The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of Central Melanesia (concluded)
Public sacrifices to ghosts in the Solomon Islands.
the close of last lecture I described the mode in which sacrifices are offered to a martial ghost in San Cristoval one of the Solomon Islands. We saw that the flesh of a pig is burned in honour of the ghost and that the victim's blood is poured on the flames. Similarly in Florida another of the Solomon Islands food is conveyed to worshipful ghosts by being burned in the fire. Some ghosts are known by name to everybody others may be known only to individuals who have found out or been taught how to approach them and who accordingly regard such ghosts as their private property. In every village a public ghost is worshipped and the chief is the sacrificer. He has learned from his predecessor how to throw or heave the sacrifice and he imparts this knowledge to his son or nephew whom he intends to leave as his successor. The place of sacrifice is an enclosure with a little house or shrine in which the relics are kept; it is new or old according as the man whose ghost is worshipped died lately or long ago. When a public sacrifice is performed the people assemble near but not in the sacred place; boys but not women may be present. The sacrificer alone enters the shrine but he takes with him his son or other person whom he has instructed in the ritual. Muttering an incantation he kindles a fire of sticks but may not blow on the holy flame. Then from a basket he takes some prepared food such as a mash of yams and throws it on the fire calling out the name of the ghost and bidding him take his food while at the sametime he prays for whatever is desired. If the fire blazes up and consumes the food it is a good sign; it proves that the ghost is present and that he is blowing up the flame. The remainder of the food the sacrificer takes back to the assembled people; some of it he eats himself and some of it he gives to his assistant to eat. The people receive their portions of the food at his hands and eat it or take it away. While the sacrificing is going on there is a solemn silence. If a pig is killed the portion burned in the sacrificial fire is the heart in Florida but the gullet at Bugotu. One ghost who is commonly known and worshipped is called Manoga. When the sacrificer invokes this ghost he heaves the sacrifice round about and calls him first to the east where rises the sun saying “If thou dwellest in the east where rises the sun Manoga! come hither and eat thy tutu
mash!” Then turning he lifts it towards where sets the sun and says “If thou dwellest in the west where sets the sun Manoga! come hither and eat thy tutu
!” There is not a quarter to which he does not lift it up. And when he has finished lifting it he says “If thou dwellest in heaven above Manoga! come hither and eat thy tutu
! If thou dwellest in the Pleiades or Orion's belt; if below in Turivatu; if in the distant sea; if on high in the sun or in the moon; if thou dwellest inland or by the shore Manoga! come hither and eat thy tutu
First-fruits of the canarium nuts sacrificed to ghosts.
Twice a year there are general sacrifices in which the people of a village take part. One of these occasions is when the canarium nut so much used in native cookery sacrificed is ripe. None of the nuts may be eaten till the first-fruits have been offered to the ghost. “Devil he eat first; all man he eat behind” is the lucid explanation which a native gave to an English enquirer. The knowledge of the way in which the first-fruits must be offered is handed down from generation to generation and the man who is learned in this lore has authority to open the season. He observes the state of the crop and early one morning he is heard to shout. He climbs a tree picks some nuts cracks them eats and puts some on the stones in his sacred place for the ghost. Then the rest of the people may gather the nuts for themselves. The chief himself sacrifices the new nuts mixed with other food to the public ghost on the stones of the village sanctuary; and every man who has a private ghost of his own does the same in his own sacred place. About two months afterwards there is another public sacrifice when the root crops generally have been dug; pig or fish is then offered; and a man who digs up his yams or whatever it may be offers his private sacrifice besides.2
Sacrifice of first-fruits to ancestral spirits in Tanna.
In like manner the natives of Tanna one of the Southern New Hebrides offered the first-fruits to the deified spirits of their ancestors. On this subject I will quote the evidence of the veteran missionary the Rev. Dr. George Turner who lived in Tanna for seven months in 1841. He says: “The general name for gods seemed to be aremha
; that means a dead man
and hints alike at the origin and nature of their religious worship. The spirits of their departed ancestors were among their gods. Chiefs who reach an advanced age were after death deified addressed by name and prayed to on various occasions. They were supposed especially to preside over the growth of the yams and the different fruit trees. The first-fruits were presented to them and in doing this they laid a little of the fruit on some stone or shelving branch of the tree or some more temporary altar of a few rough sticks from the bush lashed together with strips of bark in the form of a table with its four feet stuck in the ground. All being quiet the chief acted as high priest and prayed aloud thus: ‘Compassionate father! here is some food for you; eat it; be kind to us on account of it.’ And instead of an amen
all united in a shout. This took place about mid-day and afterwards those who were assembled continued together feasting and dancing till midnight or three in the morning.”3
Fighting ghosts kept as auxiliaries.
In addition to the public ghosts each of whom is revered by a whole village many a man keeps so to say a private or tame ghost of his own on leash. The art of taming a ghost consists in knowing the leaves bark and vines in which he delights and in treating him accordingly. This knowledge a man may acquire by the exercise of his natural faculties or he may learn it from somebody else. However he may obtain the knowledge he uses it for his own personal advantage sacrificing to the ghost in order to win his favour and get something from him in return. The mode of sacrificing to a private ghost is the same as to a public ghost. The owner has a sacred place or private chapel of his own where he draws near to the ghost in prayer and burns his bit of food in the fire. A man often keeps a fighting ghost (keramo
) who helps him in battle or in slaying his private enemy. Before he goes out to commit homicide he pulls up his ginger-plant and judges from the ease or difficulty with which the plant yields to or resists his tug whether he will succeed in the enterprise or not. Then he sacrifices to the ghost and having placed some ginger and leaves on his shield and stuffed some more in his belt and right armlet he sallies forth. He curses his enemy by his fighting ghost saying “Siria (if that should be the name of the ghost) eats thee and I shall slay thee”; and if he kills him he cries to the ghost “Thine is this man Siria and do thou give me supernatural power!” No prudent Melanesian would attempt to commit man-slaughter without a ghost as an accomplice; to do so would be to court disaster for the slain man's ghost would have power over the slayer; therefore before he imbrue his hands in blood he deems it desirable to secure the assistance of a valiant ghost who can if need be overcome the ghost of his victim in single combat. If he cannot procure such a useful auxiliary in any other way he must purchase him. Further he fortifies himself with some personal relic such as a tooth or lock of hair of the deceased warrior whose ghost he has taken into his service; this relic he wears as an amulet in a little bag round the neck when he is on active service; at other times it is kept in the house.4
Different from these truculent spirits are the peaceful ghosts who cause the garden to bear fruit. If the gardener happens to know such a ghost he can pray and sacrifice to him on his own account; but if he has no such friend in the spirit world he must employ an expert. The man of skill goes into the midst of the garden with a little mashed food in his left hand and smiting it with his right hand he calls on the ghost to come and eat. He says: “This produce thou shalt eat; give supernatural power (mana
) to this garden that food may be good and plentiful.” He digs holes at the four corners of the garden and in them he buries such leaves as the ghost loves so that the garden may have ghostly power and be fruitful. And when the yams sprout he twines them with the particular creeper and fastens them with the particular wood to which the ghost is known to be partial. These agricultural ghosts are very sensitive; if a man enters the garden who has just eaten pork or cuscus or fish or shell-fish the ghost of the garden manifests his displeasure by causing the produce of the garden to droop; but if the eater lets three or four days go by after his meal he may then enter the garden with impunity for the food has left his stomach. For a similar reason apparently when the yam vines are being trained the men sleep near the gardens and never approach their wives; for should they tread the garden after conjugal intercourse the yams would be blighted.5
Human sacrifices to ghosts.
Sometimes the favour of a ghost is obtained by human sacrifices. On these occasions the flesh of the victim does not like the flesh of a pig furnish the materials of a sacrificial banquet; but little bits of it are eaten by young men to improve their fighting power and by elders for a special purpose. Such sacrifices are deemed more effectual than the sacrifices of less precious victims; and advantage was sometimes taken of a real or imputed crime to offer the criminal to some ghost. So for example within living memory Dikea chief of Ravu convicted a certain man of stealing tobacco and sentenced him to be sacrificed; and the grown lads ate pieces of him cooked in the sacrificial fire. Again the same chief offered another human sacrifice in the year 1886. One of his wives had proved false and he sent her away vowing that she should not return till he had offered a human sacrifice to Hauri. Also his son died and he vowed to kill a man for him. The vow was noised abroad and everybody knew that he would pay well for somebody to kill. Now the Savo people had bought a captive boy in Guadalcanar but it turned out a bad bargain for the boy was lame and nearly blind. So they brought him to Dikea and he gave them twenty coils of shell money for the lad. Then the chief laid his hand on the victim's breast and cried “Hauri! here is a man for you” and his followers killed him with axes and clubs. The cripple's skull was added to the chiefs collection and his legs were sent about the country to make known what had been done. In Bugotu of Ysabel when the people had slain an enemy in fight they used to bring back his head in triumph cut slices off it and burn them in sacrifice. And if they took a prisoner alive they would bring him to the sacred place the grave of the man whose ghost was to be honoured. There they bound him hand and foot and buffeted him till he died or if he did not die under the buffets they cut his throat. As they beat the man with their fists they called on the ghost to take him and when he was dead they burned a bit of him in the fire for the ghost.6
Sacrifices to ghosts in Saa.
At Saa in Malanta one of the Solomon Islands sacrifices are offered to ghosts on various occasions. Thus on his return from a voyage a man will put food in the case which contains the relics of his dead father; and in the course of his voyage if he should land in a desert isle he will throw food and call on father grandfather and other deceased friends. Again when sickness is ascribed to the anger of a ghost a man of skill is sent for to discover what particular ghost is doing the mischief. When he has ascertained the culprit he is furnished by the patient's relatives with a little pig which he is to sacrifice to the ghost as a substitute for the sick man. Provided with this vicarious victim he repairs to the haunt of the ghost strangles the animal and burns it whole in a fire along with grated yam coco-nut and fish. As he does so he calls out the names of all the ghosts of his family his ancestors and all who are deceased down even to children and women and he names the man who furnished the pig for the ghostly repast. A portion of the mixed food he preserves unburnt wraps it in a dracaena leaf and puts it beside the case which contains the relics of the man to whose ghost the sacrifice has been offered. Sometimes however instead of burning a pig in the fire which is an expensive and wasteful form of sacrifice the relatives of the sick man content themselves with cooking a pig or a dog in the oven cutting up the carcase and laying out all the parts in order. Then the sacrificer comes and sits at the animal's head and calls out the names of all the dead members of the ghost's family in order downwards saying “Help deliver this man cut short the line that has bound him.” Then the pig is eaten by all present except the women; nothing is burnt.7
Sacrifice of first-fruits to ghosts in Saa.
The last sort of sacrifices to ghosts at Saa which we need notice is the sacrifice of first-fruits. Thus when the yams are ripe the people fetch some of them from each garden to offer to the ghosts. All the male members of the family assemble at the holy place which belongs to them. Then one of them enters the shrine lays a yam beside the skull which lies there and cries with a loud voice to the ghost “This is yours to eat.” The others call quietly on the names of all the ancestors and give their yams which are very many in number because one from each garden is given to each ghost. If any man has besides a relic of the dead such as a skull bones or hair in his house he takes home a yam and sets it beside the relic. Again the first flying-fish of the season are sacrificed to ghosts who may take the form of sharks; for we shall see presently that Melanesian ghosts are sometimes supposed to inhabit the bodies of these ferocious monsters. Some ghost-sharks have sacred places ashore where figures of sharks are set up. In that case the first flying-fish are cooked and set before the shark images. But it may be that a shark ghost has no sacred place on land and then there is nothing for it but to take the flying-fish out to sea and shred them into the water while the sacrificer calls out the name of the particular ghost whom he desires to summon to the feast.8
Vicarious sacrifices for the sick.
Vicarious sacrifices for the sick are offered in San Cristoval to a certain malignant ghost called Tapia who is believed to seize a man's soul and tie it up to a banyan tree. When that has happened a man who knows how to manage Tapia intercedes with him. He takes a pig or fish to the sacred place and offers it to the grim ghost saying “This is for you to eat in place of that man; cat this don't kill him.” With that he can loose the captive soul and take it back to the sick man who thereupon recovers.9
Sacrifices to ghosts in Santa Cruz.
The dead represented by a stock.
In Santa Cruz the sacrifices offered to ghosts are very economical; for if the offering is of food the living eat it up after a decent interval; if it is a valuable they remove it and resume the use of it themselves. The principle of this spiritual economy probably lies in the common belief that ghosts being immaterial absorb the immaterial essence of the objects leaving the material substance to be enjoyed by men. When a man of mark dies in Santa Cruz his relations set up a stock of wood in his house to represent him. This is renewed from time to time till after a while the man is forgotten or thrown into the shade by the attractions of some newer ghost so that the old stock is neglected. But when the stock is first put up a pig is killed and two strips of flesh from the back bone are set before the stock as food for the ghost but only to be soon taken away and eaten by the living. Similar offerings may be repeated from time to time as when the stock is renewed. Again when a garden is planted they spread feather-money and red native cloth round it for the use of the ghost; but his enjoyment of these riches is brief and precarious.10
Native account of sacrifices to ghosts in Santa Cruz.
To supplement the foregoing account of sacrifices to ghosts in Santa Cruz I will add a description of some of them which was given by a native of Santa Cruz in his own language and translated for us by a missionary. It runs thus: “When anyone begins to fall sick he seeks a doctor (meduka
) and when the doctor comes near the sick man he stiffens his body and all those in the house think a ghost has entered into the doctor and they are all very quiet. Some doctors tell the sick man's relatives to kill a pig for the ghost who has caused the sickness. When they have killed the pig they take it into the ghost-house and invite some other men and they cat with prayers to the ghost; and the doctor takes a little piece and puts it near the base of the ghost-post and says to it: ‘This is thy food; oh deliver up again the spirit of thy servant that he may be well again.’ The little portion they have offered to the ghost is then eaten; but small boys may not eat of it.” 11
“Every year the people plant yams and tomagos; and when they begin to work and have made ready the place and begun to plant first they offer to the ghost who they think presides over foods. There is an offering place in the bush and they go there and take much food and also feather money. Men women and children do this and they think the ghost notices if there are many children and gives much food at harvest; and the ghost to whom they offer is named Ilene. When the bread-fruit begins to bear they take great care lest anyone should light a fire near the bole of the tree or throw a stone at the tree. The ghost who they think protects the bread-fruit is called Duka-Kane or Kae Tuabia who has two names; they think this ghost has four eyes.”12
“The heathen thinks a ghost makes the sun to shine and the rain. If it is continual sunshine and the yams are withering the people assemble together and contribute money and string it to the man with whom the rain-ghost abides and food also and beseech him not to do the thing he was doing. That man will not wash his face for a long time he will not work lest he perspire and his body be wet for he thinks that if his body be wet it will rain. Then this man with whom the rain-ghost is takes water and goes into the ghost-house and sprinkles it at the head of the ghost-post (duka
) and if there are many ghost-posts in the house he pours water over them all that it may rain.”13
Combination of magic with religion.
In these ceremonies for the making of rain we see a combination of magic with religion. The appeal to the rain-ghost is religious; but the pouring of the water on the ghost-post is magical being an imitation of the result which the officiating priest or magician whichever we choose to call him desires to produce. The taboos observed by the owner of the rain-ghost so long as he wishes to prevent the rain from falling are also based on the principle of homoeopathic or imitative magic: he abstains from washing his face or working lest the water or the sweat trickling down his body should mimick rain and thereby cause it to fall.14
Prayers to the dead.
The natives of Aneiteum one of the Southern New Hebrides worshipped the spirits of their ancestors chiefly on occasions of sickness.15
Again the people of Vaté or Efat another of the New Hebrides worshipped the souls of their forefathers and prayed to them over the kava-bowl
for health and prosperity.16
As an example of prayers offered to the dead we may take the petition which the natives of Florida put up at sea to Daula a well-known ghost who is associated with the frigate-bird. They say: “Do thou draw the canoe that it may reach the land; speed my canoe grandfather that I may quickly reach the shore whither I am bound. Do thou Daula lighten the canoe that it may quickly gain the land and rise upon the shore.” They also invoke Daula to help them in fishing. “If thou art powerful O Daula” they say “put a fish or two into this net and let them die there.” After a good catch they praise him saying “Powerful is the ghost of the net.” And when the natives of Florida are in danger on the sea they call upon their immediate forefathers; one will call on his grandfather another on his father another on some dead friend calling with reverence and saying “Save us on the deep! Save us from the tempest! Bring us to the shore!” In San Cristoval people apply to ghosts for victory in battle health in sickness and good crops; but the word which they use to signify such an application conveys the notion of charm rather than of prayer. However in the Banks’ Islands what may be called prayer is strictly speaking an invocation of the dead; indeed the very word for prayer (tataro
) seems to be identical with that for a powerful ghost (’ataro
in San Cristoval). A man in peril on the sea will call on his dead friends especially on one who was in his lifetime a good sailor. And in Mota when an oven is opened they throw in a leaf of cooked mallow for a ghost saying to him “This is a lucky bit for your eating; they who have charmed your food or clubbed you (as the case may be) take hold of their hands drag them away to hell let them be dead.” So when they pour water on the oven they pray to the ghost saying “Pour it on the head of him down there who has laid plots against me has clubbed me has shot me has stolen things of mine (as the case may be) he shall die.” Again when they make a libation before drinking they pray saying “Grandfather! this is your lucky drop of kava; let boars come in to me; the money I have spent let it come back to me; the food that is gone let it come back hither to the house of you and me.” And on starting for a voyage they will say “Uncle! father! plenty of boars for you plenty of money; kava for your drinking lucky food for your eating in the canoe. I pray you with this look down upon me let me go on a safe sea.” Or when the canoe labours with a heavy freight they will pray “Take off your burden from us that we may speed on a safe sea.”17
Sanctuaries of ghosts in Florida.
In the island of Florida the sanctuary of a powerful ghost is called a vunuhu
. Sometimes it is in the village sometimes in the garden-ground sometimes in the forest. If it is in the village it is fenced about lest the foot of any rash intruder should infringe its sanctity. Sometimes the sanctuary is the place where the dead man is buried; sometimes it merely contains his relics which have been translated thither. In some sanctuaries there is a shrine and in some an image. Generally if not always stones may be seen lying in such a holy place. The sight of one of them has probably struck the fancy of the man who founded the worship; he thought it a likely place for the ghost to haunt and other smaller stones and shells have been subsequently added. Once a sanctuary has been established everything within it becomes sacred (tambu
) and belongs to the ghost. Were a tree growing within it to fall across the path nobody would step over it. When a sacrifice is to be offered to the ghost on the holy ground the man who knows the ghost and whose duty it is to perform the sacrifice enters first and all who attend him follow treading in his footsteps. In going out no one will look back lest his soul should stay behind. No one would pass such a sanctuary when the sun was so low as to cast his shadow into it; for if he did the ghost would seize his shadow and so drag the man himself into his den. If there were a shrine in the sanctuary nobody but the sacrificer might enter it. Such a shrine contained the weapons and other properties which belonged in his lifetime to the man whose ghost was worshipped on the spot.18
Sanctuaries of ghosts in Malanta.
At Saa in Malanta another of the Solomon Islands all burial-grounds where common people are interred are so far sacred that no one will go there without due cause; but places where the remains of nobles repose and where sacrifices are offered to their ghosts are regarded with very great respect they may indeed be called family sanctuaries. Some of them are very old the powerful ghosts who are worshipped in them being remote ancestors. It sometimes happens that the man who used to sacrifice in such a place dies without having instructed his son in the proper chant of invocation with which the worshipful ghost should be approached. In such a case the young man who succeeds him may fear to go to the old sanctuary lest he should commit a mistake and offend the ghost; so he will take some ashes from the old sacrificial fire-place and found a new sanctuary. It is not common in that part of Malanta to build shrines for the relics of the dead but it is sometimes done. Such shrines on the other hand are common in the villages of San Cristoval and in the sacred places of that island where great men lie buried. To trespass on them would be likely to rouse the anger of the ghosts some of whom are known to be of a malignant disposition.19
Sanctuaries which are not burial-grounds.
But burial-grounds are not the only sanctuaries in the Solomon Islands. There are some where no dead man is known to be interred though in Dr. Codrington's opinion there are probably none which do not derive their sanctity from the presence of a ghost. In the island of Florida the appearance of something wonderful will cause any place to become a sanctuary the wonder being accepted as proof of a ghostly presence. For example in the forest near Olevuga a man planted some coco-nut and almond trees and died not long afterwards. Then there appeared among the trees a great rarity in the shape of a white cuscus. The people took it for granted that the animal was the dead man's ghost and therefore they called it by his name. The place became a sanctuary; no one would gather the coco-nuts and almonds that grew there till two Christian converts set the ghost at defiance and appropriated his garden with the coco-nuts and almonds. Through the same part of the forest ran a stream full of eels one of which was so big that the people were quite sure it must be a ghost; so nobody would bathe in that stream or drink from it except at one pool which for the sake of convenience was considered not to be sacred. Again in Bugotu a district of Ysabel which is another of the Solomon Islands there is a pool known to be the haunt of a very old ghost. When a man has an enemy whom he wishes to harm he will obtain some scraps of his food and throw them into the water. If the food is at once devoured by the fish which swarm in the pool the man will die but otherwise his life may be saved by the intervention of a man who knows the habits of the ghost and how to propitiate him. In these sacred places there are stones on which people place food in order to obtain good crops while for success in fishing they deposit morsels of cooked fish. Such stones are treated with reverence and seem to be in a fair way to develop into altars. However when the old ghost is superseded as he often is by younger rivals the development of an altar out of the stones is arrested.20
Ghosts in animals such as sharks alligators snakes bonitos and frigate-birds
From some of these instances we learn that Melanesian ghosts can sometimes take up their abode in animals such as cuscuses eels and fish. The creatures which are oftenest used as vehicles by the spirits of the dead are sharks alligators snakes bonitos and frigate-birds. Snakes which haunt a sacred place are themselves sacred because they belong to or actually embody the ghost. Sharks again in all these islands are very often thought to be the abode of ghosts; for men before their death will announce that they will appear as sharks and afterwards any shark remarkable for size or colour which haunts a certain shore or coast is taken to be somebody's ghost and receives the name of the deceased. At Saa certain food such as coco-nuts from particular trees is reserved to feed such a ghost-shark; and men of whom it is known for certain that they will be sharks after their death are allowed to anticipate the posthumous honours which await them by devouring such food in the sacred place just as if they were real sharks. Sharks are very commonly believed to be the abode of ghosts in Florida and Ysabel and in Savo where they are particularly numerous; hence though all sharks are not venerated there is no living creature so commonly held sacred by the Central Melanesians as a shark; and shark-ghosts seem even to form a class of powerful supernatural beings. Again when a lizard was seen frequenting a house after a death it would be taken for the ghost returning to its old home; and many ghosts powerful to aid the mariner at sea take up their quarters in frigate-birds.21
The belief in ghosts underlies the Melanesian conception of magic.
Again a belief in powerful ghosts underlies to a great extent the Melanesian conception of magic as that conception is expounded by Dr. Codrington. “That invisible power” he tells us “which is believed by the natives to cause all such effects as transcend their conception of the regular course of nature and to reside in spiritual beings whether in the spiritual part of living men or in the ghosts of the dead being imparted by them to their names and to various things that belong to them such as stones snakes and indeed objects of all sorts is that generally known as mana
. Without some understanding of this it is impossible to understand the religious beliefs and practices of the Melanesians; and this again is the active force in all they do and believe to be done in magic white or black. By means of this men are able to control or direct the forces of nature to make rain or sunshine wind or calm to cause sickness or remove it to know what is far off in time and space to bring good luck and prosperity or to blast and curse. No man however has this power of his own; all that he does is done by the aid of personal beings ghosts or spirits.”22
Illness generally be caused by ghosts.
Thus to begin with the medical profession which is a branch of magic long before it becomes a department of science every serious sickness is believed to be brought about by ghosts or spirits but generally it is to the ghosts of the dead that illness is ascribed both by the Eastern and by the Western islanders. Hence recourse is had to ghosts for aid both in causing and in curing sickness. They are thought to inflict disease not only because some offence such as trespass has been committed against them or because one who knows their ways has instigated them thereto by sacrifice and spells but because there is a certain malignity in the feeling of all ghosts towards the living who offend them simply by being alive. All human faculties apart from the mere bodily functions are supposed to be enhanced by death; hence the ghost of a powerful and ill-natured man is only too ready to take advantage of his increased powers for mischief.23
Thus in the island of Florida illness is regularly laid at the door of a ghost; the only question that can arise is which particular ghost is doing the mischief. Sometimes the patient imagines that he has offended his dead father uncle or brother who accordingly takes his revenge by stretching him on a bed of sickness. In that case no special intercessor is required; the patient himself or one of his kinsfolk will sacrifice and beg the ghost to take the sickness away; it is purely a family affair. Sometimes the sick man thinks that it is his own private or tame ghost who is afflicting him; so he will leave the house in order to escape his tormentor. But if the cause of sickness remains obscure a professional doctor or medicine-man will be consulted. He always knows or at least can ascertain the ghost who is causing all the trouble and he takes his measures accordingly. Thus he will bind on the sick man the kind of leaves that the ghost loves; he will chew ginger and blow it into the patient's ears and on that part of the skull which is soft in infants; he will call on the name of the ghost and entreat him to remove the sickness. Should all these remedies prove vain the doctor is by no means at the end of his resources. He may shrewdly suspect that somebody who has an ill-will at the patient has set his private ghost to maul the sick man and do him a grievous bodily injury. If his suspicions are confirmed and he discovers the malicious man who is egging on the mischievous ghost he will bribe him to call off his ghost; and if the man refuses the doctor will hire another ghost to assault and batter the original assailant. At Wango in San Cristoval regular battles used to be fought by the invisible champions above the sickbed of the sufferer whose life or death depended on the issue of the combat. Their weapons were spears and sometimes more than one ghost would be engaged on either side.24
Diagnosis of ghosts who have caused illness.
In Ysabel the doctor employs an ingenious apparatus for discovering the cause of sickness and ascertaining its cure. He suspends a stone at one end of a string while he holds the other end in his hand. Then he recites the names of all the people who died lately and when the stone swings at anybody's name he knows that the ghost of that man has caused the illness. It remains to find out what the ghost will take to relax his clutch on the sick man it may be a mash of yams a fish a pig or perhaps a human substitute. The question is put and answered as before; and whatever the oracle declares to be requisite is offered on the dead man's grave. Thus the ghost is appeased and the sufferer is made whole.25
In these islands a common cause of illness is believed to be an unwarrantable intrusion on premises occupied by a ghost who punishes the trespasser by afflicting him with bodily pains and ailments or it may be by carrying off his soul. At Maewo in Aurora one of the New Hebrides when there is reason to think that a sickness is due to ghostly agency the friends of the sick man send for a professional dreamer whose business it is to ascertain what particular ghost has been offended and to make it up with him. So the dreamer falls asleep and in his sleep he dreams a dream. He seems to himself to be in the place where the patient was working before his illness; and there he spies a queer little old man who is really no other than the ghost. The dreamer falls into conversation with him learns his name and winning his confidence extracts from him a true account of the whole affair. The fact is that in working at his garden the man encroached whether wittingly or not is no matter on land which the ghost regards as his private preserve; and to punish the intrusion the ghost carried off the intruder's soul and impounded it in a magic fence in his garden where it still languishes in durance vile. The dreamer at once tenders a frank and manly apology on behalf of his client; he assures the ghost that the trespass was purely inadvertent that no personal disrespect whatever was intended and he concludes by requesting the ghost to overlook the offence for this time and to release the imprisoned soul. This appeal to the better feelings of the ghost has its effect; he pulls up the fence and lets the soul out of the pound; it flies back to the sick man who thereupon recovers. Sometimes an orphan child is made sick by its dead mother whose ghost draws away the soul of the infant to keep her company in the spirit land. In such a case again a dreamer is employed to bring back the lost soul from the far country; and if he can persuade the mother's ghost to relinquish the tiny soul of her baby the child will be made whole.26
Once more certain long stones in the Banks’ Islands are inhabited by ghosts so active and robust that if a man's shadow so much as falls on one of them the ghost in the stone will clutch the shadow and pull the soul clean out of the man who dies accordingly. Such stones dangerous as they unquestionably are to the chance passer-by nevertheless for that very reason possess a valuable property which can be turned to excellent account. A than for example will put one of these stones in his house to guard it like a watch-dog in his absence; and if he sends a friend to fetch something out of it which he has forgotten the messenger on approaching the house will take good care to call out the owner's name lest the ghost in the stone mistaking him for a thief and a robber should pounce out on him and do him a mischief before he had time to explain.27
Contrast between Melanesian and European medicine.
Thus it appears that for a medical practitioner in Melanesia the first requisite is an intimate acquaintance not with the anatomy of the human frame and the properties of drugs but with ghosts their personal peculiarities habits and haunts. Only by means of the influence which such a knowledge enables him to exert on these powerful and dangerous beings can the good physician mitigate and assuage the sufferings of poor humanity. His professional skill while it certainly aims at the alleviation of physical evils attains its object chiefly if not exclusively by a direct appeal to those higher though invisible powers which encompass the life of man or at all events of the Melanesian. The firm faith in the spiritual and the unseen which these sable doctors display in their treatment of the sick presents a striking contrast to the procedure of their European colleagues who trust exclusively to the use of mere physical remedies such as drugs and lancets now carving the body of the sufferer with knives and now inserting substances about which they know little into places about which they know nothing. Has not science falsely so called still much to learn from savagery?
The weather believed to be regulated by ghosts and spirits.
But it is not the departments of medicine and surgery alone important as these are to human welfare which in Melanesia are directed and controlled by spiritual forces. The weather in those regions is also regulated by ghosts and spirits. It is they who cause the wind to blow or to be still the sun to shine forth or to be overcast with clouds the rain to descend or the earth to be parched with drought; hence fertility and abundance or dearth and famine prevail alternately at the will of these spiritual directors. From this it follows that men who stand on a footing of intimacy with ghosts and spirits can by judicious management induce them to adapt the weather to the varying needs of mankind. But it is to be observed that the supernatural beings who are the real sources of atmospheric phenomena have delegated or deputed a portion of their powers not merely to certain material objects such as stones or leaves but to certain set forms of words which men call incantations or spells; and accordingly all such objects and formulas do by virtue of this delegation possess in themselves a real and we may almost say natural influence over the weather which is often manifested in a striking congruity or harmony between the things themselves and the effects which they are calculated to produce. This adaptation of means to end in nature may perhaps be regarded as a beautiful proof of the existence of spirits and ghosts working their purposes unseen behind the gaily coloured screen or curtain of the physical universe. At all events men who are acquainted with the ghostly properties of material objects and words can turn them to account for the benefit of their friends and the confusion of their foes and they do so very readily if only it is made worth their while. Hence it comes about that in these islands there are everywhere weather-doctors or weather-mongers who through their familiarity with ghosts and spirits and their acquaintance with the ghostly or spiritual properties of things are able to control the weather and to supply their customers with wind or calm rain or sunshine famine or abundance at a reasonable rate and a moderate figure.28
The advantages of such a system over our own blundering method of managing the weather or rather of leaving it to its own devices are too obvious to be insisted on. To take a few examples. In the island of Florida when a calm is wanted the weather-doctor takes a bunch of leaves of the sort which the ghost loves and hides the bunch in the hollow of a tree where there is water at the same time invoking the ghost with the proper charm. This naturally produces rain and with the rain a calm. In the seafaring life of the Solomon Islanders the maker of calms is a really valuable citizen.29
The Santa Cruz people are also great voyagers and their wizards control the weather on their expeditions taking with them the stock or log which represents their private or tame ghost and setting it up on a stage in the cabin. The presence of the familiar ghost being thus secured the weather-doctor will undertake to provide wind or calm according to circumstances.30
We have already seen how in these islands the wizard makes rain by pouring water on the wooden posts which represent the rain-ghosts.31
Black magic working through personal refuse or rubbish of the victim.
Such exercises of ghostly power for the healing of the sick and the improvement of the weather are when well directed and efficacious wholly beneficial. But ghostly power is a two-edged weapon which can work evil as well as good to mankind. In fact it can serve the purpose of witchcraft. The commonest application of this pernicious art is one which is very familiar to witches and sorcerers in many parts of the world. The first thing the wizard does is to obtain a fragment of food a bit of hair a nail-clipping or indeed anything that has been closely connected with the person of his intended victim. This is the medium through which the power of the ghost or spirit is brought to bear; it is so to say the point of support on which the magician rests the whole weight of his infernal engine. In order to give effect to the charm it is very desirable if not absolutely necessary to possess some personal relic such as a bone of the dead man whose ghost is to set the machinery in motion. At all events the essential thing is to bring together the man who is to be injured and the ghost or spirit who is to injure him; and this can be done most readily by placing the personal relics or refuse of the two men the living and the dead in contact with each other; for thus the magic circuit if we may say so is complete and the fatal current flows from the dead to the living. That is why it is most dangerous to leave any personal refuse or rubbish lying about; you never can tell but that some sorcerer may get hold of it and work your ruin by means of it. Hence the people are naturally most careful to hide or destroy all such refuse in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of witches and wizards; and this sage precaution has led to habits of cleanliness which the superficial European is apt to mistake for what he calls enlightened sanitation but which a deeper knowledge of native thought would reveal to him in their true character as far-seeing measures designed to defeat the nefarious art of the sorcerer.32
Black magic working without any personal relic of the victim.
Unfortunately however an adept in the black art can work his fell purpose even without any personal relic of his victim. In the Banks’ Islands for example he need only procure a bit of human bone or a fragment of some lethal weapon it maybe a splinter of a club or a chip of an arrow which has killed somebody. This he wraps up in the proper leaves recites over it the appropriate charm and plants it secretly in the path along which his intended victim is expected to pass. The ghost of the man who owned the bone in his life or perished by the club or the arrow is now lurking like a lion in the path; and if the poor fellow strolls along it thinking no evil the ghost will spring at him and strike him with disease. The charm is perfectly efficient if the man does come along the path but clearly it misses fire if he does not. To remedy this defect in the apparatus a sorcerer sometimes has recourse to a portable instrument a sort of pocket pistol which in the Banks’ Islands is known as a ghostshooter. It is a bamboo tube loaded not with powder and shot but with a dead man's bone and other magical ingredients over which the necessary spell has been crooned. Armed with this deadly weapon the sorcerer has only to step up to his unsuspecting enemy whip out the pocket pistol uncork the muzzle by removing his thumb from the orifice and present it at the victim; the fatal discharge follows in an instant and the man drops to the ground. The ghost in the pistol has done his work. Sometimes however an accident happens. The marksman misses his victim and hits somebody else. This occurred for example not very many years ago in the island of Mota. A man named Isvitag was waiting with his ghostshooter to pop at his enemy but in his nervous excitement he let fly too soon just as a woman with a child on her hip stepped across the path. The shot or rather the ghost hit the child point blank and it was his sister's child his own next of kin! You may imagine the distress of the affectionate uncle at this deplorable miscarriage. To prevent inflammation of the wound he with great presence of mind plunged his pocket pistol in water and this timely remedy proved so efficacious that the child took no hurt.33
Prophecy inspired by ghosts.
Another department of Melanesian life in which ghosts figure very prominently is prophecy. The knowledge of future events is believed to be conveyed to the people by a ghost or spirit speaking with the voice of a man who is himself unconscious while he speaks. The predictions which emanate from the prophet under these circumstances are in the strictest sense inspired. His human personality is for the time being in abeyance and he is merely the mouthpiece of the powerful spirit which has temporarily taken possession of his body and speaks with his voice. The possession is indeed painfully manifest. His eyes glare foam bursts from his mouth his limbs writhe his whole body is convulsed. These are the workings of the mighty spirit shaking and threatening to rend the frail tabernacle of flesh. This form of inspiration is not clearly distinguishable from what we call madness; indeed the natives do not attempt to distinguish between the two things; they regard the madman and the prophet as both alike inspired by a ghost or spirit and a man will sometimes pretend to be mad in order that he may get the reputation of being a prophet. At Saa a man will speak with the voice of a powerful man deceased while he twists and writhes under the influence of the ghost; he calls himself by the name of the deceased who speaks through him and he is so addressed by others; he will eat fire lift enormous weights and foretells things to come. When the inspiration or insanity is particularly violent and the Banks’ Islanders think they have had quite enough of it the friends of the prophet or of the madman will sometimes catch him and hold him struggling and roaring in the smoke of strong-smelling leaves while they call out the names of the dead men whose ghosts are most likely to be abroad at the time for as soon as the right name is mentioned the ghost departs from the man who then returns to his sober senses. But this method of smoking out a ghost is not always successful.34
Divination by means of ghosts.
There are many methods by which ghosts and spirits are believed to make known to men who employ them the secret things which the unassisted human intelligence could not discover; and some of them hardly perhaps need the intervention of a professional wizard. These methods of divination differ very little in the various islands. In the Solomon Islands for instance when an expedition has started in a fleet of canoes there is sometimes a hesitation whether they shall proceed or a doubt as to what direction they should take. Thereupon a diviner may declare that he has felt a ghost step on board; for did not the canoe tip over to the one side? Accordingly he asks the invisible passenger “Shall we go on? Shall we go to such and such a place?” If the canoe rocks the answer is yes; if it lies on an even keel the answer is no. Again when a man is sick and his friends wish to know what ghost is vexing or as they say eating him a diviner or wizard is sent for. He comes bringing an assistant and the two sit down the wizard in front and the assistant at his back and they hold a stick or bamboo by the two ends. The wizard then begins to slap the end of the bamboo he holds calling out one after another the names of men not very long deceased and when he names the one who is afflicting the sick man the stick of itself becomes violently agitated.35
We are not informed but we may probably assume that it is the ghost and not the man who really agitates the stick. A somewhat different mode of divination was occasionally employed at Motlav in the Banks’ Islands in order to discover a thief or other criminal. After a burial they would take a bag put some Tahitian chestnut and scraped banana into it and tie it to the end of a hollow bamboo tube about ten feet long in such a way that the end of the tube was inserted in the mouth of the bag. Then the bag was laid on the dead man's grave and the diviners grasped the other end of the bamboo. The names of the recently dead were then called over and while this was being done the men felt the bamboo grow heavy in their hands for a ghost was scrambling up from the bag into the hollow of the bamboo. Having thus secured him they carried the imprisoned ghost in the bamboo into the village where the roll of the recent dead was again called over in order to learn whose ghost had been caught in the trap. When wrong names were mentioned the free end of the bamboo moved from side to side but at the mention of the right name it revolved briskly. Having thus ascertained whom they had to deal with they questioned the entrapped ghost “Who stole so and so? Who was guilty in such a case?” Thereupon the bamboo moved no doubt by the ghost inside pointed at the culprit if he was present or made signs as before when the names of the suspected evildoers were mentioned.36
Taboo based on a fear of ghosts.
Of the many departments of Central Melanesian life which are permeated by a belief in ghostly power the last which I shall mention is the institution of taboo. In Melanesia indeed the institution is not so conspicuous as it used to be in Polynesia; yet even there it has been a powerful instrument in the consolidation of the rights of private property and as such it deserves the attention of historians who seek to trace the evolution of law and morality. As understood in the Banks’ Islands and the New Hebrides the word taboo (tambu or tapu
) signifies a sacred and unapproachable character which is imposed on certain things by the arbitrary will of a chief or other powerful man. Somebody whose authority with the people gives him confidence to make the announcement will declare that such and such an object may not be touched that such and such a place may not be approached and that such and such an action may not be performed under a certain penalty which in the last resort will be inflicted by ghostly or spiritual agency. The object place or action in question becomes accordingly taboo or sacred. Hence in these islands taboo may be defined as a prohibition with a curse expressed or implied. The sanction or power at the back of the taboo is not that of the man who imposes it; rather it is that of the ghost or spirit in whose name or in reliance upon whom the taboo is imposed. Thus in Florida a chief will forbid something to be done or touched under a penalty; he may proclaim for example that any one who violates his prohibition must pay him a hundred strings of shell money. To a European such a proclamation seems a proof of the chief's power; but to the native the chief's power in this and in everything rests on the persuasion that the chief has his mighty ghost at his back. The sense of this in the particular case is indeed remote the fear of the chief's anger is present and effective but the ultimate sanction is the power of the ghost. If a common man were to take upon himself to taboo anything he might do so; people would imagine that he would not dare to make such an announcement unless he knew he could enforce it; so they would watch and if anybody violated the taboo and fell sick afterwards they would conclude that the taboo was supported by a powerful ghost who punished infractions of it. Hence the reputation and authority of the man who imposed the taboo would rise accordingly; for it would be seen that he had a powerful ghost at his back. Every ghost has a particular kind of leaf for his badge; and in imposing his taboo a man will set the leaf of his private ghost as a mark to warn trespassers of the spiritual power with which they have to reckon; when people see a leaf stuck it may be on a tree a house or a canoe they do not always know whose it is; but they do know that if they disregard the mark they have to deal with a ghost and not with a man37
and the knowledge is a more effectual check on thieving and other crimes than the dread of mere human justice. Many a rascal fears a ghost who does not fear the face of man.
The life of the Central Melanesians deeply influenced by their belief in the survival of the human soul after death.
What I have said may suffice to impress you with a sense of the deep practical influence which a belief in the survival of the human soul after death exercises on the life and conduct of the Central Melanesian savage. To him the belief is no mere abstract theological dogma or speculative tenet the occasional theme of edifying homilies and pious meditation; it is an inbred unquestioning omnipresent conviction which affects his thoughts and actions daily and at every turn; it guides his fortunes as an individual and controls his behaviour as a member of a community by inculcating a respect for the rights of others and enforcing a submission to the public authorities. With him the fear of ghosts and spirits is a bulwark of morality and a bond of society; for he firmly believes in their unseen presence everywhere and in the punishments which they can inflict on wrongdoers. His whole theory of causation differs fundamentally from ours and necessarily begets a fundamental difference of practice. Where we see natural forces and material substances the Melanesian sees ghosts and spirits. A great gulf divides his conception of the world from ours; and it may be doubted whether education will ever enable him to pass the gulf and to think and act like us. The products of an evolution which has extended over many ages cannot be forced like mushrooms in a summer day; it is vain to pluck the fruit of the tree of knowledge before it is ripe.