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Lecture 18 The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of Northern and Eastern Melanesia

Lecture 18
The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of Northern and Eastern Melanesia
Northern Melanesia.
Material culture of the North Melanesians.
IN the last lecture I concluded my account of the belief in immortality and the worship of the dead among the natives of Central Melanesia. Today we pass to what may be called Northern Melanesia by which is to be understood the great archipelago lying to the north-east of New Guinea. It comprises the two large islands of New Britain and New Ireland now called New Pomerania and New Mecklenburg with the much smaller Duke of York Island lying between them and the chain of New Hanover and the Admiralty Islands stretching away westward from the north-western extremity of New Ireland. The whole of the archipelago together with the adjoining island of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands is now under German rule. The people belong to the same stock and speak the same language as the natives of Central and Southern Melanesia and their level of culture is approximately the same. They live in settled villages and subsist chiefly by the cultivation of the ground raising crops of taro yams bananas sugar-cane and so forth. Most of the agricultural labour is performed by the women who plant weed the ground and carry the produce to the villages. The ground is or rather used to be dug by sharp-pointed sticks. The men hunt cassowaries wallabies and wild pigs and they catch fish by both nets and traps. Women and children take part in the fishing and many of them become very expert in spearing fish. Among the few domestic animals which they keep are pigs dogs and fowls. The villages are generally situated in the midst of a dense forest; but on the coast the natives build their houses not far from the beach as a precaution against the attacks of the forest tribes of whom they stand greatly in fear. A New Britain village generally consists of a number of small communities or families each of which dwells in a separate enclosure. The houses are very small and badly built oblong in shape and very low. Between the separate hamlets which together compose a village lie stretches of virgin forest through which run irregular and often muddy foot-tracks scooped out here and there into mud-holes where the pigs love to wallow during the heat of the tropical day. As the people of any one district used generally to be at war with their neighbours it was necessary that they should live together for the sake of mutual protection.1
Commercial habits of the North Melanesians.
Their backwardness in other respects.

Nevertheless in spite of their limited intercourse with surrounding villages the natives of the New Britain or the Bismarck Archipelago were essentially a trading people. They made extensive use of shell money and fully recognised the value of any imported articles as mediums of exchange or currency. Markets were held on certain days at fixed places where the forest people brought their yams taro bananas and so forth and exchanged them for fish tobacco and other articles with the natives of the coast. They also went on long trading expeditions to procure canoes cuscus teeth pigs slaves and so forth which on their return they generally sold at a considerable profit. The shell which they used as money is the Nassa immersa or Nassa calosa found on the north coast of New Britain. The shells were perforated and threaded on strips of cane which were then joined together in coils of fifty to two hundred fathoms.2 The rights of private property were fully recognised. All lands belonged to certain families and husband and wife had each the exclusive right to his or her goods and chattels. But while in certain directions the people had made some progress in others they remained very backward. Pottery and the metals were unknown; no metal or specimen of metal-work has been found in the archipelago; on the other hand the natives made much use of stone implements especially adzes and clubs. In war they never used bows and arrows.3 They had no system of government unless that name may be given to the power wielded by the secret societies and by chiefs who exercised a certain degree of influence principally by reason of the reputation which they enjoyed as sorcerers and magicians. They were not elected nor did they necessarily inherit their office; they simply claimed to possess magical powers and if they succeeded in convincing the people of the justice of their claim their authority was recognised. Wealth also contributed to establish their position in the esteem of the public.4

The Rev. George Brown on Melanesians.
With regard to the religious ideas and customs of the natives we are not fully informed but so far as these have been described they appear to agree closely with those of the their kinsfolk in Central Melanesia. The first European to settle in the archipelago was the veteran missionary the Rev. George Brown D.D. who resided in the islands from 1875 to 1880 and has revisited them on several occasions since; he reduced the language to writing for the first time5 and is one of our best authorities on the people. In what follows I shall make use of his valuable testimony along with that of more recent observers.
North Melanesian theory of the soul.
Fear of ghosts especially the ghosts of persons who have been killed and eaten.
The natives of the archipelago believe that every person is animated by a soul which survives his death and may afterwards influence the survivors for good or evil. Their word for soul is nio or niono meaning a shadow. The root is nio which by the addition of personal suffixes becomes niong “my soul or shadow” niom “your soul or shadow” niono “his soul or shadow.” They think that the soul is like the man himself and that it always stays inside of his body except when it goes out on a ramble during sleep or a faint. A man who is very sleepy may say “My soul wants to go away.” They believe however that it departs for ever at death; hence when a man is sick his friends will offer prayers to prevent its departure. There is only one kind of soul but it can appear in many shapes and enter into animals such as rats lizards birds and so on. It can hear see and speak and present itself in the form of a wraith or apparition to people at the moment of or soon after death. On being asked why he thought that the soul does not perish with the body a native said “Because it is different; it is not of the same nature at all.” They believe that the souls of the dead occasionally visit the living and are seen by them and that they haunt houses and burial-places. They are very much afraid of the ghosts and do all they can to drive or frighten them away. Above all being cannibals they stand in great fear of the ghosts of the people whom they have killed and eaten. The man who is cutting up a human body takes care to tie a bandage over his mouth and nose during the operation of carving in order to prevent the enraged soul of the victim from entering into his body by these apertures; and for a similar reason the doors of the houses are shut while the cannibal feast is going on inside. And to keep the victim's ghost quiet while his body is being devoured a cut from a joint is very considerately placed on a tree outside of the house so that he may eat of his own flesh and be satisfied. At the conclusion of the banquet the people shout brandish spears beat the bushes blow horns beat drums and make all kinds of noises for the purpose of chasing the ghost or ghosts of the murdered and eaten men away from the village. But while they send away the souls they keep the skulls and jawbones of the victims; as many as thirty-five jawbones have been seen hanging in a single house in New Ireland. As for the skulls they are or rather were placed on the branch of a dead tree and so preserved on the beach or near the house of the man who had taken them.6
Offerings to the souls of the dead.
With regard to the death of their friends they deem it very important to obtain the bodies and bury them. They offer food to the souls of their departed kinsfolk for a long time after death until all the funeral feasts are over; but they do not hold annual festivals in honour of dead ancestors. The food offered to the dead is laid every day on a small platform in a tree; but the natives draw a distinction between offerings to the soul of a man who died a natural death and offerings to the soul of a man who was killed in a fight; for whereas they place the former on a living tree they deposit the latter on a dead tree. Moreover they lay money weapons and property often indeed the whole wealth of the family near the corpse of their friend in order that the soul of the deceased may carry off the souls of these valuables to the spirit land. But when the body is carried away to be buried most of the property is removed by its owners for their own use. However the relations will sometimes detach a few shells from the coils of shell money and a few beads from a necklace and drop them in a fire for the behoof of the ghost. But when the deceased was a chief or other person of importance some of his property would be buried with him. And before burial his body would be propped up on a special chair in front of his house adorned with necklaces wreaths of flowers and feathers and gaudy with war-paint. In one hand would be placed a large cooked yam and in the other a spear while a club would be put on his shoulder. The yam was to stay the pangs of hunger on his long journey and the weapons were to enable him to fight the foes who might resist his entrance into the spirit land. In the Duke of York Island the corpse was usually disposed of by being sunk in a deep part of the lagoon; but sometimes it was buried in the house and a fire kept burning on the spot.7
Burial customs in New Ireland and New Britain.
Preservation of the skull.
In New Ireland the dead were rolled up in winding-sheets made of pandanus leaves then weighted with stones and buried at sea. However at some places they were deposited in deep underground watercourses or caverns. Towards the northern end of New Ireland corpses were burned on large piles of firewood in an open space of the village. A number of images curiously carved out of wood or chalk were set round the blazing pyre but the meaning of these strange figures is uncertain. Men and women uttered the most piteous wailings threw themselves on the top of the corpse and pulled at the arms and legs. This they did not merely to express their grief but because they thought that if they saw and handled the dead body while it was burning the ghost could not or would not haunt them afterwards.8 Amongst the natives of the Gazelle Peninsula in New Britain the dead are generally buried in shallow graves in or near their houses. Some of the shell money which belonged to a man in life is buried with him. Women with blackened bodies sleep on the grave for weeks.9 When the deceased was a great chief his corpse almost covered with shell money is placed in a canoe which is deposited in a small house. Thereupon the nearest female relations are led into the house and the door being walled up they are obliged to remain there with the rotting body until all the flesh has mouldered away. Food is passed in to them through a hole in the wall and under no pretext are they allowed to leave the hut before the decomposition of the corpse is complete. When nothing of the late chief remains but a skeleton the hut is opened and the solemn funeral takes place. The bones of the dead are buried but his skull is hung up in the taboo house in order we are told that his ghost may remain in the neighbourhood of the village and see how his memory is honoured. After the burial of the headless skeleton feasting and dancing go on often for more than a month and the expenses are defrayed out of the riches left by the deceased.10 Even in the case of eminent persons who have been buried whole and entire in the usual way a special mark of respect is sometimes paid to their memory by digging up their skulls after a year or more painting them red and white decorating them with feathers and setting them up on a scaffold constructed for the purpose.11
Disposal of the dead among the Sulka of New Britain.
Somewhat similar is the disposal of the dead among the Sulka a tribe of New Britain who inhabit a mountainous and well-Watered country to the south of the Gazelle Peninsula. When a Sulka dies his plantation is laid waste and the young fruit-trees cut down but the ripe fruits are first distributed among the living. His pigs are slaughtered and their flesh in like manner distributed and his weapons are broken. If the deceased was a rich man his wife or wives will sometimes be killed. The corpse is usually buried next morning. A hole is dug in the house and the body deposited in it in a sitting posture. The upper part of the corpse projects from the grave and is covered with a tower-like structure of basket-work which is stuffed with banana-leaves. Great care is taken to preserve the body from touching the earth. Stones are laid round about the structure and a fire kindled. Relations come and sleep for a time beside the corpse men and women separately. Some while afterwards the soul of the deceased is driven away. The time for carrying out the expulsion is settled by the people in whispers lest the ghost should overhear them and prepare for a stout resistance. The evening before the ceremony takes place many coco-nut leaves are collected. Next morning as soon as a certain bird (Philemon coquerelli) is heard to sing the people rise from their beds and set up a great cry. Then they beat the walls shake the posts set fire to dry coco-nut leaves and finally rush out into the paths. At that moment so the people think the soul of the dead quits the hut. When the flesh of the corpse is quite decayed the bones are taken from the grave sewed in leaves and hung up. Soon afterwards a funeral feast is held at which men and women dance. For some time after a burial taro is planted beside the house of death and enclosed with a fence. The Sulka think that the ghost comes and gathers the souls of the taro. The ripe fruit is allowed to rot. Falling stars are supposed to be the souls of the dead which have been hurled up aloft and are now descending to bathe in the sea. The trail of light behind them is thought to be a tail of coco-nut leaves which other souls have fastened to them and set on fire. In like manner the phosphorescent glow on the sea comes from souls disporting themselves in the water. Persons who at their death left few relations or did evil in their life or were murdered outside of the village are not buried in the house. Their corpses are deposited on rocks or on scaffolds in the forest or are interred on the spot where they met their death. The reason for this treatment of their corpses is not mentioned but we may conjecture that their ghosts are regarded with contempt dislike or fear and that the survivors seek to give them a wide berth by keeping their bodies at a distance from the village. The corpses of those who died suddenly are not buried but wrapt up in leaves and laid on a scaffold in the house which is then shut up and deserted. This manner of disposing of them seems also to indicate a dread or distrust of their ghosts.12
Disposal of the dead among the Moanus of the Admiralty Islands.
Prayers offered to the skull of a dead chief.
Among the Moanus of the Admiralty Islands the dead are kept in the houses unburied until the flesh is completely decayed and nothing remains but the bones. Old women then wash the skeleton carefully in sea-water after which it is disjointed and divided. The backbone together with the bones of the legs and upper arms is deposited in one basket and put away somewhere; the skull together with the ribs and the bones of the lower arms is deposited in another basket which is sunk for a time in the sea. When the bones are completely cleaned and bleached in the water they are laid with sweet-smelling herbs in a wooden vessel and placed in the house which the dead man inhabited during his life. But the teeth have been previously extracted from the skull and converted into a necklace for herself by the sister of the deceased. After a time the ribs are distributed by the son among the relatives. The principal widow gets two other near kinsfolk get one apiece and they wear these relics under their arm-bands. The distribution of the ribs is the occasion of a great festival and it is followed some time afterwards by a still greater feast for which extensive preparations are made long beforehand. All who intend to be present at the ceremony send vessels of coco-nut oil in advance; and if the deceased was a great chief the number of the oil vessels and of the guests may amount to two thousand. Meantime the giver of the feast causes a scaffold to be erected for the reception of the skull and the whole art of the wood-carver is exhausted in decorating the scaffold with figures of turtles birds and so forth while a wooden dog acts as sentinel at either end. When the multitude has assembled and the orchestra of drums collected from the whole neighbourhood has sent forth a far-sounding crash of music the giver of the feast steps forward and pronounces a florid eulogium on the deceased a warm panegyric on the guests who have honoured him by their presence and a fluent invective against his absent foes. Nor does he forget to throw in some delicate allusions to his own noble generosity in providing the assembled visitors with this magnificent entertainment. For this great effort of eloquence the orator has been primed in the morning by the sorcerer. The process of priming consists in kneeling on the orator's shoulders and tugging at the hair of his head with might and main which is clearly calculated to promote the flow of his rhetoric. If none of the hair comes out in the sorcerer's hands a masterpiece of oratory is confidently looked forward to in the afternoon. When the speech for which such painful preparations have been made is at last over the drums again strike up. No sooner have their booming notes died away over land and sea than the sorcerer steps up to the scaffold takes from it the bleached skull and holds it in both his hands. Then the giver of the feast goes up to him dips a bunch of dracaena leaves in a vessel of oil and smites the skull with it saying “Thou art my father!” At that the drums again beat loudly. Then he strikes the skull a second time with the leaves saying “Take the food that has been made ready in thine honour!” And again there is a crash of drums. After that he smites the skull yet again and prays saying “Guard me! Guard my people! Guard my children!” And every prayer of the litany is followed by the solemn roll of the drums. When these impressive invocations to the spirit of the dead chief are over the feasting begins. The skull is thenceforth carefully preserved.13
Disposal of the dead in the Kaniet Islands.
Preservation of the skull.
In the Kaniet Islands a small group to the north-west of the Admiralty Islands the dead are either sunk in the sea or buried in shallow graves face downward near the house. All the movable property of the deceased is piled on the grave left there for three weeks and then burnt. Afterwards the skull is dug up placed in a basket and having been decorated with leaves and feathers is hung up in the house. Thus adorned it not only serves to keep the dead in memory but is also employed in many conjurations to defeat the nefarious designs of other ghosts who are believed to work most of the ills that afflict humanity.14 Apparently these islanders employ a ghost to protect them against ghosts on the principle of setting a thief to catch a thief.
Death attributed to witchcraft.
Amongst the natives of the Bismarck Archipelago few persons if any are believed to die from natural causes alone; if they are not killed in war they are commonly supposed to perish by witchcraft or sorcery even when the cause of death might seem to the uninstructed European to be sufficiently obvious in such things as exposure to heavy rain the carrying of too heavy a burden or remaining too long a time under water. So when a man has died his friends are anxious to discover who has bewitched him to death. In this enquiry the ghost is expected to lend his assistance. Thus on the night after the decease the friends will assemble outside the house and a sorcerer will address the ghost and request him to name the author of his death. If the ghost as sometimes happens makes no reply the sorcerer will jog his memory by calling out the name of some suspected person; and should the ghost still be silent the wizard will name another and another till at the mention of one name a tapping sound is heard like the drumming of fingers on a board or on a mat. The sound may proceed from the house or from a pearl shell which the sorcerer holds in his hand; but come from where it may it is taken as a certain proof that the man who has just been named did the deed and he is dealt with accordingly. Many a poor wretch in New Britain has been killed and eaten on no other evidence than that of the fatal tapping.15
Burial customs in the Duke of York Island.
Preservation of the skull.
When a man of mark is buried in the Duke of York Island the masters of sorcery take leaves spit on them and throw them with a number of poisonous things into the grave uttering at the same time loud imprecations on the wicked enchanter who has killed their friend. Then they go and bathe and returning they fall to cursing again; and if the miscreant survived the first imprecations it is regarded as perfectly certain that he will fall a victim to the second. Sometimes when the deceased was a chief distinguished for bravery and wisdom his corpse would be exposed on a high platform in front of his house and left there to rot while his relatives sat around and inhaled the stench conceiving that with it they absorbed the courage and skill of the departed worthy. Some of them would even anoint their bodies with the drippings from the putrefying corpse for the same purpose. The women also made fires that the ghost might warm himself at them. When the head became detached from the trunk it was carefully preserved by the next of kin while the other remains were buried in a shallow grave in the house. All the female relatives blackened their dusky faces for a long time after which the skull was put on a platform a great feast was held and dances were performed for many nights in its honour. Then at last the spirit of the dead man which till that time was supposed to be lingering about his old abode took his departure and his friends troubled themselves about him no more.16
Prayers to the spirits of the dead.
The souls of the dead are always regarded by these people as beings whose help can be invoked on special occasions such as fighting or fishing or any other matter of importance; and since the spirits whom they invoke are always those of their own kindred they are presumed to be friendly to the petitioners. The objects for which formal prayers are addressed to the souls of ancestors appear to be always temporal benefits such as victory over enemies and plenty of food; prayers for the promotion of moral virtue are seemingly unknown. For example if a woman laboured hard in childbirth she was thought to be bewitched and prayers would be offered to the spirits of dead ancestors to counteract the spell. Again young men are instructed by their elders in the useful art of cursing the enemies of the tribe; and among a rich variety of imprecations an old man will invoke the spirit of his brother father or uncle or all of them to put their fingers into the ears of the enemy that he may not hear to cover his eyes that he may not see and to stop his mouth that he may not cry for help but may fall an easy prey to the curser and his friends.17 More amiable and not less effectual are the prayers offered to the spirits of the dead over a sick man. At the mention of each name in the prayer the supplicants make a chirping or hissing sound and rub lime over the patient. Before administering medicine they pray over it to the spirits of the dead; then the patient gulps it down thus absorbing the virtue of the medicine and of the prayer in one. In New Britain they reinforce the prayers to the dead in time of need by wearing the jawbone of the deceased; and in the Duke of York Island people often wear a tooth or some hair of a departed relative not merely as a mark of respect but as a magical means of obtaining supernatural help.18
North Melanesian views as to the land of the dead
Sooner or later the souls of all the North Melanesian dead take their departure for the spirit land. But the information which has reached the living as to that far country is at once vague and inconsistent. They call it Matana nion but whereabout it lies they cannot for the most part precisely tell. All they know for certain is that it is far away and that there is always some particular spot in the neighbourhood from which the souls take their departure; for example the Duke of York ghosts invariably start from the little island of Nuruan near Mioko. Wherever it may be the land of souls is divided into compartments; people who have died of sickness or witchcraft go to one place and people who have been killed in battle go to another. They do not go unattended; for when a man dies two friends sleep beside his corpse the first night one on each side and their spirits are believed to accompany the soul of the dead man to the spirit land. They say that on their arrival in the far country betel-nut is presented to them all but the two living men refuse to partake of it because they know that were they to eat it they would return no more to the land of the living. When they do return they have often as might be expected strange tales to tell of what they saw among the ghosts. The principal personage in the other world is called the “keeper of souls.” It is said that once on a time the masterful ghost of a dead chief attempted to usurp the post of warden of the dead; in pursuance of this ambitious project he attacked the warden with a tomahawk and cut off one of his legs but the amputated limb immediately reunited itself with the body; and a second amputation was followed by the same disappointing result. Life in the other world is reported to be very like life in this world. Some people find it very dismal and others very beautiful. Those who were rich here will be rich there and those who were poor on earth will be poor in Hades. As to any moral retribution which may overtake evil-doers in the life to come their ideas are very vague; only they are sure that the ghosts of the niggardly will be punished by being dumped very hard against the buttress-roots of chestnut-trees. They say too that all breaches of etiquette or of the ordinary customs of the country will meet with certain appropriate punishments in the spirit land. When the soul has thus done penance it takes possession of the body of some animal for instance the flying-fox. Hence a native is much alarmed if he should be sitting under a tree from which a flying-fox has been frightened away. Should anything drop from the bat or from the tree on which it was hanging he would look on it as an omen of good or ill according to the nature of the thing which fell on or near him. If it were useless or dirty he would certainly apprehend some serious misfortune. Sometimes when a man dies and his soul arrives in the spirit land his friends do not want him there and drive him back to earth so he comes to life again. That is the explanation which the natives give of what we call the recovery of consciousness after a faint or swoon.19
The land of the dead.
State of the dead in the other world supposed to depend on the amount of money they left in this one.
Some of the natives of the Gazelle Peninsula in New Britain imagine that the home of departed spirits is in Nakanei the part of the coast to which they sail to get their shell money. Others suppose that it is in the islands off Cape Takes. So when they are sailing past these islands they dip the paddles softly in the water and observe a death like stillness cowering down in the canoes lest the ghosts should spy them and do them a mischief. At the entrance to these happy isles is posted a stern watchman to see that no improper person sneaks into them. To every ghost that arrives he puts three questions “Who are you? Where do you come from? How much shell money did you leave behind you?” On his answers to these three questions hangs the fate of the ghost. If he left much money he is free to enter the realm of bliss where he will pass the time with other happy souls smoking and eating and enjoying other sensual delights. But if he left little or no money he is banished the earthly paradise and sent home to roam like a wild beast in the forest battening on leaves and filth. With bitter sighs and groans he prowls about the villages at night and seeks to avenge himself by scaring or plaguing the survivors. To stay his hunger and appease his wrath relatives or friends will sometimes set forth food for him to devour. Yet even for such an impecunious soul there is hope; for if somebody only takes pity on him and gives a feast in his honour and distributes shell money to the guests the ghost may return to the islands of the blest and the door will be thrown open to him.20
Fiji and the Fijians.
So much for the belief in immortality as it is reported to exist among the Northern Melanesians of New Britain and the Bismarck Archipelago. We now pass to the consideration of a similar belief among another people of the same stock who have been longer known to Europe the Fijians. The archipelago which they occupy lies to the east of the New Hebrides and forms in fact the most easterly outpost of the black Melanesian race in the Pacific. Beyond it to the eastward are situated the smaller archipelagoes of Samoa and Tonga inhabited by branches of the brown Polynesian race whose members are scattered over the islands of the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii in the north to New Zealand in the south. Of all the branches of the Melanesian stock the Fijians at the date of their discovery by Europeans appear to have made the greatest advance in culture material social and political. “The Fijian” says one who knew him long and intimately “ takes no mean place among savages in the social scale. Long before the white man visited his shores he had made very considerable progress towards civilisation. His intersexual code had advanced to the ‘patriarchal stage’: he was a skilful and diligent husbandman who carried out extensive and laborious agricultural operations: he built good houses whose interior he ornamented with no little taste carved his weapons in graceful and intricate forms manufactured excellent pottery beat out from the inner bark of a tree a serviceable papyrus-cloth uponwhich he printed from blocks either carved or ingeniously pieced together elegant and elaborate patterns in fast colours; and with tools no better than a stone hatchet a pointed shell and a firestick he constructed large canoes capable of carrying more than a hundred warriors across the open sea.”21
Political superiority of the Fijians over the other Melanesians.
Politically the Fijians shewed their superiority to all the other Melanesians in the advance they had made towards a regular and organised government. While among the other branches of the same race government can hardly be said to exist the power of chiefs being both slender and precarious in Fiji the highest chiefs exercised despotic sway and received from Europeans the title of kings. The people had no voice in the state; the will of the king was generally law and his person was sacred. Whatever he touched or wore became thereby holy and had to be made over to him; nobody else could afterwards touch it without danger of being struck dead on the spot as if by an electric shock. One king took advantage of this superstition by dressing up an English sailor in his royal robes and sending him about to throw his sweeping train over any article of food whether dead or alive which he might chance to come near. The things so touched were at once conveyed to the king without a word of explanation being required or a single remonstrance uttered. Some of the kings laid claim to a divine origin and on the strength of the claim exacted and received from their subjects the respect due to deities. In these exorbitant pretensions they were greatly strengthened by the institution of taboo which lent the sanction of religion to every exertion of arbitrary power.22 Corresponding with the growth of monarchy was the well-marked gradation of social ranks which prevailed in the various tribes from the king down wards through chiefs warriors and landholders to slaves. The resulting political constitution has been compared to the old feudal system of Europe.23
Means of subsistence of the Fijians.
Ferocity and depravity of the Fijians.
Like the other peoples of the Melanesian stock the Fijians subsist chiefly by agriculture raising many sorts of esculent fruits and roots particularly yams taro plantains bread-fruit sweet potatoes bananas coco-nuts ivi nuts and sugar-cane; but the chief proportion of their food is derived from yams (Dioscorea) of which they cultivate five or six varieties.24 It has been observed that “the increase of cultivated plants is regular on receding from the Hawaiian group up to Fiji where roots and fruits are found that are unknown on the more eastern islands.”25 Yet the Fijians in their native state like all other Melanesian and Polynesian peoples were entirely ignorant of the cereals; and in the opinion of a competent observer the consequent defect in their diet has contributed to the serious defects in their national character. The cereals he tells us are the staple food of all races that have left their mark in history; and on the other hand “the apathy and indolence of the Fijians arise from their climate their diet and their communal institutions. The climate is too kind to stimulate them to exertion their food imparts no staying power. The soil gives the means of existence for every man without effort and the communal institutions destroy the instinct of accumulation.”26 Nor are apathy and indolence the only or the worst features in the character of these comparatively advanced savages. Their ferocity cruelty and moral depravity are depicted in dark colours by those who had the best opportunity of knowing them in the old days before their savagery was mitigated by contact with a milder religious faith and a higher civilisation. “In contemplating the character of this extraordinary portion of mankind” says one observer “the mind is struck with wonder and awe at the mixture of a complicated and carefully conducted political system highly finished manners and ceremonious politeness with a ferocity and practice of savage vices which is probably unparalleled in any other part of the world.”27 One of the first civilised men to gain an intimate acquaintance with the Fijians draws a melancholy contrast between the baseness and vileness of the people and the loveliness of the land in which they live.28
Scenery of the Fijian islands.
For the Fijian islands arc exceedingly beautiful. They are of volcanic origin mostly high and mountainous but intersected by picturesque valleys clothed with woods and festooned with the most luxuriant tropical vegetation. “Among their attractions” we are told “are high mountains abrupt precipices conical hills fantastic turrets and crags of rock frowning down like olden battlements vast domes peaks shattered into strange forms; native towns on eyrie cliffs apparently inaccessible; and deep ravines down which some mountain stream after long murmuring in its stony bed falls headlong glittering as a silver line on a block of jet or spreading like a sheet of glass over bare rocks which refuse it a channel. Here also are found the softer features of rich vales cocoa-nut groves clumps of dark chestnuts stately palms and bread-fruit patches of graceful bananas or well-tilled taro-beds mingling in unchecked luxuriance and forming with the wild reef-scenery of the girdling shore its beating surf and far-stretching ocean beyond pictures of surpassing beauty.”29 Each island is encircled by a reef of white coral on which the sea breaks with a thunderous roar in curling sheets of foam; while inside the reef stretches the lagoon a calm lake of blue crystalline water revealing in its translucent depths beautiful gardens of seaweed and coral which fill the beholder with delighted wonder. Great and sudden is the contrast experienced by the mariner when he passes in a moment from the tossing heaving roaring billows without into the unbroken calm of the quiet haven within the barrier reef.30
Fijian doctrine of souls.
Like most savages the Fijians believed that man is animated by a soul which quits his body temporarily in sleep and permanently at death to survive for a longer or a shorter time in a disembodied state thereafter. Indeed they attributed souls to animals vegetables stones tools houses canoes and many other things allowing that all of them may become immortal.31 On this point I will quote the evidence of one of the earliest and best authorities on the customs and beliefs of the South Sea Islanders. “There seems” says William Mariner “to be a wide difference between the opinions of the natives in the different clusters of the South Sea islands respecting the future existence of the soul. Whilst the Tonga doctrine limits immortality to chiefs matabooles and at most to mooas the Fiji doctrine with abundant liberality extends it to all mankind to all brute animals to all vegetables and even to stones and mineral substances. If an animal or a plant die its soul immediately goes to Bolotoo; if a stone or any other substance is broken immortality is equally its reward; nay artificial bodies have equal good luck with men and hogs and yams. If an axe or a chisel is worn out or broken up away flies its soul for the service of the gods. If a house is taken down or any way destroyed its immortal part will find a situation on the plains of Bolotoo; and to confirm this doctrine the Fiji people can show you a sort of natural well or deep hole in the ground at one of their islands across the bottom of which runs a stream of water in which you may clearly perceive the souls of men and women beasts and plants of stocks and stones canoes and houses and of all the broken utensils of this frail world swimming or rather tumbling along one over the other pell-mell into the regions of immortality. Such is the Fiji philosophy but the Tonga people deny it unwilling to think that the residence of the gods should be encumbered with so much useless rubbish. The natives of Otaheite entertain similar notions respecting these things viz. that brutes plants and stones exist hereafter but it is not mentioned that they extend the idea to objects of human invention.”32
Reported Fijian doctrine of two human souls a light ne and a dark one.
According to one account the Fijians imagined that every man has two souls a dark soul consisting of his shadow and a light soul consisting of his reflection in water or a looking-glass: the dark soul departs at death to Hades while the light soul stays near the place where he died or was killed. “Probably” says Thomas Williams “this doctrine of shadows has to do with the notion of inanimate objects having spirits. I once placed a good-looking native suddenly before a mirror. He stood delighted. ‘Now’ said he softly ‘I can see into the world of spirits.’”33 However according to another good authority this distinction of two human souls rests merely on a misapprehension of the Fijian word for shadow yaloyalo which is a reduplication of yalo the word for soul.34 Apparently the Fijians pictured to themselves the human soul as a miniature of the man himself. This may be inferred from the customs observed at the death of a chief among the Nakelo tribe. When a chief dies certain men who are the hereditary undertakers call him as he lies oiled and ornamented on fine mats saying “Rise sir the chief and let us be going. The day has come over the land.” Then they conduct him to the river side where the ghostly ferryman comes to ferry Nakelo ghosts across the stream. As they attend the chief on his last journey they hold their great fans close to the ground to shelter him because as one of them explained to a missionary “His soul is only a little child.”35
Absence of the soul in sleep.
Catching the soul of a rascal in a scarf.
The souls of some men were supposed to quit their bodies in sleep and enter into the bodies of other sleepers troubling and disturbing them. A soul that had contracted this bad habit was called a yalombula. When any one fainted or died his vagrant spirit might so the Fijians thought be induced to come back by calling after it. Sometimes on awaking from a nap a stout man might be seen lying at full length and bawling out lustily for the return of his own soul.36 In the windward islands of Fiji there used to be an ordeal called yalovaki which was much dreaded by evil-doers. When the evidence was strong against suspected criminals and they stubbornly refused to confess the chief who was also the judge would call for a scarf with which “to catch away the soul of the rogue.” A threat of the rack could not have been more effectual. The culprit generally confessed at the sight and even the mention of the light instrument; but if he did not the scarf would be waved over his head until his soul was caught in it like a moth or a fly after which it would be carefully folded up and nailed to the small end of a chief's canoe and for want of his soul the suspected person would pine and die.37
Fijian dread of sorcery and witchcraft.
Further the Fijians like many other savages stood in great terror of witchcraft believing that the sorcerer had it in his power to kill them by the practice of his nefarious art. “Of all their superstitions” says Thomas Williams “this exerts the strongest influence on the minds of the people. Men who laugh at the pretensions of the priest tremble at the power of the wizard; and those who become christians lose this fear last of all the relics of their heathenism.”38 Indeed “native agents of the mission who in the discharge of their duty have boldly faced death by open violence have been driven from their posts by their dread of the sorcerer; and my own observation confirms the statement of more than one observer that savages not unfrequently die of fear when they think themselves bewitched.” 39 Professed practitioners of witchcraft were dreaded by all classes and by destroying mutual confidence they annulled the comfort and shook the security of society. Almost all sudden deaths were set down to their machinations. A common mode of effecting their object was to obtain a shred of the clothing of the man they intended to bewitch some refuse of his food a lock of his hair or some other personal relic; having got it they wrapped it up in certain leaves and then cooked or buried it or hung it up in the forest; whereupon the victim was supposed to die of a wasting disease. Another way was to bury a coco-nut with the eye upward beneath the hearth of the temple on which a fire was kept constantly burning; and as the life of the nut was destroyed so the health of the person whom the nut represented would fail till death put an end to his sufferings. “The native imagination” we are told “is so absolutely under the control of fear of these charms that persons hearing that they were the object of such spells have lain down on their mats and died through fear.”40 To guard against the fell craft of the magician the people resorted to many precautions. A man who suspected another of plotting against him would be careful not to eat in his presence or at all events to leave no morsel of food behind lest the other should secrete it and bewitch him by it; and for the same reason people disposed of their garments so that no part could be removed; and when they had their hair cut they generally hid the clippings in the thatch of their own houses. Some even built themselves a small hut and surrounded it with a moat believing that a little water had power to neutralise the charms directed against them.41
The fear of sorcery has had the beneficial effect of enforcing habits of personal cleanliness.
“In the face of such instances as these” says one who knows the Fijians well “it demands some courage to assert that upon the whole the belief in witchcraft was formerly a positive advantage to the community. It filled in fact the place of a system of sanitation. The wizard's tools consisting in those waste matters that are inimical to health every man was his own scavenger. From birth to old age a man was governed by this one fear; he went into the sea the graveyard or the depths of the forest to satisfy his natural wants; he burned his cast-off malo; he gave every fragment left over from his food to the pigs; he concealed even the clippings of his hair in the thatch of his house. This ever-present fear even drove women in the western districts out into the forest for the birth of their children where fire destroyed every trace of their lying-in. Until Christianity broke it down the villages were kept clean; there were no festering rubbish-heaps nor filthy raras.”42
Fijian dread of ghosts.
Uproar made to drive away ghosts.
Of apparitions the Fijians used to be very much afraid. They believed tat the ghosts of the dead appeared often and afflicted mankind especially in sleep. The spirits of slain men unchaste women and women who died in childbed were most dreaded. After a death people have been known to hide themselves for a few days until they supposed the soul of the departed was at rest. Also they shunned the places where people had been murdered particularly when it rained because then the moans of the ghost could be heard as he sat up trying to relieve his pain by resting his poor aching head on the palms of his hands. Some however said that the moans were caused by the soul of the murderer knocking down the soul of his victim whenever the wretched spirit attempted to get up.43 When Fijians passed a spot in the forest where a man had been clubbed to death they would sometimes throw leaves on it as a mark of homage to his spirit believing that they would soon be killed themselves if they failed in thus paying their respects to the ghost.44 And after they had buried a man alive as they very often did these savages used at nightfall to make a great din with large bamboos trumpet-shells and so forth in order to drive away his spirit and deter him from loitering about his old home. “The uproar is always held in the late habitation of the deceased the reason being that as no one knows for a certainty what reception he will receive in the invisible world if it is not according to his expectations he will most likely repent of his bargain and wish to come back. For that reason they make a great noise to frighten him away and dismantle his former habitation of everything that is attractive and clothe it with everything that to their ideas seems repulsive.”45
Killing a ghost
However stronger measures were sometimes resorted to. Killing a It was believed to be possible to kill a troublesome ghost ghost. Once it happened that many chiefs feasted in the house of Tanoa King of Ambau. In the course of the evening one of them related how he had slain a neighbouring chief. That very night having occasion to leave the house he saw as he believed the ghost of his victim hurled his club at him and killed him stone dead. On his return to the house he roused the king and the rest of the inmates from their slumbers and recounted his exploit. The matter was deemed of high importance and they all sat on it in solemn conclave. Next morning a search was made for the club on the scene of the murder; it was found and carried with great pomp and parade to the nearest temple where it was laid up for a perpetual memorial. Everybody was firmly persuaded that by this swashing blow the ghost had been not only killed but annihilated.46
Dazing the ghost of a grand-father
A more humane method of dealing with an importunate ghost used to be adopted in Vanua-levu the largest but one of the Fijian islands. In that island as a consequence it is said of reckoning kinship through the mother a child was considered to be more closely related to his grandfather than to his father. Hence when a grandfather died his ghost naturally desired to carry off the soul of his grandchild with him to the spirit land. The wish was creditable to the warmth of his domestic affection but if the survivors preferred to keep the child with them a little longer in this vale of tears they took steps to baffle grandfather's ghost. For this purpose when the old man's body was stretched on the bier and raised on the shoulders of half-a-dozen stout young fellows the mother's brother would take the grandchild in his arms and begin running round and round the corpse. Round and round lie ran and grandfather's ghost looked after him craning his neck from side to side and twisting it round and round in the vain attempt to follow the rapid movements of the runner. When the ghost was supposed to be quite giddy with this unwonted exercise the mother's brother made a sudden dart away with the child in his arms the bearers fairly bolted with the corpse to the grave and before he could collect his scattered wits grandfather was safely landed in his long home.47
Special relation of grandfather to grandchild.
Soul of a grandfather reborn in his grandchild
Mr. Fison who reports this quaint mode of bilking a ghost explains the special attachment of the grandfather to his grandchild by the rule of female descent which survives in Vanua-levu; and it is true that where exogamy prevails along with female descent a child regularly belongs to the exogamous class of its grandfather and not of its father and hence may be regarded as more closely akin to the grandfather than to the father. But on the other hand it is to be observed that exogamy at present is unknown in Fiji and at most its former prevalence in the islands can only be indirectly inferred from relics of totemism and from the existence of the classificatory system of relationship.48 Perhaps the real reason why in Vanua-levu a dead grandfather is so anxious to carry off the soul of his living grandchild lies nearer to hand in the apparently widespread belief that the soul of the grandfather is actually reborn in his grandchild. For example in Nukahiva one of the Marquesas Islands every one “is persuaded that the soul of a grandfather is transmitted by nature into the body of his grandchildren; and that if an unfruitful wife were to place herself under the corpse of her deceased grandfather she would be sure to become pregnant.”49 Again the Kayans of Borneo “believe in the reincarnation of the soul although this belief is not clearly harmonised with the belief in the life in another world. It is generally believed that the soul of a grandfather may pass into one of his grandchildren and an old man will try to secure the passage of his soul to a favourite grandchild by holding it above his head from time to time. The grandfather usually gives up his name to his eldest grandson and reassumes the original name of his childhood with the prefix or title Laki and the custom seems to be connected with this belief or hope.”50
A dead grandfather may reasonably reclaim his own soul from his grandchild.
Now where such a belief is held it seems reasonable A dead enough that a dead grandfather should reclaim his own soul for his personal use before he sets out for the spirit land; else how could he expect to be admitted to that blissful abode if on arriving at the portal he were obliged to explain to the porter that he had no soul about him having left that indispensable article behind in the person of his grandchild? “Then you had better go back and fetch it. There is no admission at this gate for people without souls.” Such might very well be the porter's retort; and foreseeing it any man of ordinary prudence would take the precaution of recovering his lost spiritual property before presenting himself to the Warden of the Dead. This theory would sufficiently account for the otherwise singular behaviour of grandfather's ghost in Vanua-levu. At the same time it must be admitted that the theory of the reincarnation of a grandfather in a grandson would be suggested more readily in a society where the custom of exogamy was combined with female descent than in one where the same custom coexisted with male descent; since given exogamy and female descent grandfather and grandson regularly belong to the same exogamous class whereas father and son never do so.51 Thus Mr. Fison may after all be right in referring the partiality of a Fijian grandfather for his grandson in the last resort to a system of exogamy and female kinship.