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being reflected from the surface of the other, gave a correspondence to the appearance of both, and almost forced the illusion on the mind, that our little bark was suspended in the centre of two united hemispheres.
The perfect quietude that surrounded us was equally impressive. No objects were visible but the lamps of heaven, and the phosphoric fires of the deep. The silence was only broken by the murmurs of the breeze passing through our matting sails, or the dashing of the spray from the bows of our boat, excepting at times, when we heard, or fancied we heard, the blowing of a shoal of porpoises, or the more alarming sounds of a spouting whale.
At a season such as this, when I have reflected on our actual situation, so far removed, in the event of any casualty, from human observation and from human aid, and preserved from certain death only by a few feet of thin board, which my own unskilful hands had nailed together; a sense of the wakeful care of the Almighty has alone afforded composure; and when I have gazed on the magnificent and boundless assemblage of suns and worlds, whose rays have shed their lustre over the scene, and have remembered that they were formed, sustained, and controlled, in all their complex and mighty movements, by Him on whose care I could alone rely, I have almost involuntarily uttered the exclamation of the psalmist, "Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him!"
The contemplation of the heavenly bodies, although they exhibit the wisdom and majesty of God, who "bringeth out their host by number, and calleth them all by names, by the greatness of his might," and by whom also the very hairs of the head are all numbered, impressed at
the same time the conviction that I was far from home, and those scenes which in memory were associated with starlight nights in my native land.
Many of the stars which I had beheld in England were visible here: the constellations of the zodiac, the splendours of Orion, and the mild twinkling of the Pleiades, were seen; but the northern pole-star, the steady beacon of juvenile astronomical observation, the Greatbear, and much that was peculiar to a northern sky, were wanting. The effect of mental associations, connected with the appearance of the heavens, is singular and impressive. During a voyage which I subsequently made to the Sandwich Islands, many a pleasant hour was spent in watching the rising of those luminaries of heaven which we had been accustomed to behold in our native land, but which for many years had been invisible.— When the polar-star rose above the horizon, and Ursamajor, with other familiar constellations, appeared, we hailed them as long absent friends; and could not but feel that we were nearer England than when we left Tahiti, simply from beholding the stars that had enlivened our evening excursions at home.
But although, in our present voyage, none of these appeared, and the southern hemisphere is perhaps less brilliant than that of the north, it exhibited much to attract attention. The stars in the Fish, the Ship, and the Centaur, the nebulæ or magellanic clouds, and, above all others, Crux, or the "Cross of the South," are all peculiar to this part of the heavens. This latter constellation is one of the most remarkable in the southern hemisphere. The two stars forming the longest part, having nearly the same right ascension, it appears erect when in the zenith, and thus furnishes a nightly index to the flight of time,
and a memento to the most sublime feelings of grateful devotion.
With my fellow-voyagers I could enter into nothing like reciprocally interesting conversation on these subjects. Their legends of the nature and origin of the stars were most absurd and fabulous; and my attempts to explain the magnitude, distances, or movements of the heavenly bodies, appeared to them unintelligible—
Their "souls proud science never taught to stray
Far as the solar walk or milky-way."
The natives of the islands were, however, accustomed in some degree to notice the appearance and position of the stars, especially at sea. These were their only guides in steering their fragile barks across the deep. When setting out on a voyage, some particular star or constellation was selected as their guide in the night. This they called their aveia, and they now designate the compass by the same name, because it answers the same purpose. The Pleiades were a favourite aveia with their sailors, and by them, in the present voyage, we steered during the night. We had, indeed, a lantern and a compass in the boat, but being a light ship's compass, it was of little service.
Although the Polynesians were destitute of all correct knowledge of the sciences, the first principles of which have been recently taught in the academy more regularly than they had heretofore been, they had what might be called a rude system of astronomy. They possessed more than one method of computing time; and their extensive use of numbers is quite astonishing, when we consider that their computations were purely efforts of mind, unassisted by books or figures.
Their ideas, as might naturally be expected, were fabulous and erroneous in the extreme. They imagined that the sea which surrounded their islands was a level plane, and that at the visible horizon, or some distance beyond it, the sky, or rai, joined the ocean, enclosing as with an arch, or hollow cone, the islands in the immediate vicinity. They were acquainted with other islands, as Nuuhiva, or the Marquesas, Vaihi, or the Sandwich Islands, Tongatabu, or the Friendly Islands. The names of these recurred in their traditions or songs. Subsequently, too, they had heard of Beritani, or Britain, Paniola, or Spain, &c. but they imagined that each of these had a distinct atmosphere, and was enclosed in the same manner as they thought the heavens surrounded their own islands. Hence they spoke of foreigners as those who came from behind the sky, or from the other side of what they considered the sky of their part of the world.
What their opinions were, as to the material of the heaven to which they gave such definite boundaries, I could never learn; but, according to their mythology, there were a series of celestial strata, or tua, ten in number, each stratum being the abode of spirits or gods, whose elevation was regulated by their rank or powers; the tenth, or last heaven, which was perfect darkness, being called a terai haamama of tane, and being the abode of the first class only.
We often experienced a degree of confusion in our ideas connected with their use of the term po, night or darkness, and its various compounds. They usually, but not invariably, spoke of the region of night as i raro, or below. In this instance, in describing the highest heaven as the region of purest light, they spoke of it also
as the po. After describing the nine heavens, or stratum of clouds or light, inhabited by the different orders of inferior deities, they describe the tenth, or most remote from the earth, and the abode of the principal gods, as te rai haamama no tane, &c. te opening or unfolding to the po, or perpetual darkness. From this mode of representation, it appears that the islanders imagined the universe to be chaotic, and that in its vast immensity their islands and ocean, with the sky arching over them, were enclosed, and that below the foundation of the earth, on which they stood, and above the firmament over their heads, this po, or darkness, prevailed.
With respect to the origin of the sun, which they formerly called ra, and more recently mahana, some of their traditions state that it was the offspring of the gods, and was itself an animated being; others, that it was made by Taaroa. The latter supposed it to be a substance resembling fire. The people imagined that it sank every evening into the sea, and passed during the night, by some submarine passage, from west to east, where it rose again from the sea in the morning. In some of the islands, the expression for the setting of the sun, is, the falling of the sun into the sea. On one occasion, when some of the natives were asked where the sun went to, they said, Into the sea. On being asked, further, what prevented its extinction, they said they did not know. It was then inquired, "How do you know that it falls into the sea at all? Did you ever see it?" They said, No, but some people of Borabora, or Maupiti, the most western islands, had once heard the hissing occasioned by its plunging into the ocean.
One of the most singular of their traditions, respecting the sun, deserves attention, from the slight analogy it