Fabre's Polynesian Vocabularies (1847)
(collected in 1845)
In his introduction to the small vocabulary, and in the brief epilog, Fabre presents geographical information which indicates that the natives were from Kuria, in the Abemama group. Eighteen years later, in 1863, virtually the entire population of this island was annihilated in an invasion by forces of Tem Baiteke, the notorious king of Abemama. However small, this vocabulary provides the earliest data for Gilbertese, and the only sample of the vocabulary of the dialect spoken on Kuria before its extinction. Historically worthy of analysis and comparison with other descriptions of the Gilbertese lexicon, it provides an appropriate vehicle for testing some new techniques of quantitative comparative analysis of linguistic lists.
June 1847, pp 156-176
Compiled in 1845 by M. Fabre,
Auxiliary Surgeon aboard the Corvette Le Rhin.----------
I. Vocabulary of the southern part of the Gilbert Archipelago (Francis-Chase and Hop Islands). -- II. Vocabulary of the Mulgrave Islands. -- III. Vocabulary of the harbor of Balade and environs (New Caledonia). -- IV. Vocabulary of the Wallis Islands, usable for the Loyalty Islands and New Caledonia.
I. Vocabulary of the Southern Part of the Gilbert Archipelago (Francis-Chase and Hop Islands)Preliminary note - July 19, 1845 at Lat 1°48' S, Long. 174°41' E, we picked up on Le Rhin six natives whom we found half-dead of hunger in a canoe about 60 leagues [240 km.] from any land. Once we had them on board, I was able to examine them at my leisure, and I recognized from their manner that they were Micronesians, which is not surprising considering that we were in the middle of the Gilberts. As I was the only one on board with any knowledge of Polynesian languages, I was able, with the aid of the Wallis and Zealand languages, to question them, and they answered that they lived in a large group of islands, and that they called their island Oneheke, and that they had been carried off by a hurricane, during which they had passed by one isle after another, until, for the past five days, they had lost sight of land. They wanted the Captain to bring them back to Oneheke, because their parents would be terribly grieved, believing them dead.
During the night, the cord which attached their canoe behind the ship broke; the Captain resolved to put them ashore as soon as possible. Since Oneheke was not marked on any chart, we set sail for Byron Island, to the northwest; but the winds refused us, and so we continued on our route, keeping the natives with us until our return to the Mulgraves, at which time we would deposit them on Nonouti, one of the Francis Islands belonging to Oneheke, which was no more than 30 miles from Nonouti.
During all the time the natives were aboard, by way of several gifts of pipes and tobacco, I was able to attach myself to one of the youngest, and at the same time the most intelligent, and it is by virtue of the conversations I had with him that I was able to form this vocabulary. I observed that the Micronesian language of the southern part of the Gilbert group, besides showing similarities in words with the languages of New Zealand and Wallis, had the same grammatical structure. This is what allowed me to converse with these people on the very same day they came aboard.
On our return to the Mulgraves, the Captain, believing that the natives were from Chase Island, made a landfall in the eastern part of that island. There he learned the position of Oneheke. On Chase Island, which the natives called Tamana, I learned, from a chief who knew English and who had sailed much, that 30 miles further south there was an island named Erorai where the natives spoke the same language as that on Tamana and Oneheke. He added that in his voyages in the southern part of the Gilbert Group, on all the islands where he had landed, the inhabitants spoke the same language as that of the people of Oneheke, Tamana, and Erorai.
NOTE: I have used the letters with their French sounds. The letter e is always the sound of the closed e.
Names of the islands in the Francis group:
Chase Island, as it appears on the charts, is called Tamana by the natives; it is found a few leagues further south than the Francis Islands.
The southernmost island of the Gilbert Group is called Erorai by the natives; it is only found on English charts, under the names Hop Island or Crocker Island.
Notes on the Islands mentioned by Fabre
Fabre states that the islanders reported living in a "large group of islands", and that "they called their island Oneheke." This, and his grouping of the island names, suggests strongly that they were from the group of three islands, Kuria, Abemama and Aranuka, located just north of the Equator between 173° and 174° E. Oneheke is most likely Oneke, the eastern islet of Kuria (Kouria). Apatouk may well be Abatiku, an islet of Abemama, and Pihike is no doubt Bike, another islet of Abemama (Apemahama). Takehangaean is probably Takaeang, an islet of eastern Aranuka.
Mounouti is probably a typo for Nonouti, which Fabre refers to, the next island to the southeast of the Abemama group. He makes no mention of Tabiteuea, the large island to the southeast of Nonouti, but his Toporarai may well be Tabuarorae, an islet of Onotoa (Onotoua), the next island to the southeast.
Fabre's Francis is Beru, and Byron, as he notes, is Nikunau. Chase is Tamana, and Erorai, Arorae, the southernmost of the Gilbert group (referred to on old charts as Hope, rather than Hop).
The Mulgraves are probably Mille (Mili) atoll, in the southern Marshalls. (A check of his Mulgrave Vocabulary should clarify this.)
The longitudes seem to be off. From his position Fabre puts Nikunau to the northwest, while it should have been to the northeast. Other directions (and distances) are also somewhat distorted.
Fabre's article appeared (in French) in the Revue Coloniale, June 1847, pp 156-176. (Bishop Museum collection PL/PhilPam/203)