The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of German New Guinea
I FEEL that I cannot begin my second course of lectures without referring to the loss which the study of primitive religion has lately sustained by the death of one of my predecessors in this chair one who was a familiar and an honoured figure in this place Mr. Andrew Lang. Whatever may be the judgement of posterity on his theories—and all our theories on these subjects are as yet more or less tentative and provisional—there can be no question but that by the charm of his writings the wide range of his knowledge the freshness and vigour of his mind and the contagious enthusiasm which he brought to bear on whatever he touched he was a great power in promoting the study of primitive man not in this country only but wherever the English language is spoken and that he won for himself a permanent place in the history of the science to which he devoted so much of his remarkable gifts and abilities. As he spent a part of every winter in St. Andrews I had thought in the course on which I enter to-day I might perhaps be honoured by his presence at some my lectures. But it was not to be. Yet a fancy strikes me to which I will venture to give utterance. You may condemn but I am sure you will not smile at it. It has been said of Macaulay that if his spirit ever revisited the earth it might be expected to haunt the flagged walk beside the chapel in the great court of Trinity College Cambridge the walk which in his lifetime he loved to pace book in hand. And if Andrew Lang's spirit could be seen flitting pensively anywhere would it not be just here in “the college of the scarlet gown” in the “little city worn and grey” looking out on the cold North Sea the city which he knew and loved so well? Be that as it may his memory will always be associated with St. Andrews; and if the students who shall in future go forth from this ancient university to carry St. Andrew's Cross if I may say so on their banner in the eternal warfare with falsehood and error—if they cannot imitate Andrew Lang in the versatility of his genius in the variety of his accomplishments in the manifold graces of his literary art it is to be hoped that they will strive to imitate him in qualities which are more within the reach of us all in his passionate devotion to knowledge in his ardent and unflagging pursuit of truth.
Review of preceding lectures.
In my last course of lectures I explained that I proposed to treat of the belief in immortality from a purely historical point of view. My intention is not to discuss the truth of the belief or to criticise the grounds on which it has been maintained. To do so would be to trench on the province of the theologian and the philosopher. I limit myself to the far humbler task of describing first the belief as it has been held by some savage races and second some of the practical consequences which these primitive peoples have deduced from it for the conduct of life whether these consequences take the shape of religious rites or moral precepts. Now in such a survey of savage creed and practice it is convenient to begin with the lowest races of men about whom we have accurate information and to pass from them gradually to higher and higher races because we thus start with the simplest forms of religion and advance by regular gradations to more complex forms and we may hope in this way to render the course of religious evolution more intelligible than if we were to start from the most highly developed religions and to work our way down from them to the most embryonic. In pursuance of this plan I commenced my survey with the aborigines of Australia because among the races of man about whom we are well informed these savages are commonly and I believe justly supposed to stand at the foot of the human scale. Having given you some account of their beliefs and practices concerning the dead I attempted to do the same for the islanders of Torres Straits and next for the natives of British New Guinea. There I broke off and to-day I shall resume the thread of my discourse at the broken end by describing the beliefs and practices concerning the dead as these beliefs are entertained and these practices observed by the natives of German New Guinea.
German New Guinea.
As you are aware the German territory of New Guinea skirts the British territory on the north throughout its entire length and comprises roughly a quarter of the whole island the British and German possessions making up together the eastern half of New Guinea while the western half belongs to Holland.
Information as to the natives of German New Guinea.
Our information as to the natives of German New Guinea is very fragmentary and is confined almost entirely to the tribes of the coast. As to the inhabitants of the interior we know as yet very little. However German missionaries and others have described more or less fully the customs and beliefs of the natives at various points of this long coast and I shall extract from their descriptions some notices of that particular aspect of the native religion with which in these lectures we are specially concerned. The points on the coast as to which a certain amount of ethnographical information is forthcoming are to take them in the order from west to east Berlin Harbour Potsdam Harbour Astrolabe Bay the Maclay Coast Cape King William Finsch Harbour and the Tami Islands in Huon Gulf. I propose to say something as to the natives at each of these points beginning with Berlin Harbour the most westerly of them.
The island of Tumleo.
Berlin Harbour is formed by a group of four small islands which here lie off the coast. One of the islands bears the name of Tumleo or Tamara and we possess an excellent account of the natives of this island from the pen of a Catholic missionary Father Mathias Josef Erdweg1
which I shall draw upon in what follows. We have also a paper by a German ethnologist the late Mr. R. Parkinson on the same subject2
but his information is in part derived from Father Erdweg and he appears to have erred by applying too generally the statements which Father Erdweg strictly limited to the inhabitants of Tumleo.3
The natives of Tumleo their material and artistic culture.
The island of Tumleo lies in 142° 25″of East Longitude and 3° 15″ of South Latitude and is distant about sixty sea-miles from the westernmost point of German New Guinea. It is a coral island surrounded by a barrier reef and rising for the most part only a few feet above the sea.4
In stature the natives fall below the average European height; but they are well fed and strongly built. Their colour varies from black to light brown. Their hair is very frizzly. Women and children wear it cut short; men wear it done up into wigs. They number less than three hundred divided into four villages. The population seems to have declined through wars disease and infanticide.5
Like the Papuans generally they live in settled villages and engage in fishing agriculture and commerce. The houses are solidly built of wood and are raised above the ground upon piles which consist of a hard and durable timber sometimes iron-wood.6
The staple food of the people is sago which they obtain from the sago-palm. These stately palms with their fan-like foliage are rare on the coral island of Tumleo but grow abundantly in the swampy lowlands of the neighbouring mainland. Accordingly in the months of May and June when the sea is calm the natives cross over to the mainland in their canoes and obtain a supply of sago in exchange for the products of their island. The sago is eaten in the form both of porridge and of bread.7
Other vegetable foods are furnished by sweet potatoes taro yams bananas sugar-cane and coco-nuts all of which the natives cultivate.8
Fishing is a principal industry of the people; it is plied by both sexes and by old and young with nets spears and bows and arrows.9
Pottery is another flourishing industry. As among many other savages it is practised only by women but the men take the pots to market; for these islanders do a good business in pots with the neighbouring tribes.10
They build large outrigger canoes which sail well before the wind but can hardly beat up against it being heavy to row. In these canoes the natives of Tumleo make long voyages along the coast; but as the craft are not very seaworthy they never stand out to sea if they can help it but hug the shore in order to run for safety to the beach in stormy weather.11
In regard to art the natives display some taste and skill in wood-carving. For example the projecting house-beams are sometimes carved in the shape of crocodiles birds and grotesque human figures; and their canoes paddles head-rests drums drumsticks and vessels are also decorated with carving. Birds fish crocodiles foliage and scroll-work are the usual patterns.12
The temples (parks) of Tumleo.
A remarkable feature in the villages of Tumleo and the neighbouring islands and mainland consists of the paraks
or temples the high gables of which may be seen rising above the bushes in all the villages of this part of the coast. No such buildings exist elsewhere in this region. They are set apart for the worship of certain guardian spirits and on them the native lavishes all the resources of his elementary arts of sculpture and painting. They are built of wood in two storeys and raised on piles besides. The approach to one of them is always by one or two ladders provided on both sides with handrails or banisters. These banisters are elaborately decorated with carving which is always of the same pattern. One banister is invariably carved in the shape of a crocodile holding a grotesque human figure in its jaws while on the other hand the animal's tail is grasped by one or more human figures. The other banister regularly exhibits a row of human or rather ape-like effigies seated one behind the other each of them resting his arms on the shoulders of the figure in front. Often there are seven such figures in a row. The natives are so shy in speaking of these temples that it is difficult to ascertain the meaning of the curious carvings by which they are adorned. Mr. Parkinson supposed that they represent spirits not apes. He tells us that there are no apes in New Guinea. The interior of the temple (parak
) is generally empty. The only things to be seen in its two rooms the upper and lower are bamboo flutes and drums made out of the hollow trunks of trees. On these instruments men concealed in the temple discourse music in order to signify the presence of the spirit.13
The bachelors’ houses (alols) of Tumleo.
Different from these paraks
or temples are the alols
which are bachelors’ houses and council-houses in one. Like the temples they are raised above the ground and approached by a ladder but unlike the temples they have only one storey. In them the unmarried men live and the married men meet to take counsel and to speak of things which may not be mentioned before women. On a small stand or table in each of these alols
or men's clubhouses are kept the skulls of dead men. And as the temple (parak
) is devoted to the worship of spirits so the men's clubhouse (alol
) is the place where the dead ancestors are worshipped. Women and children may not enter it but it is not regarded with such superstitious fear as the temple. The dead are buried in their houses or beside them. Afterwards the bones are dug up and the skulls of grown men are deposited along with one of the leg bones on the stand or table in the men's clubhouse (alol
). The skulls of youths women and children are kept in the houses where they died. When the table in the clubhouse is quite full of grinning trophies of mortality the old skulls are removed to make room for the new ones and are thrown away in a sort of charnel-house where the other bones are deposited after they have been dug up from the graves. Such a charnel-house is called a tjoll pàru
. There is one such place for the bones of grown men and another for the bones of women and children. Some bones however are kept and used as ornaments or as means to work magic with. For the dead are often invoked for example to lay the wind or for other useful purposes; and at such invocations the bones play a part.14
Spirits of the dead thought to be the causes of sickness and disease.
But while the spirits of the dead are thus invited to help their living relations and friends they are also feared as the causes of sickness and disease. Any serious ailment is usually attributed to magic or witchcraft and the treatment which is resorted to aims rather at breaking the spell which has been cast on the sick man than at curing his malady by the application of physical remedies. In short the remedy is exorcism rather than physic. Now the enchantment under which the patient is supposed to be labouring is often though not always ascribed to the malignant arts of the spirits of the dead or the mōs
as the natives of Tumleo call them. In such a case the ghosts are thought to be clinging to the body of the sufferer and the object of the medical treatment is to detach them from him and send them far away. With this kindly intention some men will go into the forest and collect a number of herbs including a kind of peppermint. These are tied into one or more bundles according to the number of the patients and then taken to the men's clubhouse (alol
) where they are heated over a fire. Then the patient is brought and two men strike him lightly with the packet of herbs on his body and legs while they utter an incantation inviting the ancestral spirits who are plaguing him to leave his body and go away in order that he may be made whole. One such incantation freely translated runs thus: “Spirit of the great-grandfather of the father come out! We give thee coco-nuts sago-porridge fish. Go away (from the sick man). Let him be well. Do no harm here and there. Tell the people of Leming (O spirit) to give us tobacco. When the waves are still we push off from the land sailing northward (to Tumleo). It is the time of the north-west wind (when the surf is heavy). May the billows calm down in the south O in the south on the coast of Leming that we may sail to the south to Leming! Out there may the sea be calm that we may push off from the land for home!” In this incantation a prayer to the spirit of the dead to relax his hold on the sufferer appears to be curiously combined with a prayer or spell to calm the sea when the people sail across to the coast of Leming to fetch a cargo of tobacco. When the incantation has been recited and the patient stroked with the bundle of herbs one of his ears and both his armpits are moistened with a blood-red spittle produced by the chewing of betel-nut pepper and lime. Then they take hold of his fingers and make each of them crack one after the other while they recite some of the words of the preceding incantation. Next three men take each of them a branch of the volju
tree bend it into a bow and stroke the sick man from head to foot while they recite another incantation in which they command the spirit to let the sick man alone and to go away into the water or the mud. Often when a man is seriously ill he will remove from his own house to the house of a relation or friend hoping that the spirit who has been tormenting him will not be able to discover him at his new address.15
Burial and mourning customs in Tumleo.
If despite of all these precautions the patient should die he or she is placed in a wooden coffin and buried with little delay in a grave which is dug either in the house or close beside it. The body is smeared all over with clay and decked with many rings or ornaments most of which however are removed in a spirit of economy before the lid of the coffin is shut down. Sometimes arrows sometimes a rudder sometimes the bones of dead relations are buried with the corpse in the grave. When the grave is dug outside of the house a small hut is erected over it and a fire is kept burning on it for a time. In the house of mourning the wife sister or other female relative of the deceased must remain strictly secluded for a period which varies from a few weeks to three months. In token of mourning the widow's body is smeared with clay and from time to time she is heard to chant a dirge in a whining melancholy tone. This seclusion lasts so long as the ghost is supposed to be still on his way to the other world. When he has reached his destination the fire is suffered to die down on the grave and his widow or other female relative is free to quit the house and resume her ordinary occupations. Through her long seclusion in the shade her swarthy complexion assumes a lighter tint but it soon deepens again when she is exposed once more to the strong tropical sunshine.16
Beliefs of the Tumleo people as to the fate of the human soul after death.
The people of Tumleo firmly believe in the existence of the human soul after death though their notions of the disembodied soul or mōs
as they call it are vague. They think that on its departure from the body the soul goes to a place deep under ground where there is a great water. Over that water every soul must pass on a ladder to reach the abode of bliss. The ladder is in the keeping of a spirit called Su asin tjakin
or “the Great Evil” who takes toll of the ghosts before he lets them use his ladder. Hence an ear-ring and a bracelet are deposited with every corpse in the grave in order that the dead man may have wherewithal to pay the toll to the spirit at the great water. When the ghost arrives at the place of passage and begs for the use of the ladder the spirit asks him “Shall I get my bracelet if I let you pass?” If he receives it and happens to be in a good humour he will let the ghost scramble across the ladder to the further shore. But woe to the stingy ghost who should try to sneak across the ladder without paying toll. The ghostly tollkeeper detects the fraud in an instant and roars out “So you would cheat me of my dues? You shall pay for that.” So saying he tips the ladder up and down falls the ghost plump into the deep water and is drowned. But the honest ghost who has paid his way like a man and arrived on the further shore is met by two other ghosts who ferry him in a canoe across to Sisano which is a place on the mainland a good many miles to the north of Tumleo. A great river flows there and in the river are three cities of the dead in one of which the newly arrived ghost takes up his abode. Then it is that the fire on his grave is allowed to go out and his widow may mingle with her fellows again. However the ghosts are not strictly confined to the spirit-land. They can come back to earth and roam about working good or evil for the living and especially for their friends and relations.17
Monuments to the dead in Tumleo.
Disinterment of the bones.
It is perhaps this belief not only in the existence but in the return of the spirits of the dead which induces the survivors to erect monuments or memorials to them. In Tumleo these monuments consist for the most part of young trees which are cut down stripped of their leaves and set up in the ground beside the house of the deceased. The branches of such a memorial tree are hung with fruits coco-nuts loin-cloths pots and personal ornaments all of which we may suppose are intended for the comfort and convenience of the ghost when he returns from deadland to pay his friends a visit.18
But the remains of the dead are not allowed to rest quietly in the grave for ever. After two or three years they are dug up with much ceremony at the point of noon when the sun is high overhead. The skull of the deceased if he was a man is then deposited as we saw with one of the thigh bones in the men's clubhouse while of the remaining bones some are kept by the relations and the others thrown away in a charnel-house. Among the relics which the relations preserve are the lower arm bones the shoulder-blades the ribs and the vertebra. The vertebra is often fastened to a bracelet; a couple of ribs are converted into a necklace; and the shoulder-blades are used to decorate baskets. The lower arm bones are generally strung on a cord which is worn on solemn occasions round the neck so that the bones hang down behind. They are especially worn thus in war and they are made use of also when their owner desires to obtain a favourable wind for a voyage. No doubt though this is not expressly affirmed the spirit of the departed is supposed to remain attached in some fashion to his bones and so to help the possessor of these relics in time of need. When the bones have been dug up and disposed of with all due ceremony several men who were friends or relations of the deceased must keep watch and ward for some days in the men's clubhouse where his grinning skull now stands amid similar trophies of mortality on a table or shelf. They may not quit the building except in case of necessity and they must always speak in a whisper for fear of disturbing the ghost who is very naturally lurking in the neighbourhood of his skull. However in spite of these restrictions the watchers enjoy themselves; for baskets of sago and fish are provided abundantly for their consumption and if their tongues are idle their jaws are very busy.19
Propitiation of the souls of the dead and other spirits.
The people think that if they stand on a good footing with the souls of the departed and with other spirits these powerful beings will bring them good luck in trade and on their voyages. Now the time when trade is lively and the calm sea is dotted with canoes plying from island to island or from island to mainland is the season when the gentle south-east monsoon is blowing. On the other hand when the waves run high under the blast of the strong north-west monsoon the sea is almost deserted and the people stay at home;20
the season is to these tropical islanders what winter is to the inhabitants of northern latitudes. Accordingly it is when the wind is shifting round from the stormy north-west to the balmy south-east that the natives set themselves particularly to win the favour of ghosts and spirits and this they do by repairing the temples and clubhouses in which the spirits and ghosts are believed to dwell and by cleaning and tidying up the open spaces around them. These repairs are the occasion of a festival accompanied by dances and games. Early in the morning of the festive day the shrill notes of the flutes and the hollow rub-a-dub of the drums are heard to proceed from the interior of the temple proclaiming the arrival of the guardian spirit and his desire to partake of fish and sago. So the men assemble and the feast is held in the evening. Festivals are also held both in the temples and in the men's clubhouses on the occasion of a successful hunt or fishing. Out of gratitude for the help vouchsafed them by the ancestral spirits the hunters or fishers bring the larger game or fish to the temples or clubhouses and eat them there; and then hang up some parts of the animals or fish such as the skeletons the jawbones of pigs or the shells of turtles in the clubhouses as a further mark of homage to the spirits of the dead.21
Guardian spirits (tapum) in Tumleo.
So far as appears the spirits who dwell in the temples are not supposed to be ancestors. Father Erdweg describes them as guardian spirits or goddesses for they are all of the female sex. Every village has several of them; indeed in the village of Sapi almost every family has its own guardian spirit. The name for these guardian spirits is tapum
which seems to be clearly connected with the now familiar word tapu
or taboo in the sense of sacred which is universally understood in the islands of the Pacific. On the whole the tapum
are kindly and beneficent spirits who bring good luck to such as honour them. A hunter or a fisherman ascribes his success in the chase or in fishing to the protection of his guardian spirit; and when he is away from home trading for sago and other necessaries of life it is his guardian spirit who gives him favour in the eyes of the foreigners with whom he is dealing. Curiously enough though these guardian spirits are all female they have no liking for women and children. Indeed no woman or child may set foot in a temple or even loiter in the open space in front of it. And at the chief festivals when the temples are being repaired all the women and children must quit the village till the evening shadows have fallen and the banquet of their husbands fathers and brothers at the temple is over.22
On the whole then we conclude that a belief in the continued existence of the spirits of the dead and in their power to help or harm their descendants plays a considerable part in the life of the Papuans of Tumleo. Whether the guardian spirits or goddesses who are worshipped in the temples were originally conceived as ancestral spirits or not must be left an open question for the present.
The Monumbo of Potsdam Harbour.
Passing eastward from Tumleo along the northern coast of German New Guinea we come to Monumbo or Potsdam Harbour situated about the 145th degree of East Longitude. The Monumbo are a Papuan tribe numbering about four hundred souls who inhabit twelve small villages close to the seashore. Their territory is a narrow but fertile strip of country well watered and covered with luxuriant vegetation lying between the sea and a range of hills. The bay is sheltered by an island from the open sea and the natives can paddle their canoes on its calm water in almost any weather. The villages embowered on the landward side in groves of trees of many useful sorts and screened in front by rows of stately coco-nut palms are composed of large houses solidly built of timber and are kept very clean and tidy. The Monumbo are a strongly-built people of the average European height with what is described as a remarkably Semitic type of features. The men wear their hair plaited about a long tube decorated with shells and dogs’ teeth which sticks out stiffly from the head. The women wear their hair in a sort of mop composed of countless plaits which hang down in tangle. In disposition the Monumbo are cheerful and contented proud of themselves and their country; they think they are the cleverest and most fortunate people on earth and look down with pity and contempt on Europeans. According to them the business of the foreign settlers in their country is folly and the teaching of the missionaries is nonsense. They subsist by agriculture hunting and fishing. Their well-kept plantations occupy the level ground and in some places extend up the hill-sides. Among the plants which they cultivate are taro yams sweet potatoes bananas various kinds of vegetables and sugar-cane. Among their fruit-trees are the sago-palm the coco-nut palm and the bread-fruit tree. They make use both of earthenware and of wooden vessels. Their dances especially their masked dances which are celebrated at intervals of four or five years have excited the warm admiration of the despised European.23
Beliefs of the Monumbo concerning the spirits of the dead.
Dread of ghosts.
With regard to their religion and morality I will quote the evidence of a Catholic missionary who has laboured among them. “The Monumbo are acquainted with no Supreme Being no moral good or evil no rewards no place of punishment or joy after death no permanent immortality.…When people die their souls go to the land of spirits a place where they dwell without work or suffering but which they can also quit. Betel-chewing smoking dancing sleeping all the occupations that they loved on earth are continued without interruption in the other world. They converse with men in dreams but play them many a shabby trick take possession of them and even it may be kill them. Yet they also help men in all manner of ways in war and the chase. Men invoke them pray to them make statues in their memory which are called dva
) and bring them offerings of food in order to obtain their assistance. But if the spirits of the dead do not help they are rated in the plainest language. Death makes no great separation. The living converse with the dead very much as they converse with each other. Time alone brings with it a gradual oblivion of the departed. Falling stars and lightning are nothing but the souls of the dead who stick dry banana leaves in their girdles set them on fire and then fly through the air. At last when the souls are old they die but are not annihilated for they are changed into animals and plants. Such animals are for example the white ants and a rare kind of wild pig which is said not to allow itself to be killed. Such a tree for example is the barimbar
. That apparently is the whole religion of the Monumbo. Yet they are ghost-seers of the most arrant sort. An anxious superstitious fear pursues them at every step. Superstitious views are the motives that determine almost everything that they do or leave undone.”24
Their dread of ghosts is displayed in their custom of doing no work in the plantations for three days after a death lest the ghost touched to the quick by their heartless indifference should send wild boars to ravage the plantations. And when a man has slain an enemy in war he has to remain a long time secluded in the men's clubhouse touching nobody not even his wife and children while the villagers celebrate his victory with song and dance. He is believed to be in a state of ceremonial impurity (bolobolo
) such that if he were to touch his wife and children they would be covered with sores. At the end of his seclusion he is purified by washings and other purgations and is clean once more.25
The reason of this uncleanness of a victorious warrior is not mentioned but analogy makes it nearly certain that it is a dread of the vengeful ghost of the man whom he has slain. A similar fear probably underlies the rule that a widower must abstain from certain foods such as fish and sauces and from bathing for a certain time after the death of his wife.26
The Tamos of Astrolabe Bay.
Mistake of attempting to combine descriptive with comparative anthropology
Leaving Potsdam Harbour and the Monumbo and moving still eastward along the coast of German New Guinea we come to a large indentation known as Astrolabe Bay. The natives of this part of the coast call themselves Tamos. The largest village on the bay bears the name of Bogadyim and in 1894 numbered about three hundred inhabitants.27
Our principal authority on the natives is a German ethnologist Dr. B. Hagen who spent about eighteen months at Stefansort on Astrolabe Bay. Unfortunately he has mixed up his personal observations of these particular people not merely with second-hand accounts of natives of other parts of New Guinea but with discussions of general theories of the origin and migrations of races and of the development of social institutions; so that it is not altogether easy to disentangle the facts for which he is a first-hand witness from those which he reports at second third or fourth hand. Scarcely anything I may observe in passing more impairs the value and impedes the usefulness of personal observations of savage races than this deplorable habit of attempting to combine the work of description with the work of comparison and generalisation. The two kinds of work are entirely distinct in their nature and require very different mental qualities for their proper performance; the one should never be confused with the other. The task of descriptive anthropology is to record observations without any admixture of theory; the task of comparative anthropology is to compare the observations made in all parts of the world and from the comparison to deduce theories more or less provisional of the origin and growth of beliefs and institutions always subject to modification and correction by facts which may afterwards be brought to light. There is no harm indeed there is great positive advantage in the descriptive anthropologist making himself acquainted with the theories of the comparative anthropologist for by so doing his attention will probably be called to many facts which he might otherwise have overlooked and which when recorded may either confirm or refute the theories in question. But if he knows these theories he should keep his knowledge strictly in the background and never interlard his descriptions of facts with digressions into an alien province. In this way descriptive anthropology and comparative anthropology will best work hand in hand for the furtherance of their common aim the understanding of the nature and development of man.
The religion of the Tamos.
Beliefs of the Tamos as to the souls of the dead.
Like the Papuans in general the Tamos of Astrolabe. Bay are a settled agricultural people who dwell in fixed villages subsist mainly by the produce of the ground which they cultivate and engage in a commerce of barter with their neighbours.28
Their material culture thus does not differ essentially from that of the other Papuans and I need not give particulars of it. With regard to their religious views Dr. Hagen tells us candidly that he has great hesitation in expressing an opinion. “Nothing” he says very justly “is more difficult for a European than to form an approximately correct conception of the religious views of a savage people and the difficulty is infinitely increased when the enquirer has little or no knowledge of their language.” Dr. Hagen had indeed an excellent interpreter and intelligent assistant in the person of a missionary Mr. Hoffmann; but Mr. Hoffmann himself admitted that he had no clear ideas as to the religious views of the Tamos; however in his opinion they are entirely destitute of the conception of God and of a Creator. Yet among the Tamos of Bogadyim Dr. Hagen tells us a belief in the existence of the soul after death is proved by their assertion that after death the soul (gunung
) goes to buka kure
which seems to mean the village of ghosts. This abode of the dead appears to be situated somewhere in the earth and the Tamos speak of it with a shudder. They tell of a man in the village of Bogadyim who died and went away to the village of the ghosts. But as he drew near to the village he met the ghost of his dead brother who had come forth with bow and arrows and spear to hunt a wild boar. This boar-hunting ghost was very angry at meeting his brother who had just died and drove him back to the land of the living. From this narrative it would seem that in the other world the ghosts are thought to pursue the same occupations which they followed in life. The natives are in great fear of ghosts (buka
). Travelling alone with them in the forest at nightfall you may mark their timidity and hear them cry anxiously “Come let us be going! The ghost is roaming about.” The ghosts of those who have perished in battle do not go to the Village of Ghosts (buka kure
); they repair to another place called bopa kure
. But this abode of the slain does not seem to be a happy land or Valhalla; the natives are even more afraid of it than of the Village of Ghosts (buka kure
). They will hardly venture at night to pass a spot where any one has been slain. Sometimes fires are kindled by night on such spots; and the sight of the flames flickering in the distance inspires all the beholders with horror and nothing in the world would induce them to approach such a fire. The souls of men who have been killed but whose death has not been avenged are supposed to haunt the village. For some time after death the ghost is believed to linger in the neighbourhood of his deserted body. When Mr. Hoffmann went with some Tamos to another village to bring back the body of a fellow missionary who had died there and darkness had fallen on them in the forest his native companions started with fear every moment imagining that they saw the missionary's ghost popping out from behind a tree.29
Treatment of the corpse.
Secret Society called Asa.
When death has taken place the corpse is first exposed on a scaffold in front of the house where it is decked with ornaments and surrounded with flowers. If the deceased was rich a dog is hung on each side of the scaffold and the souls of the animals are believed to accompany the ghost to the spirit-land. Taros yams and coco-nuts are also suspended from the scaffold no doubt for the refreshment of the ghost. Then the melancholy notes of a horn are heard in the distance at the sound of which all the women rush away. Soon the horn-blower appears paints the corpse white and red crowns it with great red hibiscus roses then blows his horn and vanishes.30
He is a member of a secret society called Asa
which has its lodge standing alone in the forest. Only men belong to the society; women and children are excluded from it and look upon it with fear and awe. If any one raises a cry “Asa
is coming” or the sound of the musical instruments of the society is heard in the distance all the women and children scamper away. The natives are very unwilling to let any stranger enter one of the lodges of the society. The interior of such a building is usually somewhat bare but it contains the wooden masks which are worn in the ceremonial dances of the society and the horns and flutes on which the members discourse their awe-inspiring music. In construction it scarcely differs from the ordinary huts of the village; if anything it is worse built and more primitive. The secrets of the society are well kept; at least very little seems to have been divulged to Europeans. The most important of its ceremonies is that of the initiation of the young men who on this occasion are circumcised before they are recognised as full-grown men and members of the secret society. At such times the men encamp and feast for weeks or even months together on the open space in front of the society's lodge and masked dances are danced to the accompaniment of the instrumental music. These initiatory ceremonies are held at intervals of about ten or fifteen years when there are a considerable number of young men to be initiated together.31
Although we are still in the dark as to the real meaning of this and indeed of almost all similar secret societies among savages the solemn part played by a member of the society at the funeral rites seems very significant. Why should he come mysteriously to the melancholy music of the horn paint the corpse red and white crown it with red roses and then vanish again to music as he had come? It is scarcely rash to suppose that this ceremony has some reference to the state of the dead man's soul and we may conjecture that just as the fruits hung on the scaffold are doubtless intended for the consumption of the ghost and the souls of the dogs are expressly said to accompany him to the spirit-land so the painting of the corpse and the crown of red roses may be designed in some way to speed the parting spirit on the way to its long home. In the absence of exact information as to the beliefs of these savages touching the state of the dead we can only guess at the meaning which they attach to these symbols. Perhaps they think that only ghosts who are painted red and white and who wear wreaths of red roses on their heads are admitted to the Village of the Ghosts and that such as knock at the gate with no paint on their bodies and no wreath of roses on their brows are refused admittance and must turn sorrowfully away to haunt their undutiful friends on earth who had omitted to pay the last marks of respect and honour to the dead.
Burial customs of the Tamos.
Removal of the lower jawbone.
When the corpse has lain in all its glory with its ornaments its paint and its flowers for a short time on the scaffold it is removed and buried. The exposure never lasts more than a day. If the man died in the morning he is buried at night. The grave is dug in the house itself. It is only about three feet deep and four feet long. If the corpse is too long for the grave as usually happens the legs are remorselessly doubled up and trampled in. It is the relations on the mother's side who dig the grave and lower the body shrouded in mats or leaves into its narrow bed. Before doing so they take care to strip it of its ornaments its rings necklaces boar's teeth and so forth which no doubt are regarded as too valuable to be sacrificed. Yet a regard for the comfort of the dead is shewn by the custom of covering the open grave with wood and then heaping the mould on the top in order we are told that the earth may not press heavy on him who sleeps below. Sit tibi terra levis!
After some months the grave is opened and the lower jaw removed from the corpse and preserved. This removal of the jaw is the occasion of solemnities and ceremonial washings in which the whole male population of the village takes part. But as to the meaning of these ceremonies and as to what is done with the jawbone we have no exact information.32
According to the Russian traveller Baron N. von Miklucho-Maclay who has also given us an account of the Papuans of Astrolabe Bay33
though not apparently of the villages described by Dr. Hagen the whole skull is dug up and separated from the corpse after the lapse of about a year but only the lower jawbone is carefully kept by the nearest kinsman as a memorial of the deceased. Baron Miklucho-Maclay had great difficulty in inducing a native to part with one of these memorials of a dead relation.34
In any case the preservation of this portion of the deceased may be supposed to have for its object the maintenance of friendly relations between the living and the dead. Similarly in Uganda the jawbone is the only part of the body of a deceased king which along with his navel-string is carefully preserved in his temple-tomb and consulted oracularly35
We may conjecture that the reason for preserving this part of the human frame rather than any other is that the jawbone is an organ of speech and that therefore it appears to the primitive mind well fitted to maintain intercourse with the dead man's spirit and to obtain oracular communications from him.
Sham fight as a funeral ceremony at Astrolabe Bay.
The Russian traveller Baron Miklucho-Maclay has described a curious funeral ceremony which is observed by some of the Papuans of Astrolabe Bay. I will give the first part of his description in his own words which I translate from the German. He says: “The death of a man is announced to the neighbouring villages by a definite series of beats on the drum. On the same day or the next morning the whole male population assembles in the vicinity of the village of the deceased. All the men are in full warlike array. To the beat of drum the guests march into the village where a crowd of men also armed for war await the new-comers beside the dead man's hut. After a short parley the men divide into two opposite camps and thereupon a sham fight takes place. However the combatants go to work very gingerly and make no use of their spears. But dozens of arrows are continually discharged and not a few are wounded in the sham fight though not seriously. The nearest relations and friends of the deceased appear especially excited and behave as if they were frantic. When all are hot and tired and all arrows have been shot away the pretended enemies seat themselves in a circle and in what follows most of them act as simple spectators.” Thereupon the nearest relations bring out the corpse and deposit it in a crouching position with the knees drawn up to the chin on some mats and leaves of the sago-palm which had previously been spread out in the middle of the open space. Beside the corpse are laid his things some presents from neighbours and some freshly cooked food. While the men sit round in a circle the women even the nearest relatives of the deceased may only look on from a distance. When all is ready some men step out from the circle to help the nearest of kin in the next proceedings which consist in tying the corpse up tightly into a bundle by means of rattans and creepers. Then the bundle is attached to a stout stick and carried back into the house. There the corpse in its bundle is fastened under the roof by means of the stick and the dead man's property together with the presents of the neighbours and the food are left beside it. After that the house is abandoned and the guests return to their own villages. A few days later when decomposition is far advanced the corpse is taken down and buried in a grave in the house which continues to be inhabited by the family. After the lapse of about a year the body is dug up the skull separated from it and the lower jawbone preserved by the nearest relation as I have already mentioned.36
The sham fight perhaps intended to deceive the ghost.
What is the meaning of this curious sham fight which among these people seems to be regularly enacted after a death? The writer who reports the custom offers no explanation of it. I would conjecture with all due caution that it may possibly be intended as a satisfaction to the ghost in order to make him suppose that his death has been properly avenged. In a former lecture I shewed that natural deaths are regularly imagined by many savages to be brought about by the magical practices of enemies and that accordingly the relations of the deceased take vengeance on some innocent person whom for one reason or another they regard as the culprit. It is possible that these Papuans of Astrolabe Bay instead of actually putting the supposed sorcerer to death have advanced so far as to abandon that cruel and unjust practice and content themselves with throwing dust in the eyes of the ghost by a sham instead of a real fight. But that is only a conjecture of my own which I merely suggest for what it is worth.
Altogether looking over the scanty notices of the beliefs and practices of these Papuans of Astrolabe Bay concerning the departed we may say in general that while the fear of ghosts is conspicuous enough among them there is but little evidence of anything that deserves to be called a regular worship of the dead.