Pomare's proposed restrictions on barter rejected by the chiefs of the Leeward Islands—Voyage to Eimeo—Departure for Tahiti—Danger during the night—Arrival at Burder's Point—State of the settlement—Papeete—Mount Hope—Interview with the king—The laws revised
Approved by the queen—Arrival of the Hope from England—Influence of letters, &c.—Return to Eimeo—Embarkation for the Leeward Islands—A night at sea—Appearance of the heavens—Astronomy of the natives—Names of the stars—The Twins—Tradition of their origin—Arrival in Huahine.
Early in 1821, the brig which had been purchased in New South Wales for Pomare, arrived in Tahiti. Soon after this, the king sent a messenger to the Leeward Islands, with a bundle of niaus, or emblems of royal authority, and a proposal to the chiefs, that they should become joint proprietors, and furnish a required quantity of native produce, viz. pigs, arrow-root, and cocoa-nut oil, towards payment for the vessel. The herald left his message and bundle of niaus at Huahine, in the name of Teriitaria, and passed on to Raiatea, in a day or two afterwards we learned that instructions had been sent down to the chiefs, not to dispose of any of the abovementioned articles, nor to allow the people to barter them to any ship, or even to the Missionaries, page 147 but to reserve them for the vessel. We represented to the chiefs the injustice of not allowing every man, provided he paid their just demands, to dispose of the fruits of his own industry; and they stated their intention that it should be so at Huahine, whatever restrictions might be imposed upon the people of Tahiti. The queen's sister, the nominal ruler of the island, residing at Tahiti, was influenced, they observed, by the advice and measures of Pomare, and often perplexed them by her directions.
On the fourteenth of April, 1821, Pomare's messenger returned from Raiatea. Tamatoa, the king of that island, and the chiefs of those adjacent, had refused to receive the niaus, or to join Pomare in his commercial speculations. They had at the same time agreed to unite, and procure a vessel for themselves, in which to trade from the islands to the colony of New South Wales, and had sent up a special messenger, with a letter to the chiefs of Huahine, requesting them to unite in the enterprise. A public meeting was convened, in which the propositions from Pomare on the one hand, and of Tamatoa on the other, were freely discussed. The result was, that although all were more disposed to join the Raiatean than the Tahitian chiefs, they declined both for the present, and despatched the respective messengers to their superiors, with declarations to that effect.
The wind, which had set in from the westward on the fourteenth, continued during the whole of the fifteenth, and, as it seemed tolerably steady, it was proposed that our boat should be prepared for the voyage to Tahiti. It was also thought best that I should accompany Auna and Matapuupuu on their embassy to the queen's sister. During page 148 the evening I waited on the chiefs, and took my leave; the native chieftains did the same; and their final instructions were, to induce, if possible, Teriitaria to come and reside at Huahine; but that, if she preferred remaining at Tahiti, she should give up all interference with the government of the island, and delegate it to them, independently of all foreign control.
The wind continuing to blow from the westward through the night, early on the morning of the sixteenth we prepared for embarkation. The boat was rather rude in appearance, being one I had from necessity built, with the assistance of the natives, while residing in the island of Raiatea, in the early part of 1820. It was about thirty-six feet in length, and capable of carrying forty persons. The breeze increased in strength as the morning began to dawn, and about day-break we sailed from Fare harbour. Auna, Matatore, and Matapuupuu were my companions, and our boat was manned by about ten strong and active natives. As we were bounding over the waves of the harbour, and entering upon the wide-spread bosom of the Pacific, we lost the sprit of one of our mattingsails in the sea, and could only carry one sail. This circumstance, although it prevented our proceeding so rapidly as we should otherwise have done, contributed perhaps to our safety, for the wind was high and the sea rough. By noon we had entirely lost sight of Huahine, and about sunset we obtained our first distant glance of the lofty peaks of Eimeo. The wind now blew what the natives called a strong toerau, or westerly gale, and the agitation of the sea was proportionably increased. The inside of our open boat was, however, perfectly dry, and it appeared to shoot along, as the natives page 149 expressed it, upon the tops of the waves, until at length we heard, amid the stillness of the night, the welcome sound of the long heavy surf, rolling in solemn grandeur, and dashing in loud, though distant roar, upon the coral reefs. This, though adapted to inspire apprehension and terror in the minds of those unaccustomed to navigate among the islands, was a gladdening sound to us, as it indicated our approach to land. We were several miles distant when we first heard the roaring of the surf; but, proceeding with rapidity, we soon came in sight of it. Sailing in a line parallel with the reef till we came to an opening, we entered Taloo or Opunohu harbour, and landed near the Missionary settlement shortly after mid-night, having sailed a distance of about one hundred miles in the space of twenty hours.
The natives seldom evince much concern about their accommodations, when voyaging or travelling. Frequently, when landing for the night, they kindle a fire on the sea-beach, and, having cooked their bread-fruit or other provision, which they usually carry with them, lie down in the boat, or on the sand by its side, and, spreading the sails as a tent, or wrapping themselves in them, substitute them for bed and bedding, and sleep comfortably till the morning. Most of those, however, who were my fellow-voyagers on this occasion, had formerly resided at this settlement, on terms of friendship with many of the inhabitants. To the dwellings of these they repaired, while I pursued my way up the valley to the residence of my friend Mr. Platt, whom I awoke from his midnight repose, and, after receiving from him a kind welcome and some refreshment, I retired to rest till sunrise.page 150
During the forenoon of the 18th, our men went to the mountains, and cut down a new sprit for our sail, and prepared for the prosecution of the voyage. The favourable breeze had, however, been succeeded by a perfect calm, and the rays of the sun were exceedingly oppressive. As it appeared probable that the men would have to row the whole of the way, we agreed to defer our departure till the evening. This afforded me an opportunity of attending public worship with the native Christians of the settlement, and addressing the congregation assembled.
The sun was approaching the western horizon, when we took leave of our friends, and embarked, to prosecute the remaining parts of our voyage. We passed across the beautiful bay, which, for its size has justly been denominated one of the finest in the world, and, continuing within the reefs to Maharepa, again sailed forth on the ocean, about eight o'clock in the evening.
The excitement, watching, and fatigue of the preceding part of our voyage, having induced an exhaustion of strength and spirits, we had not advanced far upon the open sea, before I became oppressed with a sensation of drowsiness, which I could not remove. During my voyages among the islands, I have passed many nights at sea with the natives in an open boat, and generally found them watchful and alert during the early hours of darkness, but wearied and sleepy towards morning; and whenever I have felt rest necessary for myself, have usually taken it before midnight, that I might be more vigilant when my companions should become drowsy. This was my purpose in the present instance. The wind had indeed ceased, but the surface of the sea was agitated with a page 151 quick and cross motion; the current was against us; and it was uncertain how soon in the morning we should reach Matavai, our port of destination in the island of Tahiti. I therefore gave Matapuupuu charge of the helm, which I had hitherto kept during the whole of the voyage, and, directing him to awake me in about an hour's time, wrapped myself in a cloak, and lay down upon the seat in the stern of the boat, where, notwithstanding the motion of the sea, and the rattling and shaking occasioned by the movements of the oars, I soon fell into a sound sleep.
The refreshing and beneficial effects of my repose were, however, entirely neutralized by the sensations I experienced at its close. I cannot describe my emotions, when I awoke, and found it was broad day-light, and, turning to the helm, saw Matapuupuu fast asleep, with his hand still on the tiller; and then, looking forward along the boat, beheld every individual motionless; the rowers leaning over their oars, the others stretched along the bottom of the boat, and every one in the most profound sleep. Before I attempted to awake any one, I involuntarily looked for the island we had left: it was still in sight. I then looked on the opposite side, for that to which we were going: it was also in sight, but the lofty mountains rising at the head of Matavai were far to the north, and indicated that the port to which we were bound was many miles behind us. In fact, we appeared to be about midway between Tahiti and Eimeo, drifting to the southward, far away from both, as fast as the current could bear us.
Fully sensible of our critical situation, if the breeze which just began to ripple the surface of page 152 the water should increase, I instantly awoke my companions, and asked them how they came all to fall asleep together. They looked confused, on beholding the broad light of day, and replied that each had imperceptibly fallen under the influence of sleep, without knowing that the others were in the same situation. Recollecting that I had in the first instance set them the example, I could not much censure their conduct; I therefore directed their attention to the mountains in the vicinity of Matavai and Papeete, or Wilks' Harbour, far in our rear, and, as Burder's Point was the nearest part of the coast, urged them to apply with vigour to their oars, that we might reach it before the wind became so strong as to arrest our progress.
The men, refreshed by their slumbers, which had been favoured by the undulating motion of the boat on the water, broke a few cocoa-nuts, drank the milk, cheerfully grasped their oars, and pulled steadily towards the shore. After about five hours' hard rowing, we reached the beach, and were cordially welcomed by our friends, Messrs. Darling and Bourne, who resided at Burder's Point. In the afternoon, several of the natives, who had come with us to Tahiti, set out for Papara, to visit their friends, who had accompanied Mr. Davies from Huahine during the preceding year.
I spent this and the following day at Burder's Point. The respect and affection manifested by the natives towards their teachers was gratifying, and the general improvement in the habits of the people, and the appearance of the settlement, encouraging. Newly planted gardens and enclosures appeared in every direction: several good houses were page 153 finished; some were plastered and thatched; and others, though only in frame, and presenting the appearance of mere skeletons of buildings, indicated a state of progressive improvement. The public burying-ground, situated on the border of the settlement, was kept remarkably neat. The outline of the grave was defended by a curb, or border, of fragments of coral planted in the ground, while the grave itself was covered with small pieces of white coral and shells, brought from the adjacent shore. The school was a good building; and the chapel, erected near the ruins of the ancient marae, which I visited during my stay, was one of the most compact I had seen in the Georgian or Society Islands. The walls were framed and boarded; the roof thatched with fara, or palm-leaves. The floor was boarded, the pulpit and appendages remarkably neat, and the whole area of the chapel filled with seats. It was also fitted up with a gallery, the first ever erected in the South Sea Islands; the gallery, and other parts of the interior, having been finished under the direction and by the assistance of Mr. Darling, were neater, and more European in appearance, than any I had hitherto beheld.
The advancement in civilization had not, however, been so striking or rapid at this station as at some others; but the effects of its progress were such as to afford encouragement, and to warrant the anticipation of its ultimately extending throughout the entire population of a district that had felt the ravages of war, and the demoralization of paganism, as much as any in the group.
About ten in the morning of the 21st we took leave of our friends at Burder's Point, and, after rowing about four hours between the reefs and the page 154 shore, reached Papeete, or Wilks' harbour, where the queen and her sister were residing. On landing, the deputation from the Huahinean chiefs repaired to the abode of Teriitaria, and Matapuupuu delivered their message. She replied, “that she was anxious to remove to Huahine, and would return with them, if Pomare would allow her to leave Tahiti; but said she would see them again, and, before they returned, deliver her final reply.”
On the brow of a hill, forming the commencement of a range extending from the vicinity of the shore to the lofty interior mountains, Mr. Crook formerly, at this station, had erected his abode. Having waited on the queen, and other members of the royal family residing with her, I walked up this hill, which Mr. Crook had designated Mount Hope, and was happy to find himself and his family well. The situation he had selected for his abode, though inconvenient on account of its distance from the settlement, and the fatigue induced by the ascent, has nevertheless peculiar advantages; the air is remarkably pure, the temperature generally cooler than on the adjacent lowlands, and the prospect delightful and extensive.
With his agreeable family I passed the remainder of this day, and the following, which was the Sabbath. The congregation at the public religious services consisted of about five hundred hearers, who were in general attentive; the singing was good, and the voices of the men better than I have heard elsewhere. The female voices are generally clear and distinct, and they sing well in most of the stations, but the voices of the men are seldom mellow or sonorous.
About ten o'clock on the following day I took page 155 leave of the friends at Mount Hope, and, accompanied by the chiefs from Huahine, proceeded to Matavai, where Pomare resided. It was near noon when we arrived, and, soon after landing, the messengers waited upon the king, told him they had been sent by the chiefs of Huahine, to request Teriitaria to return, and reside there—and expressed their conviction that he would approve of the same. He replied—Ua tia ia ia oti ra May e tai ai. “It is agreed—but let May be over, and then go;” alluding to the annual meetings held in the month of May.
I took up my abode with Mr. Nott, and spent the whole of the week in revising, with him and one or two of the chiefs from Huahine, the laws which had been prepared for that island. In this revision we endeavoured to correct what was defective in those already published in Tahiti and Raiatea. This employment occupied a number of hours every day. It was a matter of importance: I was anxious that their laws should be framed with the utmost care, and felt desirous that we should avail ourselves of Mr. Nott's familiar acquaintance with the character of the people, and his observation on the effect of the laws on the inhabitants of Tahiti and Eimeo. I wished also to consult with Mr. Davies, but he was too far off. Mr. Nott stated, that the greatest defects he had observed, arose from the power vested in the hands of the magistrate to punish according to his own discretion those who were convicted. In consequence of this, the same crime was followed by different punishments, in different parts, or by different magistrates. In order to remedy this, the punishment to be inflicted was annexed to the prohibition of the offence. The laws, it was page 156 hoped, would by these means be less uncertain in their influence.
Another subject of importance was the revenue of the government, and the means of support for the king and chiefs. On this subject, Pomare had refused to make any regulations, preferring to demand supplies from the people as his necessities might require, rather than receive any regular proportion of the produce of the soil. Private property, therefore, was still insecure, and the industrious cultivator of the land was not sure of reaping the fruits of his labour. This was remarkably manifest at the present time, when the king of Tahiti, in his anxiety to pay for the vessel that had been purchased in his name, after making repeated applications to the chiefs for large numbers of pigs, prohibited every individual from selling to a captain or other person any commodity he might have for barter, but required them to bring all to him, in return for which he sometimes gave them articles of the most trifling value. To remedy this defect, several laws were added to those prepared for the people of Huahine, and a certain tax, somewhat resembling a poll-tax, proposed, by which it was fixed what proportion of the produce of the island each individual should furnish for the use of the king, and also of the chief of the district in which he resided. The remainder was to be inviolably his own, for use or disposal. The treatment of offenders, between their apprehension and trial, was also regulated. These were the principal additions made to the Huahinean code.
The trial by jury had been incorporated in the laws of Raiatea. The alterations were approved of by the chiefs who had come from Huahine, and page 157 were by them shewn to Teriitaria, who signified her entire satisfaction in their being adopted as the laws of Huahine. At the same time she informed the chiefs, that, after the approaching meetings, she intended to remove to Huahine, but did not wish them on that account to defer the public enactment of the laws, whenever it should appear desirable.
The most important object of our visit being now accomplished, we returned to Papeete, intending to proceed to Eimeo. About noon on the 28th, we embarked in our boat, hoisted our sails, and were on the point of leaving the shore, when a messenger arrived with intelligence that a vessel was approaching Matavai, so that instead of putting out to sea, our course was instantly directed thither. A brig of considerable size was advancing towards the harbour. We hailed her approach with joyful hopes that she would bring us
……“News of human kind,
Of friends and kindred, whom, perhaps, she held
As visitors, that she might be the link
Connecting the fond fancy of far friendship.”
Meeting the vessel at the entrance of the bay, we found it was the Hope, of London, having Mr. and Mrs. Hayward from England, and Mr. and Mrs. Wilson from New South Wales, on board. As the vessel was under full sail, we could only greet their arrival by signal, and follow them to the harbour. They had, however, scarcely anchored, when we found ourselves alongside, and, ascending the deck, were happy to exchange our mutual congratulations. A number of cattle, some belonging to the passengers, others sent as presents by Mr. Birnio to the chiefs, having suffered much during page 158 the voyage, were speedily landed. After this, we accompanied our friends to the shore, elated with the anticipated pleasure of intelligence from home. In this respect we were not disappointed. A few letters which were at hand we received on board, and the rest as soon as the boxes containing them were opened. We broke the seals, skimmed the contents, and glanced at the signatures with no common feelings, reserving a more careful perusal for a season of greater leisure.
No opportunity equally favourable for receiving intelligence from England, had occurred since our arrival. Mr. Hayward had proceeded from the Islands to England; he had met our friends and relatives there, and had been enabled to satisfy them in a variety of points, of which, though of confessedly minor importance, they were anxious to be informed. He had left them, and returned direct to us; and the simple fact that we were conversing with one who had traversed scenes long familiar, and vividly present to our recollections, and one who had mingled in the society of those dearest on earth to us, appeared to shorten the distance by which we were separated, and to remove the most formidable barriers to intercourse. We had a thousand questions to ask, and the evening was far too short for the answer of half our inquiries, or the perusal of our letters.
Mingled and intense are the emotions with which a lonely sojourner in a distant and uncivilized part of the world receives a packet from his native land. This is especially the case when the symbol of mourning appears on the exterior of any of his letters. The unfolded sheet is sometimes put aside, as the eye, in its first glance over the lines, has been arrested by a sentence conveying page 159 tidings of the departure of some dear and valued relative or friend.
Notwithstanding the painful sensations occasioned by the knowledge of the fact, that some dear object of the heart's attachment or esteem has been for some months consigned to the cheerless grave; the arrival of epistles from those we have left in our native land, produces emotions more powerful, and satisfactions more elevated, than any other circumstance. Letters sent home by those in distant climes, may convey all that undiminished affection prompts, but they awaken no recollections connected with the locality, the companions, and the circumstances of those by whom they are written. The scenes and society by which the writers are surrounded, are foreign; and, next to the feeling of curiosity, the gratest interest they excite arises from the connexion with those for whose welfare every concern is felt. Very different are the effects of a letter from home, to residents in a distant land. Every circumstance connected with it awakens emotion; even the name of the place whence it is dated, recalls a thousand associations of by-gone days. They seem to hear again the familiar voice, and involuntarily mingle once more, in imagination and in feeling, with the circle which friendship and attachement had often drawn round the domestic hearth; and while perusing letters from home, feel all the force of the poet's exclamation,
How fleet is a glance of the mind!
Next to the enjoyment of the Divine favour, letters from friends are among the sources of sweetest solace, and most cheering encouragement, to the sojourner in a foreign land. They excite a train of feeling which must be experienced, to be page 160 understood. They cheer the spirits, often fainting under the effects of an insalubrious clime, the silent prostration of debilitating sickness, or the opposition and the trials of situation. They convey to his mind the gratifying conviction, that the individual to whom they are addressed is not forgotten by those in whose enjoyments and pursuits he once participated.
This consideration not only revives his spirit, but imparts a fresh impetus to his movements, and adds new energy to his efforts. Letters from those abroad are gratifying to friends at home; and if they are so, to those who participate the pleasures of sincere, enlightened, and glowing friendship, and who are encircled by a thousand sources of enjoyment, how much more welcome must they be to the distant and often lonely absentee, who, though surrounded by multitudes of human beings, is yet doomed to perfect solitude, in respect to all mutual and reciprocal interchange of sympathy in thought and feeling.
Sure I am, that did the friends of those who have gone to distant, barbarous, and often inhospitable lands, know the alleviation of trials, and the satisfaction of mind, their epistles are adapted to produce, they would not be content with simply answering the letters they may receive, but would avail themselves of every opportunity thus to exchange their sympathies, and impart their pleasures, to those who are cut off from the many sources of enjoyment accessible to them.
Did the friends of the exile abroad also know the painful reflections to which a disappointment, in reference to expected intelligence, gives birth, they would endeavour to spare him that distress. In his lonely, distant, and arduous labours, a page 161 Missionary requires every solace, assistance, and support that his friends can impart. The communications he receives from his patrons are valuable, but they are frequently too much like letters of business, or treat only of general subjects. His communications from his relatives and friends are of a much more touching and interesting character. These, though they deeply affect, do not engross his soul; he feels connected with, and interested in, the general advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom, and the gigantic energies of those institutions of Christian benevolence and enterprise, which, under God, are changing the wold's moral aspect. The reports, &c. of these institutions should be sent, and, in addition to these, a regular correspondence should be kept up with the Auxiliary Missionary Societies with which he may have been connected—the Sabbath-schools in which he may, perhaps, have been a teacher—but especially the Christian church of which he may have been a member. It should not be confined to a bare reply to letters, but should be regular and constant.
Sometimes we have been six, nine, or twelve months on the island of Huahine, and during that, or a longer period, have seen no individual, except our own two families, and the natives. At length, the shout, E pahi! e pahi! “A ship ! a ship!” has been heard from some of the lofty mountains near our dwelling. The inhabitants on the shore have caught the spirit-stirring sound, and A ship! a ship!” has been echoed, by stentorian or juvenile voices, from one end of the valley to the other. Numbers flock to the projecting rocks or the high promontories, others climb the cocoanut tree, to obtain a glance of the desired object. page 162 On looking out, over the wide-spread ocean, to behold the distant sail, our first attempt has been to discover how many masts she carried; and then, what colours she displayed; and it is impossible to describe the sensations excited on such occasions, when the red British banner has waved in the breeze, as a tall vessel, under all her swelling canvass, has moved towards our isolated abode.
We have seldom remained on shore till a vessel has entered the harbour, but have launched our boat, manned with native rowers, and, proceeding to meet the ship, have generally found ourselves alongside, or on deck, before she has reached the anchorage. At the customary salutations, if we have learned that the vessel was direct from England, and, as was frequently the case, from London, our hopes have been proportionably raised; yet we have scarcely ventured to ask the captain if he has brought us any tidings, lest his reply in the negative should dispel the anticipations his arrival had awakened. If he has continued silent, we have inquired whether he had brought any supplies; if he has answered No, a pause has ensued; after which, we have inquired whether he had any letters; and if to this, the same reply has been as distressing as our former hopes had been exhilarating. We have remarked, that probably our friends in England did not know of his departure. This has been, we believe, the ordinary cause why so many ships have arrived in the islands from England without bringing us any intelligence, except what we could gather from two or three odd newspapers that have been lying about the cabin. Though it has been some alleviation to believe, that, had our friends known of the conveyance page 163 they would have written; yet the relief thus afforded is but trifling, compared with the pain resulting from the absence of more satisfactory communications. Notwithstanding the length of time we had often been without seeing an individual who spoke our native language, excepting in our own families, we would, in general, rather the vesel had not at that time arrived, than that such arrival should have brought us no intelligence.
No disappointment, however, was experienced on the occasion, in connexion with which these remarks have been introduced. The Hope had brought a valuable supply of such articles as we needed; and Mr. and Mrs. Hayward, in addition to the letters of which they were the bearers, afforded us much satisfaction by the accounts they gave of those of our friends whom they had seen. The communications from England required the united consideration of the Missionaries; and this, with other engagements, detained us a week longer in Matavai.
On the 4th of May, we took our leave. Heavy rains detained us at Papeete until nearly dark, but the weather clearing soon after sunset, we again launched our boat, and, being favoured with a fair wind, arrived in Eimeo before midnight. Anxious to reach Huahine by the Sabbath, the following being the week in which the Missionary anniversary occurred, which was Saturday, we arose early the next morning, and prepared to depart: but the wind being westerly, was contrary, and prevented us. About six in the morning, however, it changed to the north and eastward, and, continuing to blow steadily in that direction for an hour or two, we sailed from Eimeo about eight o'clock.page 164
The sea was agitated, and the swell continuing from the westward, after the breeze from that quarter had subsided, was against us. The wind, though favourable, was but light, and our progress consequently slow. Our little bark containing the portion of supplies from the Hope, for the Missionaries in the Leeward Islands, was heavily laden. These amounting to several tons, besides the number of natives on board, not only kept the boat steady, but brought it considerably lower in the water than I had seen it before. About midday we lost sight of Eimeo. Continuing our course in a north-westerly direction, soon after sun-set, while the radiance of the departed luminary invested the horizon with splendour, we had the high satisfaction to behold the broken summits of what we considered the Huahinean mountains, shewn in beautiful though indistinct contrast with the brightness of the heavens and the sea. The duration of twilight within the tropics is always short; hence the rich sunset scene, which the peculiarity of our situation had rendered singular and imposing, was soon followed by the darkness of night, which in much less than an hour veiled surrounding objects. The glance, however, which we had obtained of the mountains of Huahine, was serviceable and cheering; it convinced us that the current had not swept us aside from our course, and it enabled us to fix satisfactorily the direction in which to steer until morning. Although our rest had been but broken and short during the preceding night, our present situation repressed any desire for repose.
Nothing can exceed the solemn stillness of a night at sea within the tropics, when the wind is light, and the water comparatively smooth. Few periods and situations, amid the diversified circumstances page 165 of human life, are equally adapted to excite contemplation, or to impart more elevated conceptions of the Divine Being, and more just impressions of the insignificancy and dependence of man. In order to avoid the vertical rays of a tropical sun, and the painful effects of the reflection from the water, many of my voyages among the Georgian and Society Islands have been made during the night. At these periods I have often been involuntrily brought under the influence of a train of thought and feeling peculiar to the season and the situation, but never more power-fully so than on the present occasion.
The night was moonless, but not dark. The stars increased in number and variety as the evening advanced, until the whole firmament was over-spread with luminaries of every magnitude and brilliancy. The agitation of the sea had subsided, and the waters around us appeared to unite with the indistinct though visible horizon. In the heaven and the ocean, all powers of vision were lost, while the brilliant lights in the one being reflected from the surface of the other, gave a correspondence to the appearance of both, and almost forced the illusion on the mind, that our little bark was suspended in the centre of two united hemi-spheres.
The perfect quietude that surrounded us was equally impressive. No objects were visible but the lamps of heaven, and the luminous appearances of the deep. The silence was only broken by the murmurs of the breeze passing through our matting sails, or the dashing of the spray from the bows of our boat, excepting at times, when we heard, or fancied we heard, the blowing of a shoal of porpoises, or the more alarming sounds of a spouting whale.page 166
At a season such as this, when I have reflected on our actual situation, so far removed, in the event of any casualty, from human observation and assistance, and preserved from certain death only by a few feet of thin board, which my own unskilful hands had nailed together, a sense of the wakeful care of the Almighty has alone afforded composure; and when I have gazed on the magnificent and boundless assemblage of suns and worlds, whose rays have shed their lustre over the scene, and have remembered that they were formed, sustained, and controlled, in all their complex and mighty movements, by Him on whose care I could alone rely, I have almost involuntarily uttered the exclamation of the psalmist, “Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him!”
The contemplation of the heavenly bodies, although they exhibit the wisdom and majesty of God, who “bringeth out their host by number, and calleth them all by names, by the greatness of his might,” impressed at the same time the conviction that I was far from home, and those scenes which in memory were associated with a starlight evening in the land I had left.
Many of the stars which I had beheld in England were visible here: the constellations of the zodiac, the splendours of Orion, and the mild twinkling of the Pleiades, were seen; but the northern pole-star, the steady beacon of juvenile astronomical observation, the Great-bear, and much that was peculiar to a northern sky, were wanting. The effect of mental associations, connected with the appearance of the heavens, is singular and impressive. During a voyage which I subsequently made to the Sandwich Islands, many a pleasant hour was spent in watching the rising page 167 of those luminaries of heaven which we had been accustomed to behold in our native land, but which for many years had been invisible.—When the polar-star rose above the horizon, and Ursa-major with other familiar constellations, appeared, we hailed them as long absent friends; and could not but feel that we were nearer England than when we left Tahiti, simply from beholding the stars that had enlivened our evening excursions at home.
But although, in our present voyage, none of these appeared, and the southern hemishere is less brilliant than that of the north, it exhibited much to attract attention. The stars in the Fish, the Ship, and the Centaur, the nebulæ or magellanic clouds, and, above all others, Crux, or “Cross of the South,” are all peculiar to this part of the heavens. This latter constellation is one of the most remarkable in the southern hemisphere. The two stars forming the longest part, having nearly the same right ascension, it appears erect when in the zenith, and thus furnishes a nightly index to the flight of time, and a memento to the most sublime feelings of grateful devotion.
With my fellow-voyagers I could enter into nothing like reciprocally interesting conversation on these subjects. Their legends of the nature and origin of the stars were absurd and fabulous; and my attempts to explain the magnitude, distances, or movements of the heavenly bodies, appeared to them unintelligible—
Their “souls proud science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk or milky-way.”
The natives of the islands were, however, accustomed in some degree to notice the appearance page 168 and position of the stars, especially at sea. These were their only guides, in steering their fragile barks across the deep. When setting out on a voyage, some particular star or constellation was selected as their guide in the night. This they called their aveia, and by this name they now designate the compass, because it answers the same purpose. The Pleiades were a favourite aveia with their sailors, and by them, in the present voyage, we steered during the night. We had, indeed, a lantern and a compass in the boat, but, being a light ship's compass, it was of little service.
Although the Polynesians were destitute of all correct knowledge of the sciences, the first principles of which have been recently taught in the academy more regularly than they had heretofore been, they had what might be called a rude system of astronomy. They possessed more than one method of computing time; and their extensive use of numbers is astonishing, when we consider that their computations were purely efforts of mind, unassisted by books or figures.
Their ideas, as might naturally be expected, were fabulous in the extreme. They imagined that the sea which surrounded their islands was a level plane, and that at the visible horizon, or some distance beyond it, the sky, or rai, joined the ocean, enclosing as with an arch, or hollow cone, the islands in the immediate vicinity. They were acquainted with other islands, as Nuuhiva, or the Marquesas, Vaihi, or the Sandwich Islands, Tongatabu, or the Friendly Islands. The names of these occurred in their traditions or songs. Subsequently, too, they had heard of Beritani, or Britain, Paniola, or Spain, &c. but they imagined page 169 that each of these had a distinct atmosphere, and was enclosed in the same manner as they thought the heavens surrounded their own islands. Hence they spoke of foreigners as those who came from behind the sky, or from the other side of what they considered the sky of their part of the world.
What their opinions were, as to the material of the heaven to which they gave such definite boundaries, I could never learn; but, according to their mythology, there was a series of celestial strata, or tua, ten in number, each stratum being the abode of spirits or gods, whose elevation was regulated by their rank or powers; the tenth, or last heaven, which was perfect darkness, being called te rai haamama of tane, and being the abode of the first class only.
We often experienced a degree of confusion in our ideas connected with their use of the term po, night or darkness, and its various compounds. They usually, but not invariably, spoke of the region of night as i raro, or below. In this instance, in describing the highest heaven, the purest region, they spoke of it also as the po. After describing the nine heavens, or stratum of clouds or light, inhabited by the different orders of inferior deities, they represent the tenth, or most remote from the earth, and the abode of the principal gods, as te rai haamama no tane, &c. the opening or unfolding to the po, or perpetual darkness. From this mode of representation, it appears that the islanders imagined the universe to be chaotic, and that in its vast immensity their islands and ocean, with the sky arching over them, were enclosed, and that below the foundation of the earth, on which they stood, and page 170 above the firmament over their heads, this po, or darkness, prevailed.
With respect to the origin of the sun, which they formerly called ra, and more recently mahana, some of their traditions state that it was the off-spring of the gods, and was itself an animated being; others, that it was made by Taaroa. The latter supposed it to be a substance resembling fire. The people imagined that it sank every evening into the sea, and passed, during the night, by some submarine passage, from west to east, where it rose again from the sea in the morning. In some of the islands, the expression for the setting of the sun is, the falling of the sun into the sea. On one occasion, when some of the natives were asked whither the sun went, they said, Into the sea. On being asked, further, what prevented its extinction, they said they did not know. It was then inquired, “How do you know that it falls into the sea at all? Did you ever see it?” They said, No, but some people of Borabora, or Maupiti, the most western islands, had once heard the hissing occasioned by its plunging into the ocean.
One of the most singular of their traditions, respecting the sun, deserves attention, from the slight analogy it bears to a fact recorded in Jewish history. It is related that Maui, an ancient priest or chief, was building a marae, or temple, which it was necessary to finish before the close of the day; but, perceiving the sun was declining, and that it was likely to sink before the work was finished, he seized the sun by his rays, bound them with a cord to the marae, or an adjacent tree, and then prosecuted his work till the marae was completed, the sun remaining stationary page 171 during the whole period. I refrain from all comment on this singular tradition, which was almost universally received in the islands.
Their ideas of the moon, which they called avae or marama, were as fabulous as those they entertained of the sun. Some supposed the moon was the wife of the sun; others, that it was a beautiful country in which the aoa grew. I am not aware that they rendered divine homage either to the sun or moon—theirs was a far less rational and innocent system than the worship of the host of heaven: they, however, supposed the moon to be subject to the influence of the spiritual beings with whom their mythology taught them to people the visible creation; and to the anger of those spirits, they were accustomed to attribute an eclipse. During an eclipse, the moon is said to be natua, bitten or pinched, as well as swallowed.
The stars, which they call fetia or fetu, were by some considered as the children of the sun and moon; by others, the progeny of a principal star. They are, however, generally supposed to be inhabited by spirits of the departed, or to be the spirits of human beings, several principal stars being designated by the names of distinguished men. The phenomenon called a shooting star, they supposed to be the flight of a spirit, and an omen of the birth of a great prince. Many of the constellations, and more of the single stars, have distinct names. Mars they call fetia ura, red star. The morning star they call fetia ao, star of day; or horo poipoi, forerunner of morning, and the evening star Taurua o hiti ite a hiahi, twilight-rising Taurua. The Pleiades they call matarii, small eyes. The nebulæ near the southern pole, called the Magellanic clouds, are denominated mahu page 172 mist or vapour, and are distinguished by the terms upper and under, one being above, the other below. The bright line of light occasioned by innumerable numbers of remote stars, and called the via lactea, or milky-way, they denominated the long blue cloud-eating shark. But one of the most remarkable facts is, that the constellation which in Europe is called the Twins, is so named by them; only, instead of denominating the two stars Castor and Pollux, they call them Pipiri and Rehua or na ainanu, the two ainanus; and, to distinguish the one from the other, ainanu above, and ainanu below.
The following, which is the native legend of their origin, is amusing.—The father went by torch-light to fish for the marara or flying-fish, and, having succeeded, returned to his house. His two children, Pipiri and Rehua, were in their beds, but not asleep. The mother said, I will go and awake the children, (that they may partake.)—Let them not be awoke till morning, said the father; are children awakened at night? By and by they will be desiring their food, even now perhaps they know of it.—Cups were filled with salt-water for each of the children. When the fish was dressed, the parents sat down to eat, (not in the house, but in the open air, or under a distinct roof close by.)—The children, who overheard what was passing, thought, When they are satisfied, perhaps they will bring ours.—As their parents sat, the mother said, I will carry this, behold it is cooked. The father objected. The children broke through the back part of the house, and came and stood on a stone, (since called the stone whence the ainanu∗ fled.) The page 173 parents went into the house, and looked anxiously for the children, but they were not.—I said, I would go and awake the children, exclaimed the mother, and behold they are not here, but are gone.—The parents saw the children, and pursued to seize them; but the children, the boy first and his sister after him, flew up to the skies. The end of their girdles being towards the earth, the parents took hold of them, and all were carried to the sky, and became stars.
∗Ainanu signifies to desire or long for any particular kind of food.
Like most uninformed persons, they supposed the earth was stationary, being borne on the shoulders of a god, fixed upon a rock, which they called the rock of foundation supported by pillars, and that the sun, moon, and stars, moved from one side of the arched heavens to the other. When we at first endeavoured to impart to them more correct ideas of astronomy, and exhibited terrestrial globe, explanatory of the shape of our earth, and illustrative of that of the moon, of the planets, and other heavenly bodies, they were greatly surprised; but when we called their attention to a celestial globe, and represented to them the relative position of the heavenly bodies, and explained the motion of the planets of our system round the sun, they were at first invariably sceptical. It could not possibly be, they said, that the earth went round, as all things remained stationary during the twenty-four hours; which would not be the fact, if the earth on which they stood moved. Frequently they have said, If such was the fact, when our beds were turned downwards we should all fall off, and all our vessels of food, &c. would be upset or lost. Finding, however, that we perservered in the expression of our sentiments to the contrary, they would page 174 sometimes remark, “We believe it because you say so, but we cannot understand it.” These observations were made only when the subject was first brought under their notice. The intelligent among them now entertain more consistent views.
Among the Hervey Islands, they worshipped a god of thunder; but he does not appear to have been an object of great terror to any of them. The thunder was supposed to be produced by the clapping of his wings. The ignis fatuus they considered as one of their most powerful gods, proceeding, in his tutelary visitations, from one marae to another.
But it is now high time to return from this apparently long digression, which, though somewhat diffuse, has an immediate bearing on the astronomical knowledge and the nautical acquirements of these islanders, and bring our voyage to its termination.
The wind being light but fair through the night, and the sea pleasantly smooth, we kept on our course till the dawn of morning began to appear, and when the day broke, had the satisfaction of beholding the island of Huahine at no very great distance, and immediately before us. We approached on the eastern side, but the wind being unfavourable for sailing to the settlement, we stood towards the shore. When we found ourselves within half a mile of the reef, we lowered our sails, and, manning the oars, rowed round the northern point of the island. By eight o'clock, on the 5th of May, we entered Fare harbour, and, on our landing, had the happiness to find our families and friends well. It was the Sabbath, and we repaired with gratitude to the house of God, to render our acknowledgments for preservation.