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of infanticide-the frequency of war-the barbarous principles upon which it was prosecuted, and the increase of human sacrifices, it does not appear possible that they could have existed, as a nation, for many generations longer.
An inquiry naturally presents itself in connexion with this subject, viz.-To what cause is this recent change in the circumstances of the people to be attributed? It is self-evident, that if these habits had always prevailed among the Tahitians, they must long since have been annihilated. Society must, at some time, have been more favourable, not only to the preservation, but to the increase of population, or the inhabitants could never have been so numerous as they undoubtedly were a century or a century and a half ago. There is no question but that depopulation had taken place to a considerable extent prior to their discovery by Captain Wallis, and it is not easy to discover the causes which first led to it. Infanticide and human sacrifices, together with their wars, appear to have occasioned the diminution of the inhabitants before the period alluded to. Whether war was more frequent immediately preceding their discovery, than it had been in earlier ages, we have not the means of knowing, nor have we been able to ascertain, with any great accuracy, how long the Areoi society had existed, or childmurder was practised. There is reason to believe that infanticide is not of recent origin, and the antiquity of the Areoi fraternity, according to tradition, is equal to that of the first inhabitants.
Human sacrifices, we are informed by the natives, are comparatively of modern institution, and were not admitted until a few generations antecedent to the discovery of the islands. They were first offered at
Raiatea, in the national marae at Opoa, having been demanded by the priest in the name of the god, who had communicated the requisition to his servant in a dream. Human sacrifices were presented at Raiatea and the Leeward Islands for some time before they were introduced among the offerings to the deities of Tahiti; but soon after they began to be employed, they were offered with great frequency, and in appalling numbers: but of this, an account will hereafter be given.
The depopulation that has taken place during the last two or three generations, viz. since their discovery, may be easily accounted for. In addition to a disease, which, as a desolating scourge, spread, unpalliated and unrestrained, its unsightly and fatal influence among the people, two others are reported to have been carried thither-one by the crew of Vancouver in 1790; and the other by means of the Britannia, an English whaler, in 1807. Both these disorders spread through the islands; the former almost as fatal as the plague, the latter affecting nearly every individual throughout all the islands of the group. The maladies originally prevailing among them, appear, compared with those by which they are now afflicted, to have been few in number and mild in character.
Next to these diseases, the introduction of fire-arms, although their use in war has not perhaps rendered their engagements more cruel and murderous than when they fought hand to hand with club and spearhas most undoubtedly cherished, in those who possessed them, a desire for war, as a means of enlarging their territory, and augmenting their power. Pomare's dominion would never have been so extensive and so absolute, but for the aid he derived, in the early
part of his reign, from the mutineers of the Bounty, who attended him to battle with arms which they had previously learned to use with an effect, which his opponents could not resist. Subsequently, the hostile chieftains, having procured fire-arms, and succeeding in attaching to their interest European deserters from their ships, considered themselves, if not invincible, at least equal to their enemies, and sought every opportunity for engaging in the horrid work of accelerating the depopulation of their country. Destruction was the avowed design with which they commenced every war, and the principle of extermination rendered all their hostilities fatal to the vanquished party.
Another cause most influential in the diminution of the Tahitian race, has been the introduction of the art of distillation, and the extensive use of ardent spirits. They had, before they were visited by our ships, a kind of intoxicating beverage called ava, but the deleterious effects resulting from its use were confined to a comparatively small portion of the inhabitants. The growth of the plant from which it was procured was slow; its culture required care; it was usually tabued for the chiefs; and the common people were as strictly prohibited from appropriating it to their own use, as the peasantry are in reference to the game of England. Its effects also were rather sedative, than narcotic or inebriating.
But after the Tahitians had been taught by foreign seamen, and natives of the Sandwich Islands, to distil spirits from indigenous roots, and rum had been carried to the islands in abundance as an article of barter, intoxication became almost universal; and all the demoralization, crimes, and misery, that follow in its train, were added to the multiplied sorrows and wasting
scourges of the people. It nurtured indolence, and spread discord through their families, increased the abominations of the Areoi society, and the unnatural crime of infanticide. Before going to the temple to offer a human sacrifice to their gods, the priests have been known to intoxicate themselves, in order that they might be insensible to any unpleasant feelings this horrid work might excite.
These causes operating upon a people, whose simple habits of diet rendered their constitutions remarkably susceptible of violent impressions, are, to a reflecting mind, quite sufficient to account for the rapid depopulation of the islands within the last fifty or sixty years.
The philanthropist, however, will rejoice to know, that although sixteen years ago the nation appeared on the verge of extinction, it is now, under the renovating and genial principles of true religion, and the morality with which this is inseparably connected, rapidly increasing. When the people in general embraced Christianity, we recommended that a correct account of the births and deaths occurring in each of the islands should be kept. From the operation of the causes above enumerated, for some years even after the crimes in which they originated had ceased, the number of deaths exceeded that of births. About the years 1819 and 1820 they were nearly equal, and since that period population has been rapidly increasing.
It was not till the account of deaths and births was presented, that we had an adequate idea of the affecting depopulation that had been going on; and if, for several years after infanticide, inebriation, human sacrifices, and war, were discontinued, the number of deaths exceeded that of the births; how appalling must that
excess have been, when all these destructive causes were in full operation! There is now, however, every ground to indulge the expectation that the population will become greater than it has been in any former period of their history; and it is satisfactory, in connexion with this anticipation, to know-that extent of soil capable of cultivation, and other rescourses, are adequate to the maintenance of a population tenfold increased above its present numbers.