Something very strange was brewing in Europe at this time. For centuries past there had been massive marchings of peoples in the hemisphere of land, unknown of course to the people of the ocean. Aryan hordes had poured from Persia to India between 2000 and 1200 B.C. Later Alexander had led the Greeks to India through Asia Minor. The Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan overran China. Greatest of all was the methodical Roman conquest of the Mediterranean basin, lasting some one thousand years until Attila the Hun and the Visigoth raiders toppled its tired, degenerate civilization. Then, after those visit continental upheavals, came the thousand-year Medieval slumber, during the same years when the Polynesians were regrouping and evolving themselves in the hemisphere of water on the western approaches to the Pacific.
The land masses of Eurasia and of Africa north of the Sahara were all spoken for now. In India and china, the two massive civilizations of Asia had long ago filled to overflowing their huge ecological niches. By the 1450s the restless and aggressive peoples of the European and Middle Eastern earth had reached the ultimate barriers of the world as they conceived its finite extent, a land mass encompassed by a mysterious infinite sea. Then Columbus found a new world and each nation suddenly realized - as the Polynesians had before them on the other side of the globe - that the sea, instead of the fearsome barrier it had always been, was instead a highroad to new worlds to conquer. All that was needed were ships, and one by one the competitive states of Europe began to build them. Then the whole European subcontinent began to burst forth, not as a massive entity but in successive national pulsations. And these new ventures were selective invasions by sea in ships over the oceans, in place of the massive footslogging invasions of past history. Curiously enough this was roughly the same time when the Polynesians were reaching by sea their ultimate population limits on their most recently settled peripheral islands.
Of course ships had been known long time since in Europe, but until Columbus, Europeans had never crossed the oceans. They had been coastal sailors only, not deep-water men. An exception was the Norsemen venturing to Greenland, island-hopping by way of the Shetlands, Faeroes, and Iceland, and even touching North America. But those open-water stretches were no more than three in four hundred miles. No one paid much attention to these Norsemen and purposely they did not spread the news of their sporadic feats. European maritime historians boast of the Phoenicians within the "vast" Mediterranean and of voyages out of the Strait of Gibraltar and along the Atlantic coasts to fetch lead and tin from Cornwall and Ireland. Arab dhows even sailed eastward to India, probably north-coasting the Arabian Sea. These were brave deeds, from Ulysses onward, but they were eventually coastal, rarely more than a few days out of sight of land. Even the Azores and Canaries wee probably not discovered or at least not settled, until the twelfth or thirteenth century, more than one thousand years after the Polynesians were crossing the dark blue Pacific.
Only the ancestors of our Polynesians could claim true deep-sea voyaging before Columbus. And strangely enough, these illiterate "primitives" achieved not only that precedence but voyages of well over two thousand miles of open ocean. Nobody paid attention to them either. Indeed nobody in Europe even knew there was an ocean over there beyond the comfortable earthy borders of their non globular., flat, fearsomely water-surrounded world. The Polynesian concept was another story in another separate world, equally flat in projection, but a world of friendly water punctuated by rich little islands and similarly surrounded by the forbidding unknown. Following the Portuguese pioneers, the Spaniards were of course the first conquistadores and they quickly gobbled up the enormous tropical areas of the new continents all the way from Florida in California southward to Peru. What a conquest! Larger than the whole of Europe and North Africa combines, indeed just about the same size as the whole of Europe's then known world except for hazy Asia, and the African deserts and jungles. No wonder such huge tracts made them greedy for more, and when the easy gold ran thin, no wonder they reached out over the barren North Pacific to the Philippines and the lands of spice. No wonder also that these Spaniards soon began to run thin themselves, and in time were the first to lose the only thing they eve really wanted: overseas gold.
Next came the Dutchmen to the East Indies and so entranced were they with the immediate riches of spices and trade that they ignored the austral continent which they had discovered and could have exploit4ed for their exploding population. It was left then to the English and the French to conquer the rest of the world and we must give them some credit for they went out not exclusively to exploit but also to settle and, as they thought, to improve. Not too much credit, because they did some long-term exploiting also, especially in India, Egypt, Indo-china, Algeria. Their Pacific settlements were dumpings, at first, of excess and unwanted growths in their own populations: criminals first, to empty their prisons into penal colonies, then nonconformists, religious fanatics, splinter sects - undesirables who were too respectable intellectually to be classed as lawbreakers, yet clearly citizens to be got rid of. Things at home were made difficult enough for these people so that most of them shipped themselves off to North America, Australia and New Zealand. Alas, they were self-righteous enough to decimate indigenous populations without a qualm: American Indians and Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maori.
The English were a bit better at it than their rivals the French because, although the two countries whacked up the remaining world between them, the English bested the French in the long run because Englishmen came to stay, to work, to become Americans and Australians. Frenchmen came to suffer a necessary separation from La Belle France, always harboring within them a craving to return home again. They had not their hearts in it as did the English, and so, in time, they were thrown out, expelled militantly from America, thwarted in New Zealand, contained in the Middle East, excluded from India and southern Africa. So the whole world was carved up as Europe helped herself while Russia slept and china's inner kingdom suffered humiliating intrusions even though she retained the basic integrity that she is at last asserting today. Japan fended off fiercely all attempts even of contrast, but of course there was not much to conquer in those overpopulated, resource-poor islands. The rest of the world submitted, surly bit subservient, as their peoples had always been, to remote masters. Whether the conquerors were white or black or yellow, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, or Hindu made little difference. Exploitation was the rule of the centuries. All stay-at-home peoples of the land half of the world were born and bred to it. A Release from bondage was to come eventually in this twentieth century from their English masters, through the consciences and the weaknesses of their local governors powered by the gradual, oh-so-slow emergence of the concept of the equality of man. And the English example was, in time, to se that whole world tumultuously, bloodily, unpeacefully free.
But not the Pacific water world, not yet. And Tahiti? Here in microcosm was, and still is, a test-tube study of the evils and dubious blessings of the implacable Anglo-French drive to colonial conquest. North America had been staked out for the English when Wolfe defeated Montcalm at Quebec in 1759. And, oddly enough these men participated in this critical battle who were later to loom large on Tahiti's horizon: Samuel Wallis, a midshipman transporting troops for Wolfe, Louis de Bougainville, then a soldier, aide-de-camp to Montcalm; and James Cook, a promising young marine surveyor in the Royal Navy who charted the river approaches for the British army landings.
The American Revolution had little direct effect on Tahiti except that it is interesting to note that Cook's voyages of exploration were protected from harassment by an understanding of mutual agreement between the British and their warring American colonies. In March 1779, Benjamin Franklin, then American ambassador to France, issued from his residence of Passy an open letter to all American shipmasters, bidding them aid Captain Cook's ships, despite their nationality, designating his mission an undertaking truly laudable in itself, as the increase of geographical knowledge facilitates the communication between distant nations, in the exchange of useful products and manufactures, and the extension of arts, whereby the common enjoyments of human life are multiplied and augmented in general. ... A noble gesture even though the Congress failed to support it.
The French Revolution distracted both English and French from their colonizing ambitions for some decades while Nelson, heroically, and Napoleon, humiliatingly, were being disposed of. The British, having won the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, got a splendid head start at sea while the French were recovering from their gigantic European and domestic landward upheavals. The English secured the continent of Australia with ease, but they beat their rivals to the prize colonizing potential of New Zealand by only a few months. A French expedition under Lavaud, who was later to become the second governor of Tahiti, had se tout to take over New Zealand early in 1840 and arrived at the Bay of Islands in May to find the British already in possession and to learn that the infamous Treaty of Waitangi had been signed only thirteen days before Lavaud had set sail from Brest. The French made a pass at the South Island, but after a bit of skirmishing, the local British commander was able to bluff them out of this alternative prize.
Now this digression to New Zealand may seem incidental to a history of Tahiti, but I feel it has a significant bearing because, as a result of their success in the western Pacific, the British were apparently willing to concede the Marquesas Islands and Tahiti to the French as consolation prizes. The scattered island world was there for the taking. As you read of protest and riposte, of give and take, of national prides inflamed and national tempers soothed in the minutes and demarches, the speeches and rhetoric that flew back and forth across the Channel from the British Foreign Office to the Ministry of State, even from the Chamber of Deputies to the House of Commons, you realize that a military and diplomatic game of chess was being played between these old rivals who at that time certainly considered themselves, and were indeed generally recognized as, the two great superpowers of the earth. A couple of pawns like Tahiti and the Marquesas could readily be sacrificed for a rook like new Zealand. And even a knight such as New Caledonia could b4e conceded for another pawn such as Norfolk while Fiji, the Solomons, the New Hebrides, and others awaited their turns. A concrete expression of this state of affairs appears in the instructions issued to Bougainville where Choiseul said that France would spare no pains to gain a footing also, in whatever seas the English attempt to settle in; she would never consent to the formation by England of new colonies in anyh part of the world unless she herself were free to form colonies in like manner. Of course an Englishman at the time would have discounted this as blustering French amour propre, but England was having trouble with her American colonies and did not want to add to her martial commitments for the sake of a few romantic islands.
This of course is to speak only of the Pacific: far-flung, small-fry compared to North Africa, where France was straining for Algeria and England for Egypt and both of them for the Middle East, India, Indochina, and such sub-Saharan lands as the Cape provinces and Madagascar. But before the guns began to talk, the forces of the Gospels had begun to be deployed. The Spaniards had of course blazed the trails in reverse of the order to come, sending their priests into the wreckage left by their soldiers of the Aztec and Inca civilizations to consolidate their power so that their gold miners and merchants could reap the long-term rewards of conquest. The stakes were different in the Pacific: no gold mines or plantations, only islands - but such beautiful smiling islands with such peaceful smiling people on them. First off they seemed best for penal colonies, then for settlers, and always for strategic military bastions or supply depots on the great trade routes to China. here again on the spiritual battlefield the British heat their rivals to the draw. The London Missionary Society sent out its first "troops" in 1797 and gained a foothold in Tahiti that ;makes Protestantism dominant to this day in spite of official French roman Catholic rule.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before considering such post-contact occurrences, let us review briefly the men and events that brought the Europeans to Tahiti and in so doing revolutionized its way of life and began the ravishment of its long-established culture. The first to arrive was that same Samuel Wallis, midshipman, landing troops on the Plains of Abraham. Now in 1767 he is a Lieutenant in the British Navy in command of H.M.S. Dolphin on a voyage of exploration to find the fabulous southern continent that, as all the great European geographers agreed, must be spread across the antipodes to balance the known land masses of the Northern hemisphere. Mind you, the popular recognition of the roundness of the globe and especially the immensity of its size were relatively new concepts to the European mind. Columbus's voyages had led to the discovery of the two huge new continents. Magellan had spanned the North Pacific and revealed its stunning extent. surely, thought the sages of the Royal Society and My Lords of the Admiralty, there must lie a vast new continent in the vast new Southern Ocean. What an exciting idea and nothing to gainsay it.
But Samuel Wallis did not find it. He was a poor choice for the job. He arrived at Tahiti sick and discouraged after a fearful battle with the elements to negotiate the Southern Straits. Tahiti's natives seemed friendly at first, but they soon attacked with torrents of slingstones from their canoes. Wallis retaliated with musket fire, grapeshot and cannon ball, killing and wounding dozens of the astounded and helpless islanders. when they had fled to the hills, he sent his men ashore to destroy wantonly their beached canoes - beautiful craft, the most precious fruit of hundreds of man-years of patient Tahitian labor and skill. This was to teach them a lesson. They learned it well, this first, swift, brutal revelation of the cruel power and implacable nature of their white visitors. After that there was no more lethal hostility, only the age-old Polynesian games of thievery and seduction. To protect his men, Wallis set a line of defense along the little river that ran between the mainland and the point where his scurvy-ridden crew was recuperating. His armed patrols were effective enough in keeping the Tahitians safely to their side of the stream, but he had not reckoned on the beguiling wiles of the provocative vahines and soon found that most of his ailing invalids were crossing over to infiltrate the palms and bushes Pursuits, threats, disciplines, rewards - no counter-measures that Wallis could muster were equal to the attractions of the wenches, so he soon pulled up anchor and, after only five weeks in port, almost all of which he himself spent on board ship, he sailed out of lovely Matavai Bay. The visit must have had a peculiar effect on his mind, for instead of heading south to pursue the designated purpose of his secret exploratory mission, he headed north and then west to encounter only a few tiny islands before engaging the conventional homeward route of the China trade.
Wallis himself kept a careful journal as he was required to do by Royal Navy orders. But it is dull reading and has never been published. His sailing master however, one George Robertson, has left us many, pithy human insights.
The country hade the most Beautiful appearance its posable to Imagin, from the shore side, one two and three miles Back their is a fine Leavel country that appears to be all laid out in plantations, and the regular built Houses seems to be without number, all allong the Coast, they appeared lyke long farmers Barns and seemed to be all very neatly thatched, with Great Numbers of Cocoa Nut Trees and several oyr trees that we could not know the name of all allong the shore - the Interior part of the country is very Mountainous but their is beautiful valeys between the Mountains - from the foot of the Mountains half way up the Country appears to be all fine pasture land, except a few places which seemed to be plowed or dug up for planting or sowing some sort of seed-from that to the very topes of the mountains is all full of tall trees but what sort they are I know not but the whole was Green. This appears to be the most populoss country I ever saw, the whole shore side was lined with men, women and children all the way we Saild along.
the natives ... brought o the water side a good many fine young Girls down of different colours, some was a light coper collour oyrs a mullato and some almost if not altogether White - this new sight Attract our mens fance a good dale, and the natives observd it, and made the young girls play a great many droll wanting (wanton) tricks, and the men made signs of friendship to entice our people ashoar, but they prudently referd going ashore, untill we were better aquanted with the temper of this people.
Their love of Iron is so great that the women (or rather Girls, for they were very young and small) prostitute themselves to any of our People for a Nail, hardly looking upon Knives, Beads, or any toy. Yet I must say yt the Girls who were of the white sort would admit of any Freedom but the last ... the Young Girls ... had now rose their price ... from a twenty to a thirty penny nail, to a forty penny nail, and some was so extravagant as to demand a Seven or nine inch Spick.
What must the Tahitian have thought of this sudden while-skinned, womanless arrival? He had known for generations a mythical tale of a white god arriving in a single-hull canoe - a vessel that would have been inconceivable to him except in a dream. Would he have accepted this miraculous presence from another world as Europe accepted the discovery of Columbus? Probably. No one there knew of the finite contours of our globe. No one had thought to sail out into ultra-oceanic space. for three thousand years these people had had their own self-contained world and one senses, perhaps irrationally but somehow intuitively, that they were getting tired of it. Ready to find something fresh and new and bigger, as we are today ready for the discovery of outer space. As we look back on these islanders, they were wonderfully adaptable and long accustomed to change of all sorts. Our advent did not appear to shatter them, though actually it did. They had long been accustomed to changing names: important ones of high chiefs because of a sneeze in the night; of their staff of life, breadfruit, from uru to maiore because a bad chief chose to make his name Uru.
Captain Bligh obliges us again with an on-the-scene comment: The People here as well as in England have several Names, and being differently used, it is frequently perplexing when the same person is spoke of, to know who is meant. Every Chief has perhaps a dozen Names in the course of 30 Years, so the Man or woman that has been spoken of by one Navigator under a particular name, will not be known by another, unless other causes lead to a Discovery.... I now find that Otoo or more properly Tynah, for that is his name since the Sovereignty is devolved to his son, is still the greatest personage on this part of the Island. I shall now therefore for the future call him Tynah, the name of Otoo or Too, as it is differently spoken, being now the name of his eldest Son who is between five and Six years Old, reigning under the direction of his Father, whose name always goes from him as soon as he has a Son. Under such circumstances that a Parent should lose his power and authority is a most extraordinary thing, but I believe it is not less true, than it is unnatural and absurd.
Even changes of gods took place; such as the peaceful Tane of love and plenty to the warrior Oro, eater of men. Eventually they tossed aside their ancient religion and embraced the new one. It took some years and much agony to do so, but they had apparently reached a stage when the old religion was flagging. Perhaps they were bored with Oro and their many minor gods and ready for a fresh new world.
The next European to land on our island was Count Louis Antoine de Bougainville whom we first noted in the siege and capture of Quebec as a aide-de-camp of the glamorous French Commander Montcalm. Bougainville had come a long way in the ensuing decade. An offspring of a middle-class but well-funded and influential family, he had soon shown an unusual intelligence and charm of personality. he had proved himself a bright and energetic aide to the general. His army was ready to send him swiftly upward, but he was evidently more interested in science, the arts, adventure, society, and diplomacy than in military tactics or strategy. he went to London to study and soon became a member of the royal Society, a rare and distinguished compliment for a young French soldier-diplomat who was not of noble blood. Then somehow he made friends in Paris in the powerful Ministry of the Marine and became a sailor, later an admiral no less, and was now in charge of the first of a series of resplendent voyages of discovery to be sent out and welcomed back with all the trimmings by His Royal Majesty Louis XV, king of the French.
He had set sail from France in 1766 before Wallis had returned to Europe with the news of the discovery of Tahiti, so his own discovery in 1768 was a genuine one in the European, though not of course in the Polynesian, sense. He landed on the east coast of the island and nearly lost his two ships in a meager, exposed harbor, thereby showing he was not much of a sailor, for he could easily have coasted to protected harbors on the lee side. He was not much of an explorer either, in spite of the paeans of French historians, for he stayed only eight or nine days and walked hardly a mile from his ship. It would indeed seem to have been an uneventful and unimaginative visit. and yet it inspired the most romantic reaction of any discovery in history. Imagine yourself a European of those times. Columbus had only recently (two hundred fifty years was a short interval then) revealed the existence of two huge, utterly new continents. You had just begun to realize the immensity of the Pacific. Of course there must be a whole new continent to find and of course these new islands and new lands would be peopled with Jean-Jacques Rousseau's untouched, unspoiled children of nature - a living laboratory to make the dreams of the master philosopher and his thousands of cultists throughout Europe emerge from romantic idealism into suddenly confirming physical reality.
Bougainville named his island "La Nouvelle Cythere" after the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite and described its inhabitants as such happy children of a South Sea Eden that a whole newly strengthened mythology of the virtues of Man in Nature swept the cynical civilized world of the day. Indeed it still nourishes many a fond and foolish dreamer. Although Bougainville protested that his reports had been overblown, he did bring back with him a comely Tahitian lad who almost instantly took the fickle social world of Paris by storm. Ahutoru with his Polynesian smiles, courtesies and, perhaps, his Polynesian prowess in ladies' boudoirs, was Exhibit A in the flesh, the Man of Nature par excellence. Bougainville also leaves us a telling insight into the intimate ways of Polynesian humanity and, coming from an intellectual Frenchman, it is naturally a bit more sophisticated, though perhaps no more intuitively unerring, than the perceptions of George Robertson.
Polygamy seems established amongst them, at least it is so amongst the chief people. As love is their only passion, the great number of women is the only luxury of the opulent. Their children are taken care of, both by their fathers and their mothers. It is not the custom at Tahiti, that the men occupied only with their fishery and their wars, leave to the weaker sex the toilsome works of husbandry and agriculture. Here a gentle indolence falls to the shore of the women; and the endeavors to please are their most serious occupation. I cannot say whether their marriage is a civil contract, or whether it is consecrated by religion, whether it is indissoluble, or subject to the laws of divorce. Be this as it will, the wives owe their husbands a blind submission, they would wash with their blood any infidelity committed without their husband's consent. That, it is true, is easily obtained, and jealousy is so unknown a passion here, that the husband is commonly the first who persuades his wife to yield to another. An unmarried women suffers no constraint on that account; every thing invited her to follow the inclination of her heart, or the instinct of her sensuality; and public applause honours her defeat: nor does it appear, that how great soever the number of her previous lovers may have been, it should prove an obstacle to her meting with a husband afterwards. Then wherefore should she resist the influence of the climate, or the seduction of examples: the very air which people breathe, their songs, their dances, almost constantly attended within decent postures, all conspire to call to mind the sweets of love, all engage to give themselves up to them. They dance to the sound of a kind of drum, and when they sing, they accompany their voices with a very soft kind of flute, with three or four holes, which, as I have observed above, the blow with their noses. They likewise practice a kind of wrestling; which, at the same time, is both exercise and play to them, of wrestling; which, at the same time, is both exercise and play to them.
Thus accustomed to live continually immersed in pleasure the people of Tahiti have acquired a witty and humorous temper, which is the offspring of ease and Joy.
How did he learn so much in so short a time? Another incident of Bougainville's brief dalliance is an amusing contrast to the two far-distant cultures. Philbert de Commerson, who was the surgeon and naturalist on Bougainville's companion ship, the Etoile, had brought with him a young valet to tend his personal needs and to help him with his collections, sketches, and records. When the valet first went ashore on an errand for his master, the Tahitians promptly laid hands on him and playfully stripped off his clothing, thereby revealing to his astonished shipmates an indubitable young maiden, one Jeanne Baret, who went on to become the first female of Homo sapiens (or perhaps any other species) to circumnavigate the globe.
Next the course and by far the most importantly comes our final member of the trio of Quebec, James Cook, to observe the transit of Venus in 1769 and on his second voyage in 1772-75 to zigzag through the southern reaches of the ocean and prove at last that there was no such thing as a great earth-balancing southern continent. His accomplishments as an explorer are too well known to need review here and he was not a particularly sensitive observer and recorder of Polynesian life, but there are a couple of entries in his journal that reintroduce to us Ariitaimai's Great-Aunt Purea, the one who had caused such trouble in Papara. she was in her forties now, well past her prime. In the words of Cook's young astronomer William Wales, an old demi-rip of quality.
Tuesday June 20th, 1769. Last night Obarea (Purea) made us a Viset who we have not seen for some time we were told of her coming and that she would bring with her some of the Stolen things, which we gave credit to because we knew several of them were in her possession, but we were surprised to find this woman put her self wholy in our power and not bring with her one article of what we had lost. The excuse she made was that her gallant, a Man that used to be along with her, did steal them and she had beat him and turn'd him away; but she was so sensible of her own guilt that she was ready to drop down through fear -- and yet she had resolution enough to insist upon sleeping in Mr Bank's Tent all night and was with difficulty prevailed upon to go to her Canoe altho no one took the least notice at her. In the Morning she brought her Canoe with every thing she had to the Gate of the Fort, after which we could not help admiring her for her Courage and the confidence she seem 'd to place in us and thought that we could do no less than to receive her into favour and accept the presents she had brought us which Consisted of a Hog a Dog some Bread fruit & Plantains. We refused to except of the Dog as being an animal we had no use for, at which she seem'd a little surprized and told us that it was very good eating and we very soon had an opportunity to find that it was so, for Mr Banks having brought a basket of fruit in which happened to be the thigh of a Dog dress'd, of this several of us taisted and found that it was meat not to be despise'd and therefore took Obarea's dog and had him immidiately dress'd by some of the Natives in the following manner. They first mad a fire, and heated some small Stones, while this was doing the Dog was Strangle'd and the hair got off by laying him frequently upon the fire, and as clean as if it had been scalded off with hot water, his entrails were taken out and the whole washed clean, and as soon as the stones and hole was sufficiently heated, the fire was put out, and part of the Stones were left in the bottom of the hole, upon these stones were laid Green leaves and upon them the Dog together with the entrails. These were likewise cover'd with leaves and over them hot stones, and then the whole was close cover'd with mould: after he had laid there about 4 hours, the Oven (for so I must call it) was open'd and the Dog taken out whole and well done, and it was the opinion of every one who taisted of it that they Never eat sweeter meat, we therefore resolved for the future not to despise Dog flesh. It is in this manner that the Natives dress, or Bake all their Victuals that require it, Flesh, Fish and fruit.
Wednesday 21st. This morning a chief whose name is Oamo (Amo) and one we had not seen before, came to the fort, there came with him a Boy about 7 years of Age and a young woman about 18 or 20, at the time of their coming Obarea and several others were in the fort, they sent out to meet them, having first uncover'd their heads and bodies as low as their waists and the same thing was done by all those that were on the out side of the fort, as we looked upon this as a ceremonial Respect and had not seen it paid to any one before we thought that this Oamo must be some extraordinary person, and wonder'd to see so little notice taken of him after the Ceremony was over. The young woman that came along with him could not be preval'd upon to come into the fort and the boy was carried upon a Mans Back, altho he was as able to walk as the Man who carried him. This lead us to inquire who they were and we was inform'd that the Boy was Heir apparent to the Sovereignty of the Island and the young woman was his sister and as such the respect was paid them, which was due to no one else except the Areedehi which was not Tootaha from what we could learn, but some other person who we had not seen, or like to do, for they say that he is no friend of ours and therefore will not come near us. The young boy above mentioned is Son of Oamo by Obarea, but Oamo and Obarea did not at this time live together as man and wife he not being able to endure with her troublesome disposission, I mention this because it shows that separation in the Marriage state is not unknown to this people.
But Cook's significance to future internal events in the island lay not in his splendid explorations and discoveries, but in his fixation on Matavai Bay as the best of anchorages and his bequest of it to future English mariners. He thus inadvertently allied European power with the weaker, traditionally inferior chiefs of the north and opened the way for the overthrow of the political equilibrium of the ancient Tahitian culture. Other explorers to these islands and the Marwquesas followed the cautious and methodical Vancouver, the Russians Lisiansky and Kotzebue, the Americans Porter and Ingraham. More were to follow at intervals well into the 1800s. But the most notable reporter of our chief interest here, the human natures of the island people, was cook's sailing master on his third and final voyage, William Bligh. Bligh is of course best known for the mutiny, for its complex initial causes for Bligh's heroic escape, and for the dramatic fate of the mutineers on Pitcairn Island. Little notice has been taken, however, of the serious effects on the Tahitians caused by the presence of the desperadoes who remained on the island for nearly two turbulent and corrupting years before their recapture by the British authorities (but more of that later). And Bligh should be given credit for being one of the keenest observers of the idiosyncracies of these strangely individualistic beings, whom he so acutely perceived as humans while most other of Her Majesty's officers were looking down their noses at them as heathens, savages, or at best children. I have sprinkled his comments through the test and will sum up with: I was under the necessity this afternoon to punish Alexn. Smith with 12 lashes for suffering the Gudgeon of the large Cutter to be drawn out without knowing it. Several chiefs were on board at the time, and with their Wives interceded for the Man, but seeing it had no effect they retired, and the women in general showed every degree of Sympathy which marked them to be the most humane and affectionate creatures in the World.
After the early explorers come the first of the aforementioned missionaries in the good ship duff in 1797. Then the infiltrators - deserters, traders, beachcombers, merchants. After them the whalers, having pretty much fished out the Atlantic, break into our ocean and, finding Tahiti the best place to rest and refresh and regale themselves, bring as many as seventy or eighty ships a year into Papeete in the late 1830s. Their apostle is Herman Melville in 1843, but again we are getting ahead of our story.
Penetration: The Missionaries, 1797
The missionaries were a curious breed. The London Missionary Society was founded in 1795, its moving and guiding spirit a Reverend Thomas Haweis. The founders and directors were a group of middle-class zealots apparently quite different from the aristocrats of the Church of England. They came from a variety of sects. Methodists, Baptists, Calvanists, Wesleyans, Presbyterians, rebels one might say, or escapists from the Established Anglican Church. Many such religious renegades had been migrating to the American colonies starting, of course, with the Mayflower. There they had continued their boisterous rebelliousness among themselves, Roger Williams splintering off to Rhode Island, a mass exodus to New Jersey, Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards fulminating from their pulpits, Salem burning its witches and so on for nearly a century. But now, after the revolution, America was no longer a brace of colonies, so where could the English nonconformist go? Fortunately new worlds had just been found by the explorers and they were filled with savages who had never heard of the True God and were reveling in heathen orgies that were pouring vast quantities of souls into Satan's lap as he sat smiling in Hell. These misguided children of nature knew nothing, alas, of their original sin. No one had told them about Adam and Eve and the Apple. So the confident saviors of London banded together, raised money from pious widows and alms-begging children; raised recruits partly from their own ordained brethren, but mostly from artisans, mechanics, carpenters ....
Turmoil: the Old Order Changes - 1815
Meanwhile the social structure of Tahiti was changing considerably. The traditional order of four or five more-or-less equal high chiefs had been upset by European monarchical tradition, by European arms and by the driving ambitions of one relatively low-ranking but ruthless line of chiefs who saw and seized their chance to become English-type "kings" with the help of muskets from English explorers and traders and even from English missionaries needing to protect themselves. A chief of "Tuamotuan ancestry named Tu, who later renamed himself Pomare (and still later his son, Pomare II) became for the first time in its history the supreme chief of all Tahiti, introducing dictatorship to what had been an essentially democratic society.
The Pomares' ancestral lands were the low-lying coral atolls to the northeast. They are a huge archipelago some six hundred miles from end to end composed of nearly a hundred scattered islands, the remnants of what must have been a huge mountain range many, many millions of years ago. The tectonic plate on which these volcanoes rested had long since subsided into the Pacific floor, leaving rings of coral on the surface that had grown upward with the sun as their foundations sank. They were inhabited by a fierce branch of Polynesian warriors who were feared and despised by their neighbors to the northeast in the high, mountainous Marquesas Islands and their opposite neighbors to the southwest in the Society Islands. The Tuamotuans were a hardy, aggressive race, perhaps because living was so precarious on those low, desolate coral rings where drinking water came only from coconuts and where fish and shellfish were the only protein and where none of the high-island vegetables would grow. The first Pomare gained a toe-hold in Tahiti by marrying the heiress of a small but independent district in the north of the island. Rhen, by persuading Cook and his successors (who had made Matavai Bay in the north their headquarters) that he was the king or at least the potential king, he waged war against the traditional chiefs. This was a long drawn-out process and one in which Tu himself did little fighting. The effectiveness of his power was owing almost entirely to the remnants of the Bounty, the nine mutineers and seven so-called innocents - sailors who had not joined the mutiny but whose skills were so valuable that Christian, leader of the rebels, had forced them to come with him.
The details of that phase of the famous mutiny (referred to above as little known but as of fateful consequence to the internal affairs of Tahiti) was virtually ignored until the publication of James Morrison's Journal in 1939. Morrison was Bligh's boatswain, a member of the "innocents" and an exceptionally articulate recorder of the events of approximately two years between the casting-off of Bligh and the imprisonment aboard H.M.S. Pandora of those left on Tahiti. The two bounty mutineers who acted virtually as mercenary officers in Tu's "army" were the notorious Churchill and Thompson, who had secured a good supply of muskets from the Bounty's store and whose professional training as royal Marines rendered the forces of the old chiefs of the Atehuru and the Teva almost helpless. They were attacked separately and set against each other until by the end of a year or more of fighting, Tu was able to make a grand tour around the whole island with feasts and marae ceremonies featuring human sacrifices that terrified the populace and compelled obeisance from all the chiefs to his son. Everywhere the young Tu, later to become Pomare II, was invested with the maro ura or red girdle, this time fashioned out of the customary sacred red feathers but of the royal and ensign left behind by Wallis. Ironically it thus became a symbol of English support and of brutality.
By 1791 Tu's sway was virtually undisputed - in the strong arm or military sense, but never in the old hereditary social sense. Although he was merely an upstart to the legendary chiefs, Pomare was a tremendous man in physical stature, over six feet in height and weighing three hundred pounds, a powerful and terrifying figure in his heyday, but a dissolute, cruel, and self-serving ruler. Then one morning in the year 1803 he set out in his canoe in the harbor of Matavai to visit a British warship at anchor off shore. As he approached the ship he stood up to hail them, suddenly clutched his back, and fell precipitately into the canoe with his arms dangling lifeless over the sides. No one knew what caused this sudden death, but it was assumed that some internal convulsion, possibly kidney failure, had seized him.
He was succeeded by an even more power-hungry son, who named himself Pomare II in the European royal tradition at the age of about twenty-nine. Of course he the "kin g" was challenged and his fight for supremacy see-sawed over the next decade. He lost one critical battle and had to flee to Moorea for a year or more. But he shrewdly allowed himself to be converted to Christianity and thus won the support and (because of their fear of his opponents) sometimes the firearms of the missionaries. In a crucial battle with Tati, he defeated the great Teva clan in the south and then, instead of massacring them as was the old-time custom , he pardoned them and magnanimously clinched his supremacy. it was a calculated hypocrisy, and it worked. Although he had professed conversion for at least two years, the missionaries had been distrustful of his ruthless character and were wary. They kept postponing action, but this unprecedented gesture of what they chose to see as Christian mercy won their consent. He was officially accepted into the church: all the sacred (and ethnologically priceless) idols were burned in great bonfires. The ancient religion was joyously obliterated or at least driven underground. At the height of his power in 1819 he promulgated the "Code of Pomare," transforming the sectarian life of the island to English law, as he had the spiritual; life to English religion. He then proceeded to drink himself to death in a gargantuan alcoholic binge that lasted for two years.
Tahiti - Intrusion: Traders, Whalers, Riff-Raff, Settlers, 1830s and 1840s
* * * * *
Tahiti Home Page
Pacific Islands Radio Stations