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Voyage to Raiatea-Appearance of the coral reefs-Breaking of the surf-Islets near the passage to the harbours-Landing at Tipaemau— Description of the islands-Arrival at Vaóaara-Singular receptionNative salutations-Improvement of the settlement-Traditionary connexion of Raiatea with the origin of the people-General account of the South Sea Islanders-Physical character, stature, colour, expression, &c.-Mental capacity, and habits-Aptness to receive instruction-Moral character-Hospitality-Extensive and affecting moral degradation-Its enervating influence-Longevity-Comparative numbers of the inhabitants-Indications and causes of depopulationBeneficial tendency of Christianity.
DURING the first years of our establishment in Huahine, frequent voyages were necessary; and, early in 1819, circumstances rendered it expedient that we should revisit Raiatea. As we expected to be absent for several weeks, Mrs. Barff and Mrs. Ellis accompanied us; Mr. Orsmond was returning to his station, and we embarked in his boat, although it was scarcely large enough to contain our party and half a dozen native rowers. The morning on which we sailed was fine; the sea gently rippled with the freshening breeze,
into the sea, affords the greatest facility in procuring fresh water, which is so valuable to seamen.
The openings in the reef, on the eastern side of Raiatea, are not only serviceable to navigation, but highly ornamental, adding greatly to the beauty of the surrounding scenery. At the Ava Moa, or Sacred Entrance leading to Opoa, there is a small island, on which a few cocoa-nut trees are growing. At Tipaemau there are two, one on each side of the opening, rising from the extremity of the line of reef. The little islets, elevated three or four feet above the water, are clothed with shrubs and verdure, and adorned with a number of lofty Cocoa-nut trees. At Te-Avapiti, several miles to the northward of Tipaemau, and opposite the Missionary settlement-where, as its name indicates, are two openings there are also two beautiful, green, and woody islands, on which the lowly hut of the fisherman, or of the voyager waiting for a favourable wind, may be often seen. Two large and very charming islands adorn the entrance at Tomahahotu, leading to the island of Tahaa. The largest of these is not more than half a mile in circumference, but both are covered with fresh and evergreen shrubs and trees.
Detached from the large islands, and viewed in connexion with the ocean rolling through the channel on the one side, or the foaming billows dashing, and roaring, and breaking over the reef on the other, they appear like emerald gems of the ocean, contrasting their solitude and verdant beauty with the agitated element sporting in grandeur around. They are useful, as well as ornamental. The tall cocoa-nuts that grow on their surface, can be seen many miles distant; and the native mariner is thereby enabled to steer directly towards
the spot where he knows he shall find a passage to the shore. The constant current passing the opening, probably deposited on the ends of the reef fragments of coral, sea weeds, and drift-wood, which in time rose above the surface of the water. Seeds borne thither by the waves, or wafted by the winds, found a soil on which they could germinate-decaying vegetation increased the mould-and by this process it is most likely these beautiful little fairy-looking islands were formed on the ends of the reefs at the entrance to the different harbours.
We landed on one at Tipaemau, partook of some refreshment under the shade the shrubbery afforded, while our boat's crew climbed the trees, and afterwards made an agreeable repast on the nuts which they gathered. We planted, as memorials of our visit, the seeds of some large ripe oranges, which we had brought with us; then launched our boat, and prosecuted our voyage within the reef, towards the other side of the island, where the Missionary settlement was then established. This part of our voyage, for twelve or fourteen miles, was most delightful. The beauty of the wooded or rocky shores now appeared more rich and varied than before; the stillness of the smooth waters around was only occasionally disturbed by the passage of a light, nautilus-like canoe, with its little sail of white native cloth, or the rapid flight of a shoal of flying-fish, which, when the dashing of our oars or the progress of our boat intercepted their course of awakened their alarm, sprang from their native ekment, and darted along, three or four feet above the water,
Ioretea, the Ulitea of Captain Cook, or, as it is now more frequently called by the natives, Raiatea, is the largest of the Society Islands. Its form is somewhat triangular, and its circumference about fifty miles. The mountains are more stupendous and lofty than those of Huahine, and in some parts equally broken and picturesque. The northern and western sides are singularly romantic; several pyramidal and conical mountains rising above the elevated and broken range, that stretches along in a direction nearly parallel with the coast, and from one to three miles distant from the beach. Though the shore is generally a gradual and waving ascent from the water's edge to the mountain, it is frequently rocky and broken. At Mahapoto, about half way between Opoa, the site of their principal temple, the ancient residence of the reigning family, and Utumaoro at the northeast angle of the island, there is a deep indentation in the coast. The rocks rise nearly perpendicular in some places on both sides, and the smooth surface. of the ocean extends a mile and a half, or two miles, towards the mountains. The shores of this sequestered bay are covered with sand, shells, and broken coral. At the openings of several of the little glens which surround it, the cottages of the natives are seen peeping through the luxuriant foliage of the pandanus, or the purau; while the cultivated plantations in various parts extend from the margin of the sea to the foot of the mountains. The rivers that roll along their rocky courses from the head of the ravines to the ocean below-and the distant mountains, that rise in the interior-combine to form, though on a limited scale, the most rich, romantic, and