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already stated, that their minds are not destitute of natural vigour.
In respect of physical attributes, the Polynesians, as a race, are not inferior to Europeans. Generally speaking, they are taller and more athletic. The countenance is open and prepossessing, though the features are in some instances rather prominent. The form of the face is either round or oval, seldom exhibiting any resemblance to the angular shape of the Tartar visage, while the profile bears a striking similarity to that of the European. Their hair is a shining black or dark-brown colour; not lank and wiry like that of the Indian, nor, except in a few instances, woolly, after the manner of the negro in Australia or the Papuan Islands. In point of stature, there is a considerable difference between the men and women. The latter, taken in mass, are stronger and taller than English females, and are also distinguished by a fulness of figure, sometimes approaching to corpulency. The prevailing colour in both sexes is olive, bronze, or reddish-brown, presenting occasionally a kind of medium between the yellow of the Malay and the red of the native American. But it is by no means uniform even among the people of the same island ; and the diversity, as might be expected, is still much greater among the inhabitants of the several groups. The red or brown in the countenance is more or less dark, without being at all mixed with black; and, in certain districts, the complexion is not very different from that which prevails in the southern nations of Europe.*
The children at their birth are not much darker than infants in this part of the world; and the skin only assumes the bronze hue as they grow up under constant exposure to the sun. Those parts of the body which are covered, even with their slight clothing, are much fairer, at every period of life, than such as are necessarily exposed to the weather; and it is noticed by one of the most distinguished of the missionaries, that, notwithstanding the
Ellis, vol. i. p. 83.
dark tint with which the climate appears to dye the skin, the ruddy bloom of health and vigour, or the sudden blush, is often seen mantling the youthful countenance under the light-brown tinge which, like a thin veil, but partially conceals its glow. Hence the natives, supposing the white colour of the European to be the effect of illness, beheld it with pity ; an impression that has long since given way to experience, which has completely dissolved the fancied connexion.*
We are informed by the same author, that although remarkably strong men are found among the Polynesians, they are in general more distinguished by activity than by muscular power. They engage in various kinds of work with great spirit, but soon tire. When a boat manned with English seamen and a canoe with natives happened to start from the shore, the latter instantly left the Europeans behind ; but, becoming fatigued, they gradually relaxed their exertions, while the sailors, pulling without intermission, speedily overtook them, and usually reached their destination first. But they are, nevertheless, capable of great endurance. One of them has been known to travel in the course of a day thirty or forty miles, over mountain and ravine, without taking any other refreshment than a little juice from a sugar-cane. The facility with which they perform such journeys is, no doubt, the result of habit, as they are accustomed to climb the rocky precipices even from their childhood. Nor does it appear that the duration of life among them is under the usual limits, being about seventy years and upwards. Nay, it is probable that the rural population must present many instances of great longevity ; for their simple diet, the absence of all stimulants, their habit of early rising, and, more especially, an entire freedom from irritating cares, are extremely favourable to health and length of days.
The early visiters to Otaheite were very favourably impressed with the appearance, manners, and cleanliness of the inhabitants. In their motions they observed both vigour and ease ; their walk was graceful, their deportment liberal, and their behaviour to strangers and to each other affable and courteous. In their dispositions they appeared to be brave, open, and candid, without suspicion or treachery, cruelty or revenge. Captain Cook mentions that the natives, both men and women, constantly wash their whole bodies in running water three times every day; once as soon as they rise in the morning, once at noon, and again before they sleep at night, whether the sea or river be near them or at a distance. They wash, not only the mouth but the hands at their meals, almost between every morsel ; and their clothes as well as their persons are kept without spot or stain. *
* Ellis, vol. i. p. 84.
As one of the ceremonies connected with their natural condition, we must not fail to mention the mode in which they contracted and solemnized the obligations of marriage. In the South Sea Islands, as in all warm
* The impression made on the first missionaries was not less advantageous to the simple children of nature ; and in regard to the females, they condescend to inform us that “those who carefully clothe themselves and avoid the sunbeams, are but a shade or two darker than a European brunette ; their eyes are black and sparkling ; their teeth white and even ; their skin soft and delicate ; their limbs finely turned ; their hair jetty, perfumed, and ornamented with flowers; they are in general large and wide over the shoulders ; we were therefore disappointed in the judgment we had formed from the report of preceding travellers; and though here and there was to be seen a young person who might be esteemed comely, we saw few who, in fact, could be called beauties ; yet they possess eminent feminine graces; their faces are never darkened with a scowl, or covered with a cloud of sullenness or suspicion. Their manners are affable and engaging ; their step easy, firm, and graceful ; their behaviour free and unguarded; always boundless in generosity to each other and to strangers ; their tempers mild, gentle, and unaffected ; slow to take offence, easily pacified, and seldom retaining resentment or revenge, whatever provocation they may have received. Their arms and hands are very delicately formed ; and though they go barefoot, their feet are not coarse and spreading.”—Missionary Voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean in the Years 1796, 1797, 1798, in the Ship Duff (4to, Lond. 1799), pp. 336, 337.
countries, the matrimonial union takes place at an early age ; but among the chiefs, and other persons of rank, a betrothment was usually ratified when the future husband and wife were still in their childhood. The parties themselves were not sufficiently advanced in life to form any judgment of their own; yet we are assured that, on arriving at maturity, they rarely objected to the engagements which their friends had made on their behalf. Among the lower class, where family connexions and a suitable establishment had little weight in the considerations which determined the propriety of a match, the young persons were less restricted in their choice. In such cases the contract, being founded on affection or mutual respect, was confirmed with a greater appearance of free agency.
When the time fixed for the marriage arrived, great preparations were made for the dances, games, and other festive entertainments usual on such occasions. A company of strolling players generally attended, and on the day preceding the nuptials, their exhibitions were seen to commence. Next morning, an altar was erected in the house of the bride's parents, on which were placed the relics of her ancestors, including sometimes their skulls and larger bones, together with such presents as her relatives had thought proper to send. As the sanction of the gods was deemed essential to the validity of the contract about to be recognised, the ceremony was always performed in a place of worship. On entering the temple, the bride and bridegroom changed their clothes, and put on their wedding garments, which were ever afterwards considered sacred. The priest, arrayed in his official robes, turning to the man, said, “ wilt thou not cast away thy wife?" To this question he answered, no ; and upon receiving a similar assurance from the bride, the minister, addressing them both, pronounced these words : “ if it be thus with you, happy shall ye be.” He then offered a prayer to the gods in their behalf, entreating that they might live in affection, and realize all the happiness which marriage was designed to secure. On some occasions the female relatives, cutting their faces with a sharp instrument, received the blood on a piece of cloth, which they deposited at the feet of the bride ; a ceremony which was meant to denote, that any inferiority of rank that might have existed between the parties was thereby removed. The two families also to which they respectively belonged were ever afterwards regarded as one; the mixing of their blood being esteemed an emblem of their union.*
Of the wives, we are assured by the best writers, that in general they are affectionate, tender, and obedient to their husbands, and uncommonly fond of their children; nursing them with the utmost care, and being particularly attentive to keep their limbs supple and straight. A cripple is hardly ever seen among them in early life ; any such defect, indeed, would reflect the highest discredit on the mother. They construct not, it is true, any partitions in their houses; but it is asserted that they have, in many instances, more refined ideas of decency than ourselves, and never, in their domestic intercourse, give any cause of offence to modesty or decorum. It is recorded that polygamy was practised to a great extent by the people of Otaheite. - Many of the inferior chiefs, or raatiras, it is admitted, had two or three wives, who appeared to receive from them an equal degree of respect and the same portion of maintenance. But among the higher class of their simple aristocracy it was different ; for, although they might keep a number of females, it was rather a system of concubinage than a plurality of wives which prevailed amongst them. The individual to whom the chief was first united in marriage, or whose rank was nearest his own, was considered as his wife,
* Mr Ellis (Polynesian Researches), vol. i. p. 273, remarks that, notwithstanding all this ceremony, the marriage tie was probably one of the weakest which existed among them ; neither party feeling themselves bound to abide by it longer than it suited their inclinations and convenience.