Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/143

This page has been validated.
vii.]
121
Spirits and Ghosts.

From the neglect of this distinction great confusion and misunderstanding arises; and it is much to be desired that missionaries at any rate would carefully observe the distinction. Any personal object of worship among natives in all parts of the world is taken by the European observer to be a spirit or a god, or a devil; but among Melanesians at any rate it is very common to invoke departed relatives and friends, and to use religious rites addressed to them. A man therefore who is approaching with some rite his dead father, whose spirit he believes to be existing and pleased with his pious action, is thought to be worshipping a false god or deceiving spirit, and very probably is told that the being he worships does not exist. The perplexed native hears with one ear that there is no such thing as that departed spirit of a man which he venerates as a ghost but his instructor takes to be a god, and with the other that the soul never dies, and that his own spiritual interests are paramount and eternal. They themselves make a clear distinction between the existing, conscious, powerful, disembodied spirits of the dead, and other spiritual beings that never have been men at all. It is true that the two orders of beings get confused in native language and thought, but their confusion begins at one end and the confusion of their visitors at another; they think so much and constantly of ghosts that they speak of beings who were never men as ghosts; Europeans take the spirits of the lately dead for gods; less educated Europeans call them roundly devils. All Melanesians, as far as my acquaintance with them extends, believe in the existence both of spirits that never were men, and of ghosts which are the disembodied souls of men deceased: to preserve as far as possible this distinction, the supernatural beings that were never in a human body are here called spirits, men's spirits that have left the body are called ghosts[1].

  1. The Melanesian Mission, under the guidance of Bishop Patteson, has used in all the islands the English word God. He considered the enormous difficulty, if not impossibility, of finding an adequate native expression in any one language, and further the very narrow limits within which such a word if it