Images de page

Having as a nation embraced Christianity, they were unanimous in desiring that their civil and judicial proceedings should be in perfect accordance with the spirit and principles of the christian religion. Hence they were led to seek the advice of their teachers, as to the means they should adopt for accomplishing this object. The Missionaries invariably told them that it was no part of their original design to attempt any change in their political and civil institutions, as such; that these matters belonged to the chiefs and governors of the people, and not to the teachers of the religion of Jesus Christ. To this they generally replied, that under the former idolatrous system they should have been prepared to act in any emergency, but they were not familiar with the principles of Christianity in their application to the ordinary relations of life, especially in reference to the punishment of crime.

In compliance with these solicitations, the Missionaries illustrated the general principles of Scripture, that in all the public stations they sustained, they were to do unto others as they would that others should do unto them that with regard to government, Christianity taught its disciples to fear God, and honour the king— that the power which existed was appointed of God—and that magistrates were for a terror to evil-doors, and a praise to them that do well. These general principles were presented and enforced as the grounds of proceeding in all affairs of a civil or political nature.

The Missionaries, though frequently appealed to, generally left the determination of the matter to their own discretion, declining to identify themselves with either party, in any of their differences. They promised, however, to the chiefs such assistance as they could render in the pre

paration of their code of laws, and constitution of government, but were exceedingly anxious that it should be the production of the king and chiefs, and not of themselves. They had hitherto avoided interfering with the government and politics of the people, and had never given even their advice, excepting when solicited by the chiefs. When the conduct of petty chiefs or others had affected their own servants, or persons in their employment, if they have taken any steps, it has been as members of the community, and not as ministers of religion.

After the introduction of Christianity, the chiefs were among the first to perceive that the sanguinary modes of punishment to which they had been accustomed were incompatible with the spirit and precepts of the gospel, and earnestly desired to substitute measures that should harmonize with the new order of things. The king applied for assistance in this matter, soon after the general change that took place in 1815. The Missionaries advised him to call a general council of the chiefs, and consult with them on the plans most suitable to be adopted.Whether his recollection of the unpropitious termination of former councils influenced him, or whether he was unwilling to delegate any of that power to others with which heretofore he had been solely invested, is uncertain; but he objected to the assembling of the chiefs at that time, still requesting advice and counsel from the Missionaries. This they readily afforded, both as to the general principles of the British constitution, the declarations of Scripture, and the practice of Christian nations. Their own sentiments in reference to their duty at this time, will best appear from the following extract of a public letter, bearing date July 2, 1817.

"During many years of our residence in these islands,

we most carefully avoided meddling with their civil and political affairs, except in a few instances, where we endeavoured to promote peace between contending parties. At present, however, it appears almost impossible for us, in every respect, to follow the same line of conduct. We have told the king and chiefs, that, being strangers, and having come to their country as teachers of the word of the true God, and the way of salvation by Jesus Christ, we will have nothing further to do with their civil concerns, than to give them good advice; and with that view several letters have passed between us and the king. We have advised him to call a general meeting of all the principal chiefs, and, with their assistance and approbation, adopt such laws and regulations as would tend to the good of the community, and the stability of his government; and that in these things, if he desired it, we would give him the best advice in our power, and inform him of what is contained in the word of God, and also of the laws and customs of our own country, and other civilized nations."

The first code of laws was that enacted in Tahiti in the year 1819; it was prepared by the king and a few of the chiefs, with the advice and direction of the Missionaries, especially Mr. Nott, whose prudence and caution cannot be too highly spoken of, and by whom it was almost framed. The code was remarkably simple and brief, including only eighteen articles. It was not altogether such as the Missionaries would have wished the nation to adopt, but it was perhaps better suited to the partial light the people at that time possessed, and to the peculiar disposition of Pomare. He was exceedingly jealous of his rights and prerogatives, and unwilling that the chiefs should assume the least control over his pro

ceedings, or participate in his power. His will still continued to be law, in all matters not included in their code; and with regard to the revenue which the people were required to furnish for his use, he would admit of no rule but his own necessities, and consequently continued to levy exactions, as his ambition or commercial engagements might require.

The Missionaries would have regarded with higher satisfaction an improvement in the principles recognized as the basis of the relation subsisting between the king, chiefs, and people, some division of the power of government-enactments proportioning the produce of the soil to be furnished for the king, and securing the remainder to the cultivators. But having recommended these points to the consideration of the rulers, they did not think it their duty to express any disatisfaction with the code, imperfect as it was.

In the month of May, 1819, the king, and several thousands of the people from Tahiti and Eimeo, assembled at Papaoa, for the purpose of attending the opening of the Royal Missionary Chapel, and the promulgation of the new laws. The anniversary of the Tahitian Missionary Society being held at the same time, the Missionaries from the several stations, in these two islands, were then at Papaoa.

The thirteenth day of the month was appointed for this solemn national transaction; and the spacious chapel which the king had recently erected was chosen as the edifice in which this important event should take place. It was thought no desecration of a building reared for public devotion, and solemnly appropriated to the worship of the Almighty, and other purposes directly connected with the promotion of his praise, that the grave

and serious engagements by which the nation agreed to regulate their social intercourse, should be ratified in a spot where they were led to expect a more than ordinary participation of the Divine benediction. During the forenoon, the chiefs and people of Tahiti and Eimeo assembled in the Royal Chapel, and about the middle of the day the king and his attendants entered. The Missionaries were also present; but, regarding it as a civil engagement, attended only as spectators. The king, however, requested Mr. Crook to solicit the Divine blessing on the object of the meeting. He therefore read a suitable portion of the sacred volume, and implored the sanction of the King of kings upon the proceedings that were to follow. Nothing could be more appropriate than thus acknowledging the Power by whom kings reign, and seeking His blessing upon those engagements by which their public conduct was to be regulated. The Divine benediction having been thus sought, the king, who had previously taken his station in the central pulpit, arose, and, after viewing for a few moments the thousands of his subjects that were gathered round him, commenced the interesting proceedings of the day, by addressing Tati, the brother and successor of the late Upufara, who was the leader of the idolatrous and rebel army defeated in November, 1815. "Tati," said the king, "what is your desire? what can I do for you?" Tati, who sat nearly opposite the pulpit, arose and said, Those are what we want-the papers you hold in your hand-the laws; give them to us, that we may have them in our hands, that we may regard them, and do what is right." The king then addressed himself to Utami, the good chief of Teoropaa, and in an affectionate manner said, "Utami, and what is your desire?" He replied,

[ocr errors]
« PrécédentContinuer »