Page images
PDF
EPUB

fruit, the size of a big man's fist. Within its green rind lies the softest melting pulp, really like vegetable butter, with a large round seed in the centre. This fruit is either eaten with pepper and salt, or else beaten up with lemon-juice and sugar; and it is excellent in either form. The chief difficulty is to secure it, as all animals have a passion for it; cows, horses, even dogs and cats, watch for the falling of the ripe fruit, and quickly despatch it. After breakfast I rode back here, and found my host and hostess just starting for the village, so I strolled along with them to see the big coral church, memorable as having been the first built in this group, a monument of early zeal, and a wonderful triumph of will over difficulties. But now, whether from diminished energy or decreased population I know not, the place is falling into disrepair, and suggests retrogression. But the bird-cage homes of the people are charming, and the inmates are charming, and the brown-eyed olive-coloured babies, and their most careful little brothers and sisters, are especially attractive. To-day I have seen the loveliest baby I have ever yet met with. Of Italian and Tahitian parentage, it receives a double heritage of beauty, and the little Aurora is destined hereafter to take her place among the fairest maidens of Italy. Certainly children here have a very happy time of it. What with idolising parents, and friends who seem always ready to play with them, their only danger lies on the side of excessive spoiling. And yet, in heathen days, the Tahitians were as noted for infanticide as the Sandwich Islanders, with the one difference that here, the poor little unwelcome guests were disposed of at the very moment of their birth, and if spared for even a few minutes they were generally saved; whereas in Hawaii, the system of childmurder was much more deliberate. The extent to which it was practised in both groups makes one marvel how the isles failed to be wholly depopulated. Though offspring were generally numerous, few parents cared to rear more than three children; a man with four was looked upon as a taata taubuw buw—that is, a man with a heavy burden. The majority of Tahitian women in pagan days spoke openly, and without the

INFANTICIDE. 319

slightest shame, of having put to death half-a-dozen helpless innocents, while some confessed to ten or twelve; and when the missionaries and their wives implored these women to spare their little ones, yet unborn, their words were heard with derision, and the cruel mothers would return to boast how they had obeyed the custom of the isles, in defiance of white men's counsel. Afterwards, when these same women had become Christians, they would come to the school festivals, at which were sometimes gathered several hundred happy children, whose lives had been spared in obedience to a better law ; and often, with bitter tears, did these childless mothers bewail their own dead offspring, murdered by their own hands. At one such meeting, a venerable chief arose to address the people, and show, by contrast with the past, how great was their present gain. Pointing to a troop of comely lads and lasses, he said: “Large was my family, but I alone remain. I am the father of nineteen children; all of them I have murdered: now my heart longs for them. Had I spared them, they would now have been men and women, knowing the word of the true God. But all died in the service of the false gods, and now my heart is repenting—is weeping for them.” One of the chief women, who, having learnt to read at the age of sixty, had proved a most useful school-teacher, was bitterly troubled in the hour of death by the thought of her sixteen children, every one of whom she had herself put to death. But there was Scarcely a woman who had attained middle age ere the spread of Christianity, who was not haunted by the same sad memories; and one visitor to Tahiti has recorded his amazement when, on his expressing his belief that statements had been exaggerated, his friend appealed to three most respectable, motherly-looking women, who chanced to be sitting in the room quietly sewing, and quite at random, asked each in turn how many of her children she had killed. With shame and evident pain, the first, with faltering voice, replied, “I have destroyed nine;” the second said she had killed five; the third had killed seven. So that these three women casually selected, had killed twenty-one children | It seems scarcely credible that such deeds were perpetrated by

the same race whom we now see so gentle and loving; but heathen-
ism always tended to cruelty.
In nothing was this more apparent than in the treatment of the
sick. Generally speaking, the best a sick man could hope for was
simple neglect. As soon as it was evident that his illness would
be protracted, a hut of cocoa-palm leaves was built for him at a little
distance, and he was carried there. For a while he was supplied
with food and drink; but his friends soon grew careless, and so
often forgot him, that he very probably died of starvation. Should
he be possessed of property coveted by his neighbours, he was
very likely murdered with the most wanton barbarity. His
“friends” having determined on his death, proceeded to his hut,
armed with their spears; and, unheeding of his cries for mercy,
they treated him as a target, trying who could take best aim, till
at length some one, more merciful than the others, rushed in and
pierced him through the heart.
At other times the sick were buried alive. Their relations dug
a pit, and then, pretending that they would carry the sufferer to
the river to bathe, they threw him into the ready-made grave, and
drowned his cries by quickly throwing in stones and earth. Somt.
times the victim perceived what was in store for him, and en-
deavoured to escape; but he was invariably captured by his
murderers, and carried to his untimely grave.
Almost the first great change wrought by Christianity was in the
care of the sick, who now are nursed with the utmost tendernes,
the natives having, many years ago, formed themselves into societies
for the express purpose of building houses, where the aged and
helpless, who have no friends or children to tend them at home,
may be fed and clothed, and comforted by the ministrations of
Christian teachers.
In one respect, the people of Tahiti, like those of Samoa, provel
superior to most other Pacific islanders. There is no evidence
of their having ever been cannibals. While their neighbours in
the Paumotus and the Marquesas, in the Hervey Isles and New
Zealand, and in nearly every group throughout the Western Pacific
never lost a chance of feasting on human flesh, these gentler savago

[ocr errors]

ATTRACTIVE DISPOSITION OF TAHITIANS. 321

like those of Samoa, do not seem to have been tempted by the hideous fare. They contented themselves with heaping insult on the bodies of the slain, which were often brutally mutilated. Nothing amazes me more than to hear travellers and others occasionally talk with positive regret of the work of missionaries of all denominations, throughout these various groups of isles. To hear them speak, you would suppose that the natives, in their untutored state, were the most innocent, loving, and attractive of mortals. Surely such men can know nothing of the past, and of the dangers incurred by the early teachers, to whose earnest labours in the beginning of the present century those ungrateful talkers owe their own present safety. But even in those days the worst dangers and the most virulent opposition encountered by the missionaries were almost invariably stirred up by imiquitous white men —generally sailors and shipmasters." Certainly the Tahitians, as we now see them, are as gentle and affectionate as it is possible for a people to be. Most kind and hospitable, always cheerful and good-natured, easily pleased and amused, finding matter for mirth in every trifle; so that angry words or recriminations are rarely heard, but rather a sound of rippling laughter, which seems here to pervade the very air. A messenger is just going across to Tahiti to take letters, and to fetch any that may have arrived by the schooner from San Francisco. I shall send this as a postscript to my last, which will probably reach you at the same time.—So good-bye. YoUR LOVING SISTER.

1 If any are disposed to doubt this statement, they have only to refer to the circumstantial and thoroughly authenticated accounts published by the various missionary societies ; those, for instance, of the American Board, which again and again, in the early days of the mission to the Sandwich Isles, have occasion to refer to the outrages committed by British and American seamen, who came in armed bands to attack the mission stations, in their rage at the influence acquired by the missionaries, and the consequent change in the morals of the people. Again and again life and property were threatened, and the mission premises were only saved from destruction by the timely arrival of determined chiefs and their retainers.

[ocr errors]

LIFE ON MOOREA-AN ANCIENT PLACE OF SACRIFICE-ARRIVAL OF H.M.S. SHAH-HOSPITALITIES ON LAND AND WATER.

FRENch Missiox, PAPEToA1, Saturday Night.

This has been a glorious day of unclouded sunlight, and in order that I might enjoy it to the full, my kind hosts planned a family picnic on the other side of the bay. There was no available boat, only a tiny canoe, so we crossed in several detachments, till all were safely landed on the opposite shore, where we established ourselves beneath the shade of some noble iron-wood trees, whence the view of towering mountains, laughing valley, and blue waters was so entrancing, that I at once settled down to sketch, while the little ones disported themselves in the shallow waters, therein capturing small crabs, and sea-urchins, and many other treasures, till the kindling of a fire, and preparation of our gipsy breakfast, afforded them fresh occupation and delight.

What a pleasant feast they spread on the briny grass, and with what hospitality they ministered to our numerous self-invited guests, the hermit-crabs | Less welcome were the inevitable mosquitoes, but to-day there was sufficient breeze to disperse them in a great measure; and after breakfast we wandered along the shore, and the strange lady from Beretania was introduced to the gentle inmates of many a bird-cage home !

Oh dear, how fascinating is this simple, kindly, island life . Each day leaves me more and more captivated by the loveliness of these isles of paradise, where our eyes always rest on some scene of beauty, wherever they turn. Each halting-place seems more charming than the last, and the only sorrow is having to leave it, to pass on to another, which in its turn becomes as attractive. Each week makes me wonder more how I shall ever be able to settle down to a humdrum existence in well-appointed English houses, with their regiments of fine servants, and wearisome conventionalities of social

« PreviousContinue »