Friday, 12 July 2013

Bougainville's impression of the people on Tahiti

Bougainville says, "The climate is so healthy that in spite of our fatigues, although our people were perpetually in the water, and under a burning sun, sleeping on the naked soil under the stars, no one was ill. The sufferers from scurvy whom we disembarked, and who had not enjoyed a single night's sleep, regained their strength, and were so soon restored, that some of them were completely cured on board." In addition to this, the health and strength of the natives, who live in cabins open to every wind, and who scarcely cover the ground, which serves them as a bed, with a few leaves, the happy old age to which they easily attain, the sharpness of all their senses, and the singular beauty of their teeth, which they preserve to the greatest age, all testify to the salubrity of the climate, and the efficiency of the rules followed by the inhabitants. In character the people seem gentle and good. It would not appear that they have civil wars among themselves, although the country is divided into little portions under independent chiefs. They are constantly at war with the inhabitants of the neighbouring islands. Not satisfied with massacring the men and male children taken in arms, they skin their chins with the beard, and keep this hideous trophy. Bougainville could only obtain very vague information of their ceremonies and religion. But he could at least assert the reverence they pay their dead. They preserve the corpses for a long time in the open air, on a sort of scaffold sheltered by a shed. In spite of the odour of decomposition, the women go every day to weep near the monuments, and bedew the sad relics of their beloved ones with their tears and with cocoa-nut oil. The soil is so productive, and requires so little cultivation, that men and women live in a state of almost entire idleness. Therefore it is not astonishing that the sole care of the latter is to be pleasing. Dancing, singing, long conversations, teeming with gaiety, have developed a mobility of expression among the Tahitans, surprising even to the French, a people who themselves have not the reputation of being serious, possibly because they are more lively than those who reproach them with levity. It is impossible to fix a native's attention. A trifle strikes them, but nothing occupies them. In spite of their want of reflection they were clever and industrious. Their pirogues were constructed after a fashion equally ingenious and solid. Their fish-hooks and all their fishing implements were of delicate workmanship. Their nets were like those of Europeans. Their stuffs manufactured of the bark of a tree, were generally woven and dyed of various colours. In fact Bougainville's impression of the Tahitian people was that they were "lazzaroni."

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