The Melanesians: Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore/Chapter 9



A Melanesian native in danger, difficulty and distress, will naturally call upon the beings in whose power to help him he believes. He will upon occasion do this with exclamations which express his feelings. This from his point of view would not be prayer, because it has no formal character. There are also songs, incantations, charms, which have power in them by virtue of the names or words contained in them. These are not addressed directly to the beings whose power they bring to bear, and would not be called prayers. There are besides invocations which may be called prayers, that is formal addresses to beg for succour or for aid. But it is certainly very difficult, if not impossible, to find in any Melanesian language a word which directly translates the word prayer, so closely does the notion of efficacy cling to the form employed. Addresses which may be called prayers in the Solomon Islands are of course made to the beings to whom they look there for other than human aid, to the tindalo, ghosts now powerful of men deceased. The invocations used at sacrifices are prayers; and those may properly be so called which are used at sea. Thus at Florida to Daula, a tindalo generally known and connected with the frigate-bird: 'Do thou draw the canoe, that it may reach the land; speed my canoe, grandfather, that I may quickly reach the shore whither I am bound. Do thou, Daula, lighten the canoe, that it may quickly gain the land, and rise upon the shore.' They invoke also Bagea as their grandfather; the word bagea meaning shark, and any tindalo that has taken up its abode in a shark, or is represented by one, being called Bagea. They call also upon their immediate forefathers when in danger on the sea; one on his grandfather, another on his father, another on some dead friend; calling them with reverence, and saying, 'Save us on the deep, save us from the tempest, bring us to the shore.' Daula is invoked to aid in fishing: 'If thou art powerful, mana, O Daula, put a fish or two into this net and let them die there.' After a good catch he is praised: 'Powerful, mana, is the tindalo of the net.' They rub fishing-lines with the leaves appropriated to such a tindalo. In San Cristoval the 'ataro ghosts are applied to for help in battle, in sickness, and for good crops; but lihungai, the word they use, conveys rather the notion of charm than of prayer; the formula is handed down from father to son, or is taught for a consideration. So at Saa a man who has no special connexion with a lio'a a ghost will, in danger at sea, call on his father or grandfather; but one who knows some particular lio'a uses some particular form of words he has learnt in which power over the elements resides, and when he has done that, calls on the man now dead who introduced him to the lio'a and taught him the incantation, and after that again upon his father and his grandfather.

The tataro of the Banks' Islands, which may be called a prayer, is strictly an invocation of the dead, and is no doubt so called because the form begins with the word tataro, which certainly is the 'ataro of San Cristoval, that is a ghost of power. The Banks' islanders are clear that tataro is properly made only to the dead; yet the spirits, vui, Qat and Marawa are addressed in the same way. A man in danger on the sea will call on deceased friends, particularly on one who has been in life a good sailor; but if he only cries out as he might in common life that is no tataro which must be a form of words. The use of tataro in Motlav is thus described. A man is sick, and the cause of his sickness is suggested to be an offence against some sacred place near which he remembers himself to have intruded. Then the man to whom the sacred place belongs will, for payment, go and tataro for him there morning and evening. He calls aloud the name of the sick man, and listens for an answering sound, the cry of a kingfisher or of some other bird; if he hears a sound he calls 'Come back' to the life or soul of the sick man, runs back to the house where he lies, and cries 'He will live', meaning that he brings back the life. If it happens that on his way to the sacred place a lizard runs up upon him, it is enough, he has the life and goes back with it. If a man who has a stone is going to it to offer, oloolo, upon it, and he sees a rat, crab, iguana, or lizard on the way, he scatters a little loose money for it, and says a tataro that he knows. When the oven is opened for a meal, one of the men will break off a bit of food and throw it against the side wall of the house with a tataro. In the same way when water is poured into the oven to make the steam, there is a tataro used against an enemy, or to get rain or sunshine. Some Mota forms are as follows. On opening an oven, when a leaf of cooked mallow is thrown for some dead person: 'Tataro—this is a lucky bit for your eating; they who have charmed your food, have clubbed you (as the case may be), take hold of their hands, drag them away to hell, let them be dead.' If after this the man at whom it was directed is heard to have met with an accident, 'Oh ho!' says the other, 'my curse in eating has worked upon him, he is dead.' When water is poured into the oven: 'Tataro—pour it on the head of him down there who has laid plots against me, has clubbed me, has shot me, has stolen this thing of mine (as the case may be), he shall die[1] On making a libation of kava before drinking: 'Tataro—Grandfather! this is your lucky drop of kava; let boars come in to me; let rawe come in to me; the money I have spent let it come back to me, the food that is gone let it come back hither to the house of you and me.' On starting on a voyage: 'Tataro—Uncle! Father! plenty of boars for you, plenty of rawe, plenty of money; kava for your drinking, lucky food for your eating in the canoe; I pray you with this, look down upon me, let me go on a safe sea.' Or when the canoe labours with a heavy freight: 'Take off your burden from us, that we may speed on a safe sea.' Another was used over the oven in the gamal of the Suqe club, the hole in which the fire is made: 'Grandfather! may it be—Father! my Uncle! my Greatuncle! we two will go on with a hundred fathom of money of yours; look down upon us two, do not look unfavourably upon us two; let money abound to us two, boars, rawe, food; let our suqe go on to the end; let not our outrigger be broken; you sit and look after us two; let us two go on well, with no unfavourable looks upon us; let us two come straight on in the hole of us three, in the hot suqe hole of us three, let the suqe come forth and advance.' There is no difference between these and the invocations of the spirits, vui, Qat and Marawa, except that these latter which follow, not being addressed to the dead, are not properly tataro. These three were used at sea: 'Qate! you and Marawa, cover over with your hand the blow-hole from me, that I may come into a quiet landing-place; let it calm well down away from me. Let the canoe of you and me go up in a quiet landing-place,' 'Qate! Marawo! look down upon me, prepare the sea of you and me, that I may go on a safe sea. Beat down the head of the waves from me, let the tide rip sink down away from me, beat it down level that it may go down and roll away, and I may come into a quiet landing-place.' 'Qate! Marawo! may it be&mdsah;let the canoe of you and me turn into a whale, a flying-fish, an eagle; let it leap on and on over the waves, let it go, let it pass out to my land.' In answer to such prayers as these it was supposed that Qat and Marawa would come and hold fast the mast and rigging of the canoe, preserve it from danger, and speed it on its course.

In the Northern New Hebrides, in Aurora, they use the same word tataro for a form of words used for example in a storm at sea, a spell that works by the supernatural power residing in the words and in the names of the spirits mentioned. When in distress and danger they call to a dead father or friend, 'Take care of your canoe and mine,' it is a cry, not a tataro. The word is also used in Whitsuntide and Lepers' Island, and with probably the same limited application in strict native usage.

  1. 'Prayer in Fiji generally concluded with malignant requests as to the enemy. "Let us live, and let those that speak evil of us perish. Let the enemy be clubbed, swept away, utterly destroyed, piled in heaps. Let their teeth be broken. May they fall headlong into a pit. Let us live, and let our enemies perish."'—Rev. L. Fison.