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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/May 1915/A History of Tahiti III

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

CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON

SUDDENLY, on September 3, 1803, Pomare I. died, and was succeeded by his son, the weak, savage, drunkard Pomare II.; Who even with European aid was unable to maintain his power, so detested was he even in his own ancestral district. Thus, in 1808, the new "king," together with his ministerial allies, were forced to flee to the Island of Eimeo, the Tahitians under Opuhara of Papara having utterly routed them without a convert having been gained to Christianity.

After this, in October, 1809, all but two of the missionaries set sail for Australia, leaving only Mr. Nott and Mr. Hayward, who retreated to the Island of Huahine, leaving their friend the "king" a lonely exile upon the little Island of Eimeo, his "Elba" being but ten miles long and five wide. Deserted and helpless, even his native district lost, Pomare came to realize that his sole hope lay in inducing the missionaries to return to his aid. Thus, in 1811, did Pomare II. regain his allies, exhibiting his "change of heart" by begging for baptism from their hands in July, 1812.

This case is by no means unique among the annals of missionary success in the Pacific, for Thakombau of Fiji became a convert only when missionary aid became indispensable to maintain his power, and George Tubou of Tonga gained greatly in material things through his acceptance of Christianity.

In order to appreciate the victory of the missionaries in causing Pomare to accept Christianity, we must remember that the high chiefs in Polynesia were leaders in spiritual far more than in temporal things, and conversion was tantamount upon their part to an abnegation of their godly origin. Thus it was that at first no natives would follow the example of Pomare, all believing him to be mentally deranged. His act seemed that of a Sampson who in despair had crashed the temple upon his own head.

Converts followed slowly, some from conviction, others probably perceiving, as Pomare appears to have done, the worldly advantages to be gained, and thus in 1813 the idols of Eimeo were publicly burned to the great joy of the missionaries, who thereafter gained rapidly in political power and religious authority, arming their converts with both guns and Bibles.[1] Thus in 1815 the missionary party became strong enough to invade Tahiti; and in November of that year they gained a

PSM V86 D457 The diadem fautaua valley tahiti.jpg

"The Diadem." Fautaua Valley, Tahiti.

 

decisive victory, killing Opuhara, the leader of "the Conservatives" and enabling Pomare to capture and destroy the idol of the great god Oro, the "ancestor of the chiefs" a huge, uncarved log covered with red and yellow feathers. Thus through methods savoring more of Mahomet than of Christ was Tahiti converted.

Soon all old customs were crushed out; European clothing and manners were introduced, and rigid laws were enacted obliging all to conform to the outward forms of Christian worship.

A priestly despotism similar to that which prevailed in the seventeenth century in Puritan New England was inaugurated; the Sabbath commencing on Saturday afternoon every one being obliged under penalty of a heavy fine to attend the services of the church. To-day, in the Ellice and Gilbert islands and in other remote parts of Polynesia, a similar tyranny is maintained.

Pomare was "king," but his power was broken never to be restored, and the actual government of Tahiti was in European hands.

The tabu system having been destroyed, Mr. Nott, one of the original missionaries, devised a code of laws in 1819, the "king," chiefs, and people all approving by raising their hands at a public gathering. These laws were still further elaborated in 1826 and were designed to provide a regular system of taxes (tribute), and penalties. The following table may be interesting, for it serves to give an insight into the mental character, spirit of toleration, and power to enforce their rule enjoyed by the missionaries:

Crime Penalty
Working on Sunday, first offense. To make a road 300 feet long and 6 feet wide.
Working on Sunday, second offense. A road 660 feet long.
Stirring up rebellion. A road 660 feet long.
Murder or infanticide. Banishment to some lonely island for life.
Bigamy for men. A road 240 feet long and 6 feet wide.
Bigamy for women. To make two floor-mats.
For being tatooed. A road 60 feet long, and the tatoo-marks to be obliterated by blacking them over.
Drunkenness in men. A road 30 feet long.
Drunkenness in women. Two large mats.
Stealing a pig. A fine of 4 pigs, two for the owner and two for the king.

As Ellis says

the law which prohibits labor on the Sabbath day is perhaps enforced by a penalty disproportionate to the offense.
In most of these penalties a part of the fine went to benefit the king or district chief, who thus profited through the dereliction of his

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House and Natives of Bora Bora, Society Islands.

subjects; and the system of espionage and development of hypocrisy and deceit resulting from such a system may well be imagined, or, if not comprehended, may be observed to-day among the natives of the Ellice and Gilbert Islands.

Having given Tahiti a code of laws, the missionaries proceeded to write out the plan of a "constitutional monarchy" and a "parliament" patterned upon that of England, but Pomare and the high chiefs would have none of it, and the scheme could not be thrust upon the natives until after the death of the king in 1821; when owing to his son Pomare III. being an infant, a "regency" was established and the power of the missionary party was much augmented, although always opposed by the conservatives under Tati, chief of Papara.

Thus in less than a decade were the Tahitians driven over the road of political and social progress that Europe had toiled a thousand years to traverse. The natives were forced to harken to the voices of men of an alien race whose traditions differed wholly from their own, and who looked with ill-concealed contempt upon the religion, folk-lore and arts of old Tahiti, forgetful of the fact that there was much in native culture that was good and should have been encouraged as a basis for future development.

Perhaps the saddest mistake that has been made in the universal attempt to introduce our civilization among the simpler races has been the destruction of almost all that once was theirs in the hope that things of our own creation might arise. Instead, the natives have lost much and gained but little. Under friendly direction, the wonderful wood carving of the Maoris might have been preserved and modified to find a profit-producing market for the natives. The embroidered mats of the Marshall Islanders were the admiration of all who beheld them, so beautiful were their designs and soft their texture. Even so low a race as that of Australia can produce basket-work of superior quality which if honestly encouraged could provide a means of attaining affluence from the native standpoint. The salvation of their very souls lies in the maintenance of their respect as self-supporting men and women, yet even while we preach morality, we permit their only hope of maintaining it to dwindle through our own neglect to find a market for the fruits of their labor and invention. Yet, happily, a ray of hope has come, and on the island of Badu in Torres Straits a laudable attempt is being made

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Council House at Paaia, Tahiti.

by an incorporated English company under the direction of the Reverend E. W. Walker to teach the natives money-making arts and trades and, above all, to procure and develop a market for their wares. No surer road to the attainment of civilization and Christianity could be found and there is a most significant contrast between the industrious, happy natives of Badu, whose faces are alive with intelligence, and hope, and their listless cousins of other islands in Torres Straits.

Perhaps it was but natural that these early Tahitian missionaries grew too greatly to fear mistakes upon the part of the natives, forgetting that the teacher must not do the reading for the child.

A semblance of order and rectitude fell over the stultified life of the natives, while hidden beneath the surface vile things survived concealed. Such a vision of "righteousness" one sees among that most "orderly,

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House near Papara, Tahiti.

well behaved, and moral" community; the convicts of our own state's prisons. Yet progress lives only where action is free to try the unknown, hoping that despite mistakes truth may thereby be revealed, and in proportion as men have won this right does bigotry lose its hold upon their souls.

Yet happily-there are other and more important sides to this picture

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Native House at Papara, Tahiti.

of the work the missionaries accomplished in Tahiti. Bather the truth is that, realizing the fundamental good they accomplished, we, in our regret for their partial failures, are disposed to dwell too deeply upon the darker side. Let us therefore not forget the better things they wrought for, and the difficulties which their courage surmounted. Had they not come there would be no native race living in the Tahiti of today, for with their success, the institutions of infant murder, human sacrifice, native warfare and the society of the Aroei disappeared forever from the land.

Nor must we overlook the bravery of this little band, every one of whom had been threatened many times with death, and at least one of whom had fallen a victim to native hatred. Friendless and far from home, alone, and unprotected, they had labored steadfastly throughout the long sad years of apparent failure, and it seems but natural that in the end they became in some measure the victims of the elation of success.

It was fortunate that from 1817 to 1824 William Ellis, a kindly, tactful and courageous man lived as a missionary upon Tahiti, for not only did he give us in his well-known "Polynesian Researches" the fullest account extant of Tahiti in old days, but his efforts were directed toward encouraging new industries to take the place of many occupations which had been lost.

Among all the missionaries, Ellis appears to be the only one who expressed regret at the abeyance of such harmless sports as archery, surf-board riding, playing with miniature canoes, flying kites, and swinging upon ropes; for the Tahitians were not gamblers as were the Hawaiians; but he says

the adults [Tahitians] do not appear to have thought of following this [archery] or any other game since Christianity has been introduced among them.

Moreover in Tahiti, as elsewhere under the domination of European culture, the native crafts of wood-carving and tapa manufacturing were discouraged and lost, and the great double-decked canoes one hundred feet in length with their ornately carved bows curving upward, were made no longer, and even the Ariirahi's state canoe, called the Anuanua (the rainbow), was doomed to disappear.

In speaking of Tahiti as it was in 1839, Admiral Charles Wilkes, who always champions the introduction of European culture, says:

The change of dress which has been introduced by the missionaries, and other foreigners, has had an injurious effect on the industry of this people. While they wore the native tapa the fabric, though of little value, gave employment to numbers of women; and this change of dress intended as an advance in civilization, has had the effect of superseding employments which formerly engaged their attention and occupied their time. The idleness hence arising, and the artificial wants thus created, have no little influence in perpetuating licentiousness among the females, to whom foreign finery is a great temptation.

In old days beautiful bowls, pillows and seats were carved by the natives out of single pieces of wood, but these also were doomed when brought into competition with even the crudest articles of European manufacture, and moreover their symbolism was repugnant to the new regime, for it maintained the memories of old traditions.

PSM V86 D463 Easter island statue in john brander estate papeete tahiti.jpg

Easter Island Stone Image in the Garden of the Estate of John Brander, Esq., at Papeete, Tahiti.

It should be said that in 1818 the missionaries sought to introduce such civilized employments as the manufacture of cotton cloth, and the cultivation of sugar, coffee and tobacco, and the making of lime for the concrete required in the construction of the ugly, stuffy, little stone houses which were intended to supplant the well-ventilated native thatch. They even went so far as to import a Mr. Gyles from Jamaica to introduce the manufacture of sugar from the cane. He succeeded, but Pomare and the chiefs became fearful that should the industry prove commercially profitable foreign men-of-war would descend upon Tahiti and the natives would be deprived of their lands and reduced to slavery as were the Indians of the West Indies. The opposition of the chiefs was of so determined a nature that the missionaries deemed it advisable to desist, from their attempt, and their effort to introduce a cotton-cloth mill met with similar discouragement.

Indeed, it is doubtful whether the child-like natives would have been either happier or better as mill hands laboring eight or ten hours a day in distilleries or factories than they were each in his own house beneath the palm groves and depending upon the rich bounty of the land and sea for food and clothing. These European autocrats sought in all reforms to begin at the top, and had they displayed the good judgment to teach merely the rudiments of religion, government and agriculture, and to encourage and develop a market for the crafts the natives already practised, they would probably not have felt obliged to complain to Admiral Wilkes that "sincere piety was rarely to be found among the natives."

In 1821 a rebellious return to idolatry broke out among the young and aristocratic element, and after this was sternly suppressed a fanatical sect, the Mamaia, arose in 1828, their leader claiming to be Christ and promising a sensual paradise to his followers. The natives who at first had expected miracles from the white man's god, were, now beginning to lose faith and interest and to loathe the dull life their masters forced upon them, and in 1839, when Admiral Wilkes visited Tahiti he was surprised to find the attendance upon worship on Sunday to be small, less than 200 being present in the church, and most of these being women who "did not appear to be as attentive as they had been represented." These women, he says,

were dressed in a most unbecoming manner in high flaring chip bonnets of their own manufacture, loose gray flowing silk frocks, with showy kerchiefs tied around their necks.

The time has come when the natives of Polynesia are beginning to appeal for freedom to govern and maintain their own churches and under ministers of their own race; to suffer from their own mistakes and win their own achievements.

Yet a great task still remains to the European co-worker for their enlightenment, for everywhere there is a crying need for manual training and technical schools patterned upon the general plan of Booker Washington's Tuskegee Institute. Above all, markets must be sought and developed for the wares and produce of the natives, for most of their present apathy is due to the fact that they can obtain no adequate remuneration of the products of their labor, but are, in effect, penalized for their very industry through the rapacious acts of traders.

Moreover, the present rule of the religious autocrat, essentially altruistic and high minded as it is, has produced only obedient or servile children. Justice demands freedom for the Polynesian—room in which to struggle and to rise. It is an inadequate defense of the present system to say that it is immeasurably more humane than the savage rule of the old chiefs, for it has proven itself incompetent to raise a single native race into, a position of self-supporting independence. We have given them the Bible, but we still withhold from them the means to win their moral self-respect. In other words, the task of the European is

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Canoe at Nukutavake Atoll, Paumotus.

but half completed, and the effect of leaving it at this stage is all too apparent in long settled regions such as the Hawaiian Islands, where, after the most easily attained conversion in the history of the Pacific, the natives have steadily sunken, and are to-day a degraded, downcast remnant—mere peons of commercialism, their past forgotten and their future hopeless.

How different this history might have been if along with instruction respecting the lives of Adam and Eve, Abraham, and Sampson, the missionaries had maintained the native arts, modifying them to meet the demands of markets which might have provided the native race with a means of livelihood and replaced the lost ambition due to the abolition of war. Beautiful wall papers and screens might have been made from the delicate tapas of old Hawaii, and their women were once skilled to an unusual degree in feather work and weaving.

We speak of the island races as being "lazy," forgetting that there is as yet no adequate reward for their labor. When opportunity offers, they strive well, as in the crude process of the copra industry, which, after having been introduced by the great German merchant, Godeffroy, in the middle of the nineteenth century, has proved to be the commercial salvation of Polynesia.

But to return to the political history of Tahiti. On December 7, 1821, Pomare II. died as a result of long-continued drunkenness, and on April 21, 1824, his son, a boy of four years, was crowned by Mr. Nott, one of the original missionaries as "Pomare III., constitutional king of Tahiti." The education of the young "king" was at once undertaken by the missionaries, but on January 11, 1827, he died of an epidemic which was then ravaging the island; and Aimata, his half sister, was proclaimed queen, taking the name of Pomare-Vahine (The Lady Pomare), although more commonly known as "Queen Pomare IV."

At the time of her accession she was only about thirteen years of age, and thus dependent upon the missionaries for advice, and, as the sequel proved, rarely was queen more in need of broad-minded and tactful advisers, for the end of Tahitian independence was at hand, and the fateful question was—should England or should France assume the government of the island?

Several elements in the foreign population were causing trouble to the natives, these being the traders who sought to bleed the Tahitians of all the little wealth they possessed, the degenerate deserters from ships and other parasitic whites who were a constant source of demoralization, and the sons of the missionaries, who, in general, lacked the altruism of their parents and sought to acquire land and to exploit the Island at the expense of the natives. Conditions such as these have worked themselves out in the Hawaiian Islands, ending by the descendants of the missionaries acquiring nearly all the lands the natives once possessed.

In Tahiti the native chiefs, following the policy they adopted in respect to the cultivation of sugar cane, had determined to discourage the permanent residence of white men among them, and had steadfastly refused to sell or even to grant long leases to their land, and thus the natives as a race were still independent home-owners, and happy in the enjoyment of their accustomed means of obtaining sustenance.

The salient fact is that the white settler in the tropics is concerned chiefly with his own profit, and but little with the elevation of the native race. Through artificial devices designed to restrict the liberty of the natives, or through the imposition of high taxes, the white man virtually peonizes the native race and forces the brown man to labor far beyond the little effort required to provide all his natural needs, and in the end the profit accruing from such toil is found in the pockets of the white man. To-day over those parts of the tropics wherein the white man gains a profit from the land, as in the Dutch East Indies or in parts of Africa, this modern ingenious form of slavery pertains. In other

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Pearl Divers Moving their House, Hikuom Island, Paumotus.

 

words, a form of commercial peonage has replaced the old possession of the body of the slave, and only in proportion as the land is poor, or markets far away, is the native rich in communal liberty.

These facts, well appreciated as they are by the natives are the chief causes of racial distrust, for the native realizes that the European is his exploiter, not his friend. Unable to maintain his ground in open contest, he has recourse to all manner of subterfuge. Much of his so called "laziness" and "lack of ambition" results from these conditions, for while he is sufficiently industrious and often hard working in so far as his own personal needs and profits are concerned; if he can by any means avoid working for the white man's benefit he will do so, even though he must himself endure privation to accomplish this end.[2]

Events in Tahiti moved slowly, for the age of the steamship had not yet come, and the South Sea Islands were still remote from the world's activity.

In 1835 the Catholics began to establish missions among the Pacific Islands, and thus the French government acquired a plausible reason for sending men-of-war into the Pacific, avowedly to afford protection to these missions, but in reality to expand the realms of France.

In Tahiti the drama opened when two French priests. Fathers Laval and Caret, embarked upon a small schooner from Mangareva and landed on Tahiti on November 21, 1836.

The antagonism between the protestant missionaries and their catholic co-workers was well known to these French priests, and thus they avoided Papeete, the only port of entry, and sought a landing upon the remote coast of Tautira on the eastern side of the Island. They then walked slowly along the shore toward Papeete preaching at frequent intervals, and gaining the ears of Tati and other leaders of the old conservative party whose aspirations had been crushed by the missionary element in 1815.

Henceforth the struggle lay between the protestants and the French, the Queen being but a puppet in the hands of Mr. Pritchard, a missionary who was then serving as British Consul; and the upshot of the affair was that on December 13, 1836, the priests were expelled from Tahiti for having failed to respect the port regulations in landing surreptitiously at Tautira; their offer to pay the statutory fine being refused by the Queen.

But the martyr spirit was as strong in these French priests as in their protestant adversaries, and with unexpected suddenness they reappeared, this time as passengers on the American brig Colombo which anchored in Papeete Harbor on January 27, 1837. Their application for permission to land met with a prompt refusal, and with their disappearance the curtain falls upon the first scene of the drama.

The second opens when on August 29, 1838, the French frigate Venus, under Commodore DuPetit-Thouars, bore down upon Papeete, and, training her guns upon the town, demanded first an apology, second 2,000 Spanish dollars, and third a salute of twenty-one guns for the French flag.

The native sources of money-revenue were derived largely from washing done for ships, of which employment Her Majesty and the high chiefs enjoyed a monopoly, and the hopelessness of attempting to pay this enormous indemnity was so overpowering that in her despair the Queen is said to have advised the ceding of the entire Island to the French.

Even had the town been shelled, retreat to the hillsides would have given the natives hardly more concern than in the days of Wallis, but it was far otherwise with the English residents, who, moreover, were already scheming for a British protectorate. Thus the foreign residents came to the aid of the Queen and the indemnity was promptly paid, the French, however, being obliged to provide the powder used to salute their own flag, for, as Mr. Pritchard states in his "Polynesian Reminiscences," upon the entire Island there was not sufficient powder for more than five of the twenty-one shots required.[3]

The French Commodore then demanded a treaty by virtue of which Frenchmen of all professions were to be permitted to establish themselves upon Tahiti; and after obliging the Queen to accept a French Consul of his own choosing, the Venus sailed away.

Most unwisely, immediately after the departure of the Venus, the Queen, instigated by Pritchard and the missionaries, issued a law forbidding the teaching of Roman Catholic doctrines in Tahiti; when, like a bird of ill omen, another frigate L'Artemise rose above the horizon, but in approaching the island she struck so heavily upon the coral reef that had it not been for native aid in towing her into Papeete Harbor she would have sunk. No sooner were her injuries repaired, however, than her captain, running out his guns, demanded equal rights for both Catholics and Protestants, and the cession of a site for a Roman Catholic church. Soon after this in 1841 the chiefs of the old conservative party applied to France for protection; the Queen, instigated by Pritchard, having already addressed a similar appeal to England.[4]

A semblance of peace then fell upon the scene and for several years the wide waste of the Pacific seemed to afford the protection of isolation to the little island. But the government of Louis Philippe was casting covetous eyes upon the Pacific, usurpation at home having bred aggression abroad; and in September, 1842, the sails of another frigate. La Reine Blanche, rose and shaped themselves upon that eastern horizon whence in other days Wallis, and Cook, and Bougainville had come, and the evil genius of Tahiti, DuPetit-Thouars, once more frowned down upon the affrighted land.

  1. See "The Memoirs of Arii Taimai," p. 160.
  2. A most interesting and thoughtful analysis of such conditions has been given by Sir Sydney Oliver, former Governor of Jamaica, in his book upon "White Capital and Colored Labor."
  3. This event is depicted in Plate No. 53 accompanying the "Voyage autour du monde" by A. DuPetit-Thouars, Paris, 1841.
  4. Great Britain responded by a pleasing but non-commital letter, and a gift to the queen of some household furniture, which through an irony of fate arrived just in time to be of service to Bruat, the first French Governor.