The following account is by George Bennett, a physician who visited Rotuma in 1830. It was part of an article entitled, "A Recent Visit to Several of the Polynesian Islands," and was published in the United Services Journal 33:198-202, 473-482 (1831).
This interesting and fertile island was discovered by the Pandora in the year 1791, and has been since occasionally visited by English and American whalers, and a few other ships, for the purpose of procuring water and a supply of vegetable productions, with which it abound. It is situated in latitude 12° 30' south, and longitude 177° O' east, and is distant about 26O miles from the nearest island of the Fidji group. It is of a moderate height, densely wooded, and abounding in cocoa-nut trees, and is about from thirty to thirty-five miles in circumference. Its general appearance is beautifully picturesque, verdant hills gradually rising from the sandy beach, giving it a highly fertile appearance. It is surrounded by extensive reefs, on which at low water the natives may be seen busily engaged in procuring shell and other fish, which are abundantly produced on them, and constitute one of their articles of daily food. At night, they fish by torch-light, lighting fires on the beach, by which the fish are attracted to the reefs. The torches are formed of the dried spathes or fronds of the cocoa-nut tree, and enable them to see the fish, which they take with hand-nets. It is by these lights that the fish are attracted, but not so in the opinion of the natives, who say, "they come to the reef at night to eat, then sleep, and leave again in the morning." The numerous lights flickering about have a beautiful effect during a dark night, and might resemble the illuminated halls of Pandemonium. On these reefs, an infinite variety of fish is procured, but generally of small size; a display of colours of the most vivid description, as well as extraordinary forms, also occur amongst them. We made this island on the 21st of February 1830; it bore west by south-half-south, about twenty-five miles distant; at 11 A.M. when close in, standing for the anchorage, we were boarded by several natives, who came off in their canoes, and surprised us by their acquaintance with the English language; this it seems they had acquired from their occasional intercourse with shipping, but principally from the European seamen, who had deserted from their ships and were residing on the island in savage luxury and indolence. One of the natives acting as pilot, we rounded the islets named Owa by the natives, and anchored in Onhaf Bay, (which is situated on the north-east side of the island,) in fifteen fathoms, sand and coral bottom, about two miles distant from the shore. When at anchor, the extremes of the land bore from east by north to west by compass. An island rather high, quoin shaped, and inhabited, situated at a short distance from the main land, (between which there is a passage for a large ship,) was at some distance from our present anchorage, and bore west-half-north by compass; it was named Ouer by the natives. Close to us were two rather high islands, or islets, of small extent, planted with coco-nut trees, and almost connected together by rocks, and to the main land by a reef; they shelter the bay from easterly winds. Their bearings are as follow:--the first centre bore east half north; the second centre bore east-half-south, extreme of the main land east-south-east by compass. One of the chiefs, on our anchoring, addressing the Commander made the following very humane observation, "If Rótuma man steal, to make hang up immediately." Had this request been complied with, there would have been a great depopulation during our stay, and it is not improbable that a few chiefs might have felt its effects.
On a second visit to this island in March 1830, we anchored in a fine picturesque bay, situated on the west side of the island, named Thor, in fourteen fathoms, sand and coral bottom, about three miles distant from the centre; but I should strongly recommend ships not to anchor here during the months of February, March, April, and the early part of May, the prevailing winds blowing strong from west and north west, which we had the misfortune to experience, being driven on shore during a gale on the 30th of March, an account of which will be given in the course of the narrative. Ships should prefer lying off and on at the lee side of the island, where they will be able readily to procure their supplies. A reef extends out some distance from the beach at this bay, almost dry at low water, and with much surf at the entrance, from which cause the procuring of wood and water is attended with more difficulty than at Onhaf Bay. There is another place on the south side of the island named Fangwot, the residence of the king, or principal chief. It affords anchorage for shipping, but from its exposed situation, a ship should prefer lying off and on to anchoring; this is the best part of the island for procuring a large supply of provisions. About five or six miles distant from the main land to the south west, are several small uninhabited islands, or islets, which are occasionally visited by the natives from the main for the purpose ofprocuring from and in their vicinity, shell and other fish. These islets bear the native appellations of Ofliwa, Athana, Hothahoi; and a rock or rocks above water, on which the sea breaks, named Hoth-fakteringa. The first has a remarkable appearance, resembling a rock divided in two portion, excepting at one part, where they are joined by a portion of rock forming a natural bridge. The following diagram gives the appearance of the island, bearing west-south-west, about five miles distant; it has a verdant appearance, with several coco-nut trees growing on the summit.
The others have nothing remarkable in their appearance.
On landing, the beautiful appearance of the island was rather increased than diminished; vegetation appeared most luxuriant, and the trees and shrubs blooming with various tints, spread a gaiety around; the clean and neat native houses were intermingled with the waving plumes of the coco-nut, the broad spreading plantain, and other trees peculiar to tropical climes. That magnificent tree the callophyllum inophyllum, or fifau of the natives, was not less abundant, displaying its shining dark green foliage, contrasted by beautiful clusters of white flowers teeming with fragrance. This tree seemed a favourite with the natives, on account of its shade, fragrance and ornamental appearance of the flowers. When one was cut down by the carpenter of a ship, a young tree was brought and planted close to the place where the old one formerly displayed its wide spreading branches, thus showing a desire of securing for posterity a similar shade and fragrance to that afforded by the one which had fallen; an example well worthy of imitation in every country. When I extended my rambles more inland, through narrow and sometimes rugged pathways, the luxuriance of vegetation did not decrease, but the lofty trees, overshadowing the road, defended the pedestrian from the effects of a fervent sun, rendering the walk under their umbrageous covering cool and pleasant. The gay flowers of the hibiscus tiliaceus, as well as the splendid huth or Barringtonia speciosa, covered with its beautiful flowers, the petals of which are white, and the edges of the stamina delicately tinged with pink, give to the trees when in full bloom a magnificent appearance; the hibiscus rosa chinensis, or kowa of the natives also grows in luxuriance and beauty. The elegant flowers of these trees, with others of more humble and less beautiful tints, everywhere meet the eye near the paths, occasionally varied by plantations of the ahan or taro, arum esculentum, which, from a deficiency of irrigation, is generally of the mountain variety. Of the sugar-cane they possess several varieties, and it is eaten in the raw state; a small variety of yam, more commonly known by the name of the Rótuma potato, the ulé of the natives is very abundant; the ulu or bread-fruit, pori or plantain, and the vi, (spondias dulcis, Parkinson,) or Brazilian plum, with numerous other kinds, sufficiently testify the fertility of the island. Occassionally the mournful toa or casuarina equisetifolia, planted in small clumps near the villages or surrounding the burial places, added beauty to the landscape. A few days after my arrival I by chance visited a spot which formed a combination of the picturesque and beautiful. I had passed through a village named Shoulnau, and having ascended a hill overshadowed as usual by magnificent trees, I descended towards the beach, when a beautiful view appeared before me; it was a tranquil piece of water formed by the sea, on one side inclosed by a high island covered with coco-nut and other trees, and nearly joining the main land, leaving on each side small passages for canoes, one opening rather more extended than the other; the opposite banks were covered with native houses, intermingled with trees and various kinds of flowering shrubs: the placidity of the water, the tranquillity that reigned around, interrupted only occasionally by the chirping of birds, produced an effect approaching enchantment. After remaining for some time viewing with mingled admiration and delight this interesting spot, I left it with regret; it is situated on the south-east part of the island, and named Shaulcopé by the natives. I subsequently visited this tranquil piece of water in a native canoe; as we passed through the openings before mentioned, the natives commenced singing a monotonous but pleasing song, (consisting of a sentence frequently repeated,) keeping accurate time with the strokes of their paddles; the effect as the voices reverberated around, could be felt, but cannot be described.
The native houses are very neat; they are formed of poles and logs, the roof being covered with the leaves of a species of sagus palm, named hoat by the natives, and highly valued by them for that purpose on account of their durability; the sides are covered with the plaited sections of the coco-nut branches, which form excellent corerings. They hare commonly two entrances, one before, the other behind; these entrances are very low and have a door hung horizontally, which is raised and kept open by a prop during the day, but closed at night. The houses are kept very clean, the floors being covered either with the plaited branches of the coco-nut tree, or the common kind of mat, named ehap, most commonly the former. Near their houses they have generally some favourite trees planted; the tobacco plant also, recently introduced, flourishes luxuriantly, but as yet they have not learned the art of preparing it. The landing is easy, on a sandy beach. Fire wood can readily be procured at a short distance from the beach; the water is of excellent quality, but from there being no running streams, (excepting a few of very trivial importance situated inland,) the supply is procured from wells.
The natives are a fine-looking and well-formed people, resembling much those of Tongatabu in their appearance; they are of good dispositions, but are much addicted to thieving, which seems indeed to be a national propensity; they are of a light copper colour, and the men wear the hair long and stained at the extremities of a reddish brown colour; sometimes they tie the hair in a knot behind, but the most prevailing custom is to permit it to hang over the shoulders. The females may be termed handsome, of fine forms, and although possessing a modest demeanour, flocked on board in numbers on the ship's arrival; their garrulity when there sufficiently prove that even in this remote part of the globe, there was no deficiency of volubility of the lingual organ, amongst the fair portion of the creation. The women before marriage have the hair cut close and covered with the shoroi, which is burnt coral mixed with the gum of the bread-fruit tree; this is removed after marriage and their hair is permitted to grow long, but on the death of a chief or their parents it is cut close as a badge of mourning. Both sexes paint themselves with a mixture of the root of the turmeric plant (curcuma longa) and coco-nut oil, which frequently changed our clothes and persons of an icteroid hue, from our curiosity to mingle with them in the villages--theirs, to come on board the ship. This paint, which is named Rang by the natives, and which is also the appellation of the turmeric plant, is prepared in the following manner:--The root of the turmeric, after having been well washed, is rasped into a bowl to which water is afterwards added, it is then strained and the remaining liquor is left some time for the fecula to subside; the water is then poured off, and the remaining fecula is dried and kept in sections of the coco-nut shell or in balls; when required for use it is mixed with coco-nut oil, and when recently laid on has a bright red appearance, which I mistook at first for red-ochre.
ON visiting the king, who resided at the village of Fangwot, we found him a well formed and handsome man, apparently about thirty years of age; the upper part of his body was thickly covered with the Rang, or paint of turmeric and oil, which had been recently laid on in honour of the visit from the strangers. There was somewhat of novelty, but little of "regal magnificence" in our reception. In the open air, under the wide spreading branches of their favourite Fifau, (Callophyllum Inophyllum,) sat his Majesty squatted on the ground, and surrounded by a crowd of his subjects. The introduction was equally unostentatious; one of the natives who had accompanied us from the ship, pointing towards him, said, in tolerably pronounced English, "That the king." His Majesty not being himself acquainted with our language, one of his attendants, who spoke it with considerable fluency acted as interpreter. After some common-place questions, such as where the ship came from, where bound to, what provisions we stood in need of, &c., we adjourned to the royal habitation, which differed in no respect from the other native houses. Yams, bread-fruit, and fish, wrapped in the plantain leaves in which they had been cooked, were here placed before us, with coco-nut water for our beverage; plantain leaves serving also as plates. But before we had time to do full justice to the regal repast, such a concourse of natives had surrounded and entered the dwelling, and occasioned such inconvenience from the heat, that we were glad to make good our retreat, and put an end to the interview.
The chiefs are elected kings in rotation, and the royal office is held for six months, but by the consent of the other chiefs, it may be retained by the same chief for two or three years. The royal title is Sho: the king to whom we had been introduced, as a chief, is named Mora. We had an interview also with the former king, named Riemko; he is a chief of high rank, and a very intelligent man: he spoke the English language with much correctness. Being naturally of an inquisitive disposition, and possessing an exceedingly retentive memory, he had acquired much information; this he displayed by detailing to us many facts connected with the histories of Napoleon Buonaparte, Wellington, &c., which had been related to him by various European visitors, and which he appeared to retain to the most minute particulars. He surprised us not a little by inquiring if we resided in "Russell-square, London ?"
A stranger, on visiting this small island, scarcely known to Europeans, is quite astonished at hearing the English language spoken by so many of the natives, and to perceive them all so anxious to acquire a knowledge of it. I was frequently amused by hearing these naked savages attempt a conversation among themselves in my own language. A blind lad, who came on board, "not to see the ship but to feel her," as he expressed himself, spoke English fluently. In conversation he asked me, "What the name of your ship's owner ?" "Got many ships?" Then as a display of the knowledge he had acquired, either from the European seamen resident on the island or during his occasional visits to the shipping he said, "You steer by a compass, and take the sun with a quadrant--and have charts--and that is the way you go to different places." He also repeated to me the days of the week, and months of the year with great accuracy. He had been blind from a child, but from what cause I could not ascertain.
There is a pleasing and innocent custom among the females of this, as well as of the other Polynesian islands I visited, of decorating themselves with flowers by placing them either singly in the hair, and behind and in the lobes of the ears, or by forming them into elegant necklaces and head wreaths; and in their arrangement they display admirable ingenuity and taste. Their favourites are the Fifau, Kowa, (Hibiscus rosa chinensis,) Pandanus odoratissimus, the Mouscoi, (Uvaria sp.)[fn. The fragrance of the flowers of this shrub surpasses all the others; even when dried the odour is preserved for years, and some now in my possession have not in the slightest degree lost their fragrance, although they have been preserved upwards of twelve months in a dried state. The natives use them also for scenting their coco-nut oil. The shrub is found in hilly situations.] and the Gardenia; but they use numerous other species, selected either for their beauty or fragrance. I never observed among them the Eastern custom of communicating their feelings or affections through the medium of a bouquet.
The dress of both males and females consists simply of an Apé or mat, worn round the waist, descending to the ancles, the upper part of the body being left exposed. The fishing, or common dresses of the latter, are made from strips of the plantain-leaf, or those of the Rang or turmeric plant, which are dried and bleached in the sun, and when worn in a bundle round the waist, descend a short distance below the knee. Their marriage ceremony is performed by the parties standing in the water by the sea-side up to the waist with mats around them, they are there smeared over with the rang or paint of turmeric and oil; [fn. This smearing of paint seems to be considered essential in all their forms and ceremonies; it is practised on the meeting and at the parting of friends, as well as in the marriage ceremony.] they then come out of the water, are arrayed in new mats, a feast is given, and thus the ceremony concludes. Polygamy is permitted here, as in most of the other Polynesian islands. Previous to marriage, there is no restriction placed on the female; her character does not suffer by a deviation from chastity, nor does it militate against her being subsequently married; but after having entered into this state, they are considered faithful--most probably from the effects of fear.
In the cleared spaces usually left in the centre of their villages, and which are swept every morning and evening, are either a clump of Toa-trees, (Casuarina equisetifolia,) (the wood of which is highly valued by them, and from its hardness and durability is named by Europeans iron-wood,) or their favourite fifau. Here the natives, resorting to enjoy "the gay and festive hour" in the cool of the evening, display their graceful movements in the slow dance, or cause the air to reverberate with their yells when the dance is that of war. The natives are cleanly both in their persons and habits; the custom of rubbing their bodies with scented coco-nut oil, as well as the aromatic smell of the turmeric, gives to them an agreeable odour. They are particularly cleanly in their meals, and expressed great disgust at the dirty habits of the Sandwich islanders, who touched there in the unfortunate brig Temeamea, under the command of Governor Boki. [fn. The Temeamea, Sandwich Island brig of war, with Boki and between two or three hundred natives of the Sandwich Islands, sailed from Oahu for Erromanga on the 5th of December 1829: they touched at the island of Rótuma but had not of afterwards been heard of. From portions of wreck having been picked up about the New Hebrides Group, it is suspected that she was either wrecked, or blown up by gunpowder, a quantity of which was placed between decks without any precaution.] As articles of trade, they are partial to beads of large size and showy colours; also axes, chisels, whales' teeth, fish hooks, small looking glasses, &c. The females are remarkably fond of beads, in the arrangement of which they display as much taste as in their necklaces of flowers. I was requested one morning to visit a chief of high rank, for the purpose of rendering him my professional assistance, as he had been long suffering from illness. I readily acceded to the request, and after a sultry walk arrived at his residence at a village named Shoar. This chief, who was named Moeta, had long been suffering from rheumatic affections of the joints; he pointed out to me the scars where the native remedy of burning had been resorted to, but no benefit had resulted from it. I prescribed for him, and he inquired of me what diet he should use, &c. He afterwards presented me with a fine mat of the island, and on my refusing the proffered gift, he seemed displeased, and said, "that it was the custom of the country;" I consequently took it: this was the only instance during my visit to any of the Polynesian Islands, that a gift was ever tendered to me for professional services. Dysentery is one of the most prevailing diseases among them, from which numbers annual perish, and from the benefit they have derived from European medicines, I had numerous applicants. That a medical practitioner would be highly esteemed by them, was exemplified by the high offers made and inducements held out to me by a chief named Ufangnot, of the district of Saflé who thus expressed himself in tolerably good English, "You stay at Rótuma, make people well, as too many people die, and you have made some well, and know how to cure all people, you will have plenty wife, plenty yam and pig, plenty land, and be all the same as one king." Far superior in style was a wish expressed for my remaining at Eimeo, one of the Society Islands for a similar reason, by a chief named Mare, when I visited it in October 1829, of which the following is a literal translation from the beautifully figurative language employed by the Polynesian natives. "You, Curer of Diseases, stay on this land, that it may not be consumed by death, but that it may go with an upright head." On my asking him, what advantage I should derive from complying ? He replied, "You shall have what the land produces; we can give you no more, nor that which we have not." Nature, among these people, is the chief physician. Burning and cutting are the remedies principally used for all their diseases. Ophthalmia is prevalent among those who reside in the vicinity of the beach; which may readily be attributed to the reflection from the sand. I observed also the purulent ophthalmia common among the infants; but no inducement (from what reason I could never ascertain) could make the native women wash their children s eyes. The lotions which I frequently gave them for this purpose were seldom or never used, but all internal remedies they took readily and with confidence.
On a hill not far distant inland from the village of Shoar, I visited the burial-place of the kings, named by the natives Shishoul; the path leading to it was delightfully shaded by a variety of trees; this burial-place of the regal personages possessed nothing remarkable, either for beauty of scenery or of construction. It was simply a slightly elevated mound inclosed with stones; over the graves were placed large coral stones, marking the situations of each; some parts of the mound were planted with the variety of Chi, (Dracaena terminelis,) named Chinilal by the natives, the leaves of which are highly ornamental, being of a beautiful dark crimson colour, and which it is considered the prerogative of the kings only to wear as a girdle around the waist. At a short distance, it was densely surrounded by bread-fruit and other trees. The ordinary places of burial are attached to the villages, and have no unapt resemblance to European churchyards; they are mounds, built round with stones, and the graves are covered by large coral stones, some laid flat over the graves, and others elevated similar to our tomb stones. [fn. A Rótuma chief, who accompanied us to the Island of Erromanga brought from that island, on our returning thither, a stone which ha seemed very solicitous of preserving: on questioning him for what purpose he designed it, he replied, that it was to place over the grave of his child, who had died the day previous to his departure from Rótuma, adding that Rótuma people like to place stones brought from another land over the graves of their family or friends. For what reason he could not tell, farther then that it was their custom.] The dead are simply wrapped in a mat when buried. The beautiful drooping Toa, (Casuarina equisetifolia,) as corresponding with the situation, and other shrubs, are usually planted over and around these mounds. I observed also high mounds of stones, which must have required great labour in their erection; on each a hut was built, and on inquiry I was informed that these were the burial places of particular chiefs.
Four kinds of mats are manufactured on the island. The first is named Ehap, and is the common sleeping mat; it is made from the older leaves of the Sahang, a species of Pandanus. The second is named Apé Sala. This is also manufactured from the leaves of the sahang, which are first bleached, by sprinkling with water and exposing them in the sun, renewing the sprinkling until they become white. This mat is of a fine quality. The third is the Apé Niau; this is again finer than the preceding, and is manufactured from the bark of the Hibiscus Tiliaceus, or Vinghou of the natives. The fourth is the Amea, and is the most valued; it is a fine strong mat, but is not manufactured of as large size as the other varieties. It is made from the bark of a species of Urtica [fn. The flax from the bark of this tree is also used for making their fishing lines and nets.], called by the natives Amea, from which the mat also takes its name. Apé is the general term for a mat or anything that serves for similar purpoes. The war mats are of the same texture as the Apé Sala, but of a smaller size; four of those are worn together, fastened round the waist, when going to meet their enemies; they are placed each over the other, and so arranged as to display two deep vandykes decorated with red feathers on the edge of each, except the upper one, which has two oblong strips ornamented in a similar manner. It is usual to employ their women in the manufacture of the mats, a process so tedious as to occupy six months or more in the completion of one. They also manufactured cloth of various degrees of fineness, from the bark of the Ulu or bread-fruit tree and the Chal or paper mulberry tree. This cloth they call Wor; it is stained of various colours procured from native plants. The bark is beaten by a wooden instrument named Ia, of a similar form to that employed in others of the Polynesian Islands. The method of manufacture is also the same, and has been so often and correctly described, that an account of it is here unnecessary.
Considerable similarity, as regards features and general habits, exists between the natives of Rótuma and those of Tongatabu, yet they differ widely from each other in strength and bulk of stature, the former being much less muscular than the latter, and less capable of enduring hardship or fatigue. Presuming that these people came originally from some of the Friendly Island group, it would appear that the natives of Rótuma have degenerated from their aboriginal stock. This opinion of their descent is strengthened by the fact, that about a year previous to our visit, a canoe had arrived there from Tongatabu; it contained many natives from thence, none of whom, however, remained among them. It has been long customary for a large canoe containing a hundred or more persons of both sexes, to leave the Island of Tongatabu for the purpose of visiting the Fidji Islands, and it is not improbable that being driven by tempestuous weather out of the sight of land, they may have reached some island before unknown to them. An innate love of roaming seems to exist among these people; they set sail without any fixed purpose in one of their large canoes: few ever return, some probably perish, others drift on islands either uninhabited, or if inhabited, they mingle with the natives, and tend to produce those varieties of the human race which are so observable in the Polynesian Archipelago. I frequently asked those of Rótuma what object they had in leaving their fertile island to risk the perils of the deep ? the reply invariably was, "Rótuma man want to see new land:" they thus run before the wind until they fall in with some island, or perish in a storm. Cook and others relate numerous instances of this kind.
The following circumstance, which came under my observation, still farther illustrates this opinion. In April 1830 on landing at the Island of Tucopia, which is situated in latitude 12o 13' South, longitude 169o 0' East, I observed among the people two natives of Rótuma; their presence did not at first occasion me much surprise, conceiving it probable that they had been left there by whalers. On inquiry, however, I found they came down before the trade wind from that island, and were unable to return; they said there were others of their countrymen there also, where they had resided ten years, and had been kindly treated by the inhabitants; they, however, appeared anxious to return to their "home;" they were both middle-aged men. A short time previous to our arrival at the Island of Rótuma, a canoe with strangers had arrived, but from what island could not be ascertained. I saw one of them, a fine-looking man, of the Asiatic cast of countenance; he seemed very sullen and adverse to answering questions, that is, if he understood them, which very probably he did not. It is on facts, and numerous facts alone, we can depend to elucidate this highly interesting subject; hypotheses may be infinitely multiplied, and each may appear equally plausible, but facts collected from authentic sources can alone set at rest a question which has excited such general attention in the minds of those interested in the study of the varieties of the human race.
Of religion, they seem, as far as I could ascertain, to possess very indistinct ideas; they believe that the spirits of deceased persons visit them after death, to appease whom they often make offerings, and hang up in their houses bunches of a shrub named Tenten, and wear it about their persons, for the purpose of keeping away evil spirits, for which it is considered to possess the virtue. They appear to have no idea of a future state. "The white people," they observe, "tell us that there is a heaven for good and a hell for bad men, but Rótuma man not know." On asking one of them whether this man, pointing to a dying Rótuma native, was afraid to die? "No," was the answer, "why should he?" "Then where does he expect to go after death?" "Why, Sir, if man die on shore, go in the ground; if man die on board ship, go into the sea," was the reply. A shout similar to the war-cry was raised when the body of one who had died on board was consigned to the deep; the chief to whose tribe he belonged, informed us this was intended as a compliment, "because he was a quick man, go up tree, catch plenty coco-nuts, catch plenty grub." The reason assigned by the natives of Rótuma why many of their countrymen die at Erromanga (one of the New Hebrides) was, "That they killed the Erromanga people, and that their spirits haunted them to death." They have houses where the offerings are made, but have no idols, and on the death or illness of a chief, a joint of the little finger is taken off as an offering; they also cut themselves with hatchets on the death of a chief. I observed at this island, as at Tongatabu, the women with circular scars over their bodies, which had been caused by the application of fire: some had them only on the chest, others covering nearly the whole of the body. This was effected by rolling up a piece of Wor, or native cloth, in a circular form, setting it on fire, and then striking it on the skin; this is practiced on the death of a chief, or of parents. If the loss be a mother, the chest and breast are the parts burned; if a father, the back only. It was among the females alone that I observed this custom to prevail, who may frequently be seen almost entirely covered with recent burns on which the vesicles remained, without uttering any expression of pain; such is the force of custom. I met with a middle-aged female who was covered with recent burns, still in a blistered state; she informed me that it was for the death of the chief Konau: these burns were on the back, but the poor creature must have seen much trouble in her lifetime, as she had the marks of former ones still visible covering her back, arms, breasts, &c and many of the recent ones over places where others had been before. It is said not only here, but at other of the Polynesian Islands, that burning or cutting themselves has the effect of assuaging or dissipating grief, as the pain produced by the burns or cuts causes them to forget their mental to attend to their bodily suffering. On entering a house, the hospitable inhabitants always place some refreshment of coco-nuts, yams, &c. before strangers. I once was induced to enter one to ascertain the cause of accents of distress which I heard issuing, and I found a poor old woman sitting solitary on the ground crying most piteously, tears abundantly flowing down her cheeks: it was for the death of her son, her only child, who, anxious "to see new land," had visited the Island of Erromanga in a vessel, and was one among a number of others who had fallen victims there of fever. Even in the midst of her grief, the poor old creature did not forget the rites of hospitality; she placed bread-fruit, bananas, &c. before me, of which, however, I did not partake, but gave her some beads before I departed, as some consolation in the midst of her troubles. The natives of this island use the Kava or Ava as a beverage, similar to other islands in this sea, and cultivate it for the purpose, but I did not observe that it was used to any excess. The Kava bowls are neatly manufactured from the wood of the fifau tree.
The dances at this island are peculiarly interesting, and take place by torch-light; they resemble those I had previously seen at Tongatabu; by the men they were performed with much action in both slow and quick movements, with the usual accompaniments of clapping of hands, keeping accurate time with a monotonous but pleasing song from the party who composed the orchestra. The spectators applauded and encouraged the dancers by frequent shouts of "Mariai, Mariai!" (well done.) The females executed their part with considerable grace, in a slow and regular movement, which, added to the tasteful manner in which they had decorated themselves with flowers for the occasion, produced a pleasing effect. One dance by the whole "corps de ballet" was peculiar; the women formed the first row, and the men two other rows; much grace was displayed by the females in the sinking of the body, forming the graceful curtesy of the European ladies; the song which accompanied this dance was agreeable, though plaintive; the slow movement was concluded by one of very quick and rapid action by the male dancers, the women merely singing, clapping the hands, and making a slight movement of the feet in perfect time with the dance. All the dances we witnessed here were totally devoid of the disgusting and indecent actions exhibited in the dances at Tahiti, New Zealand, and others of the Polynesian Islands. We were entertained one day by the war-dance and a mock combat; as the latter was intended to demonstrate to us their mode of conducting warfare, I shall give a short sketch of the engagement. The party consisted of upwards of one hundred men, armed with hoibéluongs (clubs), spears, and baskets of stones; the highest chief present, who in this instance was the king's brother, headed the party. The preparation for action commenced by deafening shouts and shrieks, and furious stamping, which was done to intimidate their adversaries; this was followed by a propitiatory song to the spirits for victory. A few warriors advance from the main body and engage in single combat, with spears and clubs, with the warriors of the adverse party; if they conquer, the whole adverse body fly. The stone throwers are then dispatched to annoy the retreating party by their missiles, which, by the accuracy of aim, acquired by constant practice, they do with great effect. The death of some of the warriors generally decides the victory. The entire of the successful party pursue the beaten one, and usually kill great numbers with their clubs. In this mock combat several fell as if dead, and if a chief, he was stripped of his fillet of shells [fn. All the chiefs were distinguished by fillets of white shells (ovula ovum) around the head, in the centre of which was the famed and beautiful Cyprea aurora, or Orange cowry. The same kind are also worn by the chiefs both of the Fidji and Friendly Islands.] and club, which were taken as trophies by the victors. At the conclusion of the combat, the whole of the dead bodies of the enemy are dragged and presented, together with the trophies, to the highest chief of the victorious party and then counted to ascertain the number of slain. It was a formidable sight to witness so many clubs brandished in the air, accompanied by deafening war shouts and yells. They use the club with great skill, and it a formidable weapon when wielded by persons accustomed to its use. The clubs as well as the spears, the latter being from fifteen to twenty feet in length, are formed from the wood of the Toa-tree (Casuarina equisetifolia). Even in this petty island, the desire of the human race to destroy their own species is manifested; their fury being also excited to a great degree by their emulating songs.
As an evidence of the great desire of the natives of both sexes to leave their native land, I may mention the offers which were made to the commander of the ship, of baskets of potatoes and hogs, as an inducement to be carried to the island of Erromanga, where our vessel was next bound to. Two hundred were taken on board for the purpose of cutting Sandal wood, but from the unhealthy state in which we found the island on our arrival, and the numerous deaths that had occurred among native gangs that had been brought by other vessels for a similar purpose, we returned to Rótuma and landed them all safely. The perfect apathy with which they leave parents and connexions, departing with strangers to a place respecting which they are in total ignorance, is quite surprising, placing an unbounded confidence in those differing in colour, language, and customs from themselves: the young timid female, to whom a ship was a novelty, those who had never before seen a ship, were all anxious to visit foreign climes,--even, they said, London.
On the 25th of March the jolly boat, in returning to the ship (Sophia) with a load of firewood, the wind blowing fresh at the time, was upset in the surf; the Midshipman in charge of her (Mr. F. Lamb) and one seaman perished: boats were sent as soon as the accident was seen from the ship, which succeeded in saving the remainder of the crew. This accident proved only the precursor of one yet more serious. From the 25th the wind blew very strong from west-north-west, and north-north -west, with a heavy sea running into the bay, and prevented our departure. On the 27th, the gales increasing in violence, the other anchors were let go, the top-gallant and top-masts were struck, and the main and fore yards lowered on the deck. From the violent pitching of the shop we dreaded the cables parting, while the heavy foaming breakers astern rendered our situation most perilous. The wind from the 27th to the 29th occasionally moderated; but from constantly blowing into the bay, all attempts at getting under way were unavailing. On the 30th March a heavy swell rolled into the bay; the weather, however, was now fine and clear, the gale had moderated, and we were anxiously looking for a favourable moment to put to sea. About eleven A.M. the sky became again overcast, with every appearance of a heavy squall coming on from the old quarter, the north-west. It soon commenced blowing furiously, accompanied by heavy rain; this squall was followed by a strong gale, the violence of which, with the heavy sea rolling into the bay, soon caused our hempen cables to part, and we perceived that we were gradually dragging our chain-cable and anchor, and drifting towards the shore. As the ship approached the breakers, she rolled and pitched tremendously; all hands were assembled on the poop, across which life ropes were thrown, and all remained in anxious expectation of the first shock. A number of the crew were desirous that the anchor should be cut away, and the ship drive broadside on, as a greater chance of saving our lives; fortunately the commander and officers concurred in letting the ship drag her anchor, as it kept her head to wind. When we first perceived that we were driving on shore, guns were fired to induce canoes to be in readiness to afford us assistance; the sea however was too high to render it practicable: crowds of natives were seen assembled on the beach. A rock was now seen close to our stern; we had driven far into the bay, and the striking was momentarily expected, but by putting the helm up, and with the assistance of the driver, we passed it without injury and drove farther in. About one P.M. she struck, but not so violently as was expected: the rudder was soon lost; she pitched heavily, but again floated, striking at intervals; she ground down the soft coral rocks and went farther in, until she appeared to us to have been brought up by her anchor, which probably held some rock. The outer rocks which we had passed now afforded a breakwater, and the sea broke furiously over them, which otherwise would have deluged the ship. The reef inside the surf was of some extent, and was nearly dry at low water; but the tremendous surf that raged, and offset consequent on it, rendered all attempts to land unavailable. The gale still continuing with great violence, with no appearance of an abatement, about four P.M. Mr. Jones, the second officer, and four seamen volunteered to venture in a boat astern of the ship, (which still rode head to wind, being kept by her anchor in that position,) and endeavour to land and convey a hawser from the ship to the reef; the boat fortunately reached the reef in safety after a hazardous passage. A kedge-anchor which was taken in the boat, was fastened to the reef, but the hawser attached to it in communication with the ship getting entangled among the coral rocks was rendered useless. From the success of the jolly boat, a whale boat was lowered, and sent in a similar manner to the reef; it made two passages in safety, taking some sick New Zealanders that were on board. The surf increased still higher with the rising tide, and the jolly-boat returning from the reef was swamped and soon dashed to pieces against the rocks; the two man in her were saved with difficulty by ropes from the ship. After this accident, and as the surf was tremendous, it was not thought advisable to venture any more of the boats this evening. As the tide rose, the ship floated as if in a basin; the gale rather increased than diminished with the approaching darkness, and no very agreeable night was anticipated. The ship rode comparatively easy from six to eleven P.M., but after that period, and about midnight, as the tide ebbed, she struck violently, swinging about and receiving such severe shocks as to shake the whole fabric. The carpenter was almost constantly sounding, and reported the agreeable intelligence that she made no water. After a sleepless night, at dawn of day on the 31st the weather had moderated, so as to enable us to employ the boats in removing stores, baggage, &c. from the ship to the shore. The weather continued squally and unsettled during the day, and the gale again increasing towards night, the crew were all safely landed. Only one accident occurred, which, fortunately, did not prove of any serious consequence--one of the boats under charge of Mr. Hays, the third officer, was upset in the surf; the stores, &c. in her were lost, but the crew were saved by another of the boats. We formed a tent at a part of the bay named Haho, where we landed the baggage, &c. The natives were very friendly, assisting us in erecting the tent, bringing provisions, &c. The weather continued very tempestuous until the 2nd of April, when moderating, the ship was got off and again anchored in the bay, without having made any water of consequence. By the aid of native divers we procured the lower part of our rudder, it was united to the upper portion which remained attached to the ship, and being shipped, we were enabled to leave this unfortunate bay on the 8th of April. There were several whalers who had just arrived at the lee-side of the island, and some of the natives reported our situation to them in the following exaggerated manner-- "That the ship had broke into ten thousand pieces; "this having been repeated to another native, he said it was not so bad as that, but "a large hole had been knocked in her stern, which the carpenter was endeavouring to stop to keep the water out." We succeeded in re moving our stores, &c. from the shore to the ship, without any material loss from the natives.
Much wonder was excited, when I exhibited to the natives of this island coloured engravings of flowers, birds, butterflies, &c.; they imagined them to be the original plant or butterfly attached to the paper--no mean compliment to the artist. The engravings in Charles Bell's Anatomy of Expression always excited much interest when shown to the Polynesians; the plate representing Laughter never failed of excit ing sympathy. A caricature representation of one of the fashionable belles of 1828 puzzled them exceedingly; some thought it "a bird," others that it was a nondescript of some kind, but when they were told that it was a Haina London, or English lady, they laughed, and said Parora, "you are in joke," so incredible did it seem to their unsophisticated minds.
One species of snake is found on the island, which is innocuous; it is named Alet by the natives, is of a brown colour, and about two feet commonly in length. A specimen which I brought to England, preserved in spirits, is deposited in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
The natives also manufacture from the leaves of the Pandanus, small pockets, named Hatfara, some of which are very neatly ornamented; in them they keep their trifles, &c.
In concluding the account of this beautiful island, we may observe with Malte Brun, that--"A new Cythera emerges from the bosom of the enchanted wave. An amphitheatre of verdure rises to our view; tufted groves mingle their foliage with the brilliant enamel of the meadows; an eternal spring, combining with an eternal autumn, displays the opening blossom along with the ripened fruits."