Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/215

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Native Belief in Charms.

believe in the power of them as much as the people on whose behalf they exercise them. In some cases there is conscious deceit, such as has been many times confessed by those who have become Christians. A young woman of my acquaintance in the Banks' Islands had a reputation for power of healing-toothache by a charm which had been taught her by an aged relative deceased. She would lay a certain leaf rolled up with certain muttered words upon the part inflamed; and when in course of time the pain subsided, she would take out and unfold the leaf, and shew within it the little white maggot that was the cause of the trouble. When Christian teaching began in the island she made no difficulty about disclosing the secret, and all laughed over it together. It is likely enough also that a weather-doctor observed for himself, and was taught by his predecessor to observe, the signs of change and steadiness in weather, and brought his charms to work or kept them back according to his observations. But the means he used seemed to him to be so naturally effective, and had been so often followed by the results at which they were aimed, that he seriously believed in them; and if sometimes they failed conspicuously, as when at Ysabel the weather-doctor's own house was blown down by a storm on the very day on which he had warranted a calm, there was also the explanation that another counter-charm had been at work and had been stronger. Such a supposition tended to confirm much more than to weaken the belief in the power of weather-doctors. It is not only in Melanesian islands that whatever confirms a belief is accepted and whatever makes against it is not weighed. Those who practised the various kinds of magic did believe very much in their own art.

Though those who practise these various arts cannot be separated into various classes or orders, or even regarded as an order by themselves, inasmuch as they are mixed among the population, and practise as they know some more some fewer arts, it will be almost necessary to classify their practices. These may be arranged under the heads of Sickness, Weather, Witchcraft, Dreams, Prophecy and Divination,