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Anthropology and Religion



The ritual employed shared in the general growth and varied from simple phrases used by individuals to the intoned chants and invocations led by high priests in solo parts and joined in chorus by the body of lesser priests. It is evident that successive generations of priests added their compositions to what had been handed down to them orally. Words used in the incantations have become archaic and, though the page 29meanings are sometimes difficult to translate, they were believed to be effective purely from their sound and use. There was a magic in words. It is exemplified in the New Zealand phrase to avert disaster:

Kuruki, whakataha.
Evil, pass by.

A longer example is provided by the incantation used by a Maori warrior in tying on his war belt before engaging in battle. Though no mention is made of a war god, the words describing the feelings of the warrior were in themselves supposed to bring about supernatural assistance.

Homai taku maro,
Kia hurua,
Kia rawea,
Kia harapaki maua ko te riri,
Kia harapaki maua ko te nguha.
He maro riri te maro,
He maro nguha te maro,
He maro kai taua.

Give me my war belt,
To be girded,
To be fastened,
page 30 That I may join with wrath,
That I may unite with rage.
The belt is a belt of wrath,
The belt is a belt of rage,
A belt that destroys armies.

These examples from New Zealand belong to an early phase that relied on supernatural assistance by the magic of words.

In other areas, such as Tahiti and Hawaii, the chants used were invocations that appealed directly to a specific god for military success, food, and the various needs of the worshipers. When words in themselves were regarded as magical, the correct rendering of the words of the incantation became obligatory. Any mistake in the words or their sequence in the chant was regarded as an ill omen for the reciting priest. Sooner or later, he met death in some form or other, and the death was attributed to punishment by the gods for a broken ritual.