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Page:A book of folk-lore (1913).djvu/200

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skull of the ancestor was regarded as oracular is possible enough, but we have no evidence to that effect. What we have seen has been the survival of the preservation of the skull, presumedly of an ancestor, at all events of a founder, as a protecting relic, not genius, for no thought of spirit enters into it. It is the osseous mass of bone that is the guardian, not any soul that once inhabited it.

I may instance the usages of the natives of the Torres Straits. Here the corpse is first laid upon a horizontal frame sustained by posts at the corners. The moisture is pressed out, and then after a long time, when the bone is everywhere exposed, the head is detached, and the rest buried or thrown into the sea, after which some funeral feasts ensue. The important part of the ceremony consists in the solemn delivery of the skull to the survivors. Sometimes the head is placed at night on the old bed of the deceased, so that he seems to be sleeping with the family as in his lifetime, till at last. the head of the family, or the chief, puts the skull as a pillow under his own head. Thenceforth it is treated with great respect and is given a sort of hutch in which to rest. One such from the Solomon Islands may be seen in the British Museum.