A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War/Chapter 18
Already ten days have slipped away since we watched the Maramma sail for Honolulu, and each morning I awake with a feeling of pleasure that I am still in this delightful isle. Would that you could look on the lovely scene on which my eyes rest with the first glimmer of dawn, and which now lies outspread before me, as I sit in this cool verandah opening off my large bedroom on the upper storey! It is a verandah all closed in with jalousies, screening its occupants from the outside world; while they, themselves unseen, look down on the brightest, most animated scene you can imagine.
Long before sunrise the pretty native boats, with double sails, arrive from all parts of the isle, bringing their cargo of fish and fruit for the market, which is held in a large building in the town. But as the boats are unloaded, their wares are outspread on the grass just below these windows, and the most active housewives and purveyors for the ships come here to secure the first choice of luscious fruits and of fishes, as beautiful to the eye as they are tempting to the palate. These are of every shade of blue and green, scarlet and crimson, and pale yellow with lilac stripes. The large bright-green fish are generally eaten raw; and occasionally the purchasers, whose appetites are sharpened by the fresh morning air, cannot resist an early breakfast al fresco. The air is balmy and delicious, like a heavenly midsummer morning in Europe; and all the girls have light woollen shawls. (Real Scotch tartans are in high favour, and are worn in true Highland fashion, over one shoulder and round the body.)
The fruit-supply is brought in large baskets. Just now there are quantities of mangoes, oranges, and Abercarder pears (des avocats they are called here, where French permeates all things, as it did in England when the Norman conquerors changed Saxon oxen, sheep, and hens, to beef, mutton, and fowls). But these minor fruits are trifling luxuries. The mainstay of life is the faees or wild banana, which here takes the place of the yams and taro of the groups further west.
I think I have already described this peculiar plant, which bears its enormous bunch of fruit growing upright from the centre of its crown of large leaves, instead of drooping below them, as is the manner of all other bananas and plantains. These clusters vary from two to four feet in length; and I constantly see a bunch so long and so heavy, that it is carried to market slung from a pole, resting on the shoulders of two men, just as in the old pictures of the Israelitish spies bearing the grapes of Eshcol, which were the delight of our childhood. It must be toilsome work to carry these weighty spoils of the mountains from the remote ravines where they chiefly flourish.
All these heaps of golden fruit form a brilliant foreground to the beautiful harbour beyond, which at this early hour reflects only the pale, glowing daffodil hues of a cloudless sky, against which the exquisite outline of Moorea stands out in clear relief. Suddenly its delicate pearly grey is flushed with rose colour, as the first ray of the rising sun touches those lofty summits, and veinings of tender blue mark the course of deep glens and corries, or the shadows cast by prominent crags and pinnacles.
Nearer—so near, indeed, that we can distinguish friendly faces on the decks—lie the French men-of-war; and as the light touches them, their dead white changes to cream colour, and they and their unfurled sails, and the clothes hung out to dry, are all reflected in the calm water. So, too, are the various trading-ships, and the great hulk of a large iron vessel, which caught fire fifteen months ago when she was near the Marquesas. Her crew took to their boats, and two of these arrived here safely. A good while after, the deserted ship, still burning, drifted down towards here. The Seignelay went out and towed in the wreck. She had been laden with coal, and this had run into a sort of semi-fluid, tarry condition, and to this hour it is still smouldering; and after a shower of rain, steam and smoke still rise from the poor old hulk, which is so red from rust that you would think she had been painted vermilion. It is a vexed question whether she can ever be turned to account, or whether she should not be towed outside the reef, and there sunk.
Just beyond the shipping, inside the harbour, is a small island fortified by the French. The incongruity of ramparts and guns is hidden by foliage of hybiscus and palms; and it forms one item in the beauty of the scene.
This is the view from the front of the Red House. The back windows look over green mango-trees, and past the spire of the Roman Catholic church, to the great purply mountains of the interior. So you see that, although this big square three-storeyed house of very red brick, encased in closed verandahs, is not in itself an ornamental building, its surroundings are very lovely. And of the kindliness that reigns within it, words fail me to tell. It is an atmosphere of genial cordiality, in which each guest is at once made to feel as welcome, and as thoroughly at home, as any member of the large family. It is a kindness as unconscious, but as real and as delightful, as the balmy air we breathe, and is as purely Tahitian. What would these warm-hearted open-handed people think of the measured cold reception of strangers in our grey British isles?
To begin with, I discovered, on arriving here, that Mrs Brander had actually given me her own charming suite of rooms, to secure my having the fullest enjoyment of the lovely view and of the cool verandahs; so that I virtually am in solitary possession of this whole flat, with its large handsome drawing-room and cosy boudoir. I compare myself to one of the hermit-crabs which curl themselves into desirable shells, to the exclusion of the rightful owners! But my most hospitable hostess will not allow that she suffers any inconvenience; though she and her children have moved downstairs to share one huge room with any number of friends and relations, who spread their soft mattresses and pillows, and very gay quilts, and make themselves cosy for the night, just as the fancy takes them. The fine old mother has a house near, but very often she and the pretty sisters prefer to sleep here: so do sundry cousins and friends. There are also a number of Tahitian women of good birth who find a home, almost by right, in the house of every high chief, and who in return do him, or her, such light service as may be required. But of actual servants, as we understand the word, there are none.
I find an element of great comfort in the presence of an English woman who acts as housekeeper—a most unexpected discovery in Tahiti! She brings my early breakfast of tea and fruit, and otherwise takes great care of me.
We have a regular European breakfast and dinner, at which, however, only my hostess and her big brothers, with the Belgian manager and a few French officers, generally appear. The others prefer eating à l'indigène, sitting on their mats in another room, or beneath the shady trees; in fact, the native element is pretty strong, which gives this house half its interest. All the connections of the royal family, and a number of pretty demi-blanche girls, dressed in flowing sacques, are continually coming and going; and once a-week Mrs Brander has a reception for all the young folk, and for as many French officers as like to come; and they all dance and make merry,—rather more so, I think, than at the admiral's Wednesday receptions at Government House, which are, nevertheless, very enjoyable.
I had heard the praises of my hostess sung in no measured terms by all the members of the mission, both French and English, as well as by our consul and his family; but only since I have lived under her roof have I realised what a very exceptional woman she is. To the affectionate kindliness of a genuine Tahitian, she adds the Anglo-Jewish strength of character and business capacity inherited from her father; and the combination is one which would be truly remarkable in any woman, but is doubly so in one of the gentle daughters of the South Seas. The born chiefess is revealed in her large-hearted generosity to every creature that comes within her reach; though her extreme unselfishness makes her shrink from any expenditure that seems to tend only to her own comfort. She appears to be always thinking what she can do for other people—rich or poor, in all parts of the group. She has estates scattered all over these isles, and conducts all their business herself, as well as attending to everything connected with the great mercantile house created by her late husband. Though she has many assistants, she is emphatically its head, and not the smallest detail can be carried out without her sanction. Every business transaction, whether with the French Government, or foreign vessels requiring supplies, or her own trading ships, passes through her hands. Everything is done by her special order, and every business paper has to receive her signature. But she never seems to forget anything or any one; and, moreover, has time to prove herself a most devoted mother to her nine children—of whom one is married in Valparaiso, another here, some of the sons are at school in Scotland, and the baby daughters are the pets and darlings of this house.
Mrs Brander owns a fleet of about twenty smart trading schooners, which run backwards and forwards between Tahiti and such points as San Francisco, Valparaiso, and New Zealand, carrying the cargoes of all sorts collected by other vessels (of the same fleet) in the surrounding isles and the neighbouring groups.
These cargoes consist chiefly of coppra—that is, dried cocoa-nut kernel, broken into little bits for convenience of stowage on the far journey to England or other lands, where it is subjected to such heavy pressure as extracts the oil, leaving a residue of oil-cake for the fattening of British beeves. For the gourmet of China, quantities of edible fungus and dried bêche-de-mer are sent to San Francisco, whence they are passed on to Hong-Kong. Tons of large pearl-shells, measuring about eight inches across, with beautifully iridescent lining, go to make buttons and such articles, in all parts of the world; true pearls of considerable value are occasionally found in these, and a large number of average size. Of the fruits of the isles, oranges form the largest export, but vanilla, coffee, and various other products swell the list. At one time cotton was a good article of export, but it appears to have fallen into disfavour.
The vessels return from their several destinations laden with every conceivable variety of goods. There is nothing that luxury can desire which does not find its way to these remote isles, from the newest scent to the finest dress materials—not even excepting silks and velvets, though for whose benefit these are imported, passes my comprehension.
Truly wonderful is that compendium of all things needful, known as "a store," and that of La Maison Brandère is the largest in Papeete. Like "the merchant" of a Scotch village, magnified a thousandfold, the owner of a South Sea store must be ready to supply all the most incongruous demands which his customers can possibly invent, from white satin shoes to ship anchors. For he has not only to provide for the island population, but must be ready to supply any ships that happen to come into harbour with whatever they require. Fresh meats and preserved meats, New Zealand beef, Australian mutton, condensed milk and tinned butter, Californian "canned" vegetables and fruits, candles and lamps, oils of various kinds, firearms and gunpowder, hair-oil and brushes, wines and spirits, letter-paper and ledgers, books and framed pictures, cutlery of all sorts—from a penknife to a cutlass, or from a hair-pin to a harpoon—wine-glasses and tumblers, necklaces and brooches, crockery and physic: these, and a thousand other items, are all on hand, and appear at a moment's notice.
And as the store is the centre of all business, it is a general rendezvous; in fact, a sort of club, where pleasant cooling drinks are not unknown, and where much amusing gossip may be heard, for that is an article not unknown even in Tahiti!
Provisioning large vessels for long voyages is no easy matter here, where all animals have to be imported, as these beautiful hills and valleys afford very poor pasture-land, being all overrun with guava scrub. So shiploads of cattle are despatched from the Sandwich Isles, at very irregular intervals, by sailing ships, which sometimes are detained so long by contrary winds and calms, that the poor beasts are almost starved. The sheep are equally lean; and in fact, pork and fowls are about the only satisfactory meat-supply.
Thursday, 22d Nov.
It is hard to think of you all, enduring the miseries of chill November, while we are revelling day after day, and night after night, in an atmosphere of balmy delight and clear blue heavens. Last night we all went to the admiral's big reception, au Gouvernement, and a very gay scene it was, so many pretty women in very fresh, simple muslin sacques—only a few French ladies adhering to Parisian fashions. The ball-room has an excellent inlaid floor; and as the music is most enlivening, and the French naval officers enjoy dancing quite as much as any of the girls, they kept it up with great spirit. Of course the gardens are a very great attraction, and to the non-dancers are the favourite lounge. Good music, pleasant company, warm delicious nights, redolent of fragrant flowers—what more could you desire? Sometimes, when the band stops playing, we go for a moonlight row in the harbour, as far as the entrance through the barrier-reef, just for the pleasure of watching the breakers, and hearing their deafening roar.
This morning, soon after sunrise. M. Viennot called for me in his carriage, and drove me to Papawa, where he has built himself a tiny house, near a lovely bathing-place. We found all the mission families already assembled, with a few other friends, including M. Puèch, commanding Le Limier, a French man-of-war. He at once set his sailors to catch fish for our picnic; and after a preliminary luncheon, we all scattered, to bathe, or stroll, as the case might be.
I went off with a party of half-a-dozen handsome girls, of English and Tahitian birth, descendants of the early missionaries, whose children settled in the group, and married half-whites. They led the way to a delicious stream, narrow, and deep, and clear, and very still, edged with tall bulrushes. They supplied me with a bathing-dress like their own—namely, a pareo of crimson, or scarlet-and-white calico, which they wore very gracefully draped from the neck. They wove great wreaths of green fern to protect their heads from the sun, and, of course, did not neglect me in the distribution. I thought they formed a most picturesque group.
The stream was so inviting that we determined to follow it up for some distance. But the water, which at first only came to my shoulders, grew deeper and deeper, till I could not feel the ground, and I had to confess my inability to swim. So then these charming naiads clustered round me, and floated me smoothly along, as they swam a good half-mile to the upper stream. It was quite charming. Then they floated me back again, and by the time we rejoined the rest of the party, the sailors had caught a great supply of excellent little fish of many sorts, and we had a most merry feast, after which Commandant Puèch brought me home in his boat; and now I confess to being so tired, that I am going to bed, notwithstanding the attraction of a pleasant moon-light expedition in the admiral's big barge.
The Seignelay returned to-day from the Marquesas and the Paumotu group. She has had a most delightful fortnight's cruise, and my kind friends on board add to my poignant repentance for having refused to accompany them, by their regrets that I should have missed so excellent an opportunity. They had perfect weather. The voyage going and coming occupied just a week, during which they passed through the Paumotus. The other week was spent at different islands in the Marquesas, and they say that much of the scenery is like the island of Moorea, but greatly glorified. Now, as Moorea is the most unique and beautiful isle I have ever seen, you can imagine how grievous it is to think I should so stupidly have missed seeing one still more strange and lovely.
They also declare that the people are by far the finest race, and the most uncivilised savages, they have ever seen anywhere. They declare that many are still cannibal, and that all are tattooed all over the face and body, while many of the men are clothed only in a kilt of human hair. I think it possible that had they inspected this garment more closely, they might have discovered it to be made of the Rhizomorpha fibre—a glossy black parasitic weed, which is found in the forests, clinging to old trees by means of tiny suckers. It resembles coarse horse-hair, and in Fiji it is greatly valued as a kilt by warriors and dancers. So perhaps in this respect the Marquesans may not differ from our familiar Fijians. But there is no doubt that they are still in that very early stage of civilisation, which is most interesting to the traveller, before all distinctive angles have been rounded off—a process which, when once commenced, progresses with startling rapidity, to the total extinction of all individuality.
Here in Tahiti, for instance, scarcely a trace remains of the aboriginal manners and customs, and it is impossible for the most vivid imagination to conjure up any sort of suggestion of Captain Cook's Otaheiti. Not a trace of tattooing is now to be seen, though in olden days it was practised by almost all Tahitians, both men and women, simply as a personal adornment. Happily they seldom disfigured their faces, but the women tattooed their feet, up to the ankles, and marked bracelets on their arms and wrists. The men sometimes covered the whole body with intricate patterns, often gracefully drawn, as when a cocoa-nut palm was designed on the leg, or a bread-fruit tree, with twining vines, on the chest. Fishes and birds, flowers and fruits, spears and clubs, were favourite subjects; and sometimes a battle-piece, or the offering of sacrifice at the marae, were thus indelibly marked. In the character of subjects selected, the tattooing of Tahiti seems to have been nearer akin to that of Japan than of any other nation, though in this respect, as in all others, the Japanese lend to their work an artistic beauty of their own.
In all other groups, the patterns selected were generally stars or lines. By far the most elaborate designs are those of New Zealand and the Marquesas; but the former invariably adhere to curved lines or concentric circles, covering the whole face, while the latter make broad straight lines all over the body, with occasional designs of animals.
The only Marquesan whom I have seen here is most elaborately tattooed from head to foot, and I am told he is a fair type of his countrymen. All the Maoris whom we saw in New Zealand were so fully clothed, that I can only testify to the very finely marked intricate circles on the faces of the men, and the hideous blue lips of the women. In Samoa the men are so marked as apparently to be clothed in dark-blue-silk knee-breeches. In Tonga only the men were tattooed, the women never were. In Fiji, on the other hand, men were never tattooed; but, for women, a certain small amount was a compulsory religious act.
In all these countries so many idolatrous ceremonies were connected with the process, that it was invariably prohibited so soon as the people professed Christianity. In Japan, where it has hitherto been so practised as to be a really beautiful art, it has been declared illegal by the same police regulations which, greatly to the discomfort of the people, insist on every man being dressed from head to foot. But throughout the Christianised isles, including Tahiti, the prohibition was on the score of idolatry, and a law was passed, affixing a graduated scale of penalty for repeated offences; a man was condemned to make so many fathoms of road or of stone-work, and a woman to make so many mats, or so many fathoms of native cloth, for the use of the king and of the governor. Nevertheless, the desire to embellish nature was so great, that many were content to work out the penalty rather than forego the adornment.
There never was a better illustration of the old proverb, "Il faut souffrir pour être belle;" for it was necessarily a painful process, followed by swelling and inflammation, which often lasted for a considerable time, and sometimes even proved fatal. The process was simple: the victim of vanity was made to lie flat on the ground, while the artist sketched his design with charcoal on the skin, which was then punctured by little bundles of needles, made of the bones of birds or fishes, though human bones were preferred. Some were so arranged as to resemble the teeth of a saw, and were used in producing straight lines. Others had but one fine point for giving delicate finishing touches, and for working on such sensitive spots as could not endure the sharper pain. The needles having previously been dipped in a black dye, made from the kernel of the candle-nut, reduced to charcoal and mixed with oil, were struck sharply with a small hammer, thus puncturing the skin, carrying with them the dye, which, seen through the transparent and very silky skin, had the effect of being blue.
The custom of tattooing was certainly widespread. Herodotus has recorded its existence even among the Thracians, of whom he remarked that the "barbarians could be exceedingly foppish after their fashion. The man who was not tattooed amongst them was not respected." If tattooing was in fashion so near Phoenicia, who knows but that those roving traders may have been the first to suggest to our fair-skinned forefathers the attractions of blue woad as high art decoration?
Not only have such practices as tattooing died out in Tahiti, but even the distinctive games of the people have apparently been forgotton,—at least I have seen none played. Yet in olden times there were many national sports; as, for instance, one which exactly answered to golf, and was played with sticks, slightly curved at one end, and a hard ball made of strips of native cloth. Football was formerly as popular in Tahiti as in Britain or Japan, the ball used being a large roll of the stalks of banana-leaves, firmly twisted together. The players were often women, twenty or thirty on each side; and in the scramble to seize the ball, there was as much rough sport as in any English public school. As the games were generally played on the beach, the ball was often thrown into the sea, and followed by the merry crowd with shouts and ringing laughter.
Boxing also found favour with the lower orders; and wrestling and archery were as highly esteemed in Tahiti as in Japan, and, moreover, were equally associated with religious festivals, which probably is the reason of their having fallen into disuse. The dresses worn by the archers, with their bows and arrows, were all considered sacred, and certain persons were appointed to keep them. Before the contest began, the archers went to the marae to perform certain religious ceremonies; and at the end of the game, they returned thither to change their dress, bathe, and restore their bow and arrows to their appointed keeper, before they could venture to eat, or to enter their own homes. The bows in use were about five feet in length; the arrows about three feet, and the distance to which they would fly was often about 300 yards. They were never used in war, nor for shooting at a mark, as in Fiji.
Spear-throwing and slinging stones were games in which a target was always set up, and generally hit with precision; but these were exercises of war, in which the players had abundant practice. The slingers generally formed the advance-guard in battle, and often did much execution. The stones selected were about the size of a hen's egg. The slings were made of finely braided cocoa-nut husk, or filaments of native flax, with a loop at one end for the hand, and at the other a place for the stone. In throwing, the sling was stretched across the back, whirled round the head, and thus the missile was discharged with great force.
But the game which always excited the keenest interest was wrestling. Here, as in Japan, the announcement of a wrestling-match brought together thousands both of men and women, all in their holiday garbs. The wrestlers, like the archers, first repaired to the marae to do homage to the gods; then entering the ring, which was generally on some grassy spot near the sea-shore, they fell to work in good earnest. Sometimes the wrestlers of one island challenged those of another; or else the challenge was from men of different districts. Their dress consisted only of a waist-cloth, and a coating of fresh oil. The moment a man was thrown, the friends of the conqueror commenced to dance and sing triumphantly with an accompaniment of drums; and as the vanquished party raised songs of defiance, the din must have been pretty considerable. However, it subsided the moment fresh wrestlers entered the ring, and the spectators watched the progress of the struggle in dead silence and with intense interest. When the contest was over, the wrestlers returned to the marae to present their offerings to the protecting gods.
Without looking back to classical times and Greek games, it seems strange, does it not, that these very uncivilised savages of the South Seas should have assigned to wrestling precisely the same religious importance as is bestowed on it by the Shintoists of Japan. Possibly both nations retained this sacred game as practised by their common Malay ancestors, from whom, probably, both derived their custom of offering savoury meats, and making acts of homage to their deceased relations; though the Japanese, either from inborn refinement or Chinese influence, place on their domestic shrine only the tablets of the dead; whereas the Tahitian preserved the ancestral skulls hidden in the roof of his house.
The perch for fowls, so familiar in the neighbourhood of all Shinto temples in Japan, had its counterpart in the homes of the Tahitian chiefs; though the fowls here do not appear to have been consecrated to the gods, but trained for fighting. The native legends assert that cock-fighting was the most ancient native game, and the birds were reared and tended with the utmost care. No artificial spurs were used, and the belligerents were separated before either was injured. The fights came off at break of day, that the birds might be perfectly cool; and large crowds assembled to witness the contests, which sometimes were carried on for several mornings consecutively.
In tracing all manner of kindred customs in the isles of the North and South Pacific, I observe, amongst minor points, how very widespread is the passion for shampooing,—a friendly office which every old woman in the South Seas seems as ready to perform for the wearied wayfarer as is the professional blind man of Japan; involving an amount of manipulation which I should suppose to be truly odious, but to which many foreigners take kindly, and which seems to find favour in all Asiatic countries.
I take an especial interest in all such links as seem to connect these isles with Japan, because I have a pet theory of my own, that all these fair Polynesian islanders have drifted here by a circuitous route via the North Pacific. The commonly accepted notion is, that all the groups in the East Pacific have been peopled by Malays, who found their way here by a directly eastward migration. It is difficult, however, to imagine why they should have come so far, when, in coming from that direction, Australia and New Guinea lay so much nearer to them.
If you open the map of the world and rule a transverse line, passing through the Sandwich Islands in the North Pacific and the Friendly Isles in the South, you will perceive that the groups lying to the east are the Navigators, Fiji, the Hervey Isles, Tahiti, the Paumotu, the Marquesan, the Austral Isles, and New Zealand, every one of which is peopled by comparatively fair-skinned races, with hair which by nature is straight and black, although in many of the isles, as in Samoa, custom requires that it should be dyed or bleached, cut short and stiffened, so as to produce the effect of a wig. I am not sure if the spiral curls of the yellow-haired Tongans and Fijians are artificially produced, because I have never seen one individual of either race whose hair had not been dyed with coral-lime; but I know that a Samoan girl who refrains from "improving" nature, finds herself possessed of fine black tresses, as silky and as beautiful as those of any Italian maiden.
To the west of our line lies Melanesia, comprising the Marshall Isles, the Carolines, Solomon Isles, New Guinea, New Britain, New Hebrides, New Caledonia, and Australia. These, almost without exception, are peopled by dark-skinned races, repulsive in their ugliness, and with hair more or less woolly.
All these lie between Eastern Polynesia and the Malay country, and there seems no reason whatever to account for those hardy little warriors passing by so many fertile isles, in search of the unknown region to the east. Surely it is more probable that, having first overrun Formosa, and then peopled Japan, they thence sailed to the Sandwich Isles, and so gradually made their way to the south. We know that in old days their vessels were very much better than those now commonly used by them; and the voyage from Japan to Hawaii, and thence to Tahiti, would have been by no means impossible, especially as the existing strong ocean-currents would naturally tend to draw any ship by this course.
It is said that even a log of wood fairly launched on the Malay coast, would naturally drift by this circuitous water-way till it returned westward to the shores of New Guinea. A glance at a map of ocean-currents will, I think, make this plain to you.
I know that this theory is contrary to that generally entertained; but as the natives of Tahiti have always maintained that their ancestors came from Hawaii (to which they retain the strongest links of family affection, the principal families of the two groups being united to one another by ties of blood), I cannot understand why learned men should maintain that Hawaii must really mean Savaii in the Samoan group, concerning which the Tahitians know little or nothing, except what they have learned, by their visits to that group, in the character of native missionaries.
There are many points which seem to me in favour of the circuitous route viâ Japan; such, for instance, as the gradual deterioration in the art of tattooing, in which, beyond all question, Japan excels all other nations, and which in the Marquesas, Tahiti, New Zealand, and, I think, also in Hawaii, retained its graceful character, gradually falling off as it travelled westward to Fiji and Tonga. Many other points of similarity exist, such as the use of the honorific prefix O before proper names, as in Japan, O-yama (Respected mountain), or in addressing any person politely. Throughout Polynesia the same custom exists. Hence early travellers wrote of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa, as O-whyhee, O-taheiti, O-samoa; and the same with reference to names of persons.
Another point which to me appears to support the theory of the circuitous movement is, that those best acquainted with Samoan matters assert that, beyond any doubt, the Ellice group, lying far to the west of Samoa, was peopled from thence. It is therefore only natural to infer that the tall, comely race of light copper-coloured people who inhabit the south-east coast of New Guinea (that is to say, due west from the Ellice Isles), probably reached those shores about the same period, and from the same direction. Their women are beautifully tattooed, and their language wonderfully resembles that of the Rarotongan teachers, who have come from the distant Hervey Isles to settle among them as pioneers, sent by the native mission in that far easterly group; in fact, many of their words are identical.
Again, it is a well-established fact that Fotuna and Aniwa, two of the southern New Hebrides, which lie due west of the Friendly Isles, were peopled by the descendants of a party of Tongans, who drifted thither in a large canoe and settled on these uninhabited isles. These islanders have retained their own language, and their children when born are very fair, but as they grow up they become almost as dark in colour as their Papuan neighbours. Their hair is of the Polynesian type, and some allow it to grow long and smooth by not dyeing it with lime.
Yet another argument in favour of the migration having originally taken a northward course, lies in the physical development of the race. Surely it is easier to recognise a direct Malay ancestry for the warlike little Japanese, with their reverence for the sacred swords of their demi-gods, than for these stalwart Polynesians, with their firmly knit, muscular limbs, and stately yet graceful bearing. The race increased in stature, improved in feature, and enriched in colour on their southward way—circumstances doubtless due to more easy and luxurious lives, with better and more abundant food.
Beautiful as is the rich copper colour of these islanders, their own ideal of beauty, as showing pure blood, consists in possessing a very fair skin; and I have often been amused, when sketching, by their anxiety to be represented several shades lighter than nature, not from any wish to resemble foreigners, but evidently as embodying their tradition of good ancestry. They by no means despise the use of cosmetics to bring about so desirable a result: the Marquesan women, for instance, though naturally of a light copper colour, contrive to make their skin almost white by an application of the root of the papawa tree.
That modifying circumstances may produce such changes, both in stature and complexion, is now, I suppose, generally admitted; in fact it is almost certain that in some cases where barren atolls (such as the Kingsmill or Gilbert group, on the equator) have from accidental circumstances been peopled by descendants of these splendid men they have degenerated beyond recognition, and are now a short, spare, and generally ugly race. Naturally, the change from unbounded supplies of nutritious vegetable diet—bread-fruit, bananas, cocoa-nut, yams, sugar, and all the luxuries of the tropics—to isles where a coarse meal, prepared from the woody fruit of the pandanus, is the only edible form of vegetable, has in due time produced this result. Therefore it seems perfectly reasonable to infer that the converse occurred when an under-fed aggressive race, engaged from their cradles in piracy and strife, found themselves at rest in these Capuan isles, and there yielded to the habits of indolent ease, which they so naturally engender.
Yet to this day the chief characteristics of the Malays are common throughout Polynesia. In each of these groups a truly Asiatic code of wearisome, elaborate ceremonial is observed on every possible occasion; the smallest breach of etiquette is considered a crime; a joke of any sort, especially of the nature of "chaff," is an unpardonable offence; in speech, flowery compliments which mean nothing and veil thought are the rule—slow, deliberate oratory, in which the best speaker is he who can talk for hours without touching his point, and then condense all he wishes to say, in a few pithy words.
All these islanders are distinguished by a natural grace and courtesy of manner—sometimes dignified, at others most winning; yet under extreme external politeness they have often nursed schemes of cold treachery and cruelty, which they have carried out unscrupulously to the bitter end. (I speak, of course, of the islanders as they were by nature, ere the mellowing, transforming influence of Christianity had dawned on the South Seas.) But to this hour the Polynesians, like the Malays, are, as a rule, careless, easy-going, impassive beings, generally light-hearted; all fatalists, as a matter of course; strangely indifferent to physical pain, whether endured by themselves or inflicted on others; but when once roused to fighting-pitch, wholly uncontrollable in their blind mad fury.
But the strongest proof of their Malay descent lies in the similarity of their various languages, both to one another and to the mother tongue. It is not merely a likeness in general construction, but many words are almost identical, as you may gather at a glance from the following vocabulary. In short, the whole subject is extremely interesting, but is one which I must leave to the discussion of learned folk, whose wise disquisitions you can study at your leisure.
|English.||Malay.||Niua and Vate, New Hebrides.||New Zealand.||Rotumah.||Fiji.||Tonga.||Samoa.||Raratonga.||Marquesas.||Tahiti.||Hawaii.|
|Come||Omai||Fano mai||Harae mai||Leum||Lako mai||Hau||Omai||Tae||Amai||Haere mai||Hele mai|
|Water||Vai||Vai||Wai||Voi||Wai||Vai||Vai||Vai||Vai||Vai or Pape||Uai|
Here are the Numerals.
|Two||Dua or Lua||Lua||Rua||Rua||Ua||Rua||Alua|
|Eleven||Sapuloh dua||Sefulu Lua||Tine ka kua||…||…||Ta'au||…|
|Twenty||Ruapuloh||Lua Fulu||Rua sang a vula||Elua ngaulu||Eua onohu'u||…||Iwakalna|
- The question was decided in her favour. She has been refitted and renamed and now sails the Pacific as the Annie Johnson.
- I do not by this mean to suggest any trace of a common origin, merely founded on ancestor-worship, which prevailed in almost all countries, and which in the Pacific is to this day practised by the Papuan races. The islanders of the Torres Straits, in common with those of the Line islands, worship the skulls of their ancestors, and treasure them in their huts as reverently as did the Tahitians in heathen days.
- For a trace of this custom, as practised in the Marquesas, see p. 257.
- Whence has developed the Torii.