1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Marquesas

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MARQUESAS or Mendaña Islands (Fr. Les Marquises), an archipelago of the Pacific Ocean lying between 7° 50′ and 10° 35′ S. and 138° 50′ and 140° 50′ W., and belonging to France. It extends over 250 m. from S.E. to N.W., and has a total area of 490 sq. m. The southern or Mendaña group consists of the islands Fatuhiva or Magdalena, Motane or San Pedro, Tahuata or Santa Christina and Hivaoa or Dominica, the last with a coast-line of more than 60 m. With these is often included the rocky islet of Fatuhuku or Hood, lying in mid-channel to the north of Hivaoa. The north-western or Washington group is formed of seven islands, the four largest being Huapu or Adams, Huahuna or Washington, Nukuhiva (70 m. in circumference) and Eiao.[1] Along

the centre of each island is a ridge of mountains, attaining an altitude of 4042 ft. in Huapu, whence rugged spurs forming deep valleys stretch towards the sea. The volcanic origin of the whole archipelago is proved by the principal rocks being of basalt, trachyte and lava. Vegetation is luxuriant in the valleys, which are well watered with streams and, from their seaward termination in small bays, are themselves known as “bays.” The flora includes about four hundred known species, many of them identical with those belonging to the Society Islands. The vegetable products comprise bananas, bread-fruit, yams, plantains, wild cotton, bamboos, sugar-cane, coco-nut and dwarf palms, and several kinds of timber trees. The land fauna however is very poor; there are few mammals with the exception of dogs, rats and pigs; and amphibia and insects are also generally scarce. Of twenty species of birds more than half belong to the sea, where animal life is as abundant as about other subtropical Polynesian groups. The climate, although hot and damp, is not unhealthy. During the greater part of the year moderate easterly trade-winds prevail, and at the larger islands there are often both land and sea breezes. The rainy season accompanied by variable winds sets in at the end of November, and lasts for about six months. During this period the thermometer varies from 84° to 91° F.; in the dry season its average range is from 77° to 86°. The archipelago, which has some small trade in copra, cotton and cotton seeds, is administered by a French resident, and has a total population of about 4300, nearly all natives.

The natives, a pure Polynesian race, are usually described as physically the finest of all South Sea Islanders. Their traditions point to Samoa as the colonizing centre from which they sprang. Their complexion is a healthy bronze. Until the introduction of civilization they were remarkable for their elaborate tattooing. Their cannibalism seems to have been dictated by taste, for it was never associated with their religion, the sacrifices to their gods being always swine. Of these and fowls they rear a great quantity. Their native drink is kava. Their houses are unlike those usual in Polynesia in being built on platforms raised from the ground. In disposition the islanders are friendly and hospitable, brave and somewhat bloodthirsty; and, although naturally indolent and morose, they have proved industrious and keen traders. As among their kinsfolk the Tahitians, debauchery was systematized and infanticide an organized institution. A population which at the time of the annexation by France (1842) was 20,000 has been reduced to little over 4000. Latterly the natives have for the most part outwardly adopted Christianity.

The Marquesas Islands were discovered on the 21st of July 1595 by Alvaro Mendaña, who, however, only knew of the south-eastern group, to which he gave the name by which they are generally known (although they also bear his own), in honour of Don Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, marquis of Cañete, viceroy of Peru, and patron of the voyage. Captain Cook pursuing the same track rediscovered this group, with the addition of Fatuhuku, in 1774. The north-western islands were first sighted by the American Captain Ingraham in 1791, and given the name of Washington by him; the French Captain Marchand followed in the same year, and Lieut. Hergest in 1792. The Russian explorer, Adam Ivan Krusenstern, made an extensive investigation of the archipelago in 1804. In 1813 the American Commodore David Porter failed to establish a colony here; and in May 1842, after French Roman Catholic missionaries had prepared the way, Rear-admiral Dupetit-Thouars took formal possession of the archipelago for France. A complete settlement was not effected without bloodshed and about 1860–1870 the colony was practically abandoned.

See Vincendon-Dumoulin Îles Marquises (Paris, 1843); E. Jardin, Essai sur l’histoire naturelle de l’archipel de Mendaña (Paris, 1860); Clavel, Les Marquisiens (Paris, 1885); Dordillon, Grammaire et dictionnaire de la langue des Îles Marquises (Paris, 1904).

  1. Most of the islands have each three or four alternative names.