Jarman,Robert. Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in the "Japan" , employed in the Sperm Whale fishery, under the command of Captain John May. London: Longman and Co., and Charles Tilt. (1832)
[Page 162-163] On Tuesday the 25th, we made the island of Rotumah, situate in 12. 0.S. latitude, and in 177. E. longitude. Three canoes came off, in one of which was an Englishman, of the name of Emery, who had been residing upon the island for five years. He was once second mate of the Toward Castle, but left it at that place on account of some disagreement. He is now a chief man among the natives, with whom he has great influence; and appears to have no desire to return to his native land. The canoes brought some cocoa-nuts, bananas, and a fruit called by the natives "wees," about the size of an orange, and of a flavor something between that fruit and an apple.
The natives are of a bright yellow color, well featured, and very friendly in their manners. Most of them could speak a smattering of broken English, which they have learned from sailors who have left different ships and are living among them ashore. Mr. Emery told the captain that a boy was still living, who ran away from him when he was at this place before, in command of the Ranger. The captain sent word to him that he should be off the island again the latter end of September, and would take him home if he choose to accompany him.
Rotumah, when viewed from the sea, has a very remarkable and beautiful appearance; it is very productive, and has the advantage of a fine healthy climate; but there is no good or safe harbour for ships.
We stood on our course, after trading with the natives, who are excessively fond of tobacco and pipes, for their fruit; and on the 27th, saw Duprester's Group, which have been but lately discovered; several canoes came off, with cocoa-nuts, which the natives traded for pieces of iron.
[Pages 175-187] The weather continued unsettled until the twenty-third, by which time we had drifted in sight of Rotumah; and the following day proving fine we stood in for the land, for the purpose of getting a supply of water, and trading for pigs, fruit, &c.
When we approached within about two miles of the shore, the ship was hailed by a chief, who came on board in a whale boat belonging to an Englishman, formerly carpenter of a ship, who is married and has been living with the natives ashore for many years.
The captain agreed with the chief, who is called "Coutang" that his people should fill all the water casks after we had towed them ashore, thus giving us an opportunity of wandering about and gratifying our curiosity.
In the afternoon, Mr. Emery, whom I have mentioned before, came on board in his canoe, from the island which goes by his name. In consequence of his wishing to take the ship nearer that part of the island where he resides, some altercation ensued between him and Coutang, who would, by that means, have been deprived of the trade of the ship. However, it fell calm in the afternoon, and the ship drifting in to the land, we were obliged to let go the anchor in fifteen fathom water, lying about two miles and a half from the land. Mr. Emery, I understand, is married to Coutang's wife's sister.
The ship was soon surrounded with canoes, laden with fruit, &c.; and they traded very readily for tobacco, of which they are excessively fond. Several females came on board in the evening; they are very fond of beads, and they managed to wheedle me out of the best part of my stock.
The natives of Rotumah, have a mild and pleasing cast of features, with a light copper color complexion, fine black eyes, and long black hair, hanging about their shoulders. The chiefs generally wear their hair in a knot upon the top of the head. They use a preparation of red ochre and yellow saffron, mixed with cocoa-nut oil, which they rub upon their bodies, giving them a lighter and far from disagreeable appearance.
On the following day a party went ashore for water; and I took a young Newfoundland dog with me, which I had brought from Sydney. We had been ashore about two hours when the dog seized with a fit, lying struggling on the ground, gnashing his teeth and foaming profusely at the mouth. A shipmate seized him by the back of the neck, carried him to the beach and hove him into the sea, which restored him in some measure, but left the poor dog so weak that he could scarcely walk. When dogs have been any considerable time at sea, they are subject to this kind of attack upon going ashore: and it very frequently ends in madness. He apparently recovered, but was affected in a similar manner soon after we put to sea, and, having attempted to bite several persons, it was found necessary, for our safety, to destroy him. The captain of the Recovery shot a very fine dog, being affected as I have described, upon taking ashore on an island, for the purpose of hunting goats.
As soon as we landed we were surrounded by little children, girls and boys, rivalling each other in pressing their little presents of young cocoa-nuts upon us, and after we had satisfied our thirst, with the delicious draught they afforded, the children would take our hands and beg for a small piece of tobacco, "fenam chaw tabac."
What struck my attention upon first landing, was the peculiar appearance of some of the females: arising from the singular method of distinguishing the single from the married women. The custom I allude to is, I believe, peculiar to this island. The maidens plaster their heads with "chenam," which is a kind of mortar or cement, prepared from some kind of shells. White, I suppose they consider an emblem of purity, for the day previous to the consummation of marriage, it is carefully removed. The girls are denominated white-heads.
Whilst rambling among the huts of the natives, we came to a party of men and women who were preparing for a feast, in celebration of the election of the chief governor, who holds his situation for only six months. The women, who were mostly white-heads, were employed in making an intoxicating liquor called "cava." It is made from a root, which is found in all parts of the island, in the following manner. A bowl is placed in the centre of the party, which, when full, contains from two to three gallons. Each female then takes a portion of the root, and after chewing it sufficiently, empties it into the bowl; it is then mixed with water by one of them, who after washing her hands, carefully expresses the juice from the root; it is then handed round to the men to drink.
Their method of cooking is simple, but well adapted to their wants. A hole is dug in the earth, according to the size of the article they intend to cook; a number of large stones are then heated, with which the bottom is covered. Whatever they intend cooking is then carefully folded in leaves, and put in, after which the hole is filled up with hot stones, and covered over with mould. Pigs are cooked in this manner in excellent style; and yams, bread fruit, and potatoes, are, in my opinion, better cooked this way, than either by baking or boiling.
They are very hospitable to strangers, who are always invited to partake of whatever they may be eating at the time; if the invitation be refused without assigning some reason, it is considered "fracsis," or unfriendly.
But the hospitality of the natives is decreasing fast; owing partly to the number of whalers who frequent the island for refreshment, and the many hands that run away from them and live a lazy, indolent life ashore, dependent upon them for support.
I cannot help mentioning the native generosity and noble mindedness of the principal chief, "Fang Menou." The second morning we were ashore, a party of us went to his house; we found him sitting upon a mat in conversation with his wife and domestics. He was apparently about fifty years of age, of a particularly fine and open benevolent countenance, but rather fat. He invited us to take something to eat, and took us into another house, where a basket of bread fruit, yams, tarra, bananas, &c. was set before us, with young cocoa-nuts to drink; -- I thought of the Golden Age.
After we had finished our repast, he invited us to return to his house so soon as we should feel again disposed to "ki ki;" "for" said he "plenty Rotumah man speak a you eat, for catch a tabac; that no Rotumah fashion."
We afterwards took a ramble through the bush, for a mile or two, but the cocoa-nut trees, bananas, vees, &c., were so thick, that nothing worth mentioning could be seen, save now and then a flock of paroquets or wood pigeons. Cocoa-nuts are so plentiful at Rotumah, that the milk of the young nuts is almost the sole beverage of the inhabitants; besides immense quantities upon which they feed their pigs, and make use of in various ways for their own food.
We were soon fatigued with our bushranging, the roughness of the footpaths not agreeing with our naked feet, and I was well pleased when we again arrived among the huts. We rambled from one to another indiscriminately, the little children fetching us cocoa-nuts when thirsty, and modestly waiting till we should "fenam the chaw tabac."
The white-heads and black-heads also, were not backward in using their more seducing arts to obtain a pipe of tobacco, or a few beads. I wore a necklace which seemed to be an object of particular admiration. After excessive coaxing and bestowing nearly all their endearments upon me, which I withstood heroically before I surrendered the prize, it was at length yielded, but not to a white-head. Most of us returned on board the ship, completely painted with the yellow preparation I have before mentioned.
In many of the huts we observed canoes of immense size and length, or more properly double canoes, about eight feet apart, and secured together by upright and cross pieces strongly bound with lashings made of the cocoa-nut husk. I should suppose these canoes are capable of carrying from one hundred and fifty to two hundred men; and are from sixty to ninety feet in length. I was led to enquire for what purpose the natives had constructed them, apparently so unwieldy and useless, as they must have cost them with the tools they possess, such infinite time and labor.
They are formed of a single tree of immense size, hollowed out, and partly decked over from the stem aft. Curiosity or a spirit of enterprise seems to have prompted them. Soon after the island was discovered, the natives were puzzled to ascertain how a ship could come there. Consultations were held by the chiefs, and it occurred to them, that there must be something in the horizon, through which the ship entered; therefore it was resolved to fit out canoes, and send them in search, as the only method of discovering it. Many were accordingly sent to sea upon this strange expedition, and so soon as they lost sight of their native land, were driven by the wind to the neighbouring islands; many undoubtedly perished, some reached the Fejee Islands, and others were driven as far to the westward as Santa Cruz, where their descendants are still living with the inhabitants. Since Mr. Emery has resided among them, many have put to sea, and no trace of them have ever been discovered.
But it is not to be supposed that their former singular ideas of the horizon prevail. These latter expeditions seem to have been undertaken more from a restless desire of seeing and visiting other lands, than from any other motive. Inquisitiveness is a very prominent trait in the character of these people. The island being very productive, they have not to labor much for their subsistence; which gives them leisure to gratify their curiosity, upon whatever subject may incite it.
I purchased from Coutang, a very splendid mat, nine feet long by seven wide, made by one of his daughters, and two pigs, for an old musket.
It is astonishing to see with what dexterity they will climb, I might say run, up the cocoa-nut trees, which grow to a great height, and produce no branches sufficiently low to assist in ascending them.
Rotumah is the principal of a group of six or seven very small islands, all situated within a few miles of each other, some of which are inhabited and others not. The next largest to Rotumah is Emery's Island, lying four or five miles to the north-west, and inhabited by about seventy or eighty people; it is very high land, the rocks rising perpendicularly from the ocean, to a height, varying from one hundred and fifty to three hundred feet, on all sides, and only affording a landing place, in fine weather, in one small spot on the lee side. It is about four miles in circumference, and is represented to be much more fruitful than its appearance bespeaks it to be from the sea.
The others are pretty little spots of land covered with trees; with the exception of two, one of which is remarkable for a very tall solitary cocoa-nut tree, on the highest part of the land, which at a distance bears a great resemblance to a flag staff. The other is called Split Island, from its being divided in the middle by a passage wide enough for a canoe to pass through. The rock rises perpendicularly to a great height on each side, and a portion of rock is suspended over the chasm near the top, as if it had been rent by some convulsion of nature, which left this natural bridge fro the purpose of communication.
One of the small islands is called Woahoo, from a few natives of the Sandwich Island of that name, being allowed to inhabit it, after having left a brig belonging to his Majesty of the Sandwich Islands, called "The Tamehamaha," which was sent to trade among the islands for sandalwood. After leaving Rotumah she was never heard of, and it is supposed that she blew up at sea, having on board a large quantity of gunpowder.
Rotumah is, I think, one of the most interesting islands in the South Pacific: whether we take into consideration the friendly and hospitable manners of the inhabitants in their own intercourse with each other; or, their generous conduct to strangers. Each tribe resembles a large family; all share alike in whatever contributes to their benefit or enjoyment; and it is customary even if one kill a pig, to distribute it, as far as it will go among the rest of the tribe. Their peculiar marriage ceremonies, their religious belief: and their more minute general customs, are all very interesting, but it would require a residence of some time among them, to obtain a knowledge sufficient for an accurate description.