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moerenhout : tahiti, 1834 
J. A. Moerenhout  : Tahiti, circa 1834.

Extracts from
Moerenhout, J. A.: Travels to the Islands of the Pacific Ocean.
Containing new documents on the physical and political geography, the language, the literature, the religion, the customs, the habits and the dress of their inhabitants; and some general considerations of their commerce, their history and their government since the most ancient times to the present.
Translated by Arthur R. Borden, Jr.
University Press of America Inc.
4720 Boston Way, Lanham, Maryland,  0706.
3 Henrietta Street, London,WC2E 2LU England.

Moerenhout, J. A.:
Voyages Aux Iles Du Grand Ocean,
contenant des documents nouveaux sur la geographie
physique et politique, la langue, la litterature, la religion, les moeurs, les usages et les coutumes de leurs
habitants; et des considerations g?;n?;rales sur le commerce, leur histoire et leur
gouvernement, depuis les temps les plus recu?;s jusqu'a nos jours (two volumes in one).
Adrien Maisonneuve, Paris, 1944.
First edition 1959.

Reprint of the 1837 original, in two volumes.

First identified as a surfriding report by Ben Finney: Ancient Tahitian Surfriding.
Bulletin de la Societe des Etudes Oceaniennes.
Numbers 127 and 128, Papeete, Tahiti, June - September 1959, pages 53 to 56.

J. A. Moerenhout was a merchant and diplomat  travelled from Valparaiso, Chile at the end of 1828 to the Pacific islands, spending most of his onshore residence on Tahiti.

His book is not a published journal, but rather a treatise composed following a return to France in 1834 and only briefly quotes from journal entries.
As such, the chronology is difficult to establish and Part II: Ethnography, (which contains the surfriding report) is based on the totallity of Moerenhout's readings and observations across Polynesia.

While the text does make several comparative references to Hawaii (the Sandwhich Islands), Moerenhout does not specifically record his landing there.
This may be indicated in the "Map drawn by Moerenhout showing the routes of the three voyages", which although listed as an illustrations as the Endplate (page ix) is not included in the 1993 edition at hand.
The Hawaiian references may be derived from Moerenhout's written sources.

The text certainly indicates the Moerenhout saw surfriding, however it is unclear if his observations were confined to Tahiti (the island of longest residence) or if surfriding was also noted on other islands.

The inclusive format adopted by Moerenhout in Part II  would tend to imply the activity was widespread.

There are journal entries that record a visit to Matavai Bay, the anchorage of Wallis, Cook and Bligh that had been superceded by Papatee by the time of Moerenhout's arrival, and while not recorded as a location for surfriding, its exposure to summer swells is noted..

Also note that the author's preface notes that Moerenhout had read "the works of the missionaries", including the Rev. William Ellis who reported surfriding at Fare, Huahine circa 1820.
There are some similarities in the two accounts.

Page xvi

Notes to the Author's Preface.
The second will present, under the title of Ethnography, all the remarks which my long stay in these countries and my relations with the inhabitants have allowed me to gather relative to their language, their religion, and their customs.
(Footnote) 4. I had at my disposal scarcely anything more than the works of the missionaries, some of which, it is true, offer interesting facts.
Mr. Ellis's, among others, has often indicated to me most significant points of my research.
Paris, June 1835.

Page 16
Volume One
First Part
Chapter One
Section IV: Pitcairn Island

Page 17

Notes from my journal, 1829.

"It was noon when I went down into the boat with one of the ship's officers, four sailors, two natives, and an Englishman who had lived for five years at Pitcairn.
We sailed close to the north-north-west coast.
On that day there was a strong gust from the north, which could be felt even in our water; the sea, rolling in long waves, also broke with such a din on the rocks with which the island is surrounded on all sides that it seemed unapproachable to us, even for the smallest boats.
We finally arrived at the watering place, but without being able to make out the little bay on account of the violence of the waves.
Then one of the natives, a young man about twenty-five years old, six- ...

Page 18

... foot tall, strong as Hercules, asked for the rudder, looked at the sea, and kept us stopped for several minutes while several large waves went by, each in turn raising our boat to its crest as if to break it with the wave on the nearby rocks.
After having three or four pass in that way, our young pilot, who hadn't stopped looking out at the distance, all of a sudden cried: Now, now, pull away, pull! and in less than nothing we found ourselves safe and sound in the little bay."

"I had left the boat, seeing around me only rocks almost like peaks, looking for some indication of a route or some kind of path and not being able to find one, when I heard the two islanders who accompanied us cry to the sailors: Save yourselves, Save yourselves!, and, turning around, I saw a horrible wave of more than twenty feet in height rollover them.
The natives held the boat with a long rope.
Our sailors were saved, but not without taking on part of the wave, which broke on the rock with the noise of thunder, hit, them, and caused them to be swept away.
I was a witness then of one of the most singular sights that I have seen in my life.
These two islanders, fixing themselves on the rock with their sinewy arms, held the boat's rope, looked calmly at the coming sea, and at a signal which they gave to each other crouched down simultaneously to let the mass of water rollover them.
I believed them to be lost when, a moment later, to my great astonishment, I saw them get up as if nothing had happened, a maneuver which they repeated up to three times; but then the sea, a little more calm, let them recall the sailors and let them leave with the boat from that little bay, which they then said was not safe on that day."

Page 23

"The boarding boat waited for me.
One of the natives again seized the helm to allow the boat to clear the pass, and as soon as we were led out he wished us good day and jumped into the sea.
He swam in the midst of waves and breakers with a skill which you would have to see to get a true idea of, and in a few minutes we saw him safe and sound on land."

Page 54
Volume One
First Part
Chapter One
Section VI: Lord Hood and Neighbouring Islands
Fragments from my journal, 1829.

Page 55

February 29. -"A strong current must have cast us to the west during the night because, in spite of the superior maneuvering of the schooner and a good breeze, in the morning we could scarcely gain the point where we had been yesterday.
At nine o'clock we were in the north-east and at a little distance from the land.
I then embarked in the small-boat, accompanied by three of the Pitcairn people, one of whom held the rudder, and four sailors.
Four other Pitcairn people were in their two little dugouts and were to land first in order to receive our boat at the time when it would reach the reef, to draw it more easily out of the middle of the breakers."

"In approaching the land our pilot had the boat stop for more than a quarter of an hour, not far from the reef, beaten by the sea with a rage which seemed not to be going to let us land, while a number of enormous sharks surrounded our boat, appearing to look at us as assured prey if the waves capsized us or broke us on the rock.
The men in the little dugouts had, however, already reached land and stayed on the reef, ready to receive us.
Seizing a favorable moment our pilot cried to the sailors to row, and finally carried by the crest of a wave which took us at a frightful speed, we landed in a few seconds on the reef, amid floods of foam."

Page 57

"That day was spent in preparations.
About four o'clock, when the schooner had got near the island, one of the dugouts was sent aboard with fish.
I was always astonished to see these men hazard themselves in those frail boats and face the strongest wave at such a great distance from the land.
they showed themselves, however, very calm, and they preferred them to the largest boats.
It is true that they count much on their skill in swimming.
In spite of their security I was never without fear, and was so much the more satisfied to see them return since it was the two youngest of the troop who lad been given the job."

Page 77
Volume One
First Part
Chapter Two
Section I
Number I: The Dangerous Archipelago
(Parata of the Indians)

Page 78
The second general observation to make on the inhabitants of the Dangerous Archipelago is that they have been accepted from time immemorial as the hardiest navigators of the area, by means of their large dugouts which often are more than a hundred feet long and are built on a plan which makes them much resemble our vessels because they have a keel, an interior timber work whose ribs determine the form of the boat, and which, bearing on the keel, have deck planks.
With these dugouts they travel over the seas for several degrees around about; but as they are too narrow for their length and their height, they attach two together, and then, by means of the platform in the middle, they get in width at least a third of their length.
They are pointed at both ends, and they do not tack to change direction, but they turn the sail and the rudder.
At Tahiti the same boats are used for travel, but to build them they have need of the inhabitants of the low islands.
They are called pahi, a name which today designates our ships.

Page 82

Volume One
First Part
Chapter Two
Section I
Number III:  Two Groups and Neighbouring Islands

Page 85
March 8 (1829). -"Yesterday morning I had noted how superior with respect to sight the islanders were who had accompanied us.
They first saw the island where Mr. Brock had landed.
At a distance where it was impossible for us to distinguish anything they indicated to us the precise point where that officer ocupied with the boat, and the use of the telescope proved to us the exactness of their indications.
This morning, in approaching the place where a fire was still burning, we were astonished to see neither the boat nor our people.
The captain and I took the telescope in turn, nothing; but our lndians, all at the same time and without hesitation, pointed out to us the west of the island, and what was our astonishment in directing the telescope to that point actually to see the boat in the open sea, but so far away that it could sarcely be discerned, even with the help of the instrument.
We steered Immediately for it, and in less than a half hour our people were aboard."

Page 86

Volume One
First Part
Chapter Two
Section I: Pitcairn IslandPart III
The Island Chain and Neighbouring Islands
(Todos los Santos of Bouchea; Anaa of the Natives)
Page 88
As for dugouts, I saw them everywhere in different shapes and different sizes, but the largest were those which they called pahi (ship) and which were used only for long voyages at sea.
They have always attached two together, with a platform in the middle.
These are immense boats, one of which measured seventy-five feet long and twenty-eight wide.
They are built on the same plan as our ships, with a keel, but rarely of a single piece, and provided with ribs attached to the keel in a manner analogous to that by which our builders nail the ribs of our ships.

Page 97

Part IV
Tiooka and Oura
(Taaroa and Taapouta of the Indians) and the neighbouring islands.

Page 100
As soon as it was light enough so that we could approach without danger, we steered toward the island and skirted the southeast coast about six o'clock, but nowhere did we see any trace of inhabitants or of divers.
To the south-west, however, we saw five or six people together.
I myself then went ...

Page 101

... the boat, and when we got very close, I recognized that it was three men, two women and a little boy, the only inhabitants of the island.
Since the sea was too high to be able to land on the reef and the noise of the waves did not allow us to be heard from that distance, I gave them a signal to come, but they refused.
Then my servant, born on the Marquesas, threw himself into the sea and, crossing the surf by swimming, arrived on the reef in a few minutes, where he was covered with caresses by the Indians, so gentle and simple when circumstances do not make them depart from their true character.

Page 136

1832 (August) Papara
 Page 141

"Nearly a year had passed and still no schooner.
We were in March, had been advertised for me for December or for January.
I was now certain that it was lost; what could I think of the extraordinarily delay of what had been advertised?
The affair was even more disturbing since from the nineteenth to the twenty-first of February we had very rough weather during a Russian boat, the Crorky, under Captain Haguemester, had almost been lost in the bay of Matavai.
These tempests, sometimes very violent, announced themselves a little in advance."

Page 144
Article II
The Second Voyage - 1832


Page 145

Before arriving at Point Venus we drew back a distance from the coast because of a reef which extends to the east of this point nearly two miles from land, being the more dangerous in that it is still hidden under the water.
A whaling ship had almost been lost there about two years before.

After having doubled this point we again hugged the land, skirted the reef indicated in all its north-west part by the waves which break over it continually.
We were close enough to see Matavia distinctly and the bay where in 1766 Wallis came to anchor, to the great astonishment of the islanders.
It was also in this bay, or rather in this roadstead, that Cook cast anchor each time he visited Tahiti.

On entering the pass Wallis touched on a rock or part of the reef which he called Bolphin's (sic, Dolphin) rock.
The reef exists today and has scarcely increased since, which can be explained, in my opinion, by its position in the center of the pass.
There is in fact a continual current there occasioned by the river, quite large at this spot, and by the sea water, which, dashed over the reef in all the eastern part, returns to the sea following the pass of Matavai.

This unsafe bay is used only by warships, which are in danger there from November to May.
I spoke in the tale of my first voyage to Tahiti of the serious damage which the Russian warship the Croky experienced there in 1830.

Page 316
Second Part: Ethanography
Chapter Three

Page 318

... what pleased them the most was to play in the water.
In that fiery climate water was for them a second element, in which they spent at least a quarter of their lives.
Scarcely had it been born when the mother carried her child to the river, and from that moment on until he could take care of himself she washed him several times a day; as a result children in general knew how to swim almost as soon as they knew how to walk.

Page 347

Chapter Three
Section III

Page 352

(Part ) III
General Festivities (Taupitim or Oron)

Page 356

It was the areois and the fatou note paupa which were most in favor and attracted the greatest crowd, although in several places there were a great number of other diversions, the principal ones of which were:

Page 357

4. The fatiti achemo vaa, a dugout race.
This was the favorite amusement of the inhabitants of Tongatabou and other Friendly Islands, and the superior performance of their dugouts made them just as formidable in sea fights as their swiftness in running in land battles.
Dugout races were not the custom at all in the Society Islands, and they were not held except in the great festivals and in the public merry-making.
For a purpose, as in the foot races, they had some flag, which the victor took away.
All the dugouts, whatever their size, could enter the contest, but never more than two at a time, from the smallest paddled by only two persons, to the double dugouts, which often had twelve to twenty.
Once the signal for departure was given the rivals' craft were followed by a great number of others, which had to keep behind them all the time; the people who were in them uttered cries and tried to encourage them, each one the backer of his side, along with the crowd, which kept on the shore or endeavored to follow the direction of the dugouts in their course.
The tumult continued to increase from the moment of their arrival, the moment in which a piercing cry from the conquerors was heard and from all those on their side, which they repeated up to three times, raising their arms and waving their flags and other objects in the air.
These demonstrations were repeated for each of the couples engaged in the contest; and from the pleasure which they seemed to take in this amusement, it was astonishing that it was not more generally extended.
In the Friendly Islands the dugouts also met with sails.
These games were so much the more brilliant in that they took place in a calm and serene time and in that the spacious bays formed by the coral reefs which surrounded all the islands were moreover natural bays, the most suitable in the world for that type of exercise. (18, see page 373)

Page 359

There were still a number of other common amusements, some of them daily, which didn't stop them from devoting themselves to them during solemn festivities.
These were:

3. The horoue or goroue,(19, see page 373) which consisted in letting themselves be carried by the ocean waves, keeping on the top.
The most agreeable amusement for them of all those which had been created for the water.
For its theater this exercise had openings in the reefs, places where the sea broke with the greatest furor.
Among all the feats or skills which men in different countries have succeeded in doing I know of none which surpasses this one or which causes more astonishment at first sight.
Generally they have a plank ...

Page 360

... three to four feet long with which they take to the sea at a certain distance, waiting for the waves, diving under those which are not strong enough, and letting several of them roll over their heads until a very high one comes along, which cries from the spectators on the shore announce to them, always gathered in great numbers along the shore.
Lying on their plank they wait for their wave, and at the instant when it approached them they give themselves a movement which lets them reach the crest, from which they are seen immediately carried with the rapidity of an arrow towards the shore, which you would think they would be thrown upon in tatters, but when they are very close, a little movement returns them and gets them to leave the wave, which at the same instant breaks with a crash on the sand or on the rocks, while the Indian afloat, and without ever leaving his plank, leaves while laughing to start his terrible play over again. Men and women love this diversion with a furor and practice it from their youngest years; some of them gain a skill which goes beyond all belief.
I have seen some of them in very bad weather jump to their knees on their plank and hold themselves so in equilibrium while the flood carries them with a terrifying speed.

Page 373

Notes to Chapter III
18. The inhabitants of the Friendly Islands attached such an importance to the construction of the dugouts intended to meet in these public contests that, after they had been launched and tried out, those which did not respond to their expectations and the speed of travel were immediately condemned and destroyed.

19. The g is pronounced as in Spanish.

Moerenhout, J. A.: 
Travels to the Islands of the Pacific Ocean.
Translated by Arthur R. Borden, Jr.
University Press of America Inc.
4720 Boston Way, Lanham, Maryland,  0706.
3 Henrietta Street, London,WC2E 2LU England.

Original French edition published 1837.

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2008) : J.A. Moerenhout : Tahiti, circa 1834.