« PrécédentContinuer »
the god of husbandry; the chief of the others was Taneetehia, the god of carpenters, builders, canoe-wrights, and all who wrought in wood. Nenia and Topca the gods of those who thatched houses, and especially of those who finished the angles where the thatch of each side joined. With these, others of a more repulsive character might be associated, but I shall only mention Heva the god of ghosts and apparitions, and Hiro the god of thieves. To the list from which the above are taken, including nearly one hundred of the objects formerly worshipped by the nation, a number of the principal family idols of the king and chiefs might be added, as every family of any antiquity or rank had its tutelar idol.
The general name by which they were distinguished was atua, which is perhaps most appropriately translated god. This word is totally different in its meaning, as well as sound, from the word varua, spirit, although that is sometimes applied to the gods: when the people were accustomed to speak disrespectfully of them, they called them varaua ino, bad or evil spirits. It is also different in its signification from the word which is used to designate an image, and the spirits of departed children or relations, and frequently those evil genii to whom the sorcerers addressed their incantations.
Atua, or akua, is the name for god, without any exception, throughout the whole of the eastern part of Polynesia. The first a appears to be a component part of the word, though in many sentences it is omitted, in consequence of the preceding word terminating in a vowel. It is then pronounced tua; and though but little light is thus thrown on the origin of the people, it is interesting to trace the correspondence between the taata or tangata, first man, in Polynesia, and tangatanga, a
principal deity among the South Americans; the atua, or tua, of the South Sea islanders, and the tev, which is said to be the word for god in the Aztec or Mexican language, the deviyo of the Singhalese, and the deva of the Sanscrit.
The objects of worship among the Tahitians, next to the atua or gods, were the oramatuas tiis or spirits. These were supposed to reside in the po, or world of night, and were never invoked but by wizards or sorcerers, who implored their aid for the destruction of an enemy, or the injury of some person whom they were hired to destroy. They were considered a different order of beings from the gods, a kind of intermediate class between them and the human race, though in their prayers all the attributes of the gods were ascribed to them. The oramatuas were the spirits of departed fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, &c. The natives were greatly afraid of them, and presented offerings, to avoid being cursed or destroyed, when they were employed by the
They seem to have been regarded as a sort of demons. In the Leeward Islands, the chief oramatuas were spirits of departed warriors, who had distinguished themselves by ferocity and murder, attributes of character usually supposed to belong to these evil genii. Each celebrated tii was honoured with an image, through which it was supposed his influence was exerted. The spirits of the reigning chiefs were united to this class, and the skulls of deceased rulers, kept with the images, were honoured with the same worship. Some idea of what was regarded as their ruling passion, may be inferred from the fearful apprehensions constantly entertained by all classes. They were supposed to be exceedingly irrita
ble and cruel, avenging with death the slightest insult or neglect, and were kept within the precincts of the temple. In the marae of Tane at Maeva, the ruins of their abode were still standing, when I last visited the place. It was a house built upon a number of large strong poles, which raised the floor ten or twelve feet from the ground. They were thus elevated, to keep them out of the way of men, as it was imagined they were constantly strangling, or otherwise destroying, the chiefs and people. To prevent this, they were also treated with great respect; men were appointed constantly to attend them, and to keep them wrapped in the choicest kinds of cloth, to take them out whenever there was a pae atua, or general exhibition of the gods; to anoint them frequently with fragrant oil; and to sleep in the house with them at night. All this was done, to keep them pacified. And though the office of calming the angry spirits was honourable, it was regarded as dangerous, for if, during the night or at any other time, these keepers were guilty of the least impropriety, it was supposed the spirits of the images, or the skulls, would hurl them headlong from their high abodes, and break their necks in the fall. The figures marked No. 7, in the engraving of the Idols, represent the images of two tiis or oramatuas; whose form and appearance convey no inappropriate exhibition of their imagined malignity of disposition.
Among the animate objects of their worship, they included a number of birds as well as fishes, especially a species of heron, a kingfisher, and one or two kinds of woodpecker, accustomed to frequent the sacred trees growing in the precincts of the temple. These birds were considered sacred, and usually fed upon the sacrifices. The natives imagined the god was embodied in
the bird, when it approached the temple to feast upon the offering; and hence they supposed their presents were grateful to their deities. The cries of those birds were also regarded as the responses of the gods to the prayers of the priests.
They supposed their gods were powerful spiritual beings, in some degree acquainted with the events of this world, and generally governing its affairs; never exercising any thing like benevolence towards even their most devoted followers, but requiring homage and obedience, with constant offerings; denouncing their anger, and dispensing destruction on all who either refused or hesitated to comply. But while the people supposed they were spiritual beings, they manufactured images either as representations of their form, and emblems of their character, or as the vehicle or instrument through which their communications might be made unto the god, and his will revealed to them.
The idols were either rough unpolished logs of the aito, or casuarina tree, wrapped in numerous folds of sacred cloth; rudely carved wooden images; or shapeless pieces covered with curiously netted cinet, of finely braided cocoa-nut husk, and ornamented with red feathers. They varied in size, some being six or eight feet long, others not more than as many inches. Those representing the spirits, they called tii; and those representing the national or family gods, toos. Into these they supposed the god entered at certain seasons, or in answer to the prayers of the priests. During this indwelling of the gods, they imagined even the images were very powerful: but when the spirit had departed, though they were among the most sacred things, their extraordinary powers were gone.
I had repeated conversations with a tahua-tarai-too, a maker of gods, whom I met with on a visit to Raiatea. As he appeared a serious inquirer after truth, and I could place some confidence in what he related, I was anxious to know his own opinion as to the idols it had been his business to make,-whether he really believed they were the powerful beings which the natives supposed; and if so, what constituted their great power over the other parts of the tree from which they were hewn? He assured me, that although at times he thought it was all deception, and only practised his trade to obtain the property he received for his work; yet at other times he really thought the gods he himself had made, were powerful beings. It was not, he said, from the alteration his tools had effected in the appearance of the wood, or the carving with which they were ornamented, but because they had been taken to the temple, and were filled with the atua, that they became so powerful. The images of aito-wood were only exceeded in durability by those of stone. Some of the latter were calcareous or siliceous, but the greater part were rude, uncarved, angular columns of basalt, various in size, and destitute of carving or polish; they were clothed or ornamented with native cloth.
The sacred flag was also used in processions, and regarded as an emblem of their deities.
Throughout Polynesia, the ordinary medium of communicating or extending supernatural powers, was the red feather of a small bird found in many of the islands, and the beautiful long tail-feathers of the tropic, or manof-war bird. For these feathers the gods were supposed to have a strong predilection; they were the most valuable offerings that could be presented; to them the power or