Images de page

In person, the inhabitants resemble those of Tahiti more than the New Zealanders, though their language bears the greater affinity to that of the latter. Vancouver, judging from those he saw around his ship, estimated their number at 1500. Mr. Davis, who visited them in 1826, supposed the population to amount to about 2000; but Messrs. Simpson and Pritchard, in April, 1829, found that an epidemic had reduced their numbers, and did not think there were above 500. The island is divided into several districts, and is governed by one supreme ruler, or king, and a number of subordinate chiefs. The name of the present chief is Tereau. Fortifications crown the summits of many of their hills; these are so constructed as to render them impregnable by any means which the assailants could bring against the besieged. Wars have not been frequent among them, and, when they have existed, have been less sanguinary than those among the islands to the northward.

Their system of religion was exceedingly rude, and resembled, in some respects, that which prevailed in Tahiti, though the names of their gods were different. The principal idol was called Paparua; it was formed of cocoa-nut husk, curiously braided, and shaped into a kind of cylinder, full in the centre, and smaller at the ends, and was not more than two or three inches long. To the favour of this god they sought for victory in war, recovery from sickness, and abundance of turtle. Poere was another of their gods; it was of stone, twelve or fifteen inches in length. It was fixed in the ground, and invoked on the launching of a canoe, and the opening of a newly-built house; and on its will the supply of water in the springs


Missionary Chronicle, vol. iv. p. 167

was supposed to depend. The favour of the gods was propitiated by prayers, offerings, and sacrifices; human victims were not included among the latter, which principally consisted in fish.

On my voyage from New Zealand to Tahiti, we made this island on the 26th of January, 1817. The higher parts of the mountains seemed barren, but the lower hills, with many of the valleys, and the shores, were covered with verdure, and enriched with trees and bushes. The island did not appear to be surrounded by a reef, and, consequently, but little low land was seen, The waves of the ocean dashed against the base of those mountains, which, extending to the sea, divided the valleys that opened upon the western shore. As we were not far from the island when the sun withdrew his light, we lay off and on through the night, and, at daybreak the next morning, found ourselves at some distance from the shore. We sailed towards the island till about 10 A. M.; when, being within two miles of the beach, the head of our vessel was turned to the north, and we moved slowly along in a direction parallel with the coast. We soon beheld several canoes put off from the land, and not less than thirty were afterwards seen paddling around us. There were

neither females nor children in any of them. The men were not tataued, and wore only a girdle of yellow ti leaves round their waists. Their bodies, neither spare nor corpulent, were finely shaped; their complexion a dark copper colour; their features regularly formed; and their countenances, often handsome, were shaded by long black straight or curling hair. Notwithstanding all our endeavours to induce them to approach the ship, they continued for a long time at some dis

tance, viewing us with apparent suspicion and surprise. At length, one of the canoes, containing two men and a boy, ventured alongside. Perceiving a lobster lying among a number of spears at the bottom of the canoe, I intimated, by signs, my wish to have it, and the chief readily handed it up. I gave him, in return, two or three middle-sized fish-hooks; which, after examining rather curiously, he gave to the boy, who, being destitute of any pocket, or even article of dress on which he could fasten them, instantly deposited them in his mouth, and continued to hold with both hands the rope hanging from our ship. The principal person in the canoe appearing willing to come on board, I pointed to the rope he was grasping, and put out my hand to assist him up the ship's side. He involuntarily laid hold of it, but could scarcely have felt my hand grasping his, when he instantly drew it back, and, raising it to his nostrils, smelt at it most significantly. After a few moments' pause, he climbed over the ship's side. As soon as he had reached the deck, our captain led him to a chair on the quarter-deck, and, pointing to the seat, signified his wish that he should be seated. The chief, however, having viewed it for some time, pushed it aside, and sat down on the planks. Our captain had been desirous to have the chief on board, that he might ascertain from him whether the island produced sandal-wood, as he was bound to the Marquesas in search of that article. A piece was therefore procured and shewn to him, with the qualities of which he appeared familiar; for, after smelling it, he called it by some name, and pointed to the shore. While we had been thus engaged, many of the canoes had, unperceived by us, approached the ship; and

when we turned round, a number of the natives appeared on deck, and others were climbing over the bulwarks. They were the most savagelooking natives I have ever seen, and their behaviour was as unceremonious as their appearance was uninviting. Vancouver found them unusually shy at first, but afterwards remarkably bold, and exceedingly anxious to possess every article of iron they saw although his ship was surrounded by not fewer than three hundred natives, there were neither young children, women, nor aged persons, in any of their canoes.


A gigantic, fierce-looking fellow, who had seized a youth standing by the gangway, boarded us, and endeavoured to lift him from the deck; but the lad, struggling, escaped from his grasp. then seized our cabin-boy, but the sailors coming to his assistance, and the native finding he could not disengage him from their hold, pulled his woollen shirt over his head, and was preparing to leap out of the ship, when he was arrested by the sailors. We had a large ship-dog chained to his kennel on the deck, and, although this animal was not only fearless, but savage, yet the appearance of the natives seemed to terrify him.

One of

them caught the dog in his arms, and was proceeding over the ship's side with him, but perceiving him fastened to the kennel by his chain, he was obliged to relinquish his prize, evidently disappointed. He then seized the kennel, with the dog in it; when, finding it nailed to the deck, he ceased his attempts to remove it, and gazed round the ship, in search of some object less secure. We had brought from Port Jackson two young kittens; one of these now came up from the cabin, but she no sooner made her appearance

on the deck, than a native, springing like a tiger upon its prey, caught up the unconscious animal, and instantly leaped over the ship's side into the sea. Hastening to the side of the deck, I looked over the bulwarks, and beheld him swimming rapidly towards a canoe lying about fifty yards from the ship. As soon as he had reached the canoe, holding the cat with both hands, and elevating these above his head, he exhibited her to his companions with evident exultation; while, in every direction, the natives were seen paddling their canoes towards him, to gaze upon the strange creature he had brought from the vessel. When our captain beheld the thief thus exhibiting his prize, he seized his musket, and was in the act of levelling it at the offender, when I arrested his arm, and assured him I had no doubt the little animal would be preserved, and well treated. Orders were now given to clear the ship. general scuffle ensued between the islanders and the seamen, in which many of the former were driven headlong into the sea, where they seemed as much at home as on solid ground, while others clambered over the vessel's side into their canoes. In the midst of the confusion, and the retreat of the natives, the dog, which had hitherto slunk into his kennel, recovered his usual boldness, and not only increased the consternation by his barking, but severely tore the leg of one of the fugitives who was hastening out of the ship, near the spot to which he was chained. The decks


were now cleared; but as many of the people still hung upon the shrouds, and about the chains, the sailors drew the long knives with which, when among the islands, they were furnished, and by menacing gestures, without wounding any, suc

« PrécédentContinuer »