Friday, 21st. Got the Copper Oven ashore and fixed it in the bank of the breastwork. Yesterday, as Mr. Green and Dr. Monkhouse were taking a walk, they happened to meet with the Body of the Man we had shott, as the Natives made them fully understand; the manner in which the body was interred being a little extraordinary. I went to-day, with some others, to see it. Close by the House wherein he resided when living was built a small shed, but whether for the purpose or no I cannot say, for it was in all respects like some of the Sheds or Houses they live in. This shed was about 14 or 16 feet long, 10 or 12 broad, and of a proportionable height. One end was wholy open, the other end and two sides was partly inclosed with a kind of wicker’d work. In this Shed lay the Corps, upon a Bier or frame of wood, with a matted bottom, like a Cott frame used at Sea, and Supported by 4 Posts about 5 feet from the Ground. The body was cover’d with a Matt, and over that a white Cloth; alongside of the Body lay a wooden Club, one of their Weapons of War. The Head of the Corps lay next the close end of the Shed, and at this end lay 2 Cocoa Nutt Shells, such as they sometimes use to carry water in; at the other end of the Shed was a Bunch of Green leaves, with some dry’d twigs tied all together and stuck in the Ground, and a stone lying by them as big as a Cocoa Nutt. Near to these lay a young Plaintain Tree, such as they use as Emblems of Peace, and by it lay a stone Axe. At the open end of the Shed was stuck upwright in the ground the Stem of a Plaintain Tree about 5 feet high, on the Top of which stood a Cocoa Nutt shell full of fresh water, and on the side of the post hung a small Bag, wherein was a few pieces of Bread Fruit roasted ready for eating. Some of the pieces were fresh and others Stale. The Natives did not seem to like that we should go near the body, and stood at a little distance themselves while we examin’d these matters, and appeared to be pleased when we came away. It certainly was no very agreeable place, for it stunk intollerably, and yet it was not above 10 yards from the Huts wherein several of the living resided. The first day we landed we saw the Skeleton of a human being laying in this manner under a shade that was just big enough to cover it, and some days after that, when some of the Gentlemen went with a design to examine it more narrowly, it was gone. It was at this time thought that this manner of interring their Dead was not common to all ranks of People, as this was the first we had seen Except the Skeleton just mentioned; but various were the opinions concerning the Provisions, etc., laid about the Dead. Upon the whole, it should seem that these people not only believe in a Supreem being, but in a future state also, and this must be meant either as an Offering to some Deitie or for the use of the Dead in the other world; but this latter is not very probable, as there appeared to be no Priest Craft in the thing, for whatever Provisions were put there it appeared very plain to us that there it remain’d until it consumed away of itself. It is most likely that we shall see more of this before we leave the Island, but if it is a Religious ceremony we may not be able to understand it, for the Misteries of most Religions are very Dark and not easily understood, even by those who profess them.
April 21, 2012
Friday, 21st April, 1769