The Belief in Immortality Among the Natives of Eastern Melanesia (Fiji) (continued)
Fijian indifference to death.
AT the close of last lecture I illustrated the unquestioning belief which the Fijians entertain with regard to the survival of the human soul after death. “The native superstitions with regard to a future state” we are told “go far to explain the apparent indifference of the people about death; for while believing in an eternal existence they shut out from it the idea of any moral retribution in the shape either of reward or punishment. The first notion concerning death is that of simple rest and is thus contained in one of their rhymes:—
Death is easy:
Of what use is life?
Again another writer speaking of the Fijians says that “in general the passage from life to death is considered as one from pain to happiness and I was informed that nine out of ten look forward to it with anxiety in order to escape from the infirmities of old age or the sufferings of disease.”2
John Jackson's account of the burying alive of a young Fijian man.
Son buried alive by his father.
The cool indifference with which the Fijians commonly regarded their own death and that of other people might be illustrated by many examples. I will give one in the words of an English eye-witness who lived among these savages for some time like one of themselves. At a place on the coast of Viti Levu the largest of the Fijian Islands he says “I walked into a number of temples which were very plentiful and at last into a bure theravou
(young man's bure
) where I saw a tall young man about twenty years old. He appeared to be somewhat ailing but not at all emaciated. He was rolling up the mat he had been sleeping upon evidently preparing to go away somewhere. I addressed him and asked him where he was going when he immediately answered that he was going to be buried. I observed that he was not dead yet but he said he soon should be dead when he was put under ground. I asked him why he was going to be buried? He said it was three days since he had eaten anything and consequently he was getting very thin; and that if he lived any longer he would be much thinner and then the women would call him a lila
(skeleton) and laugh at him. I said he was a fool to throw himself away for fear of being laughed at; and asked him what or who his private god was knowing it to be no use talking to him about Providence a thing he had never heard of. He said his god was a shark and that if he were cast away in a canoe and was obliged to swim the sharks would not bite him. I asked him if he believed the shark his god had any power to act over him? He said yes. ‘Well then’ said I ‘why do you not live a little longer and trust to your god to give you an appetite?’ Finding that he could not give me satisfactory answers and being determined to get buried to avoid the jeers of the ladies which to a Feejeean are intolerable he told me I knew nothing about it and that I must not compare him to a white man who was generally insensible to all shame and did not care how much he was laughed at. I called him a fool and said the best thing he could do was to get buried out of the way because I knew that most of them work by the rules of contrary; but it was all to no purpose. By this time all his relations had collected round the door. His father had a kind of wooden spade to dig the grave with his mother a new suit of tapa
[bark-cloth] his sister some vermilion and a whale's tooth as an introduction to the great god of Rage-Rage. He arose took up his bed and walked not for life but for death his father mother and sister following after with several other distant relations whom I accompanied. I noticed that they seemed to follow him something in the same way that they follow a corpse in Europe to the grave (that is as far as relationship and acquaintance are concerned) but instead of lamenting they were if not rejoicing acting and chatting in a very unconcerned way. At last we reached a place where several graves could be seen and a spot was soon selected by the man who was to be buried. The old man his father began digging his grave while his mother assisted her son in putting on a new tapa
[bark-cloth] and the girl (his sister) was besmearing him with vermilion and lamp-black so as to send him decent into the invisible world he (the victim) delivering messages that were to be taken by his sister to people then absent. His father then announced to him and the rest that the grave was completed and asked him in rather a surly tone if he was not ready by this time. The mother then nosed
him and likewise the sister. He said ‘Before I die I should like a drink of water.’ His father made a surly remark and said as he ran to fetch it in a leaf doubled up ‘You have been a considerable trouble during your life and it appears that you are going to trouble us equally at your death.’ The father returned with the water which the son drank off and then looked up into a tree covered with tough vines saying he should prefer being strangled with a vine to being smothered in the grave. His father became excessively angry and spreading the mat at the bottom of the grave told the son to die faka tamata
(like a man) when he stepped into the grave which was not more than four feet deep and lay down on his back with the whale's tooth in his hands which were clasped across his belly. The spare sides of the mats were lapped over him so as to prevent the earth from getting to his body and then about a foot of earth was shovelled in upon him as quickly as possible. His father stamped it immediately down solid and called out in a loud voice ‘Sa tiko sa tiko
(You are stopping there you are stopping there)’ meaning ‘Good-bye good-bye.’ The son answered with a very audible grunt and then about two feet more earth was shovelled in and stamped as before by the loving father and ‘Sa tiko
’ called out again which was answered by another grunt but much fainter. The grave was then completely filled up when for curiosity's sake I said myself ‘Sa tiko
’ but no answer was given although I fancied or really did see the earth crack a little on the top of the grave. The father and mother then turned back to back on the middle of the grave and having dropped some kind of leaves from their hands walked away in opposite directions towards a running stream of water hard by where they and all the rest washed themselves and made me wash myself and then we returned to the town where there was a feast prepared. As soon as the feast was over (it being then dark) began the dance and uproar which are always carried on either at natural or violent deaths.”3
The readiness of the Fijians to die seems to have been partly a consequence of their belief in immortality.
The readiness with which the Fijians submitted to or even sought death appears to have been to some extent a direct consequence of their belief in immortality and of their notions as to the state of the soul hereafter. Thus we are informed by an early observer of this people that “self-immolation is by no means rare and they believe that as they leave this life so will they remain ever after. This forms a powerful motive to escape from decrepitude or from a crippled condition by a voluntary death.”4
Or as another equally early observer puts it more fully “the custom of voluntary suicide on the part of the old men which is among their most extraordinary usages is also connected with their superstitions respecting a future life. They believe that persons enter upon the delights of their elysium with the same faculties mental and physical that they possess at the hour of death in short that the spiritual life commences where the corporeal existence terminates. With these views it is natural that they should desire to pass through this change before their mental and bodily powers are so enfeebled by age as to deprive them of their capacity for enjoyment. To this motive must be added the contempt which attaches to physical weakness among a nation of warriors and the wrongs and insults which await those who are no longer able to protect themselves. When therefore a man finds his strength declining with the advance of age and feels that he will soon be unequal to discharge the duties of this life and to partake in the pleasures of that which is to come he calls together his relations and tells them that he is now worn out and useless that he sees they are all ashamed of him and that he has determined to be buried.” So on a day appointed they met and buried him alive.5
The sick and aged put to death by their relatives.
The proposal to put the sick and aged to death did not always emanate from the parties principally concerned; when a son for example thought that his parents were growing too old and becoming a burden to him he would give them notice that it was time for them to die a notice which they usually accepted with equanimity if not alacrity. As a rule it was left to the choice of the aged and infirm to say whether they would prefer to be buried alive or to be strangled first and buried afterwards; and having expressed a predilection one way or the other they were dealt with accordingly. To strangle parents or other frail and sickly relatives with a rope was considered a more delicate and affectionate way of dispatching them than to knock them on the head with a club. In the old days the missionary Mr. Hunt witnessed several of these tender partings. “On one occasion he was called upon by a young man who desired that he would pray to his spirit for his mother who was dead. Mr. Hunt was at first in hopes that this would afford him an opportunity of forwarding their great cause. On inquiry the young man told him that his brothers and himself were just going to bury her. Mr. Hunt accompanied the young man telling him he would follow in the procession and do as he desired him supposing of course the corpse would be brought along; but he now met the procession when the young man said that this was the funeral and pointed out his mother who was walking along with them as gay and lively as any of those present and apparently as much pleased. Mr. Hunt expressed his surprise to the young man and asked him how he could deceive him so much by saying his mother was dead when she was alive and well. He said in reply that they had made her death-feast and were now going to bury her; that she was old; that his brother and himself had thought she had lived long enough and it was time to bury her to which she had willingly assented and they were about it now. He had come to Mr. Hunt to ask his prayers as they did those of the priest. He added that it was from love for his mother that he had done so; that in consequence of the same love they were now going to bury her and that none but themselves could or ought to do so sacred an office! Mr. Hunt did all in his power to prevent so diabolical an act; but the only reply he received was that she was their mother and they were her children and they ought to put her to death. On reaching the grave the mother sat down when they all including children grandchildren relations and friends took an affectionate leave of her; a rope made of twisted tapa
[bark-cloth] was then passed twice around her neck by her sons who took hold of it and strangled her; after which she was put into her grave with the usual ceremonies. They returned to feast and mourn after which she was entirely forgotten as though she had not existed.”6
Wives strangled or buried alive at their husbands’ funerals.
Again wives were often strangled or buried alive at the funeral of their husbands and generally at their own instance. Such scenes were frequently witnessed by white residents in the old days. On one occasion a Mr. David Whippy drove away the murderers rescued the woman and carried her to his own house where she was resuscitated. But far from feeling grateful for her preservation she loaded him with reproaches and ever afterwards manifested the most deadly hatred towards him. “That women should desire to accompany their husbands in death is by no means strange when it is considered that it is one of the articles of their belief that in this way alone can they reach the realms of bliss and she who meets her death with the greatest devotedness will become the favourite wife in the abode of spirits. The sacrifice is not however always voluntary; but when a woman refuses to be strangled her relations often compel her to submit. This they do from interested motives; for by her death her connexions become entitled to the property of her husband. Even a delay is made a matter of reproach. Thus at the funeral of the late king Ulivou which was witnessed by Mr. Cargill his five wives and a daughter were strangled. The principal wife delayed the ceremony by taking leave of those around her; whereupon Tanoa the present king chid her. The victim was his own aunt and he assisted in putting the rope around her neck and strangling her a service he is said to have rendered on a former occasion to his own mother.”7
In the case of men who were drowned at sea or killed and eaten by enemies in war their wives were sacrificed in the usual way. Thus when Ra Mbithi the pride of Somosomo was lost at sea seventeen of his wives were destroyed; and after the news of a massacre of the Namena people at Viwa in 1839 eighty women were strangled to accompany the spirits of their murdered husbands.8
Human “grass” for the grave.
The bodies of women who were put to death for this purpose were regularly laid at the bottom of the grave to serve as a cushion for the dead husband to lie upon; in this capacity they were called grass (thotho
) being compared to the dried grass which in Fijian houses used to be thickly strewn on the floors and covered with mats.9
On this point however a nice distinction was observed. While wives were commonly sacrificed at the death of their husbands in order to be spread like grass in their graves it does not transpire that husbands were ever sacrificed at the death of their wives for the sake of serving as grass to their dead spouses in the grave. The great truth that all flesh is grass appears to have been understood by the Fijians as applicable chiefly to the flesh of women. Sometimes a man's mother was strangled as well as his wives. Thus Ngavindi a young chief of Lasakau was laid in the grave with a wife at his side his mother at his feet and a servant not far off. However men as well as women were killed to follow their masters to the far country. The confidential companion of a chief was expected as a matter of common decency to die with his lord; and if he shirked the duty he fell in the public esteem. When Mbithi a chief of high rank and greatly esteemed in Mathuata died in the year 1840 not only his wife but five men with their wives were strangled to form the floor of his grave. They were laid on a layer of mats and the body of the chief was stretched upon them.10
There used to be a family in Vanua Levu which enjoyed the high privilege of supplying a hale man to be buried with the king of Fiji on every occasion of a royal decease. It was quite necessary that the man should be hale and hearty for it was his business to grapple with the Fijian Cerberus in the other world while his majesty slipped past into the abode of bliss.11
Sacrifices of foreskins and fingers in honour of the dead.
Circumcision performance on a lad as a propitiatory sacrifice to save the life of his father or father's brother.
The rite of circumcision followed by a licentious orgy.
A curious sacrifice offered in honour of a dead chief consisted in the foreskins of all the boys who had arrived at a suitable age; the lads were circumcised on purpose to furnish them. Many boys had their little fingers chopped off on the same occasion and the severed foreskins and fingers were placed in the chief's grave. When this bloody rite had been performed the chief's relatives presented young bread-fruit trees to the mutilated boys whose friends were bound to cultivate them till the boys could do it for themselves.12
Women as well as boys had their fingers cut off in mourning. We read of a case when after the death of a king of Fiji sixty fingers were amputated and being each inserted in a slit reed were stuck along the eaves of the king's house.13
Why foreskins and fingers were buried with a dead chief or stuck up on the roof of his house we are not informed and it is not easy to divine. Apparently we must suppose that when they were buried with the body they were thought to be of some assistance to the departed spirit in the land of souls. At all events it deserves to be noted that according to a very good authority a similar sacrifice of foreskins used to be made not only for the dead but for the living. When a man of note was dangerously ill a family council would be held at which it might be agreed that a circumcision should take place as a propitiatory measure. Notice having been given to the priests an uncircumcised lad the sick man's own son or the son of one of his brothers was then taken by his kinsman to the Vale tambu
or God's House and there presented as a soro
or offering of atonement in order that his father or father's brother might be made whole. His escort at the same time made a present of valuable property at the shrine and promised much more in future should their prayers be answered. The present and the promises were graciously received by the priest who appointed a day on which the operation was to be performed. In the meantime no food might be taken from the plantations except what was absolutely required for daily use; no pigs or fowls might be killed and no coco-nuts plucked from the trees. Everything in short was put under a strict taboo; all was set apart for the great feast which was to follow the performance of the rite. On the day appointed the son or nephew of the sick chief was circumcised and with him a number of other lads whose friends had agreed to take advantage of the occasion. Their foreskins stuck in the cleft of a split reed were taken to the sacred enclosure (Nanga
) and presented to the chief priest who holding the reeds in his hand offered them to the ancestral gods and prayed for the sick man's recovery. Then followed a great feast which ushered in a period of indescribable revelry and licence. All distinctions of property were for the time being suspended. Men and women arrayed themselves in all manner of fantastic garbs addressed one another in the foulest language and practiced unmentionable abominations openly in the public square of the town. The nearest relationships even that of own brother and sister seemed to be no bar to the general licence the extent of which was indicated by the expressive phares of an old Nandi chief who said “While it lasts we are just like the pigs.” This feasting and orgy might be kept up for several days after which the ordinary restraints of society and the common decencies of life were observed once more. The rights of private property were again respected; the abandoned revellers and debauchees settled down into staid married couples; and brothers and sisters in accordance with the regular Fijian etiquette be added that these extravagances in connexion with the rite of circumcision appear to have been practiced only in certain districts of Viti Levu the largest of the Fijian Islands where they were always associated with the sacred stone enclosures which went by the name of Nanga
These orgies were apparently associated with the worship of the dead to whom offerings were made in the Nanga or sacred enclosure of stones.
The meaning of such orgies is very obscure but from what we know of the savage and his ways we may fairly assume that they were no mere outbursts of unbridled passion but that in the minds of those who practiced them they had a definite significance and served a definite purpose. The one thing that seems fairly clear about them is that in some way they were associated with the worship or propitiation of the dead. At all events we are told on good authority that the Nanga
or sacred enclosure of stones in which the severed foreskins were offered was “the Sacred Place where the ancestral spirits are to be found by their worshippers and thither offerings are taken on all occasions when their aid is to be invoked. Every member of the Nanga
has the privilege of approaching the ancestors at any time. When sickness visits himself or his kinsfolk when he wishes to invoke the aid of the spirits to avert calamity or to secure prosperity or when he deems it advisable to present a thank-offering he may enter the Nanga
with proper reverence and deposit on the dividing wall his whale's tooth or bundle of clot or dish of toothsome eels so highly prized by the elders and therefore by the ancestors whose living representatives they are: or he may drag into the Sacred Nanga
his fattened pig or pile up there his offering of the choicest yams. And having thus recommended himself to the dead he may invoke their powerful aid or express his thankfulness for the benefits they have conferred and beg for a continuance of their goodwill.”15
The first-fruits of the yam harvest were presented with great ceremony to the ancestors in the Nanga
before the bulk of the crop was dug for the people's use and no man might taste of the new yams until the presentation had been made. The yams so offered were piled up in the sacred enclosure and left to rot there. If any one were impious enough to appropriate them to his own use it was believed that he would be smitten with madness. Great feasts were held at the presentation of the first-fruits; and the sacred enclosure itself was often spoken of as the Mbaki
Periodical initiation of young men in the Nanga.
But the most characteristic and perhaps the most important of the rites performed in the Nanga or sacred stone enclosure was the periodical initiation of young men who by participation in the ceremony were admitted to the full privileges of manhood. According to one account the ceremony of initiation was performed as a rule only once in two years; according to another account it was observed annually in October or November when the ndrala tree (Erythrina) was in flower. The flowering of the tree marked the beginning of the Fijian year; hence the novices who were initiated at this season bore the title of Vilavou that is “New Year's Men.” As a preparation for the feasts which attended the ceremony enormous quantities of yams were garnered and placed under a strict taboo; pigs were fattened in large numbers and bales of native cloth stored on the tie-beams of the house-roofs. Spears of many patterns and curiously carved clubs were also provided against the festival. On the day appointed the initiated men went first into the sacred enclosure and made their offerings the chief priest having opened the proceedings by libation and prayer. The heads of the novices were clean shaven and their beards if they had any were also removed. Then each youth was swathed in long rolls of native cloth and taking a spear in one hand and a club in the other he marched with his comrades similarly swathed and armed in procession into the sacred enclosure though not into its inner compartment the Holy of Holies. The procession was headed by a priest bearing his carved staff of office and it was received on the holy ground by the initiates who sat chanting a song in a deep murmuring tone which occasionally swelled to a considerable volume of sound and was thought to represent the muffled roar of the surf breaking on a far-away coral reef. On entering the enclosure the youths threw down their weapons before them and with the help of the initiated men divested themselves of the huge folds of native cloth in which they were enveloped each man revolving slowly on his axis while his attendant pulled at the bandage and gathered in the slack. The weapons and the cloth were the offerings presented by the novices to the ancestral spirits for the purpose of rendering themselves acceptable to these powerful beings. The offerings were repeated in like manner on four successive days; and as each youth was merely as it were the central roller of a great bale of cloth the amount of cloth offered was considerable. It was all put away with the spears and clubs in the sacred storehouse by the initiated men. A feast concluded each day and was prolonged far into the night.
Ceremony of death and resurrection.
On the fifth day the last and greatest of the festival the heads of the young men were shaven again and their bodies swathed in the largest and best rolls of cloth. Then taking their choicest weapons in their hands they followed their leader as before into the sacred enclosure. But the outer compartment of the holy place where on the previous days they had been received by the grand chorus of initiated men was now silent and deserted. The procession stopped. A dead silence prevailed. Suddenly from the forest a harsh scream of many parrots broke forth and then followed a mysterious booming sound which filled the souls of the novices with awe. But now the priest moves slowly forward and leads the train of trembling novices for the first time into the inner shrine the Holy of Holies the Nanga tambu-tambu. Here a dreadful spectacle meets their startled gaze. In the background sits the high priest regarding them with a stony stare; and between him and them lie a row of dead men covered with blood their bodies seemingly cut open and their entrails protruding. The leader steps over them one by one and the awestruck youths follow him until they stand in a row before the high priest their very souls harrowed by his awful glare. Suddenly he utters a great yell and at the cry the dead men start to their feet and run down to the river to cleanse themselves from the blood and filth with which they are besmeared. They are initiated men who represent the departed ancestors for the occasion; and the blood and entrails are those of many pigs that have been slaughtered for that night's revelry. The screams of the parrots and the mysterious booming sound were produced by a concealed orchestra who screeched appropriately and blew blasts on bamboo trumpets the mouths of which were partially immersed in water.
Sacrament of food and water.
The dead men having come to life again the novices offered their weapons and the bales of native cloth in which they were swathed. These were accordingly removed to the storehouse and the young men were made to sit down in front of it. Then the high priest cheered perhaps by the sight of the offerings unbent the starched dignity of his demeanour. Skipping from side to side he cried in stridulous tones “Where are the people of my enclosure? Are they gone to Tongalevu? Are they gone to the deep sea?” He had not called long when an answer rang out from the river in a deep-mouthed song and soon the singers came in view moving rhythmically to the music of their solemn chant. Singing they filed in and took their places in front of the young men; then silence ensured. After that there entered four old men of the highest order of initiates; the first bore a cooked yam carefully wrapt in leaves so that no part of it should touch the hands of the bearer; the second carried a piece of baked pork similarly enveloped; the third held a drinking-cup of coco-nut shell or earthenware filled with water and wrapt round with native cloth; and the fourth bore a napkin of the same material. Thereupon the first elder passed along the row of novices putting the end of the yam in to each of their mouths and as he did so each of them nibbled a morsel of the sacred food; the third elder followed with the holly water with which each novice merely wetted his lips; and the rear was brought up by the fourth elder who wiped all their mouths with his napkin. Then the high priest or one of the elders addressed the young men warning them solemnly against the sacrilege of divulging to the profane any of the high mysteries they had seen and heard and threatening all such traitors with the vengeance of the gods.
Presentation of the pig.
That ceremony being over all the junior initiated men (Lewe ni Nanga) came forward and each man presented to the novices a yam and a piece of nearly raw pork; whereupon the young men took the food and went away to cook it for eating. When the evening set aside at a former festival was dragged into the sacred enclosure and there presented to the novices together with other swine if they should be needed to furnish a plenteous repast.
Acceptance of the novices by the ancestral spirits.
The novices were now “accepted members of the Nanga qualified to take their place among the men of the community though still only on probation. As children—their childhood being indicated by their shaven heads—they were presented to the ancestors and their acceptance was notified by what (looking at matter from the natives' standpoint) we might without irreverence almost call the sacrament of food and water too sacred even for the elders' hands to touch. This acceptance was acknowledged and confirmed on the part of all the Lewe ni Nanga [junior initiated men] by their gift of food and it was finally ratified by the presentation of the Sacred Pig. In like manner on the birth of an infant its father acknowledges it as legitimate and otherwise acceptable by a gift of food; and his kinsfolk formally signify approval and confirmation of his decision on the part of the clan by similar presentations.”
The initiation followed by a period of sexual licence.
Next morning the women their hair dyed red and wearing waistbands of hibiscus or other fibre came to the sacred enclosure and crawled through it on hands and knees into the Holy of Holies where the elders were singing their solemn chant. The high priest then dipped his hands into the water of the sacred bowl and prayed to the ancestral spirits for the mothers and for the children. After that the women crawled back on hands and feet the way they had come singing as they went and creeping over certain mounds of earth which had been thrown up for the purpose in the sacred enclosure. When they emerged from the holy ground the men and women addressed each other in the vilest language such as on ordinary occasions would be violently resented; and thenceforth to the close of the ceremonies some days later very great indeed almost unlimited licence prevailed between the sexes. During there days a number of pigs were consecrated to serve for the next ceremony. The animals were deemed sacred and had the run of the fleshpots in the villages in which they were kept. Indeed they were held in the greatest reverence. To kill one except for sacrifice at the rites in the Nanga
would have been a sacrilege which the Fijian mind refused to contemplate; and on the other hand to feed the holy swine was an act of piety. Men might be seen throwing down basketfuls of food before the snouts of the worshipful pigs and at the same time calling the attention of the ancestral spirits to the meritorious deed. “Take knowledge of me” they would cry “ye who lie buried our heads! I am feeding this pig of yours.” Finally all the men who had taken part in the ceremonies bathed together in the river carefully cleansing themselves from every particle of the black paint with which they had been bedaubed. When the novices now novices no more emerged from the water the high priest standing on the river bank preached to them an eloquent sermon on the duties and responsibilities which devolved on them in their new position.17
The intention of the initiatory rites seems to be to introduce the young men to the ancestral spirits.
The drama of death and resurrection.
The Fijian rites of initiation seem to have been imported by Melanesian immigrants from the west.
The general intention of these initiatory rites appears to be as Mr. Fison has said in the words which I have quoted to introduce the young men to the ancestral spirits at their sanctuary to incorporate them so to say in the great community which embraces all adult members of the tribe whether living or dead. At all events this interpretation fits in very well with the prayers which are offered to the souls of departed kinsfolk on these occasions and it is supported by the analogy of the New Guinea initiatory rites which I described in former lectures; for in these rites as I pointed out the initiation of the youths is closely associated with the conceptions of death and the dead the main feature in the ritual consisting indeed of a simulation of death and subsequent resurrection. It is therefore significant that the very same simulation figures prominently in the Fijian ceremony nay it would seem to be the very pivot on which the drama whole ritual revolves. Yet there is an obvious and important difference between the drama of death and resurrection as it is enacted in New Guinea and in Fiji; for whereas in New Guinea it is the novices who pretend to die and come to life again in Fiji the pretence is carried out by initiated men who represent the ancestors while the novices merely look on with horror and amazement at the awe-inspiring spectacle. Of the two forms of ritual the New Guinea one is probably truer to the original purpose of the rite which seems to have been to enable the novices to put off the old or rather the young man and to put on a higher form of existence by participating in the marvellous powers and privileges of the mighty dead. And if such was really the intention of the ceremony it is obvious that it was better effected by compelling the young communicants as we may call them to die and rise from the dead in their own persons than by obliging them to assist as mere passive spectators at a dramatic performance of death and resurrection. Yet in spite of this difference between the two rituals the general resemblance between them is near enough to justify us in conjecturing that there may be a genetic connexion between the one and the other. The conjecture is confirmed first by the very limited and definite area of Fiji in which these initiatory rites were practised and second by the equally definite tradition of their origin. With regard to the first of these points the Nanga
or sacred stone enclosure with its characteristic rites was known only to certain tribes who occupied a comparatively small area a bare third of the island of Viti Levu. These tribes are the Nuyaloa Vatusila Mbatiwai and Mdavutukia. They all seem to have spread eastward and southward from a place of origin in the western mountain district. Their physical type is pure Melanesian with fewer traces of Polynesian admixture than can be detected in the tribes on the coast.18
Hence it is natural to enquire whether the ritual of the Nanga
may not have been imported into Fiji by Melanesian immigrants from the west. The question appears to be answered in the affirmative by native tradition. “This is the word of our fathers concerning the Nanga
” said an old Wainimala greybeard to Mr. Fison. “Long long ago their fathers were ignorant of it; but one day two strangers were found sitting in the rārā
(public square) and they said they had come up from the sea to give them the Nanga
. They were little men and very dark-skinned and one of them had his face and bust painted red while the other was painted black. Whether these two were gods or men our fathers did not tell us but it was they who taught our people the Nanga
. This was in the old old times when our fathers were living ill another land-not in this place for we are strangers here. Our fathers fled hither from Navosa in a great war which arose among them and when they came there was no Nanga
in the land. So they built one of their own after the fashion of that which they left behind them.”19
“Here” says Mr. Basil Thomson “we have the earliest tradition of missionary enterprise in the Pacific. I do not doubt that the two sooty-skinned little men were castaways driven eastward by one of those strong westerly gales that have been known to last for three weeks at a time. By Fijian custom the lives of all castaways were forfeit but the pretence to supernatural powers would have saved men full of the religious rites of their Melanesian home and would have assured them a hearing. The Wainimala tribes can name six generations since they settled in their present home and therefore the introduction of the Nanga
cannot have been less than two centuries ago. During that time it has overspread one third of the large island.”20
The general licence associated with the ritual of the Nanga may be a temporary revival of primitive communism.
A very remarkable feature in the Nanga
ritual consists in the temporary licence accorded to the sexes and the suspension of proprietary rites in general. What is the meaning of this curious and to the civilised mind revolting custom? Here again the most probable though merely conjectural answer is furnished by Mr. Fison. “We cannot for a moment believe” he says “that it is a mere licentious outbreak without an underlying meaning and purpose. It is part of a religious rite and is supposed to be acceptable to the ancestors. But why should it be acceptable to them unless it were in accordance with their own practice in the far-away past? There may be another solution of this difficult problem but I confess myself unable to find any other which will cover all the corroborating facts.”21
In other words Mr. Fison supposes that in the sexual licence and suspension of the rights of private property which characterise these festivals we have a reminiscence of a time when women and property were held in common by the community and the motive for temporarily resuscitating these obsolete customs was a wish to propitiate the ancestral spirits who were thought to be gratified by witnessing a revival of that primitive communism which they themselves bad practised in the flesh so long ago. Truly a religious revival of a remarkable kind!
Description of the Nanga or sacred enclosure of stones.
To conclude this part of my subject I will briefly describe the construction of a Nanga
or sacred stone enclosure as it used to exist in Fiji. At the present day only ruins of these structures are to be seen but by an observation of the ruins and a comparison of the traditions which still survive among the natives on the subject it is possible to reconstruct one of them with a fair degree of exactness. A Nanga
has been described as an open-air temple and the description is just. It consisted of a rough parallelogram enclosed by flat stones set upright and embedded endwise in the earth. The length of the enclosure thus formed was about one hundred feet and its breadth about fifty feet. The upright stones which form the outer walls are from eighteen inches to three feet high but as they do not always touch they may be described as alignments rather than walls. The long walls or alignments run east and west the short ones north and south; but the orientation is not very exact. At the eastern end are two pyramidal heaps of stones about five feet high with square sloping sides and flat tops. The narrow passage between them is the main entrance into the sacred enclosure. Internally the structure was divided into three separate enclosures or compartments by two cross-walls of stone running north and south. These compartments taking them from east to west were called respectively the Little Nanga the Great Nanga and the Sacred Nanga or Holy of Holies (Nanga tambu-tambu
). The partition walls between them were built solid of stones with battering sides to a height of five feet and in the middle of each there was an opening to allow the worshippers to pass from one compartment to another. Trees such as the candlenut and the red-leaved dracaena and odoriferous shrubs were planted round the enclosure; and outside of it to the west of the Holy of Holies was a bell-roofed hut called Vale tambu
the Sacred House or Temple. The sacred kava bowl
stood in the Holy of Holies.22
It is said that when the two traditionary founders of the Nanga
in Fiji were about to erect the first structure of that name in their new home the chief priest poured a libation of kava
to the ancestral gods “and calling upon those who died long long ago by name he prayed that the people of the tribe both old and young might live before them.”23
Comparison of the Nanga with the cromlechs and other megalithic monuments of Europe.
The sacred enclosures of stones which I have described have been compared to the alignments of stones at Carnac in Brittany and Merivale on Dartmoor and it has been suggested that in the olden time these ancient European monuments may have witnessed religious rites like those which were till lately performed in the rude open-air temples of Fiji.24
If there is any truth in the suggestion which I mention for what it is worth it would furnish another argument in favour of the view that our European cromlechs and other megalithic monuments were erected specially for the worship of the dead. The mortuary character of Stonehenge for example is at least suggested by the burial mounds which cluster thick around and within sight of it; about three hundred such tombs have been counted within a radius of three miles while the rest of the country in the neighbourhood is comparatively free from them.25