Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/69

This page has been validated.
Power of Chiefs.

of those groups respectively, who well knew what they were speaking about. A Florida Vunagi kept order in his place, directed the common operations and industries, represented his people with strangers, presided at sacrifices and led in war. He inflicted fines, and would order any one to be put to death. At Saa in Malanta the chief, Maelaha, is such by virtue of descent, a remarkable difference existing in many points between this people and Melanesians generally; the people work in his gardens, plant for him, build a house or canoe for him at his word. He inflicts fines, and can order a man to be put to death. At Banks' Islands the Tavusmele or Etvusmel in former days kept order, gave commands about the common concerns of the place, arranged difficulties with neighbouring villages, could order an offender (one for example who had bewitched or poisoned another) to be put to death, or to pay a fine of pigs. In Lepers' Island the Ratahigi commands or forbids in such matters as fishing, voyaging, and building; he can order an offender to be shot or clubbed, or to give a fine of pigs. In each of these cases it may be added that the chief has with him young men who have attached themselves to him and carry out his commands, and that the chief has no more property in or dominion over land than another man. Further details as to the position and power of chiefs in the various islands will be hereafter given.

A point of difference between the Polynesian and Melanesian sections of the Pacific peoples is the conspicuous presence in the former, and the no less conspicuous absence in the latter, of native history and tradition. In the Melanesian islands, with one notable exception, the enquirer seeks in vain for antiquity; the memory of the past perishes quickly where all things soon pass away, where every building soon decays, where life is short, and no marked change of seasons makes people count by longer measures of time than months. While any one lives who remembers some famous man of the past his fame lingers, but it dies with the personal remembrance; a man's ancestry goes back so far as living memory extends; historical tradition can hardly be said to