Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/123

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In every village and group of houses in the Torres Islands, the Banks' Islands, and the Northern New Hebrides, is conspicuous a building which does not appear to be a dwelling-house. In a populous village of the Banks' Islands it is very long and low, with entrances at intervals along the sides below the wall-plate, with stone seats or a stone platform at the main entrances at either end, and low stone walls planted with dracaenas and crotons near the same, with the jawbones of pigs and backbones of fish hanging under the eaves; and very often the clatter of pounding sticks in wooden vessels and white clouds of steam make known the preparation of a meal. This is a gamal. The same name, and a building of the same general character, with some difference of form, is to be found in the New Hebrides as far south as the Shepherd Islands at least. What are called 'Chiefs' houses' in New Caledonia probably represent the same. In some of the Banks' Islands, again, a visitor on entering a village would see one or more platforms squarely built up of stones, with high, pointed little edifices upon them, open in the front like shrines, the embers of a fire below, and above an image grotesquely shaped in human form. He would naturally take these for shrines of idols with the altars of sacrifices to them; but these also are gamal; the little edifice is the eating-place of a man of rank; the fire has cooked his food, which none but he in that place can eat, and the image is the emblem of his degree. In another island of the same group a gamal may be seen with