Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/209

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Trees. Sharks. Snakes.

Mota word is tano-aruaru, place of casuarinas. The cycas is also sacred, rongo, but it is cut down without hesitation by the natives if it be in the way. Crotons and drac├Žsnas have a certain sacredness in connexion with the dead. In Araga, Pentecost Island, there is a strange belief that the cycas-tree turns into a young man or woman, like the snake to be here after mentioned; only the ear remains unchanged, it shews a leaflet of the tree.

The living creatures which are most commonly held sacred in the Banks' Islands and New Hebrides are sharks and snakes; all kingfishers have at least something of a sacred character, and some owls, crabs, lizards, eels, and such things as haunt a place sacred because of the presence of a spirit. In the Banks' Islands a shark may be a tangaroa, a sort of familiar spirit, or the abode of one. Some years ago Manurwar, son of Mala, the chief man in Vanua Lava, had such a shark, for which he had given money to a Maewo man to send it to him. It was very tame, and would come up to him when he went down to the beach at Nawono, and follow along in the surf as he walked along the shore. Tursal, my informant, had himself seen it do this. This corresponds with what has been above related of Lodo and his shark at Savo; and the difference is instructive that in the Banks' Islands the shark was a spirit and in the Solomon Islands it was a ghost. In the New Hebrides some men have the power, as the natives believe, of changing themselves into sharks, as may be seen in the story of Tarkeke. A great deal of superstition is connected with snakes, not only because one is sure to be seen about a sacred place, but because the reptile is often thought to be otherwise connected with a vui, spirit, to have a spirit near it. In Mota there are no land-snakes; in the other islands of the Banks' group some of enormous size are said to live in banyan-trees, and are held sacred. At Valuwa there are snakes which strangers are not allowed to see, lest some misfortune should follow. Ordinary snakes are killed. Those that are held sacred are not fed or worshipped, but such as are the familiars of individuals who know them receive sacrifices.