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Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere, Vols. II - IIIVoyaging Accounts
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Endeavour Voyage Maps
James Cook
Joseph Banks

Of the Division of Time in Otaheite


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Of the Division of Time in Otaheite (continued)

In numeration they proceed from one to ten, the number of fingers on both hands; and though they have for each number a different name, they generally take hold of their fingers one by one, shifting from one hand to the other till they come to the number they want to express. And in other instances, we observed that, when they were conversing with each other, they joined signs to their words, which were so expressive that a stranger might easily apprehend their meaning.

In counting from ten they repeat the name of that number, and add the word more; ten, and one more, is eleven; ten, and two more, twelve; and so of the rest, as we say one and twenty, two and twenty. When they come to ten and ten more, they have a new denomination, as we say a score; and by these scores they count till they get ten of them, when they have a denomination for two hundred; and we never could discover that they had any denomination to express a greater number: neither, indeed, do they seem to want any; for ten of these amount to two thousand at greater number than they can ever apply.

In measuring distance they are much more deficient than in computing numbers, having but one term which answers to fathom; when they speak of distances from place to place, they express it, like the Asiatics, by the time that is required to pass it.

Their language is soft and melodious; it abounds with vowels, and we easily learnt to pronounce it: but found it exceedingly difficult to teach them to pronounce a single word of ours; probably not only from its abounding in consonants, but from some peculiarity in its structure; for Spanish and Italian words, if ending in a vowel, they pronounced with great facility.

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© Derived from Vols. II-III of the London 1773 edition: National Library of Australia call no. FERG 7243, pages 228, 2004
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