Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/119

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115
A HISTORY OF TAHITI

remaining in Matavai Bay from April until July, 1769. Cook's mission was to observe the transit of Venus, for which purpose as well as for geographical discovery, his expedition had been sent out at the instigation of the Royal Society of London. Accompanying him were such men of science as Banks and Solander whose observations upon the island and its natives at a time when they were as yet unspoiled, have given us the classic account of a primitive Polynesian community, supplemented as it was in 1829 by the scholarly volumes of "Polynesian Researches" written by the great missionary William Ellis.

At the time of Cook's visit, Tahiti was a characteristic Polynesian feudalism, the Ariirahi, or principal chiefs, being dependent for sustenance and political support upon the landed proprietors, the bue raatira. But in Tahiti as elsewhere in Polynesia, the supreme chiefs of districts were believed to have descended from God-like heroes of the myths, and their persons were held as sacred, thus greatly strengthening their position in time of political crises.

In acknowledgment of their feudal position, the large landed proprietors or Arii called themselves "the stays of the mast" by "the mast," signifying the Ariirahi, and as elsewhere wherever feudalism has been the social order, the incessant rivalry between nobles had forced the common people to flock to the standards of the few who could best afford protection, and in consequence the Arii, or "baron," of a Tahitian valley might become more powerful in his own domain than was the Ariirahi over the district as a whole. Thus an unstable form of "limited monarchy" was maintained in each district and to secure the suc-

 
PSM V86 D119 Pandanus tree on the lagoon beach of fakarana atoll paumotes.jpg
Pandanus Tree of the Lagoon Beach of Fakarana Atoll. Paumotes.