Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/293

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Driving away Ghosts. Funeral-Feasts.

driven away unless the man who has died was badly afflicted with ulcers and sores, either a gov covered with sores, or a mama-nigata with a single large ulcer or more. When such a one is dying the people of his village send word in time to the next village westwards, as the ghost will go out following the sun, to warn them there to be prepared. When the gov is dead they bury him, and then, with shell-trumpets blowing and the stalks of cocoa-nut fronds stripped of some of the leaflets beating on the ground, they chase the ghost to the next village. The people of that village take up the chase, and hunt the ghost further westward; and so on till the sea is reached. Then the frond stalks are thrown away and the people return, sure that the ghost has left the island, and will not strike another man with the disease.

The series of funeral-feasts or death-meals, the 'eating the death' as they call it, follows upon the funeral, or even begins before it, and is the most important part of the commemoration of the dead; it may be said, indeed, to be one of the principal institutions of the islands. The number of the feasts and the length of time during which they are repeated varys very much in the various islands, and depend also upon the consideration in which the deceased is held. The meals are distinctly commemorative, but are not altogether devoid of the purpose of benefiting the dead; it is thought that the ghost is gratified by the remembrance shewn of him, and honoured by the handsome performance of the duty; the living also solace themselves in their grief, and satisfy something of their sense of loss by affectionate commemoration. It is not easy to determine how far there is now any feeling that friendly association of the living and dead is continued by their both partaking of the meal, when a morsel of food is thrown aside with a call to the deceased. At ordinary meals when the oven is opened a bit of food is put aside for the dead, with the words 'This is for you, let our oven be well cooked.' At a death-meal the words are 'This is for thee.' It is readily denied now that the dead, either dead friends generally in the one case or the lately deceased in the