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Endeavour journal, 29 June 1769 (Series 03.307)

Notes: Page header reads: 'Otahite'
Author: Banks, Joseph, Sir, 1743-1820
Date: 29 June 1769
Series title: Series 03: The Endeavour journal of Joseph Banks, 25 August 1768 - 12 July 1771
Frame numbers:
Transcript: 29. About 5 O'Clock our sentry awakd us with the alarming intelligence of the boat being missing, he had he said seen her about ½ an hour before at her grapling which was about 50 yards from the shore, but that on hearing the noise of Oars he lookd out again and could see nothing of her. We started up and made all possible haste to the waterside, the morn was fine and starlight but no boat in sight. Our situation was now sufficiently disagreable: the Indians had probably attackd her first and finding the people asleep easily carried her, in which case they would not fail to attack us very soon, who were 4 in number armd with one musquet and cartouch box and two pocket pistols without a spare ball or charge of powder for them. In about a quarter of an hour however we had the satisfaction to see the boat return, which had drove from her grapling by some effect of the tide probably as it was perfectly calm.

As soon as the boat returnd we got our breakfast and set out. The first district on which we landed was the last in Tiarreboo, it was governd by Omóe. He was employd in building a house for which purpose he wanted a hatchet very much and was inclind to offer any price for it but our stock was quite spent; after some conversation we found that he would not deal for nails and put off the boat. He and his wife Whannoouda followd in a canoe; we took them into the boat and after rowing about a league they desird we would put ashore, which we did and found his people who had brought a very large hog. We had much chafering about the price of it, it was worth any ax we had in the ship but we had no ax at all in the boat. We therefore told Omoe that if he would come to Matavie with his hog he should have a large ax and a nail into the bargain for his trouble; which he after having consulted his wife readily agreed to, and gave us a large peice of cloth as a pledge of his intention to perform this agreement.

At this place we saw a singular curiosity, a figure of a man made of Basket work, roughly but not ill designd; it was 7 feet high and two bulky in proportion to its hight; the whole was neatly coverd with feathers, white to represent skin and black to represent hair and tattow; on the head were three protuberances which we should have calld horns but the Indians calld them tata ete, little men. The image was calld by them Maúwe; they said it was the only one of the kind in Otahite and readily atempted to explain its use, but their language was totaly unintelligible and seemed to referr to some customs to which we are perfect strangers. - After this we got into the boat and rowd several miles before we went ashore. When we did we saw nothing remarkable but a burying ground whose pavement was unusualy neat; it was ornamented by a pyramid about 5 feet high coverd intirely with the fruits of Pandanus [tectorius] and Crataeva [gynandra]. In the middle of all near the Pyramid was a small image of stone very roughly workd, the first instance of carving in stone I have seen among these people, and this they seemd to value as it was coverd from the weather with a kind of shed built purposely over it; near it were three sculls of men laid in order, very white and clean and quite perfect. From hence we proceeded to Papárra, the district of our freinds Oama and Oborea, where we proposd to sleep tonight; we came there an hour before night and found that they were both from home, they were gone to Matavie to see us. This did not alter our resolution of sleeping here and we chose for that purpose the house of Oborea, which tho small was very neat and had nobody in it but her father who was very civil to us. After having setled our matters we took a walk towards a point on which we had from far observd trees of Etoa, Casuarina equisetifolia, from whence we judgd that thereabouts would be some marai; nor were we disapointed for we no sooner arrivd there than we were struck with the sight of a most enormous pile, certainly the masterpeice of Indian architecture in this Island so all the inhabitants allowd. Its size and workmanship almost exceeds beleif, I shall set it down exactly. Its form was like that of Marais in general, resembling the roof of a house, not smooth at the sides but formd into 11 steps, each of these 4 feet in hight making in all 44 feet, its lengh 267 its breadth 71. Every one of these steps were formd of one course of white coral stones most neatly squard and polishd, the rest were round pebbles, but these seemd to have been workd from their uniformity of size and roundness. Some of the coral stones were very large, one I measurd was 3½ by 2½ feet. The foundation was of Rock stones likewise squard, one of these corner stone[s] measurd 4ft:7in by 2ft:4in. The whole made a part of one side of a spatious area which was walld in with stone, the size of this which seemd to be intended for a square was 118 by 110 paces, which was intirely pavd with flat paving stones. It is almost beyond beleif that Indians could raise so large a structure without the assistance of Iron tools to shape their stones or mortar to join them, which last appears almost essential as the most of them are round; it is done tho, and almost as firmly as a European workman would have done it, tho in some things it seems to have faild. The steps for instance which range along its greatest lengh are not streight, they bend downward in the middle forming a small Segment of a circle: possibly the ground may have sunk a little under the greatest weight of such an immense pile, which if it happend regularly would have this effect. The labour of the work is prodigious: the quarry stones are but few but they must have been brought by hand from some distance at least, as we saw no signs of quarry near it tho I lookd carefully about me; the coral must have been fishd from under water, where indeed it is most plentifull but generaly coverd with 3 or 4 feet water at least and oftenest with much more. The labour of forming them when got must also have been at least as great as the getting them; they have not shewn us any way by which they could square a stone but by means of another, which must be most tedious and liable to many accidents by the breaking of tools. The stones are also polished and as well and truly as stones of the kind could be by the best workman in Europe, in that particular they excell owing to the great plenty of a sharp coral sand which is admirably adapted to that purpose and is found everywhere upon the seashore in this neighbourhood. About 100 yards to the west of this building was another court or pavd area in which were several ewhattas, a kind of altars raisd on wooden pillars about 7 feet high, on these they offer meat of all kinds to the gods; we have seen large Hogs offerd and here were the Sculls of above 50 of them besides those of dogs, which the preist who accompanied us assurd us were only a small part of what had been here sacrafisd. This marai and aparatus for sacrafice belongd we were told to Oborea and Oamo. The greatest pride of an inhabitant of Otahite is to have a grand Marai, in this particular our freinds far exceed any one in the Island, and in the Dolphins time the first of them exceeded every one else in riches and respect as much. The reason of the difference of her present apearance from that I found by an accident which I now relate: in going too and coming home from the Marai our road lay by the the sea side, and every where under our feet were numberless human bones cheifly ribbs and vertebrae. So singular a sight surprizd me much; I enquird the reason and was told that in the month calld by them Owiráhew last, which answers to our December 1768, the people of Tiarreboo made a descent here and killd a large number of people whose bones we now saw; that upon this Occasion Oborea and Oamo were obligd to fly for shelter to the mountains, that the Conquerors burnt all the houses which were very large and took away all the hoggs &c ., that the turkey and goose which we had seen with Mathiabo were part of the spoils, as were the jaw bones which we saw hung up in his house; they had been carried away as trophies and are usd by the Indians here in exactly the same manner as the North Americans do scalps.