TOBI, OR LORD NORTH's ISLAND
This island, which forms the southwestern extremity of the Micronesian range, is situated in about latitude 3° 2' N., and longitude 131° 4' E. It is a small, low islet, about three miles in circumference, with a population of between three and four hundred souls. Our information concerning it is derived from an American, by name Horace Holden, who, with eleven companions, after suffering shipwreck, reached the island in a boat, and was taken captive by the natives. He was detained by them two years, from December 6, 1832, to November 27, 1834, when he made his escape and returned to America, where he published, in a small volume, an interesting narrative of his adventures and sufferings, with a description of the island and its inhabitants. Appended to the book is a vocabulary of the language, drawn up with care by the Hon. John Pickering of Boston, whose name is a sufficient guarantee for its correctness.
I met Mr. Holden at Boston, two years after his return, and in several conversations with him obtained some information on points not noticed in his published narrative, together with an addition to the vocabulary of a number of words which he was able, from time to time, to call to mind. It has seemed to me, therefore, that a brief account of the natives of this island would not be out of place here, more especially as it will serve to prove the striking similarity of traits and customs which prevail from one extremity of the Caroline Islands to the other.
"The complexion of the natives," says Holden in his narrative, "is a light copper colour, --much lighter than that of the Malays or the Pelew islanders, which last, however, they resemble in the breadth of their faces, high cheek-bones, and broad flattened noses." Here we observe, what has been before remarked of the Polynesian tribes, that the lightest complexion is found among those who are nearest the equator.
The natives worship a deity whom they term yaris, in which we perhaps see the aniti or anis of the Ladrone and Radack Islands. According to the native traditions, a personage, by name Pita-kät (or Peeter Kart), of copper colour like themselves, "came many years ago from the island of Ternate (one of the Moluccas), and gave them their religion, and such simple arts as they possessed." It is probably to him that we are to attribute some peculiarities in their mode of worship, such as their temple, with rude images to represent the divinity. " In the centre, suspended from the roof, is a sort of altar, into which they suppose their deity comes to hold converse with the priest." The temple is called vere yaris, or spirit-house. In this word vere we recognise the Polynesian fale or fare, house, (Vitian, vale,) used here only in this connexion,--the ordinary word for dwelling being yim, the im of the other Caroline Islands. So, too, the natives wear the Polynesian girdle of bark-cloth, which they call by the well-known name of tapa. They have, too, the word tabu, signifying a sacred place. These facts are valuable, as, combined with many other indications which will be hereafter noted, they seem to show that the original inhabitants of the Moluccas (who are distinct from the intruding Malay conquerors) were a race more nearly allied to the Polynesians than the other tribes of Malaisia.
"Their implements of war are spears and clubs; they have no bows and arrows. Their spears are made of the wood of the cocoanut tree; the points of them are set with rows of sharks' teeth; and being at the same time very heavy, and from ten to twenty feet long, they are formidable weapons." These spears armed with sharks' teeth are found throughout the Micronesian groups, and may be termed the national weapon, as the bow is of the black race; for though they were not entirely unknown to the Polynesians, they were yet so rare that we saw but three or four in the course of our voyage, and those only at the Navigator and the Depeyster Group.
The houses of the natives are built of small trees and rods, and thatched with leaves. They have two stories, a ground floor and a loft, which is entered by a hole or scuttle through the horizontal partition, or upper floor.
For ornament, they sometimes wear in their ears, which are always bored, a folded leaf; and round their necks a necklace made of the shell of the cocoa-nut and a small white sea-shell. These last are no doubt the circular "beads" before described, although the mode of wearing them is unusual.
They live principally on cocoa-nuts, with a few taro roots, which they raise, with great difficulty, in trenches dug in the sand. Their supply of fish is small, and only five turtle were taken while Holden was on the island. "These constitute the slender means of their support; and they are thus barely kept from actual death by famine, but on the very verge of starvation." It is to this state of misery in which they are constantly kept that we must attribute the cruel disposition which they manifest. The unfortunate captives were treated with great harshness, and compelled to toil in the severest drudgery, with barely sufficient food to support life. In fact, some of them died of the sufferings thus inflicted. It is remarkable that the women were more active in this ill-treatment than the men. We shall have occasion to note a similar fact in the Mulgrave Islands, at the other extremity of this region. The men, on Tobi, perform much of the domestic labour which is elsewhere left to the women.
The bodies of the dead, except of very young children, are laid in a canoe, and committed to the ocean. The reason of this custom Holden did not know. It seems likely, from what will be stated in another place, that the canoe is intended to convey the deceased to the land of spirits, and that young children are not sent because they are esteemed incapable of guiding it.
It should be mentioned that the release of the four Americans who survived (two of whom got free a short time after their capture) was voluntary on the part of the natives, a fact which shows that the feelings of humanity were not altogether extinct in their hearts. Indeed, although the sufferings of the captives were very great, it does not. appear that they were worse relatively to the condition in which the natives themselves lived, than they would have been on any other island of the Pacific. Men who were actually dying of starvation, like the people of Tobi, could not be expected to exercise that kindness towards others which nature refused to them.