Page images
PDF
EPUB

hardly be called “similar” to that of Captain Beechey, as Professor Whewell supposes; on the contrary, it is materially different, both as to the height and time of the tides.

We have brought together these statements of different writers, with a view to draw the attention of our nautical and philosophical enquirers; and in their hands we now leave it.

Of the remaining parts of our subject, the most important in every point of view, is—the race, or rather races of men, inhabiting the different portions of the Oceanic territory. And, when we are reminded of the fact, that this region is peopled by not less than fifteen, or, according to some writers, twenty millions of human beings of various physical and intellectual endowments, of habits and modes of life essentially differing from our own; of various degrees of cultivation, from the merest brute-like ignorance to a very considerable advance in the arts of civilized life--this vast subject assumes an importance which cannot fail to command the attention of every man who has the natural desire to know something of the different members of the human family. If, moreover, the farther investigations of the learned should lead us to the conclusionwhich some philosophical enquirers maintain—that the population of the southern parts, and perhaps all others, of America, is to be traced, through the Oceanic islands, to the coast of Asia, the interest of: the subject, to Americans, at least, will be incalculably enhanced.

ship and by order of the British government!: Her entire ignorance of the subject rendered her wholly incompetent to the task; but this was not so much her own fault as the fault of those who employed her; and it might be pardoned if she and her coadjutors had had honesty enough to perform the task with a just regard to truth. So far from this, even after she was informed by an American gentleman in London, previously to the appearance of her work, that various particulars she mentioned were mis-statements, she suffered them to go out to the world uncorrected! Yet this farrago of blunders and misrepresentations was gravely relied upon as authority by the London Quarterly Reviewers; who further countenanced its misrepresentations by publishing a forged letter, purporting to be written by the celebrated Boki, governor of Oahu, though it was well known that Boki could not understand or speak English, except in short, broken sentences, on the most common subjects; and that as to writing English, the thought had never entered his mind! To add to the meanness of adopting this fabrication, it appears that the letter (which was manufactured at the islands) was so clumsily framed that poor Boki was made to write his wife's name “Mrs. Bockeywith two letters, c and y, that are not used in the Sandwich Island alphabet -and two lines below, to sign his own name, Boke! And, as this gross inconsistency in the pretended original would have instantly exposed the fabrication, another forgery is superadded, by altering both these names in the letter (as published by the reviewers) to the usual orthography, Boki. For these facts, we refer to an able article published in the North American Review, No. 58, for January, 1828, and afterwards in a pamphlet, with additional remarks.

In that hasty and general view, which we take of the population of Oceania, as we skim over the books of superficial travellers, or, what is more common, the superficial reviews of those books, we are apt to consider the inhabitants of that whole region as one race of men. A nearer and more careful view, however, soon shows us, that they are composed of two, at least, if not three different stocks.

The first, and that with which we are most familiar, is described by Mr. Marsden and other writers, as having complexions of a yellowish brown, long, lank, jet-black hair, thin beards, wide nostrils, and high cheek bones; of a stature somewhat less than that of Europeans. These compose the population of Sumatra, Java, and other Indian Islands, the Malayan Peninsula, and most of the South Sea Islands. 1

The second race approach in their physical character, though they are not identified with, the African negroes, having skins of a sooty colour, wool-like hair, flat noses, and thick lips. These inhabit not only New Holland or Australia, and the group of New Guinea, but also several islands both in the hither and further division (of Polynesia], and even the interior of the Malayan peninsula. By the Malays they are called Papúah, but they have other national appellations in different parts. By the Spaniards, who first made them known to Europe, they were called Negritos (a diminutive of negro), "which is, literally, blackish or negro-ish men; and by the early navigators, New Guinea negroes. In their persons, they are said to be smaller than the first, or yellow race, and are considered, on the whole, as among the most puny and ill-favoured of the human species.”

To these two principal races, some writers add a third, which they suppose (on what ground we know not) to be an admixture of the two; their lips are thick, their hair neither woolly nor lank; but crisped and curled, and their complexion of an intermediate shade between the other two races. These are found in the island of Timor and its vicinity, in New Caledonia (east of New Holland), the Feejee islands, and some others, which need not be particularized.

We ought not to omit one other circumstance, which is stated by Mr. Ellis, in respect to the physical character of the islanders. He mentions it as a singular fact, that “the chiefs and persons of hereditary rank and influence in the islands, are, almost without exception, as much superior to the peasantry or common people, in stateliness, dignified deportment

1

See Marsden's Miscellaneous works; Craufurd's Indian Archipelago; Foreign Quarterly Review for 1834 ; Malte-Brun's Geography; Virey's Hist. Nat. du Genre Humain; Ellis's Polynesian Researches..

2 See the authorities last cited.

.

and physical strength, as they are in rank and circumstances; although they are not elected to their station on account of their personal endowments, but derive their rank and elevation from their ancestry. This is the case with most of the groups of the Pacific, but peculiarly so in Tahiti and the adjacent isles. The father of the late king was six feet four inches high; Pomare was six feet two. The present king of Raiatea, is equally tall

Their limbs are generally well formed, and the whole figure is proportioned to their height; which renders the difference between the rulers and their subjects so striking, that Bougainville and some others have supposed they were a distinct race, the descendants of a superior people, who at a remote period had conquered the aborigines, and perpetuated their supremacy .'.

Some individuals among the lower classes exhibit a stature equal to that of the chiefs, but this is of rare occurrence, and that circumstance alone does not facilitate the admission of its possessor to the higher ranks in society.1

Of these various people, some have made advances in civilization, beyond what existed among the most polished nations of America at the time of its discovery by Columbus. The Malays, and some others, have an agriculture equal to the Asiatics generally; they domesticate the common animals used by man, have manufactures, and use silver and gold as currency; and, what is particularly worthy of notice, they have had a systematic calendar (as indeed the Mexicans had), and the art of writing, for a long period. But this advanced state of civilization has existed only among the principal nations; the smaller ones are still in a very different condition ; generally speaking, they lead a roving life, depending not upon agriculture, but upon the products which the bounty of nature has provided for them. Some are now known to be cannibals, and living in constant warfare with each other; and—what is most revolting to our feelings—they have a passion for amassing the greatest quantities of the skulls of enemies, slain in battle, which, as civilized warriors do trophies of other kinds, they pile up in their rude huts as honourable memorials to be transmitted to their descendants.

After this general but very brief survey, of the different people inhabiting the Oceanic islands, we are naturally led to ask -what was their origin? How are they connected with the population of either of the two continents between which they are situated ?

These are questions not merely of speculative curiosity, but

· Ellis's Polynesian Researches, vol. i. p. 82.
2 See the authorities above cited.

having an important bearing on the history of the human race; and they are questions which, in the absence of all other proofs, cannot be answered, with any degree of satisfaction, except by a careful investigation of languages; the only witnesses (to use the homely but emphatic expression of Horne Tooke), the only witnesses that cannot lie."

Our readers, however, need not be apprehensive that we shall fatigue them, by an examination of those languages, with a view to support any one of the theories which have been formed by different writers on this subject. If we had the requisite information, the enquiry would demand more space than can be allowed to that single subject. We may, however, be able to exhibit some of the more interesting results that have been obtained from the materials already in possession of the learned.

And here we must, as in regard to the languages of the American continent, do justice to the labours of that illustrious people, the Germans, by acknowledging how much we owe to their industry and genius, for having successfully prosecuted the study of the languages, and, we may add, the literature, of the Oceanic nations. In the present instance, this acknowledgment is not made without the melancholy recollection of the late death of one of the most successful of their students, in this comparatively new subject of investigation we mean, Baron William Humboldt. That eminent statesman and scholar, by means of correspondents in this and other countries, had begun to amass, with truly German enthusiasm and labour, the requisite materials for a general survey of the Oceanic languages, beginning with Madagascar and pursuing the investigation quite round to Easter Island, which is the last of the islands in question, and is not very distant from the western coast of America. But, unhappily for the cause of science, while this illustrious man was prosecuting his enquiries, with that energy and zeal which ever animate those noble minds, that pursue knowledge for its own sake, his career was suddenly arrested by death; an event which will, in some degree, retard our progress towards the solution of the various problems involved in this great and interesting subject.

It seems to be agreed, except by a few writers, that the inhabitants of the South Sea islands, even those nearest to America, originally came direct from Asia ; and some persons--particularly Mr. Ellis, whose " Polynesian Researches” are well known to every reader-proceed one step farther, and confidently pronounce the Indians of America to have originated from Asia, through these islanders ; or, at least, that a part of the islanders came to America, though it may also have happened, that

[ocr errors]

others of them originally went from this continent and peopled some of the islands in their turn.

The hypothesis of this Asiatic origin, is maintained with great confidence by Dr. Lang, whose work is among those at the head of this article; and he has given a very good summary of the arguments in support of it; some of which we shall very briefly state, without however intending to adopt his conclusions.

1. The distinction of castes, the most remarkable, and probably the most ancient peculiarity of the social order in Asia, prevails also to a great extent in the South Sea Islands. In the Friendly Isles, the brahmin or priestly caste takes precedence even of the king; and in this group of islands Dr. Lang finds four castes, corresponding to the same number of them in India. This distinction, as in India, is kept up with such rigour, that if an individual of a higher caste has children by a wife of a lower one, the offspring must be put to death, in order to prevent the degradation of the family. Mr. Ellis, however, we ought to add, says that the distinction of ranks or castes, is not so strongly marked in the islands as it is in India.

2. That extraordinary institution called the taboo (pronounced tah-boo), which prevails universally in the islands, is thought by Dr. Lang to be indisputably of Asiatic origin; Mr. Ellis, however, says it has not been inet with in any other part of the world than the islands. Most readers now know, that the word taboo corresponds to the Latin word şacer, which is sometimes equivalent to sacred, and sometimes to accursed. Accordingly, when any person, place, or thing is taboo'd, they cannot be touched, and in some cases, even under the penalty. of death. The taboo seasons are either common or strict. During a common taboo, the men were only required to abstain from their usual avocations, and attend at the heitu, when the prayers were offered morning and evening. But during a strict taboo, every fire and light on the island must be extinguished; no canoe must be launched on the water, no person must bathe; and, except those whose attendance was required at the temple, no individual must be seen out of doors; no dog must bark, no pig must grunt, no cock must crow—or the taboo would be broken, and fail to accomplish the object designed. On these occasions they tied up the mouths of the dogs and pigs, and put the fowls under a calabash, or fastened a piece of cloth over their eyes; and nothing was suffered to disturb the death-like stillness of the

scene.

3. The rite of circumcision, which is considered to be indisputably Asiatic, is practised in several of the groups of VOL. XX.—NO. 39.

3

« PreviousContinue »