« PreviousContinue »
CHANGES IN PHYSIQUE. 283
is of the Polynesian type, and some allow it to grow long and smooth by not dyeing it with lime. Yet another argument in favour of the migration having originally taken a northward course, lies in the physical development of the race. Surely it is easier to recognise a direct Malay ancestry for the warlike little Japanese, with their reverence for the sacred swords of their demi-gods, than for these stalwart Polynesians, with their firmly knit, muscular limbs, and stately yet graceful bearing. The race increased in stature, improved in feature, and enriched in colour on their southward way—circumstances doubtless due to more easy and luxurious lives, with better and more abundant food. Beautiful as is the rich copper colour of these islanders, their own ideal of beauty, as showing pure blood, consists in possessing a very fair skin; and I have often been amused, when sketching, by their anxiety to be represented several shades lighter than nature, not from any wish to resemble foreigners, but evidently as embodying their tradition of good ancestry. They by no means despise the use of cosmetics to bring about so desirable a result: the Marquesan women, for instance, though naturally of a light copper colour, contrive to make their skin almost white by an application of the root of the papawa tree. That modifying circumstances may produce such changes, both in stature and complexion, is now, I suppose, generally admitted; in fact it is almost certain that in some cases where barren atolls (such as the Kingsmill or Gilbert group, on the equator) have from accidental circumstances been peopled by descendants of these splendid men they have degenerated beyond recognition, and are now a short, spare, and generally ugly race. Naturally, the change from unbounded supplies of nutritious vegetable diet—bread-fruit, bananas, cocoa-nut, yams, sugar, and all the luxuries of the tropics— to isles where a coarse meal, prepared from the woody fruit of the pandanus, is the only edible form of vegetable, has in due time produced this result. Therefore it seems perfectly reasonable to infer that the converse occurred when an under-fed aggressive race, engaged from their cradles in piracy and strife, found themselves at rest in these Capuan isles, and there yielded to the habits of indolent ease, which they so naturally engender.
Yet to this day the chief characteristics of the Malays are common throughout Polynesia. In each of these groups a truly Asiatic code of wearisome, elaborate ceremonial is observed on every possible occasion; the smallest breach of etiquette is considered a crime; a joke of any sort, especially of the nature of “chaff,” is an unpardonable offence; in speech, flowery compliments which mean nothing and veil thought are the rule — slow, deliberate oratory, in which the best speaker is he who can talk for hours without touching his point, and then condense all he wishes to say, in a few pithy words.
All these islanders are distinguished by a natural grace and courtesy of manner—sometimes dignified, at others most winning; yet under extreme external politeness they have often nursed schemes of cold treachery and cruelty, which they have carried out unscrupulously to the bitter end. (I speak, of course, of the islanders as they were by nature, ere the mellowing, transforming influence of Christianity had dawned on the South Seas.) But to this hour the Polynesians, like the Malays, are, as a rule, careless, easy-going, impassive beings, generally light-hearted; all fatalists, as a matter of course; strangely indifferent to physical pain, whether endured by themselves or inflicted on others; but when once roused to fighting-pitch, wholly uncontrollable in their blind mad fury.
But the strongest proof of their Malay descent lies in the similarity of their various languages, both to one another and to the mother tongue. It is not merely a likeness in general construction, but many words are almost identical, as you may gather at a glance from the following vocabulary. In short, the whole subject is extremely interesting, but is one which I must leave to the discussion of learned folk, whose wise disquisitions you can study at your leisure.
English. Mulry. . zoa. Rotumah. Fiji. Tonga. Samoa. Raratonga. Marquesas. Tahiti. 1Iawaii.
Man Orang Tangata |Tangata Tha Tamata |Tangata Tang:ta Tangata | Enata Tane Kanaka
We have had a very gay week, including several festivities on On Saturday I was invited to dine on board Le Limier, with the Greens, Wien. nots, and Verniers. (In case your French fails you, I may remind you that a limier is a blood-hound; a fact which I only recollected on seeing canine heads on all the boats.) M. Putch is a good friend of the French Protestant Mission, and his visit to Tahiti is a happy event for all its members. After a pleasant dinner, we sat on deck to hear the sailors sing, and then went off in small canoes for a nearer sight of the péche à flambeaur, which was going
board the three French men-of-war now in harbour.
SUNDAY IN PAPEETE. 2S7
on in every direction near the reef-the flashing torches and dark figures of the fishermen forming a most picturesque scene. Another day we breakfasted on board Le Seignelay, and in the afternoon a large party assembled on La Magicienne to see the boat-races. A pretty sight, and seen from a beautiful and most luxurious ship. On Wednesday, the admiral held his last reception at Government House, at which there was a very large attendance; and Mrs Brander had most mirthful dances here on Monday, and again last night. The latter was a farewell, and I fear that to many of the young folk it was really a very sorrowful one. This morning we watched La Magicienne steam out of harbour on her way to Valparaíso. The admiral leaves a pleasant vicegovernor in M. D’Oncieue de la Battye, who is happily allowed to retain the excellent band till the arrival of the new governor; when the Seignelay is to convey him and it to Valparaiso. So the Tahitians find some consolation in this arrangement.
I think our Sundays would seem to you rather a curious medley, so I will give you a sketch of to-day from morning till evening. I was, as usual, awakened at 5 A.M. by the chattering of many voices, as the boats discharged their cargoes of fruit and rainbow-coloured fish beneath my windows. It was an exquisite cloudless morning, and I was seized with a sudden impulse to follow the crowd to the market, which hitherto I had only seen in its deserted afternoon aspect.
Passing by roads which are called streets, but are rather shady bowers of yellow hybiscus and bread-fruit trees, I entered the covered market-place, where were assembled as gay a throng as you could wish to see, many of them dressed in flowing robes of the very brightest colours; for the people here assembled are chiefly le peuple, whose days of ceremonial mourning for their good old queen are drawing to a close; so the long tresses of glossy black hair, hitherto so carefully hidden within their jaunty little sailor