Images de page



Idols worshipped by the Inhabitants of the South Sea Islands,

[blocks in formation]



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 reception— Native 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,

which was fair and steady, without being violent. Our voyage was pleasant; and soon after two in the afternoon of the same day, we entered an opening in the reef, a few miles to the northward of that leading to Opoa. This entrance is called by the inhabitants. Tipae mau, True, or permanent, landing (place.)

The coral reef, around the eastern shores of Raiatea and Tahaa, often exhibits one of the most sublime and beautiful marine spectacles that it is possible to behold. It is generally a mile, or a mile and a half, and occasionally two miles, from the shore. The surface of the water within the reef is placid and transparent; while that without, if there be the slightest breeze, is considerably agitated; and, being unsheltered from the wind, is generally raised in high and foaming waves.

The trade-wind, blowing constantly towards the shore, drives the waves with violence upon the reef, which is from five, to twenty or thirty yards wide. The long rolling billows of the Pacific, extending sometimes, in one unbroken line, a mile or a mile and a half along the reef, arrested by this natural barrier, often rise ten, twelve, or fourteen feet above its surface; and then, bending over it their white foaming tops, form a graceful liquid arch, glittering in the rays of a tropical sun, as if studded with brilliants. But, before the eyes of the spectator can follow the splendid aqueous gallery which they appear to have reared, with loud and hollow roar they fall in magnificent desolation, and spread the gigantic fabric in froth and spray upon the horizontal and gently broken surface of the coral.

In each of the islands, and opposite the large valleys, through which a stream of water falls into the ocean, there is usually a break, or opening, in the line of reef

that surrounds the shore-a most wise and benevolent provision for the ingress and egress of vessels, as well as a singular phenomenon in the natural history of these marine ramparts to the islands. Whether the current of fresh water, constantly flowing from the rivers to the ocean, prevents the tiny architects from building their concentric walls in one continued line, or whether in the fresh water itself there is any quality inimical to the growth or increase of coral, is not easy to determine; but it is a remarkable fact, that few openings occur in the reefs which surround the South Sea Islands, excepting opposite those parts of the shore from which streams of fresh water flow into the sea. Reefs of varied, but generally circumscribed extent, are frequently observed within the large outer barrier, and near the shore, or mouth of the river; but they are formed in shallow places, and the coral is of a different and more slender kind, than that of which the larger reef, rising from the depths of the ocean, is usually composed. There is no coral in the lagoons of the large islands.

The openings in the reefs around Sir Charles Sander's Island, Maurua, and other low islands, are small and intricate, and sometimes altogether wanting, probably because the land, composing these islands, collects but a scanty portion of water; and, if any, only small and frequently interrupted streams flow into the sea. The openings in the reefs around the larger islands, not only afford direct access to the indentations in the coast, and the mouths of the valleys, which form the best harbours, but secure to shipping a supply of fresh water, in equal, if not greater abundance, than it could be procured in any other part of the island. The circumstance, also, of the rivers near the harbours flowing

« PrécédentContinuer »