The interior is very mountainous and cut into ravines so deep and precipitous that no large number of people could live there. The whole population was crowded on the strip of land which runs like a low shelf round the greater part of the island, interrupted only in three or four places, as at the Pari, by cliffs directly overhanging the sea. On this strip, less than a hundred and twenty miles long, and varying from the bare cliff, without even a beach, to one or perhaps two miles in extreme width, where the larger streams cut out a few broader valleys, Cook found in 1774 a population that he could hardly trust himself to estimate. Modern writers, without a shadow of reason, have rejected his evidence, but all other evidence confirms it. In 1767 Wallis had been astonished at the numbers of the people, and not without reason, for while he was still warping his ship into Matavai Bay he was surrounded by swarms of war-canoes. "When the great guns began to fire, there were not less than three hundred canoes about the ship, having on board at least two thousand men; many thousands were also upon the shore, and more canoes coming from every quarter."
Already in 1774, when Cook made his second voyage, disease and war must have begun to reduce the population from what it had been when Wallis arrived in 1767; yet Cook saw, at Pare Arue, a fleet of one hundred and sixty large double canoes, attended by one hundred and seventy smaller double canoes, preparing to set out against the neighboring island of Eimeo. This fleet, he calculated, could not contain less than seven thousand seven hundred and sixty men, allowing forty to each large canoe and eight to the small ones, and it was the contingent of only two districts, Attahuru and Ahurai. Afterward the number increased, until, allowing forty men to each war-canoe and four to each of the smaller canoes which were to serve as transports, &c., the men exceeded nine thousand: "an astonishing number to be raised in four districts, and one of them, viz: Matavai, did not equip a fourth part of its fleet.... The number of war-canoes belonging to Attahourou and Ahopata [Paea and Patea] was an hundred and sixty, to Tettaha forty, and to Matavai ten.... If we suppose every district in the island, of which there are forty-three, to raise and equip the same number of war-canoes as Tettaha, we shall find by the estimate that the whole island can raise and equip one thousand seven hundred and twenty war-canoes and sixty-eight thousand able men, allowing forty men to each canoe; and as these cannot amount to above one-third part of the number of both sexes, children included, the whole island cannot contain less than two hundred and four thousand inhabitants; a number which at first sight exceeded my belief. But when I came to reflect on the vast swarms which appeared wherever we came, I was convinced that this estimate was not much if at all too great."
Cook was one of the most exact explorers that ever lived, and on this second voyage he had as a scientific companion another man as exact as himself, John Reinold Forster, the naturalist and intended historian of the voyage, who wrote a volume of "Observations" about it, and among many other careful studies made a particularly careful estimate of the population. He concluded that on a very moderate computation the main island contained eighty-one thousand, the peninsula of Taiarapu contained half as many, or forty thousand five hundred, and the adjacent island of Eimeo or Moorea half of that of Taiarapu, or twenty thousand two hundred and fifty; which made one hundred and forty-one thousand seven hundred and fifty for the whole population.
Another method of calculation might have been used. Attahuru and Tettaha -- that is, the Oropaa and Tefana i Ahurai -- produced two hundred war canoes, one hundred and sixty from the Oropaa, forty from Faaa, besides the attendant small canoes, representing, on the South Sea habit of computation, ten thousand men. Assuming that the whole of this region from Papeete to Papara, thirty-six kilometres, produced ten thousand fighting men, the entire island, one hundred and ninety-one kilometres, should have produced fifty-three thousand men. Cook, by averaging districts, estimated sixty-eight thousand. The estimate by miles of coast is probably the one used by the natives, for the proportion of forty to one hundred and sixty is that of Faaa to the Oropaa, along the beach, about seven kilometres to twenty-eight.
On one point, at least, Cook and Forster could hardly have been deceived. They saw and counted a fleet of two hundred and ten large double war-canoes collected for an attack on Eimeo. Throughout Polynesia, as far as I know, the natives estimated each large war-canoe as carrying fifty men, at least. Less than that number could hardly have managed these great double vessels, from sixty to a hundred feet long, with platforms, which Cook measured and drew in pictures, and which old men still remember. Any native would certainly say that a fleet of two hundred double war-canoes carried, in round numbers, ten thousand men. Cook's estimate of nine thousand was low. In Tonga, thirty years later, Mariner gave aforce of five thousand men, besides a thousand women, for fifty large canoes, an average of more than a hundred to each canoe; and in one or two cases the Tahiti canoes held nearly two hundred men. Forster counted in the largest double canoes at Matavai one hundred and forty-four paddlers and eight steersmen, besides thirty warriors on the platform.
There cannot be a doubt that Cook knew quite well what he said when he estimated the force which set out against Eimeo, in 1774, at nine thousand men, drawn only from thirty-six kilometres of the coast. From this fact, which is perfectly well attested, we can form some idea of the population of Eimeo, and from this we can again make a guess at the population of the whole group. Eimeo or Moorea, as every one knows who has read Cook, or the Missionary relations, or Herman Melville's Omoo, is a small island, opposite Papeete and Faaa, with fantastic mountain peaks which, a dozen miles away or more, lend unreal and mysterious beauty to the sunset as we watch it from the Papeete shore. Eimeo is forty-eight kilometres in circumference, and now contains, or did contain in 1887, fifteen hundred and fifty-seven persons, all told, of whom about five hundred are men of military age, above fourteen and below sixty years. Eimeo is smaller in circumference than the peninsula of Taiarapu, in the proportion of forty-eight to seventy-two, but its proportion of cultivable land is larger; of thirteen thousand two hundred and thirty-seven hectares, three thousand five hundred are fit for cultivation and were cultivated in the past -- that is to say, about eight thousand six hundred and fifty acres. It is, in fact, one large extinct volcano, whose crater, in the centre, has become the richest and most beautiful valley in the South Seas, opening, through two magnificent bays, northward upon the ocean.
The army and fleet of 1774 were raised to attack not the whole island of Eimeo, but only the district on the north, on the bay of Opu-nohu, or Taloo Harbor, as it was often called. "They told us," said Forster, "that their fleet was intended to reduce the rebellious people of Eimeo (or York Island) and their chief Te-aree-tabonooee [Terii tapu nui] to obedience, adding that they would make the attack in a district of that island called Morrea." When Cook returned to Tahiti, in 1777 on his third voyage, he found that the people of Moorea "had made so stout a resistance that the fleet had returned without effecting much, and now another expedition was necessary." Cook himself visited Taloo Harbor in October, 1777, and saw Mahine, the chief of Opunohu, or, as he spelt it and as it is pronounced, Poonohoo. Mahine was only one of the four fighting chiefs of the island; Teriitapunui was another, and according to Cook, the war was waged by the Tahiti chiefs in order to support Teriitapunui against Mahine.
From this we know that a fleet and army of nine thousand men were not able to conquer Eimeo, or even a part of the small island. Mahine held his own, and must therefore have had a fighting strength nearly equal, if not superior, to his enemy. If one, or, at the most, two districts made such resistance, the whole island of Eimeo, with its forty-eight kilometres of coast and thirty-five hundred hectares of cultivated land, should have had a fighting strength at least one-third greater than the attacking districts of Faaa and Teoropaa, with their thirty-six kilometres. Evidently this was the case, since the army of Faaa and Oropaa failed to conquer one part of Eimeo, even with the aid of another part.
On this calculation Eimeo should have had a total number of about forty thousand inhabitants, and on the same scale Tahiti should have had one hundred and sixty thousand, which makes two hundred thousand in all, as Cook estimated it. At all events, one cannot resist the evidence that between one hundred and fifty thousand and two hundred thousand persons at the least were then living in these little islands where some twelve or thirteen thousand now exist. The population was known to be excessive even for a race so simple in its wants. A single bread-fruit tree was often owned by two or more families, who disputed each other's rights of property over the branches. Infanticide was habitual.
Taking the smaller number of one hundred and fifty thousand, and supposing that, on an average, every mile of coast supported a thousand persons, if the main island of Tahiti and its peninsula of Taiarapu contained a population of one hundred and twenty thousand people along its coast line of one hundred and twenty miles, the Tevas and their coanections must have numbered more than eighty thousand; but the four districts which belong to the inner Tevas -- Papara, Atimaono, Mataiea and Vaiari -- covering about thirty miles of coast, would, on the same scale, have numbered about thirty thousand only, and these are the districts which made the home of the Papara family whose chief was, when Wallis and Cook arrived, the head-chief -- Ariirahi -- of the Teva connection, or, as they thought, the king.
Every one who has tried to tell the story of Tahiti has had to struggle with this idea of kingship, and none has yet made it intelligible to Europeans. I shall not try, because the idea was so far from distinct in the islanders themselves that until one has dismissed from one's mind the notion of government such as Europeans conceived it, one must always misunderstand the South Seas. We believe ourselves to belong to the great Aryan race -- the race of Arii -- and our chiefs were Arii, not kings. I will not even use the word king, but, to escape the risk of misunderstanding, will speak of chiefs only by the native title of Arii, or, in the case of head-chiefs, Ariirahi -- Great Chiefs.
Whatever else the Ariirahi could or could not do, some of them had one right peculiar to their rank, and this was the right to wear the girdle of feathers, as much the symbol of their preeminence as the crown and sceptre of European royalty. In Tahiti the heads of two families had the right to wear the Maro-ura, or girdle of red feathers. These were the families of Vaiari and Punaauia. The Vaiari head-chief was officially called Teriinui o Tahiti; the Punaauia, a woman, Tetuanui e Marua i te Rai. The Papara head-chief had alone the right to wear the girdle of yellow feathers, the Maro-tea. These head-chiefs were sacred; wherever they appeared, inferior Arii or chiefs stripped themselves to the waist as a sign of respect, and, as the very ground the Ariirahi stood on became theirs, they were always carried on a man's shoulders when they went abroad, that they might not acquire the property of their neighbors. Yet, sacred as they were, probably none -- whether Teriinui, Tetuanui or Teriirere -- preserved the sacred character throughout the entire island. They were sacred only where they were among their own people or connections by marriage. Cook saw Teriirere of Papara with his father and mother (Amo and Purea) at Matavai, which is in Haapape, not a Teva district; and he saw the district chiefs strip themselves at Teriirere's approach; but this was because of a connection between the families. I doubt whether Teriirere would ever have been taken beyond Haapape or to Hitiaa, for in most of the eastern districts he was a stranger, and had neither a seat in their Maraes nor a claim on the hospitality of their chiefs.
The distinguishing mark of the Tevas was their clanship. They alone in the islands looked on themselves as a clan, and had a sort of union, weak at all times, but still real enough to make them unpopular outside their own limits. The eight Teva districts recognized Teriirere or Temarii of Papara as their political head, although Teriinui o Tahiti, the Vaiari chief, was socially the superior, and Vehiatua of Taiarapu was sometimes politically the stronger. Whenever Teriirere i Tooarai, the chief of Papara, sent his messengers to call the Teva districts together, the districts came; but the summons was so peculiar that it needs a whole volume of explanation.
In the first place, the messengers were political personages, such as I never heard of elsewhere. They were under-chiefs -- latoai. How many latoai formerly belonged to Papara I do not know; but in our day there are two subdistricts of Papara, Faina and Oropaa, and Faina has eight latoai; Oropaa has six. The whole body of latoai in each district are known as Hiva, and to any one who cares for the beginnings of things they are the most interesting part of our old society, for the Hiva of Papara might have been the source of all modern notions -- Parliament, Civil Service, Army, Law Courts, Police, Aristocracy, Democracy, and Commune. The latoai were the chosen fighting chiefs or warriors, and they had, as a part of their functions, the duty of punishing or revenging insults offered to the head-chief; but they could also, and sometimes did, depose and exile a head-chief and name another or recall the old one. Their interference in this way makes one of the most dramatic motives in island history.
The messengers whom Teriirere i Tooarai sent to summon the Tevas were latoais or under-chiefs of Papara, and of three kinds: one messenger for the home district, one for the inner Tevas, and one for the outer Tevas. They bore an official name while on service; they inherited the position, and the office might be filled by any member of the family to represent the actual head.
The messenger that summoned the inner Tevas went to Vaiari, or, as it is commonly called, Papeari (Vai and Pape both mean water), to the head-chief Teriinui o Tahiti, who wore the Maro-ura, the girdle of red feathers, and was the older and socially superior branch of the Tevas. The messenger delivered his message not to Teriinui o Tahiti, but to Maheanuu i Farepua, the same man or woman under another title. Maheanuu then came to Papara with Teihotua of Mataiea and Teriifaatau of Atimaono, and these three chiefs, with Teriirere, made the four heads of the inner Tevas.
The third messenger went to Vehiatua i te Matai of Hui and Taia-rapu, and Vehiatua called for the chiefs of the outer Tevas. In calling out the clans the names of the districts were rarely used; the official names of the head-chiefs alone were enough, but these names were really titles of rank, and sound quite unpronounceable to any but a native. In Taiarapu, for example, the head-chiefs ot the district first called (Vairao and Toahotu, next the isthmus) were Teahahurifenua and Moeterauri; the head-chief of Tautira was Tetuanui haamarurai; of Pueu, the title was Tetuanui Maraetata; of Afaahiti, it was Tetuanui Moearu. These chiefs or chiefesses represented the four outer Tevas, and came to Papara when summoned by Teriirere i Tooarai.
The Tevas had a common cry or signal call:
Teva te ua, Teva te matai,I suppose it means that Teva is strong and swift like rain and wind, and numerous like the roe of fish; but I do not know why Ahurei loved fish-roe.
Teva te mamari, e mamari iti au na Ahurei.
Teva the rain, Teva the wind,
Teva the roe, the roe dear to Ahurei.
At the time of Wallis's visit in 1767, Amo, or properly Tevahitua, was head-chief of Papara and of the Tevas; or rather his son Teriirere, born about 1762, was head-chief, and Amo exercised power as his guardian, according to the native custom which made the eldest child the head of the family immediately on its birth. Amo's power as head-chief depended much, on his good understanding with Vehiatua and the outer Tevas; but the power of a head chief was made up of so many elements and such shifting materials that nothing except the symbols could be reckoned upon as permanent. The name of Arii, or Ariirahi (head-chief) was much; the wearing of the Maro-tea or the Maro-ura was more; the seat in the Maraes was of great importance; the right to impose a Rahui or Taboo was essential; the power of calling the Tevas to conference or war was peculiar to the Papara head-chief; the military strength of the Tevas was irresistible if it could be united; but perhaps the most decisive part of every head-chief's influence was his family connection. Nowhere in the world was marriage a matter of more political and social consequence than in Tahiti. Women played an astonishing part in the history of the island. In the absence of sons, daughters inherited chieferies and property in the lands that went with the chief's names or titles, and these chiefesses in their own right were much the same sort of personages as female sovereigns in European history; they figured as prominently in island politics as Catherine of Russia, or Maria Theresa of Austria, or Marie Antoinette of France, or Marie Louise of Parma, in the politics of Europe. A chief-ess of this rank was as independent of her husband as of any other chief; she had her seat, or throne, in the Marae even to the exclusion of her husband; and if she were ambitious she might win or lose crowns for her children, as happened with Wallis's friend Oberea, our great-aunt Purea, and with her niece Tetuanui reiaiteatea, the mother of the first King Pomare.
The family connections of Papara extended almost round the island. The eight Teva districts, over which Papara had a sort of clan-headship, stretched from the Palisade of Taiarapu, at the extreme south of the island, to the border of Teoropaa, a large district lying next to Papara on the west coast. Teoropaa contained two divisions, now called Paea and Punaauia, covering some twenty miles of coast. Over these the family influence of Papara extended more decisively than over the outer Tevas of Taiarapu. Next beyond Punaauia came Faaa or Tefana i Ahurai, a very narrow district (the tail of the fish) and independent, though commonly allied with Papara. Turning the tail of the fish, the northwest corner of the island, next to Faaa came Pare, in which is the modern town of Papeete, formerly a mere village of the Porionuu, but now the capital of the French possessions in Oceania. Pare and its adjoining district Arue were called the Purionuu; they were under one chief and were independent of Papara. Beyond the Purionuu came the Te Aharoa, a wide region stretching down the whole east coast, where the Papara influence was weak, if not hostile. No great chiefs existed on that side of the island, which happened to be the side where the English and French ships appeared. Vehiatua in Taia-rapu was a great chief; so was the head of Vaiari and of Papara; so was Punaauia and Tefana i Ahurai; the chief of Pare Arue might be called important; but between the Purionuu and the isthmus of Taravao, forty-eight kilometres, the whole region called Te Aharoa contained no chiefery of the first class. Hitiaa alone was a considerable district, but its chief had not the right to the Maro-ura, and was never at the head of a great confederacy.
Thus the Tevas were not only strong in themselves and their connections, but also in the weakness of their rivals. The Papara head-chief was never head-chief of the whole island. When he called his dependent districts to war or feast or council, he called the inner and outer Tevas and the Oropaa, but not Tefana, the Purionuu or Teaha-roa. The kingship which Europeans insisted on attributing to him, or to any other head-chief who happened for the time to rival him, was never accepted by the natives until forced on them by European influence and arms; but the Tevas when united were always more than a match for the rest of the island.
Tahiti - Marau Taaroa & Henry Adams