Charles Darwin.

The Voyage of the Beagle online

. (page 40 of 51)
Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 40 of 51)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

there, where foxes, hawks, and owls occur, we may infer that the
absence of all rapacious animals at the Galapagos is not the cause
of their tameness here. The upland geese at the Falklands show, by
the precaution they take in building on the islets, that they are
aware of their danger from the foxes; but they are not by this
rendered wild towards man. This tameness of the birds, especially
of the waterfowl, is strongly contrasted with the habits of the
same species in Tierra del Fuego, where for ages past they have
been persecuted by the wild inhabitants. In the Falklands, the
sportsman may sometimes kill more of the upland geese in one day
than he can carry home; whereas in Tierra del Fuego it is nearly as
difficult to kill one as it is in England to shoot the common wild

In the time of Pernety (1763) all the birds there appear to have
been much tamer than at present; he states that the Opetiorhynchus
would almost perch on his finger; and that with a wand he killed
ten in half an hour. At that period the birds must have been about
as tame as they now are at the Galapagos. They appear to have
learnt caution more slowly at these latter islands than at the
Falklands, where they have had proportionate means of experience;
for besides frequent visits from vessels, those islands have been
at intervals colonised during the entire period. Even formerly,
when all the birds were so tame, it was impossible by Pernety's
account to kill the black-necked swan - a bird of passage, which
probably brought with it the wisdom learnt in foreign countries.

I may add that, according to Du Bois, all the birds at Bourbon in
1571-72, with the exception of the flamingoes and geese, were so
extremely tame, that they could be caught by the hand, or killed in
any number with a stick. Again, at Tristan d'Acunha in the
Atlantic, Carmichael states that the only two land-birds, a thrush
and a bunting, were "so tame as to suffer themselves to be caught
with a hand-net." (17/6. "Linnean Transactions" volume 12 page 496.
The most anomalous fact on this subject which I have met with is
the wildness of the small birds in the Arctic parts of North
America (as described by Richardson "Fauna Bor." volume 2 page
332), where they are said never to be persecuted. This case is the
more strange, because it is asserted that some of the same species
in their winter-quarters in the United States are tame. There is
much, as Dr. Richardson well remarks, utterly inexplicable
connected with the different degrees of shyness and care with which
birds conceal their nests. How strange it is that the English
wood-pigeon, generally so wild a bird, should very frequently rear
its young in shrubberies close to houses!) From these several facts
we may, I think, conclude, first, that the wildness of birds with
regard to man is a particular instinct directed against HIM, and
not dependent upon any general degree of caution arising from other
sources of danger; secondly, that it is not acquired by individual
birds in a short time, even when much persecuted; but that in the
course of successive generations it becomes hereditary. With
domesticated animals we are accustomed to see new mental habits or
instincts acquired and rendered hereditary; but with animals in a
state of nature it must always be most difficult to discover
instances of acquired hereditary knowledge. In regard to the
wildness of birds towards man, there is no way of accounting for
it, except as an inherited habit: comparatively few young birds, in
any one year, have been injured by man in England, yet almost all,
even nestlings, are afraid of him; many individuals, on the other
hand, both at the Galapagos and at the Falklands, have been pursued
and injured by man, but yet have not learned a salutary dread of
him. We may infer from these facts, what havoc the introduction of
any new beast of prey must cause in a country, before the instincts
of the indigenous inhabitants have become adapted to the stranger's
craft or power.

Stem 6 to 10 feet. Diameter 1 foot.)


(PLATE 84. AVA OR KAVA (Macropiper methysticum), TAHITI.)


Pass through the Low Archipelago.
Vegetation on the mountains.
View of Eimeo.
Excursion into the interior.
Profound ravines.
Succession of waterfalls.
Number of wild useful plants.
Temperance of the inhabitants.
Their moral state.
Parliament convened.
New Zealand.
Bay of islands.
Excursion to Waimate.
Missionary establishment.
English weeds now run wild.
Funeral of a New Zealand woman.
Sail for Australia.

OCTOBER 20, 1835.

The survey of the Galapagos Archipelago being concluded, we steered
towards Tahiti and commenced our long passage of 3200 miles. In the
course of a few days we sailed out of the gloomy and clouded
ocean-district which extends during the winter far from the coast
of South America. We then enjoyed bright and clear weather, while
running pleasantly along at the rate of 150 or 160 miles a day
before the steady trade-wind. The temperature in this more central
part of the Pacific is higher than near the American shore. The
thermometer in the poop cabin, by night and day, ranged between 80
and 83 degrees, which feels very pleasant; but with one degree or
two higher, the heat becomes oppressive. We passed through the Low
or Dangerous Archipelago, and saw several of those most curious
rings of coral land, just rising above the water's edge, which have
been called Lagoon Islands. A long and brilliantly-white beach is
capped by a margin of green vegetation; and the strip, looking
either way, rapidly narrows away in the distance, and sinks beneath
the horizon. From the mast-head a wide expanse of smooth water can
be seen within the ring. These low hollow coral islands bear no
proportion to the vast ocean out of which they abruptly rise; and
it seems wonderful that such weak invaders are not overwhelmed by
the all-powerful and never-tiring waves of that great sea,
miscalled the Pacific.

NOVEMBER 15, 1835.

At daylight, Tahiti, an island which must for ever remain classical
to the voyager in the South Sea, was in view. At a distance the
appearance was not attractive. The luxuriant vegetation of the
lower part could not yet be seen, and as the clouds rolled past,
the wildest and most precipitous peaks showed themselves towards
the centre of the island. As soon as we anchored in Matavai Bay, we
were surrounded by canoes. This was our Sunday, but the Monday of
Tahiti: if the case had been reversed, we should not have received
a single visit; for the injunction not to launch a canoe on the
Sabbath is rigidly obeyed. After dinner we landed to enjoy all the
delights produced by the first impressions of a new country, and
that country the charming Tahiti. A crowd of men, women, and
children, was collected on the memorable Point Venus, ready to
receive us with laughing, merry faces. They marshalled us towards
the house of Mr. Wilson, the missionary of the district, who met us
on the road, and gave us a very friendly reception. After sitting a
short time in his house, we separated to walk about, but returned
there in the evening.

The land capable of cultivation is scarcely in any part more than a
fringe of low alluvial soil, accumulated round the base of the
mountains, and protected from the waves of the sea by a coral reef,
which encircles the entire line of coast. Within the reef there is
an expanse of smooth water, like that of a lake, where the canoes
of the natives can ply with safety and where ships anchor. The low
land which comes down to the beach of coral-sand is covered by the
most beautiful productions of the intertropical regions. In the
midst of bananas, orange, cocoa-nut, and bread-fruit trees, spots
are cleared where yams, sweet potatoes, the sugar-cane, and
pine-apples are cultivated. Even the brushwood is an imported
fruit-tree, namely, the guava, which from its abundance has become
as noxious as a weed. In Brazil I have often admired the varied
beauty of the bananas, palms, and orange-trees contrasted together;
and here we also have the bread-fruit, conspicuous from its large,
glossy, and deeply digitated leaf. It is admirable to behold groves
of a tree, sending forth its branches with the vigour of an English
oak, loaded with large and most nutritious fruit. However seldom
the usefulness of an object can account for the pleasure of
beholding it, in the case of these beautiful woods, the knowledge
of their high productiveness no doubt enters largely into the
feeling of admiration. The little winding paths, cool from the
surrounding shade, led to the scattered houses; the owners of which
everywhere gave us a cheerful and most hospitable reception.

I was pleased with nothing so much as with the inhabitants. There
is a mildness in the expression of their countenances which at once
banishes the idea of a savage; and an intelligence which shows that
they are advancing in civilisation. The common people, when
working, keep the upper part of their bodies quite naked; and it is
then that the Tahitians are seen to advantage. They are very tall,
broad-shouldered, athletic, and well-proportioned. It has been
remarked that it requires little habit to make a dark skin more
pleasing and natural to the eye of a European than his own colour.
A white man bathing by the side of a Tahitian was like a plant
bleached by the gardener's art compared with a fine dark green one
growing vigorously in the open fields. Most of the men are
tattooed, and the ornaments follow the curvature of the body so
gracefully that they have a very elegant effect. One common
pattern, varying in its details, is somewhat like the crown of a
palm-tree. It springs from the central line of the back, and
gracefully curls round both sides. The simile may be a fanciful
one, but I thought the body of a man thus ornamented was like the
trunk of a noble tree embraced by a delicate creeper.

Many of the elder people had their feet covered with small figures,
so placed as to resemble a sock. This fashion, however, is partly
gone by, and has been succeeded by others. Here, although fashion
is far from immutable, every one must abide by that prevailing in
his youth. An old man has thus his age for ever stamped on his
body, and he cannot assume the airs of a young dandy. The women are
tattooed in the same manner as the men, and very commonly on their
fingers. One unbecoming fashion is now almost universal: namely,
shaving the hair from the upper part of the head, in a circular
form, so as to leave only an outer ring. The missionaries have
tried to persuade the people to change this habit; but it is the
fashion, and that is a sufficient answer at Tahiti, as well as at
Paris. I was much disappointed in the personal appearance of the
women: they are far inferior in every respect to the men. The
custom of wearing a white or scarlet flower in the back of the
head, or through a small hole in each ear, is pretty. A crown of
woven cocoa-nut leaves is also worn as a shade for the eyes. The
women appear to be in greater want of some becoming costume even
than the men.

Nearly all the natives understand a little English - that is, they
know the names of common things; and by the aid of this, together
with signs, a lame sort of conversation could be carried on. In
returning in the evening to the boat, we stopped to witness a very
pretty scene. Numbers of children were playing on the beach, and
had lighted bonfires which illumined the placid sea and surrounding
trees; others, in circles, were singing Tahitian verses. We seated
ourselves on the sand, and joined their party. The songs were
impromptu, and I believe related to our arrival: one little girl
sang a line, which the rest took up in parts, forming a very pretty
chorus. The whole scene made us unequivocally aware that we were
seated on the shores of an island in the far-famed South Sea.

NOVEMBER 17, 1835.

This day is reckoned in the log-book as Tuesday the 17th, instead
of Monday the 16th, owing to our, so far, successful chase of the
sun. Before breakfast the ship was hemmed in by a flotilla of
canoes; and when the natives were allowed to come on board, I
suppose there could not have been less than two hundred. It was the
opinion of every one that it would have been difficult to have
picked out an equal number from any other nation, who would have
given so little trouble. Everybody brought something for sale:
shells were the main article of trade. The Tahitians now fully
understand the value of money, and prefer it to old clothes or
other articles. The various coins, however, of English and Spanish
denomination puzzle them, and they never seemed to think the small
silver quite secure until changed into dollars. Some of the chiefs
have accumulated considerable sums of money. One chief, not long
since, offered 800 dollars (about 160 pounds sterling) for a small
vessel; and frequently they purchase whale-boats and horses at the
rate of from 50 to 100 dollars.

After breakfast I went on shore, and ascended the nearest slope to
a height of between two and three thousand feet. The outer
mountains are smooth and conical, but steep; and the old volcanic
rocks, of which they are formed, have been cut through by many
profound ravines, diverging from the central broken parts of the
island to the coast. Having crossed the narrow low girt of
inhabited and fertile land, I followed a smooth steep ridge between
two of the deep ravines. The vegetation was singular, consisting
almost exclusively of small dwarf ferns, mingled, higher up, with
coarse grass; it was not very dissimilar from that on some of the
Welsh hills, and this so close above the orchard of tropical plants
on the coast was very surprising. At the highest point which I
reached trees again appeared. Of the three zones of comparative
luxuriance, the lower one owes its moisture, and therefore
fertility, to its flatness; for, being scarcely raised above the
level of the sea, the water from the higher land drains away
slowly. The intermediate zone does not, like the upper one, reach
into a damp and cloudy atmosphere, and therefore remains sterile.
The woods in the upper zone are very pretty, tree-ferns replacing
the cocoa-nuts on the coast. It must not, however, be supposed that
these woods at all equal in splendour the forests of Brazil. The
vast number of productions, which characterise a continent, cannot
be expected to occur in an island.


From the highest point which I attained there was a good view of
the distant island of Eimeo, dependent on the same sovereign with
Tahiti. On the lofty and broken pinnacles white massive clouds were
piled up, which formed an island in the blue sky, as Eimeo itself
did in the blue ocean. The island, with the exception of one small
gateway, is completely encircled by a reef. At this distance, a
narrow but well-defined brilliantly white line was alone visible,
where the waves first encountered the wall of coral. The mountains
rose abruptly out of the glassy expanse of the lagoon, included
within this narrow white line, outside which the heaving waters of
the ocean were dark-coloured. The view was striking: it may aptly
be compared to a framed engraving, where the frame represents the
breakers, the marginal paper the smooth lagoon, and the drawing the
island itself. When in the evening I descended from the mountain, a
man, whom I had pleased with a trifling gift, met me, bringing with
him hot roasted bananas, a pine-apple, and cocoa-nuts. After
walking under a burning sun, I do not know anything more delicious
than the milk of a young cocoa-nut. Pine-apples are here so
abundant that the people eat them in the same wasteful manner as we
might turnips. They are of an excellent flavour - perhaps even
better than those cultivated in England; and this I believe is the
highest compliment which can be paid to any fruit. Before going on
board, Mr. Wilson interpreted for me to the Tahitian who had paid
me so adroit an attention, that I wanted him and another man to
accompany me on a short excursion into the mountains.

NOVEMBER 18, 1835.

In the morning I came on shore early, bringing with me some
provisions in a bag, and two blankets for myself and servant. These
were lashed to each end of a long pole, which was alternately
carried by my Tahitian companions on their shoulders. These men are
accustomed thus to carry, for a whole day, as much as fifty pounds
at each end of their poles. I told my guides to provide themselves
with food and clothing; but they said that there was plenty of food
in the mountains, and for clothing, that their skins were
sufficient. Our line of march was the valley of Tia-auru, down
which a river flows into the sea by Point Venus. This is one of the
principal streams in the island, and its source lies at the base of
the loftiest central pinnacles, which rise to a height of about
7000 feet. The whole island is so mountainous that the only way to
penetrate into the interior is to follow up the valleys. Our road,
at first, lay through woods which bordered each side of the river;
and the glimpses of the lofty central peaks, seen as through an
avenue, with here and there a waving cocoa-nut tree on one side,
were extremely picturesque. The valley soon began to narrow, and
the sides to grow lofty and more precipitous. After having walked
between three and four hours, we found the width of the ravine
scarcely exceeded that of the bed of the stream. On each hand the
walls were nearly vertical; yet from the soft nature of the
volcanic strata, trees and a rank vegetation sprung from every
projecting ledge. These precipices must have been some thousand
feet high; and the whole formed a mountain gorge far more
magnificent than anything which I had ever before beheld. Until the
mid-day sun stood vertically over the ravine, the air felt cool and
damp, but now it became very sultry. Shaded by a ledge of rock,
beneath a facade of columnar lava, we ate our dinner. My guides had
already procured a dish of small fish and fresh-water prawns. They
carried with them a small net stretched on a hoop; and where the
water was deep and in eddies, they dived, and like otters, with
their eyes open followed the fish into holes and corners, and thus
caught them.

The Tahitians have the dexterity of amphibious animals in the
water. An anecdote mentioned by Ellis shows how much they feel at
home in this element. When a horse was landing for Pomarre in 1817,
the slings broke, and it fell into the water; immediately the
natives jumped overboard, and by their cries and vain efforts at
assistance almost drowned it. As soon, however, as it reached the
shore, the whole population took to flight, and tried to hide
themselves from the man-carrying pig, as they christened the horse.

A little higher up, the river divided itself into three little
streams. The two northern ones were impracticable, owing to a
succession of waterfalls which descended from the jagged summit of
the highest mountain; the other to all appearance was equally
inaccessible, but we managed to ascend it by a most extraordinary
road. The sides of the valley were here nearly precipitous; but, as
frequently happens with stratified rocks, small ledges projected,
which were thickly covered by wild bananas, liliaceous plants, and
other luxuriant productions of the tropics. The Tahitians, by
climbing amongst these ledges, searching for fruit, had discovered
a track by which the whole precipice could be scaled. The first
ascent from the valley was very dangerous; for it was necessary to
pass a steeply inclined face of naked rock by the aid of ropes
which we brought with us. How any person discovered that this
formidable spot was the only point where the side of the mountain
was practicable, I cannot imagine. We then cautiously walked along
one of the ledges till we came to one of the three streams. This
ledge formed a flat spot above which a beautiful cascade, some
hundred feet in height, poured down its waters, and beneath,
another high cascade fell into the main stream in the valley below.
From this cool and shady recess we made a circuit to avoid the
overhanging waterfall. As before, we followed little projecting
ledges, the danger being partly concealed by the thickness of the
vegetation. In passing from one of the ledges to another there was
a vertical wall of rock. One of the Tahitians, a fine active man,
placed the trunk of a tree against this, climbed up it, and then by
the aid of crevices reached the summit. He fixed the ropes to a
projecting point, and lowered them for our dog and luggage, and
then we clambered up ourselves. Beneath the ledge on which the dead
tree was placed, the precipice must have been five or six hundred
feet deep; and if the abyss had not been partly concealed by the
overhanging ferns and lilies my head would have turned giddy, and
nothing should have induced me to have attempted it. We continued
to ascend, sometimes along ledges, and sometimes along knife-edged
ridges, having on each hand profound ravines. In the Cordillera I
have seen mountains on a far grander scale, but for abruptness
nothing at all comparable with this. In the evening we reached a
flat little spot on the banks of the same stream which we had
continued to follow, and which descends in a chain of waterfalls:
here we bivouacked for the night. On each side of the ravine there
were great beds of the mountain-banana, covered with ripe fruit.
Many of these plants were from twenty to twenty-five feet high, and
from three to four in circumference. By the aid of strips of bark
for rope, the stems of bamboos for rafters, and the large leaf of
the banana for a thatch, the Tahitians in a few minutes built us an
excellent house; and with withered leaves made a soft bed.



They then proceeded to make a fire, and cook our evening meal. A
light was procured by rubbing a blunt pointed stick in a groove
made in another, as if with intention of deepening it, until by the
friction the dust became ignited. A peculiarly white and very light
wood (the Hibiscus tiliaceus) is alone used for this purpose: it is
the same which serves for poles to carry any burden, and for the
floating out-riggers to their canoes. The fire was produced in a
few seconds: but to a person who does not understand the art, it
requires, as I found, the greatest exertion; but at last, to my
great pride, I succeeded in igniting the dust. The Gaucho in the
Pampas uses a different method: taking an elastic stick about
eighteen inches long, he presses one end on his breast, and the
other pointed end into a hole in a piece of wood, and then rapidly
turns the curved part like a carpenter's centre-bit. The Tahitians
having made a small fire of sticks, placed a score of stones of
about the size of cricket-balls, on the burning wood. In about ten
minutes the sticks were consumed, and the stones hot. They had
previously folded up in small parcels of leaves, pieces of beef,
fish, ripe and unripe bananas, and the tops of the wild arum. These
green parcels were laid in a layer between two layers of the hot
stones, and the whole then covered up with earth, so that no smoke
or steam could escape. In about a quarter of an hour the whole was
most deliciously cooked. The choice green parcels were now laid on
a cloth of banana leaves, and with a cocoa-nut shell we drank the
cool water of the running stream; and thus we enjoyed our rustic

I could not look on the surrounding plants without admiration. On
every side were forests of bananas; the fruit of which, though
serving for food in various ways, lay in heaps decaying on the
ground. In front of us there was an extensive brake of wild
sugar-cane; and the stream was shaded by the dark green knotted
stem of the Ava, - so famous in former days for its powerful
intoxicating effects. I chewed a piece, and found that it had an
acrid and unpleasant taste, which would have induced any one at
once to have pronounced it poisonous. Thanks to the missionaries,
this plant now thrives only in these deep ravines, innocuous to
every one. Close by I saw the wild arum, the roots of which, when
well baked, are good to eat, and the young leaves better than
spinach. There was the wild yam, and a liliaceous plant called Ti,
which grows in abundance, and has a soft brown root, in shape and
size like a huge log of wood: this served us for dessert, for it is

Online LibraryCharles DarwinThe Voyage of the Beagle → online text (page 40 of 51)