The Melanesians: Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore/Chapter 6



In every village and group of houses in the Torres Islands, the Banks' Islands, and the Northern New Hebrides, is conspicuous a building which does not appear to be a dwelling-house. In a populous village of the Banks' Islands it is very long and low, with entrances at intervals along the sides below the wall-plate, with stone seats or a stone platform at the main entrances at either end, and low stone walls planted with dracaenas and crotons near the same, with the jawbones of pigs and backbones of fish hanging under the eaves; and very often the clatter of pounding sticks in wooden vessels and white clouds of steam make known the preparation of a meal. This is a gamal. The same name, and a building of the same general character, with some difference of form, is to be found in the New Hebrides as far south as the Shepherd Islands at least. What are called 'Chiefs' houses' in New Caledonia probably represent the same. In some of the Banks' Islands, again, a visitor on entering a village would see one or more platforms squarely built up of stones, with high, pointed little edifices upon them, open in the front like shrines, the embers of a fire below, and above an image grotesquely shaped in human form. He would naturally take these for shrines of idols with the altars of sacrifices to them; but these also are gamal; the little edifice is the eating-place of a man of rank; the fire has cooked his food, which none but he in that place can eat, and the image is the emblem of his degree. In another island of the same group a gamal may be seen with one end newly built and loftier than the rest, or else with one end in ruin while the rest is in good repair and full occupation. Here again there is a man, perhaps two or three, lately raised to a new degree, for whom a special eating-place has been prepared; or the men of high degree have all died out from the village, and no one of lower rank can enter into their place. Within, these long buildings are found to be divided across by log fences, the tingtingiav, the fire-boundaries; each division contains its oven, with the appliances for cookery around; log pillows and mats complete the furniture. The gamal is a club-house, and the club is called the Suqe in the islands where I have any considerable acquaintance with it.

In all the Melanesian groups it is the rule that there is in every village a building of public character, where the men eat and spend their time, the young men sleep, strangers are entertained; where as in the Solomon Islands the canoes are kept; where images are seen, and from which women are generally excluded; the kiala of Florida, the oka of San Cristoval, the madai of Santa Cruz, the tambu house of traders, the bure of Fiji; and all these no doubt correspond to the balai and other public halls of the Malay Archipelago. But these are not club-houses, as are the gamal houses of the Suqe, which serve indeed to a considerable extent for public purposes, because almost every man is a member of the club, but are in fact the homes of a society in which every one has his place according to his rank in the society.

The name Suqe is the same as that of the Wui, the supernatural personage, Supwe of the New Hebrides, but it is doubtful whether any connexion between the two really exists; for in the Banks' Islands, where the society is in great vigour, there is no Vui Suqe known, and in Whitsuntide of the New Hebrides, where the Wui, Supwe is recognized, the society has another name. Nothing is known of the origin of the club. It is not connected with the secret societies of the ghosts, and is not a secret society of the same kind. The club-house is in the open, and every one, except when new members are admitted, can see what is going on, though women are most strictly excluded. It is a social, not at all a religious, institution; yet, inasmuch as religious practices enter into the common life of the people, and all success and advance in life is believed to be due to mana, supernatural influence, the aid of unseen powers is sought for by fasting, sacrifices, and prayers, in order to mount to the successive degrees of the society. To rise from step to step money is wanted, and food and pigs; no one can get these unless he has mana for it; therefore as mana gets a man on in the Suqe, so every one high in the Suqe is certainly a man with mana, and a man of authority, a great man, one who may be called a chief, whom traders may call a king. A man who has got to the very top and emerged, me wot, is a very great man indeed; he has the title of Wetuka, as if he had reached the sky; he is of a rank which very few have attained, and without his consent, to be obtained by substantial payment, no one can be advanced at all. In the Banks' Island stories the poor lad or orphan who becomes the Fortunate Youth rises to greatness by the Suqe; he takes the highest grade in this instead of marrying the king's daughter. In the absence of any more directly political arrangements among the people, it is plain that a valuable bond of society is furnished by the Suqe, in which the male population generally is united, and in which a considerable power of control is vested in the elder and richer men, who can admit or reject candidates for the higher ranks as they think fit. The great mass of the natives never rise above the middle rank, many never arrive at that; but almost all, for the exceptions are very rare, are brought while still boys into the society. A man who has never entered has the nickname of a lusa, a kind of flying fox which does not gather with the flocks of the common sort. At entrance and at every successive step money has to be paid to those who have already attained it, and a feast more or less costly given according to the rank to be attained. Hence, while hardly any lad is so friendless as not to enter the lowest division, hardly any live to rise to the highest place; unless indeed they have entered very young, have had their early steps bought for them, and have been very prosperous in their undertakings. The higher steps are occasion of large popular gatherings and feasts, with songs and dances, and come near to the kolekole hereafter to be described; there are hats also and images appropriated to these highest ranks.

Native drawing of 'lano' hats.

The number of ovens and ranks varies in different islands; the people of each think their own Suqe the correct one; but all acknowledge the value of the respective ranks, though they may be attained under very various conditions.

In the Banks' Islands the Suqe of Mota has many steps and ovens, all av-tapug. Beginning with the lowest: (1) Rurwon, (2) Avrig, (3) Qat tagiav, (4) Avtagataga, (5) Luwaiav, (6) Tamasuria, (7) Tavasuqe, (8) Tavasuqelava, (9) Kerepue, (19) Mele, (11) Tetug, (12) Lano, (13) Poroporolava, (14) Wometeloa, (15) Welgan, (16) Wesukut, (17) 'Wetaur-o-meligo, (18) Tiqangwono. The lowest are commonly skipped over or taken together; on the other hand, there are three degrees under the eleventh name, and two under the twelfth. Some of the names carry a meaning with them: avrig, the little fire; kerepue, the bottom of the bamboo water-carrier; mele, the cycas, which has a certain sanctity; poroporolava, great joking; wometeloa, the face of the sun; wetaur-o-meligo, catches the clouds; tiqangwono, shoots and completes. The lano wears a very tall conical hat, like that of the Qat, but sometimes forked; the poroporolava has an image of a man ringed black and white; the wometeloa an image of a man carrying on his head with outstretched arms a disk representing the firmament, with heavenly bodies painted on it. These images are carried about at the feast which celebrates the step in rank, and are afterwards set up in the little gamal in which the great man cooks his food; the hat is worn by the new lano at the feast he makes, and is afterwards to be seen leaning against the gamal. At Gaua in Santa Maria the ovens are not so many; boys begin high up, so that a Gaua boy often ranks with a gray-haired Mota man. Those who reach the higher ranks build a gamal on a lofty platform of stones for every oven or step, for which at Mota they are content to raise the gamal end. In the Torres Islands, or at least in one of them, there are only seven ovens and degrees of ranks in the Huqa, as the Suqe is there called, and in the gamal, the first being the avlav, big fire, which is rather on the threshold of the gamal than in it. Young boys do not enter into the club there. In all these islands the distinction between each successive stage is strictly marked; any one stepping over the boundary to the oven above him would be trampled to death by those on whom he had intruded.

The way of entering the Suqe and making further advances in it is fixed and elaborate. The candidate must have in the first place his introducer, a boy's mother's brother by rights, whose good-will some months before must be secured by the present of a pig, which is made over formally to him with a slap upon its back. Having undertaken to make the suqe for his candidate, the patron makes a feast for him with a dance, decorating the village square with male pandanus flowers, and setting out money for him; the partakers of the feast, including the candidate, make him a present of a little money, and he makes a return present to them; they vene, shoot, and he sar, compensates. For the lowest grade in Mota the vene money is only half a fathom, returned with a full fathom; for the higher grades very much money is required, and sometimes money fails and pigs are brought in. A boy who has no property of his own is supplied by his father or some friend with what is necessary for engaging the patronage of his uncle, upon whom the expense chiefly falls. In the higher grades the candidate for advance still has his patron, but the expenses fall upon himself, aided by his friends with gifts, mategae, of pigs and money; his wife's father is expected to be liberal in this. The candidate makes a return to the patron as liberally as he can for all that he has done in his behalf. The formal entrance into the society, or into a higher grade in it, has two parts. When the time comes, a day having been appointed and made known, the women leave the village before nightfall, and the members meet in the gamal. The candidate goes into the division in which is the fire and oven to which he is to belong. His patron breaks the string of some money and sheds it into a basket; the others put on the money a garland of bamboo leaves in the lower degrees, of cycas leaves for the mele, cycas, rank and all above it. This is to soso makomako, to fill the garland. The new member then sits, and some one who is chosen for his fluency of speech discourses to him, tells him that it is his duty to work for his oven and not to complain if his duties are hard. They then give him a bit of an almond, and each member takes a bit in his hand; they all hold the almond to their lips, and at a certain word they negneg, eat together. The word is only this, 'I give you food from my fire.' Then the money in the basket is distributed; they sese makomako, pull apart the garland. The gana tapug, the ceremonial eating, is thus finished in the night; next morning, nowadays, comes the wol tapug, the buying of the suqe; in former days an interval of ten days came in. The new member now breaks his money strings, touches the food of various kinds that he has provided, which he could not do before for he had been fasting for some days, and distributes his money and food to every fire-place in the gamal. A general feast follows. He himself has to goto, to remain in the gamal and eat only from his av tapug, his suqe fire, for so many days according to his rank; for the middle ranks five days or ten, for the highest ranks many more. The feast made at the entrance to a higher rank is a public one, the distinction between the food cooked in the ceremonial fire, the av tapug, and the rest being carefully preserved. Where, as in the highest ranks, there are but few present who can eat from the oven newly reached, food from it is sent to a distance to men of the same rank. The pigs also, the chief provision and mark of an abundant hospitality, are not killed and consumed at the feast; they are sent off to different quarters, with a slap from the newly-raised member of the club, by whom or in behalf of whom they have been given, and sometimes with a ceremonial representation of being killed. For the lower ranks, or in a wealthy family where it is a matter of course that a boy should have his steps bought for him, the feast is a merry-making of the neighbours; crowds flock to the great feasts and dances which are made when the highest steps are taken, and when the new man desires to make the most of his social elevation. There was a dress, malo-saru, used only on such an occasion, now no longer to be seen; a kind of cape, in four oblong parts, beautifully made in coloured matting, the highest product of Banks' Island art. The candidate for such steps would not be seen for many days before, being confined in an inner chamber in the gamal, and fasting there. On such an occasion, moreover, logs of a tree called palako are brought out, which are supposed to be heavy with the ghostly power which they contain and symbolize, that mana without which nothing important can succeed. The incidents of one of

'Malo-saru' dancing dress.

these feasts are thus described: 'Seven palako logs dressed in cycas leaves and flowers were brought in on the shoulders of men of rank, who walked as if the weight was heavy on them. Then, preceded by a man carrying aloft in a dish the money paid for the palako by the giver of the feast, the bearers danced round with them as if with burdened steps. A drum was beating all the time, and singing going on. he newly-advanced giver of the feast danced out and round, kicking up his heels behind him, and carrying a palm-leaf umbrella before his face, because of his modesty, they said, in his new position. Then a man of high position in the Suqe pranced forth and made a speech. The correct thing seems to be to pant a good deal, as other people cough, to disguise a want of eloquence; it shews that the orator is a man of substance, well fed and short-winded. He trotted backwards and forwards before the palakos, with his new messmate at his heels modestly covering his face. His speech was interpreted as to this effect: "This man has had difficulty in getting into this position; he has been a long while about it, but we have now let him in. He has spent a great deal of money on these palakos and decorations, and he gives many pigs; he does the thing very handsomely." Then the pigs were brought out one by one and smacked by the giver of the feast, as he handed them over to another great man who decided where they were to go. There were four or five great fat beasts, each with his own name, and several more of lesser dignity. As each pig was smacked, three other great men blew a loud blast on conch-shells. Then the new man laid out his money on the ground, and the conchs were blown again. The last act of the ceremony was the appearance of another great man with a bow and arrows. He and the modest host, with his palm-leaf over his face, capered about for a while, and then he made his speech to this effect: "The man who undertook to introduce this new member to his present position is dead; but I have taken him up instead. He has done handsomely—pigs, money, and everything that is right." Then he rushed at the biggest pig, whose name was Puss, and shot him with two arrows, much to his disgust. This was only a form of killing the pig, for the arrows were quite light ones. After this the host himself made a little speech. I could not hear what he said; he had not been allowed to eat for five days, and was weak; but I was told that it was to the effect that some people had said the money was not enough, and now here was some more.'

Though women are completely excluded from the Suqe of the men, they have something of the sort among themselves, which is called improperly by the same name. They admit to grades of honour on payment of money and making of a feast, and so become tavine motar, women of distinction. By their Suqe they become rich in money, with which to help their husbands in their steps in rank, and they plant their own gardens for the feasts. Thus they advance to be tattooed, to wear shell bracelets, to put on an ornamented pari, the woman's scanty garment, to decorate their faces with red earth, in all which glories the tavine worawora, the common woman, can have no share. But this is in the way of kolekole rather than of suqe; two things which become so connected in the higher ranks of men that an account of one is incomplete without an explanation of the other.

A kolekole is a feast with dancing and singing made in connexion with a certain object, and giving a certain rank marked by its appropriate ornament. A man makes such a feast for himself, or for his son or nephew. When one has reached the highest place in the Suqe, he can still advance in the world by kolekole and he often accompanies with these his regular progress in Suqe rank. The story of the Little Orphan exhibits in a succession of these festivals a picture of native grandeur and success. When a man builds a new house he will kole it, and a nule, a grotesque image, will remain as a memorial at the door. When a new gamal for the Suqe is built, or when a man adds a compartment for the oven, to which he has lately risen or is to rise, there is a kole-gamal. A stone is brought up from the beach and placed near the gamal., or a wona, a platform of stones, is built up, and a feast is made to kole it. The maker of the feast, or the youth in whose honour it is made, dances on the stone, and can wear upon his ankle afterwards a wetapup, an ornament of the fine feathers from near the eyes of fowls, dyed crimson and woven into a string, and the stone remains as a memorial. A kolekole ngere qoe gives the right to wear a necklace of wetapup, and the herb of the occasion dances in a hat. Another kind gives the right to wear a pig's tail in the hair; I have seen a man at Maewo with five and twenty. If a man had a wonderful or rare thing in his possession, brought from foreign parts perhaps, as a white cockatoo from the Solomon Islands, he might kole this; or more probably he would take advantage of another man's feast, and dance about exhibiting it. Orators mounted on the gamal roof, or on the new-built house, would harangue the crowd, setting forth the virtues of the giver of the feast; others would go about with baskets of his money proclaiming his liberality; the decorated palako logs heavy with mana would be carried in; pigs would be dismissed to distant villages with a smack from the giver; crowds from all parts assembled; dancers and drummers exerted themselves in view of the morrow's payment; women competed with new songs for a prize and honour. It was a great thing for a man to have a large assemblage at his feast, and a great satisfaction to his enemy to prevent it; each would therefore use charms to further his purpose. A man would rub the leaves of a scented ginger-plant, or a strong-smelling erythrina, in his hands overnight and hang them over the fire; he would chop the twigs and leaves, singing over them a charm; he would chew and puff all night to get mana; in the morning he would blow his shell trumpet to spread abroad the influence of his leaves, which would avut, draw a multitude to the feast. A counteracting charm from the adversary would make men feel disinclined to go. Another decoration to be obtained by giving a dance and feast is the urai non Qat of Mota, noran Qat of the Torres Islands, where perhaps it is now most practised, the head anointing of Qat. The head is smeared over with a mixture of a certain dust from a tree with the juice of coleus leaves and native oranges and salt water, which makes a brilliant red colour. There is another preparation of yellow colour. The Vui Ro Som in the Story of Ganviviris, when she made her appearance with all the ornaments that money could procure the right to wear, was thus adorned.

A feast of the same kind is held to commemorate a deliverance, a Vovo feast; when the famine and misery following on a disastrous hurricane had passed away at Mota, and food was once more abundant, then they celebrated a Vovo feast; such a feast was made by a native of the same island when he had quite recovered from a slight wound received at Santa Cruz; he danced about exhibiting his hat with the arrow through it.

In the northern part of Maewo, Aurora, in the New Hebrides, the Suqe is now nearly extinct; the old members use the gamal as a convenient resort, but no one cares for admission. The reason for this in a great measure is that a place in the Suqe was in old times valued for the advantages it carried with it after death. A native wrote that 'the reason for Suqe is this, that hereafter when a man comes to die, his soul may remain in happiness in that place Panoi; but if any one should die who has not killed a pig, his soul will just stay on a tree, hanging for ever on it like a flying fox. On this account no man likes his son to remain without anything being done; it is a matter of the first importance for him that he should get many pigs and seek money (i. e. mats), so that hereafter when all is prepared he may give that money to those who have already killed pigs, and that he may be all right.' Consequently, on the birth of a son a man's first care was to give a pig in his name to make a beginning of Suqe for him. But a place in the Suqe carried with it here also the same rank and consideration as in the Banks' Islands; among children even, one whose father had not given a pig for his admission would be despised; and when a man had killed his pigs properly afterwards on his own account his position in society was secured. 'He can adorn himself with pigs' tusks, and with that white shell-money that we have, and with the leaves of trees most thought of, croton and dracæna or cycas, and he thinks to himself, Now I am clear of trouble, there is nothing that weighs upon me now.' My friend adds that 'there are some now who have perceived that there is no truth in this; and these things they say are the deceits and vanities of the world.'

In Omba, Lepers' Island, the Huqe is in full vigour; a gamali is a necessity for a man to eat in, if there be but a single dwelling-house. There are not many ranks and ovens; a Lepers' Island gamali appears to a visitor from the Banks' Islands short, and lofty. There are but four ranks in the society, and therefore but four divisions, diringi, in the gamali; the lowest the toa, the fowl; the second moli; the third levusi, meaning many; the highest vire, which means having fruited or flowered. But there are more ovens than one for each rank, and the member has to eat his way up through them before he can pass to the next division. So there are in one gamali five ovens for moli, and two for levusi. When a man has reached the highest rank of vire he can go on with it, making another feast and taking another name as often as he pleases, becoming every time a greater man. The lowest step does not confer a title, but a new name is assumed with the higher ranks, shewing the rank. These names, however, are not commonly used; no one, for example, calls Tangamben Molimbembe, Moli-butterfly, the name belonging to his Moli rank; but the number of names is great which belong to a man who has passed through all ranks and become many times a Vire. Age has nothing to do with entrance into the society, or with rising in the ranks; it is merely a matter of giving pigs and mats, which serve for money. There is nothing whatever of initiation; all males, except very little boys, are members and eat in the gamali. Their friends help the boys at first; but it is the great aim of all to rise and gain social position. A boy has a fowl, toa, given him to start in life, and a fowl buys him his first step, the toa; his fowls multiply, and he changes some of them for a young sow; so his property increases, and as he grows richer he desires to take each further step. The higher ranks of the Huqe give much power and authority, because those who have reached them can always keep back those who wish to rise, and the good-will of each one of them has to be secured. There is less strictness than in the Banks' Islands in the rule which keeps each man to his own oven; one can descend from his own above and eat in a lower division, and if one should encroach on the place above him he would suffer only a fine of pigs. There is the same system of entrance as in the Banks' Islands, by which a patron introduces the new member and makes his huqe for him, gifts which are to a considerable extent reciprocal. The patron is properly one of the same family division, the uncle on the mother's side, or the brother. Thus, in the case of a boy whose rich father bought him up at once in early childhood to the rank of moli, the first step was to give a pig to the members of the boy's waivung, as an acknowledgment that he was intruding on their province, that the patriarchal was intruding on the matriarchal system. Afterwards his father gave him a pig, with which a feast was made in his name, and each person who took a piece of the pig gave a mat in return; the man who took the head gave a mat a hundred fathoms long. Of these mats the boy gave his father fifty in return for the pig. Then he gave mats, or they were given in his name, to the moli whom he was to join; and when he first went to eat at their oven they made a little feast for him. His friends on his mother's side gave in his name a pig to his father, and made him a feast.

At Whitsuntide Island, Araga, the word Loli takes the place of Suqe, but the thing is the same. All the male population are in fact members of the society; wherever there is a dwelling-house, there is also a gamal. The divisions with the ovens, matan gabi, are twelve; (1) ma langgelu, the stage of youth; (2) gabi liv hangvulu, the oven of ten tusks; (3) ma votu; (4) gabi rara, the oven of the erythrina leaf, which is the badge of the rank; (5) woda, the stone-wall seat by the front of the gamal, on which no one below this rank may sit. These five are the inferior steps which fathers see that their boys take as soon as possible, and as quickly as they can afford to buy them up. Though the lowest is nominally that of grown youths, no child is too young to be admitted for whom the father, or more properly the mother's brother, provides the entrance payments and presents of pigs and mats. Here, too, though in principle the mother's kin should take charge of the boy's advancement, the father in practice generally makes it his own business. The sixth step, moli, is the first that is important; the youth takes the great loli, ma loli gaivua, and assumes a name with the prefix Moli. There are three steps of moli. The ninth rank is udu, the tenth nggarae, the eleventh livusi, the last vira. The patron, or father, of the new moli gives him when he attains that rank some of that white and beautiful shell-money, which, however, is not used as money, but is much valued for ornament. This is worth many pigs, and is worn on the arm or wrist in the string, or woven into an armlet. These family jewels remain as heirlooms, and are made up afresh for the successive wearers. Internal discipline is severe; one who should intrude into the division of the gamal above his own would be clubbed or shot. To rise to the higher moli and the steps beyond is the ambition of every young man, and his friends are bound to help him; for this sacrifices are made, and mana sought from Tagar. For gaining new steps in rank many pigs are wanted, many mats, abundant supplies of food; such things come to the man supernaturally, he must have mana. The Vira is seldom reached; the man of that rank, like Viradoro now, is in fact the chief; he has great mana and the favour of Tagar, or he could not have risen to be what he is; his authority is paramount in the Loli, for none can rise without his consent, and every one is a member of the society and hopes to rise; he has been fortunate in war, or he would not have survived; he comes of a family of rich and leading men who bought his first steps when he was a child, and by whose wealth he has bought the higher; he is the great man, the Ratahigi.