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great. The destitute and thoughtless readily attached themselves to their establishments, for the purpose of securing the means of subsistence without care or apprehension of want.
The bue raatira, or middle class in society, formed the most important body in times of peace, and the strength of their armies in periods of war. Warriors were sometimes found among the attendants on the king or chief; but the principal dependence was upon the raatiras. These, influenced by a noble spirit of independence, accustomed to habits of personal labour, and capable of enduring the fatigues of war, were, probably from interest in the soil, moved by sentiments of patriotism more powerfully than any other portion of the people. The raatiras were frequently the priests in their own family temples; and the priests of the national maraes, excepting those allied by blood to the reigning families, were usually ranked with them.
The hui arii, or highest class, included the king or reigning chieftain in each island, the members of his family, and all who were related to them. This class, though not numerous, was considered the most influential in the state. Being the highest in dignity and rank, its elevation in the estimation of the people was guarded with extreme care; and the individuals, of whom it was composed, were exceedingly pertinacious of their distinction, and jealous of the least degradation by the admission of inferiors to their dignity,
Whenever a matrimonial connexion took place between any one of the hui arii with an individual of an inferior order, unless a variety of ceremonies was performed at the temple, by which the inferiority was supposed to be removed, and the parties made equal in dignity, all the offspring of such an
union was invariably destroyed, to preserve the distinction of the reigning families.
The king was supreme, and next to him the queen. The brothers of the king, and his parents, were nearest in rank, the other members of the family taking precedence according to their degrees of consanguinity. The regal office is hereditary, and descends from the father to the eldest son: it is not, however, confined to the male sex; these islands have often been governed by a queen. Oberea was the queen of Tahiti when it was discovered by Wallis; and Aimata, the daughter of Pomare II., now exercises the supreme authority in Tahiti and Eimeo: the daughter of the king of Raiatea is also the nominal sovereign of the island of Huahine.
The most singular usage, however, connected with the established law of primogeniture, which obtained in the islands, was the father's abdication of the throne on the birth of his son. This was an invariable, and it appears to have been an ancient practice. If the rank of the mother was inferior to that of the father, the children, whether male or female, were destroyed; but if the mother originally belonged to the hui arii, or had been raised to that elevation on her marriage with the king, she was regarded as the queen of the nation. Whatever might be the age of the king, his influence in the state, or the political aspect of affairs in reference to other tribes, as soon as a son was born, the monarch became a subject-the infant was at once proclaimed the sovereign of the people the royal name was conferred upon him, and his father was the first to do him homage, by saluting his feet, and declaring him king. The herald of the nation was then despatched round
the island with the flag of the infant king. The banner was unfurled, and the young sovereign's name proclaimed in every district. If respected, and allowed to pass, it was considered an acknowledgment by the raatiras and chiefs, of his succession to the government; but if broken, it was regarded as an act of rebellion, or an open declaration of war. Numerous ceremonies were performed at the marae, a splendid establishment was forthwith formed for the young king, and a large train of attendants accompanied him to whatever place he was conveyed.
Every affair, however, of importance to the internal welfare of the nation, or its foreign relations, continued to be transacted by the father, and those whom he had formerly associated with him as his counsellors; but every edict was issued in the name and on the behalf of the young ruler; and though the whole of the executive government might remain in the hands of the father, he only acted as regent for his son, and was regarded as such by the nation. The insignia of regal authority, and the homage which the father had been accustomed to receive from the people, were at once transferred to his successor. The lands, and other sources of the king's support, were appropriated to the maintenance of the household establishment of the infant ruler; and the father rendered him those demonstrations of inferiority, which he himself had heretofore required from the people.
This remarkable custom was not confined to the family of the sovereign, but prevailed among the hui arii and the raatiras. In both these classes, the eldest son immediately at his birth received the honours and titles which his father had hitherto borne.
It is not easy to trace the origin or discover the design of a usage so singular, and apparently of such high antiquity, among a people to whom it is almost peculiar. Its advantages are not very apparent, unless we suppose it was adopted by the father to secure to his son undisputed succession to his dignity and power. If this was the design, the plan was admirably adapted to its accomplishment; for the son was usually firmly fixed in the government before the father's decease, and was sometimes called to act as regent for his own son, before, according to ordinary usage, he would himself have been invested with royal dignity.
Considering the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands as but slightly removed from barbarism, we are almost surprised at the homage and respect they paid to their rulers. The difference between them and the common people was, in many respects, far greater than that which prevails between the rulers and the ruled in most civilized countries. Whether, like the sovereigns of the Sandwich Islands, they were supposed to derive their origin by lineal descent from the gods, or not, their persons were regarded as scarcely less sacred than the personifications of their deities.
Every thing in the least degree connected with the king or queen-the cloth they wore, the houses in which they dwelt, the canoes in which they voyaged, the men by whom they were borne when they journeyed by land, became sacredand even the sounds in the language, composing their names, could no longer be appropriated to ordinary significations. Hence, the original names of most of the objects with which they were familiar, have from time to time undergone considerable alterations. The ground on which they
even accidentally trod, became sacred; and the dwelling under which they might enter, must for ever after be vacated by its proprietors, and could be appropriated only to the use of these sacred personages. No individual was allowed to touch the body of the king or queen; and every one who should stand over them, or pass the hand over their heads, would be liable to pay for the sacrilegious act with the forfeiture of his life. It was on account of this supposed sacredness of person that they could never enter any dwellings, excepting those that were specially dedicated to their use, and prohibited to all others; nor might they tread on the ground in any part of the island but their own hereditary districts.
The sovereign and his consort always appeared in public on men's shoulders,* and travelled in this manner wherever they journeyed by land. They were seated on the neck or shoulders of their bearers, who were generally stout athletic men. The persons of the men, in consequence of their office, were regarded as sacred. The individuals thus elevated appeared to sit with ease and security, holding slightly by the head, while their feet hung down on the breast, and were clasped in the arms of the bearer. When they travelled, they proceeded at a tolerably rapid pace, frequently six miles within the hour. A number of attendants ran by the side of the bearers, or followed in their train; and when the men who carried the royal personages grew weary, they were relieved by others.
The king and queen were always accompanied by several pair of sacred men, or bearers, and the
*As represented in the engraving, inserted in the beginning of vol. ii.