Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/305

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New Hebrides. Death-Meal. Origin of Death.

come together to eat and to remember him and weep. Then they think that the ghosts and he who has lately died come back to the world for this, and that the ghosts call this the great feast of the man who died. They believe that they come and carry away food and pig's flesh for themselves to eat; but men are not aware of their taking anything away, they speak figuratively. It is just as when a little mash, or cocoa-nut, or bit of pig is put upon a dead man's grave for him to eat; they do not think that the ghosts take the things as men do; not at all, the things remain all right; but they think that they take away the tamani of the things. And if a little is given they think that they carry it away as if it were a great deal, and go down rejoicing to Banoi with shouting and with songs. Thus they do to the hundredth day, and after that they think no more about it.'

The Origin of Death was ascribed at Lepers' Island, both to the disuse of the power of changing the skin, and to the defect of nature which had not given men that power. Once upon a time a woman and a crab disputed the point, the woman maintaining that the crab was better than men, changing its shell, becoming young again, and living long. She wanted the crab to change bodies with her; and she blamed Tagar because he did not make men rightly. But in accordance with the story which is told in varying forms in the Solomon Islands, the Banks' group, and the New Hebrides, men had in former times the power of changing their skin. There was an old woman who had two grandchildren. These two boys were one day playing at blocking back the water of a little brook, when the stream brought down a Tahitian chestnut. One of the boys took it, and gave it to his grandmother to roast. Afterwards the other boy, who had at first despised the chestnut, ran home unobserved and ate it, so that when the first boy went for it the chestnut was gone. The boy scolded his grandmother for neglect, and she, angry in her turn, said to the boys, 'You two don't wish to live for ever, but would rather that we should not live.' She had just come back from changing her skin in the water higher up in the stream which the boys were blocking