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VI: Ruling

Social cohesion must always depend on the effective exercise of authority, which in the rudimentary state is essentially theocratic. A gift of wonder-working must accompany prowess and skill even in the headman of the loosely organized group; while, as centralization proceeds, the priest-king comes into being, whose sacerdotal functions reinforce his secular activities in all sorts of ways. Under primitive conditions it cannot be said that his divine right leads him to govern wrong, because it is all-important at this stage of society that stability should be ensured through an unquestioning faith in the power behind the law. As representing the luck of the community, however, the ruler tends to be hampered by the endless taboos to which he is subject, while he may have to die prematurely so as to transmit his sacredness unimpaired.

In the Hebrew prayer-book there occurs under the heading of ‘Blessings on various occasions’ the following formula: ‘On seeing a King and his Court.—Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast given of Thy glory to flesh and blood.’ Although the Jews, to judge by their history, are less inclined to pay court to royalty than most Oriental peoples, they could not fail to be aware that the sentiment of respect towards the state and its rulers is one that eminently deserves religious expression. Nor is their instinct at fault in thus laying stress on the sheer glory attaching to the office in which the supreme authority of the community is vested rather than on attributes such as power, or wisdom, that might seem to have a more immediate bearing on human welfare. For into that symbol of its effective being any portion of mankind which is consentient enough to enjoy the sense of forming one society has projected its very claim to realize existence in the fullest of its possible forms.

So far as an absolute lies within the reach of Man, it is to be sought here in that right of self-determination for which a national government must always stand ideally, whatever its shortcomings in practice. By comparison, wider organizations, a League of Nations, for instance, or a Catholic Church, cannot, so far as our social evolution has hitherto taken us, command anything like the same degree of actuality; whereas lesser organizations mostly function as subordinate members of the political body. Again, no theory of the all-sufficiency of the individual, however good and wise he may be, could appeal to the common sense of mankind, unless it were, as in the latter days of ancient Greece, at a time when men turned in despair to a city in the clouds, because no free city was available for them on earth. Given a polity of their own fashioning and maintaining, its citizens may aspire to live gloriously, as in no other way that comes within the grasp, not to say the reach, of our race. Man's proudest achievements have been won through common efforts directed by those best able to translate the common will into action; so much so that, for the anthropologist, there can be no culture that does not imply the civil, as contrasted with what the older writers are wont to call the natural—meaning the purely animal—condition. Before Man can rejoice in his specific humanity at all, there must be a social group in and for which he lives and works; and no such group can exist without leadership. No political body can dispense with a head.

We may go on to note that simple folk are capable of loyalty towards a person rather than towards an idea. The modern conception of the state, however, tends to bring it under the latter category. Thus even Hobbes, when he declares the sovereign to be the soul of the commonwealth, comes near to identifying the ruling authority with an abstraction. It is true that he likewise describes the sovereign as ‘the publique person’, as being the representative of all his subjects. Yet he is careful to add that the representative need not be one man. For the sovereign power, though in itself one and indivisible may equally well be entrusted to more or to all; since monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy alike fulfil all his theoretical conditions.

As for the religious aspect of an authority which is explained as primarily the outcome of a covenant inspired by no higher motive than the fear of mutual violence, Hobbes ingeniously argues that, since natural law is equivalent to the state of war, and civil law implies the sanction of the civil power, therefore that power itself derives immediately from the only kind of law that is left, namely, divine law. ‘This’, he says, ‘is the Generation of that great Leviathan, or rather (to speake more reverently) of that Mortall God, to which wee owe under the Immortall God, our peace and defence.’1 Characteristically he is ready to equate the Kingdom of God with a civil kingdom, and treats the sacrament, defined as ‘a separation of some visible thing from common use and a consecration of it to God's service’ as essentially an oath of allegiance on the part of God's human subjects.2 To-day, under stress of the so-called materialistic, that is, economic, interpretation of history, we may be apt to forget how recently political philosophy thus continued to offer an approach to religion, as it had ever done since it first took vague shape under primitive conditions of society. In his ceremonial character, if by no means so clearly in any doctrine thereby suggested, the divine king provides the savage with a rallying point for nascently religious feelings, such as awe and unquestioning devotion. Thus, even if it be granted that, morally, there is an immense difference between the man who aspires to be a god, and the god who condescends to be a man, an evolutionary account of religion is justified in treating these as but contrasted moments in a continuous, if age-long, process.

Neither kings nor gods, however, are there from the start; unless, indeed, we stretch such terms to cover the bare rudiments of what is popularly understood by these august designations. Meanwhile, so close is the association between the two, that one may suspect some genetic connexion; the chances being that each has reacted on the other so that ideas have been coloured, and emotional attitudes cross-fertilized, by mutual contagion. Indeed, as far back as 1854, Herbert Spencer had conjoined these notions in his somewhat crude hypothesis that ‘the aboriginal god is the dead chief’.3 On this view, the chief might during his lifetime display pre-eminent virtue in any degree without making good his claim to mana; but the added touch of ghostliness was needed, so that only on his death-bed could he say, with Vespasian, Ut puto, deus fio. The nearest parallel, however, that the savage world affords to such an intimation of posthumous divinity is the case, reported by Codrington, of the Melanesian chief who informed his sorrowing friends that he was going into a banana.4 Such an example, indeed, serves to illustrate the primitive notion that death opens up possibilities of action denied to those still in the body; so that Spencer's contention that to have passed over to the spirits might enhance an earthly reputation is sound enough, so far as it goes.

Yet the fear of ghosts is, at best, but one among the many roots of religion. Thus undoubtedly the living wonder-worker enjoys a respect, bordering on reverence, which he does not hesitate to exploit, whether for his own or for the public good. Not to deal further for the moment with this type of superman, it is not clear how Spencer, if he were aware of the facts, could reject his claim to be one kind of god in the making. The real trend of the Spencerian argument may, however, be deduced from the fact that, at a later date, he insisted, though without much show of reason on his side, that his theory of the dead chief had virtually anticipated Tylor's animism. Presumably, then, he would identify himself with Tylor's position that animism will furnish a ‘minimum definition of religion’;5 or, in other words, that the object of religious regard must always be some kind of spiritual being distinguished as such, namely, as a soul-like principle, the vehicle of conscious life and personality, which is either separable from the body or independent of body altogether. Apparently, then, neither Spencer nor Tylor would allow that a divine nature could be organically bound up with a concrete human form. And yet, surely, there was nothing wraith-like, nothing suggestive of Tylor's ‘vaporous materiality’ in the Apollo of the Greeks, ambrosial, that is to say, immortal to the very hairs of his head, but nevertheless substantial, so as to be no less amenable to the sculptor's art than any mortal athlete.

All this, by way of objection to the all-sufficiency of the animistic explanation of the origin of religion, was pointed out in The Making of Religion by Andrew Lang, who, with his announcement that certain ‘high gods of low races’ were but ‘magnified non-natural men’, dealt a blow to the Tylorian theory from one side;6 while a few months later the upholders of mana as a potential source of divinity assailed it from another. Some of Lang's most telling instances came from south-east Australia, where various tribes are reported by Howitt to recognize a ‘tribal All-father’, whom he describes as the supernatural analogue of the tribal headman.7 He can be invisible, it is true; though this is hardly more than any good medicine-man can manage, if he has the need. When he makes himself visible, however, it is in the form of an old man of the Australian race. In short, such an anthropomorphic being represents ‘a venerable kindly headman of a tribe, full of knowledge and tribal wisdom, and all-powerful in magic’.8

So far Howitt, whose business is to describe rather than to explain. It is fairly clear, however, that he does not look beyond the tribal headman to account for the admittedly analogous lineaments of this veritable god, deserving by reason of his ethical character of genuine worship, and actually receiving it in abundant measure from his votaries. It is rather surprising, then, that Lang should have gone out of his way, no doubt in order to correlate these Australian divinities with a very miscellaneous list of candidates for similar honours from all parts of the savage world, to suggest that one and all are creator-gods excogitated in answer to the question, Who made the world?9

Now in the first place there is much risk in committing oneself to so sweeping an induction; and it would have been safer, in the present state of our information about many of his alleged examples, for Lang to admit a possible plurality of causes, and to be content with a limited interpretation covering a particular class of well authenticated cases. In the second place, no religion was ever born from a philosophy. Cosmological speculation is a live interest in the savage, as his copious mythology proves; but, in regard to cult, which is a more comprehensive activity, in which not merely the thinker but the whole man is brought into play, the tendency of mankind has ways been to trust to subconscious impulse, in sheer faith that subsequent experience is not going to gainsay so clear a prompting of our inmost nature. So far as Man can be said to make his gods, he must be credited with a will to be god-like, as the very mainspring of the constructive process. Where thought can merely negate giving to each observable limitation of human nature such precise value as must leave the complementary Beyond a wholly unknown quantity, aspiration using the symbolism of creative imagination as its means of expression can invest that infinite plus, which is felt to be lacking in all our approximations to the perfect life, into something quasi-positive; since, however incomprehensible, it seems to answer to our striving.

If, then, the Australian deity who presides over the initiation ceremonies is in any sense recognized as a ‘maker’, as Lang supposes—and, etymologically speaking, whether that is the root-idea of such a name as Baiamai must remain very doubtful—we may question whether his right to such a title depends on some initial act of creation, so much as on his ever-present function of ‘making’ each fresh generation of the youth into ripe and responsible men. Now it is under Baiamai, or Daramulun, or whatever the biamban or supreme lord of the mysteries may be called, that the human biamban, or master of the ceremonies, carries out that elaborate series of rites which, as we have already seen, embodies a complete course of higher education, as understood by the Stone Age. His real presence is symbolized by his image, whether carved on a tree, or raised in bas-relief on the ground, and in either case of thoroughly anthropomorphic design—representing, in fact, a glorified version of the human mystagogue, down, or up, to the very crystals that such a personage exhibits between his teeth as an outward and visible sign of his mana.

Thus he is the personified ‘magic’, as Howitt would call it, of the gommera, or elder, whose spiritual qualifications entitle him to the rank of tribal headman and medicine-man in one—a sort of priest-king in embryo. But why on earth apply an opprobrious term such as ‘magic’ to the essential power for aiding mankind attributed to the high god, as also to these ministers of his, one of whom, we are told, is hold for ceremonial purposes to be his actual representative and vicegerent? It is true that, sometimes, the mystic grace which flows from this divine source is symbolized by material objects, such as the crystal; of which, however, the physical attributes are expressly discounted, so that it is in an invisible and non-concrete form that its efficacy makes itself felt. On the other hand, in what is by far the most striking of those ritual acts whereby the novices are consecrated to the duties and privileges of manhood, no outward sign other than gesture is employed; for the imparting and receiving of sanctity is expressed simply by motions of handing forth and drawing in—a spatial metaphor of transference that can deceive no one as to its inner meaning. Moreover, apart from this innocent dumb-show, the spoken word—verbum, non amplius—attests the real intention of this typical sacrament. Ngai—‘good’ or ‘goodness’—is explicitly stated to be the gift that will render the recipients pleasing in the sight of the god who presides over their introduction to man's estate.10

Now, of course, if one is prepared to follow Dr. Westermarck's extension of the term ‘magic’ to cover the Eucharist itself, in view of its ritualistic accompaniments in the way of visible symbols,11 then it is hard to see how sacraments of any kind can be reserved for religion, or indeed how the religious man is going to express himself at all. For even words are in some sense idols, and any use of symbols implies a possible misuse through the confusion of the spirit with the letter—of a meaning with its casual vehicle. But, to me at least, it seems essential to the function of religion, whether considered historically or philosophically, that it should treat godhead and goodness as convertible terms; in whatever way it may go on to define the content of that supreme perfection in which the two ideas meet. The latter task, indeed, offers infinite possibilities of intensive development. In respect to its leading motive, however, the evidence is plain that human religion has, like the bird on passage, been sustained by an unfailing sense of direction from savagery onwards.

Yet, apart from its association with a ritual sometimes verging on pantomime, there may be a deeper reason why this frank recognition of goodness as the outstanding attribute and communicable bounty of the tribal god should be misinterpreted as no more than the mark of a general wrong-headedness, contemptuously summed up under the name of magic. For, in the thought of many, magic connotes miracle; whereas any association of religion with wonder-working would weaken rather than strengthen its authority in their eyes. But undoubtedly the goodness conceived by the Australian as proceeding from his god with crystals between his teeth is of a transcendent kind that proclaims itself by a display of superhuman power in manifold fashion. After all, in one aspect Daramulun stands for all the wonders of external nature. His home is in the sky; his voice speaks in the thunder, as likewise in its ectype, the uncanny sound of the bull-roarer. He sends the rain, whereby all things grow up and flourish. But, pre-eminently, does he bring about the miracle of human growth, so that the community may flourish according to those customs which he has instituted for its lasting benefit. He is the primal legislator, whose will is not to be disobeyed, since there can be no escape from the wrath of one ‘who goes everywhere and sees everything’. In short, the whole duty of Man, as one generation would have it declared and expounded in its entirety to the next, is reflected in the grace transmitted from the tribal elders to their youthful charges by virtue of an immemorial ritual, sanctioned and instituted by the heavenly power itself.

Just so, again, does the title of magician, if used, as can hardly he avoided, in some derogatory sense, comport ill with the true function of the human analogue of the god, namely, the headman who acts the part of high priest in these primitive mysteries. Admittedly, he makes play with his crystals, and indulges in what would amount to conjuring-tricks, if their prime object were to deceive rather than simply to impress. The fact is that we need a term that compromises between the two motives; so that it would perhaps be fair to say that to mystify is sound reason of state with all simple folk who think with their eyes. ‘In the market-place’, says the Nietzschian Zarathustra, ‘one convinces by gestures’; and surely naïve faith has no better excuse for enlarging its boundaries, and increasing its grip, than when it witnesses the incredible enacted in some palpable shape. Meanwhile, there is no reason to suppose that these tribal elders—this gerontocracy, as the late Dr. Rivers would have called them—are imposing themselves on gullible youth for their private advantage. In those hand-to-mouth conditions anterior to the evolution of material wealth there are no spoils of office to give rise to sinister interests; nor are there signs of any struggle for power as between individuals. On the other hand, the subordination of the junior age-grades to those ripest in experience is the pivot on which the static society, content to repeat the traditional round, is bound to go on revolving world without end.

Such a political system can afford to assume the guise of a theocracy. For, although a god as such stands for changelessness, and may therefore tend to inhibit the progress needful for imperfect man, if his sway take too immediate a form, a custom which in conscious theory demands nothing better than to continue as it is, and is reputed always to have been, can have no securer prop than such a directly constitutive, and wellnigh immanent, Providence. In such an idea, rendered sensible in a figure as grandiose and awe-inspiring as the suggestion of an essential humanity will allow, a people of lowly culture has envisaged Hobbes's ‘publique person’, in all his symbolic majesty, as the collective soul that wills the common good, independently of the human failings that thwart the realization of that dominant purpose. If, in practice, the gerontocracy falls short of the ideal theocracy—as in one way or another it is bound to do, human nature being what it is—it is likely to be in either of two directions. For, on the one hand, there is a temptation to reserve certain privileges in the matter of food and perhaps of wives for the senior generation; and, on the other hand, there cannot but be a risk that too much enthusiasm for discipline may let loose the bullying temper.

On the whole, however, as contrasted with our dynamic type of civilization, which in the name of science and reason commits itself to a series of leaps in the dark, the humdrum policy of the Stone Age is to cling to well-tried habits; and it can at least be urged from this side that, if the chances of survival be measured by sheer lapse of time, the savage conservative has the best of the argument. For us there are no eternal truths left in politics; and, even in ethics, the most sacred principles threaten to dissolve in the general flux. But simpler folk take the stability of their moral, and even their political, universe for granted. A tribal god so closely identified with the reigning custom may be less ideal; but, by way of compensation, he is decidedly more actual. The moral contrast between him and his chosen ministers is less apparent. There is a felt approach to true divinity in the primitive equivalent of the saint; nor is the latter cut off by his profession from the world, but is rather spurred thereby to be forward in affairs.

Indeed, such saintship in some appreciable degree lies within the reach of every fully initiated male in a community which is effectively Church and State in one. Only Nature itself, in the shape of the gradual ripening of adolescence into manhood—together with difference of sex, construed chiefly in terms of physical strength—imposes limits on what can otherwise claim to be purely an aristocracy of merit. As in the older Israel, the moral outlook of the tribal god coincides with that of the complete tribesman. Thus the sacramental goodness which pervades and inspires all who serve the community is divine in a transcendent, but not a transcendental, sense; since, however glorious, it is not inaccessible, the manlike and the godlike forming one continuous plane. So much, then, for a primitive anticipation of the Platonic view that, alike in the state and in the universe, the ruling principle must be the Idea of the Good.

Now in Australia, where there is virtually no mother-right of the full kind, which not only transmits the mother's kinship-name to her children, but allows her to remain at home among her own people, authority in its two-sided politico-religious character rests securely in male hands; or, at most, as we have already seen, there survive in the south of the continent traces of feminine participation, pointing to a less unequal apportionment of influence in some rather hypothetical past. Indeed, to a Europe reconstituted out of the relics of that apotheosis of masterful masculinity, the Roman Empire, it might well seem that Woman was incapable of asserting herself as the paramount power, even in a home-like group consisting of a single fire-circle. Thus Hobbes, who deserves full credit for having discerned a matricentral type of constitution in the background of history, would at the same time withhold from it the status of a civil institution. ‘If there be no Contract’, he says, ‘the Dominion is in the Mother. For in the condition of meer Nature, where there are no Matrimoniall lawes, it cannot be known who is the Father, unlesse it be declared by the Mother; and therefore the right of Dominion over the Child dependeth on her will, and is consequently hers.’12

Hobbes here contemplates the subjection of the child either to its mother or to its father as the only possible alternatives; and no shadow of the maternal uncle intervenes to soften the sharp distinction between female anarchy and male sovereignty—between the state of Nature and the state of civil society. But, where extreme mother-right prevails, as for instance among the Khasis of the Assam Hills, so well described by Major Gurdon,13 the males on the uterine side of the family, whether by official right, or as deputies of their womankind, exercise strong and effective government, alike in a secular way as war-leaders and judges, and in such a sacerdotal capacity as that of takers of the auspices. Here the form of the State but reflects a clan-system matricentrally organized through and through. The grandmother is titular head of each household; a greater grandmother presides over a sub-clan; while greatest of all is the clanancestress, known as ‘Grandmother of the root’, that is to say, of the root of the family-tree. Sometimes such a legendary person gives her name to the clan, as in the case of a lady with the attractive name of Honey. But other clan-names are derived from animals; though in the absence of any taboos on killing or eating these it would be rash to speak of them as totems.

So, too, the religious system rests on the principle that, as the Khasis put it, ‘from the woman sprang the clan’. It is essentially a form of ancestor-worship directed primarily towards the ‘First Mother’. In view of Woman's natural function as a peace-maker in the home, it is interesting to observe that any family quarrel is brought to an end by a joint sacrifice to this same First Mother. By her side, however, though subordinate, is the First Maternal Uncle, namely, the First Mother's elder brother. This relation is impressively embodied in a symbolism appropriate to a people whose very word for ‘to remember’ means ‘to mark with a stone’. For the Khasis have preserved the megalithic habit of our own prehistoric times, and set up flat blocks, on which offerings are laid, in honour of women, together with uprights that stand for their associated menfolk. Thus one fine group of stones at Laitkov, of which Major Gurdon gives a picture, consists of a large table-stone for the Grandmother of the root, with nine menhirs ranged in a row behind it for her various male kinsmen; the maternal uncle's stone, the biggest of all, towering proudly in the centre. It is to be noted that it is the ancestress who has an exclusive right to what is in effect an altar, while her masculine attendants merely stand to attention in the background. Without going into further details about a social and legal system which carries out a theory of uterine predominance with exemplary thoroughness—the father counting simply, in Khasi parlance, as ‘some one else's son’—we must be prepared to admit, as against Hobbes, that, however repellent it may be to our ideas of political propriety, a true state can be built up on the basis of a religious authority vested in Woman; backed as she is by an avunculate, which is ready and competent to supply the temporal arm.

So far we have been considering natural conditions, such as age and sex, in their effects on the evolution of government. It remains to examine how the relations between ruler and subject may be determined by a more or less artificial kind of inequality, based in the main on some kind of hereditary privilege, whether consisting in birth, wealth, or education, or, it may be, in all three together. True tribalism of the savage type never amounts to a class-system, the component groups, however loosely or closely federated, remaining homogeneous; so that as a clansman, if hardly as an individual, every member of the community ranks as free and equal in the matter of social opportunity. The hereditary principle, however, is bound to assert itself to some extent even within the smaller and simpler society; if only because Nature does really favour certain stocks in preference to, and so to speak at the expense of, others. Even in democratic Australia though the medicine-man is often selected on account of his peculiar proneness to mystical experiences, we frequently hear of a transmission of office—always it would seem from father to son—which may well imply a congenital aptitude; though it is also possible that what is handed on is chiefly a heritage in the shape of spells and other secrets of the profession. Under a system of exogamy, however, any virtue dependent on breed can but be propagated in a one-sided way. Biologically, therefore, the result must be in the long run a ‘pan-mixia’; although that need not prevent a certain indulgence in pride of birth according to the reckoning of the local Heralds’ College. For special honour and authority may attach to a particular kin, as notably through its association with some supreme function of a religious kind. Nevertheless, since all its members count as brothers and sisters to one another within each generation, they cannot normally marry; though here and there, as in ancient Egypt and Madagascar, royal families cut the knot, by allowing such incestuous unions so as to keep the mana within the dynasty.

A famous example to the contrary, however, where strict regard for the exogamic rule coexists with aristocratic and theocratic pretensions beyond all human bounds, comes from the Natchez of Louisiana, with whose memory, as enshrined in many French reports of the seventeenth century, the genius of Chateaubriand has so picturesquely dallied.14 It was the privilege of the Sun clan to provide the supreme head of the tribe, known as the Great Sun. He must show descent on the spindle side—for the clan system was matrilineal—from the First Great Sun, founder of the tribe, who was an emanation of the actual sun, the ruler of the Heavens. It was the duty of each earthly Great Sun, standing at the door of the royal lodge, which looked East, to greet the luminary with the triple Hail! which his fellow tribesmen in their turn must accord to him—together with three puffs of the sacred tobacco; after which he signified by gesture the westward path along which its daily course should be run. At the Feast of the First Fruits, to which he was borne on a litter shoulder-high, it was his part to utter the triple salutation to the maize, and to preside over its distribution among the congregation. By his fasting he caused the rain to fall. Finally, at his death, his bones rested with those of his predecessors in the sacred house where burnt the perpetual fire, symbol of the supreme fire above.

The reverence shown towards this superman was abject, and indeed quite unparalleled in the rest of native North America—always democratically inclined, at any rate if we except the North-west coast. He was hedged round with such taboos of etiquette that, for instance, he must always be addressed from a distance of four paces. No one must drink from his cup, and, although some of his noble relatives might partake of the scraps from his meals, they must wait until he pushed the food to them with his foot. Together with the rest of the Suns who composed his clan, he regarded the rest of the tribe, we are told, ‘as dirt’. Indeed, the aristocrats among themselves referred to persons of plebeian standing as miche-miche-quipy, which Swanton translates ‘stinkards’.

And yet, according to the exogamic principle, Sun blood was bound to suffer ultimate contamination with that of a puant, as the French version has it. For the divinity faded by degrees. Though the Great Sun might marry a woman of the lowest class, his son was a ‘noble’; his grandson was but an ‘honoured person’; while, unless the latter by his valour raised himself one degree, his son became rank plebeian. On the other hand, a Sun woman who married beneath her could nevertheless produce only Sun children, and in virtue of her lineage had a certain advantage over her mate; so that she could divorce him at will, or, if he should prove unfaithful, have him killed, while in any case he must voluntarily submit to be strangled upon her death. The same fate, by the way, awaited the wives of the Great Sun; and it was, moreover, customary for persons of distinction to improve the occasion by immolating themselves, in order to accompany their lord and master to the next world. Altogether, the French writers are justified in describing the Natchez theocracy as a veritable despotism, comparable to that of the first Ottoman emperors. What historical causes brought it about must remain uncertain; but there are fairly strong grounds for thinking that we are in the presence of an ethnic fusion, in which the intrusive dominants, though obliged to intermarry, somehow imposed on the rest a belief in their prepotency in the matter of religious standing.

Similar problems concerning the development of an aristocracy of quasi-divine status are encountered on a wider scale if one turns to Polynesia, where a class-system was so well established that it was honestly, doubted whether commoners could have immortal souls.15 Here the clan had become so subordinate to the individual family that both lines of descent counted, with the result that the child with noble blood on both sides might rank higher than either of his parents. Thus to memorize pedigrees became all-important; and I have been privileged to hear from the lips of Makereta, a Maori chieftainess, how in the watches of the night her great-uncle would call her to his side to hear her go through the long genealogies that took her right back to the Captain of the Arawa canoe—as one might say, to Columbus; and woe to her if she made a single slip. Throughout Polynesia the power of the noble, who in the Eastern groups might attain to a genuine kingship of the feudal type, is summed up in the word mana, which essentially stands for a spiritual authority; the correlative term taboo implying not only sacrosanctity, but a positive sway resting on the dread sanction of a conditional curse. Again, in the special form of the property-taboo, the exclusiveness of such sacred persons ensures them rights of private ownership denied to humbler folk, and thus lays the foundations of a plutocracy; though it is only fair to add that wealth in the savage society stands for such a display of profuse liberality in the matter of giving as is to be expected from quasi-divine beings. For the rest, though spiritual and temporal powers tend on the whole to reinforce each other, there is a certain danger for the ruler lest his very divinity turn him into a symbol. Thereupon, as at Tonga, he becomes immobilized within the network of his own spiritualities;16 while hands less tied by religion in its negative character of a system of scruples control the actual tiller of the ship of state.

Finally, it is in his symbolic capacity as the embodied luck of the community that the primitive king must submit to extinction, as a constitutional method of resigning his sacred office. It is to be noted that the most striking examples of this custom come from Africa, where kingship had become most absolute. Here the titular was firmly conjoined with the executive authority; though only so long as the sacred vessel proved equal to the strain of containing the potent elixir on which the community depended for its continuous life. Not to dwell on details so familiar to the student as almost to have become trite the unflinching way in which the primitive potentate shoulders his task, with the sure prospect of a short and sharp apotheosis at the none too far end, proves his faith in his consecration to a purpose transcending mere private interest. ‘Have I, have I, have I the hasina—the divine power, or grace?’ cries out the Malagasy king at his accession, standing upright on a sacred stone; and the people reply, ‘Thou hast the hasina’.17 Neither does the king possess it of his own right, nor do the people confer it of their right; since it is but through the king, and on behalf of the people, that the divine goodness manifests itself in all its intrinsic glory.

Such a ruling principle, then, constitutes the heart of the universe even for the sociocentric savage, who regards it as the Sun's chief function to shine on his own bit of country. Indeed, humanly speaking, we cannot but in some measure do the same; another limitation being that we cannot conceive the perfect goodness in more than one of its aspects at a time. Thus the divinity of which the head of the community is a symbol must always smack more of the Old Testament than the New—of Jehovah rather than of Christ—in that it stands for dominance rather than for humility, for masculine masterfulness rather than for feminine gentleness. Nevertheless, the political virtues form a well-marked class, which can be adequately grasped by simple minds only when concretely represented in some man or group of men clothed with the public authority. By their very insignia, these proclaim the awful grandeur of their function as guardians of the Commonwealth having powers of life and death. Thus in their earthly way they are comparable to the very gods, their sole superiors in might and majesty and moral worth. It is in the light of this reflected glory that every great man must view himself; since that is the secret of human greatness. Moreover, it would seem that this essential truth has long been patent to the religious heart of Man.

  • 1.

    T. Hobbes, Leviathan, Part II, ch. 17; cf. ch. 23.

  • 2.

    Ibid., Part III, ch. 35.

  • 3.

    H. Spencer, Westminster Review, 1854, 360–1; cf. Mind, ii (1877) 415f.

  • 4.

    R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians, 33.

  • 5.

    Sir E. P. Tylor, Primitive Culture5, i. 424 f.

  • 6.

    A. Lang, The Making of Religion, ch. x.

  • 7.

    Howitt, op. cit. 491.

  • 8.

    Ibid. 500.

  • 9.

    Lang, op. cit., in Preface to second edition, x.

  • 10.

    Howitt, op. cit. 535; cf. 557.

  • 11.

    E. Westermarck, Early Beliefs and their Social Influence, 14.

  • 12.

    Hobbes, op. cit., Part II, ch. 20.

  • 13.

    P. R. T. Gurdon, The Khasis2, see esp. 63, 66, 82, 112, 145, 151.

  • 14.

    See J. R. Swanton, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 43; see esp. 102–6.

  • 15.

    W. Mariner, Tonga Islands, i. 419; ii. 99, 128.

  • 16.

    See generally W. Mariner, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands.

  • 17.

    A. van Gennep, Tabou et Totémisme à Madagascar, 82.