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The Society Islands

 

A passage of four hundred sixty miles southwest brought Resolution among the low-lying coral islands of the Tuamotus Archipelago that arch eastward from Tahiti.25 On April 18 Cook called briefly at tiny Takaroa to allow Reinhold Forster to collect plants. This was their first opportunity to examine a coral atoll. Cook did not have the same interest in the structure of islands as did Reinhold, but they both noticed the striking contrast made by this scrap of an atoll with other islands they had seen. Some were mountainous, others were scarcely above sea level; some had a barrier reef, others did not. Reinhold was more inclined to notice structural differences, although for Takaroa he could scarcely surpass Cook's description: "a narrow String of Small Islets lying in an Oval form & connected together by a reef of coral rocks, the whole inclosing a lake of Salt water." Reinhold gazed at the coral in the lagoon, wondered if the east wind had anything to do with the direction of coral growth (no), and was happy with his new plants, one of which was a kind of cress which he named "Lepidium Piscidium" and which worked as a salad. In the coming weeks Reinhold and Cook would ponder island formation. Fair weather and shortened sail at night allowed Resolution to avoid mishap among these "half drowned isles" that were flung out on the ocean across her track west to Tahiti.26

 

TAHITIAN PROSPERITY

Matavai Bay was a picture of affluence and good cheer on April 22. Startling changes had been taking place on Tahiti. Huts and canoes were being built all over the neighborhood, and every hut had a pig or two. "Our very good friends the Natives" brought an abundance of pigs, fresh fruit, and roots. Along came Tu to welcome Cook "with a vast train and several Chiefs" and a present of a dozen hogs. Cook remembered him from the year before as a rising chief. Recognizing his new eminence, Cook promptly invited him aboard to dinner and began to refer to him as "king." (Tu was the arii nui, the chief of the Matavai region; he was not yet Pomare I, the king of Tahiti.) Cook's gift of red feathers, acquired in Tonga the previous year, opened the flood-gates of trade, for they were highly prized because their red color, called "Oora," was sacred.

Cook saw no need to hurry off as he had intended. The period of peace brought by Tu's rise to power, the natural fertility of this tropical environment, and the adaptability of its people had all done their work, no doubt, Cook and Reinhold were both inclined to think, with the assistance of English axes and other tools left on the two previous visits.

Reinhold hurried ashore for a walk about and to look up old friends. He was glad to see the venerable old mother of Tuteha, who did not cry this time, and the father of Tu, and he made friends with a certain "Opaou," who prepared him some roasted breadfruit and coconut pudding. In return Reinhold gave him a knife, a spike, and beads. On the way back to shipside he came across the goats left by Tobias Furneaux, the captain of Adventure, which had called there ahead of Resolution after the two ships became separated; the goats were thriving under Tu's care and had already kidded. That night the ship's company dined on bonitos, breadfruit, and a green salad which likely was the cress the Forsters brought from Takaroa.27 Furneaux himself was still unaccounted for after the disappearance of Adventure in the storm off New Zealand.

 

COOK REVIEWS THE FLEET

The flourishing Tahitian economy even supported a navy, and this was the most astonishing sight of all. On April 26 Cook, Hodges, and the two Forsters set out by boat to meet Tu for an inspection of the fleet. At Pare, about six miles southwest of Point Venus, they counted three hundred thirty double canoes, fully manned and equipped, their bows drawn up on the beach. The Tahitian navy boasted an admiral; among the shouts of acclamation Cook heard the name "Towha." On landing he suddenly had to pick his way among the assorted rivalries of local chiefs, and to keep their names straight. When Towha took him by the right hand to escort him aboard his flagship, the uncle of Tu, named Tee, took him by the left to escort him to Tu who was somewhere in the crowd. When Tee let go, Towha nearly pulled Cook into the ocean. Dragged this way and that by contending factions, Cook made up his mind in disgust that Towha was nothing but a disaffected chief at odds with Tu, whereupon he took to his own boat for a view from offshore.

Each craft was made of two canoes joined parallel about four feet apart by crossbeams. Cook and his party reviewed just part of the fleet; they rowed past one hundred sixty vessels of war crowded with rowers and fighting men armed with clubs, pikes, and stones, and wearing turbans, breast plates and helmets. Reinhold was fascinated by the paddlers and the man who stood in the middle to give signals, and he wondered whether this Tahitian style might cast light on the question of how oars were arranged in ancient Greek and Roman galleys. Flags streamed in the wind and each craft had a raised platform at the bow. One hundred seventy smaller double canoes served for transport and supplies. The fleet could have held about 7,760 men, by Cook's estimate, an impressive figure that led him to over-estimate the population of Tahiti as some 204,000 souls.28

On returning to Resolution Cook learned that he was mistaken about Towha. The man really was some sort of admiral, his feelings were hurt, and Cook missed an unusual opportunity to observe this impressive naval force as it moved out to sea for maneuvers in preparation for an attack against nearby Moorea. Chagrined, he quickly made amends because hurt feelings could easily finish off the trade no matter how many red feathers he had. On April 27 he invited Tu, Towha, and various relatives and hangers-on to come aboard for a guided tour of the ship. But he "made an evasive answer" when his guests dropped a hint that English guns would be useful against Moorea.

Inevitably Cook was distracted from these exalted naval and political affairs by the reports of two thefts. These rather more prosaic events tested his mettle in restoring harmony and further refined his ability to deal effectively with island populations. On April 29 a water cask was stolen from under the nose of a marine sentry on shore. The thief tried to swim away with his prize, but after a warning shot or two and some splashing about he was quickly apprehended and tossed into irons. Although Cook fully understood that thieving represented an exhibition of ingenuity and skill in a kind of local sport, rather than a breakdown of social mores, he decided that the time was ripe to teach a lesson on English concepts of property and justice. Refusing Tu's pleas for clemency, he order the prisoner taken ashore and tied up to a post. There on the beach he took it into his head to deliver a lecture to the downcast Tu and the restive crowd held back by the marines. Just as he quickly punished his own men, he declared, so this thief should be punished in the same way. Neither he nor any of his crew ever took anything without paying, he went on, and he listed the articles given in exchange. He finished by announcing that the punishment would deter others from crimes in which someone might be killed. With that he had the man flogged with two dozen lashes. Towha the admiral then stepped forward with a harangue of his own to the puzzled crowd. Wales was able to piece together the substance of what he said:29

Could they not, if they were not your friends, easily kill you? They are your friends! Why then do you rob them? If you will steal, Steal from the Men of Eimeo [Moorea], who are your enemies. Go, bring Cocoa Nuts and breadfruit.

It is a little unsettling to come suddenly upon such an incident in the life of this complex man, slipped unobtrusively into his journal, the humane Cook having a Polynesian flogged on the beach. Here we have another vignette of Cook the seaman, this time earnestly and grimly attempting to impose his views on the islanders. Any resentment must have been temporary because trade continued without interruption. On May 7 Cook asked Tu's permission to cut down trees for firewood and assured him that no one would touch any tree bearing fruit. So pleased was Tu that he proclaimed this pledge to all the Tahitians within hearing. And a gift of red feathers brought permission for Cook to cut down as many and whichever trees he pleased.

 

COOK TRIES DIPLOMACY

The next morning Cook had reason to wonder whether his lecture on the beach had done any good when he saw that the entire shore was deserted. The Tahitians had disappeared with all their belongings leaving their huts bare, and of course the trade had stopped. Tee, who had remained behind, told Cook that a musket had been stolen when a marine fell asleep and that Tu fled in fright at what Cook might do in retaliation. The theft of a musket was far more serious and complicated than the previous offense; he would not allow firearms to fall into local hands. This time he tried his hand at diplomacy, the thief having absconded.

It was a hectic day with a good deal of rushing about. First, Cook sent Tee with a message that Tu, wherever he might be, need not worry, that only the musket was wanted. Then six canoes passing across the bay offered a handy solution to his problem. He gave orders for an intercept to obtain hostages. But the Tahitians outwitted him. Tu was really on the beach, some women told him. Cook hurried ashore to find Tu, but there was no Tu. Vexed at being outwitted, he hurried back to Resolution just as the canoes slipped "thro' my fingers" past the ship's boats sent in pursuit. The sailors caught only several of the women and one man who had previously claimed that he was a chief.

Cook was left standing on deck gazing at the departing canoes. He decided to keep the women and send this chief on another mission to Tu. Until that hour it seemed that every last Tahitian would identify himself as a chief in order to secure special favors. Now there were no chiefs. The hostage claimed that he was too low in rank for such a mission, he really was no "Aree" (chief, arii); he admitted; only a chief should speak to a chief; and Cook should go himself. Cook gave up. Deciding that the musket was gone for good, he sent a message to assure Tu that he knew his people had no part in the theft. At nightfall, the musket having appeared mysteriously at shipside, Cook and Tu patched things up.

That night the sailors were surprised when not a single girl swam out to the ship. Either Tu or his father, wishing to mollify Cook, had ordered that the girls should stay home, and Tahitian guards were even posted on the beach. Because the girls had been pilfering the cabins and making off every morning with stolen articles, the Tu family was afraid that Cook would be exasperated anew. For the sailors who could not think of being without a woman at night, however, the cure was worse than the disease. It must have been an impressive display of authority, the Tahitian royal family giving such an order, one that Cook could never count on enforcing himself. The next day, May 10, trade was restored. Tu was invited aboard to watch the firing of a cannon, and that evening Cook entertained the population with a display of fireworks. He was fully aware that above all he had to stay on good terms with Tu in order to supply his ship; he also realized that the natives knew he could not dispense with their cooperation. That Tu was so quickly reconciled resulted from his own experience of fair and sagacious treatment he always received from Cook.

In his meditation on these tangled events Cook showed a clearheaded and practical outlook.30

Three things made them our fast friends, Their own good Nature and benevolent disposition, gentle treatment on our part, and the dread of our fire Arms; by our ceaseing to observe Second the first would have wore of[f] of Course, and the too frequent use of the latter would have excited a spirit of revenge and perhaps have taught them that fire Arms were not such terrible things as they had imagined, they are very sencible of the superiority they have over us in numbers and no one knows what an enraged multitude might do.

Cook was never certain that Tu had not engineered the whole affair to teach him a thing or two and to demonstrate his own authority. Certainly the resumption of trade occurred only with Tu's orders, and Cook surmised that thefts frequently were staged with the connivance of Tu's underlings. Nevertheless in two visits at Tahiti Cook and Tu were coming to know and respect each other, if not as equals, then as leaders between whom good relations could be maintained in a spirit of harmony and friendship.

The elder Forster missed all the excitement. He was determined to reach the summit of Tahiti's highest peak, the 7,608-foot Orohena, which had caught his fancy from far out at sea. For one thing, Banks and Solander, of whom he was jealous and whom he wanted to out-do, had tried, but had not been able to climb that high. Not even reviewing the Tahitian navy could tempt him from such a triumph over them. For another, he wished to observe the change in flora with altitude and any correlation of this change there might be with latitude. Having seen at Ship Cove how plants on a hilltop resembled those at sea level farther south at Dusky Bay, he was curious to find out whether the same principle might be at work on Tahiti. Reinhold's observation that a similarity in the plant life of two locations can be correlated with their respective latitude and altitude is another "first" of the Cook voyages; it appears again in the works of Alexander von Humboldt for South America and is a commonplace in ecology today.

Only Reinhold, Sparrman, a marine and a sailor, and a local boy named "Noona," whom Reinhold remembered from the first visit and who was still willing to fetch and carry for him, comprised the expedition that set out across the narrow, fertile plain. Soon the inevitable crowd of natives, following at their heels, dropped out when they saw that Reinhold and his companions really were bent on climbing the hills. After plunging across several deep valleys and becoming soaked to the skin from a smart shower, the party found shelter for the night in a hillside hut whose owner fed them coconut pudding and baked breadfruit. The moon was bright, lightning flashed on the horizon, and during the night they could hear the tinkling of the ship's bell about a league distant. At day break the party took on the peak itself, much of the way leading up tangled slopes shrouded in clouds. At the summit Forster and Sparrman were rewarded by finding three plants they had seen in New Zealand. The breaking clouds revealed a fine view of the neighboring islands to the west, including Huaheine, and far below on the lagoon the diminutive ship with canoes clustered about.

To Reinhold, it was entirely fitting to have all Tahiti at his feet. The fall he suffered on the way down the mountain only confirmed his conviction that his lot in life was to endure hardship in the cause of natural philosophy. But he pronounced himself doubly pleased: he had climbed the mountain that Banks and Solander never climbed and found a few plants they never saw.31

George, meanwhile, stayed behind to contemplate the role of the red feather in Tahitian society. It happened that Chief Potatau consulted with his wife on how they might obtain some of Cook's "Oora," and according to the plan that somehow reached George's ears, she would go to Cook in his cabin and offer her services in return for said feathers. But the Captain was unswayed. It was just as well that George's father was absent on this particular occasion, for he would only have been upset. As it was, his sleep was often disturbed by the sailors running all over the ship with their sexual partners at any hour of the night.

Such was Tahitian zeal for red feathers, Clerke remarked, that they gladly engaged in "rather unhallow'd rites" for the sacred jewels in order to offer "Propitiation to their Jolly Gods." Such was the maritime zeal for the Tahitian religion that the sailors fairly plundered the ship of its treasures; feathers were ripped from lovely Tongan garments and from delicate fretwork on coconuts; sailors even dyed plain feathers red. Thus valuable artifacts of the South Seas were undone. Nevertheless, among the treasures that came aboard were Potatau's "monstrous helmets of war of five feet high" and several handsome "mourning dresses" to become in due course part of the collections of ethnology in the Ashmolean Museum and the Bishop Museum. Besides the red feathers, the abundance of pork also attracted the girls; they consumed "incredible quantities," reported George, because, as members of a poor class of Tahitians, they were denied pork in their own households. Such were the quantities they consumed, added George with a certain delicacy, that of a sudden they suffered the "inconvenience of restlessness," and when they were refused the attention of their lovers, the very decks began to "resemble the paths in the islands."

Wales, busy at his astronomical observatory, had no time for anthropology. He calculated that the Kendall watch had lost only 8'34½" since leaving Ship Cove, computed from the known longitude of Matavai Bay. This loss was slight, thought Cook, considering the extremes of climate to which the watch had been subjected.32

 

A TAHITIAN FAREWELL

The harmony and good will that Cook so carefully nurtured continued as the day of departure approached. Pleased with the way the goats were thriving in their new home, he added to the good will by giving Tahiti twenty of the ship's cats. From time to time he and Reinhold would go for a walk on the Matavai plain to enjoy the abundance and prosperity that had taken hold since their last visit. Tahitians would always invite them to a meal of baked pig, where eight months before they would always ask for beads. So many pigs were brought out to the ship that the sailors had to build pens on the beach for the excess. On one of their walks on the beach Reinhold and Cook met Oreti, a fine-looking, grey-haired old gentleman, who was the chief of the district where Bougainville had landed six years before. Oreti asked how "Potaviri" was and whether Cook would ever see him. When Cook said no, Forster said that he himself might see Bougainville. Oreti then entreated Forster to tell "Potaviri" that Oreti was still his friend and that he hoped "Potaviri" would back to Tahiti to see him. Cook very much wanted to witness the coming naval engagement for which the maneuvers he had witnessed from a distance had been a preparation. But Tu and Towha ignored his hints. They made plain that the war could not begin until after his departure. The idea at last dawned on Cook that hosts were waiting for guests to be gone so that they could take up their own affairs again.

Old Queen Obarea (Purea), with memories of Dolphin, Endeavour and of better days, came aboard on May 12 for a courtesy call, but with a token present of only two pigs and a bit of Tahitian bark cloth. That was all she could afford. She had fallen from her former state. Cook had not seen her for five years and generously told her that she "looked as young and as well as ever." Apparently Odiddy thought so, too, for the next day he bragged to George that he had shared Obarea's bed for the night, an experience he deemed a mark of honor and eminence for himself, and he proudly showed the nice piece of Tahitian cloth she had paid him. Possibly Obarea deemed herself honored as well. George was circumspect but candid: "O-Poorea was therefore not too old to relish sensual gratification."33

Odiddy was in home waters again after his foreign travels aboard Resolution. He was popular with the sailors, and because he was thinking of leaving the ship at Tahiti, they were urging him instead to throw in his lot with them and sail away to England. Cook took him to think things over and decide for himself: he could remain at Tahiti if he chose, go on to Ulietea (now Raiatea), or stay with the ship. But if he went to England he could never return, and he must then look on Cook as his father. Unable to decide, the youth threw his arms about Cook and burst into tears. Many of the ship's company in fact wanted to bring a Tahitian to England. So did Reinhold, but he saw no place for Odiddy. Instead, he had picked out the twelve year-old Noona, who had been following him around; Reinhold fancied he might teach the boy carpentry or something; and anyway, since his own servant was often sick Noona would always be useful in carrying his plant bags.

Cook certainly was being importuned from all sides; by not putting his foot down at once he might have encouraged these schemes. Even though the island was prosperous many Tahitians were begging to go along "to remain and die in Pritane as they call our country," or possibly to obtain more red feathers at another island. When Reinhold secured permission to take Noona to England, the officers, too, naturally put in their bids. Cook finally said no. To all these entreaties he stood firm, "thinking it an Act of the highest injustice to take away a person from these isles." There could be no life for such a one in England, no hope of return. Sorting all this out delayed the ship's departure for a day. Quelling the combined exuberance of the ship's company and the Tahitian population, besides dealing with the ever-loquacious Reinhold, took time; Cook even had to make a special trip down the coast to Oparre (Pare) to find Odiddy. Reinhold was far from pleased when Cook changed his mind and refused to let him have Noona. To him, this was just another "premeditated Scheme" to cross him in everything. Working himself into another huff, he fumed into his journal. There was no arguing with people "who have no Idea of obliging others, making themselves the center of all their wishes & gratifications, are come to power from nothing." Well, he did not really mean Cook, he told his journal, but only that others often pushed him into such ill behavior. On the last night Cook favored the Tahitians with a farewell display of fireworks. "Heiva Bretanee," they exclaimed.34

The day of departure, May 14, was certainly busy. Reinhold began the day by giving Odiddy the benefit of his advice: the best place would be Ulietea (Raiatea) among his own relatives; at Ulietea he would have "whinnooa," meaning land, that belonged to him; Tahiti would be bad, since Tu no doubt would steal all his hatchets and red feathers, leaving him poor again. If he stayed on Tahiti, continued Reinhold, the chiefs on Ulietea would think that his friends on the ship had killed him, and would not give them any more pigs. He did not want his friends treated like that, now, did he? A final bribe of red feathers converted Odiddy to Reinhold's logic. Then Admiral Towha came by to bid farewell. Because he was no fat and ill with the gout he could not stand on his legs, the sailors hoisted him up on deck in a chair with rope and tackle, to the delight of the assembled hosts. A parting gift of an English pennant for his flagship-canoe made him as happy as any Polynesian admiral could ever be.

Cook and company also had an opportunity to watch the fleet engage in naval exercises, undertaken with much paddling about and an impressive amphibious landing. Reinhold was reminded of the warships of old that sailed against Troy. Tu had one last surprise for Cook. He showed him a magnificent double canoe almost ready for launching from a dockyard. At one hundred and eight feet in length it was just two feet eight inches short of Resolution. Cook gave him an English flag and pennant, and christened the vessel "Britanee." Tu came aboard Resolution for an affectionate farewell. Cook promised that any returning ship would bring plenty of red feathers. He revised his opinion of Tu.35

 

When I was last here I conceived but an indifferent Opinion of Otou's Talents as a King, but the improvements he has sence made in the isles has convince'd me of my Mistake and that he must be a Man of good parts, he has indeed some judicious, sensible Men about him who I beleive had a great share in the Government.

With Odiddy still a passenger Cook weighed anchor for the nearby island of Huaheine, thinking that he was leaving Tahiti for the last time. He was in a good frame of mind for what followed. Hardly had the ship's sails filled in the wind when the ever-watchful marine lieutenant John Edgcumbe, looking through his porthole, saw a figure diving overboard. The alarm was sounded and a boat was put over the side to collect the errant sailor, gunner's mate John Marra, the manuscript-writer, who had abandoned his plans to become an author in order to take up life with a girl waiting for him in a canoe. Ordinarily Cook would not have taken kindly to a desertion but he only had Marra clapped in irons until the ship left the islands. Recalling that he had conscripted him at Batavia (now Djakarta) on the Endeavour voyage, he wrote with sympathy:36

 

I never learnt that he had either friends or connections to confine him to any particular part of the world, all Nations were alike to him, where than can Such a Man spend his days better than at one of these isles where he can injoy all the necessaries and some of the luxuries of life in ease and plenty. I know not if he might not have obtained my consent if he had applied for it in proper time.

 

HUAHEINE: Just Among Friends

No particular urgency required a call at islands close to Tahiti. Resolution had been thoroughly overhauled, fresh provisions and water had been restocked, and everyone aboard was in top shape again. But Cook wanted to visit his old friends at Huahine and Raiatea and that was reason enough. At familiar Fare Harbor, at Huahine Island the next afternoon, his old friend Oree was waiting with a welcoming committee of lesser chiefs. Dinners were exchanged in circumstances of pleasant informality. One of the first friends to come aboard was Porio, whom everyone remembered because he had called himself Tom on the previous visit. Poor Tom told a tale of having been mugged and robbed of his European clothes. Instead of a few days of peace and quiet after the excitement at Tahiti, Cook was obliged to sort out various scrapes that resulted as much from the imprudence of his own people as the delinquency of his hosts.

In the first place, Oree could not control his own countrymen who in Cook's opinion took advantage of his advanced age. Nor could the islanders resist all those wondrous objects suddenly within reach, and because of Cook's restraint they had not acquired a healthy respect for gunfire. On a botanizing trip inland on May 16, Reinhold's servant, in Cook's view "a feeble Man," was set upon and relieved of everything he owned. Reinhold would have shot the culprit dead on the spot had his musket not misfired. Oree was genuinely embarrassed and upset by the incident and invited Cook to a hurriedly assembly council of local chieftains who assured him of their innocence. But they had to admit that the thief had flown to the mountains. "I knew fair means would never make them deliver them up and I had no intention to try others and so the affair droped and the Coun[n]cel broke up." Reinhold, finding that Cook was altogether too calm, was considerably annoyed at the outcome. He had to forego any more plant collecting inland and plants were difficult to come by in the swamps and mire of the lagoon.37

Wales, free of astronomical duties, was glad to attend an evening of entertainment put on for the ship's company. Cook apparently did not attend. He was usually curious about all things Polynesian, but he did not expand on this heiva, as such performances were called. Possibly he was expecting something like the performance he witnessed in 1769 when he managed to use the word "indecent" four times. But in the intervening years he had become less judgmental. He found the production of 1773 simply less entertaining and this time, in 1774, he gave only a cursory report. Perhaps he just did not care for the stage. Neither, apparently, did Reinhold; he took one look at the dancing girls and muttered that they were as skinny as "Pharao's lean kind," referring to Pharaoh's dream in Genesis 41.

At any rate, Wales promptly recognized his "old friend the Uliatean Garrick" among the performers who were skilled at pantomime and the dance.38 The show was an extemporaneous satire about a girl who ran away from Tahiti aboard Resolution and the unfavorable reception her friends gave her for doing so. In view of the various girls who were hitching rides from one island to the next, the skit was based on fact. The performers were members of the arioi society which had religious significance of considerable sophistication and importance in the Society Islands.

Cook thought that his people generally got what they deserved when they wandered about on hikes. On May 18, two teen-aged midshipmen, James Colnett and George Vancouver, who one day would make their own marks on the Pacific, went out hunting, taking along a couple of young islanders to carry their "money bags" of hatchets and nails. The artful guides soon found means to make off with the loot. When they pointed out some birds to shoot at, the hungers obliged, but their two muskets misfired. "They saw they were secure from both and ran off immediately and left the gentlemen gazing at them like fools." Naturally it was quickly noised across the island that muskets were not reliable and people might do as they liked between shots.

Two days later the eccentricities of musket fire were the foundation of a more serious Adventure, one that casts a certain light on the supposition that Cook's capacity to judge the native mind was at all times infallible. Yet again in his Pacific career he was able to step back from mortal danger at the last possible moment. It all began when Charles Clerke and Robert Cooper were surrounded by a crowd and robbed. At last he had to take action. This time he tried guile. Accompanied by a small armed escort he invited himself into a house with such cool good cheer that the chiefs inside did not realize they had been taken hostage. So there they sat until the stolen articles were brought back to the embarrassed officers. Later, Oree rushed in with explanations and apologies. The thieves, he begged Cook to believe, formed "a sort of Bandidi." No, Cook would not turn the ship's cannon at the hillsides. But on May 21 he did agree to a ridiculous search and destroy operation into the hills with forty-eight companions who came armed with muskets. The natives, of course, began to follow, the "Cheifs party gather'd like a snow ball," Cook noticed, and soon Odiddy was excitedly warning that he could overhear talk of an ambush. The natives were planning to rush up and seize the muskets after the first shot, and then kill Cook and his party, all at a place advantageous to themselves. Ordinarily Cook did not think much of Odiddy's stories. But when he saw that he was being led into a narrow defile, as Odiddy warned, he quickly aborted the mission. The only outcome of this foray was that everyone returned sweaty and tired out.

Reinhold's account is naturally more colorful than Cook's, and George's, in contrast to his father's usual call for capital punishment, dwells on the ironic futility of warlike projects. But all agree on the essential elements in this particular transaction. What old Oree's role was no one could tell. To everyone's credit, no muskets were fired in anger. All the same, Cook had the marines fire off several volleys to demonstrate that the muskets could be made to work.39

 

They had but an indifferent or rather contemptible Idea of Musquets in general, having never seen any fired but at birds &c by such of our people as used to stragling about the Country, the most of them but indifferent sportsmen and Miss'd generally two Shott out of three, this together with their pieces missing fire, being Slow in charging and before the Natives, all this they no doubt took great Notice of and concluded that Musquets were not such terrible things as they had been tought to believe.

"The good old Chief" came aboard to bid farewell when Resolution was being un-moored on May 23. Cook told him that they would see each other no more. Oree replied in tears as he had the previous September, "then let your sons come we will treat them well." Cook was much affected. "Oree is a good Man to the utmost sence of the word."40

 

RAIATEA: Friendship Renewed

The next port of call was nearby Raiatea Island. To negotiate the narrow opening in the barrier reef giving access to the lagoon Cook sailed close to the wind, executing the "borrowing" technique he had used on his two previous visits, first steering at the reef and at the last moment steering away and into the safety of the lagoon. Like every stop in the Societies and elsewhere in the Pacific, that scene can only be regarded as an unlikely and strange contrast to the sluggish Thames on the other side of the world. On either boundary of the harbor entrance the sea broke on the reef with violence "frightful to behold." The ungainly square-rigger had little in common with the lean, swift canoes already waiting on the placid lagoon. Nor did the English sailors, toughened by their breeding, beliefs, and national institutions, have much in common with the Polynesians, who were agreeable and happy, artful and sophisticated - and at times given to infanticide. Disparities abounded and mutual understanding and friendship would seem impossible. Yet friendship of a sort did take hold.

Cook's friend, chief Oreo (not Oree), was "not empty handed" among the canoes surrounding the ship at Raiatea (Ulietea) on May 25 (1774). The banks of the creek, where the sailors laboriously warped the ship, was crowded with canoes and huts, thronged with people and their provisions, and it seemed that everywhere welcoming dinners were being baked in underground ovens. Four or five old women weeping pitifully and slashing their scalps with sharks' teeth were also bidding welcome in their own special way. Cook made an auspicious beginning by submitting himself to the "Embraces of these old Hags and by that means got all besmear'd with Blood." That done, the women washed themselves in the creek and were at once cheerful as everyone else, and Cook and Oreo exchanged ceremonial dinners. As for the sailors, in spite of their hard drinking, they followed Cook's example and behaved themselves; there were no fights. But then, the loyal marines saw to it that Cook's orders were carried out. People from ship and shore alike already were bound together by memories of friendship and good times. This third passage through the Societies cemented those ties and the Raiatea visit held a special place in the memories of everyone aboard.41

 

CULTURE AND RELIGION

One aspect of Polynesian life Cook was again able to manage without: the dramatic entertainment, "a set of strolling Players" as he called the arioi. Oreo put on nightly dancing skits for the ship's company, and his daughter, the lissome Poedea, was in the cast. Cook always showed up "toward the latter end of the Play" even though his host was the producer. But ever serious and dignified Wales, returning from an excursion inland where he was diverted by the playing of a nose flute, was delighted to hear that the celebrated Poedea was performing. "I made scarce more than a hop skip & Jump to the Play-house" where he found she could twist and cavort as well as ever. The skit was about a woman in labor, played by "a large brawny Man with a great bushy beard." After suitable struggles out crawled "a great lubbery fellow," not Cook's idea of culture. "We soon grew tired of them," which meant that Cook was speaking for himself.

Wales found out a little something more about the arioi when he fell into conversation with a member of the cast who was on a kind of maternity leave. The girl had no hesitation in telling him that she intended to strangle the child the minute it was born because the child's father was an "Aree-Owhee." Wales was disappointed to have his research cut short when Odiddy earnestly beseeched her to say no more because such things were not done in "Britannia." Reinhold told her that "Eatooa" was certainly angry at that sort of thing. She promptly retorted that the "Britannia Eatooa" might be angry, but her Eatooa certainly was not. If she came to England, however, she might just keep her child alive just to please him, provided, of course, that she was given "a hatchet, a shirt, and some red feathers." George professed himself shocked at the practice of infanticide among the arioi players. To his satisfaction he learned that births were rare, no doubt because wives and mistresses were procured from among prostitutes. When he expressed displeasure, he was assured that "extinction of their offspring" was done in secret. In the end, he could not see much difference between strangulation in the Societies and abortion in London. Members of the cast, Wales did not know, were supposed to be childless.42

On May 30 the lad Odiddy asked Cook to take him to the northern portion of the island for a look at some property he thought was his. But the excursion found his brother in control of the family "whenooa," or estate. This meant that he would have to make do at Raiatea without the land, and Tahiti, he realized, would have been the better choice.

Accompanying Odiddy thither nevertheless gave opportunities for more ethnology. While a hog was being cooked in an underground oven Cook wrote out a detailed account of the procedure and recipe. On the way back, he showed how well he was learning to discriminate among the complexities of the religion when the party came upon four wooden images in a house. They were "Eatua's no te Tou tou, that is the gods of the Common People." But he did not believe that these images were really worshipped, since they were the first ones yet seen in the Society Islands, and he had no other evidence that commoners were not allowed the same gods as the elite. On the Endeavour voyage, a chief had asked that no one be allowed to shoot certain birds; some of his people thought such birds were gods, but at that time Tupaia, a knowledgeable priest from Raiatea, had disabused him of that notion. Cook was inclined to think that the people of Raiatea were more superstitious than the Tahitians.

When Reinhold sorted out the local plants he collected, he noticed that several of them collected on hilltops, as at Tahiti, were like those he had found in various low places in New Zealand. By that time, his grasp of the language served him well when he found himself a local priest from whom he learned about the local deities and religious practices. Each island had its own set of gods, and each one had a particular responsibility; one presided over the sea, another caused earthquakes, a female deity made the Moon and governed the planets. His new divinity-teacher told him that the priests were related to each other, their offices were hereditary, and they conversed with the gods. Reinhold copied down the names of fourteen lunar months, each with a lunation of twenty-eight days; some of the months were intercalary to even out the year. The natives thought that Cook's officers were related, and that Cook and Reinhold were brothers; we are not told what they made of that.43

That Cook was so well pleased with the hospitality he received in the Society Islands resulted in large part from the attitude he himself displayed to the islanders. "The Natives, possess'd of the same Benevolent disposition, contribute willingly, cheerfully and with a full hand to the wants of the Navigator." Ships calling in future, he thought, would find provision in abundance provided they brought plenty of axes, nails, chisels, beads, and, of course, red feathers.

"I ought not to have omitted Shirts." Cook was lax again in curbing the sailors' wanton behavior. After red feathers, he confided, colored shirts were the favored article of trade. He recalled with resigned amusement that Tahitian girls would leave Resolution of a morning clad in brightly colored shirts only to show up at nightfall in rags. George Forster, who could be counted on to notice what was going on, tells us more about this commerce. The girls "danced on the quarterdeck, the forecastle, and the main-deck." They came aboard in such numbers, said he, that many wandered about naked without partners. One half of the crew became infected with venereal disease and he put forward a theory of its origin that managed to absolve the English sailors and all other Europeans as well. It was pre-European in Tahiti, pre-Columbian in Europe, and, because the sailors were not infected at Easter Island or the Marquesas, likely the "virus," he said, could spring up independently.44 Such rationalizing was also part of the second voyage.

In fact the English sailors picked up at Tahiti what they had left behind on previous visits; they were not infected at Easter Island and the Marquesas because they had not been there before. The rough-hewn sailors from the London slums with no thought for tomorrow gave way to lust at the sight of the eager Polynesian goddesses who rose out of the sea, and so did the officers of privilege who joined the orgies in the dank and fetid quarters below decks. Cook was powerless. What happened would haunt him on the third voyage.

June 4 was the day of tears and farewells at Raiatea. Especially affecting was the question put by Oreo just before Cook left the beach. When Oreo realized that Cook could not promise a return visit he wanted to know the name of his "Marai," or burial place. A strange question, thought Cook. After some hesitation he replied that it was Stepney, which was his parish east of London. With a little practice Oreo and his companions could pronounce the word. "Then 'Stepney Marai no Tootee' was echoed through a hundred mouths at once." Cook said that Reinhold, when asked the same question, gave the better answer - "no man who used the Sea could tell were he would be buried." But Oreo's meaning was clear.

 

What greater proof could we have of these people Esteeming and loving us as friends whom they wished to remember, they then wanted to know the name of the place were our bodies were to return to dust.

Beaglehole thinks that Cook might have given the better answer after all. To Oreo, Cook's "marais" meant the place that gave meaning to his life, and that would be his church at Stepney, whether or not he was buried there. Oreo would have understood that the church had an "ahu," or alter, where Cook would be able to speak with his gods when he chose.45

Cook allowed Odiddy to fire the cannon in honor of King George's birthday on June 4, and when the boy asked him to "Tattaow some Parou" Cook gladly wrote him a letter of recommendation to show any ship that might call. Odiddy would suffer the fate, thought Wales, of not having his strange stories believed, stories of New Zealanders who ate one another, or of that cold place the boy called the "White Land" where "white stones" turned to water in his hand. Cook was deeply moved. "I have not words to describe the anguish which appeared in this young mans breast when he went away, he looked up at the ship, burst into Tears and then sunk down into the Canoe." It was quite true, he had to reflect, that the lad was wholly ignorant of the local religion, government, and customs; nevertheless "he was a youth of good parts, and like most of his countrymen, of a Docile, Gentle and humane disposition." In Cook's opinion he would have been a better specimen to take back to England than Omai was aboard Adventure.

Of all the Society Islands, Raiatea was easily the favorite. Wales wrote: "The Affection which the Natives of his Island in particular have taken to the English has something remarkable in it."46

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