« ForrigeFortsæt »
water, though it rose every where around to the height of several thousand feet. Their belief in the Deluge, though accompanied with some difficulties of a physical nature, remains unshaken; and, in support of it, they allude to the coral, shells, and other marine substances occasionally found near the surface on the tops of their highest mountains. These, they maintain, could neither have been carried thither by the inhabitants, nor have originally existed in the situations in which they are now seen, but must have been deposited by the waters of the ocean when the islands were inundated.
Without any more special reference to geology, we are certain that no one will question the soundness of the observation with which the author of the Polynesian Researches concludes his narrative. “ The memorial of a universal deluge existing in those communities by which civilisation, literature, science, and the arts have been carried to the highest perfection, as well as among the most untutored and barbarous, preserved through all the migrations and vicissitudes of the human family, from the remote antiquity of its occurrence to the present time, is a most decisive evidence of the truth of revelation. The brief yet satisfactory testimony to this event, preserved in the oral traditions of a people secluded for ages from other parts of the world, furnishes strong additional evidence that the Scripture record is irrefragable. In several respects the Polynesian account resembles not only the Mosaic, but those preserved by the earliest families of the postdiluvian world, and supports the presumption that their religious system has descended from the Arkite idolatry, the basis of the mythology of the Gentile nations. The sleep of Ruahatoo accords with the slumber of Bramah, which was the occasion of the crime that brought on the Hindoo deluge. The warning to flee and the means of safety resemble a tradition recorded by Kæmpfer as existing among the Chinese. The canoe of the Polynesian Noah has its counterpart in the traditions of their antipodes the Druids, whose memorial states the bursting of the lake Ilion, the overwhelming of the face of all lands, and the drowning of all mankind, excepting two individuals who escaped in a naked vessel (one without sails), by whom the island of Britain was repeopled. The safety which the progenitors of the human race are said to have found in caves, or the summits of the mountains, when the waters overflowed the land, bears a resemblance to the Hawaiian legend; and that of Mexico, in which Coxcox, or Tezpi, and his wife are represented as having been preserved in a bark, corresponds with the Otaheitan tradition. Other points of resemblance between the Polynesian account and the memorial of the Deluge circulated among the ancient nations might be cited ; but these are sufficient to show the agreement in the testimony to the same event, held by the most distant tribes of the human race.”*
After the manner of most primitive nations, these simple reasoners ascribe the origin of all things, even of their divinities, to night or darkness. Taaroa himself, who is sometimes represented as uncreated, or as having existed from the beginning, has his era also measured by a reference to the period when he emerged from the gloom of chaos, and assumed the office of a demiurgus. But whatever may have been the foundation of their mythology, the Polynesians were taught to see their gods in clouds, and hear them in the winds. The spell of enchantment was thrown over every scene, whether by sea or by land. They conceived themselves surrounded by intelligences wherever they contemplated the active powers of nature; and in the rising sun, the mild light of the moon, the shooting-star, the flame of
* Ellis, vol. i. p. 394. On the subject of religion, Captain Cook remarks, that “they reproach many who bear the name of Christian. You see no instance of them drawing near the Atua with carelessness and inattention. The supplicant is all devotion: he approaches the place of worship with reverential awe; uncovers when he treads on sacred ground ; and prays with a fervour that would do honour to a better profession. He firmly credits the traditions of his ancestors. None dares dispute the existence of the Deity."
the meteor, the roar of the ocean, or the blast of the tempest, they realized the presence of mighty spirits. Amusement itself was not altogether separated from feelings of gratitude or adoration. In his games, the Otaheitan acknowledged the authority of an invisible superintendent; every art had its patron, to whom the working-man lifted up his thoughts; and the professor who healed wounds or cured diseases, solicited the aid of Tama and Oitili, who united in their character the functions of the Grecian Esculapius.
We learn from the missionaries that atua, which, as well as varua, signifies spirit, is the general name by which the objects of worship are designated in Eastern Islands. The first a appears to be a component part of the word, though in many sentences it is omitted, in consequence of the preceding word terminating in a vowel. Though little light is thereby thrown on the origin of the people, it is interesting to trace the correspondence between the tangata, first man in Polynesia, and the tangatanga, a principal deity among the South Americans ; between the tua of the South Sea, the tev of the Mexicans, the deviyo of the Singalese, and the deva of the Sanscrit.*
The objects which claimed the worship of the natives in the Society Islands, appear to have been their deified ancestors, idols, and etus. These last, indeed, were common to other groups, and consisted generally of some reptile, bird, or fish, in which it was believed that a spirit resided. It was by no means uncommon to see a chief muttering a prayer to a fly, an ant, or a lizard ; and when any such animal was accidentally killed, a deep sorrow was expressed by those who had courted its favour or dreaded its power to punish. An especial reverence was shown towards a species of woodpecker, which was accustomed to frequent the trees growing in the precincts of the temples. Hence, this bird was considered sacred, and allowed to feed on the sacrifices; or
rather, the god to whom the victim had been offered was understood to approach, in that form, to acknowledge the piety of his votaries. The cry which it uttered, too, was regarded as a response made to the prayers of the priest, who alone could understand its import.
As to the souls of such of their dead relations as had been honoured for their services upon earth, they imagined that they had their abode in the world of night, where they occupied a station intermediate between gods and the human race. Though, in their addresses to them, they did not hesitate to ascribe divine attributes, they nevertheless abstained from such worship except on very particular occasions. It is said that no prayer was ever made to those oromatuas except by wizards and sorcerers, who implored their aid for the destruction of an enemy, or to enable them to inflict injury on some individual whom they were hired to assail. The natives were greatly afraid of these human demons; and it was to avoid the evils which they were supposed to have the power of sending, that gifts were so profusely presented at their altars. Nor is it surprising that they should have been regarded with such emotions, because the chief oromatuas were the spirits of departed warriors, who had distinguished themselves by ferocity and murder, not less than by their patriotism. Each was honoured with an image, through which his influence was understood to be exerted ; and their skulls, in some cases, preserved along with the idol, were honoured with the same tokens of religious respect.*
The idols were either unpolished logs of wood, wrapped in numerous folds of sacred cloth, or rudely carved images, braided with leaves and ornamented with feathers. Into these shrines the god was believed to enter at certain seasons, or in answer to the special invocation of the priest. During this indwelling, the
Ellis, vol. i. p. 338. Williams' Missionary Enterprises,
image was held to be very powerful ; but when the supernatural presence was withdrawn, its efficacy for good or for evil no longer existed. This distinction was every where acknowledged both by those who made and by those who venerated the mystic symbols. The former declared their entire conviction, that the virtue in the idol arose, not from the alteration made by their tools on the trunk of a tree, but from its being placed in the temple, and filled with the spirit of the atua. It is well known that, besides offerings of various kinds of food, cloth, canoes, and other property, human victims were sacrificed in great numbers, more particularly on the breaking out of a war, when the countenance of Oro, the Mars of the Pacific, was to be gained, at whatever expense of blood and suffering. Like the heathens of old, too, they were wont to inflict upon themselves the most painful mutilations. Even the worshippers of Baal, who cut themselves with knives till the blood gushed out upon them, did not carry self-torture to a greater extent than the devotee at Otaheite and Tongataboo. It was customary, during the performance of some of their rites, to knock out their front teeth, and to deprive themselves of portions of their fingers ; insomuch that, according to indisputable accounts, it was hardly possible to meet a full-grown person who had not submitted to some such operation.
Many mothers used to dedicate their children to one of the deities, but principally to Hiro, the god of thieves, or to Oro, the god of war. If to the former of these, the parent, before the birth of her babe, went to the temple with the suitable offerings; when the priest, performing the ceremony, called “ catching the spirit of the god,” infused a portion of it into the unconscious child, that it might become a clever and desperate stealer. The greater number, however, were desirous that their boys should become renowned warriors; and to secure this object of ambition, many ceremonies were performed before the infants saw the light, who, soon after they were born, were taken to the marai, and