Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/248

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their blossoms during the same day or week or even month of the year.

[The above article has been prepared from notes taken by the writer while occupying the chair of botany in the Iowa Agricultural College.]


RELIGION is a vanishing quantity in the western Pacific, and the farther west one goes by so much the more rapidly does this sentiment vanish; dogmatic theology and its practical profession are alike absent from the thought and practice of the dark Melanesian. Simplicity marks all the desires of this island savagery, and this same simplicity marks all the spiritual side of life; instead of wondering puzzlement over the hazy ideas of a great first cause, or a hereafter which may in some sort be molded by the conduct of life in the present, the remote islander limits his religion and the spiritual side of him to an ill-defined, scarcely acknowledged fear of the unknown. Worship he has none; even the idea of propitiation of the malign power has not yet occurred to him; and the most that he can conceive of is sedulously to refrain from naming this terrible unknown.

Another circumstance deserves note because of its interesting coincidence with this absence of faith. What internal connection there may be between the two, if indeed there be any, is most obscure, for the reason that these people are as yet little known, and are very chary of communicating any information concerning these two features of their life. It is noticed by the careful observer that just in proportion as the forms and formulas of religion disappear from the life of the savage communities he visits, so there is a marked increase in the prevalence and power of the secret societies which seem to take the place of priestcraft and kingcraft.

Melanesia presents a very long list of these associations of men who are inducted into some secret or other, who are threatened with the most severe penalties if they divulge any part of these mysteries to the profane, and who are provided with signals for the recognition of other possessors of the same mysteries; and in more than one instance it has been observed that these signals have been recognized and regarded by people on far-distant islands, speaking a dissimilar tongue, and so remote as at once to preclude any chance of frequent communication. The very existence of these mystic orders is as far as possible kept secret, and it is only by long and patient study of the people that even the merest out-