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Interesting state of the people-Extensive prevalence of a severe epidemic-Former diseases in the islands comparatively few and mild-Priests the general physicians -Native practice of physic-Its intimate connexion with sorcery-Gods of the healing art-The tuabu, or broken back-Insanity--Native warm bath-Occulists-Surgery Setting a broken neck or back-The operation of trepan Native remedies superseded by European medicine-Need of a more abundant supply-Former cruelty towards the sick-Parricide-Present treatment of invalids-Death of Messrs. Tessier and BicknellDying charge to the people-Missionary responsibility.
THE same interesting state of the people by which the close of 1819 had been distinguished, marked the commencement of 1820. Never were our direct Missionary labours more arduous and incessant; and yet, during no period of our residence there, were they more delightful. We beheld
indeed the isles waiting for the laws and institutions of Messiah, and felt that we had been sent to a people emphatically prepared of the Lord, made willing in the day of his power.
The inhabitants of the remote districts which we had periodically visited, were many of them no longer satisfied with an opportunity for conversation on religious subjects once a week, but came and built their houses in the neighbourhood of Fare. We recommended those who remained, to
do the same; and soon after the annual meetings in May, they so far complied as to render it unnecessary for us to visit these stations.
One spacious chapel was opened in the latter end of April, on which occasion I read a translation of the sixth chapter of the second book of Chronicles, and afterwards preached from the sixth verse. Our Missionary meeting was remarkably well attended, and the subscriptions proportionably liberal; they amounted to between three and four thousand gallons of oil, besides cotton, and other trifling articles.
In the midst of this delightful state of things, the stations were visited with a distressing epidemic, which spread through the whole group of islands, and proved fatal to many of the people. It was a kind of influenza, affecting the lungs and throat; many attacked with it lost their voice. We suffered in common with the people, and I was obliged to relinquish all public duty for some weeks. This kind of calamity has been frequently experienced in the islands since they have been the resort of foreign shipping, though we are not aware that it prevailed before. A kind of dysentery appeared after the visit of Vancouver's ship, which called at the islands in 1790: this proved fatal to a vast portion of the population. In the year 1800, the Britannia, a London vessel, anchored at Taiarabu. Two seamen absconded, and a disease followed, less fatal, but very distressing, and more extensive, as scarcely an individual escaped.
These diseases have generally passed through the islands from the east to the west, in the direction of the trade winds. After the above appeared among the people, it was for some months
confined to the Windward Islands; and so general was its prevalence, that Pomare one day said to Mr. Nott, "If this had been a fatal or killing disease, like that from Vancouver's ship, no individual would have survived."
As it began to subside, a canoe, called Hareaino, arrived from the Leeward Islands, and after remaining a week or two at Tahiti, returned to Huahine. Shortly after this, the people who had been in the canoe were attacked, and the disease ultimately spread as completely through this group, as it had through that at which the foreign vessel touched. Within the last two years, a disorder, in many respects similar to that left by the crew of Vancouver's vessel, has again swept through the islands, and carried off numbers of the people.
The diseases formerly prevailing among the South Sea Islanders were comparatively few; those from which they now suffer are principally pulmonary, intermittent, and cutaneous. The most fatal are, according to their account, of recent origin. While idolaters, they were accustomed to consider every bodily affliction as the result of the anger of their gods; and the priest was a more important personage, in time of sickness, than the physician. Native practitioners, who were almost invariably priests or sorcerers, were accustomed to apply such healing remedies as the islands afforded; and an invocation to some spirit or god attended the administration of every medicine. Tama, Taaroatuihono, Eteate, and Rearea, were the principal gods of physic and surgery. The former, in particular, was invoked for the cure of fractures and bruises.
From the gods the priests pretended to have
received the knowledge of the healing art, and to them a part of the physician's fee was considered to belong. No animal or mineral substances were admitted into their pharmacopoeia; vegetable productions alone were used, and these simply pulverized, infused, heated on the fire, or with red-hot stones, and often fermented. Many of their applications, however, were powerful, especially a species of gourd, or wild cucumber. A preparation, in which milk from the pulp of the cocoa-nut formed a principal ingredient, was sometimes followed by almost instant death. Mr. Barff once took this preparation, at the earnest recommendation of the people; but it nearly cost him his life, although he had not drunk more than half the quantity prepared.
Frequently, when some medicines were about to be administered, the friends and relatives of the patient were sent for, that they might be at hand, should the effect be unfavourable. They often expected it would either save or destroy the patient. Numerous ceremonies were connected with every remedy applied; and much greater dependence was placed on the efficacy of the prayers, than on the effect of the medicine.
When a person was taken ill, the priest or physician was sent for; as soon as he arrived, a young plantain-tree, procured by some members of the family, was handed to him, as an offering to the god; a present of cloth was also furnished, as his own fee. He began by calling upon the name of his god, beseeching him to abate his anger towards the sufferer, to say what would propitiate him, or what applications would afford relief. Sometimes remedies were applied at the same time, or the relatives sent to fetch certain herbs or roots,
but the priest usually went himself to compound the raau or medicine: a considerable degree of mystery was attached to this proceeding, and the physicians appeared unwilling that others should know of what their preparations consisted. They pretended to be instructed by their god, as to the herbs they should select, and the manner of combining them. Different raaus, or medicines, were used for different diseases; and although they kept the composition of their nostrums a secret, they were not unwilling that the report of their efficacy might spread, in order to their obtaining celebrity and extended practice. Hence, when a person was afflicted with any particular disease, and the inquiry made as to who should be sent for, it was not unusual to hear it said-" O ta mea te raau maitai no ia mai,”—such a one has a good medicine for this disease.
The small-pox, measles, hooping-cough, and a variety of other diseases, to which most European children are subject, are unknown; yet they have a disease called oniho, which in its progress, and the effects on the face, corresponds with the smallpox, excepting that it is milder, and the inequalities it leaves on the skin soon disappear. There is another disease, somewhat analogous to this, resembling the species of erysipelas called shingles, for the cure of which the natives apply a mixture of bruised herbs and pulverized charcoal. Inflammatory tumors are prevalent; and the only remedy they apply, is a mixture of herbs bruised with a stone. Asthmatic and other pulmonary affections also occur, and, with persons about the age of twenty, generally prove fatal.
Among the most prevalent and obstinate diseases to which, as a nation, they are exposed, is one