Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/330

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These the priests deposited inside the hollow idols, distributing among the worshippers those which had lain there since the previous year, thereby imbibing such essence of sanctity as to convey the very presence of the god wherever they were carried.

Not that these were the only visible symbols of the gods. Some appeared to their worshippers in the form of sharks; others, less terrible, took the form of divers birds. Hence, as I described to you in one of my letters from Samoa, so here in Tahiti and Moorea, the herons, king-fishers, and woodpeckers which frequented the old trees round the temples, were reverenced as incarnations of the deities, and their cries were interpreted as oracles.

So strong was the hold of these superstitions, that for several years the mission seemed to make little or no progress beyond the establishment of gardens in which various imported fruits and vegetables were successfully raised, and the people were taught to cultivate them systematically for their own use. Orange-trees, limes, shaddocks, citrons, tamarinds, guavas, custard-apples, peaches, figs and vines, pine-apples and water-melons, pumpkins and cucumbers, cabbages and other vegetables, were thus first introduced to the island, where they are now so thoroughly acclimatised.

But in an evil hour a great intertribal war broke out for the bodily possession of Oro, the national idol, and this first civilising influence was swept away—the mission premises were laid waste, the garden entirely destroyed, and the work of twelve years scattered to the winds.

King Pomare, Otu his son, and all the chiefs and warriors of the isle, had assembled at the great marae at Atehuru, where many fatted pigs were offered on the altar, while the surrounding trees were adorned with the ghastly corpses of human victims, all of whom had been sacrificed to Oro. The ark containing the symbolic feather was then placed on the sacred canoe belonging to the royal fleet.

But on the following day Otu pretended to have had a revelation that the idol itself wished to be removed to Tautira; and on the chiefs of Atehuru refusing to allow this, his followers rushed to the temple, seized the idol, carried it off to the sea, and immediately set sail. As soon as they reached land a human sacrifice was