448-449

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Reports of Committee on Foreign Relations 1789-1901 Volume 6 pp448-449 300dpi scan (VERY LARGE!)

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and many other languages, but few people comprehend its significance in the places where it originated. The word means prohibited or forbidden, and a great deal more besides. Almost anything might be tabu. The penalty of violating a tabu was always death. The institution derived its power from the fact that there was not a native in all Polynesia who did not devoutly believe that even if the King or priests did not cause him to be killed for violating a tabu the gods certainly would.

In respect to the arts possessed by these people they were few and simple. The islands contained no metals and very few substitutes for them, except stone, and not the best kinds of stone for implements at that. Considering the want of materials, however, their arts were hardly to be despised. They made many articles of wood with surprising neatness. Their only substitutes for cloth were a fabric made of a peculiar bark, macerated in water and pounded out as thin as paper, and mats woven from the fibers of the pandanus with no little skill. Their houses were large, commodious structures made of grass, often neatly woven, and attached to a framework of poles. They were scrupulously neat within, and matting of pleasing aspect was used abundantly. They were wonderfully expert fishermen, and had devices suited for capturing each kind of fish. More than that, they had fish ponds and preserves for rearing select varieties.

Agriculture was practiced systematically. They constructed canals for irrigating, the remains of which are still visible in numerous places. Their chief vegetable was the root of the taro plant, a species of arum to which the calla lilies belong. It may not be generally known that this is probably the most prolific food plant in the world. Humboldt gives that distinction to the banana, but the banana is nowhere in the comparison; for a square yard and a half planted with taro will yield food enough to support a man for a year. This plant is poisonous when raw, but cooking completely destroys the poisonous quality and renders it very wholesome. The Hawaiians first bake it and then pound it, gradually adding water, which is kneaded in like oil in a mayonnaise, and when fully prepared it is of a consistency very much like mayonnaise. In that state it is termed poi; and to this day the natives regard it as we do bread, and it serves still as their favorite food. Many of the white residents also have become exceedingly fond of it.

The primitive Hawaiians were very bold and skillful navigators. There can be no question that they frequently visited in their little canoes the Society Islands and Tahiti, south of the equator and 2,400 miles distant from Hawaii. How they could cross such vast wastes of ocean seems at first mysterious ; but they had a knowledge of astronomy such as we sometimes marvel at in the old Egyptians and Chaldeans. They knew the planets, and had names for the brighter stars. They also had a good calendar. Their year was three hundred and sixty five days long, and began when the Pleiades rose at sunset. They had twelve months, of which eleven had thirty days each, and the twelfth thirty-five days. They had also a primitive arithmetic and a system of numerals in which they could number up into the hundreds of thousands. It was partly decimal and partly tesseral.

The religion of this people was in some respects analogous to that of the Greeks. Their gods were hero gods and of many grades. Indeed, it is quite literal to say that the woods were full of them. Every locality, every conspicuous rock or tree, had its tutelar, corresponding perhaps to the Grecian fauns and dryads. They also had animal gods, most notably the shark god, and the divinity of the volcano of Kilauea

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was a female named Pele. The amount of myth and legendary lore in which these divinities figured was something amazing. We have for some years been finding out that our own Indians were rich in myths, if nothing else. But the extent of such lore among the Hawaiians quite surpasses anything known of other primitive peoples. Many of them are highly poetical and ingenious.

The origin of the Polynesian race has always been a mystery. There is very little light thrown upon it as yet by ethnologic research. The view most favored is that they came from the East Indies at a remote period. That the larger islands of the Pacific have been inhabited for many centuries is an inference which finds considerable support. Attempts have been made to ascertain whether the language has any affinity to known languages of southeastern Asia, but the results are little better than negative. Some coincidences have been found, or supposed to have been found, but it does not seem that they are any better or more significant than such as may be frequently discovered between two languages which are surely known to have absolutely nothing in common. Coincidences between legends and customs have also been discovered. But ethnologists of the present day have come to attach less importance to them, if possible, than to languages. Thus the manners and customs, and also the legends, of the Maoris of New Zealand have very little in common with those of the Hawaiians. Yet the absolute identity of physical type and the virtual identity of their languages are tantamount to proof of a common race. And primitive peoples, world over, are constantly surprising us by furnishing correspondences in legends and peculiar customs, when it is absolutely certain that they are widely distinct. On the other hand, there is good ground for believing that if the Polynesians did not come from some known Asiatic or East Indian stock, they may at least have communicated with them in one way or another.

When the islands were discovered by Capt. Cook pigs were very abundant there, and the animal was an East Indian variety. The peculiar tusks, the portentiously long snout like an icthyosaurus, and ears set in the middle of its body, give us pretty reliable testimony as to its origin. They also had dogs, and certainly no dog could have come either from America or Australia. Finally, and even more conclusively, they had common hens and chickens, which are certainly of Asiatic origin. What people brought these animals to the islands is a question. I have already mentioned to you that the Hawaiians often made voyages to Tahiti in their little canoes, a distance of 2,400 miles; and their ancient poems and legends are full of vague accounts of voyages to even greater distances. They knew of the Samoan and Tonga islands, which are more than 3,000 miles away and farther westward. Possibly also they knew of New Zealand, but the evidence of that is not so clear. But I have never learned that anything in their poetry or traditions indicated a knowledge of either America or Asia. While, therefore, it is not impossible that they may have had communication with Asia, there is no other evidence of it than the fact that domestic animals of Asiatic origin were found among them.

The transition of this people from barbarism to civilization has been wonderfully rapid and complete. It is a very remarkable fact, too, that it is the only dark-skinned race that has ever been brought into full contact and relation with civilization without war and generations of bloodshed, ending in subjugation. The reasons are many. Prominent among them are the following: In the first place, there can be little question that it is the finest and most intelligent race of dark-skinned

S. Doc. 231, pt 6----29


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