Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/121

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117
A HISTORY OF TAHITI

cession from usurpation, the son of the high chief was granted the family title immediately upon birth, and his father who was the first to do him homage, was nominally at least reduced to the rank of a vassal. Before the missionaries came there was never a "king" whose authority was recognized over all Tahiti, but so great in outward form was the respect paid to the Ariirahi that people who passed their houses or came into their presence removed all clothing to the waist, an act of homage they paid also to the images of gods. The Ariirahi's feet might not touch the ground in any but his native district for all he trod upon became his own. Accordingly, when abroad he was carried upon the back of a retainer, and it was the boast of Pomare that he was greater than King George for he of Tahiti rode upon a man while the king of England was obliged to content himself with a horse.

In their marital relations the Tahitians closely approached the primitive condition wherein all the women are the wives of all the men. The wife of every man was also the wife of his friend, and it is probable that a more licentious race never lived during historic times. As Cook's narrative states, topics which with us are avoided were the chief theme of conversation among the Tahitians.

As elsewhere in Polynesia, rank descended through the mother and for the purpose of maintaining their exalted state, the great chiefs intermarried only among their own kindred, but such alliances were merely temporary, for after the birth of a legitimate heir, women of high rank consorted without scandal with endless paramours, although all their children of uncertain parentage were immediately put to death. In fact, infanticide was established not only as an accepted, but as a lauded institution in Tahiti; and according to Ellis two or three children constituted an unusually large family, and practically every woman had with her own hands murdered some of her own offspring, probably two thirds of the children born in Tahiti being thus disposed of immediately after birth.

In the absence of fatal epidemics and with the ever-present danger of famine through over-population, such barbarous checks upon increase had grown to be considered virtuous, and furnished the tenets of the society of Areoi, said to have been established in remote times by the followers of two celibate gods who although they did not enjoin chastity upon their worshipers prohibited their rearing offspring. Thus these bacchanalians of the Pacific roamed singing and dancing, welcomed everywhere as wits and entertainers; transient spirits flitting through the world each to die the last of his race on earth. They constituted a large proportion of the population, for in Cook's narrative we read of a fleet of 70 canoes filled exclusively with Areoi.

Cannibalism was unknown in Tahiti at the time of its discovery, yet here as elsewhere over the Pacific traces of its having been were there,