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Station at Maeva-Appearance of the lake and surrounding scenery— Ruins of temples, and other vestiges of idolatry-General view of Polynesian mythology-Ideas relative to the origin of the worldPolytheism Traditionary theogony-Taaroa supreme deity-Different orders of gods-Oro, &c. gods of the wind, the ocean, &c.—Gods of artificers and fishermen-Oramatuas, or demons-Emblems-Images-Uru, or feathers-Temples-Worship-Prayers-Offerings-Sacrifices-Occasional and stated festivals and worship-Rau-mata-vehi-raa Maui-fata -Rites for recovery from sickness-Offering of first-fruits-The Pae Atua-The ripening of the year, a religious ceremony-Singular rites attending its close.
As soon as we had acquired a sufficient knowledge of the native language to engage in public teaching, while we alternately performed the regular services at the settlement in Fare, we formed branch stations in different parts of the island.
Two were commenced on the west and southern coast, viz. one in the beautiful, fertile, and formerly populous valley of Mahapu, and the other in the extensive district of Parea. Schools were opened under approved native teachers at each of these places. In the former three hundred scholars were instructed by Narii, a well qualified teacher. The inhabitants erected neat places of worship. Mr. Barff performed divine service at each station alternately every other Sabbath; and between three and four hundred attended.
A similar branch-station was commenced at Tamabua, a populous and central village in the district of Maeva, on the borders of a beautiful and extensive roto, or lake, of the same name, in the northern part of the island. Here a school was opened by Tiori, an intelligent native, and three hundred and eighty adults and children were taught. A commodious native chapel was built, and a cottage for the accommodation of the Missionary who visited them.
It was a considerable distance from Fare; I went on the Saturday afternoon, and spent the Sabbath at Maeva, where upwards of four hundred usually attended public worship. We continued our labours at these stations until the summer of 1820, when the greater part of the residents were induced to remove to the settlement at Fare harbour. Some of the happiest seasons I have enjoyed in Missionary occupations, were in connexion with my occasional services at this place. The scenery of the adjacent country is remarkably fine. The lake of Maeva is five miles in length, and of unequal breadth, though often two miles wide. Unagitated by the long rolling billows of the Pacific, and seldom ruffled by the northern and eastern breezes, from which it is sheltered by mountains, its surface was often smooth as a polished mirror, reflecting the groves around, and the heavens above. It abounds with fish. These not only supply the inhabitants of the border of the lake with the means of subsistence, but, when viewed from the light canoe, as they sported in the depths beneath, or leaped above its surface, enlivened its solitude. On the eastern side, a number of streams rose among the mountains, and, winding their way through the valleys, at length united with its waters. On this side, though the
ascent from its margin to the distant mountains was generally gradual, it was sometimes abrupt and bold: the rocky precipices, adorned with pendulous and creeping plants, rich in verdant foliage or clustering flowers, rose almost perpendicularly from the water; the hills were ornamented with clumps of the graceful cypress-shaped casuarina; and in the narrow border of lowland, that in many parts extended from the shores to the foot of the mountains, the hibiscus tiliaceus, the betonica splendida, the inocarpus, and other trees of larger growth, reared their majestic forms, and spread their stately branches, clothed with dark and glossy foliage, while round their gigantic stems, and spread from bough to bough, the beautiful and large bell-flowering convolvolus, was often hung in wild luxuriant wreaths.
The walk from Fare to the head of the lake was delightful; for more than a mile, it was actually under what the natives call the maru uru, bread-fruit shade, large groves of this useful tree growing on each side of the path. A number of small plantations give variety to the wild scenery, and many of the raatiras, or inferior chiefs, have erected their dwellings near the path. Hautia had, when we first arrived, a noble house standing at the southern end of the lake. Along the eastern shore, small villages were seen amidst a grove of cocoanut and bread-fruit trees. A succession of agreeable sensations has arisen in my mind on a Saturday afternoon, when passing along the lake in my canoe, which was paddled by two native attendants. I have seen the
columns of smoke curling up among the bread-fruit trees, where the inhabitants were dressing their food for the following day. Sometimes I have received their salutations from the shore; and, in contrast with their
peaceful dwellings, and their present occupation, I have often been struck with the appearance of the villages, the dilapidated family maraes, or idol-temples, mouldering in ruins on almost every projecting point.
The western side of this extensive lake is bordered by a low flat tract of land, in many places a mile wide, extending from south to north. At the northern extremity of this beautiful piece of water, there is a narrow channel, by which it communicates with the sea. The western side, though very different from the opposite shore, adds to the variety of the scenery; it is thickly wooded, and among the trees that reach the highest perfection, the cocoa-nut, waving its crown of elegant leaves, and the no less elegant casuarina, whose boughs hang in arches over the water, are most conspicuous. The eastern side was doubtless originally the shore of the sea, and the lake filled by its waters, while the low border of the land on the opposite side constituted the reef. After the reef reached the level of the sea at highwater, it ceased to ascend, but spread horizontally; fragments of coral, and pieces of wood, were thrown upon its widened surface, till at length it resisted the shock of the ocean, and the waves rolled back without overflowing it. Every year increased the substances accumulated on its surface; vegetation at length commenced, and the process of organization and decomposition, accelerated by the humidity of the atmosphere and the warmth of the climate, formed the mould, in which the trees, at present covering it, spread their roots and find their nourishment.
But the most conspicuous and picturesque object, in connexion with the lake scenery, is moua tabu, sacred or devoted mountain, which rises on the eastern shore
near the northern end. It is a beautiful and almost regular cone, partially covered with trees and bushes, even to its summit, while the shining basaltic or volcanic rocks, occasionally projecting through the cypress or pine-growing casuarina, add to the novel and agreeable diversity which its figure produces. The northern shore of the roto, or lake, of Maeva, was the favourite residence of many of the native kings. Here, also, the chief who governed the island after the last visit of Captain Cook, resided, and erected a house for Mai, or Omai, that he might be near him. The shores, and even the smooth surface of the lake itself, have been the scene of some of the most sanguinary battles that have been fought between rival parties on the island, or the people of Huahine and those of Raiatea and Borabora. Near its margin, on a rising ground, the ruins of one of the largest artificial fortifications in the group still remain.
But it is not so distinguished by any of these as by the vestiges of the ancient superstition of the island which every where abound. Temples to the gods of the water were erected on every point of land, and family maraes in almost every grove, while the extensive national temples of Oro and Tane stood near the northern extremity of the lake, where the greater number of human sacrifices were offered, where the idols were usually kept, and the national religious assemblies convened.
Every object around the lake, and every monument of art or labour, in the district of Maeva, bore marks of its connexion with their ancient religion. I have often visited the ruins of the large national temple of Tane, and the site of the house of Oro, and in my intercourse