[Read before the Auckland Institute, September 13, 1875.]
About 360 years ago, Magellan, after battling for weeks against contrary winds and currents through the 60 miles of straits that bear his name, got out at last into the great ocean; and steering a N.W. course, sped along with fair winds and favoring currents until he had reached the Ladrone
Islands, which are distant from Cape Horn more than 9,000 miles. From these islands he could have gone with as fair winds, and still more favorable currents, across the North Pacific to the coast of Mexico; because 120 miles south of Guam a strong current is felt, which flows towards Formosa, and when within 120 leagues of that island turns north. At this point the stream is 100 miles wide, of a dark blue color, and twelve degrees hotter than the torpid water on either side. It flows by the islands of Japan at a rapid rate, varying from two miles to four miles an hour, and its waters are so much darker than the rest of the ocean that the Japanese call it the Kurosiwo or black river. As it flows northward it constantly increases in width, so that opposite the Loo Choo Islands it is 500 miles wide, and still further north, in the latitude of the Tsugar Strait, it separates into two branches, one flowing along the coast of Asia and through Behring Straits, and the other branch in a westerly and north-westerly course across the Pacific. The first branch not only raises the temperature of the Kuril Isles and Kamschatka, and keeps the east side of the Behring Straits free from ice during the summer months; but it also piles up drift timber, swept from the shores of Japan, in immense quantities from Norton Bay to Point Barrow in the Arctic Ocean. The second branch, in its westerly course, flows at varying rates from seventeen to forty-eight miles a day, and with a constantly lowering temperature. In 36° N. and 180° W. the temperature is 81°. At this point the current turns north-west, and strews the shores of the Aleutian Isles with drift timber. In latitude 48° N. and 150° W. the temperature is 64°, or 11° hotter than the torpid waters. As the Kuro-siwo approaches nearer the American coast, it meets the cold under current of Behring Strait, and, by it is forced to the west, in latitude 30°, so that the waters revolve from east to west, and form Fleurieu whirlpool. The contest between the currents of warm and cold water is well marked in the North Pacific. The northern branch of the Kuro-siwo forces one cold current from the Arctic close to Kamschatka, and into the sea of Japan, and another is forced along the shores of North America. This current, which is called the Californian, flows south-east towards the equator, and meeting the eastern branch of the Kuro-siwo forces it aside, as has been said, and forms Fleurieu whirlpool. In latitude 20° N., it turns west, and as the North Equatorial current flows right across the Pacific to supply the current of Kuro-siwo.
A similar circuit of ocean currents exists in the South Pacific, but as there is no land to obstruct the cold streams from the Antarctic Ocean, the warm currents are forced nearer to the equator in the South Pacific than in the north. It was a current from the Antarctic that Magellan had to contend against until he got well away from the coast, and entered the left
branch of the current which flows along the coast of Chili and Peru, under the name of Humboldt's Current. This immense body of icy-cold water has a great effect on the climate of Patagonia and Chili. Darwin writes that “almost every arm of the sea which penetrates to the interior higher range, not only in Terra del Fuego, but on the coast for 650 miles northward, is terminated by tremendous and astonishing glaciers.”
At Conception, in the latitude of Auckland, this cold current so chills the counter trades from the north-west that the forests are always dripping with moisture, and the sky continually cloudy. The effects of this current on the climate is felt as far as the Galapagos, which are situated on the equator. The temperature of the current round these islands is more than ten degrees lower than that of the ocean which hinders the growth of coral on the shores of this Archipelago. The average rate of this current is twelve miles a day, but in some parts it runs far more rapidly, as off the coast of Valparaiso, where it flows twenty-six miles a day. It is of great importance to navigation, as vessels can readily go from south to north. They make a run from Valparaiso to Callao in nine or ten days, and from Callao to Guayaquil in four or five days; but to return from these places occupies weeks, and even months. Humboldt's Current is lost near the Galapagos; part of it returns as an inshore current, southward along the coast, and a part flows west into the South Equatorial. The latter is the current which carried Magellan so rapidly across the Pacific. After crossing the Humboldt, he entered a current of warmer water flowing in the same direction as Humboldt's, which is called Mentor's Drift. This current, on reaching the latitude of 20° south, flows west, and is then called the South Equatorial. When it approaches the Paumotu Group it divides into two streams, one flowing north by the Marquesas and Samoan Islands, north of which a branch flows to the Carolines, and the other south of the Cook and Tongan Groups, until it meets a part of the northern branch west of the Fijis, on the meridian of 179° E. Between these two streams are included the six principal groups of islands with which New Zealand trades: these are, the Paumotu in the east, the Fijis in the west, and between these lie the Society, the Samoan, the Tongan and Cook Islands. For the sake of distinction I will call this division Polynesia, which extends from 128° to 178° west longitude, and lies between the parallels of 8° and 28° south latitude, and is enclosed by the northern and southern branches of the South Equatorial current. East of the Fijis the current divides again— one branch flowing north-west, called Rossell's Drift, and the other south-east towards the shores of Australia. Near Tasmania this warm stream comes in contact with an icy current from the Antarctic, and then is forced to the east, south of New Zealand, and across the Pacific as the south
counter current, and near the coast of America forms the Mentor's Drift. This is the southern circuit of ocean currents. The Rossell's Drift, which branches N.E. near Fiji, flows by New Caledonia and the New Hebrides, and the islands of Santa Cruz and others, called inclusively, Melanesia. It continues its north-west course, even against the monsoon which blows from May to September, and flows through Torres Straits and to the west of New Guinea, when it meets the West Australian current; and further north still, a part of the South Equatorial, which branches off north of the Samoan Group. These united streams turn east near the Pelew Isles, and flowing south of the Caroline Group, form the equatorial counter current, which constantly flows east, between the northern and southern circuit currents, at rates varying from three to thirty-eight miles a day.
The ocean currents seem to form six principal divisions of islands. These are, Polynesia, in the South Equatorial; Melanesia, in Rossell's; the Papuan Group, between the latter the West Australian and the South Equatorial; the Gilbert and Ellice islands, which lie between the South Equatorial and the counter current; the Caroline, Marshall, and Ladrone islands, also called inclusively, Micronesia, lie between the North Equatorial and the equatorial counter current; and lastly the Sandwich Group, which is almost the only land in the northern circuit, not quite 6,000 square miles of land in an area of more than 11,000,000 square miles. The entire six divisions do not contain more than a quarter of a million square miles of land, of which Papua alone contains more than 200,000 square miles, and these are scattered over an area of more than 30,000,000 square miles. Widely as these islands are separated from each other, the whole six divisions seem to be inhabited by the same race. A common bond of language unites them, for the names of numerals, of the human limbs, and other common objects, are for the most part identical.
The Papuans are shown by Mr. Wallace to be quite a contrast to the Malays, from whom they are separated by a narrow strait; and to resemble the Maori in language, disposition, and mode of life. Cook and other early voyagers were struck with the resemblance of the Sandwich Islander to the Tahitian; and the Rowditch Islanders to the north of Samoa, who did not know of any other people, when visited by the American expedition in 1840, nevertheless spoke very good Maori.
A study of the prevailing winds and ocean currents accounts for the mild climate of Alaska, compared with that of Greenland in the same latitude. It explains the cause of the extreme cold on the western shores of Patagonia, and the constant rain on the coast of Southern Chile, as well as on that of British America.
The cold Arctic current in the sea of Japan accounts for the excellent
fish caught there, whilst those taken from the warm one near the Paumotus are scarcely eatable.
By following the course of the Kuro-siwo vessels can go from Yokohama to San Francisco, a distance of more than four thousand miles, in thirteen days, and the same stream has swept vessels from Japan across the Pacific to America from time immemorial. But neither winds nor currents favor the theory that the Maori came from Malaysia, or the Tahitians from the the Sandwich Isles.
The growth of coral, which forms large reefs near all the Pacific Islands, except the Galapagos, as before mentioned, depends upon the temperature of the water. Where the water is very warm the coral flourishes, but the larger kinds cannot live in a temperature lower than 69° Fah.
For this reason the hardier kinds alone are found near the Sandwich Islands, where the average temperature of the water is 74° Fah., but it grows in its greatest vigour and variety in the Fijian Sea, where the temperature is never lower than 74° Fah., and during the summer months is as high as 85° Fah. The study of the coral polyp has occupied much attention during the last 30 years, and these animals are found to vary as much as the species of the most inclusive order of plants. Some small species live only at great depths; others, like the astrœans, form immense conical masses; others again grow upward in massive trunks, whilst the most beautiful kinds live either in the sheltered lagoon or on the surface of the reef. Small species have been dredged up from a depth of 190 fathoms; but such kinds do not form reefs. The reef builders cannot live below the depth of fifteen fathoms, and even at this depth, all the reef forming species, cannot live, nor can those forming the base live near the surface. For this reason the astrœans, who grow into immense spherical masses fifteen or twenty feet in diameter, forming the base of the reef, cannot live nearer the surface than six fathoms deep, so that at a pressure of two atmospheres their upward growth is checked. They however form a suitable basis for porites and mœandrinas, whose habitat is nearer the surface, and so these kinds continue on the reef, growing upwards in immense tree-like trunks and branches, until they reach their limit, which they cannot pass. Here the lighter kinds millipores, madripores, and a great variety of sea ferns continue on the structure to the surface, and crown the reef with a shrubbery of every variety of colour. The reef is by no means solid, and the openings left in it are occupied by myriads of other animals, that seek shelter or food between the growing masses. Numerous sea shells and boring shells attach themselves in the crevices. The pearl shell and the immense treductina fix themselves securely to the wall; the echinus and the velopus find here
security and abundant food. Then the reef is penetrated by sea worms, and the waves are constantly washing away the lime, and dashing it on again, or hurling into an opening the pieces broken from a projection, and thus forming the conglomerate coral rock.
Thus, the water charged with lime, and the millipores or cretaceous plants which grow on the reef, entomb in due time all the animals that sought shelter in the crevices, and form a cemented wall to face the ocean. These animals that raise such barriers against the waves, which are never at rest on account of the trade winds, are the lowest but one in the order of animals. They have the same gelatinous bodies as the sea anemone, the same digestive cavity, the same mode of seeking their food, and also the same roseate appearance when the tentacles are spread; but in one respect they differ, the polypifera secrete lime, and the sea anemones do not. Some of the sea anemones on the shores of Chili are fully fourteen inches in diameter when the tentacles are spread, and some of the species are very beautiful.
The many-tinted tentacles vary in color from bright green to rich purple; the variegated disc and mouth bears a close resemblance to a garden aster, but here the likeness ends, as a sea anemone or polypi is as much an animal as a cat or a dog.
So soon as the tentacles come in contact with prey, whether shell-fish or crab, or small fish, they instantly close upon it, and force the captured animal into the mouth, where it soon dies, and when the nutritious parts are extracted, the rest is rejected. The sudden death of the animal is not owing to the tentacles, but to concealed weapons. These are long microscopical threads which are coiled up in cells, either in the tentacles or on the disc, and contain poison cells. These lasso threads are shot out the instant the tentacles touch an object, and the effect is to destroy very quickly the life even of the mollusc or crab that is so unfortunate as to fall or be thrown on the pretty flower. The coral polyp lives in the same way, and is armed with the same weapons, but as his mouth is often not an eighth of an inch in diameter, he must be content with very small animals. From the mouth of the polyp numerous pear-shaped eggs float away through the water, just as the winged seeds of plants are wafted away by the wind. These eggs are furnished with long cellary appendages that float far behind, and bear them along; some of these find at last a suitable resting place—one end becomes attached to the ground, the other becomes depressed, and very shortly the mouth and tentacles appear, and life is begun. The soft partitions in the polyp soon become hardened with the lime it secretes, and after increasing in bulk, the mouth gradually divides
into two, and these again divide in a process called fission, and as each mouth is formed the polypifer becomes larger.
This is the mode by which astrœans increase in bulk. The porites increases by budding, and the bud becomes a mouth and tentacles, and each species has its peculiar mode of growth. The number of animals in one mass, produced from a single polyp, is many millions, and when the many-coloured tentacles are all spread over a surface of living coral, the effect is said to be very beautiful. There is nothing more wonderful in a polyp secreting coral than in an oyster secreting his shell, or the higher animals their bones. All alike are largely, or for the most part, composed of carbonate of lime, whether animal bones, oyster shells, or polyp coral. But that a small gelatinous animal should raise a barrier, in the midst of dashing waves, against the force of an ocean current, is one of the most wonderful examples of the power of vital over the most mighty mechanical force. The polypifera always commence the reef in the neighbourhood of some land;—if the shores are steep, it must build near the shore, but if the land slopes gently, water will be shallow for a good distance from shore, and the reef-builders must therefore commence further from land in water ten or twelve fathoms deep. In due time the distance between the reef and the shore will become almost filled up with the different varieties of coral.
If all coral reefs were of this description they would not have excited so much interest, but by far the greater number of reefs differ very essentially from this description. Instead of the reef being fifteen fathoms thick, it is often 200 fathoms on the ocean side. Instead of being close to a steep shore, it is often many miles away from it; instead of the water within the reef being shallow, it is often more than forty fathoms deep. In order to account for these reefs the most contradictory theories were advanced by naturalists until Mr. Darwin studied the structure of these reefs when he accompanied the English exploring expedition under Captain Fitzroy. After comparing together hundreds of islands with coral reefs, both in the Indian and Pacific Ocean—after taking soundings within the reef and without—after an amount of labour in surveying, mapping, and collecting information that an ordinary person would shrink from, he arrived at a very simple explanation of the scientific problem.
He observed that where islands had not reefs close to the shore or fringing reefs, that the reefs varied in distance from the land, and that, as a rule, the size of the enclosed island diminished in proportion to the distance of the reef; and that the island also became lower in height. Some reefs again surround one solitary rock, as in Nanuka, in the Fijis; others, again, enclose a shoal; and, lastly, similar reefs have been found by sounding to be at present submerged many fathoms deep. It was also
observed that where several small islands were close together, as in the Gambier Islands, that a distant reef ran round the whole of the islands, and that these islands were themselves encircled by coral, but that the outer reef was much older than the inner. These are some of the facts that induced him to conclude that the land had slowly subsided.
Thus if the Viti Levu, which has a reef close to the shore, were gradually to subside, that is to say at about one-half foot in 100 years. The coral reefs close to the shore would be raised to the surface by the polypifers during that time, and the distance from the shore would be increased by two or three feet. Supposing the land to sink 7,000 feet, the distance of the reef would then be several miles from shore, and the mountainous parts alone of the island would remain, as in Tahiti. A reef of this kind, which rises from deep water, at a distance from the enclosed island, is called a barrier reef. In case Viti Levu subsided still more, the reef would become more distant from the remaining land, and, in time, the highest peaks alone would remain above the water; each of which, under favorable conditions, would have its own coral reef. The Gambier group furnishes an example of this. The last stage of subsidence leaves a shallow lagoon nearly encompassed by a reef. On this the waves hurl masses of coral broken from the reef, the wind blows together mounds of sand, and the sea birds find a resting place, and thus a soil is formed for plants. A reef of this kind, with patches of pandanus and cocoa nut growing on it is called an atoll. The structure is essentially the same as a barrier reef, even to the patches of vegetation, which also flourish on the latter. The atolls are, however, smaller in extent than barrier reefs, which follows from the statement already made that the subsiding lofty peaks become encircled by reefs. The atolls are thus only the monuments of extensive lands that once formed larger islands, or a vast continent across the Pacific. Even the shape of the land that existed ages ago can still be traced in the trending of barrier reefs. At the Fijis, for instance, a distinct reef surrounds the two large islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, and many small islands which were no doubt forming headlands. This reef encloses more than 10,000 square miles, of which there is now 4,500 square miles of dry land. In the division of islands in the South Equatorial current, which is called Polynesia for distinction, the extent of surface is not much less than the size of Europe, but the habitable land there is not much more than half the area of Auckland province. A great contrast exists between the size of the area enclosed by atolls and the habitable land on them. Thus in the Paumota group, Dana estimates that there are 1,000 square miles enclosed at Dean Island, but only 16 square miles of habitable land. The proportion of land is greater in other atolls, and yet of ten average islands the
area enclosed is 1852 square miles, and of this only 76 miles habitable land.
There are altogether 80 of these islands in the Paumotas, of which only nine enclose small islands. The reef does not rise more than eight or ten feet above the sea level, and varies in width from 100 yards to three-quarters of a mile. There is generally an opening on the west side, through which the water constantly flows out, which Sir Charles Lyell regards as a proof of their subsidence. As a rule the vegetation is only on the east side, but in some cases, as at Ascension Island, the vegetation grows round the whole reef.
The beauty of these islands is a constant theme in story books, but there is undoubtedly a great want of variety. There are not more than 30 species of plants found on them, and of these the Cocoa-nut Palm is the most important. This tree grows to a height of 30 feet, and forms dense groves, which can be seen a long way off from ships at sea. It is the staple food, and a great source of the wealth of the natives. The fruit is often their only food; the milk supplies them with drink when fresh water is scarce. The shell is used as a cup; the fibre as cord, and rope, and mats. The timber is used for their huts, and the leaves for thatch. The dried nut, called cobra, or the oil expressed called cobra oil, is also an important article of commerce.
The Pandanus ranks next in importance, and it grows close to the water on the patches of sand on the reefs from the Paumotas to Malaysia. The fruit is grated and made into cakes, which to a European taste like saw-dust; but the fruit is much better in the Gilbert Islands, where it is preferred to cocoa-nut. The leaves are used for roofs of houses, made into sails and mats, and the fibre woven into beautiful and delicate textures. The stem gives off ærial roots, which fix the tree firmly in the sand, and as it gives off bunches of leaves in a spiral form, with large cone-shaped fruit hanging underneath, it has obtained the name of screw pine. This stem is hollow, and the tough wood makes excellent bows. These two trees furnish the natives with food, clothes such as they require, houses, and weapons. There are not more than 28 other species of plants on these islands, and nearly all these like the cocoa-nut and pandanus range from South America to the East Indies. The Pisonia grandis, which grows to a height of 40 feet, and sometimes 20 feet in girth, with handsome foliage and large showy flowers, is found on some of the islands from America to India. The same may be said of two Bœrhavia, which are only prostrate or creeping plants, of a convolvulus, the Ipomœa longiflora, and of a kind of cress, the Lepidium piscidium, which is eaten by the natives of New Caledonia as an article of food. I may also mention the Tournefortea argentea, an ugly shrub, and the Asplenium nidus, a handsome fern, both of which
have an equally wide range. The canoes of the islanders are often made from trunks of trees found in the lagoons—a tree which once grew on the submerged land, and is a favorite with the natives of Tahiti and Fiji. The natives of Paumota call the wood tamano, and botanists have named it Calophyllum inophyllum.
The lagoons of these islands are generally from 20 to 35 fathoms deep; a few like Hinden Island have shallow lagoons, and two at least, Metia and Clermont Tonnere, have been elevated, the former as high as 250 feet. Where, however, the lagoon is moderately deep there is another source of wealth to the island: the natives obtain, by diving, clams and mussels and pearl oysters, which are often their only animal food; the pearl shell is collected for traders, and in many cases valuable pearls are found in it. The chief wealth of the lagoon is the trepang, or běche de mer, called also holothuria, an animal closely allied to the sea urchin and star-fish, with the roseate mouth and poisonous lassoes of the polyp. It is about one foot long, and in shape like a cucumber; a great part of the body is buried in the coral sand, and the mouth, in shape like a flower, protrudes. It is said to feed upon the coral polyp, which flourish in great variety of form and colour to a depth of twelve fathoms near the sides of the lagoon. This animal exists in incredible numbers on the protected sides of reefs across the whole Pacific, and Mr. Wallace describes the collecting and curing of it by the natives of Kiliware, near Ceram, in the same manner as it is carried on at the Paumotas for exportation to China. Long before Columbus discovered America, Chinese ships frequented the islands of the Pacific to collect this article of food for their markets. The first European navigators found the trade of Chinese vessels for the tripang as fully established as at present. Both within and without the lagoon there are swarms of fish which feed on the polypifer. In the lagoon they are of various colours, but unfit for food as they are all said to be poisonous.
Another article of trade is in turtle shell;—the animals are generally caught by the natives outside the lagoon, whilst sleeping on the surface of the water. The flesh furnishes them with a feast, and the shells are bartered with traders, and called in commerce, tortoise shell.
A great many of the so-called charms of a lagoon island disappear when we enumerate all the good things they have, and calculate what they have not. There are no hills and valleys, no green fields or flowery meadows, no corn-fields or farmed lands; neither river nor stream, but, on the contrary, a great scarcity of fresh water, which is caught in large holes made in the coral rock during the rainy season, or in the hollowed stumps of cocoa-nut trees. Their only mineral is carbonate of lime, and the animals, if we except the sea birds, are represented by an enormous land
crab, that feeds on the cocoa-nut. The inhabitants of such islands, where no forethought is necessary to provide food, nor any necessity for constant work, must have destroyed in them any idea of responsibility, which is the ground-work of morality, and are on account of the necessary poverty of their language, almost precluded from receiving instruction. It is hard to conceive how men, under such circumstances, can be anything but savages.
Sea birds frequent all the islands, but on those uninhabited they assemble in great numbers; nearly twenty varieties congregate on the islands visited for guano. The chief kinds are Gannets and Boobies, Frigate birds, Terns, Noddies, and Petrels, together with some game birds and the Tropic bird. Some lay their eggs in tufts of grass, as the tern, which numbers millions on some islands during the breeding season. The noddy burrows in the ground, and makes a hole for its eggs. The Gannet and Booby make their nests of piles of sticks, and roost on the trees if they can do so. At night the different kinds form separate communities, closely huddled together; but during the day they seek their food to the windward promiscuously.
There is a great contrast between the meagre productions of the coral islands and the abundance and variety of those of older formation, such as the islands of Society, Samoa and Fiji. In these islands there are mountains and valleys, and rivers and streams, and in addition to all the productions of atolls, there are hundreds of species of plants that furnish food, clothes, spices, dyes, scents, timber for ships and houses, and ornamental woods for cabinetmakers. The inhabitants can choose between the yam, the kumara, the taro, the breadfruit, the banana, the plantain and the cocoa-nut, and in addition they have the choicest fruits and medicinal plants. Cotton grows abundantly on all these islands, from the Marquesas to Fiji, and the sugar cane is not only cultivated by Europeans, but is also indigenous to the Tahitian and Fijian islands. In the choice of a special article of diet, the natives of the different island groups differ as much from each other as the inhabitants of the countries of Europe.
The Sandwich Islanders prefer the taro, and with them the cocoa-nut is a delicacy once reserved for the men. In the Society and Samoan Islands the breadfruit is preferred; whilst in the Fijis, where all the products flourish in the greatest perfection, the yam is the staple food. The cultivation of the yam is with the Fijians the great national business, and their calendar of eleven months is based upon the growing, curing, and storing of their favourite food. In reading over their calendar, one is forcibly reminded of the similar influence that the cultivation of wheat had amongst the Jews in marking their seasons and periods of offerings to the priests. Here it
may be remarked that neither cereal nor pulse grows to perfection on the islands of Polynesia.
The botanical wealth of the Fijis is only in part known to us, and yet, through the labours of Mr. Seeman, this part of Polynesia is better known than the other groups. That distinguished botanist only describes the botany of the coasts, as he was unable to penetrate any distance into the interior of the larger islands. The vegetable productions seem to unite in the Fijis from all points of the Pacific, claiming relationship with Western Papua by the sago palm, and nutmeg tree; with New Zealand by the kauri; with Tahiti and Samoa by the breadfruit tree; with Paumota by the screw pine; and with the Sandwich Islands and Mexico by the edible arum and American aloe.
The Sago palm, which is the chief food of the people of Ceram, is cut down by the Fijians, ignorant of its value, to make way for their yam plantations. The breadfruit tree grows in large forests, and its fruit ripens in the same months (March and April) as the yam comes to perfection. Its timber is made into canoes and furniture, and its bark into cloth in some islands; the gum also is used for caulking canoes.
The Fijian kauri is fast falling before European woodcutters, both at Kandavau and the large islands, but the wood most highly prized by the Polynesians is that of the Tomano. This tree, Calophyllum inophyllum, has a wide range—as far as Ceylon to the west, to Hawaii in the north, and the lagoons of the Paumotus in the east.
It is a handsome tree, growing to a height of 60 feet, and four feet in diameter. The wood is close grained, and resembles mahogany, and is made into canoes and furniture, and is said to be free from the attacks of the teredo.
From the seeds is obtained a very valuable oil, called in Fiji dilo; in Tahiti, tomano; and in India, cashumpa, which is used by the natives as a remedy for rheumatism. This tree and the ironwood, Casuarina equiseti-folia were two of the sacred trees that grew round the ancient Polynesian temples. The list of timber trees that are very abundant is a very long one, and some legend is generally attached to each of the principal ones.
To sum up the productions of Polynesia, of which I have given a mere outline: The atolls supply cocoa-nuts, cobra, and cocoa-nut fibre; pearls, pearl shell, tortoise shell, and sponges; trepang, sharks'fins, and abundance of guano. The Barrier and Fringing reef islands can supply in addition to these products cotton, sugar, coffee, nutmeg, sago, and the choicest fruits in the greatest abundance; sandal wood, excellent timber both for the cabinetmaker and shipbuilder, valuable oils and scents, and medicinal plants.
A great commercial value, that these islands possess, is the number of excellent harbours, that render the products easy of access.
Many of the coral islands have deep lagoons, which a large ship can enter, whilst at the large islands Papiete in Tahiti, Apia and Pangopango, in Samoa, and several harbors in the Fijis are centres of trade, where large ships receive the products of the adjacent islands, which are conveyed thither by schooners and whaleboats.
It has long been a question where the Polynesians came from, and how long they have occupied, the islands of the Pacific. Their traditions were eagerly sought to learn something of their past history, and the great object was to find some legend that would tell how they had come from Malaysia, in spite of contrary winds and currents. But no such tradition was found. On the contrary, the accounts of the wise men of Tahiti, as collected by Mr. Ellis, agreed in stating that, in ancient times there was a large continent (whenua nui), where the islands are now scattered, and that this continent was submerged by the anger of the gods; that a few of the inhabitants were saved, and they occupied the sacred places of old times. The island of Racabea was the scene of creation, where Oro, and Tangaroa, and Tane delighted to visit, and this island contained the palaces of their kings, their finest temples, and the chief seat of the priesthood. It was their Delphi and centre of the earth. They refused to believe that they had ever come from other lands, and in this they differ from nearly every other people. These traditions, worthless as they have been thought, agree with the account of the formation of atolls, which is now generally received.
The greater number of atolls lie to the north of a line drawn nearly direct from Pitcairn Island, north of the Society, Samoan, and Solomon to the Pelew group. Of the 204 islands north of this line, there are thirteen high islands. These are Easter Island, eight precipitous islands of Marquesas, and in the Caroline group, Ualan and Hogelan.
This shows the greater subsidence of the land near the American coast to correspond with the gradual elevation of the whole of that continent. The west coast of South America is found to rise, at the rate of nineteen feet in 400 years; but the more extended Pacific area had a much slower subsidence.
As a proof that America has been long occupied by man, the remains of stone houses are found near the summit of the Andes. Fossil remains of pottery and cloth were found on the coast of Chili 85 feet above the sea level. Human remains have been found embedded in a coral reef in Florida, and also in the delta of the Mississipi, sixteen feet beneath the surface, with the remains of four buried forests superimposed. On Easter Island Capt. Cook found statues 27 feet high by 8 feet wide, raised on platforms 30 feet
by 16 feet, and from 3 to 12 feet high. These monuments were formed of stone different from any he saw on the island. Of the other high islands, Ponape and Ualan contain remains of temples and fortifications of stone on a very extensive scale, which were the work of a civilized people. Thus while the dwellings of men and tropical vegetation were steadily disappearing beneath the waters of the Pacific, the houses and forests on the coast of America were being raised many thousand feet above the sea level; for not only did Mr. Darwin find the remains of human dwellings on uninhabitable elevations, but he also found fossil trees allied to the Norfolk Island pine at a height of 7000 feet—trees that once flourished on the shores of the Pacific.
Mr. Ellis gives an interesting account of the antiquities of the Society group. Temples were numerous on all the islands;—not buildings such as is generally understood by the name, but rather a kind of pyramid, composed of massive stone blocks, and ascended on the outside by steps, on the top of which was the altar. These temples were secluded by the lofty spreading tomano, camarina and thespesia trees, and the whole enclosed by high walls. One of these temples measured 270 feet in length, 94 feet in width, and 50 feet in height, and was ascended by a flight of steps of which the first was six feet from the ground. On the top, where the sacrifice was offered, it was 180 feet by 6 feet. The description of these temples, and the sacred rites, reminds one of the teocalli of Mexico, which they resembled not only in structure and in the shape of the idols, but also in the cells of the priests and the human sacrifices. Even the terrible drum that roused the Mexicans to pursue Cortes and his followers when they tried to escape from their town at dead of night, had often struck terror into the heart of the Tahitians as its ominous roll from the altar of a neighbouring temple roused them from sleep. Few remains of those temples now exist, as the early converts displayed as hearty zeal in destroying them as the Spaniards did in sweeping away every vestige of Mexican architecture.
Mr. Ellis also mentions remains of stone terraces, stone axes, and other implements found at a good depth from the surface, and he concludes that the islands have been occupied from a very remote period. In the “Transactions of the Royal Geographical Society” I read of a pile of immense stones on the island of Tongatabu, said to be a burial place, although there is not on the island a similar stone as large as a pigeon's egg. In our own “Transactions” a stone fort is described on the island of Rapa, said to be of very remote age.*
Supposing that a great continent once extended across the Pacific, as is maintained by scientific men, and even asserted in native traditions, we
[Footnote] * Hall. “Trans. N.Z. Inst,” Vol. I., p. 128. New Ed. Vol. I., p. 75.
should expect to find people some degree removed from barbarism on the Asiatic and American shores; and we do find nations of great antiquity on the west side, namely, China and Japan, whilst on the American side the Spaniards found the Mexicans and Peruvians little behind themselves in civilization, and excelling them in riches and magnificence. But the Spaniards not only found great towns to plunder, but they also discovered the massive ruins of large towns in deserted and wooded regions in Yucatan. In the courts of the houses there are now trees nine feet in diameter, whilst there is a depth of nine feet of mould above the pavements. As a proof that these cities were once the abode of a numerous people, it is remarked that the figure of a tortoise, raised in relief in the court of a temple at Uxmal, is worn nearly smooth by the feet of the crowds that passed over it.
Of the works of art which Cortes sent to Spain, none excited more admiration than the superb garments made from feathers. No such work had been known in the old world, but this same art was practised in the Sandwich Islands and the Fijis. The Spaniards were struck with the copiousness and precision of the Mexican language, and Mr. Ellis makes the same remarks with regard to the Polynesian. What struck him most was the readiness with which boys learned arithmetic, and with regard to their names for numbers he says, “The precision, regularity, and extent of their numbers has often astonished me.”
There was for a long time a serious obstacle to learning anything about the islands of Polynesia; I mean the foregone conclusion that the inhabitants came from Malaysia, and that the islands are extinct volcanoes, and the coral raised with the land from the bottom of the sea. The formation of the land and the nature of the polypifer have swept away the last part of the belief; but it is still sometimes asserted that the natives came from Malaysia in spite of winds and currents, and their own traditions and protestations. On the distinction between Malays and Polynesians Mr. Wallace is very clear. He lived with the natives in Malaysia for many years, and he proves that the West Australian current, which flows through the deep but narrow channel of Flores sea and Molucca passage, is the natural line between the two races of Malay and Papuan.
With regard to the distinction between a Papuan and Polynesian he says:—“It is to be especially remarked that the brown and the black Polynesian races closely resemble each other. Their features are almost identical, so that portraits of a New Zealander or Tahitian will often serve accurately to represent a Papuan or Timorese, the darker color and more frizzly hair of the latter being the only differences. They are both tall races. They agree in their love of art and the style of their decorations. They are energetic, demonstrative, joyous, and laughter loving, and in all
these particulars they differ widely from the Malay.” On the border line, where the two races are in constant communication, the one is quite a contrast to the other, and yet it was long believed that the Polynesian came from Malaysia.
But the difficulty of deriving the joyous islander from apathetic Malay is as nothing compared with covering the islands of the Pacific with vegetation from the same country as the Malay race. Not only trees like the cocoa-nut and sago palm, and sugar cane and cotton tree, which are found in the East Indies, but also trees like the karaka and kowhai, that are not found there. On the authority of Seeman, the Fijians did not know that food could be obtained from the sago palm, and they constantly cut down the tree to clear the ground for yam plantation. Nor did they know how to obtain a strong drink from the unexpanded flower of the cocoa-nut palm. Both of which they would have known had they come from Malaysia.
It is worthy of remark that it is only since we have awakened to the conviction that we do not know all about the origin of the Polynesians, that the present zeal has been shown for collecting their traditions, preserving their works of art, and carefully ascertaining their knowledge of the properties and uses of plants.
Authorities for this Paper:—“Navigation of the Pacific,” Capt. A. B. Beecher; “Coral Reefs; Naturalist's Voyage,” Darwin; “Corals and Coral Islands,” Dana; “Studies in Animal Kingdom,” Agassiz; “Flora Vitiensis,” Berthold Seeman; “Malay Archipelago,” Wallace; “Researches in Polynesia,” Rev. W. Ellis; “The Conquest of Mexico,” Prescott.