Images de page

have been unnecessarily extended; but the important character of the law itself, and the difference in its penalty from that ordinarily inflicted, have induced more lengthened remarks than I should otherwise have offered. Since the first publication of this work, I have been led carefully to review the opinions here exhibited, and the result is, a stronger conviction that capital punishment, certainly for every crime excepting murder, is not less opposed to sound policy, or a due regard to the welfare of society, than repugnant to every humane feeling and Christian sentiment.

Another distinguishing and important feature in their judicial proceedings is, the omission of oaths, in appointing the jury, or examining witnesses. No oath is administered on any occasion: deliberate assertion is received as evidence; and false evidence is regarded as equally criminal with false accusation, and is, I believe, punished accordingly.

The second law is one of those regulations pe culiar to particular and local communities. Their swine and their gardens are among their principal sources of maintenance and wealth. The animals are not kept in sties or other enclosures, but range the district at liberty; a great proportion of their food being derived from the cocoa-nuts, breadfruit, plums, chesnuts, and other fruits that fall from the trees. During the season of fruit, these are abundant, and the pigs feed and sleep in quietness under the shade; but during the other seasons of the year, they are very troublesome. Their materials for fences are not good; and a large strong and hungry hog will easily force a way into the garden with his tusks or his teeth, and often do great mischief in a very short time. In 1826 this law was revised, and rendered more simple.

The sixth enactment, relating to barter, was required, not only for the exchanges, or trade, carried on among the natives themselves, but for the prevention of misunderstandings between them and those foreigners by whom they might be visited for purposes of traffic. They are naturally fickle, and were formerly accustomed to return articles which they exchanged, merely because they desired to repossess whatever they might have given for it; this practice led to frequent altercations, and, when trading with foreigners, to serious quarrels.

The law which prohibits labour on the Sabbathday, is perhaps enforced by a penalty disproportioned to the offence. It ought, however, to be observed, that as a nation they were accustomed to pay the strictest regard to this day from religious considerations, before the legal enactment was made, which was principally designed to prevent annoyance to those who were desirous to devote the day to religious services. The road which the offenders were to make, was not much more than a footpath, with a small trench dug on each side, and raised in the centre, from the sand or earth taken from its borders.

The eighth law, referring to rebellion, is translated from the amended code of 1826, simply because this article was much shorter than that of 1823. It contains the substance of the former enactment, which had been copied verbatim from the Tahitian code, and was drawn up by Pomare, it fixes the punishment for the third offence to perpetual banishment, instead of leaving it optional with the judges to banish, or sentence to public abour for seven years or for life.

The ninth regulation can only be of temporary

application, and the necessity for its introduction arose from the peculiar circumstances of the people, while passing, as it were, from paganism to Christianity. Prior to the subversion of heathenism, polygamy prevailed more or less in all the South Sea Islands: some of the chief women had also a plurality of husbands. This regulation did not require those who had entered into these relations in a heathen state to dissolve them on becoming Christians, and was only designed to prevent any one from making these engagements after they had become such it is a circumstance which merits notice, that there were very few who did not of their own accord, and by agreement among themselves, disannul this relationship excepting with one individual. They knew that, with more than one person, it was inconsistent with the precepts of the bible; and this consideration induced the discontinuance of their former practice. If their previous habits of life, and the notorious licentiousness of their character, be regarded, their conduct in this respect is a striking illustration of the power of Divine truth upon their minds, and of the attention they considered its injunctions to require. This article was amended in 1826, and it was enacted, in the event of a man marrying a second wife, without her knowing that he was already a married man, he should not only be sentenced to public work, but should furnish compensation for the female he had thus injured.

The twelfth enactment, which regards the dissolution of the marriage contract, is rather a singular article. The influence of former institutions appears to require it, or at least something of the kind. Formerly, with whatever ceremonies the

engagement had been made, nothing could be more brittle than the bond which held together those united in matrimony. The engagement was not regarded as binding any longer than the caprice or inclination of the parties dictated. Accustomed thus to relieve themselves for any unpleasantness in temper, &c. it was to be feared that the separations resulting from them would lead to the arranging of new contracts. To avoid the confusion and inconvenience of this, the present regulation was introduced; and although it was not supposed that hard labour would revive affection in the bosoms of those who, notwithstanding they had solemnly agreed to dwell together for life, had yet become estranged from each other; yet it was presumed, that the admonition from the magistrate, and the consequence of obstinate alienation, might induce the parties to impose a little restraint upon their tempers, and to make an effort to live together in peace, if not in kindness and in love.

The degradation of the female sex is an invariable accompaniment of paganism; and, in addition to the humiliation and slavery to which those in the South Sea Islands were reduced while the community were heathens, they were often exposed to the sufferings of hunger and want, from the neglect or unkindness of their savage and imperious husbands.

The thirteenth enactment, requiring provision to be made for them, may be regarded as an indication of the light in which the nation at this time viewed their former treatment of the females, or an expression of their determination to prevent its


The law concerning marriage is a most important enactment, and may be justly regarded as the basis

of all their regulations for domestic comfort, and the spring of every household virtue. It was thought that the season of assembling for public lecture during the week, which was on Wednesday evening, would be preferable to the Sabbath, for giving the notice, or, what is termed with us, publishing the bans, but the marriage was not to take place till the following week. Though the law only prescribes the terms in which the contract shall be made, the people usually expect a short address, and prayer for the Divine blessing; and on that account, in general, prefer applying to the Missionaries to perform the ceremony. No fees are received by either party for solemnizing the marriage, or entering the record. In the revision of the code in 1826, this law was considerably improved, by annexing to the public announcement of the intention of the parties, the reason why such public declaration was made, viz. that any who knew of just cause why the marriage should not take place, might declare the same.

Dogs are numerous in the islands, though not now reared as formerly for food. They are generally indolent, unsightly, and ill-bred, and are a great nuisance in most of the settlements. Disputes are not frequent among the natives, but they arise as often on account of the depredations of their dogs and hungry pigs, as from any other cause. Neither their dogs nor swine are confined, but they prowl about, destroying fowls, kids, and young pigs. Several instances have occurred, in which children have been attacked and injured by savage and hungry swine. Under such circumstances, formerly, redress would have been sought, or vengeance taken, with the club

« PrécédentContinuer »