Page images
PDF

THE DAWN OF LIGHT. 201

logs of wood, covered with finely braided cocoa-nut fibre and scarlet feathers; while some were angular columns of basalt, quite rough, just as they had been found. One by one were these once dreaded idols cast into the flames by their former priest, who called on the people to behold their helplessness, and bewailed his own folly in having hitherto worshipped such monstrous objects. Whatever may have been the feelings of the spectators, the dreaded tumult was averted, and the people dispersed quietly; indeed the example thus given was followed by many, both on Eimeo (it is now called Moorea) and also on Tahiti, to which two members of the mission—Messrs Scott and Hayward—now again ventured to cross. Great was their joy when they found that several of the natives had renounced idolatry and were earnest worshippers of Christ, having been awakened by some words of King Pomare to an exceeding longing for a better faith and purer life than that of their fathers. Glimmerings of light had also found their way to the Paumotu and other neighbouring isles, and by the close of 1814 there was reason to believe that a total of nearly 600 persons had renounced idol-worship and were feeling their way towards the Light. Naturally, such a movement was not viewed with satisfaction by the great mass of the people.

Everywhere the Christians were persecuted by their heathen neighbours, who burnt their houses, destroyed their gardens, spoiled their goods, and even hunted them down, that they might offer them in sacrifice to the insulted gods. At all times it was customary to tell off certain families or tribes, from which the appointed victim-hunters were to select fit subjects for sacrifice; and so numerous were those thus eligible, that on some isles about onethird of the population lived in terror for their lives, not knowing at what moment their doom might be sealed. In many cases whole families forsook their homes secretly, and started in their frail canoe to seek a new home on some unknown isle, preferring to risk the dangers of the sea, and the chance of being eaten by strangers, to the certainty that sooner or later their turn must come to be offered in Sacrifice to their cruel gods. How this terrible doom first came to be attached to any family I cannot say, but, once decided, there was no escape. From generation to generation the black shadow hung, like the sword of Damocles, over each member, from the grey grandfather to the mere stripling. As he went about his daily work, chatting with his most trusted neighbours, one of the latter might open his hand and reveal the small sacred stone which was his death-warrant, delivered by the priest to the man who craved some special

THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS. 203

boon, as a symbol that the god required a human sacrifice. Well did the doomed man know how useless was resistance. His neighbours knew no pity, and a brief struggle invariably resulted in his being clubbed and carried to the marae. Now the supply of victims was furnished from among those known to favour the new faith; and many a pathetic story is still told of the unflinching courage with which those brave martyrs met their fate, only pleading with their murderers that they too should renounce their idols and worship the living God. As in the early days of the Church, so now, homes were divided: the believing wife was beaten by her heathen husband, children were driven from their parents' roofs, and friends were turned to foes—all in the name of the gods. Those who worshipped the Saviour were distinguished by the name of Bure Atua (from bure, to pray, and Atua, God). In spite of the persecution, their numbers steadily increased, and at last three of the principal chiefs of Tahiti, who had hitherto been sworn foes, resolved to unite their forces for the total annihilation of the Bure Atua sect. A midnight meeting was appointed when the conspirators were suddenly to fall on their sleeping, unsuspecting neighbours, and slaughter great and small. Happily, a few hours before the massacre was to have taken place, the Christians received a secret hint of what was in store for them, and were able to reach the shore, launch their canoes, and sail for Eimeo. When, at the midnight hour their foes reached the trysting-place, and found their victims flown, their rage knew no bounds, and angry recriminations commenced, which soon passed on to blows, ending in a free fight, in which one of the principal chiefs was killed, and his followers compelled to fly. In those turbulent days, it needed but a beginning to kindle a fierce war, and so it now proved. The heathen tribes having fallen out amongst themselves, seemed to forget their enmity to the Christians, and fought blindly among themselves. Beautiful and richly cultivated districts were reduced to desolation, houses burnt and property plundered, and numbers of the vanquished fled to Eimeo, to join the king and his party. Finally, the weaker tribes fled to rocky fortresses in the mountains, leaving one tribe—the Oropaa—masters of the whole island. These presently sent messengers to those who had taken refuge in Eimeo, inviting them to return to their homes in Tahiti. This they agreed to do; but, according to native custom, King Pomare accompanied them to reinstate them in their lands. With him came a very large train of followers, who

CHRISTIAN WARRIORS. 205

were chiefly Christians, and when they approached the shore of Tahiti, the pagan party refused to let them land. However, that point was yielded. On the following Sunday, about 800 of the king's party assembled for divine worship. Happily they had taken the precaution of assembling armed, for in the middle of service a firing of muskets was heard, and a large body of men, bearing the flags of the gods, and all emblems of idolatry, were seen marching towards the place where they were assembled. Very striking is the story of that day's contest. When the enemy was seen approaching, King Pomare arose and bade all remember that they were under the special protection of Jehovah, and that, having met to worship Him, they must not be diverted from their purpose. So all stood up to sing the accustomed hymn, then knelt in united prayer. They then formed themselves into three columns, the women taking their place among the men, resolved, like them, to fight with spear and musket. Thus they awaited the attack of the foe. The battle-field was a strip of ground between the sea and the mountains, covered with patches of brushwood. Under cover of these, the Christians again and again throughout the day knelt by twos and by threes to crave the help of the Almighty. After some hours of desperate fighting, Upufara, the highest chief of the heathen, was killed. His party

« PreviousContinue »