FRENCH CIRCUMNAVIGATORS, I
After this, luxurious dinners became quite the rage at Guam. Two days subsequent to the governor's banquet, the officers found themselves at a dinner-party of fifty guests, where no less than forty-four separate dishes were served at each of the three courses of which the dinner consisted. Freycinet, from information he had received, relates that "this dinner cost the lives of two oxen and three fat pigs, to say nothing of poultry, game, and fish. Such a slaughter, I should think, has not been known since the marriage-feast of Gamache. No doubt our host considered that persons who had undergone so many privations during a protracted voyage ought to be compensated with an unusually profuse entertainment. The dessert showed no falling off either in abundance or in variety; it was succeeded by tea, coffee, creams, liqueurs of every description; and as the 'Refresco' had been served as usual an hour previous to dinner, it will be admitted without question that at Guam the most intrepid gourmand could find no other cause for disappointment but the limited capacity of the human stomach."
However, the objects of the mission were not interfered with by all this dining and festivity. Natural history excursions, magnetical observations, the geographical survey of the island of Guam, entrusted to Duperrey, were all being pushed forward simultaneously. But in the meantime the corvette had got to moorings in the deep water off the port of St. Louis, while the chief of the Staff, as well as the sick, were housed at Agagna, the capital of the island and the seat of government. At that place, in honour of the French visitors, cock-fights took place, a kind of sport very popular in all the Spanish possessions in Oceania; dances also were given, the figures in which, it was said, contained allusions to events in the history of Mexico. The dancers, students of the Agagna college, were dressed in rich silks, imported a long time previously by the Jesuits from New Spain. Then came combats with sticks in which the Carolins took part; which again were succeeded, almost uninterruptedly by other amusements. But what Freycinet considered of most value was the mass of information concerning the customs and manners of the former inhabitants of the islands, which he obtained through Major D. Luis Torrès; who, himself born in the country, had made a constant study of this subject. Of this interesting information use will be made when the subject is presently resumed, but first some notice must be taken of an excursion to the islands Rota and Tinian, the latter of which had already become known to us through the narratives of former travellers.
|A performer of the dances of Montezuma.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)
On the 22nd April a small fleet of eight proas conveyed MM. Berard, Gaudichaud, and Jacques Arago to Rota, where their arrival occasioned great surprise and alarm, explained by the fact that a report had gained currency in the island that the corvette was manned with rebels from America.
Beyond Rota the proas reached Tinian, where the arid plains recalled to the travellers the desolate coasts of the land of Endracht, testifying to the considerable changes that must have taken place there since the time when Lord Anson described the place as a terrestrial Paradise.
The Marianne archipelago was discovered by Magellan on the 6th March, 1521, and at first received the name of Islas de las velas latinas, the Isles of the lateen sails, but subsequently that of the Ladrones, or the Robbers. If one may trust Pigafetta, the illustrious admiral saw no islands but Tinian, Saypan, and Agoignan. Five years later they were visited by the Spaniard Loyasa, whose cordial reception was quite a contrast to that of Magellan; and in 1565 the islands were declared to be Spanish territory by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. It was not, however, until 1669 that they were colonized and evangelized by Father Sanvitores. It will be understood that we should not follow Freycinet's narrative of past events in the history of this archipelago, were it not that the manuscripts and works of every kind which he was permitted to consult enabled him to treat the subject de novo, and throw upon it the light of real knowledge.
The admiration, still lingering in the minds of the travellers, which had been aroused by the incredible fertility of the Papuan Islands and the Moluccas was no doubt calculated to weaken the impression produced by any of the Marianne Islands. The forests of Guam, though well stocked, did not present the gigantic appearance common to forest scenery in the tropics. They extended over a large part of the island, yet there were also immense spaces devoted to pasturage, where not a breadfruit-tree nor a cocoa-nut palm was to be seen. In the depths of the forests, moreover, the conquerors of the islands had created artificial glades, in order that the herds of horned cattle which they had introduced might find food and also enjoy shelter from the sun.
Agoignan, an island with a very rocky coast, presented from a distance an arid and barren appearance, but is in reality thickly clothed with trees even to the summit of its highest mountains.