National Geographic : 1919 Oct
VOL. XXXVI, No. 4 WASHINGTON OCTOBER, 1919 A VANISHING PEOPLE OF THE SOUTH SEAS The Tragic Fate of the Marquesan Cannibals, Noted for Their Warlike Courage and Physical Beauty BY JOHN W. CHURCH THREE thousand years or more ago a horde of savages drove their war canoes ashore on a group of volcanic islands lying in the South Pacific between 8° and 11° south latitude and 1380 and 14o° west longitude. Who they were or why they came; what of religion, custom, and tradition they brought with them on their remark able journey across the ocean, remains almost entirely hidden, probably forever, in the misty realm of conjecture. That they formed part of that hegira from the Asiatic Archipelago which peo pled so many islands of the South Seas with cannibal savages is established be yond doubt; and it has been asserted that the Marquesans were the first of the wan derers to leave their native land. Philology has demonstrated the link existing between all the Polynesians in habiting the South Pacific from Hawaii to the Malay Peninsula, and offers the interesting suggestion that Hiva, the na tive title for the Marquesas and incor porated in the names of three of the group (Nukuhiva, Fatuhiva, and Hi vaoa), is but a corruption of Siva, the ancient worship of Java. Of records or traditions of their life in their adopted home prior to their discov- ery by Mendana, the present-day Mar quesan is lamentably ignorant. I was in formed that one of the few investigators who have visited this remote group se cured, some fifty years ago, a matu tatua, or family genealogy, running back 135 generations, or about 4,000 years ! GALLANT DISCOVERER NAMES ISLANDS FOR HIS PATRON'S WIFE My efforts to verify this remarkable feat of Marquesan memory proved en tirely fruitless. Possessing no written language, having allowed their maies, or sacred groves, to fall into decay, and, un like the Tahitians, neglected to keep a record of their families and traditions by a system of orero, or bards charged with rehearsing and teaching them to each suc ceeding generation, the various tribes have lost practically all knowledge of their early history. In the year 1595 a Spanish fleet under the command of Alvara Mendana, sailing from South America in search of gold, discovered Fatuhiva, the southernmost of the eleven islands comprising the group. With commendable gallantry, the Span ish captain named the group Illas Mar quesas de Mendoza, in honor of the wife of his patron, Don Garcia Hurtad de EOATGRAPH MAGAZINE COPYRIGHT,1919, BY NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY. WASHINGTON,D. C.