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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [1]

or the region of many islands ( Πολύς , Many, and Νῆσος , an island), is the name usually given, with more or less of limitation, to the numerous groups of islands, and some few single islands, scattered throughout the great Pacific Ocean, between the eastern shores of Asia and the western shores of America. In its widest signification, the term Polynesia might be understood as embracing, besides the groups hereafter to be mentioned, the various islands, large and small, of the Indian Archipelago, in one direction, and the vast island of New Holland (q.v.) or Australia, with its dependency of Van Diemen's Land, in another. Including these, the whole region has sometimes been called Oceanica, and sometimes Australia- generally, however, in modern times, to the exclusion of the islands in the Indian Archipelago, to which certain writers have given the name of Malaysia. In proportion, also, as the area of maritime discovery has become enlarged, it has been thought convenient by some geographers to narrow still further the limits of Polynesia, to the exclusion of Australia and Van Diemen's Land; while others, again, exclude Papua (q.v.) or New Guinea, New Ireland (q.v.), Solomon's Isles (q.v.), the Louisiade group, the New Hebrides (q.v.), New Caledonia (q.v.), and certain other groups and single islands, together with New Zealand (q.v.). from the area of Polynesia, and give to these, in union with Australia, the collective designation of Australia.

To all these, with the exception of New Zealand, French writers have given the name of Melanesia, or the Black Islands; while a similar name, Keloenesia, has been given to them by Prichard and Latham-purely, however, on ethnological grounds, as we shall presently notice. Thus we have the three geographical divisions of Malaysia, Australasia, and Polynesia, the last mentioned of which embraces all the groups and single islands not included under the other two. Accepting this arrangement, still the limits between Australasia and Polynesia have not been very accurately defined; indeed, scarcely any two geographers appear to be quite agreed upon the subject; neither shall we pretend to decide in the matter. The following list, however, comprises all the principal groups and single islands not previously named as coming under the division of Australasia viz.: 1. North of the equator-the Ladrone or Marian Islands, the Pelew Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Radack and Ralick chains, the Sandwich Islands, Gilbert's or Kingsmill's Archipelago, and the Galapagos. 2. South of the equator-the Ellice group, the Phoenix and Union groups, the Fiji Islands, the Friendly Islands, the Navigator's Islands, Cook's or Harvey Islands, the Society Islands, the Dangerous Archipelago, the Marquesas Islands, Pitcairn Island, and Easter Island. (In the former part of this article we largely depend upon Chambers's Cyclopedia, and in the latter part upon Gardner's Faiths of all Nations.)

Geographical Description. These islands, which extend from about 20 ° north of the equator to about 30 ° south of it are some of them volcanic in their origin, and some of them coralline. The volcanic islands generally rise to a considerable height above the level of the ocean, and are therefore called the high islands, in contradistinction to the coralline or low islands. They consist of basalt and other igneous formations. Of these, the principal are the Friendly Islands, one of which, Otaheite or Tahiti, has a mountain rising to the height of 10,000 feet; the Marquesas Islands (q.v.), also very high; the Samoan (q.v.) or Navigator's Islands; and the Sandwich Islands (q.v.), of which Owyhee or Hawaii possesses several both active and extinct craters, 13,000, 14,000, and even 16,000 feet high. The Galapagos group, nearest of all to South America, are likewise of igneous origin, and have several still active craters. The remaining islands are for the most part of coralline formation. Of the islands generally, we need only further observe that, although situated within the tropics, the heat of the atmosphere is delightfully tempered by a succession of land and sea breezes. The soil is exceedingly fertile, and, besides the vegetable productions found growing when the islands were first discovered by Europeans, it has given a welcome home to the orange, lemon, sugar-cane, guava, cotton, potato, melon, and other fruits and plants introduced by foreign visitants. The only native quadrupeds on any of the islands when first visited were pigs, dogs, and rats; but the ox, the sheep, the goat, and even the horse, have since been successfully introduced into many of the groups. The feathered tribes are numerous, likewise the insects, and the coasts everywhere abound with a vast variety of fish and crustacea, highly important as a matter of food to the inhabitants of those islands in which quadrupeds, whether native or introduced, are found in only a small number. For a more particular description of the several groups we refer to the distinct articles of FIJI (See Fiji) ; Friendly Islands (See Friendly Islands) ; Sandwich Islands (See Sandwich Islands) , etc.; and shall now proceed to speak of the Polynesians generally.

Inhabitants. This race of people, supposed at one time by certain writers to be of American origin, is now almost universally admitted to have a close affinity with the Malays (q.v.) of the peninsula and Indian Archipelago, and hence is classified with them by Dr. Latham under his subdivision of Oceanic Mongolide. In physical structure and appearance, the Polynesians in general more nearly resemble the Malays than they do any other race, although differing from them in some respects, as, indeed, the natives of several of the groups also do from each other. In stature, they are generally taller than the Malays, and have a greater tendency to corpulence. In color, also, they more nearly approach that of the Europeans. The hair is often waved or curling, instead of long and straight, and the nose is frequently aquiline. These differences, however, which may all have been produced by lapse of time and different conditions of existence, offer no barrier to the strong presumption that at some long antecedent period these islands were colonized by Malay adventurers. The distance between the more western groups of Polynesia and the eastern islands of the Indian Archipelago is not so great but that it could have been easily overcome by a hardy race of sailors, even although their vessels may not have been so well constructed as in modern times; and the same reasoning holds good with respect to the other groups extending still farther east, or still more to the north or south. Each island or group, as it was attained, would only form a convenient point of departure in process of time for some other island or group more remotely situated. It is true that the affinities of language are not great between the Malays and the Polynesians; still some affinity has been recognized by philologists; while in their manners and customs a strong resemblance has been shown to exist, as in the institution of caste, the practice of circumcision, the chewing of the betel-nut, and other things. Many other facts might be mentioned in favor of the theory of a Malay settlement, not only of Polynesia, but of the islands called Melanesia or Kelaenonesia as well; the last mentioned being inhabited by a race almost identical with the Negritos, (See Negrillos), or Pelagian Negroes of the Eastern Archipelago.

Dr. Latham, in treating of the Polynesians, divides them into two branches- viz.: 1. The Micronesian branch, and 2. The Proper Polynesian branch. His theory as to the probable line of migration is as follows: "The reason for taking the Micronesian branch before the Proper Polynesian involves the following question: What was the line of population by which the innumerable islands of the Pacific, from the Pelews to Easter Island, and from the Sandwich Islands to New Zealand, became inhabited by tribes different from, but still allied to, the Protonesian Malays? That line, whichever it be, where the continuity of successive islands is the greatest, and whereon the fewest considerable interspaces of ocean are to be found. This is the general answer a priori, subject to modifications from the counterbalancing phenomena of winds or currents unfavorable to the supposed migration. Now this answer, when applied to the geographical details regarding the distribution of land and sea in the great oceanic area, indicates the following line: New Guinea, New Ireland, the New Hebrides, the Fijis, and the Tonga group, etc. From hence the Navigator's Islands, the isles of the Dangerous Archipelago, the Kingsmill and other groups, carry the frequently diverging streams of population over the Caroline Islands, the Ladrones, the Pelews, Easter Island, etc. This view, however, so natural an inference from a mere land and sea survey, is complicated by the ethnological position of the New Guinea, New Ireland, and Hew Hebrides population. These are not Protonesian, and they are not Polynesian. Lastly, they are not intermediate to the two. They break rather than propagate the continuity of the human stream a continuity which exists geographically, but fails ethnographically. The recognition of this conflict between the two probabilities has determined me to consider the Micronesian Archipelago as that part of Polynesia which is most likely to have been first peopled, and hence a reason for taking it first in order. The islands comprised in the Micronesian branch are the Pelew Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Marian Islands, and the Tarawan or Kingsmill group. In physical appearance, the inhabitants of these groups more nearly resemble the Malays than is the case with the Polynesians Proper. In person, they are not so tall as the latter. Their language has numerous dialects most of which would perhaps be unintelligible to the groups farther south and east. In religion, they are pagans; but their mythology and traditions differ from those of the Polynesians Proper. Neither is the custom of the taboo and the use of kawa so prevalent as they are found to be among the latter.

The Proper Polynesians, so called, are found in the Fiji Islands, but not to the same extent as in the following viz., the Navigator's or Samoan Islands, the Society Islands, and Friendly Islands; also in the Sandwich Islands, the Marquesas, the Dangerous Archipelago, etc. In physical appearance, they are the handsomest and tallest of all the natives of the Pacific islands, with the exception, perhaps, of the New Zealanders or Maoris. The aquiline nose is commonly seen among them, and there are many varieties both of hair and conmplexion. Their face is generally oval, with largish ears and wide nostrils. In the islands nearest to the equator the skin is said to be the fairest, and it is darker in the coral islands than in the volcanic. Their language is said to bear some affinity to the Tagala, and is split up into numerous dialects, all, however, to a great extent mutually intelligible among the several groups.

Religion. Previous to the introduction of Christianity in Polynesia, in the end of the last and beginning of the present century, the Polynesians were involved in gross heathen darkness and superstition. Their objects of worship were of three kinds their deified ancestors, their idols, and their Etu. Their ancestors were converted into divinities on account of the benefits which they had conferred upon mankind. Thus one of their progenitors was believed to have created the sun, moon, and stars. "Another tradition," says Mr. Williams, in his Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Seta Islands, "stated that the heavens were originally so close to the earth that men could not walk, but were compelled to crawl. This was a serious evil; but at length an individual conceived the sublime idea of elevating the heavens to a more convenient height. For this purpose he put forth his utmost energy; and, by the first effort, raised them to the top of a tender plant, called teve, about four feet high. There he deposited them until he was refreshed: when, by a second effort, he lifted them to the height of a tree called kauariki, which is as large as the sycamore. By the third attempt he carried them to the summits of the mountains; and, after a long interval of repose, and by a most prodigious effort, he elevated them to their present situation. This vast undertaking, however, was greatly facilitated by myriads of dragonflies, which with their wings severed the cords that confined the heavens to the earth. Now this individual was deified; and up to the moment that Christianity was embraced, the deluded inhabitants worshipped him as the elevator of the heavens.' The Polynesians had various other gods who were deified men. The chief of these deities, to whom mothers dedicated their children, were Hiro, the god of thieves, and Oro, the god of war. The idols worshipped were different in almost every island and district. Besides the numerous objects of adoration, the islanders generally, and the Samoans in particular, had a vague idea of a Supreme Being, to whom they gave the name of Tangaroa. The mode in which these gods were adored is thus described by Mr. Williams: "The worship presented to these deities consisted in prayers, incantations, and offerings of pigs, fish, vegetable food, native cloth, canoes, and other valuable property. To these must be added human sacrifices, which, at some of the islands, were fearfully common. An idea may be formed of their addresses to the gods from the sentence with which they invariably concluded.

Having presented the gift, the priest would say, Now, if you are a god of mercy, come this way, and be propitious to this offering; but if you are a god of anger, go outside the world, you shall neither have temples, offerings, nor worshippers here.' The infliction of injuries upon themselves was another mode in which they worshipped their gods. It was a frequent practice with the Sandwich Islanders, in performing some of their rites, to knock out their front teeth, and the Friendly Islanders to cut off one or two of the bones of their little fingers. This, indeed, was so common that scarce an adult could be found who had not in this way mutilated his hands. On one occasion, the daughter of a chief, a fine young woman about eighteen years of age, was standing by my side, and as I saw by the state of the wound that she had recently performed the ceremony, I took her hand, and asked her why she had cut off her finger. Her affecting reply was that her mother was ill, and that, fearful lest her mother should die, she had done this to induce the gods to save her. Well,' said I, how did you do it?' Oh,' she replied, I took a sharp shell, and worked it about till the joint was separated, and then I allowed the blood to stream from it. This was my offering to persuade the gods to restore my mother.' When, at a future period, another offering is required, they sever the second joint of the same finger; and when a third or fourth is demanded, they amputate the same bones of the other little finger; and when they have no more joints which they can conveniently spare, they rub the stumps of their mutilated fingers with rough stones, until the blood again streams from the wound. Thus are their sorrows multiplied who hasten after other gods.'"

The most affecting of the religious observances of the Polynesians was the sacrifice of human victims. This horrid custom did not prevail at the Navigator Islands; but it was carried to a fearful extent at the Harvey group, and still more at the Tahitian and Society Islands. At one ceremony, called the Feast of Restoration, no fewer than seven human beings were offered in sacrifice. On the eve of war, also, it was customary to offer human victims. It may be interesting to notice the circumstances in which the last sacrifice of this kind was offered at Tahiti. "Pomare was about to fight a battle, which would confirm him in. or deprive him of, his dominions. To propitiate the gods, therefore, by the most valuable offerings he could command, was with him an object of the highest concern. For this purpose rolls of native cloth, pigs, fish, and immense quantities of other food were presented at the maraes; but still a tabut, or sacrifice, was demanded. Pomare, therefore, sent two of his messengers to the house of the victim whom he had marked for the occasion. On reaching the place, they inquired of the wife where her husband was. She replied that he was in such a place, planting bananas. Well,' they continued, we are thirsty; give us some cocoa-nut water.' She told them that she had no nuts in the house, but that they were at liberty to climb the trees, and take as many as they desired.

They then requested her to lend them the o, which is a piece of ironwood, about four feet long and an inch and a half in diameter, with which the natives open the cocoanut. She cheerfully complied with their wishes, little imagining that she was giving them the instrument which, in a few moments, was to inflict a fatal blow upon the head of her husband. Upon receiving the o, the men left the house, and went in search of their victim; and the woman, having become rather suspicious, followed them shortly after, and reached the place just in time to see the blow inflicted and her husband fall. She rushed forward to give vent to her agonized feelings and take a last embrace; but she was immediately seized and bound hand and foot, while the body of her murdered husband was placed in a long basket made of cocoa-nut leaves and borne from her sight. It appears that they were always exceedingly careful to prevent the wife or daughter, or any female relative, from touching the corpse, for so polluted were females considered that a victim would have been desecrated by a woman's touch or breath to such a degree as to have rendered it unfit for an offering to the gods. While the men were carrying their victim to the marae, he recovered from the stunning effect of the blow, and, bound as he was in the coconut leaf basket, he said to his murderers, Friends, I know what you intend to do with me: you are about to kill me, and offer me as a taba to your savage gods; and I also know that it is useless for me to beg for mercy, for you will not spare my life.

You may kill my body, but you cannot hurt my soul; for I have begun to pray to Jesus, the knowledge of whom the missionaries have brought to our island: you may kill my body, but you cannot hurt my soul.' Instead of being moved to compassion by his affecting address, they laid him down upon the ground, placed a stone under his head, and with another beat it to pieces. In this state they carried him to their savage gods.'" This was the last sacrifice offered to the gods of Tahiti; for soon after Christianity was embraced, and the altars of their gods ceased to be stained with human blood. The Polynesians, in their heathen state, had very peculiar opinions on the subject of a future world. The Tahitians believed that there were two places for departed spirits. Among the Rarotongans paradise was a very long house encircled with beautiful shrubs and flowers, which never lost their bloom or fragrance. The inmates, enjoying perpetual youth and beauty, spent their days in dancing, festivity, and merriment. The hell of the Rarotongans consisted in being compelled to crawl around this house, witnessing the enjoyment of its inmates without the possibility of sharing it. The terms on which any one could find an entrance into paradise, as Mr. Williams informs us, were these: "In order to secure the admission of a departed spirit to future joys, the corpse was dressed in the best attire the relatives could provide, the head was wreathed with flowers, and other decorations were added. A pig was then baked whole, and placed upon the body of the deceased, surrounded by a pile of vegetable food. After this, supposing the departed person to have been a son, the father would thus address the corpse: My son, when you were alive I treated you with kindness, and when you were taken ill I did my best to restore you to health; and now you are dead, there's your nomae o, or property of admission. Go, my son, and with that gain an entrance into the palace of Tiki' (the name of the god of this paradise), and do not come to this world again to disturb and alarm us.' The whole would then be buried; and if they received no intimation to the contrary within a few days of the interment, the relatives believed that the pig and the other food had obtained for him the desired admittance. If, however, a cricket was heard on the premises it was considered an ill omen, and they would immediately utter the most dismal howlings, and such expressions as the following: Oh, our brother! his spirit has not entered the paradise; he is suffering from hunger-he is shivering with cold!' Forthwith the grave would be opened and the offering repeated. This was generally successful."

The Maori of New Zealand form a branch of the Polynesian family, and as they seem to have been preserved uncontaminated by intercourse with other nations, we may discover in their superstitions some of the primitive notions of the great mass of the islanders of the Pacific Ocean. They regarded the origin of all things as Night and Nothingness, and even the older gods themselves were supposed to have sprung from Night. Another series of divinities are gods of light, and occupy the highest and most glorious of the ten heavens. The Etu of the other districts of Polynesia was called Atua in the language of New Zealand, and instead of being worshipped like the Etu, was simply regarded as a powerful adversary, skilled in supernatural arts, and rendered proof against all ordinary worship. Hence arose the charms and incantations which form the chief element in Maori worship. The souls of their departed ancestors were ranked among the Atuas. An institution, which is common to the Maori and to all the Polynesian tribes. is the Taboo, which is applied both to sacred things and persons. Among the Maori, the head-chief being sacred almost to divinity, his house, his garments, and all that belonged to him was Taboo, his spiritual essence having been supposed to be communicated to everything that he touched. The religion of the Sandwich Islanders, before they embraced Christianity, was almost entirely a Taboo system-that is, a system of religious prohibitions, which had extended itself very widely, and been used by their priests and kings to enlarge their own power and influence. Temples or maraes existed in the South Sea Islands, but neither temples nor altars existed in New Zealand, nor in the Samoas nor Navigators Islands. The form of superstition most prevalent at the Samoas was the worship of the Etu, which consisted of some bird, fish, or reptile, in which they supposed that a spirit resided. Religious ceremonies were connected with almost every event of their lives. They presented their first- fruits to their gods, and at the close of the year observed a festival as an expression of thanksgiving to the gods for the mercies of the past year.

Paganism is becoming rapidly extirpated through the efforts of the missionaries, principally English and American, as in the Samoan, Sandwich, and Society groups, where but few absolute pagans now remain. Under date of December, 1876, a correspondent of the Manchester Guardian writes: "Heathenism is mainly confined to the islands in the western part of the Pacific. The missionary societies, whose efforts have been so greatly blessed in other parts of Polynesia, are combining their labors upon this western section. The London Missionary Society has undertaken the work on New Guinea and the islands at its eastern end. The Melanesian Mission will extend its labors to the Banks and Solomon Islands. The Presbyterians will enlarge their work on the New Hebrides. The Wesleyans have included New Britain and New Ireland in their field. The American Board, in connection with the Hawaiian churches, is enlarging its operations in Micronesia. The history of the Polynesian missions warrants us in expecting large results from this concentration of Christian influence upon numerous island groups, some of which have as yet been only partially explored." The superstition of the taboo, the use of kawa as an intoxicating drink, cannibalism, infanticide, tattooing, and circumcision are now fast disappearing under the influence of Christianity. Unfortunately, however, the contact of these islanders with civilization has not been always productive of unmixed good; the introduction among them of the use of ardent spirits, and of the vices and diseases of Europeans, having thinned the population to a lamentable extent. Further particulars with respect to the natives of Polynesia will be found in some of our articles on the groups regarded as being the most important. See Littell's Living Age, 1854 (No. 513), art. 3; The Lond. Rev. 1854, pt. 2, p. 43 sq.; Edinb. Rev. July, 1876, art. 9; Miss. World, No. 630. p. 167 sq.; No. 458; Lond. Acad. July 15, 1876, p. 52 sq.; Gardner, Dict. of Relig. Faiths, s.v.; Lubbock, Orig. of Civilization (see Index).

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [2]

The collective name of all the islands of the Pacific of coral or volcanic origin. These South Sea islands are scattered, isolated, or more usually in groups over a stretch of ocean 7000 m. from N. to S. and 6000 from E. to W.; with the exception of the two chief members of the New Zealand archipelago they are mostly small, and exhibit wonderful uniformity of climate; the temperature is moderate, and where there are any hills to intercept the moisture-laden trade-winds the rainfall is high; they are extremely rich in flora; characteristic of their vegetation are palms, bread fruit trees, and edible roots like yams and sweet potatoes, forests of tree-ferns, myrtles, and ebony, with endless varieties of beautiful flowering plants; their fauna is wonderfully poor, varieties of rats and bats, a few snakes, frogs, spiders, and centipedes, with the crocodile, being the chief indigenous animals; the three divisions of Polynesia are Micronesia, comprising five small archipelagoes in the Nw., N of the equator, of which the chief are the Mariana and Caroline groups; Melanesia, comprising eleven archipelagoes in the W., S. of the equator, of which the largest are the Solomon, Bismarck, Fiji, New Caledonia, and New Hebrides groups; and Eastern Polynesia, E. of these on both sides of the equator, including New Zealand, Hawaii, and Samoa, ten other archipelagoes, and numerous sporadic islands; the first of these divisions is occupied by a mixed population embracing many distinct elements, the second by the black, low-type Melanesians, the third by the light brown, tall Polynesians; traces of extinct civilisation are found in Easter Island and the Carolines; most of the islands are now in the possession of European powers, and are more or less Christianised; New Zealand is one of the most enterprising and flourishing colonies of Great Britain; everywhere the native races are dying out before the immigration of Europeans.