Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/177

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Banks' Islands. Qat.

things in the world. The regular courses of the seasons are ascribed to him, the calm months from September to December, when the un, Palolo sea-worm, comes, the yearly blow, and the high tide in the month wotgoro; but irregular rains, winds and calms are put to the account of the men who could influence other vui spirits so as to produce them. The name of Qat is given also to remarkable objects and effects in nature; when fish die in the sea from excessive heat of the sun, Qat is said to have poisoned them; a kind of fungus is his basket, a fungia coral is his dish, the sulphur at the volcanic vents in Vanua Lava is his sauce, a beam of light shining through the roof in the dusty air is his spear; and the flying shadow of a solitary cloud over the sea is the shadow of Qat. With all this it is impossible to take Qat very seriously or to allow him divine rank. He is certainly not the lord of spirits. He is the hero of story-tellers, the ideal character of a good-natured people who profoundly believe in magic and greatly admire adroitness and success in the use of it; Qat himself is good-natured, only playfully mischievous, and thoroughly enjoys the exercise of his wonderful powers[1]. When he is said to create he is adding only to the furniture of the world in which he was born, where there were already houses and canoes, weapons, ornaments, products of cultivated gardens and of such arts of life as the natives possessed when they were first visited by Europeans. It is difficult for the story-tellers to keep him distinct from ordinary men, though they always insist that he was a vui; and though he certainly never was a man, the people of the place where he was born in Vanua Lava, Alo Sepere, claim him as their ancestor.

It would be in vain to look for a connected history of Qat from his birth to his disappearance; he is the central figure of a cycle of stories which vary in different parts of the islands of the Banks' group. All agree that he was born in Vanua

  1. One can hardly help observing the absence of obscenity and ferocity from these stories. Obscene tales, or parts of tales, no doubt are told where they are acceptable, but they do not make any considerable part of the commonly repeated legend.