Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/140

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[ch.
Religion.

officers pass their short period of observation in this atmosphere of confusion. Besides, every one, missionary and visitor, carries with him some preconceived ideas; he expects to see idols, and he sees them; images are labelled idols in museums whose makers carved them for amusement; a Solomon islander fashions the head of his lime-box stick into a grotesque figure, and it becomes the subject of a woodcut as 'a Solomon Island god.' It is extremely difficult for any one to begin enquiries without some prepossessions, which, even if he can communicate with the natives in their own language, affect his conception of the meaning of the answers he receives. The questions he puts guide the native to the answer he thinks he ought to give. The native, with very vague beliefs and notions floating in cloudy solution in his mind, finds in the questions of the European a thread on which these will precipitate themselves, and, without any intention to deceive, avails himself of the opportunity to clear his own mind while he satisfies the questioner.

Some such statement as this of the difficulties in the way of a certain knowledge of the subject is a necessary introduction to the account which is given here of the religion of the Melanesians; and it is desirable that the writer should disclaim pretension to accuracy or completeness. The general view which is presented must be taken with the particular examples of Melanesian belief and customs in matters of religion which follow.

(1) The Melanesian mind is entirely possessed by the belief in a supernatural power or influence, called almost universally mana[1]. This is what works to effect everything which is

  1. Professor Max Müller, in his Hibbert Lectures of 1878, did me the honour of quoting the following words from a letter. 'The religion of the Melanesians consists, as far as belief goes, in the persuasion that there is a supernatural power about belonging to the region of the unseen; and, as far as practice goes, in the use of means of getting this power turned to their own benefit. The notion of a Supreme Being is altogether foreign to them, or indeed of any being occupying a very elevated place in their world . . . There is a belief in a force altogether distinct from physical power, which acts in all kinds of ways for good and evil, and which it is of the greatest advantage to possess or control.