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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOmoo - PART I - Chapter XXXII. PROCEEDINGS OF THE FRENCH AT TAHITI
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Omoo - PART I - Chapter XXXII. PROCEEDINGS OF THE FRENCH AT TAHITI Post by :matrix_mlm Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :1986

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Omoo - PART I - Chapter XXXII. PROCEEDINGS OF THE FRENCH AT TAHITI

AS I happened to arrive at the island at a very interesting period in
its political affairs, it may be well to give some little account
here of the proceedings of the French, by way of episode to the
narrative. My information was obtained at the time from the general
reports then rife among the natives, as well as from what I learned
upon a subsequent visit, and reliable accounts which I have seen
since reaching home.

It seems that for some time back the French had been making repeated
ineffectual attempts to plant a Roman Catholic mission here. But,
invariably treated with contumely, they sometimes met with open
violence; and, in every case, those directly concerned in the
enterprise were ultimately forced to depart. In one instance, two
priests, Laval and Caset, after enduring a series of persecutions,
were set upon by the natives, maltreated, and finally carried aboard
a small trading schooner, which eventually put them ashore at Wallis'
island--a savage place--some two thousand miles to the westward.

Now, that the resident English missionaries authorized the banishment
of these priests is a fact undenied by themselves. I was also
repeatedly informed that by their inflammatory harangues they
instigated the riots which preceded the sailing of the schooner. At
all events, it is certain that their unbounded influence with the
natives would easily have enabled them to prevent everything that
took place on this occasion, had they felt so inclined.

Melancholy as such an example of intolerance on the part of Protestant
missionaries must appear, it is not the only one, and by no means the
most flagrant, which might be presented. But I forbear to mention any
others; since they have been more than hinted at by recent voyagers,
and their repetition here would perhaps be attended with no good
effect. Besides, the conduct of the Sandwich Island missionaries in
particular has latterly much amended in this respect.

The treatment of the two priests formed the principal ground (and the
only justifiable one) upon which Du Petit Thouars demanded
satisfaction; and which subsequently led to his seizure of the
island. In addition to other things, he also charged that the flag of
Merenhout, the consul, had been repeatedly insulted, and the property
of a certain French resident violently appropriated by the
government. In the latter instance, the natives were perfectly in the
right. At that time, the law against the traffic in ardent spirits
(every now and then suspended and revived) happened to be in force;
and finding a large quantity on the premises of Victor, a low,
knavish adventurer from Marseilles, the Tahitians pronounced it
forfeit.

For these, and similar alleged outrages, a large pecuniary restitution
was demanded (10,000 dollars), which there being no exchequer to
supply, the island was forthwith seized, under cover of a mock
treaty, dictated to the chiefs on the gun-deck of Du Petit Thouars'
frigate.

But, notwithstanding this formality, there seems now little doubt that
the downfall of the Pomarees was decided upon at the Tuilleries.

After establishing the Protectorate, so called, the rear-admiral
sailed; leaving M. Bruat governor, assisted by Reine and Carpegne,
civilians, named members of the Council of Government, and Merenhout,
the consul, now made Commissioner Royal. No soldiers, however, were
landed until several months afterward. As men, Reine and Carpegne
were not disliked by the natives; but Bruat and Merenhout they
bitterly detested. In several interviews with the poor queen, the
unfeeling governor sought to terrify her into compliance with his
demands; clapping his hand upon his sword, shaking his fist in her
face, and swearing violently. "Oh, king of a great nation," said
Pomaree, in her letter to Louis Philippe, "fetch away this man; I and
my people cannot endure his evil doings. He is a shameless man."

Although the excitement among the natives did not wholly subside upon
the rear-admiral's departure, no overt act of violence immediately
followed. The queen had fled to Imeeo; and the dissensions among the
chiefs, together with the ill-advised conduct of the missionaries,
prevented a union upon some common plan of resistance. But the great
body of the people, as well as their queen, confidently relied upon
the speedy interposition of England--a nation bound to them by many
ties, and which, more than once, had solemnly guaranteed their
independence.

As for the missionaries, they openly defied the French governor,
childishly predicting fleets and armies from Britain. But what is the
welfare of a spot like Tahiti to the mighty interests of France and
England! There was a remonstrance on one side, and a reply on the
other; and there the matter rested. For once in their brawling lives,
St. George and St. Denis were hand and glove; and they were not
going to cross sabres about Tahiti.

During my stay upon the island, so far as I could see, there was
little to denote that any change had taken place in the government.

Such laws as they had were administered the same as ever; the
missionaries went about unmolested, and comparative tranquillity
everywhere prevailed. Nevertheless, I sometimes heard the natives
inveighing against the French (no favourites, by the bye, throughout
Polynesia), and bitterly regretting that the queen had not, at the
outset, made a stand.

In the house of the chief Adeea, frequent discussions took place
concerning the ability of the island to cope with the French: the
number of fighting men and muskets among the natives were talked of,
as well as the propriety of fortifying several heights overlooking
Fapeetee. Imputing these symptoms to the mere resentment of a recent
outrage, and not to any determined spirit of resistance, I little
anticipated the gallant, though useless warfare, so soon to follow my
departure.

At a period subsequent to my first visit, the island, which before was
divided into nineteen districts, with a native chief over each, in
capacity of governor and judge, was, by Bruat, divided into four.
Over these he set as many recreant chiefs, Kitoti, Tati, Utamai, and
Paraita; to whom he paid 1000 dollars each, to secure their
assistance in carrying out his evil designs.

The first blood shed, in any regular conflict, was at Mahanar, upon
the peninsula of Taraiboo. The fight originated in the seizure of a
number of women from the shore by men belonging to one of the French
vessels of war. In this affair, the islanders fought desperately,
killing about fifty of the enemy, and losing ninety of their own
number. The French sailors and marines, who, at the time, were
reported to be infuriated with liquor, gave no quarter; and the
survivors only saved themselves by fleeing to the mountains.
Subsequently, the battles of Hararparpi and Fararar were fought, in
which the invaders met with indifferent success.

Shortly after the engagement at Hararparpi, three Frenchmen were
waylaid in a pass of the valleys, and murdered by the incensed
natives. One was Lefevre, a notorious scoundrel, and a spy, whom
Bruat had sent to conduct a certain Major Fergus (said to be a Pole)
to the hiding-place of four chiefs, whom the governor wished to seize
and execute. This circumstance violently inflamed the hostility of
both parties.

About this time, Kitoti, a depraved chief, and the pliant tool of
Bruat, was induced by him to give a great feast in the Vale of Paree,
to which all his countrymen were invited. The governor's object was
to gain over all he could to his interests; he supplied an abundance
of wine and brandy, and a scene of bestial intoxication was the
natural consequence. Before it came to this, however, several speeches
were made by the islanders. One of these, delivered by an aged
warrior, who had formerly been at the head of the celebrated Aeorai
Society, was characteristic. "This is a very good feast," said the
reeling old man, "and the wine also is very good; but you evil-minded
Wee-Wees (French), and you false-hearted men of Tahiti, are all very
bad."

By the latest accounts, most of the islanders still refuse to submit
to the French; and what turn events may hereafter take, it is hard to
predict. At any rate, these disorders must accelerate the final
extinction of their race.

Along with the few officers left by Du Petit Thouars were several
French priests, for whose unobstructed exertions in the dissemination
of their faith, the strongest guarantees were provided by an article
of the treaty. But no one was bound to offer them facilities; much
less a luncheon, the first day they went ashore. True, they had
plenty of gold; but to the natives it was anathema--taboo--and, for
several hours and some odd minutes, they would not touch it.
Emissaries of the Pope and the devil, as the strangers were
considered--the smell of sulphur hardly yet shaken out of their
canonicals--what islander would venture to jeopardize his soul, and
call down a blight on his breadfruit, by holding any intercourse with
them! That morning the priests actually picknicked in grove of
cocoa-nut trees; but, before night, Christian hospitality--in
exchange for a commercial equivalent of hard dollars--was given them
in an adjoining house.

Wanting in civility, as the conduct of the English missionaries may be
thought, in withholding a decent reception to these persons, the
latter were certainly to blame in. needlessly placing themselves in
so unpleasant a predicament. Under far better auspices, they might
have settled upon some one of the thousand unconverted isles of the
Pacific, rather than have forced themselves thus upon a people
already professedly Christians.

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