The Folk-Lore Journal/Volume 6/Notes and Queries (December)

938313The Folk-Lore Journal, Volume 6 — Notes and Queries (December)


The Burial Customs of the Ainos.—The Rev. J. Bachelor writes, in a recent issue of the Japan Weekly Mail, on the burial customs of the Ainos of Yezo. He says that as soon as a person dies, a blazing fire is made the corpse is dressed in its best garments, which are neatly laced up, and is laid lengthways on the right hand side of the fireplace. The relatives and friends of the deceased sit around the remaining parts of the fireplace, and usually they are so numerous as to fill the hut. In all cases many sacred symbols (inao) are made, and placed around the hut and the dead body. Mr. Bachelor has seen the corpse of a woman laid out. She was well dressed, and had her utensils and paraphernalia about her (the rings and beads being, in this instance, laid upon her bosom), and was shod with pieces of white calico which Mrs. Bachelor had, a few days previously, given to the husband of the deceased to bind up his wounded foot. Any white material seems to be especially welcome to the Ainos for wrapping up the bodies of their dead. "When the body has been properly dressed, and when the necessary eating-vessels or hunting materials are placed in position, a cake made of millet, or a cup of boiled rice and some wine, are placed by its side, and the spirit of the departed is supposed to eat up the essence of these things. Then the goddess of fire is implored to take charge of the spirit and lead it safely to the Creator of the world and the possessor of heaven, and she receives various messages to the Deity setting forth the praises of the dead and extolling his many virtues. Millet cakes and wine are then handed round to every member of the assembled company, and each of them offers two or three drops of the wine to the spirit of the dead, then drinks a little, and pours what remains before the fire as an offering to the fire goddess, to whom they have not ceased to pray; then part of the millet cake is eaten, and the remainder buried in the ashes on the hearth, each person burying a little piece. After the burial these scraps are collected and carried out of the hut and placed before the east window, which is regarded as a sacred place. The corpse is then carefully rolled up in a mat, neatly tied up, attached to a pole, and carried to the grave by two men. The mourners follow after the corpse, in single file, each carrying something to be buried in the grave, the men leading and the women following them. The grave is from two and a half to three and a half feet deep, and round the inside of it stakes are driven, and over them and at the bottom of the grave mats are placed. Then the body is laid in the grave, with numerous little knicknacks—cups, rings, beads, a saucepan and some clothing being buried with the woman; a bow and quiver, an eating and a drinking cup, tobacco, a pipe, a knife with the men; and playthings with the children. These things are always broken before being put into the grave, and it is noticeable that they are not usually the best the deceased had during life. Everything is then closely covered with mats; pieces of wood are placed so as to form a kind of roof, and on this the earth is piled. A pole is generally stuck at the foot of the grave to mark the spot. No prayers are offered up during burial. The mourners then return to the hut, where the men pray, make inao, i. e. sacred symbols, eat, drink, and get drunk. The dead body is never allowed to remain in the house longer than one day; and once the funeral is over, the name of the departed is never mentioned.

Danes' Blood—Medgelly's Cow.—The following passages from the third volume of The Family Memoirs of Rev. William Stukeley, M.D., a work just issued by the Surtees Society, are worth a place in the Folk-Lore Journal:—

Ryhall, Rutlandshire.—"Here abouts grows much elrilus, or wildelder, fancyed to spring from the Danes' blood."—1736.—(p. 169.)

Cherbury, Shropshire.—"A proverb in this country, 'Medgelly's cow, for one that gives a deal of milk.' The report of this temple is that a cow in this place gave milk to all the honest and good folks of the neighbourhood; but one of evil life milked her into a sieve, whereupon the cow disappeared and never came more."—1753.—(p. 179.)

Halibut.—What is the connection between the Jews and a halibut?

The Dublin fishmongers say that when they have one for sale the Jews rush to buy pieces of it; but all try to get the head if possible.

An amusing story used to be told by an old Bristol gentleman, for a long time living in Dublin, who was rather fond of abusing the "Hirish" because they could not pronounce their words correctly.

"Hi was going up Baggot Street, and a 'orrid woman came running after me and said, 'Your 'onor, come back and look at my fish.' I went back, and it was only an 'alibut, and I said, I don't want your beastly 'alibut,' but she said, 'Hoh, your 'onor, you must buy some, as all the 'ebrew gentlemen 'ave been in with me to-day.' The 'orrid hold woman 'ad taken me for a Jew."

G. H. K.

Devil's Glen, co. Wicklow.—The Devil's Glen is so called as it was one of the Irish residences of his satanic majesty, and those seeking an audience were required to apply at Pouldoule, or the deep hole below the waterfall, where he was to be heard of.

It is said that Murdock 'Toole, the rapparee of Lough Dan, when he wanted a banshee, came in at the upper end of the glen to see the devil. When the Byrnes, Cavanaghs, and other chiefs met to defend the country against Cromwell's invasion, the rapparee was also there. Cavanagh objected to a churl sitting in council with them, and O'Toole claimed he was a bastard son of O'Connor, and that a royal bastard had a right to sit in council with the noble but uncrowned blood of the Leinster chiefs; also he stated that he would forfeit to the Cavanaghs all his property if he failed to have a banshee appear at his death. In various ways he tried to induce the O'Connor banshee to act for him, but all his devices failed; so as a last resource he visited the devil at Pouldoule. The devil was kind, and promised one on the condition that he destroyed the ecclesiastical settlement at Glendalough of St. Kevin. This he did, and since then a devil as a banshee attends at the death of this family of O'Tooles. But, unfortunately, devils cannot weep at the death of a mortal, they can only laugh; so that the O'Tooles' banshee announces their deaths with peals of most unearthly laughter. It is said, however, that these O'Tooles increased so fast and scattered so over the world, while the devil had so much business on hand, that of late years he rose out of his contract, and that now-a-day one of these O'Tooles can go quietly to his rest. As to the Devil's Glen—since the English overran the country, his majesty has so many habitations that he finds it rarely necessary to visit the glen.

G. H. K.

Church Folk-lore.—The following paragraph, which I transcribed some years ago from The Hull Advertiser of 14 May, 1796, is worthy of preservation in your pages. Watching the church porch on the eve of St. Mark is a well-known practice; watching the supper I have not, as far as I remember, heard of before:—"The lamentable effects of terror have been frequently recorded. We are sorry to add another instance of its fatal power. On Friday morning a girl living at a public-house in Mill Street, in this town, was seized with an illness. ..... She died early on Saturday morning. Thursday evening, being what is called St. Mark's Eve, the above girl, in company with two others, sat up to observe a custom of the most dangerous and ridiculous nature, which they called watching their suppers; in doing which it is supposed the girl heard some noise, or fancied she saw some object, which had such a terrible effect on her mind as to produce the fatal consequences above mentioned. We hope her awful example will be a warning to the thoughtless observance of such superstitious and impious practices."

Bottesford Manor, Brigg.

Milk v. Fire.—In Mr. Rust's note in Nature, vol. xxxvii. p. 583, there is mention of a superstition that milk alone can extinguish a fire kindled by lightning—a belief that existed in Cambridgeshire, and which is entertained by the Sudan Arabs. The Sinhalese (natives of Ceylon) have a similar belief in the efficacy of milk. When an epidemic such as small-pox breaks out in a village, two games of a religious character, An-Edíma (horn pulling) and Pol-gehíma (striking cocoa-nuts together), are played in public for a couple of days. Then the Kapurála (lay priest), and those who have taken part in the games, go in procession with music, &c., to every house in the village, where arrangements have been made for the Kapurála's reception. The house and grounds are cleaned; the inmates wear newly-washed clothes; and portions of the ceiling and floor are covered with white cloths. A lamp is lit at the threshold of the building. The Kapurála carries an earthen pot containing either cocoanut milk or water medicated with saffron-leaves, and over which charms have been pronounced. On his arrival at the door he chants a song about a fire in Madurápura (Madura, South India) which was quenched by the goddess Pattini with milk. He then pours the fluid from the earthen vessel upon the lighted lamp and extinguishes it. The Sinhalese use the expression "May milk be poured on him [or her]," when desiring to avert from some one an impending calamity, or to counteract a curse or prophecy of evil pronounced against him. The idea of employing milk to quench the fire of an epidemic (typified by the flame of a lamp), and the idea of the deity pouring milk on an individual in order to protect him from malignant influences, appear to be somewhat analogous to the belief that milk alone will extinguish a conflagration kindled by the fire from heaven.—F. M. Wickramasingha. Colombo Museum, Ceylon, June 30. —Nature, vol. xxxviii. p. 453.

Whistling.—As a whistler of the female sex I must offer a protest against the one and only suggested reason why women are not so frequently heard to indulge in whistling as men, which is given by the writer in your "Notes and Queries" of last issue.

It seems evident to me that the writer in question has never been a little girl with a strong desire to become skilful in the accomplishment, or he (?) would have had vivid and painful recollections of the persistent manner in which all juvenile efforts were quelled. Unless he (?) had been possessed of an unusually free and self-reliant mind, the treatment would probably have had the effect of making him even acquiesce in the general verdict, and in his tender years take it for granted that it was an "unlucky," or "unlady-like," pastime. Perhaps he (?) was never (as I was) at a school where the pupils were fined for indulging in it.

I think that much of the prejudice instilled in youths unconsciously survives in riper years, and prevents so free an indulgence (in the presence of the opposite sex) of the decidedly soothing recreation, as might have taken place under more favourable circumstances. Any inferior excellence in female performances might be attributable to the more advanced age (when nursery and school-room shackles no longer appear indestructible) at which practice begins. I for one have never heard one of my sex depreciate whistling on account of its being unbecoming.

Perhaps your writer would kindly consider my remarks, and not take it amiss if it should be suggested to him that the lack of frequency with which he is treated to an exhibition of female whistling might be the result of his not being altogether behind the scenes.

Bertha Porter.

16, Russell Square, W.C. Aug. 8, 1888.