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The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice group : its zoology, botany, ethnology and general structure based on collections made by Charles Hedley of the Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W.


page 178

The only turtle found in the neighbourhood of the Atoll is Chelone mydas, and this was regarded as by no means common. Further notice of the green turtle will be found in the introductory article (pp. 65-7), and Mr. Hedley asks me to insert the following references which he found after the preceding pages had been printed:—

As stated on p. 66, turtles were sacred animals in Polynesia, only eaten after certain ceremonies. One of the best descriptions of these we owe to Lamont,* who writes of Penrhyn Island:—

"The following day, to my surprise, we were again all marshalled and marched to the sea shore, where I found a turtle sprawling on its back. After some words were repeated over it by one of the priests who had officiated at the mara, Turua stepped forward to the edge of the water, and, in a menacing attitude, seemed to denounce someone, throwing up his arms, and vociferating at the top of his voice, as if threatening an imaginary being at sea. The turtle (or 'hona,' as they call it) had, it appeared, a spirit in it, which, being driven out by one of the priests, was threatened with vengeance by the bold warrior if he attempted to return. The unfortunate turtle was at once conveyed to a mara, different from the one we had visited the previous day, and after a few ceremonies was beheaded and disembowelled. A large fire was then prepared on an elevation of stones, and it was sacrificed to the gods. On our return to the gravel plot, where the people had again all assembled, a mat was placed in the centre for me, and the cooked turtle, cut into small pieces, was served up in the shell, in which it had been roasted. Monitu, Taharua, and Turua sat at a respectful distance on the mat, the rest of the people forming an extensive circle somewhat further off. My three privileged friends, diving their hands into the meat, selected the most tempting pieces, with which they endeavoured to feed me. This I rather declined, and was allowed to help myself. As they looked, at every mouthful I took, like hungry dogs, I offered one or the other a piece, which was laughingly accepted and devoured, my generosity being received with flattering comments from the circle. Extending my liberality I threw some pieces to Ocura and Mau Kakara, when, to my astonishment, the women jumped up and fled in terror, shouting 'Huie atua!' Taharua and Turua held my hands, and shaking their heads, gravely repeated the same words, but Monitu only laughed heartily at my mistake."

* Lamont—Wild Life among the Pacific Islanders, 1867, p. 182.

page 179

The natives of Futuna likewise made the slaughter of a turtle an occasion of great ceremony.* By the people of Rotuma it was held in like regard,

No sea snakes were heard of, and were apparently unknown to the islanders. The terrestrial Reptilian fauna is represented by the four Lacertilians below mentioned, which were the only members of the order included in the collection.

Mr. Hedley informs me that specimens of the geckos could at any time be secured by pulling back the pinnae of young palms; the little creature was snugly ensconced between the base of the leaves, expanded to embrace the stem and the trunk. A search of half-a-dozen palms rarely failed to reveal one or more specimens.

The skinks afforded sport to the children, who fished for them with hook and thread among the broken undergrowth of the island: they were exceedingly numerous and could be found almost everywhere.

Mr. C. M. Woodford, in the course of some interesting remarks upon the transference, by human agency, of these reptiles from island to island, observes:—"It is the rule rather than the exception for one or more lizards to be unwilling passengers when one of the large native canoes is at any time put into the water. On one voyage from the Solomons to Australia I remember that a lizard. frequented the foretop for several days; and on two occasions when bringing orchids to Sydney from the Solomons, I have, on opening the case, found a living gecko among the plants. They are easily brought on board ship among the firewood, and their presence, therefore, even upon remote islands, supposing that they are occasionally visited by ships, presents little difficulty."

* Smith—Journ. Polyn. Soc., i., 1892, p. 41.

Allardyce, G. W. L.—Proc. and Trans. R. Geogr. Soc. Austr., Qd., i., 1886, p. 142.

J Woodford—Geogr. Journ., vi" 1895, p. 349.