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Lecture 16 The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of Central Melanesia

Lecture 16
The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of Central Melanesia
The islands of Central Melanesia.
Distinction between the religion of the Eastern and Western Islanders.
IN our survey of savage beliefs and practices concerning the dead we now pass from New Caledonia the most southerly island of Melanesia to the groups of islands known as the New Hebrides the Banks’ Islands the Torres Islands the Santa Cruz Islands and the Solomon Islands which together constitute what we may call Central Melanesia. These groups of islands may themselves be distinguished into two archipelagoes a western and an eastern of which the Western comprises the Solomon Islands and the Eastern includes all the rest. Corresponding to this geographical distinction there is a religious distinction; for while the religion of the Western islanders (the Solomon Islanders) consists chiefly in a fear and worship of the ghosts of the dead the religion of the Eastern islanders is characterised mainly by the fear and worship of spirits which are not supposed ever to have been incarnate in human bodies. Both groups of islanders the Western and the Eastern recognise indeed both classes of spirits namely ghosts that once were men and spirits who never were men; but the religious bias of the one group is towards ghosts rather than towards pure spirits and the religious bias of the other group is towards pure spirits rather than towards ghosts. It is not a little remarkable that the islanders whose bent is towards ghosts have carried the system of sacrifice and the arts of life to a higher level than the islanders whose bent is towards pure spirits; this applies particularly to the sacrificial system which is much more developed in the west than in the east.1 From this it would seem to follow that if a faith in ghosts is more costly than a faith in pure spirits it is at the same time more favourable to the evolution of culture.
Dr. R. H. Codrington on the Melanesians.

For the whole of this region we are fortunate in possessing the evidence of the Rev. Dr. R. H. Codrington one of the most sagacious cautious and accurate of observers who laboured as a missionary among the natives for twenty-four years from 1864 to 1887 and has given us a most valuable account of their customs and beliefs in his book The Melanesians which must always remain an anthropological classic. In describing the worship of the dead as it is carried on among these islanders I shall draw chiefly on the copious evidence supplied by Dr. Codrington; and I shall avail myself of his admirable researches to enter into considerable details on the subject since details recorded by an accurate observer are far more instructive than the vague generalities of superficial observers which are too often all the information we possess as to the religion of savages.

Melanesian theory of the soul.
In the first place all the Central Melanesians believe that man is composed of a body and a soul that death is the final parting of the soul from the body and that after death the soul continues to exist as a conscious and more or less active being.2 Thus the creed of these savages on this profound subject agrees fundamentally with the creed of the average European; if my hearers were asked to state their beliefs as to the nature of life and death I imagine that most of them would formulate them in substantially the same way. However when the Central Melanesian savage attempts to define the nature of the vital principle or soul which animates the body during life and survives it after death he finds himself in a difficulty; and to continue the parallel I cannot help thinking that if my hearers in like manner were invited to explain their conception of the soul they would similarly find themselves embarrassed for an answer. But an examination of the Central Melanesian theory of the soul would lead us too far from our immediate subject; we must be content to say that “whatever word the Melanesian people use for soul they mean something essentially belonging to each man's nature which carries life to his body with it and is the seat of thought and intelligence exercising therefore power which is not of the body and is invisible in its action.”3 However the soul may be defined the Melanesians are universally of opinion that it survives the death of the body and goes away to some more or less distant region where the spirits of all the dead congregate and continue for the most part to live for an indefinite time though some of them as we shall see presently are supposed to die a second death and so to come to an end altogether. In Western Melanesia that is in the Solomon Islands the abode of the dead is supposed to be in certain islands which differ in the creed of different islanders; but in Eastern Melanesia the abode of the dead is thought to be a subterranean region called Panoi.4
Distinction between ghosts of power and ghosts of no account.
But though the souls of the departed go away to the spirit land nevertheless with a seeming or perhaps real inconsistency their ghosts are also supposed to haunt their graves and their old homes and to exercise great power for good or evil over the living who are accordingly often obliged to woo their favour by prayer and sacrifice. According to the Solomon Islanders however among whom ghosts are the principal objects of worship there is a great distinction to be drawn among ghosts. “The distinction” says Dr. Codrington “is between ghosts of power and ghosts of no account between those whose help is sought and their wrath deprecated and those from whom nothing is expected and to whom no observance is due. Among living men there are some who stand out distinguished for capacity in affairs success in life valour in fighting and influence over others; and these are so it is believed because of the supernatural and mysterious powers which they have and which are derived from communication with those ghosts of the dead gone before them who are full of those same powers. On the death of a distinguished man his ghost retains the powers that belonged to him in life in greater activity and with stronger force; his ghost therefore is powerful and worshipful and so long as he is remembered the aid of his powers is sought and worship is offered him; he is the tindalo of Florida the lio'a of Saa. In every society again the multitude is composed of insignificant persons ‘numerus fruges consumeri nati’ of no particular account for valour skill or prosperity. The ghosts of such persons continue their insignificance and are nobodies after death as before; they are ghosts because all men have souls and the souls of dead men are ghosts; they are dreaded because all ghosts are awful but they get no worship and are soon only thought of as the crowd of the nameless population of the lower world.”5
Ghosts of the great and of the recently dead are chiefly regarded.
Super-natural power (mana) acquired through ghosts.
From this account of Dr. Codrington we see that it is only the ghosts of great and powerful people who are worshipped; the ghosts of ordinary people are indeed feared but no worship is paid to them. Further we are told that it is the ghosts of those who have lately died that are deemed to be most powerful and are therefore most regarded; as the dead are forgotten their ghosts cease to be worshipped their power fades away6 and their place in the religion of the people is taken by the ghosts of the more recently departed. In fact here as elsewhere the existence of the dead seems to be dependent on the memory of the living; when they are forgotten they cease to exist. Further it deserves to be noticed that in the Solomon Islands what we should call a man's natural powers and capacities are regarded as supernatural endowments acquired by communication with a mighty ghost. If a man is a great warrior it is not because he is strong of arm quick of eye and brave of heart; it is because he is supported by the ghost of a dead warrior whose power he has drawn to himself through an amulet of stone tied round his neck or a tuft of leaves in his belt or a tooth attached to one of his fingers or a spell by the recitation of which he can enlist the aid of the ghost.7 And similarly with all other pre-eminent capacities and virtues; in the mind of the Solomon Islanders they are all supernatural gifts and graces bestowed on men by ghosts. This all-pervading supernatural power the Central Melanesian calls mana8 Thus for these savages the whole world teems with ghostly influences; their minds are filled we may almost say obsessed with a sense of the unseen powers which encompass and determine even in its minute particulars the life of man on earth: in their view the visible world is so to say merely a puppet-show of which the strings are pulled and the puppets made to dance by hands invisible. Truly the attitude of these savages to the universe is deeply religious.
We may now consider the theory and practice of the Central Melanesians on this subject somewhat more in detail; and in doing so we shall begin with their funeral customs which throw much light on their views of death and the dead.
Burial customs in the Solomon Islands.
Land-ghosts and sea-ghosts.
Land burial and sea burial.
Thus for example in Florida one of the Solomon Islands the corpse is usually buried. Common men are buried in their gardens or plantations chiefs sometimes in the village a chief's child sometimes in the house. If the ghost of the deceased is worshipped his grave becomes a sanctuary (vunuhu); the skull is often dug up and hung in the house. On the return from the burial the mourners take a different road from that by which they carried the corpse to the grave; this they do in order to throw the ghost off the scent and so prevent him from following them home. This practice clearly shews the fear which the natives feel for the ghosts of the newly dead. A man is buried with money porpoise teeth and some of his personal ornaments; but avarice getting the better of superstition these things are often secretly dug up again and appropriated by the living. Sometimes a dying man will express a wish to be cast into the sea; his friends will therefore paddle out with the corpse tie stones to the feet and sink it in the depths. In the island of Savo another of the Solomon Islands common men are generally thrown into the sea and only great men are buried.9 The same distinction is made at Wango in San Cristoval another of the same group of islands; there also the bodies of common folk are cast into the sea but men of consequence are buried and some relic of them it may be a skull a tooth or a finger-bone is preserved in a shrine at the village. From this difference in burial customs flows a not unimportant religious difference. The souls of the great people who are buried on land turn into land-ghosts and the souls of commoners who are sunk in the sea turn into sea-ghosts. The land-ghosts are seen to hover about the villages haunting their graves and their relics; they are also heard to speak in hollow whispers. Their aid can be obtained by such as know them. The sea-ghosts have taken a great hold on the imagination of the natives of the south-eastern Solomon Islands; and as these people love to illustrate their life by sculpture and painting they shew us clearly what they suppose these sea-ghosts to be like. At Wango there used to be a canoe-house full of sculptures and paintings illustrative of native life; amongst others there was a series of scenes like those which are depicted on the walls of Egyptian tombs. One of the scenes represented a canoe attacked by sea-ghosts which were portrayed as demons compounded partly of human limbs partly of the bodies and tails of fishes and armed with spears and arrows in the form of long-bodied garfish and flying-fish. If a man falls ill on returning from a voyage or from fishing on the rocks it is thought that one of these sea-ghosts has shot him. Hence when men are in danger at sea they seek to propitiate the ghosts by throwing areca-nuts and fragments of food into the water and by praying to the ghosts not to be angry with them. Sharks are also supposed to be animated by the ghosts of the dead.10 It is interesting and instructive to find that in this part of the world sea-demons who might be thought to be pure spirits of nature are in fact ghosts of the dead.
Burnt offerings in honour of the dead.
In the island of Florida two days after the death of a chief or of any person who was much esteemed the relatives and friends assemble and hold a funeral feast at which they throw a bit of food into the fire for the ghost saying “This is for you.”11 In other of the Solomon Islands morsels of food are similarly thrown on the fire at the death-feasts as the dead man's share.12 Thus in the Shortlands Islands when a famous chief named Gorai died his body was burnt and his relatives cast food beads and other property into the fire. The dead chief had been very fond of tea so one of his daughters threw a cup of tea into the flames. Women danced a funeral dance round the pyre till the body was consumed.13 Why should the dead man's food and property be burnt? No explanation of the practice is given by our authorities so we are left to conjecture the reason of it. Is it that by volatilising the solid substance of the food you make it more accessible to the thin unsubstantial nature of the ghost? Is it that you destroy the property of the ghost lest he should come back in person to fetch it and so haunt and trouble the survivors? Is it that the spirits of the dead are supposed to reside in the fire on the hearth so that offerings cast into the flames are transmitted to them directly? Whether it is with any such ideas that the Solomon Islanders throw food into the fire for ghosts I cannot say. The whole question of the meaning of burnt sacrifice is still to a great extent obscure.
Funeral customs in the island of Florida.
The ghostly ferry.
At the funeral feast of a chief in the island of Florida the axes spears shield and other belongings of the deceased are hung up with great lamentations in his house; everything remains afterwards untouched and the house falls into ruins which as time goes on are thickly mantled with the long tendrils of the sprouting yams. But we are told that the weapons are not intended to accompany the ghost to the land of souls; they are hung up only as a memorial of a great and valued man. “With the same feeling they cut down a dead man's fruit-trees as a mark of respect and affection not with any notion of these things serving him in the world of ghosts; he ate of them they say when he was alive he will never eat again and no one else shall have them.” However they think that the ghost benefits by burial; for if a man is killed and his body remains unburied his restless ghost will haunt the place.14 The ghosts of such Florida people as have been duly buried depart to Betindalo which seems to be situated in the south-eastern part of the great island of Guadalcanar. A ship waits to ferry them across the sea to the spirit-land. This is almost the only example of a ferry-boat used by ghosts in Melanesia. On their way to the ferry the ghosts may be heard twittering; and again on the shore while they are waiting for the ferryboat a sound of their dancing breaks the stillness of night; but no man can see the dancers. It is not until they land on the further shore that they know they are dead. There they are met by a ghost who thrusts a rod into their noses to see whether the cartilage is pierced as it should be; ghosts whose noses have been duly bored in life follow the onward path with ease but all others have pain and difficulty in making their way to the realm of the shades. Yet though the souls of the dead thus depart to Betindalo nevertheless their ghosts as usual not only haunt their burial-places but come to the sacrifices offered to them and may be heard disporting themselves at night playing on pipes dancing and shouting.15
Belief of the Solomon Islanders that the souls of the dead live in islands.
The second death.
Similarly at Bugotu in the island of Ysabel (one of the Solomon Islands) the ghosts of the dead are supposed to go away to an island and yet to haunt their graves and shew themselves to the survivors by night. In the island of the dead there is a pool with a narrow tree-trunk lying across it. Here is stationed Bolafagina the ghostly lord of the place. Every newly arrived ghost must appear before him and he examines their hands to see whether they bear the mark of the sacred frigate-bird cut on them; if they have the mark the ghosts pass across the tree-trunk and mingle with the departed spirits in the world of the dead. But ghosts who have not the mark on their hands are cast into the gulf and perish out of their ghostly life: this is the second death.16 The same notion of a second death meets us in a somewhat different form among the natives of Saa in Malanta another of the Solomon Islands. All the ghosts of these people swim across the sea to two little islands called Marapa which lie off Marau in Guadalcanar. There the ghosts of children live in one island and the ghosts of grown-up people in another; for the older people would be plagued by the chatter of children if they all dwelt together in one island. Yet in other respects the life of the departed spirits in these islands is very like life on earth. There are houses gardens and canoes there just as here but all is thin and unsubstantial. Living men who land in the islands see nothing of these things; there is a pool where they hear laughter and merry cries and where the banks are wet with invisible bathers. But the life of the ghosts in these islands is not eternal. The spirits of common folk soon turn into the nests of white ants which serve as food for the more robust ghosts. Hence a living man will say to his idle son “When I die I shall have ants’ nests to eat but then what will you have?” The ghosts of persons who were powerful on earth last much longer. So long as they are remembered and worshipped by the living their natural strength remains unabated; but when men forget them and turn to worship some of the more recent dead then no more food is offered to them in sacrifice so they pine away and change into white ants’ nests just like common folk. This is the second death. However while the ghosts survive they can return from the islands to Saa and revisit their village and friends. The living can even discern them in the form of dim and fleeting shadows. A man who wishes for any reason to see a ghost can always do so very simply by taking a pinch of lime from his betel-box and smearing it on his forehead. Then the ghost appears to him quite plainly.17
Burial customs in Saa.
Preservation of the skull and jawbone.
Burial customs in Santa Cruz.
Burial customs in Ysabel.
In Saa the dead are usually buried in a common cemetery;but when the flesh has decayed the bones are taken up and heaped on one side. But if the deceased was a very great man or a beloved father his body is preserved for a time in his son's house being hung up either in a canoe or in the carved effigy of a sword-fish. Very favourite children are treated in the same way. The corpse may be kept in this way for years. Finally there is a great funeral feast at which the remains are removed to the common burial-ground but the skull and jawbone are detached from the skeleton and kept in the house enclosed in the hollow wooden figure of a bonito-fish. By means of these relics the survivors think that they can secure the aid of the powerful ghost. Sometimes the corpse and afterwards the skull and jawbone are preserved not in the house of the deceased but in the oha or public canoe-house which so far becomes a sort of shrine or temple of the dead.18 At Santa Cruz in the Solomon Islands the corpse is buried in a very deep grave in the house. Inland they dig up the bones again to make arrow-heads; also they detach the skull and keep it in a chest in the house saying that it is the man himself. They even set food before the skull no doubt for the use of the ghost. Yet they imagine that the ghosts of the dead go to the great volcano Tamami where they are burnt in the crater and thus being renewed stay in the fiery region. Nevertheless the souls of the dead also haunt the forests in Santa Cruz; on wet and dark nights the natives see them twinkling in the gloom like fire-flies and at the sight they are sore afraid.19 So little consistent with itself is the creed of these islanders touching the state of the dead. At Bugotu in the island of Ysabel (one of the Solomon Islands) a chief is buried with his head near the surface and a fire is kept burning over the grave in order that the skull may be taken up and preserved in the house of his successor. The spirit of the dead chief has now become a worshipful ghost and an expedition is sent out to cut off and bring back human heads in his honour. Any person not belonging to the place whom the head-hunters come across will be killed by them and his or her skull added to the collection which is neatly arranged on the shore. These ghastly trophies are believed to add fresh spiritual power (mana) to the ghost of the dead chief. Till they have been procured the people of the place take care not to move about. The grave of the chief is built up with stones and sacrifices are offered upon it.20
Beliefs and customs of the Eastern islanders concerning the dead.
Panoi the sub-terranean abode of the dead.
Thus far we have been considering the beliefs and practices concerning the dead which prevail among the Western Melanesians of the Solomon Islands and Santa Cruz. We now turn to those of the Eastern Melanesians who inhabit the Torres Islands the Banks’ Islands and the New Hebrides. A broad distinction exists between the ghosts of these two regions in as much as the ghosts of the Western Melanesians all live in islands but the ghosts of all Eastern Melanesians live underground in a subterranean region which commonly bears the name of Panoi. The exact position of Panoi has not been ascertained; all that is regarded as certain is that it is underground. However there are many entrances to it and some of them are well known. One of them for example is a rock on the mountain at Mota others are at volcanic vents which belch flames on the burning hill of Garat over the lake at Gaua and another is on the great mountain of Vanua Lava. The ghosts congregate on points of land before their departure as well as at the entrances to the underworld and there on moonlight nights you may hear the ghostly crew dancing singing shouting and whistling on the claws of land-crabs. It is not easy to extract from the natives a precise and consistent account of the place of the dead and the state of the spirits in it; nor indeed as Dr. Codrington justly observes would it be reasonable to expect full and precise details on a subject about which the sources of information are perhaps not above suspicion. However as far as can be made out Panoi or the abode of the dead is on the whole a happy region. In many respects it resembles the land of the living; for there are houses there and villages and trees with red leaves and day and night. Yet all is hollow and unreal. The ghosts do nothing but talk and sing and dance; there is no clubhouse there and though men and women live together there is no marrying or giving in marriage. All is very peaceful too in that land; for there is no war and no tyrant to oppress the people. Yet the ghost of a great man goes down like a great man among the ghosts resplendent in all his trinkets and finery; but like everything else in the underworld these ornaments for all the brave show they make are mere unsubstantial shadows. The pigs which were killed at his funeral feast and the food that was heaped on his grave cannot go down with him into that far country; for none of these things not even pigs have souls. How then could they find their way to the spirit world? It is clearly impossible. The ghosts in the nether world do not mix indiscriminately. There are separate compartments for such as died violent deaths. There is one compartment for those who were shot there is another for those who were clubbed and there is another for those who were done to death by witchcraft. The ghosts of those who were shot keep rattling the reeds of the arrows which dealt them their fatal wounds. Ghosts in the nether world have no knowledge of things out of their sight and hearing; yet the living call upon them in time of need and trouble as if they could hear and help. Life too in the kingdom of shadows is not eternal. The ghosts die the second death. Yet some say that there are two such kingdoms each called Panoi the one over the other; and that when the dead die the second death in the upper realm they rise again from the dead in the nether realm where they never die but only turn into white ants’ nests.21
Distinction between the fate of the good and the fate of the bad in the other world.
It is interesting and not unimportant to observe that some of these islanders make a distinction between the fate of good people and the fate of bad people after death. The natives of Motlav one of the Banks’ Islands think that Panoi is a good place and that only the souls of the good can enter it. According to them the souls of murderers sorcerers thieves liars and adulterers are not suffered to enter the happy land. The ghost of a murderer for example is met at the entrance by the ghost of his victim who withstands him and turns him back. All the bad ghosts go away to a bad place where they live not indeed in physical pain but in misery: they quarrel they are restless homeless pitiable malignant: they wander back to earth: they eat the foulest food their breath is noisome: they harm the living out of spite they eat men's souls they haunt graves and woods. But in the true Panoi the souls of the good live in peace and harmony.22 Thus these people believe that the state of the soul after death depends on the kind of life a man led on earth; if he was good he will be happy; if he was bad he will be miserable. If this creed is of purely native origin and Dr. Codrington seems to entertain no doubt that it is so it marks a considerable ethical advance among those who accept it.
Descent of the living to the world of the dead.
The Eastern Melanesians think that living people can go down to the land of the dead and return alive to the upper world. Sometimes they do this in the body but at other times only in the spirit when they are asleep or in a faint; for at such times their souls quit their bodies and can wander away down to Panoi. When the living thus make their way to the spirit land they are sometimes cautioned by friendly ghosts to eat nothing there no doubt lest by partaking of ghostly food they should be turned to ghosts and never return to the land of the living.23
Disposal of the dead among the Eastern islanders.
Burial customs of the Banks’ Islanders.
We will now consider the various modes in which the Eastern Melanesians dispose of their dead; for funeral customs commonly furnish some indication of the ideas which a people entertain as to the state of the soul after death. The Banks’ Islanders generally buried their dead in the forest not far from the village; but if the deceased was a great man or died a remarkable death they might inter him in the village near the men's clubhouse (gamal). A favourite son or child might be buried in the house itself; but in such cases the grave would be opened after fifty or a hundred days and the bones taken up and hidden in the forest though some of them might be hung up in the house. However in some places there was and indeed still is a custom of keeping the putrefying corpse unburied in the house as a mark of affection. At Gaua in Santa Maria the body was dried over slow fires for ten days or more till nothing but skin and bones remained; and the women who watched over it during these days drank the juices of putrefaction which dripped from the decaying flesh. The same thing used formerly to be done in Mota another of the Banks’ Islands. The corpses of great men in these islands were adorned in all their finery and laid out on the open space in the middle of the village. Here bunches of coconuts yams and other food were heaped up beside the body; and an orator of fluent speech addressed the ghost telling him that when he had gone down to Panoi the spirit land and the ghosts asked him after his rank he was to give them a list of all the things heaped beside his dead body; then the ghosts would know what a great man he was and would treat him with proper deference. The orator dealt very candidly with the moral character of the deceased. If he had been a bad man the speaker would say “Poor ghost will you be able to enter Panoi? I think not.” The food which is piled up beside the body while the orator is pronouncing the eulogium or the censure of the departed is afterwards heaped up on the grave or buried in it. At Gaua they kill pigs and hang up the carcases or parts of them at the grave. The object of all this display is to make a favourable impression on the ghosts in the spirit land in order that they may give the newly deceased man a good reception. When the departed was an eminent warrior or sorcerer his friends will sometimes give him a sham burial and hide his real grave lest people should dig up his bones and his skull to make magic with them; for the relics of such a man are naturally endowed with great magical virtue.24
Ghosts driven away from the village.
Expulsion of the ghosts of persons who suffered from sores and ulcers.
In these islands the ghost does not at once leave the neighbourhood of his old body; he shews no haste to depart to the nether world. Indeed he commonly loiters about the house and the grave for five or ten days manifesting his presence by noises in the house and by lights upon the grave. By the fifth day his relations generally think that they have had quite enough of him and that it is high time he should set out for his long home. Accordingly they drive him away with shouts and the blowing of conch-shells or the booming sound of bull-roarers25 At Ureparapara the mode of expelling the ghost from the village is as follows. Missiles to be hurled at the lingering spirit are collected in the shape of small stones and pieces of bamboo which have been charmed by wizards so as to possess a ghost-expelling virtue. The artillery having been thus provided the people muster at one end of the village armed with bags of enchanted stones and pieces of enchanted bamboos. The signal to march is given by two men who sit in the dead man's house one on either side holding two white stones in their hands which they clink together. At the sound of the clinking the women begin to wail and the men to march; tramp tramp they go like one man through the village from end to end throwing stones into the houses and all about and beating the bamboos together. Thus they drive the reluctant ghost step by step from the village into the forest where they leave him to find his own way down to the land of the dead. Till that time the widow of the deceased was bound to remain on his bed without quitting it for a moment except on necessity; and if she had to leave it for a few minutes she always left a coco-nut on the bed to represent her till she came back. The reason for this was that her husband's ghost was believed to be lingering in the house all these days and he would naturally expect to see his wife in the nuptial chamber. At Motlav the people are not so hard upon the poor ghosts: they do not drive away all ghosts from their old homes but only the ghosts of such as had in their lifetime the misfortune to be afflicted with grievous sores and ulcers. The expulsion of such ghosts may therefore be regarded as a sanitary precaution designed to prevent the spirits from spreading the disease. When a man who suffers severely from sores or ulcers lies dying the people of his village taking time by the forelock send word to the inhabitants of the next village westwards warning them to be in readiness to give the ghost a warm reception. For it is well known that at their departure from the body ghosts always go westward towards the setting sun. So when the poor man is dead they bury his diseased body in the village and devote all their energies to the expulsion of his soul. By blowing blasts on shell-trumpets and beating the ground with the stalks of coco-nut fronds they chase the ghost clean away from their own village and on to the next. The inhabitants of that village meantime are ready to receive their unwelcome visitor and beating their bounds in the most literal sense they soon drive him onwards to the land of their next neighbours. So the chase goes on from village to village till the ghost has been finally hunted into the sea at the point of the shore which faces the setting sun. There at last the beaters throw away the stalks which have served to whack the ghost and return home in the perfect assurance that he has left the island and gone to his own place down below so that he cannot afflict anybody with the painful disease from which he suffered. But as for his ulcerated corpse rotting in the grave they do not give a thought to it. Their concern is with the spiritual and the unseen; they do not stoop to regard the material and carnal.26
Special treatment of the ghosts of women who died in childbed.
A special treatment is accorded to the ghosts of women who died in childbed. If the mother dies and the child lives her ghost will not go away to the nether world without taking the infant with her. Hence in order to deceive the ghost they wrap a piece of a banana-trunk loosely in leaves and lay it on the bosom of the dead mother when they lower her into the grave. The ghost clasps the bundle to her breast thinking it is her baby and goes away contentedly to the spirit land. As she walks the banana-stalk slips about in the leaves and she imagines it is the infant stirring; for she has not all her wits about her ghosts being naturally in a dazed state at first on quitting their familiar bodies. But when she arrives in deadland and finds she has been deceived and when perhaps some heartless ghosts even jeer at her wooden baby back she comes tearing to earth in grief and rage to seek and carry off the real infant. However the survivors know what to expect and have taken the precaution of removing the child to another house where the mother will never find it; but she keeps looking for it always and a sad and angry ghost is she.27
Funeral feasts.
After the funeral follows a series sometimes a long series of funeral feasts which form indeed one of the principal institutions of these islands. The number of the feasts and the length of time during which they are repeated vary much in the different islands and depend also on the consideration in which the deceased was held. The days on which the feasts are celebrated are the fifth and the tenth after the death and afterwards every tenth day up to the hundredth or even it may be in the case of a father a mother or a wife up to the thousandth day. These feasts appear now to be chiefly commemorative but they also benefit the dead; for the ghost is naturally gratified by seeing that his friends remember him and do their duty by him so handsomely. At these banquets food is put aside for the dead with the words “This is for thee.” The practice of thus setting aside food for the ghost at a series of funeral feasts appears at first sight as Dr. Codrington observes inconsistent with the theory that the ghosts live underground.28 But the objection thus suggested is rather specious than real; for we must always bear in mind that to judge from the accounts given of them in all countries ghosts experience no practical difficulty in obtaining temporary leave of absence from the other world and coming to this one so to say on furlough for the purpose of paying a surprise visit to their sorrowing friends and relations. The thing is so well known that it would be at once superfluous and tedious to illustrate it at length; many examples have incidentally met us in the course of these lectures.
Funeral customs in Vaté or Efat.
Old people buried alive.
The natives of Vaté or Efat one of the New Hebrides set up a great wailing at a death and scratched their faces till they streamed with blood. Bodies of the dead were buried. When a corpse was laid in the grave a pig was brought to the place and its head was chopped off and thrown into the grave to be buried with the body. This we are told “was supposed to prevent disease spreading to other members of the family.” Probably in the opinion of the natives the pig's head was a sop thrown to the ghost to keep him from coming and fetching away other people to deadland. With the same intention we may take it they buried with the dead the cups pillows and other things which he had used in his lifetime. On the top of the grave they kindled a fire to enable the soul of the deceased to rise to the sun. If that were not done the soul went to the wretched regions of Pakasia down below. The old were old buried alive at their own request. It was even deemed a honed disgrace to the family of an aged chief if they did not bury him alive. When an old man felt sick and weak and thought that he was dying he would tell his friends to get all ready and bury him. They yielded to his wishes dug a deep round pit wound a number of fine mats round his body and lowered him into the grave in a sitting posture. Live pigs were then brought to the brink of the grave and each of them was tethered by a cord to one of the old man's arms. When the pigs had thus as it were been made over to him the cords were cut and the animals were led away to be killed baked and eaten at the funeral feast; but the souls of the pigs the old man took away with him to the spirit land and the more of them he took the warmer and more gratifying was the reception he met with from the ghosts. Having thus ensured his eternal welfare by the pig strings which dangled at his arms the old man was ready; more mats were laid over him the earth was shovelled in and his dying groans were drowned amid the weeping and wailing of his affectionate kinsfolk.29
Burial and mourning customs in Aurora one of the New Hebrides.
Behaviour of the soul at death.
At Maewo in Aurora one of the New Hebrides when a death has taken place the body is buried in a grave near the village clubhouse. For a hundred days afterwards the female mourners may not go into the open and their faces may not be seen; they stay indoors and in the dark and cover themselves with a large mat reaching to the ground. But the widow goes every day covered with her mat to weep at the grave; this she does both in the morning and in the afternoon. During this time of mourning the next of kin may not eat certain succulent foods such as yams bananas and caladium; they eat only the gigantic caladium bread-fruit coco-nuts mallows and so forth; “and all these they seek in the bush where they grow wild not eating those which have been planted.” They count five days after the death and then build up great heaps of stones over the grave. After that if the deceased was a very great man who owned many gardens and pigs they count fifty days and then kill pigs and cut off the point of the liver of each pig; and the brother of the deceased goes toward the forest and calls out the dead man's name crying “This is for you to eat.” They think that if they do not kill pigs for the benefit of their departed friend his ghost has no proper existence but hangs miserably on tangled creepers. After the sacrifice they all cry again smear their bodies and faces all over with ashes and wear cords round their necks for a hundred days in token that they are not eating good food.30 They imagine that as soon as the soul quits the body at death it mounts into a tree where there is a bird's nest fern and sitting there among the fronds it laughs and mocks at the people who are crying and making great lamentations over his deserted tabernacle. “There he sits wondering at them and ridiculing them. ‘What are they crying for?’ he says; ‘whom are they sorry for? Here am I.’ For they think that the real thing is the soul and that it has gone away from the body just as a man throws off his clothes and leaves them and the clothes lie by themselves with nothing in them.”31 This estimate of the comparative value of soul and body is translated from the words of a New Hebridean native; it singularly resembles that which is sometimes held up to our admiration as one of the finest fruits of philosophy and religion. So narrow may be the line that divides the meditations of the savage and the sage.
Journey of the ghost to the other world.
When a Maewo ghost has done chuckling at the folly of his surviving relatives who sorrow as those who have no hope he turns his back on his old home and runs along the line of hills till he comes to a place where there are two rocks with a deep ravine between them. He leaps the chasm and if he lands on the further side he is dead indeed; but if he falls short he returns to life. At the land's end where the mountains descend into the sea all the ghosts of the dead are gathered to meet him. If in his lifetime he had slain any one by club or arrow or done any man to death by magic he must now run the gauntlet of the angry ghosts of his victims who beat and tear him and stab him with daggers such as people stick pigs with; and as they do so they taunt him saying “While you were still in the world you thought yourself a valiant man; but now we will take our revenge on you.” At another point in the path there is a deep gully where if a ghost falls he is inevitably dashed to pieces; and if he escapes this peril there is a ferocious pig waiting for him further on which devours the ghosts of all persons who in their life on earth omitted to plant pandanus trees from which mats are made. But the wise man who planted pandanus betimes now reaps the fruit of his labours; for when the pig makes a rush at his departed spirit the ghost nimbly swarms up the pandanus tree and so escapes his pursuer. That is why everybody in Maewo likes to plant pandanus trees. And if a man's ears were not pierced in his life his ghost will not be allowed to drink water; if he was not tattooed his ghost may not eat good food. A thoughtful father will provide for the comfort of his children in the other world by building a miniature house for each of them in his garden when the child is a year old; if the infant is a boy he puts a bow an arrow and a club in the little house; if the child is a girl he plants pandanus for her beside the tiny dwelling.32
Only ghosts of powerful men are worshipped.
So much for the fate of common ghosts in Central Melanesia. We have now to consider the position of the more powerful spirits who after death are believed to exercise great influence over the living especially over their surviving relations and who have accordingly to be propitiated with prayer and sacrifice. This worship of the dead as we saw forms the principal feature in the religion of the Solomon Islanders. “But it must not be supposed” says Dr. Codrington “that every ghost becomes an object of worship. A man in danger may call upon his father his grandfather or his uncle: his nearness of kin is sufficient ground for it. The ghost who is to be worshipped is the spirit of a man who in his lifetime had mana [supernatural or magical power] in him; the souls of common men are the common herd of ghosts nobodies alike before and after death. The supernatural power abiding in the powerful living man abides in his ghost after death with increased vigour and more ease of movement. After his death therefore it is expected that he should begin to work and some one will come forward and claim particular acquaintance with the ghost; if his power should shew itself his position is assured as one worthy to be invoked and to receive offerings till his cultus gives way before the rising importance of one newly dead and the sacred place where his shrine once stood and his relics were preserved is the only memorial of him that remains; if no proof of his activity appears he sinks into oblivion at once.”33
Worship paid chiefly to the recent and well-remembered dead.
From this instructive account we learn that worship is paid chiefly to the recent and well-remembered dead to the men whom the worshippers knew personally and feared or respected in their lifetime. On the other hand when men have been long dead and all who knew them have also been gathered to their fathers their memory fades away and with it their worship gradually falls into complete desuetude. Thus the spirits who receive the homage of these savages were real men of flesh and blood not mythical beings conjured up by the fancy of their worshippers which some legerdemain of the mind has foisted into the shrine and encircled with the halo of divinity. Not that the Melanesians do not also worship beings who so far as we can see are purely mythical though their worshippers firmly believe in their reality. But “they themselves make a clear distinction between the existing conscious powerful disembodied spirits of the dead and other spiritual beings that never have been men at all. It is true that the two orders of beings get confused in native language and thought but their confusion begins at one end and the confusion of their visitors at another; they think so much and constantly of ghosts that they speak of beings who were never men as ghosts; Europeans take the spirits of the lately dead for gods; less educated Europeans call them roundly devils.”34
Way in which a dead warrior came to be worshipped as a martial ghost.
As an example of the way in which the ghost of a real man who has just died may come to be worshipped Dr. Codrington tells us the story of Ganindo which he had from Bishop Selwyn. This Ganindo was a great fighting man of Honggo in Florida one of the Solomon Islands. He went with other warriors on a head-hunting expedition against Gaeta; but being mortally wounded with an arrow near the collar-bone he was brought back by his comrades to the hill of Bonipari where he died and was buried. His friends cut off his head put it in a basket built a house for it and said that he was a worshipful ghost (tindalo). Afterwards they said “Let us go and take heads.” So they embarked on their canoe and paddled away to seek the heads of enemies. When they came to quiet water they stopped paddling and waited till they felt the canoe rock under them and when they felt it they said “That is a ghost.” To find out what particular ghost it was they called out the names of several and when they came to the name of Ganindo the canoe rocked again. So they knew that it was he who was making the canoe to rock. In like manner they learned what village they were to attack. Returning victorious with the heads of the foe they threw a spear into the roof of Ganindo's house blew conch-shells and danced round it crying “Our ghost is strong to kill!” Then they sacrificed fish and other food to him. Also they built him a new house and made four images of him for the four corners one of Ganindo himself two of his sisters and another. When it was all ready eight men translated the relics to the new shrine. One of them carried Ganindo's bones another his betel-nuts another his lime-box another his shell-trumpet. They all went into the shrine crouching down as if burdened by a heavy weight and singing in chorus “Hither hither let us lift the leg!” At that the eight legs went up together and then they sang “Hither hither!” and at that the eight legs went down together. In this solemn procession the relics were brought and laid on a bamboo platform and sacrifices to the new martial ghost were inaugurated. Other warlike ghosts revered in Florida are known not to have been natives of the island but famous warriors of the western isles where supernatural power is believed to be stronger.35
Offering to the dead.
Throughout the islands of Central Melanesia prayers and offerings are everywhere made to ghosts or spirits or to both. The simplest and commonest sacrificial act is that of throwing a small portion of food to the dead; this is probably a universal practice in Melanesia. A morsel of food ready to be eaten for example of yam a leaf of mallow or a bit of betel-nut is thrown aside; and where they drink kava a libation is made of a few drops as the share of departed friends or as a memorial of them with which they will be pleased. At the same time the offerer may call out the name of some one who either died lately or is particularly remembered at the time; or without the special mention of individuals he may make the offering generally to the ghosts of former members of the community. To set food on a burial-place or before some memorial image is a common practice though in some places as in Santa Cruz the offering is soon taken away and eaten by the living.36
Sacrificial ritual in the Solomon Islands.
In the Solomon Islands the sacrificial ritual is more highly developed. It may be described in the words of a native of San Cristoval. “In my country” he wrote “they think that ghosts are many very many indeed some very powerful and some not. There is one who is principal in war; this one is truly mighty and strong. When our people wish to fight with any other place the chief men of the village and the sacrificers and the old men and the elder and younger men assemble in the place sacred to this ghost; and his name is Harumae. When they are thus assembled to sacrifice the chief sacrificer goes and takes a pig; and if it be not a barrow pig they would not sacrifice it to that ghost he would reject it and not eat of it. The pig is killed (it is strangled) not by the chief sacrificer but by those whom he chooses to assist near the sacred place. Then they cut it up; they take great care of the blood lest it should fall upon the ground; they bring a bowl and set the pig in it and when they cut it up the blood runs down into it. When the cutting up is finished the chief sacrificer takes a bit of flesh from the pig and he takes a cocoa-nut shell and dips up some of the blood. Then he takes the blood and the bit of flesh and enters into the house (the shrine) and calls that ghost and says ‘Harumae! Chief in war! we sacrifice to you with this pig that you may help us to smite that place; and whatsoever we shall carry away shall be your property and we also will be yours.’ Then he burns the bit of flesh in a fire upon a stone and pours down the blood upon the fire. Then the fire blazes greatly upwards to the roof and the house is full of the smell of pig a sign that the ghost has heard. But when the sacrificer went in he did not go boldly but with awe; and this is the sign of it; as he goes into the holy house he puts away his bag and washes his hands thoroughly to shew that the ghost shall not reject him with disgust.” The pig was afterwards eaten. It should be observed that this Harumae who received sacrifices as a martial ghost mighty in war had not been dead many years when the foregoing account of the mode of sacrificing to him was written. The elder men remembered him alive nor was he a great warrior but a kind and generous man believed to be plentifully endowed with supernatural power. His shrine was a small house in the village where relics of him were preserved.37 Had the Melanesians been left to themselves it seems possible that this Harumae might have developed into the war-god of San Cristoval just as in Central Africa another man of flesh and blood is known to have developed into the war-god of Uganda.38