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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/407

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A HISTORY OF TAHITI

A HISTORY OF TAHITI. II
By Dr. ALFRED GOLDSBOROUGH MAYER

CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON

BUT now an era of greed and hate had come, and as traders scattered firearms among the chiefs, war degenerated into murder, and in an orgie of viciousness inspired by drink, degraded by vile whites, and depleted by introduced disease, the natives dwindled rapidly. The vast numbers seen by Cook and Wallis were no more. In 1798 William Wilson estimated the population at only 16,000, but in 1802 according to Jefferson and Scott, it was not greater than 7,000 and, Ellis says the death rate exceeded the births until 1820 when other influences developed which tended to stem the tide of extinction. But Admiral Wilkes states that up to 1839 the births and deaths were almost exactly equal in numbers, and even to-day there are not more than 7,000 natives on the Island of Tahiti.

This fixity of population after an initial period of decline has been observed elsewhere in the South Seas. In Tahiti it was due mainly to the introduction of Christianity, which prohibited infanticide and human sacrifices, and checked native warfare. At the same time, however, the adoption of Christianity contributed to the increase of certain fatal diseases, notably tuberculosis, through the enforced wearing of dirty European clothing, and the too hastily effected efforts of European teachers to develop "the family ties" thus causing the natives to huddle together in unsanitary, ill-ventilated "shanties" of European pattern. The listlessness and loss of interest in life resulting from the prohibition or disuse of old games, arts and crafts, also led to the development of clandestine immoralities and drunkenness, and in many groups the population has decreased steadily and is still declining. Thus in the Marquesas the decline has been from about 20,000 in 18-12 to about 3,400 in 1911; in Hawaii from 130,300 in 1832 to 29,800 in 1900; in Tonga from 30,000 in 1880 to 17,500 in 1900; in Samoa from 37,000 in 1849 to 31,300 in 1882; in Fiji from about 140,000 in 1871 to 87,000 in 1911; and in New Zealand from 44,000 in 1881 to 40,000 in 1891.

As the Tahitian proverb said: "The hibiscus shall grow and the coral shall spread out its branches, but man shall cease."

The truth appears to be that after generations of repeated infection, the native blood has developed a partial immunity, although in comparison with the Caucasian, the South Sea Islander still remains deficient in ability to resist disease.

All through the hideous period initiated by the coming of the white adventurer, the decimation due to disease was even greater than that caused by war; for savage warfare consists mainly in ambushing solitary