Page:The Melanesians Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore.djvu/96

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Secret Societies and Mysteries.

to believe in their supernatural character. The uninitiated boys from the Banks' Islands heard in Norfolk Island from their Florida schoolfellows what they had seen, and the sacredness of the salagoro was lost for them. The secret was out many years ago, though in Florida the power of the mysteries was maintained till Christianity prevailed in the only part of the island in which the institution had a seat.

In the Banks' Islands the tamate has survived the introduction of Christianity. All belief in the supernatural character of the associations has long disappeared, all women and children know that the tamate are men dressed in disguises made by themselves, and that the sounds and cries are naturally produced. But these societies had so important a place in the social arrangements of the people that they have held their ground as clubs. It is not only in the Banks' Islands that secrecy and a costume have their attractions. The secrecy of the lodges is still maintained, the salagoro is unapproachable by women and the uninitiated, the neophyte has still to go through his time of probation and seclusion, and the authority of the society is maintained by too much of the high-handed tyranny of old times[1]. In truth, the social power of these societies was too great to be readily dissolved, and in the

  1. It was a matter of principle with Bishop Patteson not to interfere in an arbitrary manner with the institutions of the people, but to leave it to their own sense of right and wrong, and their own knowledge of the character of what they did, to condemn or to tolerate what their growing enlightenment would call into question. So there arose among his early pupils the doubt whether it would be right for them as Christians to continue members of the tamate societies, to seek for admission into them, and frequent their lodges. The bishop put it to them that they should enquire and consult among themselves about the real character of the societies; did they offer worship and prayer to ghosts or spirits; were they required to take part in anything indecent or atrocious; did membership involve any profession of belief or practice of superstition peculiar to the members? After consultation they reported to him that they could not discover anything wrong in itself, except the pretence of association with ghosts, which had already ceased to be serious, and the beating and robbing of the uninitiated, which it was quite possible for them to refuse to take part in and to oppose. The bishop therefore would not condemn the societies, and in the Banks' Islands they continue to exist, and indeed to flourish more than it is at all desirable that they should.