But if any doubt exists that these gifts are in every case thank-offerings to the ghosts or ancestors who caused the crops to grow, it will be removed by the consideration that often the first fruits are offered not to spirits or gods at all, but to the divine king himself, who is the living representative and earthly counterpart of his deified ancestors.
In Ashantee a harvest festival is held in September, when the yams are ripe. During the festival the king eats the new yams, but none of the people may eat them till the close of the festival, which lasts a fortnight. During its continuance the grossest liberty prevails; theft, intrigue, and assault go unpunished, and each sex abandons itself to its passions. The Hovas of Madagascar present the first sheaves of the new grain to the sovereign. The sheaves are carried in procession to the palace from time to time as the grain ripens. So in Burma, when the pangati fruits ripen, some of them used to be taken to the king's palace that he might eat of them: no one might partake of them before the king.
These cases, with many others of like sort which I forbear to quote, strikingly display the exact equivalence of the king, the ghost, and the god in the savage mind; for we find what is offered here to the living chief is offered there to his dead predecessor, and yonder, again, to the great deity who has grown slowly out of him. The god is the dead king; the king is the living god, and the descendant of gods, his deified ancestors.
Almost equally to the point is a statement of Mr. Macdonald's about the Blantyre negroes. "When there is no rain at the proper season," he says, "there ensues much distress. Famine is dreaded above all other evils. After private offerings have all failed, the chief of the country calls a national meeting for supplication. Much beer is brewed and offered to the spirit. The chief addresses his own god; he calls on him to look at the sad state of matters for himself, and think on the evils that are impending. He requests him to hold a meeting with all the other gods that have an interest or influence in the matter. . . . After the supplication there is a great dance in honor of the god. The people throw up water toward the heavens as a sign that it is water that is prayed for." [Say rather, as a sympathetic charm to make the rain follow.] "They also smear their bodies with mud or charcoal to show that they want washing. If rain do not come, they must wash themselves in the rivers or streams. If rain fall, they are soon washed in answer to their prayers. When the good crops follow, they present as a thanksgiving some the first heads of maize and some pumpkins."
- The Golden Bough, vol. ii, p. 374.
- Africana, vol. i, p. 89.