« PreviousContinue »
but even the distinctive games of the people have apparently been forgotten,—at least I have seen none played. Yet in olden times there were many national sports; as, for instance, one which exactly answered to golf, and was played with sticks, slightly curved at one end> and a hard ball made of strips of native cloth. Football was formerly as popular in Tahiti as in Britain or Japan, the ball usod being a large roll of the stalks of banana-leaves, firmly twisted together. The players were often women, twenty or thirty on each side; and in the scramble to seize the ball, there was as much rough sport as in any English public school. As the games were generally played on the beach, the ball was often thrown into the sea, and followed by the merry crowd with shouts and ringing laughter.
Boxing also found favour with the lower orders; and wrestling and archery were as highly esteemed in Tahiti as in Japan, and, moreover, were equally associated with religious festivals, which probably is the reason of their having fallen into disuse. The dresses worn by the archers, with their bows and arrows, were all considered sacred, and certain persons were appointed to keep them. Before the contest began, the archers went to the marae to perform certain religious ceremonies; and at the end of the game, they returned thither to change their dress, bathe, and restore their bow and arrows to their appointed keeper, before they could venture to eat, or to enter their own homes. The bows in use were about five feet in length; the arrows about three feet, and the distance to which they would fly was often about 300 yards. They were never used in war, nor for shooting at a mark, as in Fiji
Spear-throwing and slinging stones were games in which a target was always set up, and generally hit with precision; but these were exercises of war, in which the players had abundant practice. The slingers generally formed the advance-guard in battle, and often did much execution. The stones selected were about tho size of a hen's egg. The slings were made of finely braided cocoanut husk, or filaments of native flax, with a loop at one end for the hand, and at the other a place for the stone. In throwing, the
sling was stretched across the back, whirled round the head, and thus the missile was discharged with great force.
But the game which always excited the keenest interest was wrestling. Here, as in Japan, the announcement of a wrestlingmatch brought together thousands both of men and women, all in their holiday garbs. The wrestlers, like the archers, first repaired to the marae to do homage to the gods; then entering the ring, which was generally on some grassy spot near the sea-shore, they fell to work in good earnest. Sometimes the wrestlers of one island challenged those of another; or else the challenge was from men of different districts. Their dress consisted only of a waistcloth, and a coating of fresh oil. The moment a man was thrown, the friends of the conqueror commenced to dance and sing triumphantly with an accompaniment of drums; and as the vanquished party raised songs of defiance, the din must have been pretty considerable. However, it subsided the moment fresh wrestlers entered the ring, and the spectators watched the progress of the struggle in dead silence and with intense interest. When the contest was over, the wrestlers returned to the marae to present their offerings to the protecting gods.
Without looking back to classical times and Greek games, it seems strange, does it not, that these very uncivilised savages of the South Seas should have assigned to wrestling precisely the same religious importance as is bestowed on it by the Shintoists of Japan. Possibly both nations retained this sacred game as practised by their common Malay ancestors,i from whom, probably, both derived their custom2 of offering savoury meats, and making acts of homage to their deceased relations; though the Japanese, either from inborn refinement or Chinese influence, place on their domestic shrine only the tablets of the dead; whereas the Ta
i I do not by this mean to suggest any trace of a common origin, merely founded on ancestor-worship, which prevailed in almost all countries, and which in the Pacific is to this day practised by the Papuan races. The islanders of the Torres Straits, in common with those of the Line islands, worship the skulls of their ancestors, and treasure them in their huts as reverently as did the Tahitians in heathen days.
1 For a trace of this custom, as practised in the Marquesas, see p. 257.
hitian preserved the ancestral skulls hidden in the roof of his house.
The perch for fowls,i so familiar in the neighbourhood of all Shinto temples in Japan, had its counterpart in the homes of the Tahitian chiefs; though the fowls here do not appear to have been consecrated to the gods, but trained for fighting. The native legends assert that cock-fighting was the most ancient native game, and the birds were reared and tended with the utmost care. No artificial spurs were used, and the belligerents were separated before either was injured. The fights came off at break of day, that the birds might be perfectly cool; and large crowds assembled to witness the contests, which sometimes were carried on for several mornings consecutively.
In tracing all manner of kindred customs in the isles of the North and South Pacific, I observe, amongst minor points, how very widespread is the passion for shampooing,—a friendly office which every old woman in the South Seas seems as ready to perform for the wearied wayfarer as is the professional blind man of Japan; involving an amount of manipulation which I should suppose to be truly odious, but to which many foreigners take kindly, and which seems to find favour in all Asiatic countries.
I take an especial interest in all such links as seem to connect these isles with Japan, because I have a pet theory of my own, that all these fair Polynesian islanders have drifted here by a circuitous route via the North Pacific. The commonly accepted notion is, that all the groups in the East Pacific have been peopled by Malays, who found their way here by a directly eastward migration. It is difficult, however, to imagine why they should have come so far, when, in coming from that direction, Australia and New Guinea lay so much nearer to them.
If you open the map of the world and rule a transverse line, passing through the Sandwich Islands in the North Pacific and the Friendly Isles in the South, you will perceive that the groups lying to the east are the Navigators, Fiji, the Hervey Isles, Tahiti, the Paumotu, the Marquesan, the Austral Isles, and New Zealand, 1 Whence has developed the Torii.
CIRCUITOUS OCEAX-CUHRENTS. £fcl
every one of which is peopled by comparatively fair-skinned races, with hair which by nature is straight and black, although in many of the isles, as in Samoa, custom requires that it should be dyed or bleached, cut short and stiffened, so as to produce tho effect of a wig. I am not sure if the spiral curls of the yellow-haired Tongans and Fijians are artificially produced, because I have never seen one individual of either race whose hair had not been dyed with coral-lime; but I know that a Samoan girl who refrains from "improving " nature, finds herself possessed of fine black tresses, as silky and as beautiful as those of any Italian maiden.
To the west of our line lies Melanesia, comprising the Marshall Isles, the Carolines, Solomon Isles, New Guinea, New Britain, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and Australia. These, almost without exception, are peopled by dark-skinned races, repulsive in their ugliness, and with hair more or less woolly.
All these lie between Eastern Polynesia and the Malay country, and there seems no reason whatever to account for those hardy little warriors passing by so many fertile isles, in search of the unknown region to the east. Surely it is more probable that, having first overrun Formosa, and then peopled Japan, they thence sailed to the Sandwich Isles, and so gradually made their way to the south. We know that in old days their vessels were very much better than those now commonly used by them; and the voyage from Japan to Hawaii, and thence to Tahiti, would have been by no means impossible, especially as tho existing strong ocean-currents would naturally tend to draw any ship by this course.
It is said that even a log of wood fairly launched on the Malay eoast, would naturally drift by this circuitous water-way till it returned westward to the shores of New Guinea. A glance at a map of ocean-currents will, I think, make this plain to you.
I know that this theory is contrary to that generally entertained; but as the natives of Tahiti have always maintained that their ancestors came from Hawaii (to which they retain the strongest links of family affection, the principal families of the two groups being united to one another by ties of blood), I cannot understand why learned men should maintain that Hawaii must really mean Savaii in the Samoan group, concerning which the Tahitians know little or nothing, except what they have learned, hy their visits to that group, in the character of native missionaries.
There are many points which seem to me in favour of the circuitous route via Japan; such, for instance, as the gradual deterioration in the art of tattooing, in which, beyond all question, Japan excels all other nations, and which in the Marquesas, Tahiti, New Zealand, and, I think, also in Hawaii, retained its graceful character, gradually falling off as it travelled westward to Fiji and Tonga. Many other points of similarity exist, such as the use of the honorific prefix O before proper names, as in Japan, O-yama (Eespected mountain), or in addressing any person politely. Throughout Polynesia the same custom exists. Hence early travellers wrote of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, as O-whyhee, O-taheiti, Osamoa; and the same with reference to names of persons.
Another point which to me appears to support the theory of the circuitous movement is, that those best acquainted with Samoan matters assert that, beyond any doubt, the Ellice group, lying far to the west of Samoa, was peopled from thence. It is therefore only natural to infer that the tall, comely race of light coppercoloured people who inhabit the south-east coast of New Guinea (that is to say, due west from the Ellice Isles), probably reached those shores about the same period, and from the same direction. Their women are beautifully tattooed, and their language wonderfully resembles that of the Earotongan teachers, who have come from the distant Hervey Isles to settle among them as pioneers, sent by the native mission in that far easterly group; in fact, many of their words are identical.
Again, it is a well-established fact that Fotuna and Aniwa, two of the southern New Hebrides, which lie due west of the Friendly Isles, were peopled by the descendants of a party of Tongans, who drifted thither in a large canoe and settled on these uninhabited isles. These islanders have retained their own language, and their children when born are very fair, but as they grow up they become almost as dark in colour as their Papuan neighbours. Their hair