Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/208

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Sacred Places and Things.

stone to the right as they pass, and say, 'Let Valuwa be near and Motlav far;' travellers to Motlav kick the other stone and say, 'Let Motlav be near and Valuwa afar.' This again is an old custom, not seriously thought of. Another custom common to the Banks' and Solomon Islands is that of throwing sticks, leaves, or stones upon a heap at a place of steep descent, or where a difficult path begins. They 'throw away their fatigue;' they certainly do not acknowledge that they make a prayer or offering[1].

Streams, or rather pools in streams, are sacred in the Banks' Islands by reason of the presence of a spirit. There is at Valuwa a deep hole into which no one dares to look; if the reflection of a man's face should fall upon the surface of the water he would die; the spirit would lay hold upon his life by means of it. Trees are sacred in a sacred place; a banyan often harbours in the labyrinth of its stems and roots a sacred snake, that is, a spirit, and is therefore itself sacred. There are, however, two trees which have a certain inherent sacredness of their own, the casuarina, aru, and the cycas, mele. Nothing can be more weird and ghostly than an aged casuarina standing alone on a wind-beaten beach or rising on a lofty cliff, with bare grey stem and shadowless foliage, never without a voice whispering in a calm or shrieking in a breeze. The presence of one of these trees gives a certain sanctity and awfulness to a place; hence to translate the word 'sanctuary' the best

  1. Many years ago I observed beside a path in a wood in Norfolk Island a little heap of sticks evidently thrown there by Melanesian boys passing on their way to fish at the foot of steep cliffs of difficult descent. I enquired of my companions, who smiled and did not answer. Long after, having read Mr. Forbes' Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago, I put the question again to boys from the Banks' Islands and from Florida. Both gave the same account, that it was done to ensure a safe descent in that place, and that it was common in their islands; both declared that there was no thought of sacrifice or offering, and no prayer, only, if anything was said, the words 'There goes my fatigue.' Mr. Forbes mentions a similar practice twice, once in Sumatra (p. 166), where the porters placed handfuls of leaves on a stone and prayed for a dry day and good luck; and again in Timor (p. 481), where at the commencement of a steep and precipitous descent the natives laid leaves and twigs on a mound 'to ensure a safe descent.'