The Melanesians: Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore/Chapter 11
SACRED PLACES AND THINGS.
It is almost certain that idols find no place in the account which I now proceed to give of sacred places and objects as I am acquainted with them in Melanesia. It is true that the word is commonly enough used to describe any kind of image of native workmanship, whether there be really something of a sacred character attached to it, or none whatever. The people of San Cristoval, Ugi, and Ulawa were conspicuous for their fondness for carving and the skill with which they worked; a man among them would amuse himself by shaping a soft stone or bit of wood into a figure of a man or bird, or fish, as well as in carving by way of decoration what he made for use. I have seen at Fagani (Ha'ani) in San Cristoval a remarkably clever group over the apex of a gable, which represented a man climbing up to shoot an opossum, and the animal looking down upon him from the top of the pole in the most natural attitude. This would hardly be taken for an idol, but is as much an idol as many figures which have found their way into museums as such. The canoe-houses, common halls, public-houses, called in those parts oka, were full of carvings in the constructive as well as decorative parts. Some of these, the posts for example which support the ridge-pole and purlins, are often figures of men, who would be loosely called ancestors by the principal people of the village, and these would be treated with respect; sometimes food and betel-nuts would be seen laid before them. But these had no sacred character, further than that they were memorials of deceased great men, whose ghosts visiting their accustomed abodes would be pleased at marks of memory and affection, and irritated by disrespect. There was no notion of the ghost of the dead taking up his abode in the image, nor was the image supposed to have any supernatural efficacy in itself. In any oha in Malanta may be seen an image of a shark, a sword-fish, or a bonito, before which portions of food are placed; and these figures will be said to be fathers, grand-fathers, ancestors of those who thus respect them. These are indeed receptacles of the dead, not of their spirits, but of their mortal remains or relics; such cannot be called idols. Although too they sometimes make other images and give the names of the dead to them by way of remembrance, they do not pray or sacrifice at such images, nor are they thought holy. In Florida a rudely-shaped image of a man might often have been seen in a sacred place near a village or by the sea-shore, with cocoa-nuts tied to it or food laid at its feet; this would be a tindalo, an image representing some powerful man deceased; the food would be for him to eat; the image was sacred. That is to say, the image was a memorial of some tindalo, and was not thought to have power in itself, or to be inhabited by the ghost of the departed. Images representing a tindalo were also cut on the posts of the canoe-houses, mere memorials not much regarded, and approached without respect.
The stocks set up in Santa Cruz to represent the dead are the simplest of memorials. In the Banks' Islands tree-fern trunks cut into very rude figures of men were often seen—memorials made at funeral feasts, having really no sacred character at all. In the same islands the images carried about at the Suqe feasts, and afterwards set up in the eating-places proper to the rank they represent, may well be taken for idols by those who are not acquainted with their meaning; and so indeed may the figure, the nule, into which the post of a house is cut, the building of which is celebrated by a kolekole. In the New Hebrides, at Ambrym, images of the dead whose death-feasts are to be celebrated are very elaborately prepared, not with any attempt at representing the figure of the particular deceased, but in conventional form; sometimes carved out of tree-fern trunks, sometimes fashioned with wickerwork and sago spathes, and painted and adorned. Some shut up from common view by bamboo screens may probably belong to secret societies. In the same island drams are set up for funeral feasts with fantastic faces cut upon them, and these remain as in a manner images of the deceased, taken by visitors for idols or devil-drums. In the neighbouring islands similar images are made.
Sacred places have almost always stones in them; it is impossible to treat separately sacred places and sacred stones. But whereas some places are sacred because stones are there, the stones seen in other places have been taken there as part of the furniture of a sacred place. Some places also and stones may be said to have the origin of their sacredness in graves or relics of the dead, and so have had their character given them by men; while others are sacred because the stones are there, the stones being sacred because associated with a spirit. It is well here to recall the distinction which seems so important between ghosts, the disembodied spirits of men deceased, and spirits, of another order from the souls of men, which have never been connected with a human body; and to remember that, speaking generally, the religion of the Solomon Islands is concerned with ghosts, that of the Banks' Islands and New Hebrides with spirits.
The sacred places and objects of the Solomon Islands shall be first described; and first of all those which belong to sepulture. In Florida a sacred place is called vunuka. These places are sometimes in the village, in which case they are fenced round lest they should be rashly trodden upon, sometimes in the garden-ground, sometimes in the bush. A vunuka is sacred to a tindalo, ghost of power, and sacrifices are offered to the tindalo in it. In some cases the vunuka is the burial-place of the man who has become tindalo, in others his relics have been translated there; in some cases there is a shrine, and in some an image. There are generally if not always stones in such a sacred place; some stone lying naturally there has struck the fancy of the man who began the cultus of the tindalo; he thinks it a likely place for the ghost to haunt, and other smaller stones, and shells called peopeo, are added. When a vunuha has been established everything within it is sacred, tambu, and belongs to the tindalo. If a tree growing in one were to fall across a path no one would step over it. In entering a vunuha a man who knows the tindalo and sacrifices goes first, those who go with him treading in his footsteps; in going out no one will look back, lest his soul should stay behind. No one would pass a vunuha when the sun was so low as to cast his shadow into it; the ghost would draw it from him. If there were a shrine in a vunuha, only the sacrificer would enter it. Within it were the weapons and other properties used by the object of worship when alive, some said to be of great antiquity. The school-boys now have broken down the shrines and pelted the images, and the teachers have carried off the weapons. Dikea, a chief at Ravu, had ten vunuha of his own, one close to a garden that he wanted to enlarge. He was afraid to desecrate the sacred place himself lest the tindalo should do him mischief; he therefore sent for Gura and Kerekere, two young Christian teachers, to do it for him, because they would not be afraid. They took their scholars and went, the other boys not venturing near. They found in the vunuha one large stone in its natural bed, with smaller stones, peopeo shells, and leaves of ginger round it, all of which they threw about. The two tindalo to whom the place was sacred, Koli and Kukui, appeared afterwards in dreams to the heathen men, and threatened the desecrators; Dikea waited till it was clear that they were none the worse, and then enlarged his garden.
At Saa in Malanta all burying-places where common people are interred are so far sacred that no one will go there without due cause; "but those places where the remains of people of rank are deposited, where sacrifices are offered, and which may be called family sanctuaries, are regarded with very great respect. Some of these are very ancient, the lio'a, or powerful ghost, who is worshipped there, being a remote ancestor. It sometimes happens that the man who has offered the sacrifice in such a place dies without having fully instructed his son in the proper chant of invocation with which the lio’a ought to be approached. The young man who succeeds him is then afraid to go there often, and begins a new place, taking some ashes from the old sacrificial fire-place to start the new sanctuary. It is not common in that part of Malanta to build shrines for relics, but it is sometimes done when the oha, canoe-house, is full. Such shrines are common in San Cristoval in the villages, and in the sacred places where great men have been buried. To trespass on these sacred places would be always likely to rouse the anger of the ghosts, some of whom besides are known to be of a malignant disposition. Such a one is Tapia, whose haunt is at the mouth of a river near Ha'ani, and sacrifice to whom has been already described.
There are sacred places, however, in the Solomon Islands which are not places of sepulture, though none probably the sacredness of which does not depend on the presence of a ghost. In Florida the appearance of something wonderful will cause any place to become a vunuha, the wonder being an evidence of the ghostly presence. For example, a man planted in the bush near Olevuga some cocoa-nut and almond-trees, and not long after died. There then appeared among the trees a white kandora, cuscus, a great rarity. This was assumed to be the appearance of the dead man, now a tindalo, and was called by his name. The place became a vunuha; no one would gather the cocoa-nuts and almonds till two young Christian men of late have taken the sacred place and trees for a garden. Through this same part of the forest ran a stream full of eels (which Olevuga people will not eat), among them one so large that it was thought to be a tindalo, the abode or representative of some one dead; no one would bathe in that stream or drink from it, except one pool in its course which for convenience was not considered sacred. In Boli also there was a sacred pool with a tindalo eel. In Bugotu, in Ysabel, is a pool which is the abode of a ghost of ancient times, and into which scraps of any person's food are thrown whom his enemies wish to charm. If the food is quickly devoured by the fish, which are abundant, in the pool, the man will die; if otherwise, the man who knows the place and the ghost reports that the tindalo is unwilling to do harm, his own friendly intervention having been probably paid for by the one who knows that his life is aimed at. To obtain good crops food is laid on stones in these sacred places, and for success in fishing fragments of cooked fish; money also laid upon them in small quantities, the proprietor, so to speak, of the vunuha, who is acquainted with the ghost, in each case offering on behalf of those who desire the good offices of the tindalo. Stones have thus a considerable place among the sacred objects of the Solomon Islands, though not a very conspicuous place, wherever their situation or something in their appearance has associated them with some powerful ghost. Those that are in open places are so far treated with reverence that no one will go too far near them, much less sit or tread upon them, while those in secret sacred places become in a way altars for sacrifice. But as in time the ghosts become superseded by later successors, there remains but a vague respectful feeling towards these stones. Small sacred stones acquire a redoubled efficacy as they take their place among the relics and implements of the deceased man of power, now himself become a ghost of power; his sacrifices had been wont to reach the tindalo whose presence was soured to him by that stone, and now the presumed attachment of his ghost to the same gives credit and efficacy to the sacrifices offered near it or upon it to himself.
Living sacred objects in the Solomon Islands are chiefly sharks, alligators, snakes, bonitos, and frigate-birds. Snakes which haunt a sacred place are themselves sacred, as belonging to or serving as an embodiment of the ghost; there was one in Savo, to look upon which caused death. In San Cristoral there is a special reverence for snakes as representatives of the spirit-snake Kahausibware. Sharks are in all these islands very often thought to be the abode of ghosts, as men will before their death announce that they will appear as sharks, and afterwards any shark remarkable for size or colour which is observed to haunt a certain shore or rock is taken to be some one's ghost, and the name of the deceased is given to it. Such a one was Santahimatawa at Ulawa, a dreaded man to which offerings of porpoise teeth were made. At Saa food, such as cocoa-nuts from certain trees, is reserved to feed such a ghost-shark, and there are certain men of whom it is known that after death they will be in sharks, and who therefore are allowed to eat such food in the sacred place. Other men will join themselves to their company; a man will speak as with the voice of a shark -lio'a in him, and say, 'give me to eat of that food.' Such a man, if it appears that he is really saka, possessed of supernatural power, will after his death be counted himself as a sharklio'a; but it is possible that he may fail. In Saa and in Ulawa if a sacred shark had attempted to seize a man and he had escaped, the people would be so much afraid of the shark's anger that they would throw the man back into the sea to be drowned. These sharks also were thought to aid in catching the bonito, for taking which supernatural power was necessary. There was not long ago near Makira in San Cristoval a shark very much respected, and fed with pig's flesh; it was believed to have grown so large within a circle of rocks in which it lived that it was no longer able to pass through the narrow enhance. Sharks are very commonly believed to be the abode of ghosts in Florida and Ysabel and in Savo, where they are particularly numerous; hence, though all sharks are not venerated, there is no living creature so commonly held sacred as a shark, and the tindalo of the shark, bagea, seem even to form a class of powerful supernatural beings. In Savo not long ago Lodo had a shark that he used to feed, and to which he used to sacrifice. He swam out to it with food, called it by its name, and it came to him. He had received his association with this shark from his ancestors, in the same way in which the connexion with other ghosts on shore and the knowledge of them was handed down from generation to generation; for this shark was a tindalo. There was the same association with alligators; a chief of Bugotu within my memory had such a connexion with one, in which his son at Norfolk Island thoroughly believed. There was a story current also of an alligator which would come out of the sea and make itself at home in the Florida village in which the man whose ghost was in it had lived; it was called by his name, and though there was one man who had a special connexion with it and was said to own it, it was friendly with all, and would let children ride upon its back; but it must be confessed that though its existence was everywhere asserted, the village where it could be seen was never ascertained. A lizard seen to frequent a house after a death was taken to be the ghost returning to his old home. The sacred character of the frigate-bird is certain; the figure of it, however conventional, is the most common ornament employed in the Solomon Islands, and is even cut upon the hands of the Bugotu people; the oath by its name of daula is solemn and binding in Florida, where Daula is a tindalo; as the kaula it is sacred at Ulawa; just as many ghosts take up their abode in sharks, many also and powerful to aid at sea are those which abide in these birds. The ginger-plant has a certain sacred character in Florida and the neighbouring islands; and so have besides the various objects, living and inanimate, from which the respective divisions of the people refrain as a matter of religious obligation.
In Santa Cruz there are stones about which stories are told connecting them with the duka, whether ghosts or other spirits, which are the objects of worship; and on these betel-nuts are placed as offerings. Passing eastwards to the Banks' Islands and the New Hebrides, a region is reached in which religion concerns itself chiefly with spirits that never were embodied in men, and in which therefore sacred places and objects are generally such because of their connexion with spirits. Burial-places are certainly held in respect, especially the graves of men of importance in their time; a certain sacredness attaches to all belonging to the dead; but it is to the presence of a spirit, vui, that the special quality of most sacred places and objects belongs. In the Banks' Islands the difference between a naturally sacred character and that which follows upon an authoritative separation from common uses is marked by the use of two words, rongo and tapu or tambu, (recognised in English as taboo,) corresponding with which in the New Hebrides are sapuga and gogona. A naturally sacred, rongo, sapuga, character is given by the presence of a spirit, or association with one; and in by far the greater number of instances it is found that a spirit is associated with a stone. In the Banks' Islands a man would happen upon a boulder of volcanic or coral rock, and would be struck with a belief that a spirit was connected with it. The stone then was rongo, and the place in which it lay was rongo; the man constituted himself the master of the sanctuary; it was his marana within which none but himself, or those brought in by him, could come. Some stones are known to all, and are of more common access. At Losalav in Saddle Island there is near the beach a natural ring of stones which has been from time immemorial a sacred place. The people call the ring a fence, the space within it a garden, and the stones that lie within yam, banana, kava pepper, and other roots and fruits commonly planted by them. These stones were used for offerings of money and sweet-smelling leaves, in the belief that the plants corresponding to the stones would flourish and abound. The character and influence of the spirit connected with any sacred stone was judged by the shape of the stone. If a man came upon a large stone with a number of small ones beneath it, lying like a sow among her litter, he was sure that to offer money upon it would bring him pigs. Such a stone is Ro Tortoros at Mota; another Merina found and named from its shape the Pig; his wealth in pigs resulted from his discovery. A stone with little disks upon it, a block of ancient coral, was good to bring in money; any fanciful interpretation of a mark on a stone or of its shape was enough to give a character to the stone and to the spirit associated with it; the stone would not have that mark or shape without a reason. Many of these stones had names of their own, as above, as Puglava, 'much money out at interest,' at Luwai, and as more than one named simply Money. The spirits belonging to these stones are nameless; their connexion each with its own stone is not clearly defined; the stone, they say, is not the body of the spirit, nor is the spirit like the soul of the stone, for a stone certainly has no soul; they say that the spirit is at the stone, o vui ape vatu, or near the stone, and it is the spirit not the stone that acts. Some of these stones have an ancient established sanctity; only the few who know how to approach the spirit will visit them for sacrifice, all others pass by with awe, and will not tread the sacred ground about them. If by some mishap one finds that he has intruded on a sacred place, he hastens to engage the services of the man who knows the stone, to make an offering to the spirit, lest he should suffer from accident or sickness. There are some stones that have a sinister reputation, as those near which an accident has happened; and there are some upon which it is dangerous for a man's shadow to fall; it is well to make offerings upon these, to keep the spirit in good humour. A stone which is good for success in fighting is also likely to do harm if not treated with due observance; some stones have the name of galaqar, as though they would spring up like a trap upon the trespasser. Large stones as they naturally lie have a high place among the sacred objects of the New Hebrides. In Aurora some of these are believed to have been produced in the ancient time of universal darkness, qong tali, when, if two men were sitting at all apart, a stone would grow up out of the ground between them; such are to be seen in the forest now, tall as a house and of strange shapes. These have no names, as some others have had from ancient times; the common name for all sacred stones is matiu. Some are vui who have turned into stones; some in the sea are men of old time turned into stones; some never were anything but stones, but have a vui connected with them; some stones above the waterfall are called the 'dwellers in the land,' the native people of the stream, and these have all their names. They have much spiritual power, for they are in a way the bodily presentment of the spirits to whom the stream belongs. When men go eel-fishing, they secure success by offering a bit of the first they catch upon the appropriate stone. Sacred stones of all kinds have spiritual power, mana, as belonging to spirits, in various degrees and to be obtained for various purposes. Some cause sickness of the soul, some have great power in a charm, when a bit taken with a prayer is pounded up with a fragment of the person's food to whom mischief is to be wrought. Sometimes in Aurora a stone is smeared with red earth; in Pentecost and Lepers' Island one is anointed with the juice of a young cocoa-nut. In the last-named island no other offerings are made on stones; men go to them in the sacred places in the forest and call upon Tagaro. There are also stones in the sea near Lepers' Island which belong to spirits, and which people in canoes will not approach lest sharks should eat them.
The stones hitherto referred to are stones as they naturally lie, the presence of which, because of their association with a spirit, makes the ground about them a holy place, a tano rongo, or ute sapuga. But small stones that could be carried about had an active part in the native life of the Banks' Islands and the New Hebrides. The following are examples from the Banks' group. No garden was planted without stones buried in the ground to ensure a crop. A piece of Astræa coral-stone water-worn on the beach often bears a surprising likeness to a bread-fruit. A man who should find one of these would try its powers by laying it at the root of a tree of his own, and a good crop would prove its connexion with a spirit good for bread-fruit. The happy owner would then for a consideration take stones of less marked character from other men, and let them lie near his, till the mana in his stone should be imparted to theirs. Likeness to other fruits or tubers would be the ground of a belief in similar powers. Stones were much used by weather-doctors. To make sunshine it might be enough only to smear a standing stone with red earth; but it was very effectual to wind about a very round stone, a vat loa, sunstone, with red braid, and stick it with owls' feathers to represent rays, singing in a low voice the proper spell, and then to hang it on some high tree, a banyan or a casuarina in a sacred place. The stone to represent the sun might also be laid upon the ground with a circle of white rods radiating from it for its beams. There are stones of a remarkably long shape called in the Banks' Islands tamate gangan, that is, 'eating ghost'; these are so powerful from the presence with them of a ghost, not of a spirit, that if a man's shadow fall on one it will draw out his soul from him, so that he will die. Such stones therefore are set in a house to guard it; any one sent to his house by the owner in his absence will call out his sender's name, lest the ghost should think he has bad intentions and do him a mischief. Other stones, also connected with ghosts, have such power that when the owner of one puts it under his pillow and dreams of another man, that man will die. One who has such a stone is paid by an enemy to destroy a man in this way, and 'dreams him to an end,' ti qore mot. These stones are exceptional as deriving their power from the dead. Some again are called tangaroa, a name no doubt the same with that of the brothers of Qat. These a man would carry with him in a bag, or hang up in his house. If one went into a house where these stones were hanging and meddled with the property of the owner, and after a while an accident were to befall him, it would be said that the tangaroa had done it. Others, called tarunglea and varasurlea, were swung about in an invaded place to take away the courage of the invaders. Others were hung as amulets, soasoa, about a man's neck to keep him safe in danger; others, again, would straighten the aim and strengthen the arm to shoot. There were others that women would take with them to bed in hopes of children. The stones on which, or with reference to which, sacrifices are made are by no means always such as naturally lie in situ, but are small, and may be lost. In such a case the owner of the stone, knowing that ghosts have hidden it, cries to them and they restore it; although such a tano-oloolo is such by virtue of its association not with ghosts but spirits.
Lepers' Island may supply examples of the use of portable stones in the Northern New Hebrides. Besides those which lie naturally in the bush, in the tauteu, the sacred spot in which Tagaro is invoked, there are sacred stones which have more or less mana, and are effective for various purposes. Some are hung up in bags in the house. Some of these are inherited from ancient times, and some are new; some are good in fighting, some will produce food, some will cause a failure of crop; none will cause a large general crop for the year (that must be done by forms of words), and none are good for fishing. None are used in planting a garden; in that the juice of a young cocoa-nut is sprinkled with charms upon the ground, and the shells are set up at the sides. Each stone has its appropriate charm with Tagaro's name, sung over it when it is put to use.
Though the superstitious regard for stones is so commonly shewn, and the superstitious uses of them are so multifarious, there are yet practices with regard to them in which the natives deny that there is any superstitious or religious meaning and intent, natural as it is that an observer should suppose it. Such is the practice of throwing stones upon a heap by the way-side. Such a heap is to be seen at Valuwa in Saddle Island; each travelling stranger as he arrives casts his stone upon it. The natives declare that their notion is that days accumulate like stones; a man as he adds his stone to the heap 'puts his day upon it.' At Pun in the same island is a heap of fruits of various trees; a stranger as he comes gathers any fruit by the wayside and adds it to the heap. In each case it is a custom of the place; the people there like it to be kept up, because the heaps shew how many visitors they have. Between Valuwa and Motlav the path runs between two large stones; travellers going from Motlav to Valuwa kick the stone to the right as they pass, and say, 'Let Valuwa be near and Motlav far;' travellers to Motlav kick the other stone and say, 'Let Motlav be near and Valuwa afar.' This again is an old custom, not seriously thought of. Another custom common to the Banks' and Solomon Islands is that of throwing sticks, leaves, or stones upon a heap at a place of steep descent, or where a difficult path begins. They 'throw away their fatigue;' they certainly do not acknowledge that they make a prayer or offering.
Streams, or rather pools in streams, are sacred in the Banks' Islands by reason of the presence of a spirit. There is at Valuwa a deep hole into which no one dares to look; if the reflection of a man's face should fall upon the surface of the water he would die; the spirit would lay hold upon his life by means of it. Trees are sacred in a sacred place; a banyan often harbours in the labyrinth of its stems and roots a sacred snake, that is, a spirit, and is therefore itself sacred. There are, however, two trees which have a certain inherent sacredness of their own, the casuarina, aru, and the cycas, mele. Nothing can be more weird and ghostly than an aged casuarina standing alone on a wind-beaten beach or rising on a lofty cliff, with bare grey stem and shadowless foliage, never without a voice whispering in a calm or shrieking in a breeze. The presence of one of these trees gives a certain sanctity and awfulness to a place; hence to translate the word 'sanctuary' the best Mota word is tano-aruaru, place of casuarinas. The cycas is also sacred, rongo, but it is cut down without hesitation by the natives if it be in the way. Crotons and dracæsnas have a certain sacredness in connexion with the dead. In Araga, Pentecost Island, there is a strange belief that the cycas-tree turns into a young man or woman, like the snake to be here after mentioned; only the ear remains unchanged, it shews a leaflet of the tree.
The living creatures which are most commonly held sacred in the Banks' Islands and New Hebrides are sharks and snakes; all kingfishers have at least something of a sacred character, and some owls, crabs, lizards, eels, and such things as haunt a place sacred because of the presence of a spirit. In the Banks' Islands a shark may be a tangaroa, a sort of familiar spirit, or the abode of one. Some years ago Manurwar, son of Mala, the chief man in Vanua Lava, had such a shark, for which he had given money to a Maewo man to send it to him. It was very tame, and would come up to him when he went down to the beach at Nawono, and follow along in the surf as he walked along the shore. Tursal, my informant, had himself seen it do this. This corresponds with what has been above related of Lodo and his shark at Savo; and the difference is instructive that in the Banks' Islands the shark was a spirit and in the Solomon Islands it was a ghost. In the New Hebrides some men have the power, as the natives believe, of changing themselves into sharks, as may be seen in the story of Tarkeke. A great deal of superstition is connected with snakes, not only because one is sure to be seen about a sacred place, but because the reptile is often thought to be otherwise connected with a vui, spirit, to have a spirit near it. In Mota there are no land-snakes; in the other islands of the Banks' group some of enormous size are said to live in banyan-trees, and are held sacred. At Valuwa there are snakes which strangers are not allowed to see, lest some misfortune should follow. Ordinary snakes are killed. Those that are held sacred are not fed or worshipped, but such as are the familiars of individuals who know them receive sacrifices. In the New Hebrides snakes are perhaps more regarded than in the Banks' Islands. A native of Pentecost Island, if he sees one in a sacred place or in a house, will think that there is some reason for its appearing to him; he will pour over himself the juice of a young cocoa-nut, and ever afterwards expect to find the world go well with him through the influence of the spirit, or it may be of the ghost, associated with the reptile. In Lepers' Island if a snake haunts a man's house, more particularly if it be a great man's house, they are persuaded that it is a spirit; it is gogona, not to be lightly approached; it brings good luck to the house, and makes the owner rise in the huqe society. The house itself is treated with respect; no one will throw a stone at it, or mount upon it; the snake would resent such disrespect and make the offender ill.
There is an amphibious sea-snake marked with bands of dark and light colour, which in the Banks' Islands and New Hebrides is always more or less dreaded whenever it is seen. In these islands it is generally called mae, and it is this kind of snake which becomes the familiar spirit of those who have, or profess to have, intercourse with it. In Araga, Pentecost, every mae is believed to have the supernatural power of mana; one will do harm to men by taking away bits of their food into a sacred place, upon which their lips will swell and their bodies break out with ulcers. Some men turn into these snakes, and these snakes again turn into men. A mae does not behave like an ordinary snake; it shews that it is something different, for example, by washing its young. In a certain gamal, clubhouse, in Araga, is a hollow piece of the wood of a certain tree they call bugo, in which is water. In the night a mother mae used to come and wash her young one in this water; the people sleeping there used to hear it cry and knew what it was. They made a pipe to imitate the cry exactly, and use it now. The belief is most strong in all these islands that this snake turns itself into a young man or woman, generally into a young woman, to tempt one of the opposite sex; to yield to the temptation causes death.
It is possible to discover the deceit, but the discovery is often made too late. In Araga the changed mae may be known by the skin under the neck, which remains unchanged. It was only lately that a youth died at Vathuqe in that island who had been enticed by a changeling girl; he saw her neck and came back and told his people; they tried the proper remedy of smoke in vain. There is another test used in that island; the suspected temptress is induced to sit upon a nettle-tree, and is convicted by her ignorance of its character. In the Banks' Islands a young man, as one has related his experience to myself, coming back from his fishing on the rocks towards sunset, will see a girl with her head bedecked with flowers beckoning to him from the slope of the cliff up which his path is leading him; he recognizes the countenance of some girl of his own or a neighbouring village; he stands and hesitates, and thinks she must be a mae; he looks more closely, and observes that her elbows and knees bend the wrong way; this reveals her true character, and he flies. If a young man can strike the temptress with a dracæna leaf she turns into her own shape and glides away a snake. At Gaua, Santa Maria, a man met one of these standing or variegated snakes, as they call them, mae tiratira, valeleas, on the beach at night in the form of a woman of the place. Seeing by her reversed joints what she was, he offered to go to the village and bring her money. When he returned he found her waiting for him in her proper form as a mae; he scattered money upon her back, and she went off with it into the sea. More lately in the same place a young man just returned from 'labour' in Queensland, saw one of these in the form of a young married woman of his village. She turned into the stalk of a creeper, as in that island it is believed that these creatures do. It is believed also that if the man can cut the creeper short he will live; this young man accordingly broke this vine off short and got safe home. But since that time where has been something in the night disturbing those who sleep in the same club-house with him, and he has confessed that it is this snake-woman who comes to him in the night; and all believe him. Sometimes a young man will run home at night and lose his senses; they are sure that he has been with a mae. Sometimes one will come in and lie down and sicken; they press him, and he confesses what he has done and seen, and then he dies. Nothing seems to be more fixed in the minds of natives, even those who have some education, than the persuasion that all this is true.
The sacred character of the kingfisher is remarkable, and the reason of it hard to find. In San Cristoval a kingfisher pecks the head of the lately separated soul which has not yet realized its condition, and it sinks into a ghost; the natives therefore kill it, but young ones spring up from the blood of every one they kill. In the Banks' Islands every kingfisher, sigo, is sacred, rongo; a spirit is connected with it; not one is ever killed or eaten. It is a singular thing that they make halcyon days; it is the name of the kingfisher that carries the magic power in the charm for sunshine, for the sigo is thought to control storms and rain, and the charm calls on it to eat the rising waves and make a calm. They declare that there are kingfishers at sea as well as on land, some of a species only seen at sea away from land. If a man going out on a journey hears a kingfisher cry, he thinks it is angry and forbids his going; he therefore sings a charm: 'Tagar we me-e, nelehet ni van barbar, ne lee we ni ver gor nangek me-e! Good luck to me, let mischief pass beside me, let good hap come round before my face!'
- The vunuha of Pelosule at Olevuga contained an image thought to be of great antiquity; a club sent to me from it is of a form never now seen in use. I have an adze taken from the vunuha of Murini at Belaga, on which the soot from sacrificial fires remains. The Rev. A. Penny has some tindalo relics believed by the natives to be very ancient.
- Many years ago I observed beside a path in a wood in Norfolk Island a little heap of sticks evidently thrown there by Melanesian boys passing on their way to fish at the foot of steep cliffs of difficult descent. I enquired of my companions, who smiled and did not answer. Long after, having read Mr. Forbes' Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago, I put the question again to boys from the Banks' Islands and from Florida. Both gave the same account, that it was done to ensure a safe descent in that place, and that it was common in their islands; both declared that there was no thought of sacrifice or offering, and no prayer, only, if anything was said, the words 'There goes my fatigue.' Mr. Forbes mentions a similar practice twice, once in Sumatra (p. 166), where the porters placed handfuls of leaves on a stone and prayed for a dry day and good luck; and again in Timor (p. 481), where at the commencement of a steep and precipitous descent the natives laid leaves and twigs on a mound 'to ensure a safe descent.'
- In prose Mota 'Togara wia ma, o lea we tatas ni van parapara, o lea we wia ni viro goro nanagok ma.'