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ATA AND ATATA.

PART 11.

SLAYERS AND DESOLATION.

[by e. w. pajikeii.]

It was about the year 1862 when two vessels appeared in the offing. Accustomed as the Ata people were to the visits of whaling fillips they very naturally thought that these were whalers arriving for provisions. The captains and crews of such had always treated the people kindly, driving a hard bargain perhaps sometimes, yet still making themselves pleasant and sociable. They used to give cloth, coarse clothing, cheap rum, and tobacco in exchange for pigs, yams, bananas, and sweet potatoes. Each party must have received its quid pro quo, as the islanders were always satisfied, as, it is to be presumed, were the skippers of the ships. Even at the present time the type of feature of many of these islanders shows with what gusto the European was often received at Ata.

Some men swam off to the two ships which had just arrived so as to find out their requirements, which the crews of them said were many; and thev were told to bring off next day what was wanted.

A few of the people could understand and even speak a little English, for they had been often on board of the whalers "which cruised round Ata, and had stopped with them, sometimes for more than two months at a time. The chief Baula, who had been to Sydney, also spoke English, so knew that the crews of the two new arrivals did not speak it to one another, though they did when talking to the islanders. They were dark in complexion, it was . said, and rather small in stature. •

Next morning about a hundred men swam off with what provisions they had procured to a little distance off the shore. There they were met by the ships' boats, which relieved them of their loads. Several times was this done, until the boats were filled. They were then told to swim off to receive payment, for the boats were too full of produce to allow room for the natives to go in them, which the trusting batterers did.

When they arrived on board the sun was low, throwing a blinding train of brilliance from the westward across the offing, and in the centre of this band of light were the two ships, which were, therefore, not easily seen by those on shore, who were anxiously gazing seawards. Anxiously gazing not because they had aaiy suspicion of foul play, but because, like children, they wished and were impatient to see the cloth and glittering baubles which they were to receive. The light shed over the water by the setting sun was not, however, sufficiently blinding to prevent at least some of those left on the shore from seeing the two ships square their yards and glide away. The -watchers had' been promised that the boats would return with the goods and what natives could be stowed on board of them ; so now a shriek of horror and despair rose up from these watchers on the rocks. What did they care now for the property they thought they were about to receive? Nothing! Nothing!

Oh, our kindred! Our kindred!" they .wailed, and they had cause to wail, for they could see no swimmers striking out shorewards.

" Look! Look !" at last a woman screamed. "Look; see there!" as she pointed to a black speck gradually approaching, rising and falling on the swells heaving landwards. .All rushed down the precipitous declivity to meet the swimmer. He was the only one among the trusting barterers who had gone on board the slavers that ever saw Ata again. When he could speak, for he was much exhausted, lie showed to his kindred a broken arm ; broken, he said, by a blow when he was leaping from the ship. • When he had rested, and had his injuries attended to, ho related to his friends what had happened. '' When we had all arrived on board," said he, "we were told that thfv chief of only one ship would pay us, as this would save time. We were asked to go down into the hold where all the koloa (trade) was exposed, for us to choose from. I' got suspicious when I saw the sailors preparing the hatch, so that it might be easily and quickly put on. I shouted out my suspicions to those who had gone down before me into the blackness of the hole, which was lighted but by one small lamp. A rush was made by the others, who tried to climb out from it. But too late! I saw some of our kindred knocked back again into its depths, and! I rushed to the side and sprang into the sea, but not before I received a terrible blow from some blunt weapon which shattered my arm.". " Only you come back?" shrieked mamy mourning women. • " Only I, I think," he replied. • " I looked but once back to the wicked ship, and I saw another' man attempt to save himself as T had done, and I saw him struck as I had been, and with more violence, for he never rose again after he fell, or leaped, into the sea." "Who was he? who was-he?" wailed the women. "I know not," was the reply, "but had he not been killed or drowned he would be here now, for I was but a short distance from the ship when I saw him fall." It was. said that- these ships were Peruvian slavers. Where the unfortunate people were taken to was never ascertained with any certainty, but it was supposed to some guano island on the west coast of South America. This deduction from the population of the rock in mid-ocean caused a- terrible amount ■of distress, both physical and mental, to those who remained on it; for there was not a family which had not lost two or three of its members, and these the strongest and most vigorous.

Some months after this barbarous raid a ship pawed close to Ata. dn its way from Sydney to Tonga, and was communicated: with by the islanders, but Mot before they had ascertained with certainty that she was not another slaver. Two of; them- went in her to Tonga and reported affairs. The consequence was that King George chartered a large schooner to go to Ata, and to bring all who were there away from it and place them at Eua the Mi/ddleburg of Cook. Some were desirous for -removal, but many of them were adverse to st. But these latter, little as they liked leaving the rock they were born on, liked still less the prospect of remaining there when most of those they loved had gone. They were, therefore, shipped off with the others. Every domestic- animal was taken, save many fowls which it was impossible to catch. Not a cat or a oig was left behind. The Ata folk landed at E.ua, with their Lares and Penates, and houses were built 'or them. They were now on a. land worthy >f the name of land, and not on a rock; seagirt, and washed b mighty rollers, almost everlastingly, deafening; with the thunder of their breakings. The' Kan Ata numbered' about three hundred souls, but the old people to the day of their death regretted without ceasing the familiar scenes among which they had been "born, and froir ■ which they had been taken. / ' C:

This is the less to ba wondered at as very many died after their arrival at Eua. Tona is an illness which all native children, without any exception whatever, contract- in Tonga, but it is not at all dangerous when its victims are young. It had been unknown at Ate. The consequence was that shortly after they were settled at Eua\ young and old alike were seized by it,' and many - of the latter, and some middle-aged people,, succumbed to it. This further decreased > their number, and when the writer first sa-w them: they numbered but about two hundred. • <■; In fact, this. transplantation, though kindly meant, was not a'success.- For; years they were but exotics in the place: to which they were taken. They never truly amalgamated with the aboriginals ot their new place of abode. But'; at the /present time the members of the remnant that is left " of them sometimes intermarry with ; the ■ Eiias. and so in time the name of Ataman 1 will be obselete. -

Ata was very lately visited by Her Majesty's Vice-Consul who resides in Tonga. He and another landed, and were left there with sufficient provisions, and an Ataman as a guide. The latter had forgotten all about it, so was useless. They remained there for more than a week. They saw no pigs, but fowls, doves, and pigeons abounded, as did wild yams. The two first wero " so tame and , fearless that they too- no trouble to get out of the visitors' way. The pigeons, they said, were more wary, as perhaps they sometimes flew to the nearest laud, eighty miles away, where they could see their natural enemy, the human biped, with his gun, and, therefore, instinctively knew how dangerous he and his instruments of destruction were.

When the visitors landed on and departed from this deserted island- they had to be pulled with a rope nolens volens through an appalling surf, and when they were safe on board of the craft that had come to fetch them away they said that nothing would ever induce them to go to the place again. "For," said the reminiscents, still shivering from the effects of their involuntary wetting, but with hearts lightened at their escape scathless, " the sun-burnt cliffs of it are in form as frozen Labrador must be, and the height of them as the height of the immaculate ice-wall at the foot of Mounts Erebus and Terror."

Thus ' is Ata now as it 'was three hundred years ago—not a vestige on it of anything to show that human beings ever dwelt on it or died on it; for even the graveyard cannot be seen. The clear clarion of chanticleer, surrounded by his harem, the murmur of the dove cooing lovingly to his mate, mixed with that of the breakers spending themselves upon the rocks, are the only sounds now to be heard.on this deserted and desolate island in mid-Pacific. " Oh, Solitude, where are the charms That sages have seen on thy face, Better dwell in the midst of alarms Than reign in this horrible place."

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/NZH19030328.2.89.5

Bibliographic details

ATA AND ATATA., New Zealand Herald, Volume XL, Issue 12231, 28 March 1903, Supplement

Word Count
1,754

ATA AND ATATA. New Zealand Herald, Volume XL, Issue 12231, 28 March 1903, Supplement

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