Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/February 1915/A History of Tahiti I
|A HISTORY OF TAHITI|
CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON
LYING far to the southward of the paths of trade and exploration. Tahiti remained unknown until in 1767 Wallis saw its splendid peaks in the course of his voyage around the world in the English frigate Dolphin. It is true that Pedro Fernandez de Quiros, a Portuguese captain in the service of Spain, was credited with having discovered Tahiti on February 10, 1606, but the narrative of his voyage convinces one that the low-lying atoll upon which he landed, vainly seeking water, was probably Anaa, or possibly some other island of the Paumotos, for, like his predecessors, he sought the full favors of the tropic breeze and was borne to the northward of the most beautiful island groups of the Pacific.
Even to-day, sad as she lies while her native race is dying, Tahiti epitomizes the charm of Polynesia. The missionary Ellis gives us a vivid picture of his impressions as in 1817 he gazed for the first time
And in speaking of the Tahitian valleys, Ellis says:
Even simple sailor-like Wallis says of Tahiti:
Tahiti is situated in South Latitude 17° 40' and West Longitude 149° 25'. In other words, upon the opposite side of the world from the middle of Africa, and nearly at the center of the Pacific Ocean. In outline, it is figure-8 shaped, being a twin island, consisting of two oval land masses joined by the low, narrow isthmus of Taravao. The major axis of the island extends from northwest to southeast, and is only about 37 miles long. The larger land mass, called Great Tahiti, or Tahiti-uni, has about four times the area of Little Tahiti (Tahiti-iti) which lies to the southeastward. The total length of the coast line is not more than 120 miles, and the area of the whole island is only about one third that of the State of Rhode Island.
The peculiar figure-8 shape of the island is probably due to the activity of two originally separate volcanic cones each one of which rose above the sea until their sides touched. But, if this be true, it occurred long ago measured in terms of the life-time of volcanoes for there are now neither hot springs nor other evidences of internal heat upon the island.
Indeed much of nature's sculpturing of valley-wall and peak is due to the great variety of plutonic and volcanic rocks and nepheline syenite upon Tahiti, the differing degrees of hardness of which permitted erosion to carve deeply in some places, while at the same time leaving others to stand in bold relief.
Also the grandeur of Tahitian scenery is due to the fact that its volcanoes were of an explosive type and tore deep fissures into the earth's crust, permitting molten basalt to well upward and cement the rents. Then, when the volcanic fires died down, the rains consummated their
work of washing away the softer rocks, leaving imposing pinnacles of hard basalt such as the sheer precipice Maiao, "The Diadem," at the head of Fautaua valley which lifts its unconquered crest thousands of feet above the soft corroding lavas of the lowlands.
In other places the valleys are spanned by dykes of basalt forming precipices over which the mountain torrents dash in a multitude of graceful cataracts.
The seductive charm of Tahiti is all its own for everywhere the beautiful is wedded to the grand. The stern crags are but nestling places for the mosses of the forest, and fascinated by the sylvan setting of the waterfall where rainbows float on mists among the tree ferns; the roar of the cataract is unperceived; and the coral reefs and shaded shores of fair Tahiti, who can forget them—the glorious sparkle of sunbeams playing over flickering ripples in a riot of turquoise, emerald, and blue is the setting of every picture—the background of every memory. Indeed, it is not where the peaks are highest that Tahiti is loveliest for nowhere in the Pacific do the mountains meet the sea in fairer grace of form and color than at Tautira on the eastern coast of Tahiti-iti. The charmed memory of Tahiti lives only to die with the beholder.
In the Hawaiian or the Tongan Islands, cup-shaped craters constantly remind one of the volcanic origin of the land, but the erosion due to ages of tropical showers has all but obliterated these in Tahiti although the broad concavity in the upper region of Papenoo valley may possibly mark the site of the great central crater of Tahiti-uni.
Nestled under the southeastern rim of this crumbling crater lies the gem of Tahiti, the lovely lake Vaihiria, in a setting of wild bananas, guava, tree-ferns, and clambering pandanus, and shadowed by precipices towering 3,000 feet above the calm secluded waters. From afar the rivulets dash down until torn by the ragged walls they fade mostly into mist and cloud-like descend in silence to the region of the lake. Although only one third of a mile wide, the natives believed this little lake to be bottomless until our plumb line came to rest at a depth of 80 feet. There is, however, no visible outlet although huge eels glide among the water-weeds, and the mystery becomes cleared away when one goes down into Vaihiria valley where at the foot of a wall of broken rocks a cool clear stream rushes impetuously into the sunlight. In fact the little lake has been formed by a land-slide which has dammed the valley the upper part of which it now occupies.
In every feature Tahiti shows the wear of rain and weather, but still the green summit of Orohena towers 7,300 feet above the level of the sea, and 22,000 feet above the floor of the surrounding ocean. Yet the rains have accomplished much, and the almost constant landslides show they are effecting more in their persistent work of levelling the grand peaks: and now 150 valleys wind downward from the highlands to the sea.
One is never away from the murmur of rippling water, as the mountain streams splash among moss-covered boulders that have rolled from their ancient lodgment in the cañon sides. As Bougainville wrote, these Tahitian valleys are images of Paradise upon earth. The brooks glide through arches formed by the interlacing leaves of wild banana, the "Fei" of Tahiti, while great caladiums flourish in the ever-moistened soil, and the perfume of vanilla pervades the air. Banyans form
intricate tangles of subaerial roots though the maze of which the waters find their way, and a pretty little perch (Dules malo) which rises briskly to the fly disports itself within the swirling pools. Then, at last, the brook courses sluggish and spent to deposit the rich soil, the spoil of the mountain slopes, over the broad alluvial plain which fronts the sea.
Here upon the gently sloping shore-plain are the groves of bread fruit, cocoanut palms, taro and Tahitian chestnut which supported so dense a population in old days that Foster who accompanied Captain Cook upon his second voyage estimated their number at 150,000, although he was doubtless deceived by the crowding of the natives to the shore off which his ship lay anchored. Yet, certainly, in 1769 the villages were not isolated one from another as in other parts of Polynesia, but a continuous line of houses clustered along the shore, and the political unit had become the district rather than the town.
But to return to the history of Tahiti, it was on June 18, 1767, that Captain Wallis perceived the summits of its mountains rise above the sea. On the following morning as he approached the shore the tropic haze hid the island from his view, and when the rising sun dissipated the mist he was surprised to find himself surrounded by a fleet of canoes, many of them double, and 60 feet long, their carved bows curving upward high above the sea, and their pandanus-mat sails of lateen pattern. The more daring finally approached his ship, their commanders bearing clusters of banana leaves which they threw upon the deck, and a few of the more courageous natives were then induced to come on board. Pigs and chickens were recognized as familiar animals, but the sight of a goat so overcame them with fear that they leaped overboard and swam to their canoes.
Wallis reassured them through gifts of nails and trinkets, but soon the knowledge of this vast wealth aroused the cupidity of the natives, and for days they attacked his vessel with stones hurled from slings. Finally, on the twenty-fourth of June, about 2,000 natives in 300 large canoes surrounded the ship, and when the high chief threw the crest of a palm tree into the air a general attack commenced. Wallis was forced to use his cannon, but observing that no fire came from his bows, the canoes with white war streamers flying from their sails pressed down upon him fore and aft, only to be shattered by renewed volleys. Yet so persistent were they that on June 26 the Dolphin was compelled to shell the shore, sending cannon shot among the houses in the palm groves before the natives broke and fled in terror to the hills. Then after more than 50 canoes in the district had been destroyed a stillness the British described as peace fell upon the scene.
The sullen silence was broken on July 11, when Purea the Chiefess or Ariirahi of the district of Papara came on board and was courteously received by Wallis who presented her with a mirror and a gown, he being under the impression that she was the "Queen" of the Island. As a matter of fact, there was no head chief whose authority was recognized over all parts of Tahiti, and Purea was merely a guest of her kinsman the chief of the district of Matavai Bay in which the Dolphin lay at anchor.
Greatly impressed by Purea's commanding presence and with the respect she inspired among the natives, Wallis returned the call on the
following day, the natives carrying him upon their backs to the great council house, or Fare-hau of Matavai within which Purea was herself but a guest, although her actions appear to have been those which would better have graced a hostess. The house in which this remarkable reception occurred was 327 feet long by 42 wide and was a shed of palm thatch, the roof being supported upon 92 posts arranged in three rows. The "Queen" and her maidens at once proceeded to massage Wallis and his officers and finally to dress them in native garments, thus reciprocating his own charity in presenting her with a European gown. The proceedings were, however, marred by the alarming action of the surgeon who suddenly removed his wig, causing the "ladies of the court" to flee in terror from the house.
Purea, having recovered her composure, commanded her followers to present Wallis with great quantities of bread fruit and many pigs and believing her to be supreme over the entire Island he soon persuaded himself that she had ceded her realm to him. Accordingly he hoisted the British flag, saluted it with twenty-one guns, gave each of his men a drink of rum mixed with the water of a Tahitian brook and thus solemnly took possession under the name "King George the Third's Island."
As a matter of fact, Purea was vainly endeavoring to induce Wallis to visit her own district Papara, hoping through the influence of her supernatural guest to augment her own authority, for the natives believed his ship to be a floating island filled with vindictive demons who had control of thunder and lightning; but he understood not a word, and man-like assumed that her "inconsolable weeping" was due to admiration for himself and sorrow over his intended departure. Thus on July 27 did this British Æneas depart from his Polynesian Dido never more to see Tahiti.
Soon after Wallis's departure Louis Antoine de Bougainville independently discovered Tahiti. He was circumnavigating the globe, commanding the French frigate La Boudeuse, and the transport L'Etoile, and his 200 men were worn with the sea, scurvy threatening. Happy indeed were the French when, on April 2, 1768, from a distance of fifty miles they saw the peak of Orohena, as Wallis had sighted it eight months previously. Favored by the southern trades, they sailed along the shore to anchor on April 6, off Hitiaa; there to remain for a respite of ten days. In his fascinating "Voyage autour du Monde" published in Paris in 1771, Bougainville devoted two chapters to "Taiti," or "La Nouvelle Cythère," as he officially named it, furnishing an impassioned theme for French philosophy.Bougainville was a keen and sympathetic observer and he made the most of his time from the moment when on April 4 the canoes ventured out to his ships, their chiefs bearing clusters of banana leaves in token of friendship. A hospital was established on shore for the scurvy-ridden sailors, and most friendly intercourse was established between them and the natives, who doubtless profited by their experience with Wallis to refrain from offending the new visitors. Yet, according to Cook, an infliction worse than Wallis's cannon was turned upon the unsuspecting islanders, for the ravages of a virulent infection of syphilis followed closely upon the departure of the French. Corruption and death had entered never to leave the land, and the once gigantic race of
old Tahiti was to wither in a lingering decline. Fair as Tahiti was and Paradise as the French regarded it, they were the first to curse it with that infliction which "civilization" has for centuries brought upon the "savage." Sad Tahiti, land of mountain mist, and murmuring stream, of coral reef and tropic palm, and smiling skies was to be henceforth a pest-house for the simple race that knew her for their home.
From a native point of view the situation is well described in the "Memoirs of Ariitaimai" of the great Papara family of Tahiti; who says:
But to return to our narrative. Captain James Cook, upon the first of his famous voyages visited Tahiti in the man-of-war Endeavour, remaining in Matavai Bay from April until July, 1769. Cook's mission was to observe the transit of Venus, for which purpose as well as for geographical discovery, his expedition had been sent out at the instigation of the Royal Society of London. Accompanying him were such men of science as Banks and Solander whose observations upon the island and its natives at a time when they were as yet unspoiled, have given us the classic account of a primitive Polynesian community, supplemented as it was in 1829 by the scholarly volumes of "Polynesian Researches" written by the great missionary William Ellis.
At the time of Cook's visit, Tahiti was a characteristic Polynesian feudalism, the Ariirahi, or principal chiefs, being dependent for sustenance and political support upon the landed proprietors, the bue raatira. But in Tahiti as elsewhere in Polynesia, the supreme chiefs of districts were believed to have descended from God-like heroes of the myths, and their persons were held as sacred, thus greatly strengthening their position in time of political crises.
In acknowledgment of their feudal position, the large landed proprietors or Arii called themselves "the stays of the mast" by "the mast," signifying the Ariirahi, and as elsewhere wherever feudalism has been the social order, the incessant rivalry between nobles had forced the common people to flock to the standards of the few who could best afford protection, and in consequence the Arii, or "baron," of a Tahitian valley might become more powerful in his own domain than was the Ariirahi over the district as a whole. Thus an unstable form of "limited monarchy" was maintained in each district and to secure the
concession from usurpation, the son of the high chief was granted the family title immediately upon birth, and his father who was the first to do him homage, was nominally at least reduced to the rank of a vassal. Before the missionaries came there was never a "king" whose authority was recognized over all Tahiti, but so great in outward form was the respect paid to the Ariirahi that people who passed their houses or came into their presence removed all clothing to the waist, an act of homage they paid also to the images of gods. The Ariirahi's feet might not touch the ground in any but his native district for all he trod upon became his own. Accordingly, when abroad he was carried upon the back of a retainer, and it was the boast of Pomare that he was greater than King George for he of Tahiti rode upon a man while the king of England was obliged to content himself with a horse.
In their marital relations the Tahitians closely approached the primitive condition wherein all the women are the wives of all the men. The wife of every man was also the wife of his friend, and it is probable that a more licentious race never lived during historic times. As Cook's narrative states, topics which with us are avoided were the chief theme of conversation among the Tahitians.
As elsewhere in Polynesia, rank descended through the mother and for the purpose of maintaining their exalted state, the great chiefs intermarried only among their own kindred, but such alliances were merely temporary, for after the birth of a legitimate heir, women of high rank consorted without scandal with endless paramours, although all their children of uncertain parentage were immediately put to death. In fact, infanticide was established not only as an accepted, but as a lauded institution in Tahiti; and according to Ellis two or three children constituted an unusually large family, and practically every woman had with her own hands murdered some of her own offspring, probably two thirds of the children born in Tahiti being thus disposed of immediately after birth.
In the absence of fatal epidemics and with the ever-present danger of famine through over-population, such barbarous checks upon increase had grown to be considered virtuous, and furnished the tenets of the society of Areoi, said to have been established in remote times by the followers of two celibate gods who although they did not enjoin chastity upon their worshipers prohibited their rearing offspring. Thus these bacchanalians of the Pacific roamed singing and dancing, welcomed everywhere as wits and entertainers; transient spirits flitting through the world each to die the last of his race on earth. They constituted a large proportion of the population, for in Cook's narrative we read of a fleet of 70 canoes filled exclusively with Areoi.
Cannibalism was unknown in Tahiti at the time of its discovery, yet here as elsewhere over the Pacific traces of its having been were there,
for tradition stated that two mythical brothers, the Taheeai, were cannibals but were finally killed through trickery by a Tahitian Hercules, greatly to the joy of all men then living. Also at the time of Cook's visit, the eye of the human sacrifice was placed within the lips of the high chief, and the original name of the late "Queen Pomare" was Aimata, "the eye eater."
As with the Aztecs, these sacrifices appear to have become more numerous immediately succeeding the coming of the white man. Criminals, or slaves who were captives taken in war, were immolated in times of public ceremony as upon the occasion of the inauguration of a new Ariirahi, but the common sacrifices were pigs whose bodies were left to decompose upon the altars as food for the gods who came in the form of carrion birds.
As elsewhere in Polynesia, the worshiped beings were the spirits of departed ancestors, for to the simple mind all things of nature are of his own kindred, the world was made by a man-like god for man and all things centered round him. Thus the sun was a ghost that plunged beneath the sea at night, the moon was the sun's wife and the stars their children, and every waterfall, mountain peak and valley had its guardian or haunting nymph or good or evil spirit. The ceremonies associated with the worship of the ancestral spirits were usually conducted upon the roof-shaped heaps of stones called the marae which each Arii caused to be erected in his district, each of his retainers contributing two stones to the structure. Cook states that the marae of the high chiefs Amo and Purea in the district of Papara was a prism with an oblong base 267 feet long, 187 feet wide and 44 feet high, having eleven steps or terraces broader at the sides than at the ends. The top was a ridge resembling the roof of a house and at its middle point stood the image of a bird carved in wood while near it lay the broken model of a fish cut in stone. The sight of this stupendous structure, and the statement that each person in the district had contributed two and only two stones may have caused Cook to form his exaggerated estimate of the population of Tahiti. Shapeless and sadly reduced by burning in a lime kiln, the marae of Papara now lies forgotten in the forest by the
sea. Yet even to-day the ruins of about 40 maraes are still to be found upon Tahiti and Eimeo.
Such, in brief, were the Tahitians, that race of giant men who came to welcome Cook with leafy boughs within their hands—tokens of peace and friendship. And a friendship real as any that can be formed between the weak and the powerful grew up between the great Englishman, whom they called "Toote," and these careless, light-hearted children of the Islands of the Sea. It is of curious interest, however, to observe that intimate as Cook became with his Tahitian friends, he never learned the true name of the Island, his word "Otaheite" meaning "From Tahiti"; Bougainville's "Taiti" especially as the "h" is softly sounded, being far nearer the correct representation of the name.
Without attempting to minimize the barbarity of their customs, let us not permit ourselves to be over harsh in condemning the Tahitians. A primitive race cast far from their original home upon a small island remotely isolated; without iron or metals, or clay for pottery, and living in a warm seductive atmosphere that soothed ambition into somnolency; it is much to their credit that Cook says of them that they were cheerful, generous, cordial, and brave, and Ellis states that theft and crime were of rare occurrence. Such indeed is the consensus of opinion among Europeans who, though not missionaries, lived among Polynesian peoples during the days when they were unspoiled by contact with civilization. In Mariner's fascinating account of Tonga, and Melville's charming story of Typee in the Marquesas we find far more of praise than of condemnation.
Let us remember that practically nothing of invention, art, literature, science or constructive leadership has come from the untold millions of our own race who have been born and bred and spent their languid lives within the torrid heat. Great men such as Hamilton, the first Dumas, or Kipling have, it is true, been born in the West Indies or in India, but their education and achievements were attained in colder lands. The history of the British in India is replete with the tragedy of broken hearts, and every ship bound "homeward" bears its freight of exiled children whose fate it is to become strangers to their duty-loving parents. This uncounted toll of the dull, monotonous, never-ending heat, how different would history have been had our race been born to withstand its merciless suppression.
Just as the first fruits of the renaissance were ripening in Spain, a vision of the Indies came like a mirage from afar to lure onward the ablest of her youth. Into regions unknown they went never to return, and they and their descendants were lost to intellectual Spain. Thus was her best blood wasted and the leaders who might have been were unborn. Spain depleted, drained of her strength, and with too few at home to win the great battle of liberty, withered under the fires of the inquisition. It was the tropic heat, the infection of the mosquito-haunted swamp, and the demoralizing contact with tropical populations that conquered Spain, not the fleets of the English, for it was years after the tragedy of her great that Spain's greatest things in art and literature appeared.
Indeed, England herself narrowly escaped the same fate which would have been hers also had she succeeded in supplanting the Spaniard on the mainland of tropical America. Unable to accomplish this, she was perforce obliged to colonize in the neglected north, and the bleak shores that gave her first adventurers so inhospitable a welcome in time became centers of civilization, advancing her culture and her empire over the sea.
Cook returned to Tahiti in 1773 and again for the last time in 1777, and then for eleven years the Island saw no European vessels until October, 1788, when the cry "Ephai! ephai!!" (A ship, a ship!!) echoed along the rocky shores. It was the Bounty under Lieutenant William Bligh, R.N., and her mission was to gather young bread-fruit trees in order to introduce this coveted plant into the British West Indies.
Bligh, although a brave and efficient navigator, made himself odious to both his officers and his men, his conduct being that of an irritable, selfish, suspicious tyrant, and much as his men feared him, they hated him even more.
Yet for nearly six months, during which the ship lay moored in Matavai Bay, there was solace for her crew in the wanton pleasures of the tropic isle, and when on the 4th of April, 1789, the anchor rose for the Bounty's last farewell, many a heart was aching under the sailor's blouse and many a dark-eyed maiden watched weeping from the shore.
If Bligh's ugly temper had been trying in the past, it became even more annoying after he left Tahiti. On the 27th of April when off the Tongan Islands, he burst forth into a tirade of abuse, unjustly accusing his officers, and especially his first mate, Mr. Christian, of petty thefts of food.
Throughout the night the Bounty lay upon a calm and glassy sea, her sails flapping to the long, low, ceaseless heave of the Pacific, and young Christian, burning under his wrongs, paced hotly on his watch while the ship and all on board lay sleeping.
In the gray of the listless morning before the glaring eastern sun had shown upon the sea, his resolve was taken and the die of Britain's most noted mutiny was cast. Hastening to the forecastle his word was as a spark to gunpowder to the repressed spirits of the crew. Amid deep muttered cursings, the gun chest was torn apart, and Bligh awakened to be led upon deck, his hands tied behind his back. The ship was in dire disorder with mutineer sentinels standing before the cabin doors of such officers as might have come to their aid, but obedient to young Christian's orders, the Bounty's launch, a boat only 23 feet long, was lowered, and Bligh and 18 of his men were forced over the side crowding the frail craft until the gunwale was but seven inches above the level of the sea.
But mercy came to temper the fate of those who were to be sent adrift. A hundred and fifty pounds of bread, some water and some wine, a little pork, charts, a sextant, a compass, and a few cutlasses were thrown into the boat. Guns the mutineers refused, and then the commander and his faithful few were cast away.
As if in exultation the Bounty awakened to the impulse of the morning breeze and glided off upon the rippling sea while from the throats of her ruffian crew the cry arose "huzza for Otaheiti." As the cheer came over the waters, it brought to Bligh a sense of high resolve to make the best of the narrow chance for life and home that lay before him and his men. But Christian, the mutineer, they say stood moodily with folded arms, his eyes fixed upon the drifting boat which stood for all that remained of law and order on the wave.
A gentleman by birth and training, he might have risen high, an honored servant of his country. Too late the villain cheer revealed to him the dark import of his vengeful act. An outcast he must be forevermore. In a world apart from Europe he must live, and memories of youth and home and friends of other days rose up to curse him as he sailed, archpirate as he was, into a life of wantonness and ruin.
The volcanic peak of Tofoa, one of the Tongan Islands, rose dimly above the northern horizon and toward it Bligh and his men set oars and sail hoping to increase their scanty store of food and water. In this they were foiled for the natives seeing them helpless attacked them with stones, killing one and wounding all so that they considered their ultimate escape fortunate. On and on they sailed for dull days and nights, and always onward until they passed through the uncharted Fiji group and discovered the northern New Hebrides, never daring to land though they suffered all the pangs of starvation. Two meals a day each consisting of 1/25 of a pound of bread and 1/4 of a pint of water were all stern Captain Bligh allowed, for his destination was Timor, full 3,600 miles from Tonga. His journal describes their suffering in minute detail, and one must respect the courage and resourcefulness of the leader who cheated death a hundred times in the course of this awful voyage. Through starless nights of storm, bailing constantly, fighting the overwhelming sea, shivering in the rain, blinded by the roasting eastern sun, racked with pain, cramped almost beyond endurance as they crouched sleepless within the boat, they still went on and on and each returning noon saw them nearly 100 miles nearer to Timor.
Occasionally they succeeded in seizing the gulls which flew near the boat, and each such prize was cut into 18 pieces and devoured. Many sea-snakes were seen but it did not occur to Bligh to use them for food.
One dark and stormy night they heard the roar of breakers close aboard and narrowly escaped being dashed to death upon the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. On the following day, however, they succeeded in sailing through a narrow opening in the reef, elated to find themselves upon smooth waters under the protection of the coral flats. Here they ventured to land upon several small deserted islands where they feasted upon shellfish, replenished their store of water, and above all, enjoyed the luxury of sleep.
Then on they went through Endeavour Strait growing daily weaker upon their reduced ration. Finally, on June 14, 1789, the people of the Dutch village of Coupang on Timor were horrified at the appearance of 18 ragged wretches reduced almost to skeletons who staggered and fell upon the shore while tears of joy streamed down their weather-beaten cheeks.
For 47 days Bligh had sailed across 3,618 miles of almost uncharted ocean, passing dreaded islands of the Fijis and the New Hebrides, surmounting not only the perils of the sea but even greater dangers from murderous cannibals, and his courage as a leader, and skill as a navigator must inspire respect as long as the annals of Britain's navy are cherished as a record of heroism.
But to return to Christian and the Bounty whom we left on that fateful morning of the 28th of April, 1789.
Christian knew full well the skill and resource of Bligh and foresaw that should the cast-off commander reach England, Tahiti would be but a death-trap to the Bounty's pirate crew. He therefore set his course for the small island of Tubuai, one of the Austral group, about 250 miles south of Tahiti. This lonely spot had been discovered by Captain Cook in 1777, who observed that the natives spoke the Tahitian dialect and appeared to be industrious cultivators of the soil.
Upon the Bounty's arrival, they crowded in great numbers to the shore blowing their triton war horns and brandishing clubs. Christian therefore changed his course for Tahiti, where his old friends warmly welcomed the Bounty and her crew. Here, however, he remained only long enough to supply his ship with provisions and live-stock, and together with a number of his Tahitian friends he sailed again to Tubuai, this time to be hospitably received.
A criminal in the eyes of civilization, Christian maintained until his death the respect of his lawless crew. They addressed him always as "Mr. Christian" and the generous spirit he displayed in sharing every hardship, no less than his real ability as an executive, showed that had he remained faithful to his country he might have died an admiral of the blue. As it was, he took his part in the immense labor of constructing a fort at Tubuai, digging himself within the moat which encircled the parapet with a depth of 20 feet. But control the innate passions of his ruffian associates, he could not. Their brutal disregard for human rights brought on a war of extermination between the natives and the whites in which Christian himself was severely wounded. Finally, despairing of the impossible task of restoring order, he yielded to the murmurs of his men and returned once more to Tahiti.
Here, late in September, 1789, the Bounty anchored for the last time and most of her crew deserted to plunge into the riotous pastimes of the shore, while Christian with eight comrades remained on board. Twenty natives, men and women, joined them, and then early in the morning of September 23, Tahiti awakened to watch the Bounty fade from sight beneath the northern horizon.
The expected came to pass, for on March 23, 1791, the British frigate Pandora bore down upon Tahiti and those who survived among the mutineers became captives chained to her decks beneath the torrid sun.
But where was Christian and the Bounty? For three months the avenging Pandora searched in vain, for, like the fate of La Perouse, that of the Bounty had become but one more mystery of the Pacific.
Yet there was intelligent method in Christian's leadership. He knew that one day upon Carteret's voyage in 1767 a young midshipman named Pitcairn had seen from the masthead something which appeared to be a barren rock projecting high above the sea, and Captain Carteret had named it "Pitcairn Island." Three weeks Christian spent searching for this isolated land, and at last when almost in despair he found it nearly 180 miles from the longitude assigned by Carteret, but all the safer for a last retreat.
Lost in the vast ocean, far from the paths of man no spot in all the island world was more remote than this tiny islet with its sheer precipices frowning down from eleven hundred feet upon the sea, while back of the volcanic walls concealed from the view of ships, there lay a valley rich in palms and tropic trees. A slight indentation in the bold and unprotected shore marked the last anchorage for the fated Bounty ere they sank her far from sight beneath the sea.
Christian divided the island into nine parts assigning one to each of his men and to himself, while the natives became wives and servants to the whites.
And Christian who had fled from all, now fell under the sad shadow of his thoughts. Long hours he brooded sullen and alone within a cave that looked upon the sea and here he read his Bible through and through, yet what availed a mumbled creed to one whose life was blasted such as his! A worthy servant of his king and country, he might have been but for a moment's work conceived in rage. All romance of his wild career sank down to the dull lusts of savagery's desires. Uncheered he heard his dark-skinned offspring romp and play and sport among the breakers of the shore, their mother's wanton spirit over all. A family worthier of his gentle name he might have reared in England, had he not in the exultation of revenge bartered his birthright to civilization. And lonely Pitcairn lost upon the sea was but a prison for his starving soul where he must languish through a waste of years, his sole alternative oblivion or the hangman's rope.
Feuds bitter, unreasonable and prolonged arose on Pitcairn, and Christian soon was shot, and before ten years had passed midshipmen Edward Young and Alexander Smith were the sole surviving mutineers upon the island. Then a strange change came over Young, who appears to have been a weak, rather than a vicious character. He determined to devote his remaining days to elevating the standards of the entire community. The Bible and Prayer Book that had belonged to Christian were recovered from the cave where they had lain for years neglected, and thus the last of the ill-fated crew turned missionaries and school teachers to the women and children of the colony. In 1800, Young died, his end being unique in that his death was due to natural causes. Thus Smith became sole guardian of this strange community, winning as years passed their love and veneration; for, indeed, he stayed the hand of rage and imparted to the rising generation true principles of civilization.
Nearly twenty years had come and gone and the world had forgotten the Bounty in the stirring events of the first decade of the nineteenth century, when one day the American ship Topaz under Captain Folger of Nantucket discovered an uncharted island, and a boat manned by brown-skinned English-speaking youths came out to welcome him. Thus was the retreat of the mutineers revealed; Alexander Smith, or "John Adams," as he now called himself being the sole survivor of the Bounty's pirate crew; and he lived the revered leader of the islanders until his death in 1829 at the age of sixty-five.
The coming of the Bounty's mutineers to Tahiti in 1788 was an event of primary significance in the history of the island. Hitherto Tahiti had been a community of feudalisms, the power of the Ariirahi being constantly checked by the contending claims of rivals; but here as elsewhere over the South Seas, the coming of the white man tended at first to increase the power of the chief they came most in contact with though finally it led to the utter ruin of all native leaders including the "king" himself.
The head chief of the District of Pare in 1789 was Pomare, the nephew of Purea, now grown to manhood. Cook had known him as "Outou," but upon hearing his little son cough at night he had changed his own name to Pomare (night cough). He was now in his prime and six feet four inches in height, and armed with a huge club, he was well equipped to inspire terror among his subjects.
Pomare enjoyed the immeasurable advantage of being chief of the region of Papeete (the water basket), for this having the best harbor of the island enabled him to gather enormous fortunes of nails, hatchets, and red feathers from ships, only, however, to be robbed by his rivals upon the departure of his European friends. Thus when the Bounty came to Tahiti he was in the direst straits having been forced to "declare dividends" for the benefit of every other Ariirahi of the island. However the sixteen mutineers marooned upon Tahiti found it to their advantage to aid Pomare, and they turned their guns upon his rivals with such cruel slaughter that in a few months he was tyrant not only of Tahiti but of the island of Eimeo. Probably it was fortunate for his schemes that no sooner was his tyranny secured than the avenging Pandora came to capture and remove his villainous assistants, who doubtless would in the end have murdered their royal master.
This period wherein one of the high chiefs secured the services of unprincipled white men armed with guns had its parallel in Fiji where it led to the rise of Mbau; in Hawaii it enabled Kamehameha to conquer the entire archipelago; and in Tonga, aided by Europeans, it secured the preeminence of George Tubou.
As in the wars of the roses, the leaders suffered more than the people in these bloody raids for power, and thus the commoners, their local overlords being slain, began to rise in influence, and something akin to public opinion commenced to murmur as a growing check upon the tyrant who now assumed the rôle of autocrat whereas formerly he had been but a moderator. Thus in old times, generosity was considered to be an Ariirahi's highest virtue, and often he gave so lavishly of the tribute he received that in worldly goods he was poorer than many a servant in his train.
- See "The Voyages of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros," 1595 to 1606, translated and edited by Sir Clements Markham, Hakluyt Society Publications, London, 1904.
- See, "The Voyages of Pedro Fernandez de Quiros" 1595 to 1606, translated and edited by Sir Clements Markham, London, 1904. Hakluyt Society Publications.
- The "Oberea" of Cook and Banks.
- Amo, the "Eamo" of Cook's narrative, was the son of Tuiterai (God of the sky).
- Otoo's real name was Tunuicaite-atua, signifying descent from the gods.