Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

cannot be any doubt that the sacrifice of victims to the gods when supposed to be offended, was a powerful engine in the possession of government. When the priest announced that the wrath of heaven required an atonement, the king, whose duty it was to watch over the safety of his land, gave orders for the selection of a proper person; and it being observed by the people that individuals who had shown any marked disaffection towards the state were commonly chosen, they were more careful to render an unhesitating obedience to the will of the sovereign. It is related by one of the missionaries, that when a victim was required, the monarch despatched to the chiefs of the various districts certain messengers, who, upon entering their dwellings, were wont to ask whether they had a broken calabash at hand or a rotten cocoa-nut. These or similar terms were invariably used and well understood when such applications were made. It generally happened that some one of the chiefs had an individual on his grounds whom he was not unwilling to devote to the horrid purpose in view. When, therefore, the request was announced, he notified by a motion of the hand or movement of the eye the person whom he wished to be taken. The only weapon with which the assassins were armed was a small stone concealed in the fist; and one of them striking the doomed man a stunning blow on the back of the head, the others rushed in and completed the murder. The body was then carried, amidst songs and shouts of savage triumph, to the marai, where it was offered to the gods. This inhuman practice was rendered still more dreadful by a circumstance, which, probably intended to prevent revenge on the part of the survivors, occasioned the utmost wretchedness and alarm. As soon as one of a family was selected as an offering to the vindictive spirit of their imaginary divinities, all the other males belonging to it considered themselves as devoted. It availed them nothing to remove to another island, for the reason of their migration was soon made known; and whenever a sacrifice was needed, it was sought among the unfortunate refugees. The missionary, on whose authority we relate these facts, had in his own household a domestic, all of whose brothers had been immolated on the altar, and he himself had been eight times hunted with dogs in the neighbouring mountains; but, being an extraordinary runner, as well as ingenious in devising resources, he contrived to elude his pursuers until the inhabitants of his island embraced the gospel, and no longer looked to such oblations. *

The practice of taboo, in like manner, placed a vast influence in the hands of the ruler. A universal interdict was constantly at his command ; and whether in matters of finance, provisions, or any other branch of national economy, he had the minds and bodies of his subjects entirely under his control. The introduction of Christianity has indeed effected an extensive and most beneficial change in the political opinions, the manners, and belief of the natives ; but before we enter upon those interesting points, we shall briefly notice some opinions and usages which prevailed among the Eastern Polynesians at the time when they were first visited by navigators from Europe.

On all the inquiries which respect the origin of the human race and the nature of the gods, their impressions were extremely vague, ridiculous, and in many cases inconsistent. They traced their own existence to progenitors, who, though they had sprung from a divine source, were led by inclination or necessity to fix their abode upon earth, with whom, even after they were removed by death, they continued to hold some mysterious connexion. Hence their forefathers and their divinities being in many cases identified, the same forms of adoration were directed to both. But as the imagination of a savage does not long remain satisfied with ideal forms, the inhabitants of all the Polynesian groups were found to have adopted the usual expedient of supplying themselves with an object on which they might fix their

* Williams' Missionary Enterprises, p. 555.

eyes, when engaged in the various ceremonies of their rude worship. The idols, we are told, were different in every island, there being no one type or symbol which had secured the approval of the general mind.

In some cases there is reason to believe that their notions have received a certain colouring from an occasional intercourse with Europeans. For example, in Otaheite it is mentioned as a tradition received from their fathers that the first human pair owed their existence to the god Taaroa, who, after he had formed the world, created man out of red earth. It is added that this deity one day caused the man to fall asleep, and, while he lay in a state of insensibility took out one of his bones, of which he made a woman, whom he gave to him as his wife. Some of the islanders maintain that the name of the female was Ivi, which would by them be pronounced Evé. The native term literally signifies a bone ; but figuratively it is also applied to a widow and to a victim slain in war. It is justly remarked, that, should a stricter inquiry confirm the truth of this statement, more especially with regard to the antiquity of the opinion, it will afford one of the most remarkable oral traditions yet known relative to the origin of the human race.*

The traces of primeval belief which prevail among the people of the South Sea, will be found to lend great probability to the conclusion, that the nations whence they originally emigrated must have been acquainted with some of the leading facts contained in the Mosaical history. Other of their tenets appear to bear a great resemblance to the more striking features of Hindoo cosmogony. The account of the creation given in the Institutes of Menu accords in no small degree with the Polynesian legends as to the production of the visible world by the power of their god. The Brahmins say, that he having willed to produce various beings from his own divine

* Polynesian Researches, vol. i. p. 110. Mr Ellis, who collected with great care the floating notions of the people, is disposed to think that Ivi or Eve is the only aboriginal part of the story, as far as it respects the mother of the human race.

substance, first, with a thought, created the waters, and placed in them a productive seed. That seed became an egg bright as gold, blazing like the luminary with a thousand beams, and in that egg he was himself born, in the form of Brahma, the great forefather of all spirits. The waters were called nara, because they were the production of narau, the Spirit of God'; and since they were his first place of motion, he is thence named Narayana. A rude version of this legend is still preserved in the Sandwich Islands, where the mythologist continues to teach that the terrestrial frame was produced by a bird, an emblem of the deity. This divine creature laid an egg upon the waters, which, afterwards bursting of itself, gave an origin to the concave firmament and the convex earth, subsequently removed from each other by the agency of Ruu, one of the most powerful of the divinities. Hence the holy mountain Me-ru, the abode of the Hindoo gods, is also the paradise of some of the South Sea Islanders, the dwelling-place of their departed kings, and of their most distinguished benefactors. Varuna and Vahni, who have a niche in the Brahminical pantheon, are also found with a slight alteration among the natives of the Pacific. Varua and Vaiti equally denote a spiritual existence; and both these terms are still in use, on either side of the equator, as part of the religious vocabulary of the copper-coloured tribes. *

It is not a little interesting to find that traditions of the Deluge have existed from the earliest period among the natives of Polynesia. They narrate that in ancient times Taaroa, their principal deity, being angry with men on account of their wickedness, overturned the earth into the sea, all of which sunk in the waves, except a few projecting points, forming the various clusters of their islands. The memorial preserved by the inhabitants of Eimeo records that, after the inundation of the

[ocr errors]

• The resemblance between the Polynesians and Hindoos is

ome respects so striking as to lead to the remark of Bishop Heber, that many things which he saw among the inhabitants of India reminded him of the plates in Cook's Voyages.

world, when the waters subsided, a man landed from a canoe, and erected an altar or marai in honour of his god.

The most circumstantial account of this remarkable event, supplied by Mr Orsmond, is translated as follows: “ Destroyed was Otaheite by the sea; no man, nor dog, nor fowl remained. The groves of trees and the stones were carried away by the wind. They were destroyed, and the deep was over the land. But these two persons, the husband and the wife (when it came in), he took up his young pig, she took up her young chickens; he took up the young dog, and she the young kitten. They were going forth, and looking at Orofena (the highest hill in the island), the husband said, up both of us to yonder mountain high. The wife replied, no, let us not go thither. The husband said, it is a high rock and will not be reached by the sea ; but the wife replied, reached it will be by the sea yonder : let us ascend Opitohito, round as a breast; it will not be reached by the sea. They two arrived there. Orofena was overwhelmed by the waves : Opitohito alone remained and was their abode. There they watched ten nights; the sea ebbed, and they saw the two little heads of the mountains in their elevation. When the waters retired, the land remained without produce, without man, and the fish were putrid in the holes of the rocks. The earth remained, but the shrubs were destroyed. They descended and gazed with astonishment: there were no houses, nor cocoa-nuts, nor palm-trees, nor bread-fruit, nor grass ; all was destroyed by the sea. They two dwelt together; and the woman brought forth two children, a son and a daughter. In those days covered was the land with food; and from two persons the earth was repeopled."*

The natives of Raiatea ascribe the safety of the surviving couple to the miraculous circumstance that the island of Toamarama, on which they, instructed by the god Ruahatoo to take refuge, resisted the approach of the

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »