The Ceremonies of an Indian Funeral particularly described: General Observations on the Subject: A Character found among the Indians to which the Ancients paid great veneration: A Robbery at the Fort, and its Consequences; with a Specimen of Indian Cookery, and various Incidents.
On the 5th, we kept his majesty’s birth-day; for though it is the 4th, we were unwilling to celebrate it during the absence of the two parties who had been sent out to observe the transit. We had several of the Indian chiefs at our entertainment, who drank his majesty’s health by the name of Kihiargo, which was the nearest imitation they could produce of King George.
About this time died an old woman of some rank, who was related to Tomio, which gave us an opportunity to see how they disposed of the body, and confirmed us in our opinion that these people, contrary to the present custom of all other nations now known, never bury their dead. In the middle of a small square, neatly railed in with bamboo, the awning of a canoe was raised upon two posts, and under this the body was deposited upon such a frame as has before been described: It was covered with fine cloth, and near it was placed bread-fruit, fish, and other provisions: We supposed that the food was placed there for the spirit of the deceased, and consequently, that these Indians had some confused notion of a separate state; but upon our applying for further information to Tubourai Tamaide, he told us, that the food was placed there as an offering to their gods. They do not, however, suppose, that the gods eat, any more than the Jews supposed that Jehovah could dwell in a house: The offering is made here upon the same principle as the temple was built at Jerusalem, as an expression of reverence and gratitude, and a solicitation of the more immediate presence of the Deity. In the front of the area was a kind of stile, where the relations of the deceased stood to pay the tribute of their sorrow; and under the awning were innumerable small pieces of cloth, on which the tears and blood of the mourners had been shed; for in their paroxysms of grief it is a universal custom to wound themselves with the shark’s tooth. Within a few yards two occasional houses were set up, in one of which some relations of the deceased constantly resided, and in the other the chief mourner, who is always a man, and who keeps there a very singular dress in which a ceremony is performed that will be described in its turn. Near the place where the dead are thus set up to rot, the bones are afterwards buried.