A littler higher up, the river divided itself into three little streams; the two Northern ones were impracticable from a succession of waterfalls which descended from the jagged summit of the highest mountain; the other to all appearance was equally inaccessible, but we managed to ascend in that direction by the most extraordinary road which I ever beheld.— The sides of the valley were here quite precipitous, but as generally happens small ledges projected which were thickly covered by wild bananas, liliaceous plants & other luxuriant productions of the Tropics. — The Tahitians by climbing amongst these ledges hunting for fruit had discovered a track by which the whole precipice could be scaled. — The first leaving the bottom of the valley was very dangerous; a face of naked rock had to be passed by the aid of ropes which we brought with us. — How any person discovered that this formidable spot was the only point where the side of the mountain could be attempted, I cannot imagine. — We then cautiously followed one of the ledges, till we came to the stream already alluded to. — This ledge formed a flat spot, above which a beautiful cascade of some hundred ft poured down its waters, & beneath it another high one emptied them into the main stream. — From this cool shady recess we made a circuit to avoid the overhanging cascade. As before we followed little projecting ledges, the apparent danger being partly hidden by the thickness of the vegetation. In passing from one ledge to another there was a vertical wall of rock: — one of the Tahitians, a fine active man, placed the trunk of a free against this, swarmed up it & then by the aid of crevices reached the summit. — He fixed the ropes to a projecting point & lowered them for us & then hauled up the dog & luggage. — Beneath the ledge on which the dead tree was reared the precipice must have been five or six hundred feet deep; if the abyss had not been partly concealed by the overhanging ferns & lilies, my head would have turned giddy & nothing should have induced me to have attempted it. — We continued to ascend sometimes by ledges & sometimes by knife edge ridges, having on each hand profound ravines. — In the Cordilleras I have seen mountains on a far greater scale, but for abruptness no part was at all comparable to this. In the evening we reached a flat little spot on the banks of the same stream which I have mentioned as descending by a chain of beautiful waterfalls. Here we bivouacked for the night. — On each side of the ravine there were great beds of the Feyè or mountain Banana, covered with ripe fruit. — Many of these plants grew to a height from twenty to twenty five feet high 636 & from three to four in circumference. By the aid of strips of bark for twine, the stems of the bamboos & the large leaf of the banana, the Tahitians in a few minutes built an excellent house; & with the withered leaves made a soft bed.
They then proceeded to make a fire & cook our evening meal. A light was procured by rubbing a blunt pointed stick in a groove, as if with the intention of deepening it, until by friction the dust became ignited. — A peculiarly white & very light wood is alone used for this purpose; it is the same which serves for poles to carry any burthen & for the floating out-rigger to steady the canoe. — The fire was produced in a few seconds; to a person however, who does not understand the art, it requires the greatest exertion, as I found before I at last to my great pride succeeded in igniting the dust. The Gaucho in the Pampas uses a different method; taking an elastic stick of about eighteen inches long, he presses one end on his breast & the other pointed one in a hole in a piece of wood, & then rapidly turns the curved part, like a carpenter does a Centre-bit. — The Tahitians, having made a small fire of sticks, placed a score of stones about the size of a cricket ball on the burning wood. In about ten minutes time, the sticks were consumed & the stones hot. They had previously folded up in small parcels made of leaves, pieces of beef, fish, ripe & unripe Bananas, & the tops of the wild Arum. — These green parcels were laid in a layer between two of the hot stones & the whole then covered up by earth so that no smoke or steam escaped. — In about a quarter of an hour the whole was most deliciously cooked; the choice green parcels were laid on a cloth of banana leaves; with a Cocoa nut shell we drank the cool water of the running stream & thus enjoyed our rustic meal.
I could not look on the surrounding plants without wonder. On every side were forests of Banana, & the fruit which served for food in many ways, lay in heaps decaying on the ground. — In front of us there was an extensive brake of wild Sugar Cane. — The banks of the stream were shaded by the dark green knotted stem of the Ava, so famous in former days for its powerful intoxicating effects; I chewed a piece & found that it had an acrid & unpleasant taste which would induce any one at once to pronounce it poisonous. — Thanks be to the Missionaries this plant now thrives in these deep ravines innocuous to every one. — In the close neighbourhood I saw the wild Arum, the roots of which when well baked are good to eat & the young leaves better than spinach: — there was the wild Yam & a liliaceous plant called Ti, which grows in abundance, & has a soft brown root in shape & size like a huge log of wood. This served us for dessert, for it is as sweet as treacle & with a pleasant taste. There were moreover several other wild fruits & useful vegetables. The little stream, besides its cool water, produces also eels & cray-fish. — I did indeed admire this scene, when I compared it with an uncultivated one in the temperate zone. — I felt the force of the observation that man, at least savage man, with his reasoning powers only partly developed, is the child of the Tropics.
As the evening drew to a close, I strolled alongside the stream beneath the gloomy shade of the Bananas. — My walk was soon brought to a close by coming to a Waterfall of two or three hundred feet high; — and above this was another. — I mention all these waterfalls in this one brook, to give an idea of the general inclination of the land. — In the little recess where the water fell, it did not appear that a breath of wind ever entered. — The leaves of the Bananas, damp with spray, showed one unbroken edge, instead of as commonly happens, being split into a thousand shreds. — Suspended, as it were, on the side of the mountain, there were glimpses into the depth of the neighbouring valleys; & the highest pinnacles of the central mountains towering up within sixty degrees of the Zenith, hid half the evening sky. Thus seated it was a sublime spectacle to watch the shades of night gradually obscuring the highest points.
Before we laid ourselves down to sleep, the elder Tahitian fell on his knees & with closed eyes repeated a long prayer in his native tongue. He prayed as a Christian should do, with fitting reverence, & without fear of ridicule or ostentation of piety. — In a like manner, neither of the men would taste food without saying before hand a short grace. — Those Travellers who hint that a Tahitian prays only when the eyes of the missionary are fixed on him, should have slept with us that night on the mountain side. — Rigidly to scrutinize how far a man, born under idolatry, understands the full motive & effect of prayer, does not appear to me a very charitable employment. During the night it rained heavily, but the good thatch of Banana leaves kept us dry.
Captain Fitzroy’s Journal
Mr. Wilson went with me in a boat to Papiete, the most frequented harbour of Otaheite. We passed inside the reefs, by narrow twisting passages among the coral rocks. Seeing two marks set up on an extensive rocky flat, partially covered by the water, I concluded they were placed as beacons; but was told they were tabu (taboo) marks to keep people from fishing or picking up shells upon the queen's 'preserve.' We passed the royal burying-ground, which is adorned by that peculiar tree, the aito, whose wood is so hard that it is called iron-wood. This tree looks like the English yew. It is purposely planted by the natives near their burying-grounds, and used to be considered sacred. Another remarkable tree, resembling (although larger and finer than) the ilex, also casts a solemn shade over the tomb of Pomare.
The point of land on which the tombs and one of the royal houses stand, is one of the most agreeable places on the island, in point of position; and was a favourite residence of old Pomare. A portion of their superstition hangs about the natives yet: I could not persuade them to approach the tomb of their king, although they told me to go and look at it. The tomb is a plain mass of masonry, sheltered by a roof of wood.
At Toanoa, between this place (called Papawa) and Papiete, we saw Mr. Bicknell's sugar-mill. The sugar made there from native cane is of a very good quality, and cheap. Mr. Bicknell told me that the natives brought their canes to him; and that latterly he had given up growing and attending to them himself. Noticing a large deficiency in some lead-work, he remarked: "That lead was stolen in the last civil war; our books were then in high request, not to be read, but to make cartridges." That such a sad misapplication of numbers of books sent out by missionary societies, has also occurred in New Zealand, as well as among the eastern Indian nations, I have heard from many quarters.
Papiete is a pretty and secure little bay. Around it is low land, ornamented with trees and European as well as native houses: but immediately behind the level part, hills rise to a height of two or three thousand feet. Lying to leeward of the island it enjoys less sea-breeze, and is therefore hotter than other harbours. In the middle of the bay is a little island belonging to the queen, where the colours of Otaheite (red, white, red, horizontal) are displayed.
Several neat-looking white cottages showed that European ideas had extended their influence hither: but I was sorry to see the new church, a large wooden structure capable of holding six hundred people, covered by a partly Otaheitan roof, in lieu of one formed completely in their own style. Instead of the circular end, an ugly gable terminates a high box-shaped house, resembling a factory.
Mr. Pritchard (HM Consul) arrived from Eimeo as we landed. Leaving him for a short time, I went to see a person who styled himself Baron de Thierry, King of Nuhahiva and sovereign chief of New Zealand. About the house in which resides this self-called philanthropist, said to be maturing arrangements for civilizing Nuhahiva and New Zealand — as well as for cutting a canal across the Isthmus of Darien, were a motley group of tattowed New Zealanders, half-clothed natives of Otaheite, and some ill-looking American seamen. I was received in affected state by this grandee, who abruptly began to question me with "Well, Captain! what news from Panama? Have the Congress settled the manner in which they are to carry my ideas into effect?" I tried to be decently civil to him, as well as to the 'baroness'; but could not diminish my suspicions, and soon cut short our conference.
In his house was a pile of muskets, whose fixed and very long bayonets had not a philanthropic aspect. He had been there three months, and was said to be waiting for his ships to arrive and carry him to his sovereignty. Born in England, of French emigrant parents; his own account of himself was that he was secretary of legation to the Marquis of Marialva, at the congress of Vienna; and that in 1815 he belonged to the 23d Light Dragoons (English). In 1816 he was attaché to the French ambassador in London. In 1819 he was studying divinity at Oxford. In 1820-21, he was a student of laws at Cambridge. Afterwards he travelled on the continent: and lately had been sojourning in the United States. He visited and brought letters from the Governor of St. Thomas, in the West Indies. He showed papers to prove these assertions: had a wife and four children with him; and he had succeeded in duping a great many people.
Mr. Pritchard had seen the queen (by courtesy called Pomare, after her father, though her name was Aimatta) at Eimeo, the day before he arrived at Otaheite; and as she had not intimated an intention of coming thence, I agreed to go with him in a few days to pay my respects to her, and to make a formal application upon the subject of the Truro, a merchant vessel plundered and destroyed by the Low Islanders in 1830-31. I returned to Matavai in the evening, and, after landing Mr. Wilson, remained nearly two hours listening to the natives singing. I asked them to dance; but they said it was forbidden, and that the watchman would take them to the governor of the district, who would fine them heavily. Singing, except hymns, is also forbidden to the grown people, but they seemed to like listening to the children.
This evening, before dark, there was a sight upon the Beagle's deck, which delighted us who wished to collect shells but had not time to look for them. An Englishman had spread out a large collection which he had just brought from the Low Islands, and soon found eager purchasers.