Now, the ordinary food of the living would of course include grains, seeds, such fruits as bananas, plantains, or melons, and many other vegetable objects. Mr. Macdonald adds the significant note: "It is not considered necessary that these offerings be taken away by the spirits. It is sufficient that they are placed there, that the spirits may come and lick them." He further mentions that on these same graves fowls may be offered by cutting the throat, and making the blood flow down. "When the fowl is killed," says he, "they simply lay it down at the prayer tree." A goat may be offered in the same way, or milk may be poured out at the foot of the sacred banyan. What is the implication? Why, naturally, seeds placed in newly turned soil over a dead body, and richly manured with constant supplies of blood and milk, would germinate freely and produce unusually fine crops of grain or fruit. Is it suggesting too much to hint that, in this almost universal rite, we may even see the ultimate origin of cultivation? Primitive man, careless of the future as he is, would scarcely be likely deliberately to retain seeds from one year to the next for the purpose of sowing them. It is his habit rather to eat and destroy with lavish prodigality whatever he possesses in the pure recklessness of the moment. Something must first show him that seeds produce an increase before he can think of keeping them and deliberately planting them.
It has usually been held, to be sure, that cultivation must have taken its rise from the accident of chance seeds being scattered about in the neighborhood of the hut or of the domestic manure-heap—the barbaric kitchen midden. This may be so, of course; but it seems to me at least equally probable that cultivation should have begun through the offerings of grains and fruits and seeds at the graves or barrows of departed ancestors. Certainly we see that fruits and seeds are constantly so offered by existing savages. We know that they are deposited under conditions most favorable to their growth and productivity. And we can hardly doubt that the luxuriance of the vegetation so produced would greatly strike the mind of the early savage, and would be implicitly assigned to the productive power of his dead ancestors. I shall show in the sequel that the presence of an informing ghost or spirit of vegetation is even considered essential to the growth of crops by existing savages, and that human victims are slain by them for the mere purpose of providing such indwelling deities. The ghost in fact plays in the ideas of early man the same part that guano and phosphates play to-day in the ideas of the educated scientific farmer.
Nor is this all; I will even venture to go one step further. Is
- Africana, vol. i, p. 95.