Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/235

This page has been validated.
xii.]
213
Ordeals. Poison.

Another method is to take almonds from a sacred place and mash them with a charm; the accused eats and is judged guilty if he is the worse for it. There is again a very ancient spear at Saa, very saka, full of magic power, called usu, dog, because it has dogs' teeth upon it. This is placed on the head of the accused and he says, 'If I did the thing, may I die with this spear;' if he is guilty he sickens and dies with the power of the spear. There is also a very sacred song, very saka. The wizard who knows it sings it, and the accused man says, 'Well, that song is for me; if I did that let me and my children suffer.' Finally, there is the alligator ordeal, used in the passage between Mala Paina and Mala Masiki, where the reptiles are very numerous. A man accused of serious crime is taken there; the wizard who manages the ordeal calls the alligators with his charms, and the accused who is confident in his innocence and in the wizard's power dares to swim across. No one will hold him guilty if he escapes. In this ordeal also it is sometimes not the accused, but the man who knows the charm who submits himself to the test. In Lepers' Island a man to prove his innocence will submit to be shot at with arrows; if he be hit he is of course guilty; if he be innocent, Tagaro will protect him, just as he protects in fighting any young man whom he preserves that he may be prosperous and great. The favour of Tagaro in either case is sought for with the appropriate charm.

(8) Poison. To the best of my knowledge the Melanesian people were not acquainted with the use of any substance which, when taken with food or drink, would be injurious by its natural properties, until they learnt the use of arsenic from Queensland. Returned 'labourers' brought that back with them, and used it with fatal effect in the same way in which native poisoners used their own magical preparations, by mixing it in food; and it is more than probable that the certain and fatal effect was believed then to be due to the powerful magical and not natural powers with which it was endued. At any rate, if what native magicians employed in poisoning food had any naturally noxious qualities (which is