Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/251

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Couvade. Infanticide.

child's birth, and does not enter his house; after the birth, he does work in looking after his wife and child, but he must not eat shell-fish and other produce of the beach, for the infant would suffer from ulcers if he did. In Lepers' Island, the father is very careful for ten days; he does no work, will not climb a tree, or go far into the sea to bathe, for if he exerts himself the child will suffer. If during this time he goes to any distance, as to the beach, he brings back with him a little stone representing the infant's soul, which may have followed him; arrived at home, he cries, 'Come hither,' and puts down the stone in the house; then he waits till the child sneezes, and he cries, 'Here it is,' knowing then that the soul has not been lost.

Abortion and Infanticide were very common. If a woman did not want the trouble of bringing up a child, desired to appear young, was afraid her husband might think the birth before its time, or wished to spite her husband, she would find some one to procure abortion either by the juice of certain plants taken in drink or by twisting and squeezing the fœtus. Infanticide was more prevalent in some islands than others; since Christian teaching has been introduced a great change is visible in Maewo, Aurora Island, and at Wango in San Cristoval, where the birth of an infant was of late years indeed an unusual thing, and all the children in the villages had been bought from inland. In those parts the old women of the village generally determined whether a newborn child should live; if not promising in appearance, or likely to be troublesome, it was made away with, its mouth perhaps stuffed with leaves and the body cast into a hole and covered with a stone. In the Banks' Islands, if of the wrong sex or otherwise unwelcome, the infant was choked as soon as born. Male children were killed rather than female in that group; if there were female children already, another would not be desired; but the females were rather preserved, as it is important to observe, because of the family passing through the female side, as well as with the prospect of gain when the girl should be betrothed and married.

There is nowhere in the groups generally the practice of