Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/50

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.
36
POLYNESIA


such as dishes or deep bowls, head-rests and stools. Having no metal or other vessels in which to boil water, all cooking is done by baking, generally in holes in the ground. They also make wooden gongs, or drums. They used to make wooden fishhooks, clubs, spears and bows. They still make wooden fish spears and carved and inlaid combs. They employ the bamboo for making drums and fiutes. Formerly knives were made of bamboo, which is still sometimes used for that purpose. In the manufacture of these things they employed adzes ma.de of stone, shell or hard wood, and a wooden drill pointed with stone, shell or bone. They made motlier-of-pearl fishhooks, and they still use a part of those old hooks-or artificial bait-in combination with steel hooks, the native»made portion being generally shaped like a small fish. For water-vessels, Stc., they employ gourds and large coco-nut shells, in preparing which they pour in water and allow the pulp or the kernel to decay, so that it may be removed without breaking the rind or shell. Their drinking cups are made of half a coco-nut shell. Sharks' teeth, shells and bamboo were formerly generally used as cutting instruments for shaving and surgical operations. They employ vegetable dyes for painting their bark-cloth, calabashes, &c. In some islands they also use a red earth for this purpose. Their cloth is generally ornamented with geometrical patterns. Any drawings of animals, &c., which they make are exceedingly inartistic, and no attempt is made at perspective. Their musical instruments are few and rude -consisting of the drums and flutes already mentioned, and shell trumpets.

The Polynesians were all polytheists. Without doubt many of their gods are deified men; but it is clear that some are the forces of Nature personified, while others appear to represent human passions which have become identified with particular persons who have an existence in their historical myths.1 But the conception which they had of Tangaloa (Taaroa and Kanaloa in some islands) is of a higher order. Among the Tahitians he was regarded as “the first and principal god, uncreated and existing from the beginning, or from the time he emerged from po, orthe world of darkness.” “ He was said to be the father of all the gods, and creator of all things, yet was scarcely reckoned an object of worship."3 Dr Turner says, “the unrestricted, or unconditioned, may fairly be regarded as the name of this Samoan Jupiter." The worship of certain of the great gods was common to all the people in a group of islands. Others were gods of villages or of families, while others were gods of individuals. The gods of clans were probably the spirits of the ancestors in their own line. In some islands, when the birth of a child was expected, the aid of the gods of the family was invoked, beginning with the god of the father. The god prayed to at the instant of birth became the god of the child. In other places the name of the child's god was declared when the umbilical cord was severed. The gods were supposed to dwell in various animals, in trees, or even in inanimate objects, as a stone, a shell, &c. In some islands idols bearing more or less resernblance to the human shape were made. But in all cases the material objects were regarded simply as the abodes of the immaterial spirits of the gods.

Their temples were either national, for a single village, or for the god of a family. They were sometimes large stone enclosures (monte), somet'mes a grove, or a house. The principal priests were a particular order, the priesthood being hereditary. In some cases, however, the father of a family was priest in his own household and presented offerings and prayers to the family god. - In some islands human sacrifices were of'frequent occurrence; in others they were offered only on very rare and exceptional occasions, when the demand was made by the priests for something specially valuable. The usual offerings to the gods were food. The system of laboo was connected with their religious rites. There were two ways by which things might become taboo: (I) by contact with anything belonging to the god, as his visible representation or his priest. Probably it was thought that a portion of the sacred essence of the god, or of a sacred person, was directly communicable to objects which they touched. (2) Things were made laboo by being dedicated to the god; and it is this form of taboo which is still kept up. If, e.g., any one wishes to preserve his coco-nuts from being taken, he will put something upon the trees to indicate that they are sacred or dedicated. They cannot then be used until the toboo is removed. Disease and death were often connected with the violation of taboo, the offended gods thus punishing the offenders. Disease was generally attributed to the anger of the gods. Hence offerings, &c., were made to appease their anger. The first-fruits of a CY0P Were usually dedicated to the gods to prevent them from being angry; and new canoes, fishing-nets, &c., were dedicated by pf2{Yel'S and offerings, in order that the gods might be propitious to their owners in their use,

The following books may be consulted on this subject: Rev. W. W. Gill's Myths and Songs from the South Pacific; Dr Turner s Somoa; and Mr Shortland's Maori Religion and Mythology; Sir George Grey, Polynesian Mythology.

Polynesian Researches i. 323.

Tahitian Dictionary.

° Samoa, p. 52.

The Polynesians invariably believe in the existence of the spirit of man after the death of the body. Their traditions on the condition of the dead vary considerably in different groups; yet there is a general agreement upon main points. Death is caused by the departure of the spirit from the body. The region of the dead is subterranean. When the spirit leaves the body it is conveyed by waiting spirits to the abode of spirits. In most islands the place of descent is known. It is generally towards the west. In some a distinction between chief and common people In others all are much alike in condition. Some a marked distinction between the spirits of

traditions there is

in the spirit world.

traditions indicate

warriors and those of others: the former go to a place where they are happy and are immortal, while the latter are devoured by the gods and are annihilated. In some, however, the spirits are said to live again after being eaten. Some speak of the abode of spirits as being in darkness; but usually the condition of things is similar to that which exists upon earth. Amongst all the people it- is believed that the spirits of the dead are able to revisit the scenes of their earthly life. The visits are generally made in the night, and areoften greatly dreaded, especially when there may be any supposed reason for spite on the part of the dead towards living relatives. Some writers have connected Polynesian cannibalism with religion. In the Cook and Society Islands, when a human being was ofiered as a sacrifice, the priest presented an eye of the victim to the king, who either ate it or pretended to do so. Probably the earliest human sacrifices were the bodies of enemies slain in battle. As it was supposed by some that the spirits of the dead were eaten by the gods, the bodies of those slain in battle may have been eaten by their victors in triumph. Mr Shortland appears to think that cannibalism among the Maories of New Zealand may have thus originated? Among the Polynesians generally it appears to have been the practice at times to eat a portion of a slain enemy to make his degradation the greater. But where cannibalism was practised as a means of subsistence, it probably originated in times of actual want, such as may have occurred during the long voyages of the people., .

The Polynesian race has been continuously, and in some places rapidly, decreasing since their first contact with Europeans. Doubts have been thrown on the current statements regardingvthe rate of decrease, which some good authorities believe to be not so great as is commonly represented. They hold that former estimates of the number of inhabitants in the various insular groups were mere guesswork. Thus it is pointed out that Cook's estimate of 240,000 for the Society Archipelago (Tahiti) was at the time reduced by his associate, Forster, to IS0,000, so that the 500,000 credited by him to the Sandwich Islands should also he heavily discounted. That is probably true, 'and it may be admitted that, as a rule, the early calculations erred on the side of excess. But when full allowance is made for all such exaggerations, the following facts will show that the decrease has been excessive. The Tahitians, 150,000 in Y1774, fell from 17,000 in 1880 to 10,300 in 1899; and in this group, while the pure stock appears to be dying out, there is a small increase amongst the half-breeds. When New Zealand was occupied (1840)~the Maori were said to number 120,000, and were doubtfully stated to be still 56,000 in 1857; since then the returns of the 1881 and 1891 censuses gave 44,000 and 40,000 respectively. During the last two decades of the 19th century the decrease has been from 30,000 to 17,500 in Tonga; from 11,500 to 8400 in the Cook group; from 8000 to 3600 in Wallisj from I6OO to 100 in Manahiki; from 1400 to 1000 in Tubuai; and from 600 to 100 in Easter Island. A general decline seems thus to be placed beyond doubt, though it may be questioned whether it is to be attributed to a decayed vitality, as some hold, -or to external- causes, as is the more general opinion. The prevalence of elephantiasis and the occurrence of leprosy, for instance, in Hawaii, would seem to point at least in some places to a racial taint, due perhaps to the unbridled licentiousness of past generations. On the other hand, such a decrease as has occurred in Tahiti and Tonga, can be accounted for only by an accumulation of outward causes, such as wars, - massacres, and raidings for the Australian and South American labour markets before this traffic was suppressed or regulated. Other destructive agencies were epidemics, such especially as measles and small-pox, which swept away 30,000 Fijians in 1875;' the introduction of strong drinks, including, ibesides vile spirits, a most pernicious concoction brewed in Tahiti from oranges; 5 M aori Religion and Mythology, p. 26. A