Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 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 largo 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 were so disheartened that a panic seized them, and they fled from the field, never pausing till they reached their strongholds in the mountains.

Thus the king's party remained in undisputed possession, and prepared, as in old days, to follow up their victory. But King Pomare had learnt a new lesson in war. He forbade any of his people to pursue the vanquished, or to enter their villages, either CLEMENCY CONQUERS. 305

to plunder the gardens or molest their wives and families. He, however, selected a trustworthy force, and bade them march to Tautira, to the temple of Oro, and totally destroy both temple and idol, and everything connected with the old worship. At eventide he bade the chiefs call together the congregation which had been so ruthlessly disturbed in the morning, and all knelt together in solemn thanksgiving for their great deliverance from so strong a foe.

The party whom he had despatched on so righteous a mission of destruction, carried out his orders implicitly. They turned neither to the right hand nor the left, till they reached Tautira, where they fully expected that the priests and people would make a stand in defence of their gods. They, however, met with no opposition from the crowds, who stood silently round while they entered the temple, hitherto held so sacred, and bringing out the idol, stripped him of his coverings, and exposed a rude unhewn log, about six feet long, of casuarina wood. Having utterly destroyed the temples, altars, and other idols, they carried off the rude log which for so many years had been the national god of Tahiti, and for the possession of which the land had, during the last thirty years, been made desolate by incessant wars. It was now turned to better use as a post in the king's kitchen from which to suspend baskets of food. Eventually it was cut up for firewood.

The effect of the king's clemency to the vanquished was magical. At first it seemed to them utterly incomprehensible; but when, under cover of night, some ventured from their hiding-places, and found their homes and families all undisturbed, and learnt that the bodies of the slain had received honourable burial, instead of being given to the dogs and pigs, and that the king had proclaimed a free pardon to all, then one by one they came down from the mountains to tender their submission to the merciful conqueror, and to learn from him the secret of such new principles. Then they agreed that the faith which inspired such deeds was assuredly the best, and with one accord they determined to destroy all their idols, and desired that the king would send messengers to instruct them in the good way.

U

Accordingly, those who had themselves been most diligent in learning, were ' sent to teach these new inquirers, and proved faithful and earnest in their work. But so great was the demand for teachers, that they were altogether unable to meet it; and in many a remote village, the people, having destroyed their idol temple, built a new house of prayer, where they met together to worship the God of the Christians, concerning whom they as yet knew so little, beyond the mercy practised by His followers.

From this time forward, Christianity made steady progress; and when, in the year 1817, Mr Ellis arrived as a missionary in these isles, he found almost the entire population professing it, and apparently devout in their practice. Family worship was established in all the principal houses; and many had built in their gardens a small oratory, or, as they called it, fare bare huna—the house for hidden prayer.

Already the grosser crimes of heathenism had been abandoned— especially the practice of infanticide, which had prevailed to so frightful an extent. In every district the schools were crowded, and those who had mastered the arts of reading and writing assisted in teaching those less advanced. Strange pictures presented themselves in these classes, where bright, intelligent children were often the instructors of aged men and women, priests and warriors, to whom learning was a hard task, but one which they were determined to master, that they might read for themselves the wonderful book which had taught such wisdom to their king.

These were in truth earnest scholars. The only books that had as yet reached them, were a spelling-book, printed in England, and a summary of the Old and New Testaments, printed at Port Jackson. But of these there were few copies: and many of the people, in their anxiety to possess one, had prepared sheets of fine papermulberry fibre, on which, with a reed-pen, dipped in the sap of the banana-treo, they had carefully copied out whole pages of the reading-lessons, or fragments of the sacred Scriptures. Others had committed the whole to memory.

Great, therefore, was their excitement and delight when Mr Ellis arrived at Afareaitu, bringing with him a good printingNATIVE BOOKS. 307

press. Crowds besieged the printing-office day and night, to watch the progress of setting up the types,—the king himself preparing the first alphabet. His delight when the first sheet was struck off, equalled that of his people; and all felt that it was a marked day in the history of Tahiti, when her king, with his own hands, printed the first page of the first book published in the South Sea Isles.

The binding of the volumes was the next interest. The supply of millboard was small; but again the fibre of the paper-mulberry was turned to account, several layers being pressed together to form a stiff pasteboard, which was then coloured with the purple dye obtained from the mountain-plantain; or else thin wooden boards were used, and covered with the skin of whatever animal could be procured,—goat, cat, or dog: and the new art of tanning was among the earliest industries of the isle.

Hitherto all books circulated in the isles had been distributed gratuitously, but it was deemed wiser for every reason, henceforth to exact a small payment in cocoa-nut oil, which was the article most easily obtained by the people. So great was their anxiety to purchase the books, that there were sometimes as many as thirty or forty canoes drawn up on the beach, having come from different remote villages, and having each brought several persons, whose sole object was to procure the precious volume, not only for themselves, but for others. Some who were'thus commissioned, were the bearers of huge bundles of green plantain-leaves, each rolled up like a parchment scroll, and being, in fact, a written order for a copy of the book, payment for which was sent in the form of a bamboo measure filled with oil. Many of these messengers waited for several weeks ere the copies could be supplied; and some of the more urgent refused to leave the mission premises till the books were delivered to them, lest other men should slip in before them and carry off the coveted treasures.

When we consider that teachers were so few, and worshippers so numerous, and that many large congregations assembled in the chapels they had built for Christian prayer, firmly believing that He in whose name they had met, was there present; yet having none to lead their worship, save, perhaps, a newly converted priesi of Oro, or a professional dancer, hitherto sunk in every form of vice,—we can the better understand the extreme anxiety of the people to possess the bocks which were the storehouses of excellent knowledge.

Have you ever realised the innumerable difficulties under which these early publishers had to contend? To begin with, they had themselves to reduce barbarous and hitherto unknown tongues to a written language,—no easy matter, considering that many of these dialects are so rich as to possess far more words to express shades of meaning than any European language.1 So, beginning with the alphabet, they had to work out equivalents for words in which the slightest change of accent conveys totally different meanings; then they had to puzzle out very intricate grammatical structures, and, having mastered all this, had to commence the very difficult work of translating so large a book as the Bible—a book, moreover, treating of spiritual truths which it was hard indeed to render comprehensible to such very materialistic minds as these.

Yet in the short space of about thirty years, the Scriptures have been translated into about twenty different languages, all previously unknown; and there is not one group throughout Polynesia, the people of which do not now read the Scriptures in their own tongue. The same good work is now gradually extending throughout Melanesia also; and even New Guinea, which, ten years ago, was an unknown land, has already received portions of the New Testament in the language spoken by at least one of its tribes.

Considering the extremely volatile nature of these fight-hearted people, the exceeding earnestness with which they seem to have entered into the requirements of a spiritual religion, is very remarkable. They had, however, been early trained to a belief in the necessity of whole-hearted attention, and reverence in the worship of their idols. It mattered not how large and costly might be the offerings, and how careful the ceremonial, should the priest omit, or even misplace, any word in the appointed prayers, or should his attention be diverted, the prayer was un

1 This is emphatically true of Fyian. See 'At Homo in Fiji,' vol. i p. 186.

« PreviousContinue »