sentiments of affection.*
* Vancouver's Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and round the World, performed in the years 17901795 (3 vols 4to, Lond. 1798), vol. i. p. 109.
It is deserving of notice, that, notwithstanding the relinquishment of sovereign power, every important affair, whether foreign or domestic, was transacted by the old king and those who had been formerly associated with him as his counsellors. But all edicts and official deeds were issued in the name and behalf of the royal child, for whom, in point of fact, his father directed the government in the capacity of regent. Nor was this singular principle of succession confined to the family of the monarch. It prevailed likewise among those orders which correspond to what in civilized countries we should call the nobility and gentry—the arii and the raatiras and in both these classes the first-born son, immediately after his birth, received the honours, the titles, and possessions which had till that moment been enjoyed by his parent. There is no small difficulty in the attempt to discover the origin and design of a usage so singular ; and unless we adopt the conjecture of one of the most learned among the missionaries, we shall certainly not arrive at any satisfactory conclusion. He supposes that it arose from a wish on the part of powerful families to secure to the next heir an undisputed succession to the dignity and power of his ancestors; and if this was the object of the practice at its original institution, no one can doubt that it was well adapted to realize its purpose. The youth was firmly fixed in his government or estates before his natural protectors had lost the power of asserting his rights to the inheritance.*
In a state of society very little raised above barbarism, one is not prepared to find so minute a distinction of ranks as prevails in Polynesia, more especially among the inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands, whose government is said to be more despotic than that of any tribe on the southern side of the equator. This distribution of the people into certain orders, marked by distinct lines of separation, has been regarded as a proof of their descent from the Asiatic continent, where the institution of caste appears in all the solidity of an ancient system ; for though the degrees which measure rank in the South Sea may not be so numerous as those in India, the approach from one grade to another is rendered hardly less difficult. The higher classes are described as being remarkably tenacious of their dignity, and exceedingly jealous of such contamination as might arise from a matrimonial union with their inferiors.
* Ellis' Polynesian Researches, vol. iii. p. 101. It is added that the lands and other sources of the king's support were appropriated to the household establishment of the infant ruler ; and the father rendered to him those demonstrations of inferiority which he himself was wont to require from the people.
Society in that part of the world seems to consist of three orders; the royal family and nobles; the proprietors of land who employ themselves in cultivating it; and, lastly, the common people. These orders, again, are subdivided according to their several gradations. The lowest class includes the servants and slaves; the latter being persons who may have lost their liberty in an unsuccessful battle, or who, in consequence of the downfal of the chieftain to whom they were attached, had become the dependents of another. This species of servitude appears to have existed among them from the most ancient times. Individuals taken in actual combat, or those who, when disabled in the field, had courted the protection of a great warrior, have always been considered the lawful slaves of him into whose hands they fell. In such cases, the women and children, sharing the fate of their vanquished kinsmen, become the property of the conqueror, or are transferred with the lands to his subordinate chiefs.
There is no reason to believe that the Polynesians ever carried on a traffic in slaves, though they retained over their captives the power of life and death, and might even offer them in sacrifice to their gods. If peace continued, the prisoner often regained his liberty after a short servitude, and was then allowed either to return to his own people or to remain a voluntary servant with his new master. This mild species of slavery, incident to a rude condition of society, has prevailed more or less