FRENCH CIRCUMNAVIGATORS, I
Rota is a regular jungle, an almost impenetrable mass of brushwood, above which rise thickets of rimas, tamarind, fig, and palm trees. Tinian, too, presents anything but an agreeable appearance. The French explorers altogether missed the charming scenes described in such glowing colours by their predecessors, but the appearance of the soil, and the immense number of dead trees, led them to the conclusion that old accounts were not altogether exaggerated, especially as the southern portion of the island is now rendered quite inaccessible by its dense forests.
At the time of Freycinet's visit the population of these islands was of a very mixed character, the aborigines being quite in the minority. The more highly born of the natives were formerly bigger, stronger, and better made than Europeans, but the race is degenerating, and the primitive type in its purity is now only to be met with in Rota.
Capital swimmers and divers, able to walk immense distances without fatigue, every man of them had to prove his proficiency in these exercises on his marriage; but although this proficiency has been in some measure kept up, the leading characteristic of the people of the Marianne group is idleness, or perhaps to be more strictly accurate, indifference.
Marriages are contracted at a very early age, the bridegroom being generally between fifteen and eighteen, the bride between twelve and fifteen. A numerous progeny is the result of these unions; instances being on record of twenty-two children born of one mother.
Not only do the people of Guam suffer from many diseases, such as lung complaints, smallpox, &c., introduced by Europeans; but also from some which seem to be endemic, or in any case to have assumed a type peculiar to the place and altogether abnormal. Such are elephantiasis and leprosy, three varieties of which are met with at Guam, differing from each other alike in their symptoms and their effects.
Before the conquest, the people of the Mariannes lived on the fruit of the rima or bread-tree, rice, sago, and other farinaceous plants. Their mode of cooking these articles was extremely simple, though not so much so as their style of dress, for they went about in a state of nature, unrelieved even by the traditional fig-leaf.
At the present time children still wear no clothing till they are about ten years old. Alluding to this peculiar custom, Captain Pages, writing at the close of last century, says, "I found myself near a house, in front of which an Indian girl, about eleven years old, was squatted on her heels in the full blaze of the sun, without a vestige of clothing on. Her chemise lay folded on the ground in front of her. When she saw me approaching, she got up quickly and put it on again. Although still far from decently clothed, for only her shoulders were covered by it, she now considered herself properly dressed, and stood before me quite unembarrassed."
Judging from the remains nearly everywhere to be met with, such as the ruins of dwellings originally supported by masonry pillars, it is plain that the population was formerly considerable. The earliest traveller who has made any reference to this subject is Lord Anson. He has given a somewhat fanciful description, which, however, the explorers in the Uranie were able to corroborate, as will be seen from the following extract.
"The description found in the narrative of Lord Anson's voyage is correct; but the ruins and the branches of the trees that have in some way twined themselves about the masonry pillars, wear now a very different aspect from what they did in his time. The sharp edges of the pillars have got rubbed away, and the half-globes that surmounted them have no longer their former roundness."
|Ruins of ancient pillars at Tinian.
(Fac-simile of early engraving.)
Of the structures of more recent date only a sixth part are of stone. At Agagna may be counted several buildings possessing some interest on account of their size, if not on that of their elegance, grandeur, or the fineness of their proportions. These are the College of St. John Lateran, the church, the clergy-house, the governor's palace, and the taverns.
Before the Spaniards established their sway in these islands, the natives were divided into three classes, the nobility, the inferior nobility, and the commonalty. These last, the Pariahs of the country, Freycinet remarks, though without citing his authority, were of a more diminutive stature than the other inhabitants. This difference of height is, however, scarcely a sufficient reason for pronouncing them to be of a different race from the other two classes; is it not more reasonable to conclude it to be the result of the degrading servitude to which they have been subjected? These plebeians could under no circumstances raise themselves to a higher class; and a seafaring life was forbidden to them. Each of the three castes had its own sorceresses and priestesses, or medicine-women, who each devoted her attention to the treatment of some one disorder; only no reason, however, for crediting them with any special skill in its cure.