Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/68

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CHAPTER III.

SOCIAL REGULATIONS. CHIEFS.

It has been shewn that the social structure in these Melanesian islands is not tribal, and it will have been observed therefore that there can be no political structure held together by the power of tribal chiefs; but chiefs exist, and still have in most islands important place and power, though never perhaps so much importance in the native view as they have in the eyes of European visitors, who carry with them the persuasion that savage people are always ruled by chiefs. A trader or other visitor looks for a chief, and finds such a one as he expects; a very insignificant person in this way comes to be called, and to call himself, the king of his island, and his consideration among his own people is of course enormously enhanced by what white people make of him. The practice moreover of the commanders of ships of war by which local chiefs are held responsible for the conduct of their people, and are treated as if they had considerable power, undoubtedly increases their importance, nor can that result be regretted. As a matter of fact the power of chiefs has hitherto rested upon the belief in their supernatural power derived from the spirits or ghosts with which they had intercourse. As this belief has failed, in the Banks' Islands for example some time ago, the position of a chief has tended to become obscure; and as this belief is now being generally undermined a new kind of chief must needs arise, unless a time of anarchy is to begin. It will be well probably at the outset to give the account of a chiefs power and government in the Solomon Islands, the Banks' Islands, and the New Hebrides, as supplied by natives