A Voyage to the South Sea/Chapter 7

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A theft committed. Deception of the painted Head. Conversation with a Priest. A Wrestling Match. Reports of the Natives concerning other Islands. Some Account of Omai.

1788. November. Monday 3.
The trade for provisions I directed to be carried on at the tent by Mr. Peckover the gunner. Moannah likewise resided there as a guard over his countrymen; but though it appeared to be the wish of all the chiefs that we should remain unmolested it was not possible entirely to prevent them from pilfering.
My table at dinner was generally crowded. Tinah, Oreepyah, Poeeno, and Moannah, were my regular guests and I was seldom without some chiefs from other districts. Almost every individual of any consequence has several names which makes it frequently perplexing when the same person is spoken of to know who is meant. Every chief has perhaps a dozen or more names in the course of thirty years; so that the person who has been spoken of by one visitor will not perhaps be known to another unless other circumstances lead to a discovery. The father of Tinah, at this time called Otow, was known in 1769 by the name of Whappai.
I showed Tinah the preparations I was making to take on board the breadfruit plants which pleased him exceedingly, but he did not forget to remind me that when the next ship came out he hoped King George would send him large axes, files, saws, cloth of all kinds, hats, chairs, and bedsteads, with arms, ammunition, and in short everything he could think of mentioning.
This afternoon the gudgeon of the rudder belonging to the large cutter was drawn out and stolen without being perceived by the man that was stationed to take care of her. Several petty thefts having been committed by the natives, mostly owing to the negligence of our own people and, as these kind of accidents generally created alarm and had a tendency to interrupt the good terms on which we were with the chiefs, I thought it would have a good effect to punish the boat-keeper in their presence, many of them happening to be then on board; and accordingly I ordered him a dozen lashes. Tinah with several of the chiefs attended the punishment and interceded very earnestly to get it mitigated: the women showed great sympathy and that degree of feeling which characterises the amiable part of their sex.
The natives brought off today two different kinds of roots that grow like yams: one they call Ettee, which is a sweet root, common also to the Friendly Islands, and may be eaten as a sweetmeat: the other they call Appay, a root like the Tyah or Eddie in the West Indies. A fruit called Ayyah, which is the jambo of Batavia, was likewise brought off to us: they are as large as middle-sized apples, very juicy and refreshing, and may be eaten in large quantities. Also some Avees, which are the real Otaheite apple; but they were not yet in season. These are a delicious high-flavoured fruit and before they are ripe answer the culinary purposes of our apples.
Tuesday 4.
A chief called Tootaha, who came from the island Ulietea, was introduced to me today by Tinah as one of his particular friends. I was told that he was a priest and a person of great knowledge. I desired Tinah to take what he thought proper as a present for him; and I must do Tinah the justice to say he was more sparing than I should have been. I likewise received a visit today from Oedidee, the man who had been at sea with Captain Cook in 1773 and 1774, as related in the account of that voyage. He still retained some of the English words which he had learnt in that expedition.
Wednesday 5.
The weather variable with lightning and frequent showers of rain. Wind east-north-east.
This was the first day of our beginning to take up plants: we had much pleasure in collecting them for the natives offered their assistance and perfectly understood the method of taking them up and pruning them.
The crowd of natives was not so great as hitherto it had been: the curiosity of strangers was satisfied and, as the weather began to be unsettled and rainy, they had almost all returned to their homes so that only the people of Matavai and Oparre remained with us, except a few chiefs from other islands: our supplies however were abundant and what I considered as no small addition to our comforts, we ceased to be incommoded when on shore by the natives following us, and could take our walks almost unnoticed. In any house that we wished to enter we always experienced a kind reception and without officiousness. The Otaheiteans have the most perfect easiness of manners, equally free from forwardness and formality. When they offer refreshments if they are not accepted they do not think of offering them the second time; for they have not the least idea of that ceremonious kind of refusal which expects a second invitation. In like manner at taking leave we were never troubled with solicitations to prolong our visit, but went without ceremony except making use of a farewell expression at parting. Another advantage, seldom found in warm countries, was, in this part of Otaheite being free from mosquitoes, though at particular times of the year the inhabitants are pestered with great numbers of flies.
Moannah continued our constant friend at the tent and with Tinah and all his friends dined with me every day.
The ship's barber had brought with him from London a painted head such as the hair-dressers have in their shops to show the different fashions of dressing hair; and it being made with regular features and well-coloured, I desired him to dress it, which he did with much neatness, and with a stick and a quantity of cloth he formed a body. It was then reported to the natives that we had an Englishwoman on board and the quarter-deck was cleared of the crowd that she might make her appearance. Being handed up the ladder and carried to the after-part of the deck there was a general shout of "Huaheine no Brittane myty." Huaheine signifies woman and myty good. Many of them thought it was living and asked if it was my wife. One old woman ran with presents of cloth and breadfruit and laid them at her feet; at last they found out the cheat; but continued all delighted with it, except the old lady who felt herself mortified and took back her presents for which she was laughed at exceedingly. Tinah and all the chiefs enjoyed the joke and, after making many enquiries about the British women, they strictly enjoined me when I came again to bring a ship full of them.
Some very fine sugarcane was brought to me; each of the pieces was six inches round. I had before told Tinah that our sugar was made of it and he was very desirous to discover the means; for they were so fond of our loaf sugar that a present to any chief would have been incomplete without a piece of it. Another article in great estimation and likewise expected to make part of a present was scissors, which they made use of to keep their beards in order.
By this time Nelson had, with assistance from the ship, completed a large garden near the tents in which were sown seeds of different kinds that we had collected at the Cape of Good Hope. I likewise distributed fruit-stones and almonds for planting among the chiefs, who I hope will endeavour to make them succeed and, as they are very fond of sweet-smelling flowers with which the women delight to ornament themselves, I gave them some rose-seed.
Thursday 6.
We had very variable weather, much rain, and some westerly winds; so that a considerable swell ran into the bay and a number of spotted white and black porpoises made their appearance.
I had the mortification to see that our garden-ground had been much trod over; and what was worse the chiefs appeared but little concerned at it. To this kind of carelessness and indifference I attribute the miscarriage of many of the plants left here by Captain Cook. I had now in a flourishing state two orange plants, some vines, a fig-tree, and two pineapple plants, which I gave to Poeeno whose residence is a place favourable for their growth.
We got on successfully with our plants, having a hundred potted at the tent and in a fair way of doing well. The cabin also was completed and ready to receive them on board.
I have before remarked that my friend Tinah was rather of a selfish disposition and this afternoon he showed a stronger instance of it than I was witness to at any time before or after. His brother Oreepyah sent on board to me a present of a large hog and a quantity of breadfruit: but these kind of presents are much more expensive than purchasing at the market. Soon after Oreepyah himself came on board. Tinah was with me at the time and whispered me to tell Oreepyah not to bring any more hogs or fruit and to take those back which he had sent. This advice as may be supposed did not produce the effect intended. Oreepyah appears to be a man of great spirit, and is highly respected by his countrymen. Among other visitors today was one of the men who had been to Lima in 1776.
Saturday 8.
Our plants had now increased to 252: as they were all kept on shore at the tent I augmented the guard there, though from the general conduct of the natives there did not appear the least occasion for so much caution.
While I was at dinner Tinah desired I would permit a man to come down into the cabin whom he called his Taowah or priest; for I was obliged to keep a sentinel at the hatchway to prevent being incommoded at my meals with too much company; a restriction which pleased the chiefs who always asked leave for any particular person to be admitted of whom they wished me to take notice. The company of the priest brought on a religious conversation. He said their great God was called Oro; and that they had many others of less consequence. He asked me if I had a God? if he had a son? and who was his wife? I told them he had a son but no wife. Who was his father and mother? was the next question. I said he never had father or mother; at this they laughed exceedingly. You have a God then who never had a father or mother and has a child without a wife! Many other questions were asked which my little knowledge of the language did not enable me to answer.
The weather was now fine again and a great number of people were come from other parts of the island. Tinah informed me that there was to be a heiva and a wrestling-match on shore, and that the performers waited for our attendance; we therefore set off with several of our friends and, about a quarter of a mile from the tents, we found a great concourse of people formed into a ring. As soon as we were seated a dancing heiva began, which was performed by two girls and four men: this lasted half an hour and consisted of wanton gestures and motions such as have been described in the account of former voyages. When the dance ended Tinah ordered a long piece of cloth to be brought; his wife Iddeah and myself were desired to hold the two first corners and, the remaining part being supported by many others, we carried it to the performers and gave it them. Several other chiefs made a like present or payment. The performers were strollers that travelled about the country as in Europe.
After this the wrestling began and the place soon became a scene of riot and confusion. A party of the Arreoys also began to exercise a privilege, which it seems they are allowed, of taking from the women such of their clothes as they thought worth it; so that some of them were left little better than naked. One young woman who was attacked opposed them with all her strength and held fast her cloth, though they almost dragged her along the ground. Observing that I took notice of her she held out her hand and begged my assistance; and at my request she escaped being pillaged.
Soon after a ring was again made but the wrestlers were so numerous within it that it was impossible to restore order. In the challenges they lay one hand upon their breast and, on the bending of the arm at the elbow, with the other hand they strike a very smart blow which, as the hand is kept hollow, creates a sound that may be heard at a considerable distance; and this they do so frequently and with such force that the flesh becomes exceedingly bruised and, the skin breaking, bleeds considerably. At this time the sound from so many resembled that of a number of people in a wood felling trees. This is the general challenge; but when any two combatants agree to a trial they present their hands forward, joining them only by the extremities of the fingers. They begin by watching to take an advantage; at length they close, seize each other by the hair and are most commonly parted before either receives a fall. Only one couple performed anything like the part of good wrestlers; and as they were an equal match this conflict lasted longer than any of the others; but they also were parted.
Iddeah was the general umpire and she managed with so much address as to prevent any quarrelling, and there was no murmuring at her decisions. As her person was large she was very conspicuous in the circle. Tinah took no part in the management. Upon the whole this performance gave me a better opinion of their strength than of their skill or dexterity.
Tuesday 11.
For some time past Tinah had talked of going to the island of Tethuroa which lies eight or ten leagues north from Otaheite to fetch his mother; but I found I had only half understood him; for this morning he enquired when we were to sail there in the ship: however he seemed to feel no great disappointment at my not complying with his wish. Tethuroa he informed me is the property of his family. He likewise spoke to me about an island called Rooopow, the situation of which he described to be to the eastward of Otaheite four or five days sail, and that there were large animals upon it with eight legs. The truth of this account he very strenuously insisted upon and wished me to go thither with him. I was at a loss to know whether or not Tinah himself gave credit to this whimsical and fabulous account; for though they have credulity sufficient to believe anything, however improbable, they are at the same time so much addicted to that species of wit which we call humbug that it is frequently difficult to discover whether they are in jest or earnest. Their ideas of geography are very simple: they believe the world to be a fixed plane of great extent; and that the sun, moon, and stars are all in motion round it. I have been frequently asked by them if I have not been as far as the sun and moon; for they think we are such great travellers that scarce any undertaking is beyond our ability.
Another island called Tappuhoi, situated likewise to the eastward, was described to me by Tinah, the inhabitants of which were said to be all warriors, and that the people of Otaheite did not dare to go there. He told me that very lately a canoe from Tappuhoi was at the island Maitea; that as soon as they landed they began to fight with the people of Maitea who killed them all except a young lad and a woman who have since been at Otaheite. I saw the boy but could get no information from him. It is most probable that this unfortunate visit of the canoe from Tappuhoi was not designed but occasioned by adverse winds which forced them so far from their own island, and that the people of Maitea began the attack, taking advantage of their superior numbers, on account of some former quarrel.
Thursday 13.
I had a large company to dine with me today. Some of my constant visitors had observed that we always drank His Majesty's health as soon as the cloth was removed; but they were by this time become so fond of wine that they would frequently remind me of the health in the middle of dinner by calling out King George Earee no Brittannee; and would banter me if the glass was not filled to the brim. Nothing could exceed the mirth and jollity of these people when they met on board.
I was assured by Oediddee and several others that the vines planted at the island Huaheine by Captain Cook had succeeded and bore fruit; and that some of the other plants, both at Huaheine and at Oaitepeha, a district on the south-east part of Otaheite, had been preserved and were in a thriving state. I was likewise informed that there was a bull and a cow alive at Otaheite but on different parts of the island, the former at a place called Itteah, the latter at the district of Tettaha. All the rest were taken away or destroyed by the people of Eimeo. As Tettaha was at no great distance I determined to go thither myself the first opportunity, and make enquiries in hopes that the breed might still be preserved.
I had much discourse with my guests about Omai: they confirmed to me that he died about thirty months after Captain Cook left the islands. Soon after Captain Cook's departure from Huaheine there were some disputes between the people of that island and those of Ulietea in which also the natives of Bolabola took a part. Omai, who was become of consequence from the possessing three or four muskets and some ammunition, was consulted on the occasion. Such was his opinion and assurances of success that a war was determined on and took place immediately. Victory soon followed through the means of those few arms and many of the Ulietea and Bolabola men were killed. In this contest their flints proved bad, or probably the locks of the muskets had got out of order: this they remedied by a lighted stick, one man presenting the musket and another with the burnt stick setting fire to the priming; without which contrivance their arms would have proved useless. This expedition it seems consumed all their ammunition. Peace was soon after established, but I did not understand that Omai had increased his possessions or his rank. Nevertheless I have reason to conclude that he was in some degree of favour with his countrymen from the general good character which they give of him. It appears that he always remembered England with kindness; for his accounts to his countrymen have been such as to give them not only a great idea of our power and consequence but of our friendship and goodwill towards him.
Tyvarooah, the eldest of the New Zealand boys that were left with him, died a short time after Omai: about Coah, the youngest, I had always doubtful accounts till I came to Huaheine, where I learnt that he likewise was dead.