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A DAY OF REST. 191
waters—only the light fronds of the cocoa-palms quiver and gleam with every faint breath of air. The village is perhaps a quarter of a mile from the house, and lies buried in a thicket of breadfruit and mango trees. There my hosts have spent the greater part of the day, having held four church services, and morning and afternoon school. But I have rejoiced in a day of quiet idleness, spent chiefly on the lovely shore beneath the shadow of very large trees, whose great boughs overhang the white coral beach, -shell - strewn and crabhaunted. At high tide the silvery waters creep upward till the far-spreading roots are half bathed in the brine, while the other half are buried in a tangle of lilac marine convolvulus, wherein myriads of hermit-crabs disport themselves. Madame Valles came to breakfast. She is the daughter of that dear old lady Mrs Simpson, of whose death I told you in a former letter. Her husband is a retired French naval officer, who has settled in this beautiful valley as a planter. This evening several members of the congregation met here to hold a prayer-meeting, after which they sang most harmonious sacred himènes—the very first I have heard since I was last on Moorea. I have rarely in any land seen a nicer and more thoroughly respectable-looking body of people than these ; so gentle and courteous in their manners, and apparently so reliable. I fancy that in this secluded isle the people have retained more of their primitive Christianity than they have done in Papeete, where French influence and utter infidelity are continually acting as a leaven of evil, and where the fervour of first love is certainly a thing of the past, as regards the mass of the population. Such at least is my own impression, seeing only the surface of life, and naturally comparing things here with the very high standard now existing in Fiji, which has been my home for the last two years. The impulsive children of the South Seas are readily influenced for good or for evil; and as they quickly and whole-heartedly turned from their idols to embrace the purer faith taught them by devout white men, so now they are in danger of becoming even more careless than the average foreigners. I do not, however, mean to imply that the Tahitians or any of the islanders who have once adopted Christianity, have yet fallen away from its practice, so far as the bulk of the people in any European nation. In such matters as meeting for family prayer, and thanksgiving at meals, probably a much larger proportion of Tahitians than of Britons are still true to their early teaching. It really is very difficult, in presence of such peaceful, kindly people, and such settled forms of civilised Christian life, to realise what different
scenes were witnessed by the earlier visitors of this lovely isle at the time of its discovery by Captain Wallis in 1767, and Captain Cook's subsequent visit. It was in March 1797 that the first band of missionaries arrived here in the Duff, landing on Tahiti near Point Venus, where at first they were kindly welcomed by King Pomare, Queen Idia, and the chiefs, who seem to have expected that they would prove not merely sources of wealth, by distributing barter, but also able assistants in the art of war. But when the new-comers were found to be men of peace, and their mission that of teaching, they soon fell in the estimation of the natives, and for many years they struggled, apparently in vain, to stem the tide of idolatry and of such evil practices as infanticide and the offering of human victims to the feather-gods, as the Tahitians called their idols, because they were generally adorned either with the scarlet feathers of a small bird, or the long tail-feathers of the man-of-war or tropic bird. As quicksilver attracts gold, so was it supposed that this gay plumage became the very incarnation of the god ; therefore, when a tribe went forth to war (and of course desired that the presence of their god should be with them) they held a solemn service at the temple, and then took perhaps only one feather from off the principal idol, and placed it VOL. II. - - N
in the ark prepared for it on the sacred canoe, which formed part of every fleet. Then, till the close of that expedition, all worship was addressed only to the feather-symbol, and no sacrifices or prayers were offered at the marae, lest the attention of the god being divided, he should return to the land, forsaking the warriors. At other times, however, he was present alike at every domestic shrine which possessed a feather brought from the great temple. For, as other nations have carried sacred symbolic fire from the altar, to sanctify their domestic hearth or their family temple, so did these Tahitians year by year assemble at the great national temple, bringing with them offerings of the precious feathers. These the priests deposited inside the hollow idols, distributing among the worshippers those which had lain there since the previous year, thereby imbibing such essence of Sanctity as to convey the very presence of the god wherever they were carried. Not that these were the only visible symbols of the gods. Some appeared to their worshippers in the form of sharks; others, less terrible, took the form of divers birds. Hence, as I described to you in one of my letters from Samoa, so here in Tahiti and Moorea, the herons, kingfishers, and woodpeckers which frequented the old trees round the temples, were reverenced as in
HEATHEN DAYS. 195
carnations of the deities, and their cries were interpreted as oracles. So strong was the hold of these superstitions, that for several years the mission seemed to make little or no progress beyond the establishment of gardens in which various imported fruits and vegetables were successfully raised, and the people were taught to cultivate them systematically for their own use. Orange-trees, limes, shaddocks, citrons, tamarinds, guavas, custard - apples, peaches, figs and vines, pine-apples and water-melons, pumpkins and cucumbers, cabbages and other vegetables, were thus first introduced to the island, where they are now so thoroughly acclimatised. But in an evil hour a great intertribal war broke out for the bodily possession of Oro, the national idol, and this first civilising influence was swept away—the mission premises were laid waste, the garden entirely destroyed, and the work of twelve years scattered to the winds. King Pomare, Otu his son, and all the chiefs and warriors of the isle, had assembled at the great marae at Atehuru, where many fatted pigs were offered on the altar, while the surrounding trees were adorned with the ghastly corpses of human victims, all of whom had been sacrificed to Oro. The ark containing the symbolic feather was then placed on the sacred canoe belonging to the royal fleet.