South Seas Companion
|Longitude Min 140 54 W Latitude Min 18 15 S|
|The atoll of Hao is located in the central part of the Tuamuto archipelago, about 920 kilometres east of Tahiti.|
Aligned geographically northwest to southeast, Hao is a relatively large but narrow atoll about 55 kilometres in length with an average width of about 8 kilometres (the widest point is about 14.5 kilometres). |
It has one of the largest lagoons in what is now French Polynesia.
Coral reefs surround Hao, forming small islands covered with mangroves. The lagoon can only be entered by a narrow passage with swift flowing currents at the northern end of the atoll, known as Kaki.
The First encounter between Europeans and the inhabitants of Hao occurred in mid-February 1606 with the arrival of Portuguese vessels commanded by Pedro Fernándo de Quirós. In his journal, Fay Martín de Munilla records that,
There appeared a good deal of smoke and other signs of the island being inhabited. As the ships drew closer to the shore some natives appeared on the beach. The launch found bottom in ten fathoms. The General ordered the boats to go ashore with a party of armed men. When they reached the beach there were about thirty natives under arms. Signs of friendship were by both parties, and, as the natives were beckoning amd calling, two soldiers from the capitana decided to jump into the sea and swim towards them. On their reaching the natives reaching the natives, the latter at once threw down theil arms, which were lances and clubs. Then their king or cacique went towards the two Spaniards . He (the cacique) kissed them and embraced them with signs of great joy, and all the rest did likewise, amid great rejoicings and shouting and talking. Two more sailors jumped into the water from the almiranta, at no little risk to their persons, and all of them, by thus daring to go among their enemies, in addi-tion to braving danger from the sea, which in that part was exceedingly rough, caused us to marvel at their valour. The sea broke on a ridge of very sharp reefs. By God's help, our men, despite having jumped into the sea and run such risks, boarded their boats again, after giving the natives biscuits, cheese and some other things, such as cloth and garters, with which they were very pleased. Their pleasure was short-lived, when soon afterwards our men left them. By signs they told our men to return in the morning. None of the said natives was willing to get into the boats with the men. But it was wonderful to see the great liking they had now taken to us. As already men-tioned, the surf broke on these reefs and whenever the natives saw a large wave coming they warned us, telling the men to hasten away with the boats lest any mishap should befall us.
As it was already late and none of the natives wanted to come with us, we returned to the ships, after sounding all that part to find out if there was suitable anchorage for the ships (Kelley 1966: 1, 159-60).
That night the Portuguese, desperately short of water, sought to find a safe anchorage. However, after drifting perilously close to reefs they ran off the north-west coast of Hao the following day, followed by canoes within the lagoon. Conditions allowed de Quirós to send out a party for water. De Munilla records that
On reaching the shore they jumped into the water which was waist high. They walked about half a league, looking for fresh water without finding any. There were some palms and other very shady trees, especially in the place where apparently the natives had their graves [marae]. But their dwellings were over four leagues away from this spot, which was very peaceful, although there was no water. As it was interesting to see how curiously the natives decorated this place, I shall describe it. In the middle of a wood there was a small square surrounded by coconut palms soaring , to the skies and intertwined with them some very fresh green trees which formed a truly peaceful bower. In the centre there was something shaped like a tomb, twenty pies long and three pies broad, and along the borders there were clusters of stones very white as if they were coral, al-though (as I say) they were white whereas coral is red.
This native was a very strong man, muscular and of good stature. In spite of his being bound, four Spaniards could not manage him. He was taken back to the shore where the rest, all of them with their palm-wood lances each one measuring from 28 to 30 palmos long and pointed with stout and sharp fish-bones, were surging menacingly round our men, and demanding their king. Our men reassured them, making signs to them that they themselves had remained on the shore till he returned. This pacified them, and especially when they saw their king returning dressed up. As soon as he had landed he went to them and they began their wailing. When it was over he ordered them to get into line, and in two files they went to their canoes, the chief men going in the middle with their clubs and our men accompanying them until they embarked. There the cacique or king of these natives, by way of showing his gratitude for what we had given him, took a head-dress of jet black feathers which he brought out and sent to the General. To our great amazement it contained, too, tresess of very fair hair. He also sent some fish and water which they carried in coconut shells and when this was done they got into their canoes and the Spaniards into their boats. A pole made of cedar wood and some dogs like those of Castille were found there. The canoes of these natives were made in pieces, sewn together with hemp. The sails consisted of mats, and there was a counterpoise to prevent the canoes capsizing with the force of the waves (Kelley 1966: 1, 161-65).
The next European voyage to arrive at Hao was that under the command of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, in March 1767. In the published account of the voyage, Bougainville wrote of having seen
periaguas [dug-out canoes] in the kind of lake which this island forms; some sailing, others paddling. The savages in them were naked. In the eveining we saw a great number of islanders along the coast. They likewise seemed to have such long lances as the inhabitants of the first island threatened us with [i.e. armed men seen on Akiaki a day or so earlier] (Bougainville, Trans. Forster, 1772: 206-8).
Bougainvilles sense of the shape of the atoll led him to name it La Harpe (Harp Island).
Cook sailed along the southern side of the atoll on 6 April 1769. In line with his practice of giving uncharted coastal regions names ensuring their quick recognition by seamen, especially in bad weather, Cook chose the more universally serviceable mnemonic Bow Island.
A chart of Hao by Cook is now in the British Library (David, 1988: 101).
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Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000332