1839 - Walton, John. Twelve Months Residence in New Zealand - CHAPTER XV. Indulgence of Children... p 63-69

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  1839 - Walton, John. Twelve Months Residence in New Zealand - CHAPTER XV. Indulgence of Children... p 63-69
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CHAPTER XV. Indulgence of Children--Its bad Effects--Polygamy--Strong affection of Parents to Children--Marriage--Infanticide-- Tattooing--Religion--Cannibalism.

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Indulgence of Children--Its bad Effects--Polygamy--Strong affection of Parents to Children--Marriage--Infanticide-- Tattooing--Religion--Cannibalism.

MAN is a strangely compounded being; and it is not a little remarkable that there should often be found in the same mind qualities diametrically opposed to each other, like a soil, in which at the same (dime, good and bad grain should grow up together. That the New Zealanders are extremely fond of their children is a fact which all who have visited their country will admit, and of which I have often seen them give extraordinary proofs. But it is a fact equally well established, that infanticide prevails among them; and the prevalence of such contradictory dispositions, is one of those enigmas of the human mind, which it would be very difficult, if not quite impossible to solve. The unbounded freedom in which the children are indulged, seems very favourable to their growth, which is much more rapid than that of European children, who are less strong and active at ten years of age than those in New Zealand are at six. The tuition of the children begins at an early period, for the developement of their mental powers is as rapid as that of their physical. This education, as may readily be supposed, consists in making them as expert as possible in the games, dances, and other practices, to which their fathers are attached, among which smoking tobacco may be numbered, which children learn at a very early age. The children of chiefs, though their mothers be slaves, enjoy all the honours and advantages of legitimate birth. One effect of the excessive fondness of parents for their children is, that they are very rarely punished for any impropriety of conduct whatever. This exemption from merited chastisement occasions no little annoyance to the parents from the mischievous tricks which it emboldens these spoiled children to perform.

The following instance of the strength of parental affection is given in Polack's New Zealand. "A respectable chief, named Te Kuri, whose residence is at Turunga, or Poverty Bay, had a fine boy born to him, who died in his fourth year. Poor Kuri was almost inconsolable, until he hit upon a method in fashion among his countrymen to preserve the best memento possible of the lamented child. He eviscerated the body and

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head, and cooked the whole in the same manner as the head of an enemy is preserved, stuffing the inside of the body with scraped flax; and at a distance it was impossible to perceive the difference between it and a living child. I had often seen Kuri carrying this apology for an infant in his blanket behind his back, and remarked one day what a pleasing and remarkably quiet child it appeared. This observation elicited a laugh, in which this candidate for paternity heartily joined. The body had been stuffed in the state I saw it for at least five years."

Polygamy is practised in New Zealand, which strengthens the hypothesis that Asia had the honour of peopling that island. The consequence of a plurality of wives is such as might be expected. Quarrels often take place among them, and rise to such a height, that the unhappy husband finds the restoration of tranquillity very difficult, and sometimes impracticable. Jealousy, "the injured lover's hell," sometimes produces here, as elsewhere, tragical consequences. Manu, a chief of the Bay of Islands, had a child by one of his slaves. When the circumstance became known to Koki, the Sultana of the harem, she was so enraged at the infidelity of her husband, that she sacrificed the tenderness of a mother to her passion for revenge, by destroying one of her own children. The wife, whom the partiality of her husband has placed at the head of his seraglio, often lords it over the other wives, obliging them to act as the menial servants of the family. A native is permitted to marry two sisters, and in this case custom, which in savage countries has generally the force of law, assigns the pre-eminence to the elder sister. In no country, perhaps, do the passions burn with greater fury than in New Zealand. I have known instances of children, who, on being denied by their parents the gratification of their ardent wishes, or prevented from doing something on which their hearts were set, fly from the house, and hang or drown themselves. The following passage from a writer on New Zealand will show to what length the insolence of children to their parents will sometimes go. "A minor chief in the Bay of Islands married a woman much his superior in rank, as his own mother had been a slave. The importance of the chief was advanced accordingly by the connection. The children, who had been treated too kindly by him, often twitted their father in my presence, on his being the son of a slave; reminding the old man to mark their difference in rank, as their parents were chiefs, and not slaves, like his mother."

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The urchins seem to have sucked in a predilection for war with their mothers' milk, if we may judge from the deep interest which they appear to take in the councils of war long before it could be supposed that such meetings could have any attraction for them, or that they could be thought capable of comprehending the nature or purport of such deliberations. On these occasions, the juvenile auditors will sometimes take a part in the discussion, and so far is this liberty from being repressed, that the chiefs will answer their questions with as much respect, as if in point of age and understanding, they were on a level with themselves. To the unrestrained freedom of conversation on all sorts of subjects in which the children are indulged by their seniors, is probably owing the intelligence and vigour of mind which at an early age they display.

With forms and ceremonies the New Zealanders never think of encumbering themselves on scarcely any occasion. Their public and domestic arrangements are conducted without any regard to eclat, for which they seem to have little predilection. Unlike the natives of almost all the other Polynesian islands, they pay little attention to the trinkets that are offered them, but will very readily exchange the produce of their country for articles of important utility or substantial comfort. Marriages are made with scarcely the shadow of ceremony. The match being agreed on, the bridegroom takes the bride to his dwelling, and this is considered as settling the business. However free of her favours, a woman may have been previous to marriage, she is not on that account considered less worthy of a husband; but any improper liberties taken with her after marriage, would, if detected, be severely resented. Her person is then tapued or prohibited.

Marriages take place at a much more early period of life in New Zealand than among Europeans. Mothers may be seen at fourteen, twelve, and some few even at eleven years of age. Infanticide has been greatly checked in those districts, where, through the exertions of the missionaries, the humanizing influence of Christianity has been felt; but in other quarters it still lamentably prevails. One would be almost tempted, from what one observes in New Zealand, to question the accuracy of an opinion which seems to be universally admitted, or to which at least I have never heard any opposition offered, viz., that there is in the mind of every human being a principle which approves what is laudable, and condemns what is criminal in his conduct. I have looked in vain for this principle among the New Zealanders; who, after committing crimes at

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which we would start with horror, exhibit not the slightest symptom of remorse. I heard one day a chief who, for some trifling offence had shot one of his female slaves, make the appearance she exhibited previous to receiving the contents of the musket, the subject of his merriment; and though I have often endeavoured to impress the minds of mothers who had taken the lives of their children with a sense of the unnatural barbarity of their conduct, I never could awaken in any of them the least degree of shame or compunction for the crime which they had committed. "In vain," says the writer formerly quoted, "I told the circle of women to whom I was addressing myself on the subject, that the Creator was too just to allow a murderer to escape in any shape. My words fell on their ears like the wind; they burst into a shout, exclaiming, 'Mea pai te romia,' squeezing the nose was very good, adding that my mamma would have acted perfectly right in so serving me. I presumed to differ from them at this personal allusion. A young girl sitting by, who had dispatched her infant only the week previously, said it was useless to try and change their opinion; that her own mother had several times attempted to deprive her of life, having often commenced the romia on her nose, (feeling that natural promontory to be assured of its position,) but that her father and uncles always interfered. I asked her how she would have admired the process had it been persevered in by her affectionate mother. She smiled and said,' Au! ea te au te oik! What business is it of yours?" Various means are employed to deprive the child of life, such as pressing its temples when newly born, strangling, drowning; but the method in most general use is to suffocate the infant to death, by pressing its nose between two of the fingers. To the guilt of murder, that of the most barefaced hypocrisy is added; for no sooner is the life of the child extinguished, than the mother affects to lament its death with all the external signs of the most violent grief; performing at the same time with the shell an operation of phlebotomy upon her own body, and deafening, by the loudness of her cries, all the people in the neighbourhood. Various means are employed by the mother to procure abortion, which are generally successful, and certain practices are indulged in, which supersede the necessity of checking fecundity, by the destruction of life.

It is difficult to account for the origin of tattooing; an operation attended with great pain; but which, the New Zealanders bear with astonishing fortitude. It is regarded as an embellishment; but so different are the notions of different na-

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tions, as to what constitutes beauty, that all Europeans consider it as a positive deformity transforming the "human face divine" into an object which foreigners cannot, till they are habituated to the sight, look upon without disgust. If an opinion might be hazarded, as to the cause of its adoption among savage nations, I would be inclined to think that it took its rise from that strong desire, to fill their enemies with terror which savages feel; for certainly the appearance of a countenance on which the operation of tattooing has been performed, is any thing but attractive. This opinion is strengthened by the frightful yells which savages invariably utter, on commencing an attack for the purpose, no doubt, of discomposing and terrifying their enemies. That tattooing was practised by the Asiatics, is beyond all doubt; and its forming one of the customs of the New Zealanders is another strong proof of their Asiatic origin. To the children of Israel the following prohibition was addressed:--"Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor engrave any marks on you;" a decided proof, that at an early age of the world, tattooing was in use among the inhabitants of Asia. It is fortunate for the fair sex in New Zealand that they have been exempted, or nearly so, from an operation that would have made sad havoc on the corporeal recommendations which they undoubtedly possess.

Of the religion of these people it would be difficult to speak with precision. That they have something in the shape of religion among them is true, but it is of a very vague, disjointed, and indeterminate character; and the office of priest appears to be nearly a sinecure. Whatever their religion be, it has no influence in prompting to virtue, or restraining from crime; and of man's responsibility for his actions to a higher power, or of a state of future retribution, they appear to have no conception. The only compliment paid to their religious feelings, is by Crozet the French navigator, who says,"Quand on leur a fait des questions a ce sujet, ils ont leve les yeux et les mains au ciel, avec des demonstrations de respect et de crainte qui indiquaient leur croyance d'un Etre supreme."

The practice of eating the flesh of their fellow-creatures is universally considered as characteristic of a people sunk far beneath the average condition of even savage life, and in the attributes of humanity, scarcely rising above the level of the beasts of prey. So incredible indeed did it seem, that a species of barbarism so revolting should in any country take place, that the accounts of its existence were for a long time

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doubted or disbelieved. I was among the sceptical on this subject, but I had not resided long in New Zealand till every doubt that cannibalism was practised by the natives, was removed by the strongest evidence. Aware, however, that this practice is detestable in the eyes of Europeans, they are at pains to conceal as much as possible the instances of it that take place from their knowledge; and it was only incidentally that I could discover the proofs of its existence. It is, however, disappearing, and will gradually die away in proportion as the civilization of the natives, from their intercourse with emigrants, advances. No European, however, need entertain the slightest apprehension of being subjected to this horrible custom, the victims of which are exclusively selected from among slaves and prisoners, of war. When a victory is obtained, a council is held on the fate of the prisoners, of whom some are adjudged to slavery, and others to be killed and devoured. The dreadful process of killing and dissecting the latter is performed before the eyes of their countrymen, and the agony and horror with which the bloody spectacle must be beheld when, as often happens, the sufferers are the dearest relatives of the spectators, may easily be conceived. It some times happens that the conquered party become incorporated with the tribe of the victors, to whom, when this takes place, they become as firmly attached as though they had originally belonged to it; and I have known instances of persons who had been thus incorporated taking long journies to see their former friends and relatives, and returning to the tribe of their captors, with which they considered themselves more firmly united than with the one from which the chances of war had separated them. Of all the strange traits in the character of this strange people, the one just alluded to is perhaps the strangest. To feel a stronger attachment to those who had put to death, by cruel torments, and afterwards devoured their countrymen and friends, than to the tribe with which, having been born and bred in it, they were connected by the most endearing ties, betokens as extraordinary a revolution of sentiment and feeling as is perhaps on record.

To detail the sacrifices offered at the bloody shrine of cannibalism is the most unpleasant part of the task which the plan of this publication imposes. I will, therefore, out of the many instances that might be brought forward in illustration of the cannibal propensities of these islanders, select only two with which to conclude this part of the subject. The chief of a party, who had gained a battle, having bound

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one of the prisoners, caused a tomahawk to be fixed firmly betwixt his teeth. He then made an incision in his throat, and drank like a vampire the blood which streamed from the wound. Another monster commanded a young female slave to prepare the oven for making ready a feast with which he intended to entertain a party of his friends. When her master's order was executed, she asked him for the provisions that were to be put into the oven, when he told her that the dish intended to be cooked in it was herself. The wretched girl, at this horrible annunciation, bursting into tears that would have melted any heart but that of a fiend, importuned him to spare her life,--but all entreaty was vain; the inexorable wretch bound his victim hands and feet, and threw her into the oven alive!

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