Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/210

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Sacred Places and Things.

In the New Hebrides snakes are perhaps more regarded than in the Banks' Islands. A native of Pentecost Island, if he sees one in a sacred place or in a house, will think that there is some reason for its appearing to him; he will pour over himself the juice of a young cocoa-nut, and ever afterwards expect to find the world go well with him through the influence of the spirit, or it may be of the ghost, associated with the reptile. In Lepers' Island if a snake haunts a man's house, more particularly if it be a great man's house, they are persuaded that it is a spirit; it is gogona, not to be lightly approached; it brings good luck to the house, and makes the owner rise in the huqe society. The house itself is treated with respect; no one will throw a stone at it, or mount upon it; the snake would resent such disrespect and make the offender ill.

There is an amphibious sea-snake marked with bands of dark and light colour, which in the Banks' Islands and New Hebrides is always more or less dreaded whenever it is seen. In these islands it is generally called mae, and it is this kind of snake which becomes the familiar spirit of those who have, or profess to have, intercourse with it. In Araga, Pentecost, every mae is believed to have the supernatural power of mana; one will do harm to men by taking away bits of their food into a sacred place, upon which their lips will swell and their bodies break out with ulcers. Some men turn into these snakes, and these snakes again turn into men. A mae does not behave like an ordinary snake; it shews that it is something different, for example, by washing its young. In a certain gamal, clubhouse, in Araga, is a hollow piece of the wood of a certain tree they call bugo, in which is water. In the night a mother mae used to come and wash her young one in this water; the people sleeping there used to hear it cry and knew what it was. They made a pipe to imitate the cry exactly, and use it now. The belief is most strong in all these islands that this snake turns itself into a young man or woman, generally into a young woman, to tempt one of the opposite sex; to yield to the temptation causes death.