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Of the Division of Time in Otaheite; Numeration, Computation of Distance, Language, Diseases, Disposal of the Dead, Religion, War, Weapons, and Government; with some general Observations for the Use offuture Navigators.
We were not able to acquire a perfect idea of their method of dividing time; but observed, that in speaking of it, either past or to come, they never used any term but Ma- lama, which signifies Moon. Of these moons they count thirteen, and then begin again; which is a demonstration that they have a notion of the solar year: But how they compute their months, so that thirteen of them shall be commensurate with the year, we could not discover; for they say that each month has twenty-nine days, including one in which the moon is not visible. They have names
yet the cultivation of none of them appears to be as extensive as was that of the maize in the West Indies, or to display equal skill with the preparation of the Cassavi-bread from the maniock. The West Indians, notwithstanding that they possessed almost every variety of vegetable nature which grew in the countries I have mentioned, the bread-fruit excepted, raised also both the maize and the maniock in great abundance; and they had acquired the skill of watering their lands from distant rivers, in time of drought. It may likewise be observed, that although the Otaheitans possess the shrub which produces cotton, they neither improve it by culture, nor have the knowledge of converting its wool into cloth, but content themselves with a far meaner production as a substitute. Our islanders had not only the skill of making excellent cloth from their cotton, but they practised also the arts of dying it, with a variety of colours, some of them of the utmost brilliancy and beauty. In the science of shipbuilding (if the construction of such vessels as either people used may be distinguished with that appellation) the superiority is on the side of the Otaheitans; yet the piraguas of the West Indians were fully sufficient for the navigation they were employed in, and indeed were by no means contemptible sea-boats." "On the other hand, our islanders far surpassed the people of Otaheite, in the elegance and variety of their domestic utensils and furniture; their earthen-ware, curiously woven beds, and implements of husbandry." For the particulars of the comparison here entered into, the reader who is interested will have recourse to the work itself, in which, besides, he will find several circumstances related of another people, the Charaibes, which much resemble what he has now read in the account of the Otaheitans. This note is already too large to admit of their being specified in any satisfactory manner, and it was thought improper to be continually calling off the attention of the reader, from the text, to smaller notes at the individual instances.—E.
for them separately, and have frequently told us the fruits that would be in season, and the weather that would prevail, in each of them; and they have indeed a name for them collectively, though they use it only when they speak of the mysteries of their religion. . . \ ., . -< ,:,,«-■■
Every day is subdivided into twelve parts, each of two hours, of which six belong to the day, and six to the night. At these divisions they guess pretty nearly by the height of the sun while he is above the horizon; but there are few of them that can guess at them, when he is below it, by the stars.* ....'. ._!—■ ,i•■ —»- • ,■■■;•-
In numeration they proceed from one to ten, the number of fingers on both hands; and though they have for each number a different name, they generally take hold of their fingers one by one, shifting from one hand to the other, till they come to the number they want to express. And in other instances, we observed that, when they were conversing with each other, theyjoined signs to their words, which were so expressive that a stranger might easily ap- . prebend their meaning.
In counting from ten they repeat the name of that number, and add the word more; ten, and one more, is eleven; ten, and two more, twelve; and so of the rest, as we say one-and-twenty, two-and-twenty. When they come to ten and ten more, they have a new denomination, as we say a score; and by these scores they count till they get ten of them, when they have a denomination for two hundred; and we never could discover that they had any denomination to express a greater number: Neither, indeed,do they
1 It is distinctly proved by President Goguet, that the course of the moon,and her various appearances, served mankind in general, in the first ages, for the measurement of time. What is here said of the Otaheitans confirms his observations. We are told too, in another work, that the natives of the Pellew Islands reckon their time by months, and not by years; in which, however, we see they are inferior to the former as to extent of science. Now there are two sorts of lunar month, called in the language of astronomers, synodical and periodical; the first is the time from new moon to new moon, consisting of 29 days, 12 hours, 44 min. 3 seconds, which is the month most commonly used by the early observers; the second, consisting of 27 days, 7 hours, 48 min. 5 seconds, is that portion of time which the moon takes to finish her course round the earth. Neither of these multiplied by 13 will make up the solar year exactly. In what manner then the Otaheitans reckon, it is not easy to comprehend. The probability is, that they have no notion of the periodical month.—E.
seem to want any; for ten of these amount to two thousand, a greater number than they can ever apply.*
In measuring distance they are much more deficient than in computing numbers, having but one term which answers to fathom; when they speak of distances from place to place, they express it, like the Asiatics, by the time that is required to pass it.
Their language is soft and melodious; it abounds with vowels, and we easily learnt to pronounce it: But found it exceedingly difficult to teach them to pronounce a single word of ours; probably not only from its abounding in consonants, but from some peculiarity in its structure; for Spanish and Italian words, if ending in a vowel, they pronounced with great facility.
Whether it is copious, we were not sufficiently acquainted with it to know; but it is certainly very imperfect, for it is almost totally without inflexion, both of nouns and verbs. Few of the nouns have more than one case, and few of the verbs more than one tense; yet we found no great difficulty in making ourselves mutually understood, however strange it may appear in speculation.
They have, however, certain affixa, which, though but few in number, are very useful to them, and puzzled us extremely. One asks another, Harre hea?" Where are you going i" the other answers Ivahinera, "To my wives;" upon which the first repeating the answer interrogatively, "To your wives i" is answered, Ivahinereira; "Yes, I am
* The reader cannot but be pleased with what Goguet says on the practice of numbering with the fingers, so common in most nations, and adopted we see by the Otaheitans. "Nature has provided us with a kind of arithmetical instrument more generally used than is commonly imagined; I mean our fingers. Every thing inclines us to think, that these were the first instruments used by men to assist them in the practice of numeration. We may observe in Homer, that Proteus counts his seacalves by fives and fives, that is, by his fingers. Several nations in America have no other instruments of calculation. It was probably the same in the primitive ages. It is another strong presumption of the truth of what I now advance, that all civilized nations count by tens, tens of tens, or hundreds, tens of hundreds, thousands, and so on; still from ten to ten. We can discover no reason why the number ten should be chosen rather than any other for the term of numeration, except this primitive practice of counting by the fingers." The whole of his observations on this subject are well worthy of minute consideration. On such elements, the provision of nature, are founded the most sublime and important sciences.—E.
going to my wives." Here the suffixa era and eira save several words to both parties.*
Among people whose food is so simple, and who in general are seldom drunk, it is scarcely necessary to say, that there are but few diseases; we saw no critical disease during our stay upon the island, and but few instances of sickness, which were accidental fits of the cholic. The natives, however, are afflicted with the erysipelas, and cutaneous eruptions of the scaly kind, very nearly approaching to a leprosy. Those in whom this distemper was far advanced, lived in a state of seclusion from all society, each in a small house built upon some unfrequented spot, where they were supplied with provisions: But whether they had any hope of relief, or languished out the remainder of their lives in solitude and despair, we could not learn. We observed also a few who had ulcers upon different parts of their bodies, some of which had a very virulent appearance; yet they seemed not much to be regarded by those who were afflicted with them, for they were left entirely without application even to keep off the flies.4
3 A table of some words of the language follows in the copy.—It is omitted here, because an opportunity will occur, to give one more full and correct; and it seemed injudicious to run the hazard of being charged with unnecessary repetition.—E.
♦ The affection of the skin, called leprosy in the text, is, in the missionary account, ascribed to the excessive use of the yava, the intoxicating beverage of the Otaheitans, and is there said to be regarded by many as a badge affability. This perhaps is something on the same principle as the gout is accounted among us, an evidence of a person's being rich; for it appears, that the common people in general are as unable to
Srocure the yava in Otaheite, as they are on our side of the world to innlge in luxurious living. What excellency there is in the scabbed skins of the Otaheitan lepers, to entitle them to the estimation of nobility, or what advantage they find in this to compensate the sufferings of so grievous a malady, is difficult indeed to divine; but it may be very safely affirmed of those among us, who have prospered so well as to obtain the gout for a possession, that they really require all the comforts of riches, though tenfold more than imagined, to render the residue of life any way tolerable. Yet such is the inconsistency of human nature, and so formidable its weakness of resolution, when pernicious habits are once formed, that few persons, though even writhing at the bare remembrance of its horrors, and dreading its approach as the attack of
Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things, /**,',','
Abominable, unutterable, and worse
Where intemperance produces no diseases, there will be no physicians by profession; yet where there is sufferance, there will always be attempts to relieve; and where the cause of the mischief and the remedy are alike unknown,
can be prevailed on to swear rebellion against it. "For," says Dr Heberden, " this seems to be the favourite disease of the present age in England; wished for by those who have it not, and boasted of by those who fancy they have it, though very sincerely lamented by most who in reality suffer its tyranny. For, so much respect hath been shown to this distemper, that all the other evils, except pain, which the real or supposed gouty patient ever feels, are imputed most commonly not to his having too much of this disease, but to his wanting more; and the gout, far from being blamed as the cause, is looked up to as the expected deliverer from these evils." "The dread of being cured of the gout," he further remarks. "was and is still much greater than the dread of having it; and the world seems agreed patiently to submit to this tyrant, lest a worse should come in its room." It is not difficult to account for such absurdity, though it be quite impracticable to palliate it; and what is worse, from its being founded on something more congenial to human nature than even prejudice, it is almost impossible to remove it. A single quotation more from the same author, so much in repute among his professional brethren, will at once unravel the mystery, and show how rare a thing a cure is, where the means essential to it are necessarily dependent on the self-denial of the patient. "Strong wines, and in no small quantity, have the reputation of being highly beneficial to gouty persons; which notion they have very readily and generally received, not so much perhaps from a reasonable persuasion of its truth, as from a desire that it should be true, because they love wine. Let them consider, that a free use of vinous and spirituous liquors peculiarly hurts the stomach and organs of digestion, and that tfie'gout is bred and fostered by those who indulge themselves in drinking much wine; while the poorer part of mankind, who can get very little stronger than water to drink, have better appetites than wine-drinkers, and better digestions, and are far less subject to arthritic complaints. The most perfect cures, of which I have been a witness, have been effected by a total abstinence from spirits, and wine, and flesh, which in two or three instances hath restored the helpless and miserable patients from a state worse than death, to active and comfortable life: But I have seen too few examples of the success of this method, to be confident or satisfied of its general utility." The language of the missionary account is very similar and equally encouraging. "On the discontinuance of the practice of drinking the yava, the skin of the leprous persons soon becomes smooth and clear, and they grow fat, though few are found who deny themselves the use of it." If drugs could remove either of these calamities, it is certain there would be no difficulty in getting them to be swallowed; for most men, it seems, prefer any sorts of bitter and nauseating substances, though taken by the pound, and without intermission, to the salutary restraints on appetite and vicious propensities, which common sense as well as common experience so authoritatively enjoin. It is as unjust to censure physicians for failing to cure the gout, as it would be to censure a surgeon for the lameness or deformity of the leg of a man, who, while under treatment for a fracture, should make daily attempts to dance or ride on horseback.—E.