POSITION OF THE ISLANDS—EARLY VISITORS AND TRADITIONARY ORIGIN.
Samoa is the native name of the group of volcanic islands in central Polynesia long known as the “Navigators Islands.” They are situated about 3000 miles from Sydney, and stand on the charts between the parallels of 13 deg. and 15 deg. south latitude, and 168 deg. and 173 deg. west longitude. The mountains of Savaii, one of which is 4000 feet high, may be seen 50 miles off, and, on coming near, the stranger finds a lovely island, 150 miles in circumference, and covered with vegetation as far as the eye can reach. The mountains of Upolu and Tutuila rise 2000 and 3000 feet above the level of the sea, and present the same aspect of richness and fertility. These are the principal islands of the group. They run east and west. Upolu, 130 miles in circumference, is in the middle, having Savaii 10 miles to the west; and Tutuila, an island 80 miles in circumference, about 40 miles to the east. There are several smaller islands which are inhabited, and several other isolated romantic spots here and there which are not inhabited.
Upolu is almost entirely surrounded by barrier reefs; these wonderful submarine walls, or breakwaters, built up to the level of the sea and forming a fine smooth lagoon, invaluable for fishing and facilitating all kinds of communication between the settlements along the coast. The distance between the shore and the reef is from thirty feet to three or four miles. In some places the lagoons are shallow, and require the rise of the tide to allow a canoe or boat to pass along; in other places, and particularly where there are openings in the reef, they are from ten to twenty fathoms deep, and afford anchorage to ships. The rivers are neither numerous nor large, but there is no lack of fresh water; it springs up in abundance in many parts in the interior and along the coast.
The Dutch “three-ship expedition,” under Roggewein, in 1722, seems to have been the first to notice these islands. Then followed the French navigators, Bougainville and La Perouse, the former in 1768 and the latter in 1787. Bougainville, seeing the natives move about so much in canoes, gave the group the name of the “Isles of the Navigators.” Captain Cook heard of them in 1773 from the Tongans, noted some of their names, and in 1791 they were visited by H.B.M. ship Pandora. Little, however, was known of these islands until 1830, when a mission was commenced there by the agents of the London Missionary Society.
The natives, who number about 35,000, are of the prevailing light copper colour of central and eastern Polynesia. Hardly a vestige is to be seen among them of the crisped and woolly-haired dark-brown Papuans, or western Polynesian negroes. But as the physical characteristics and languages of central and eastern Polynesia are well known, I pass on to other and traditionary matters, and begin with what the Samoans have to say on cosmogony and man.