Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon and Columbia Rivers
Chapter III

ON the 13th of February the ship anchored in Karakakooa Bay, in the island of Owhyhee, and within a mile of the place where the unfortunate Captain Cook fell in 1779. The Sandwich Islands are eleven in number, and lie between the 19th and 22nd parallels of N. latitude, and the meridians of 151º and 160º W. longitude. The climate is warm but healthy, and more temperate and uniform than is usual in tropical countries; nor is it subject to hurricanes and earthquakes. In their customs and manners the natives resemble the New Zealanders, and like them are a warlike people: all classes tattoo their bodies.

Karakakooa Bay is about a mile or more in extent, but sheltered only on one side, which presents a high rugged front of coral rock, resembling a rampart or battery in the bottom of the bay, facing the ocean, with two bushy trees on it waving in the wind like flags. The shores, with the exception of the above- mentioned rock, are everywhere low, with here and there clumps of cocoa-nut and other trees, which give a pleasing variety to the scene; and the land, rising gradually as it recedes to a considerable height, looks down over intervening hill and dale upon the delightful little villages of Kakooa and Kowrowa.

We were now near land, and the captain's conduct to both passengers and crew had fostered a spirit of desertion among the sailors: Jack Tar, slipping off in the night, was seen no more. This new feature in our affairs portended no good, but brought about a sweeping change, for the captain had now no resource but to place his chief confidence in those whom he had all along maltreated and affected to despise. In this state of things, the natives were employed to bring back the deserters. One Roberts, a yankee, was confined below; Ems, a Welshman, was tied up and flogged; Johnston, an Englishman, was put in irons; and Anderson, the boatswain, could not be found. Storming and stamping on deck, the captain called up all hands; he swore, he threatened, and abused the whole ship's company, making, if possible, things worse. I really pitied the poor man, although he had brought all this trouble upon himself: with all his faults he had some good qualities, and in his present trying situation we all forgot our wrongs, and cheerfully exerted ourselves to help him out of his difficulties. The clerks were appointed to assist the officers, and the Canadians to supply the place of the sailors in keeping watch and doing the other duties on shore; while the partners, forgetting former animosities, joined hand in hand with the captain in providing for the wants of the ship.

Order being now restored, the partners and some of the clerks went occasionally on shore; meantime, the natives having paid several visits on beard, and sounded our bargain-making chiefs (for they are shrewd dealers), a brisk trade commenced in plantains, bananas, yams, taro, bread-fruit, sweet potatoes, sugar-canes, cocoa-nuts, and some pork, the principal productions of the place. We had not been long here, however, till we learned that the chief of the island resided at a place called Tocaigh Bay, some distance off; and, as we expected a further and better supply there, we sailed for that place, where we had an interview with the governor, a white man, named John Young. He received us kindly, and with every mark of attention peculiar to an Indian chief; showed us his wife, his daughter, his household, and vassals —a strange assemblage of wealth and poverty, filth and plenty.

Governor Young was a native of England, and belonged to an American ship, the Eleanor, of which he was boatswain. That vessel, happening to touch at the Sandwich Islands in 1790, left Young there to shift for himself; but his nautical skill and good conduct soon recommended him to the reigning prince, Tammeatameah, and he is now Viceroy or Governor of Owhyhee. He is about 60 years of age, shrewd, and healthy; but, from his long residence among the natives, he has imbibed so much of their habits and peculiarities, that he is now more Indian than white man.

We had not been long at the village of Tocaigh, when Governor Young gave us to understand that no rain had fallen in that neighbourhood during the four preceding years, and that in consequence provisions were very scarce, and good water was not to be found there at any time. These details were discouraging. The natives, however, began a brisk trade in fruits and vegetables; we, however, were desirous of purchasing hogs and goats, but were told that the sale of pork had been prohibited by royal proclamation, and that, without the permission of the king, who resided in the island of Woahoo, no subject could dispose of any. Anxious to complete our supplies, we immediately resolved on sailing to Woahoo.

On the 21st of February, we cast anchor abreast of Ourourah, the metropolis of Woahoo, and royal residence of Tamxneatameah. This is the richest and most delightful spot in the whole archipelago. On our approaching the land, two white officers came on board; the one a Spaniard, secretary to his majesty; the other a Welshman, the harbour master: the latter brought us safe to anchor in Whyteete Bay, for which service he demanded and was paid five Spanish dollars.

The royal village of Ourourah is situate at the foot of a hill, facing the ocean, on the west side of the island. The houses were 740 in number, and contained 2025 inhabitants. It will appear strange that so few inhabitants should require so many houses, but this will be explained hereafter. Behind the village there is an extensive field under fine cultivation—perhaps it may measure 500 acres; but its appearance was greatly injured by irregular enclosures, or rather division lines, formed of loose stones running on the surface, intersecting and crossing each other in every possible direction, for the purpose of marking the plot claimed by each individual or family: the whole is cultivated with much skill and industry, the soil teemingly rich, and the labour abundant, with here and there small water-courses and aqueducts.

Immediately after coming to anchor, Captain Thorn, accompanied by Mr. M'Kay and Mr. M'Dougall, waited on his majesty, Tamineatameab, and after dining with him, returned on board. In the afternoon his majesty and three queens returned the visit in state, the royal canoe being paddled by sixteen chiefs, with the state arm-chest on board. Their majesties were received with becoming ceremony. The flag was displayed, and three guns fired. The king was conducted to the cabin, followed by his valet, who held a spitting-box in his hand, but the queens preferred remaining on deck. While here, they very unceremoniously disrobed themselves, plunged overboard, and after swimming and sporting for some time in the water, came on board again and dressed themselves, after which they joined Tammeatameah in the cabin, where they did ample justice to a good collation, drank two bottles of wine, and left us apparently well pleased with their reception. The chiefs remained all the time in the royal yacht alongside.

Tammeatameah appeared to be about fifty years of age; straight and portly, but not corpulent; his countenance was pleasing, but his complexion rather dark, even for an Indian. He had on a common beaver hat, a shirt, and neckcloth, which had once been white; a long blue coat with velvet collar, it cassimere vest, corduroy trousers, and a pair of strong military shoes; he also wore a long and not inelegant sword, which he said he got from his brother, the king of England.

During these interviews and visits of ceremony, the captain had broached the subject of pork to his majesty; but this was not the work of an hour nor of a day; pork was a royal monopoly, and the king well knew how to turn it to his advantage on the present occasion, for several conferences were held, and all the pros and cons of a hard bargain discussed, before the royal contract was concluded. Time, however, brought it about, and the negotiation was finally closed; the king furnished the requisite supplies of hogs, goats, poultry, and vegetables, for all of which a stipulated quantity of merehandize was to be given in return. Business now commenced, and good water and provisions were brought to the ship in boat-loads; and as the king further pledged himself, that if any of the sailors deserted he would answer for their safe delivery again, this assurance, although the words of kings are not always sacred, had the effect of relieving the passengers from the ship's duties; we were, therefore, enabled to go on shore.

On walking up to the royal city on our first landing, we were met by two of the queens, accompanied by a page of honour. They were all three walking abreast, the page in the middle, and holding with his two hands a splendid parasol of the richest silk, measuring six feet eight inches in diameter. From this umbrella hung twelve massy tassels, weighing at least a pound each. The ladies were very communicative, and after detaining us for nearly half an hour passed n. We were soon afterwards introduced to his majesty, who honoured us with a glass of arrack. Here we had a full view of the royal palace, the royal family, and the life-guards. The palace consisted of thirteen houses, built so as to form a square. All the buildings of the country are a kind of wicker work, remarkable for their neatness and regularity; and although slender, they appear to be strong and durable; nor did there appear any difference between the royal buildings and the other houses of the place, the square and court-yard excepted. The king occupied three of these houses; one for eating, another for sleeping, and the third for business, which may be called the audience chamber. Each of the queens occupied three also; a dressing house, a sleeping house, and an eating house. His majesty never enters any of the queens' houses, nor do they ever enter any of his: in this respect, they are always tabooed. There is a house set apart exclusively for their interviews. The established custom of the land is, that each family, however poor, invariably occupies three houses; and this will explain why so many houses are required for so few inhabitants.

We also saw two of the king's sons; one of them was in disgrace and tabooed; that is, interdicted from speaking with anybody. We were next shown the life-guards, consisting of forty men, accoutred in something of the English style, with muskets, belts, and bayonets; but their uniform was rather old and shabby. The parade-ground, or place where the guards were on duty, lay just behind the royal buildings, on a level square green spot made up for the purpose, and on which were placed eighteen four or six pounders, all mounted, and apparently in good order.

From this we proceeded to a long narrow range of buildings, where a number of artisans were at work, msd'ing ship, sloop, and boat tackling, ropes, blocks, and all the other et ceteras required for his majesty's fleet; while others again, in a wing of the same building, were employed in finishing single and double canoes; the former for pleasure, the latter for commercial purposes. At the far end of the buildings was erected a blacksmith's forge; and beyond that, in a side room, lay the masts, spars, and rigging of a new schooner. The tools used by the different workmen were very simple, slender, few, and ill-made, and yet the work done by them surprised us.

While in the workshops, Mr. M'Kay took a fancy to a small knot of wood, about the size of a pint-pot, and asked it of the king. His majesty took the bit of wood in his hand, and after looking at it for some time, turned round to Mr. M'Kay and said, "This is a very valuable piece of wood; it is the finest koeye, and what my Erees make their pipes of; but if you will give me a new hat for it, you can have it." Mr. M'Kay smiled, adding, "Your majesty shall have it." So the bargain was struck; but Mr. M'Kay fell in love with no more of his majesty's wood. They make their own cloth, cordage, salt, sugar, and whisky.

The king then invited us to dine; and entering a small wretched hovel adjoining the workshop, we all sat down round a dirty little table, on which was spread some viands, yams, taro, cocoa-nuts, pork, bread-fruit, and arrack. The king grew very jovial, ate and drank freely, and pressed us to follow his example. After dinner, he apologized for the meanness of the place, by saying that his banqueting house was tabooed that day. Dinner being over, he brought us to see a large stone building, the only one of the kind on the island, situate at some distance from the other buildings; but he showed no disposition to open the door and let us have a peep at the inside. He said it cost him 2,000 dollars. We were told the royal treasure and other valuables were kept there. Behind the stone building, and near the shore, was lying at anchor an old ship of about 300 tons, with some guns and men on deck—said to be the guard-ship. From this position, we saw sixteen vessels of different sizes, from 10 to 200 tons, all lying in a wretched and ruinous condition along the beach; some on shore, others afloat, but all apparently useless. The day being excessively warm, and our curiosity gratified, we took leave of his majesty, and staid for the night at the house of a Mr. Brown, an American settler, who had resided on the island for several years.

After passing an agreeable night, we bade adieu to our hospitable landlord, and set out to view the morals, or places of public worship. Of these, Ourourah alone contains fifteen of this description. Each morai is composed of several miserable-looking little huts, or houses. Passing by all the inferior ones, we at length reached the king's morai, or principal one of the place. It consisted of five low, gloomy, and pestiferous houses, huddled close together; and alongside of the principal one stood an image made of wood, resembling a pillar, about 28 feet high, in the shape of the human figure, cut and carved with yarious devices; the head large, and the rude sculpture on it presenting the likeness of a human face, carved on the top with a black cowl. About thirty yards from the houses, all round about, was a clear spot called the "king's tabooed ground," surrounded by an enclosure. This sacred spot is often rigorously tabooed and set apart for penance. It was while walking to and fro on this solitary place that we saw Tatoóirah, the king's eldest son, who was in disgrace. We were prevented from entering within the enclosure. At the foot of this pagod, or pillar, were scattered on the ground several dead animals: we saw four dogs, two hogs, five cats, and large quantities of vegetables, almost all in a state of putrefaction; the whole emitting a most offensive smell. On the death of the king or other great eree, and in times of war, human sacrifices are frequently offered at the shrine of this moloch. The word taboo implies interdiction or prohibition from touching the place, person, or thing tabooed; a violation of which is always severely punished, and at the king's morai, with death.

We had scarcely got on board, late in the evening, when a tremendous gale from the land arose and drove the ship out to sea. The fury of the tempest and darkness of the night obliged us to cut cable, and two days were spent in anxious forebodings, ere we got back again into harbour.

On the 27th, all our supplies, according to contract, were safe on board; and from the good conduct of the sailors since our arrival, we began to think matters would go on smoothly for the future; but these hopes were of short duration—the hasty and choleric disposition of the captain destroyed our anticipations. Two of the boats had gone on shore as usual; but on the call for all hands to embark, three of the sailors were missing. The boats, without waiting a moment, pushed off, but had reached the ship only fifteen minutes before two of the three men arrived in an Indian canoe. Notwithstanding the anxiety they manifested, and their assurance that the boat had not been off five minutes before they were on the beach, they were both tied up, flogged, and then put in irons. But this was not all; Emms, the third man, not being able to procure a canoe, had unfortunately to pass the night on shore, but arrived the next morning by sunrise. On arriving along- side, the captain, who was pacing the deck at the time, did not wait till he got on board, but jumping into a boat which lay alongside, laid hold of some sugar-canes with which the boat was loaded, and bundled-the poor fellow, sprawling and speechless, at his feet; then jumping on deck, kept pacing to and fro in no very pleasant mood; but on perceiving Emtn still struggling to get up, he leaped into the boat a second time, and called one of the sailors to follow him. The poor fellow, on seeing the captain, called out for mercy; but in his wrath the captain forgot mercy, and laid him again senseless at his feet, then ordered him to be thrown overboard! Immediately on throwing the roan into the sea, Mr. Fox made signs to some Indians, who dragged him into their canoe and paddled off to shore. During this scene, no one interfered; for the captain, in his frantic fits of passion, was capable of going any lengths, and would rather have destroyed the expedition, the ship, and every one on board, than be thwarted in what he considered as ship discipline, or his nautical duties.

In the evening, the Indians brought Emma again to the ship. Here the little fellow implored forgiveness, and begged to be taken on board; but the captain was inexorable, and threatened him with instant death if he attempted to come alongside. Soon after he made his appearance again, but with no better effect. He then asked for his protection, a paper which the American sailors generally take with them to sea. The captain returning no answer to this request, Mr. Fox contrived to throw his clothes and protection overboard unperceived, at the same time making signs to the Indians to convey them to Emma. On receiving the little bundle, he remained for some time without uttering a word; at last, bursting into tears, he implored again and again to be admitted on board, but to no purpose. All hopes now vanishing, the heroic little fellow, standing up in the canoe, took off his cap, and waving it in the air, with a sorrowful heart bade adieu to his shipmates; the canoe then paddled to land, and we saw him no more.

Our supplies being now completed, the king came on board before our departure; and it will appear something surprising that the honest and wealthy monarch, forgetting the rank and pomp of royalty, should at his parting visit covet everything he saw with us: he even expressed a wish to see the contents of our trunks; he begged a handkerchief from me, a penknife from another, a pair of shoes from a third, a hat from a fourth, and when refused, talked of his kindness to us on shore; while, on the other hand, he bowed low when presented with a breastpin, a few needles, or paper-cased looking-glass, not worth a groat. Even the cabin-boy and cook were not forgotten by this "King of the Isls," for he asked a piece of black-ball from the former, and an old saucepan from the latter. His avarice and meanness in these respects had no bounds, and we were all greatly relieved when he bade us farewell and departed.
Having taken leave of his majesty, I shall now make a few remarks on the habits, dress, and language of the natives.

The Sandwich Islanders are bold swimmers, and expert navigators. They are like ducks in the water. As soon as we had cast anchor in Karakakooa Bay the natives, men and women, indiscriminately flocked about the ship in great numbers: some swimming, others in canoes, but all naked, although the Tonquin lay a mile from the shore. Few, however, being admitted on board at once (probably a necessary precaution), the others waited very, contentedly floating on the surface of the water alongside, amusing themselves now and then by plunging and playing round the ship. After passing several hours in this way, they would then make a simultaneous start for the land, diving and plunging, sporting and playing, like so many seals or fish in a storm all the way. During their gambols about the ship, we often amused ourselves by dropping a button, nail, or pin into the water; but such was their keenness of sight and their agility, that the trifle had scarcely penetrated the surface of the water before it was in their possession; nothing could escape them. On one occasion a ship's block happening to fall overboard, one of the natives was asked to dive for it in thirty-six feet of water; but after remaining three minutes and fifty- seconds under water he came up unsuccessful; another tried it and succeeded, after being under water four minutes and twelve seconds: the blood, however, burst from his nose and ears immediately after.

Their voyaging canoes are made to ride on the roughest water with safety by means of a balance or outrigger shaped like a boat's keel, and attached to the canoe at the distance of five feet by two slender beams. The canoe goes fully as well with as without the balance, skipping on the surface of the water as if no such appendage accompanied it. When the swell or surge strikes the canoe on the balance side, the weight of the outrigger prevents its upsetting, and when on the opposite side the buoyancy of the outrigger, now sunk in the water, has the same effect.

The climate here is so very mild and warm that the natives seldom wear any clothing, and when they do, it is of their own manufacture, and extremely simple. The inner bark of different trees (the touta in particular) is prepared by beating it into a pulp or soft thin web, not unlike grey paper, called tuppa. The common people wear it in this raw state, but the better sort paint it with various colours, resembling printed cotton. Tappa is as strong as cartridge paper, but not so thick, and can answer for clothing only in dry climates. The common dress of the men consists of a piece of this tappa, about ten inches broad and nine feet long, like a belt, called maro. The inaro is thrown carelessly round the loins, then passed between the thighs, and tied on the left side. The females wear the pow or pau, a piece of tappa similar to the maro, only a little broader, and worn in the same manner; but the queens had on, in addition to the pow, a loose mantle or shawl thrown round the body, called kihei, which consisted of twenty-one folds of tappa; yet when compressed it did not equal in thickness an English blanket. The kihei is generally worn by persons of distinction, but seldom of more than two or three folds, excepting among the higher ranks. Like a Chinese mandarin, a lady here makes known her rank by her dress, and by the number of folds in her kihei.

A custom prevalent here, and which is, I believe, peculiar to these islanders, is, that the women always eat apart from the men, and are forbidden the use of pork. The favourite dish among all classes is raw fish, mashed or pounded in a mortar. Considering their rude and savage life, these people are very cleanly. The houses of all classes are lined and decorated with painted tappa, and the floors overspread with variegated mats. The women are handsome in person, engaging in their manners, well featured, and have countenances full of joy and tranquillity; but chastity is not their virtue.

The king's will is the paramount law of the land, but he is represented as a mild and generous sovereign, invariably friendly to the whites whom choice or accident has thrown on these islands. To those who behave well the king allots land, and gives them slaves to work it. He protects both them and their property, and is loth ever to punish an evildoer. Near Ourourah we saw eight or ten white men comfortably settled; and upwards of thirty others naked and wild among the natives, wretched unprincipled vagabonds, of almost every nation in Europe, without clothing and without either house or home.

I have already noticed the principal esculent vegetables growing here; there are also some beautiful kinds of wood; that called koeye, of which the war spears or pahooas are made, and sandalwood, are the kinds most highly esteemed among the natives for their hardness and polish. The cocoa-nut, in clumps here and there, forms delightful groves, and these are often frequented by the industrious females for the purpose of manufacturing and painting their tappa—preferring the cool shade and open air to the heat of a dwelling- house.

At the place where Captain Cook was killed, which we visited soon after our arrival, were still a few old and shattered cocoa-nut trees, pierced with the shot from his ships; and a fiat coral rock, at the water's edge, is still pointed out to strangers as the fatal spot where he fell.

The chief weapon used in their warfare is the pahooa or spear, 12 feet long, polished, barbed, and painted. It is poised and thrown with the right hand with incredible force and precision. his majesty ordered fifty men to parade one day, and- invited us to see them exercising, and we were certainly much gratified and astonished at their skill in throwing and parrying the weapons.

After going through several manuuvres, the king picked four of the best marksmen out, and ordered one of them to stand at a certain point; the three others at a distance of sixty yards from him, all armed with pahooas, and facing one another. The three last mentioned were to dart their spears at the single man, and he to parry, them off or catch them in passing. Each of the three had twelve pahooas; the single man but one. Immediately after taking his position the single man put himself upon his guard, by skipping and leaping from right to left with the quickness of lightning: the others, equally on the alert, prepared to throw. All eyes were now anxiously intent; presently one threw his spear, at a short interval the next followed; as did the third— two at a time next threw, and then all three let fly at once, and continued to throw without intermission until the whole thirty-six spears were spent, which was done in less than three minutes. The single man, who was placed like a target to be shot at, defended himself nobly, with the spear he had in his hand, and sent those of his opponents whistling in every direction, for he had either to parry them off like a skilful boxer, or be run through on the spot; but such was the agility with which be shifted from one position to another, and managed the spear with his right hand, that he seemed rather to be playing and amusing himself than seriously, engaged, for twice or thrice he dexterously seized his opponent's spear at the moment it came in contact with his own, allowing at the same time the latter to fly, off, and this shifting or exchanging spears is thought a masterpiece, being the most difficult and dangerous manoeuvre in the whole affair, and it is only an adept that can attempt it with safety. When all was over, the man had received a slight wound on the left arm; but it happens not unfrequently that he who is thus placed is killed on the spot; for if he allows the spear to be knocked out of his hand without catching another, he is almost sure to fall, as the throwers are not allowed to stop while a pahooa remains with them, and every weapon is hurled with a deadly intention.

The king is said to be a dexterous paliooa man himself, and it was his prowess and knowledge in war, and not his rank, that made him sovereign of these islands. After the people had dispersed, the man who had acted so conspicuous a part in the exhibition just described, came to us and offered to risk his life for a handkerchief, at the distance of twenty yards; telling us to select the best marksman among us, with a fowlingpiece either with shot or ball, and he would stand before him, and either win the handkerchief or lose his life! We were not disposed, however, to accept the challenge, but gave the fellow a handkerchief and sent him about his business.

All the islands of this group, excepting one, have acknowledged Tammeataineah as their king, and the jarring interests and feuds of the different islands have at last sunk into a system of union which, if we may judge from appearance, renders this country, under its present government, an earthly paradise, and the inhabitants thereof as free from care, and perhaps as happy, as any in the globe;—but mark! civilized man has now begun to trade on its innocent and peaceful soil: there is an end, therefore, to all primeval simplicity and happiness.

These people speak with a quickness which almost baffles imitation; and in very many instances, the same word is repeated twice. The language is bold and masculine; and, although the accent be clear, is very difficult to be attained by the whites.

We shall now take our leave of the friendly and hospitable natives of these islands. On his majesty leaving the ship, a boat was sent to shore for a few remaining articles; meantime, preparations were made for weighing anchor. The wind from the sea beginning to blow retarded the boat's return; and the delay so nettled our worthy commander, that he gave orders to set sail, and the ship stood out to sea, leaving the boat to follow as she could. The wind soon increasing to a gale, the boat had to struggle with a tempestuous sea for six hours, during which time we expected every minute to witness her destruction. The Falkland Island affair was yet fresh in our minds, and this seemed to equal, if not surpass it in cruelty. At length, however, the ship bore down, and with much difficulty rescued the boat's crew from a watery grave.


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus