A Voyage to the South Sea/Chapter 10

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The Ship's Cable cut in the Night. Coolness with the Chiefs on that Account. Visit to an old Lady. Disturbance at a Heiva. Tinah's Hospitality. A Thief taken and punished. Preparations for sailing.

1789. February. Tuesday 3.

I was present this afternoon at a wrestling match where a young man, by an unlucky fall, put his arm out of joint at the elbow: three stout men immediately took hold of him and, two of them fixing their feet against his ribs, replaced it. I had sent for our surgeon but before he arrived all was well, except a small swelling of the muscles in consequence of the strain. I enquired what they would have done if the bone had been broken and, to show me their practice, they got a number of sticks and placed round a man's arm, which they bound with cord. That they have considerable skill in surgery is not to be doubted. I have before mentioned an instance of an amputated arm being perfectly healed and which had every appearance of having been treated with great propriety.

The part of the beach nearest the ship was become the general place of resort towards the close of the day. An hour before sunset the inhabitants began to collect, and here they amused themselves with exercising the lance, dancing, and various kinds of merriment, till nearly dark, when they retired to their homes. Of this cheerful scene we were spectators and partakers every fine evening.

Friday 6.

An occurrence happened today that gave me great concern, not only on account of the danger with which the ship had been threatened, but as it tended greatly to diminish the confidence and good understanding which had hitherto been constantly preserved between us and the natives. The wind had blown fresh in the night, and at daylight we discovered that the cable by which the ship rode had been cut near the water's edge in such a manner that only one strand remained whole. While we were securing the ship Tinah came on board. I could not but believe he was perfectly innocent of the transaction; nevertheless I spoke to him in a very peremptory manner, and insisted upon his discovering and bringing to me the offender. I was wholly at a loss how to account for this malicious act. My suspicions fell chiefly, I may say wholly, on the strangers that came to us from other parts of the island; for we had on every occasion received such unreserved and unaffected marks of goodwill from the people of Matavai and Oparre that in my own mind I entirely acquitted them. The anger which I expressed however created so much alarm that old Otow and his wife (the father and mother of Tinah) immediately quitted Oparre, and retired to the mountains in the midst of heavy rain, as did Teppahoo and his family. Tinah and Iddeah remained and expostulated with me on the unreasonableness of my anger against them. He said that he would exert his utmost endeavours to discover the guilty person, but it might possibly not be in his power to get him delivered up, which would be the case if he was either of Tiarraboo, Attahooroo, or of the island Eimeo. That the attempt might have been made as much out of enmity to the people of Matavai and Oparre as to me, everyone knowing the regard I had for them, and that I had declared I would protect them against their enemies. All this I was inclined to believe, but I did not think proper to appear perfectly satisfied lest Tinah, who was naturally very indolent, should be remiss in his endeavours to detect the offender. To guard as much as possible against future attempts of this kind I directed a stage to be built on the forecastle so that the cables should be more directly under the eye of the sentinel; and I likewise gave orders that one of the midshipman should keep watch forward.

In the afternoon Oreepyah returned from Tethuroa. He told me that Moannah and himself had narrowly escaped being lost in the bad weather and that Moannah had been obliged to take shelter at Eimeo. Several canoes had been lost lately in their passage to or from Tethuroa. The oversetting of their canoes is not the only risk they have to encounter, but is productive of another danger more dreadful; for at such times many become a prey to the sharks which are very numerous in these seas. I was informed likewise that they were sometimes attacked by a fish which by their description I imagine to be the barracoota, as they attribute to it the same propensity.

Saturday passed without my seeing anything of Tinah the whole day.

Sunday 8.

The next morning he and Iddeah came to me and assured me that they had made the strictest enquiries concerning the injury intended us but had not been able to discover any circumstance which could lead them to suspect who were concerned in it. This was not at all satisfactory and I behaved towards them with great coolness, at which they were much distressed, and Iddeah at length gave vent to her sorrow by tears. I could no longer keep up the appearance of mistrusting them, but I earnestly recommended to them, as they valued the King of England's friendship, that they would exert their utmost endeavours to find out the offenders, which they faithfully promised. Our reconciliation accordingly took place and messengers were sent to acquaint Otow and Teppahoo, and to invite them to return.

It has since occurred to me that this attempt to cut the ship adrift was most probably the act of some of our own people; whose purpose of remaining at Otaheite might have been effectually answered without danger if the ship had been driven on shore. At the time I entertained not the least thought of this kind, nor did the possibility of it enter into my ideas, having no suspicion that so general an inclination or so strong an attachment to these islands could prevail among my people as to induce them to abandon every prospect of returning to their native country.

A messenger came to me this afternoon from the Earee of Tiarrabou, the south-east division of Otaheite, with an invitation for me to visit him. I excused myself on account of the distance and, at Tinah's request, sent back by the messenger a handsome present which I hope Tinah will get the credit of. I observed with much satisfaction that a great part of what Tinah had received from me he had distributed; to some out of friendship and esteem, and to others from motives of political civility.

Tuesday 10.

Teppahoo and his family left us today to go to Tettaha, where a grand heiva was to be performed, at which their presence was required.

Wednesday 11.

A small party of heiva people passed through Oparre this morning in their way to Tettaha, where they were going by appointment. They had the civility to send me word that if I chose they would stay to perform a short heiva before me; and I immediately attended. It began by a dance of two young girls to the music of drums and flutes which lasted no long time; at the conclusion they suddenly dropped all their dress, which was left as a present for me, and went off without my seeing them any more. After this the men danced: their performance was more indecent than any I had before seen, but was not the less applauded on that account by the natives, who seemed much delighted.

After this entertainment I went with Tinah and Iddeah to pay a visit to an old lady named Wanowoora, widow to Towah the late Earee of Tettaha, who conducted the expedition against Eimeo when Captain Cook was here in 1777. The old lady had just landed and we found her sitting on the beach by the head of her canoe. With Tinah was a priest and three men, who carried a young dog, a fowl, and two young plantain boughs: these were intended for the offering, or present, called Otee. Tinah and his party seated themselves at about ten yards distance from Wanowoora and were addressed by her in short sentences for a few minutes, and received her Otee, which was exactly the same as his. Tinah's priest in return made a short prayer and his offering was presented to the old lady. Tinah then rose and went to her, and embraced her in a very affectionate manner; and she returned his kindness with tears and many expressions which I could not understand. Soon after he conducted her to a shed and we remained with her till it was time to go on board to dinner. I invited her to be of the party but she excused herself on account of age and infirmity. Tinah gave directions for her and her attendants to be supplied with whatever they had occasion for, and we went off to the ship.

Friday 13.

This forenoon Tinah sent to inform me that many strangers were arrived from all parts to be present at a grand heiva which he had prepared in compliment to me. I accordingly went on shore and found a great crowd of people collected together. A ring was made at a little distance from our post, and Tinah and several other chiefs came to meet me. When we were all seated the heiva began by women dancing; after which a present of cloth and a tawme or breastplate was laid before me. This ceremony being over the men began to wrestle and regularity was no longer preserved. Old Otow came to me and desired I would help to put a stop to the wrestling as the people came from different districts, some of which were ill disposed towards others. What Otow had apprehended was not without reason for in an instant the whole was tumult: every man took to his arms and, as I found my single interference could be of no service, I retired to our post and ordered all my people there under arms. At the time the disturbance began Tinah and Iddeah were absent: their first care was for me, and Iddeah came to see if I was safe at the post. She had a double covering of cloth round her and her waist was girded with a large rope. I desired her to stay under my protection: this she would not consent to but said she would return as soon as all was over; and away she went.

I immediately gave orders for two guns to be fired from the ship without shot, which had a good effect: and as no chief was concerned in the tumult but, on the contrary, all of them exerted their influence to prevent mischief, everything was soon quiet and Tinah and Iddeah returned to let me know that all was settled. They went on board with some other chiefs and dined with me.

After dinner I went on shore with Tinah and his friends, and I found three large hogs dressed, and a quantity of breadfruit which he had ordered to be prepared before he went on board, and now desired I would present them to the different parties that had come to see the entertainment: one to the chief people of Attahooroo, one to the Arreoys, and a third to the performers of the heiva. I presented them according to his directions and they were received with thankfulness and pleasure. This I looked upon as very handsomely done on the part of Tinah, and I was glad to see that it was regarded in the same light by his guests. These instances of liberality make full amends for the little slips which I have formerly noticed in Tinah. At this time a day seldom passed that he did not give proofs of his hospitality by entertaining the principal people that came from different parts of the island to visit him, or to see the ship. Some of the chiefs he commonly invited to dine on board, and made provision for others on shore. Scarce any person of consequence went away without receiving some present from him. This I encouraged and was glad it was in my power to assist him. But besides the political motives that I have alluded to it would be unjust to Tinah not to acknowledge that his disposition seemed improved: he was more open and unreserved in his manners than formerly, and his hospitality was natural and without ostentation.

Monday 16.

I was present this afternoon at a wrestling match by women. The manner of challenging and method of attack was exactly the same as among the men. The only difference that I could observe was not in favour of the softer sex; for in these contests they showed less temper and more animosity than I could have imagined them capable of. The women, I was told, not only wrestle with each other but sometimes with the men; of this I have never seen an instance and imagine it can happen but seldom, as the women in general are small and by no means masculine. Iddeah is said to be very famous at this exercise.

Tuesday 17.

I walked with Tinah towards the hills to see his country residence which was at a very neat house, pleasantly situated and surrounded with plantations. From this place we saw the island Tethuroa. The next morning I went to Matavai to look after the Indian corn which I judged would be full ripe for gathering; but on my arrival I found that the natives had been beforehand with me, the whole being taken away. This I was not at all sorry for as it shows that they value it too much to neglect cultivating it.

Monday 23.

Iddeah sent on board for our dinners today a very fine tarro pudding; and Tinah brought a bunch of bananas that weighed 81 pounds, on which were 286 fine fruit: ten had broken off in the carriage. The tarro pudding is excellent eating and easily made: I shall describe this piece of cookery as the knowledge of it may be useful in the West Indies. The tarro being cleared of the outside skin is grated down, and made up in rolls of about half a pound each, which they cover neatly with leaves and bake for near half an hour. An equal quantity of ripe coconut meat is likewise grated, from which through a strainer the rich milky juice is expressed. This juice is heated by putting smooth hot stones in the vessel that contains it, and the tarro is then mixed with it and kept constantly stirring to prevent burning till it is ready, which is known by the coconut juice turning to a clear oil.

Wednesday 25.

Iddeah was very uneasy today on account of her youngest child being ill. She would not accept of assistance from our surgeon but said she had sent to Tettaha for a man who she expected would come and tell her what to do. These physical people are called tata rapaow.

Thursday 26.

This morning a man died of a consumption about two miles from our post. I was informed of it by Mr. Peckover, the gunner, who I had desired to look out for such a circumstance. I therefore went accompanied by Iddeah in hopes of seeing the funeral ceremony; but before we arrived the body was removed to the Toopapow. It lay bare except a piece of cloth round the loins and another round the neck: the eyes were closed: the hands were placed, one over the pit of the stomach and the other upon his breast. On a finger of each hand was a ring made of plaited fibres of the coconut-tree, with a small bunch of red feathers. Under the Toopapow a hole was dug, in which at the end of a month the corpse was to be buried. The deceased was of the lower class; the Toopapow however was neat, and offerings of coconuts and plaited leaves lay on the ground.

The dead are sometimes brought to the Toopapow in wood coffins, which are not shaped like ours but are simply a long box. This custom Iddeah informed me they learnt from the Europeans, and is not very common, as making plank is a work of great labour.

March. Monday 2.

When I landed this morning I found the inhabitants that lived near to us had left their houses and retired towards the mountains; and was informed that in the night a water cask, part of an azimuth compass, and Mr. Peckover's bedding, had been stolen from the post on shore; the knowledge of which had caused a general alarm. I sent a message to complain of this theft to Tinah who did not come near me. About two hours elapsed, during which time I went on board to breakfast and returned when I saw Tinah and Oreepyah with a number of people at a house at some distance; and soon after they all marched to the eastward, passing close by our post. Oedidee, who was with me, told me that they had intelligence of the thief, and were gone in quest of him: and in less than an hour news was brought that they had taken him. Shortly after the whole party appeared with the water-cask and compass. Tinah had hold of the thief by the arm and, showing him to me, desired that I would kill him. The bedding, he said, he had not heard of, but would go in search of it. I applauded him for the pains he had taken in this business, and explained with some success the injustice of stealing from us: that if any of our people committed the least offence against them it did not pass unnoticed; and that friendship required on their part that those who injured us should not be protected by them. Tinah stopped me from saying more by embracing me and the whole crowd cried out Tyo myty (i.e. good friend). Tinah then left me to enquire after the bedding, and I sent the offender on board, whom I punished with a severe flogging. I was glad to find this man was not of Oparre or Matavai.

The fine fruit called Avee was just coming into season: it was likewise in season at the time of our arrival in October. The breadfruit trees I have no doubt bear all the year round: we have seen a scarcity of breadfruit but have never been wholly without it. Some fern-root was shown to me which in scarce seasons is used by the natives as bread. It bears a long even-edged leaf about an inch wide; the taste somewhat resembled that of a yam. I was informed by our people that in their walks they saw in many places patches of Indian corn just making their appearance through the ground. This convinces me that the corn taken from Matavai could not have been better disposed of.

Goats are frequently offered for sale, but I rather discouraged the buying of them for fear of injuring the breed. The natives will not eat them, neither will they taste the milk, and ask with some appearance of disgust why we do not milk the sows? I endeavoured to prevail on Tinah and Iddeah to eat the goats milk by mixing it with fruit, but they would only try one spoonful.

We had begun to make preparations for sailing, and Tinah supplied us with a sufficient stock of wood by ordering trees to be brought down from the country. He had frequently expressed a wish that I would leave some firearms and ammunition with him, as he expected to be attacked after the ship sailed, and perhaps chiefly on account of our partiality to him: I therefore thought it but reasonable to attend to his request, and I was the more readily prevailed on as he said his intentions were to act only on the defensive. This indeed seems most suited to his disposition, which is neither active nor enterprising. If Tinah had spirit in proportion to his size and strength he would probably be the greatest warrior in Otaheite: but courage is not the most conspicuous of his virtues. When I promised to leave with him a pair of pistols, which they prefer to muskets, he told me that Iddeah would fight with one and Oedidee with the other. Iddeah has learnt to load and fire a musket with great dexterity and Oedidee is an excellent marksman. It is not common for women in this country to go to war, but Iddeah is a very resolute woman, of a large make, and has great bodily strength.

Friday 6.

I sent Mr. Fryer the master to sound Taowne harbour. The knowledge that we intended shortly to sail having spread among the natives a great many broken iron tools were brought from all parts of the island to be repaired at our forge; and this morning a messenger arrived from Waheatua, the Earee of Tiarraboo, with several pieces of Spanish iron which he desired to have made into small adzes. This request was of course complied with.