Page images

customs of JUDEA ILLUSTRATED. . . . . . 101

human race back to its slimy origin, long before Dr Darwin electrified the civilised world with his discoveries; but they have now discarded that ignoble ancestry in favour of the Divine theory. A Samoan teacher often illustrates his meaning by some ingenious allusion to the old legends and mythology of the isles. In his expositions of the Old Testament he is greatly assisted by the number of Samoan customs, strangely analogous to those of Syria and Palestine, Dr Turner has collected a multitude of such identities—and also of the striking metaphors and hyperboles dear to the Samoans. Thus, “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God,” had strange significance to those who believed that in Pulotu, the Samoan Paradise, the temple of their great god was supported by human pillars, who in this world had been great chiefs, whose highest aim had been the attainment of this honoured office. “They took branches of palm-leaves and went forth to meet Him, crying Hosanna,” suggests the green leaves and branches. often carried by the followers of a chief, and their songs in his praise. In rejoicing, David “dancing and leaping before the ark,” exactly describes the leaping and dancing and strange capers which even a high-caste chief will perform as he goes before a person or thing whom he wishes to honour. Riddles, such as those propounded by Samson, are among the commonest amusements of Samoa, and are combined with forfeits. With reference to King David's prayer, when “he went in and sat before the Lord,” it is remarked that in Samoa, as in all the Polynesian groups, it is a mark of disrespect to stand in the presence of a superior. To sit on the ground with the head bent down is the correct attitude of reverence and devotion, In the account of David's covenant with Jonathan, the latter “stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David,”—an action which is the commonest expression of friendship in the South Seas. “He kissed him, and smelled the smell of his raiment,” is an excellent description of the South Sea custom of greeting all 102 . . . . . . . . A LADY's CRUISE. WAR CUSTOMS. 103 rally warriors in time of war, is sufficiently piercing to rouse the dead. The crown and the bracelet worn by King Saul in battle seem most natural adornments to these chiefs, whose bracelets and crowns of nautilus shell attracted our admiration at their council of war. As our Lord spoke of unclean spirits walking through dry places, seeking rest, so these islanders believe that unquiet spirits roam at large in the forest, and they propitiate them by offerings of food. In the New Hebrides, Dr Turner met with a curious illustration of that strange history of Elisha giving his staff to Gehazi, and bidding him lay it on the face of the sick child. The staff of the New Hebrides was a polished stick of black iron-wood, which was the representative of a god, whose ministering priest was one of the disease-makers. When summoned to attend a case of sickness, this sacred staff was carried to the sick man's room, and the priest, leaning upon it, pronounced certain charmed words, after which recovery was considered certain. In Samoa and other groups, all disease was supposed to be the work of malignant wizards, therefore to them the friends of the sick applied for healing, or at least for counsel, even as Ahaziah sent his messengers to the priests of the god of Ekron to learn whether he would recover of his sickness. For the healing of the sick, as well as conferring honour and personal comfort, “anointing with oil " was as familiar in Judea as in Samoa. “Thou anointest my head with oil,” might be said by any honoured guest in these isles; while “oil to make him of a cheerful countenance” was equally requisite. St James's directions for the healing of the sick by the prayers of the Church elders, and anointing with oil, literally describe the course pursued in various parts of the Pacific—as, for instance, in the Tokelau isles, where the friends of a sick man send for the priest of the disease-making god, who comes, and dipping his hand in oil, passes it gently over the sufferer, offering prayers for his recovery. An important part of the ceremony, however, not prescribed by St James, is the offering of fine mats to the priest. These are but a few of the multitude of illustrations collected

friends with a prolonged and impressive sniff. They touch
noses and sniff, and then smell the hand and the garment of the
“Children by adoption” is strangely expressive in isles where
every family has adopted children. The term “brothers” includes
nephews and cousins in Samoa as in Judea. “Endless genealo-
gies,” and reverence for ancestry, are equally marked features in
both races.
“Take up thy bed and walk” is easily understood, where a pile
of soft mats is the bed of the highest chief.
“They cast off their clothes, and threw dust in the air” is a
Samoan expression of great anger. The expressions descriptive of
mourning for the dead in Syria might have been written in the
South Seas. “They rent their clothes and cut themselves.”
“They disfigure their faces.” Even so, those strange islanders
deliberately cut their faces with sharks' teeth and other sharp
instruments, and bruised their heads with stones in token of grief.
“Cut off thine hair and take up a lamentation;” “Make great
wailing for the dead; ” “They mourned for him thirty days;”
“They ate the offerings of the dead;” They fast “till the sun be
down,”—all exactly describe Samoan custom. Further, “They
made a very great burning for him.” (Here they made great
bonfires in honour of the dead and also burned their own flesh
with firebrands.)
The custom alluded to by the man of Mount Ephraim, who
spoke to his mother of “the shekels of silver that were taken from
thee, about which thou cursedst,” had its counterpart in heathen
Samoa, where a man would sit down and deliberately invoke
curses on an unknown thief, praying that rats might eat his fine
mats and cloth; that fire might blast his eyes and those of his
god; that the shark might devour him, or the thunder slay him;
or that at least he might be afflicted with sores and ulcers. Even
to this day you may sometimes observe a tiny square of matting,
with strips of white tappa, hanging from a fruit-tree, or a few reeds
stuck into the ground and tied together at the top (clam-shells being
buried beneath them), or some similar mark which appeals to the

[ocr errors]

superstitious fear of the possible thief, warning him of the curses
that will attach to whoever breaks the taboo. I have seen this
identical custom in many lands, from Ceylon eastward.
A suspected thief was put upon oath in presence of the chiefs.
Some venerated object was brought from the temple — a sacred
stone, a trumpet-shell, or a cocoa-nut shell, which ranked as a
divining-cup-and the accused, laying his hand on this object,
had to pray that the gods would slay him if he spoke falsely. If
he swore by a holy stone, a handful of grass was laid upon it, to
signify that the doom of the false swearer would include his house-
hold, and that all his kindred would perish, and the grass grow on
the site of their dwelling.
With reference to war customs. “The Philistine cursed David
by his gods." "Curse ye Meroz, ... because they came not to
the help of the Lord.” So would a company of Samoan chiefs sit
in conclave, and pray that the gods would curse those who refused
to help in war. “Let his house be made a dunghill.” “They
shall bring out the bones out of their graves.” “Fell every good
tree, and stop all wells of water.” All these were literal features
in Samoan warfare. “Lay ye the heads in two heaps at the enter-
ing in of the gate,” was also quite a natural direction. The descrip-
tion of the songs of the Jewish women in honour of the victor,
when “the women answered one another as they played, and said,
Saul hath slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands,”
might have been written of Samoan women describing the deeds
of their warriors, and thereby often stirring up bitter anger and
With regard to weapons, the “sling and stone,” the “smooth
stone of the brook,” the “arrows, . . . the poison whereof
drinketh up my spirit,” exactly describe those of the Pacific;
while the description of Saul encamped under a tree, “having
his spear in his hand,” is a true picture of any fine old South
Sea chief. Further, it is said, “The trumpeters stood by the
king;" and though the trumpets of the Pacific are only perforated
shells, the blast blown through them in honour of a chief, or to

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


by Dr Turner." There are many more, such as the occasional
custom of embalming the dead, the compulsory observance of the
rite of circumcision, contempt for nations who neglect it, marriage
customs, the punishment of death for adultery, the law of divorce;
the singularly patriarchal law which obliged each bride to be
accompanied by one or more handmaids, taken from among her
near relations, and who filled the place of secondary wives—so that
a chief who owned three or four wives, possessed such a large and
troublesome harem, that the majority were generally allowed to
return to their parents; and lastly, the custom that a widow must
become the wife of her deceased husband's brother, or, failing him,
of his nearest male relative.
The plurality of wives appears, singularly enough, to have been
little more than a business transaction, in which the principal had
very small interest. The marriages of a high chief were simply so
many speculations in fine mats, which the bride brought as her
dower, and which the bridegroom was expected to hand over to
his principal supporters, or head-men, who had arranged the match,
and provided the feast. These men were the bankers of the tribe
in whose hands its property accumulated; and of course they lost
no means of adding to it, as well as of strengthening clan connec-
tions by multiplying marriages. Hence this question formed one
of the chief difficulties of the early missionaries.
This very practical reason for polygamy also accounted in a
great measure for the curious custom of adopting the children of
living parents, which prevailed to so extraordinary an extent. It
appears that the child was really little more than an excuse for a
constant exchange of property, its true parents constantly sending
gifts of tonga—that is, native property—to the adoptive parents;
while these as often sent back goodwill-offerings of oloa-i.e.,
foreign goods.
When the students are considered sufficiently advanced, they
are occasionally sent to help the teacher of one of the neighbour-
ing villages, and practise the art of preaching, ere being appointed

* Nineteen Years in Polynesia. By the Rev. George Turner, London Missionary Society.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »