Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom

The Investiture of Koroi

The Investiture of Koroi

The religious ceremony of Koroi deserves attention as having, as far as I am aware, no parallel among other primitive races, though the native converts profess to see in it a close resemblance to the Christian rite of baptism. It was rather an investiture of knighthood for prowess in battle, accompanied with the knightly preparation of fasting and vigil.

page 98

Every warrior who has slain his man, woman, or child in battle is entitled to the honour, and takes a new name with the prefix Koro-i (lit., "Village of"). Every time his club is blooded the ceremony is repeated, and a new name conferred, so that it was not uncommon for a warrior to change his name four times or even oftener. In olden times the slayer of ten bore the prefix Koli (Dog), and the slayer of twenty Visa (Burn), but as the influx of foreigners began to check war, these honours were granted upon easier terms. There is a proverb bearing upon these honours: "The slayer of ten closes one house; the slayer of twenty closes two houses."

I have tried in vain to have light thrown on the origin of this institution, which, being religious in character, and under the control of the priests, must have had its foundation in some historical tradition.

Waterhouse, who seems to have been an eye-witness, thus describes the ceremony as practised at Mbau:—

"The ceremonies last for four days. When a war-party returns the canoes are poled to Nailusi. The warriors who have killed their man, bedaubed with paint, and clothed in new malos, rush ashore carrying reeds with streamers attached. These they fix vertically in the posts of the temple of Thangawalu, the war-god. When they return to their canoes the whole army advances, the novices armed with spears decorated with pennons bringing up the rear. As they approach the square they execute the thimbi—death-dance, a sort of Fijian Carmagnole. The elders who have stayed behind to guard the town then demand the names of the new koroi, and give each of them a new weapon. At night the wati, or dance of the knights, is performed. The spectators form a ring round the dancers, who are divided into three companies—(I) the candidates; (2) the consecrated knights and warriors; (3) a select body of women. During the night the candidates break their fast for the first time, and the dancing is kept up till late in the following morning. In the afternoon vast quantities of plantains are presented to those who have played esquire to the candidates.

"On the third day is the Ngini-ngini, or consecration. Each candidate marches separately into the square at the head of his personal friends, who are loaded with property. As he approaches the temple of the War-god, the officiating priest announces his new name, which the people then hear for the first time, although the candidate has himself chosen it on the previous evening. Piling their presents in a heap, the new knight and his party retire to make room for another candidate. This ceremony is conducted in silence with a stately dignity and decorum in curious contrast with the hideous licence and uproar of the thimbi death-dance of the first day.

"The last day is the Day of Water-drinking. Early in the morning page 99canoes are sent to fetch the water from a certain stream on the ainland. When they round the point a great shout is raised, 'Lo! the water-canoes!' and every one shuts himself fast behind doors, for now every noise, even the crying of children, is tabu. In this strange silence the water is carried to the temple where the new knights are assembled, and there they drink it.

"For several days they are kept in the temple under the usual restrictions laid upon persons who are tabu. They may not use their hands to feed themselves, nor wash themselves."

John Williams thus describes the ceremony as he saw it in Somosomo:—

"The king and leading men having taken their seats in the public square, fourteen mats were brought and spread out, and upon these were placed a bale of cloth and two whale's teeth. Near by was laid a sail-mat, and on it several men's dresses. The young chief now made his appearance, bearing in one hand a large 'pineapple' club and in the other a common reed, while his long train of masi dragged on the ground behind him. On his reaching the mats, an old man took the reed out of the hero's hand, and dispatched a youth to deposit it carefully in the temple of the war-god. The king then ordered the young man to stand upon the bale of cloth; and while he obeyed, a number of women came into the square, bringing small dishes of turmeric mixed with oil, which they placed before the youth, and retired with a song. The masi was now removed by the chief himself, an attendant substituting one much larger in its stead. The king's mata next selected several dishes of coloured oil, and anointed the warrior from the roots of his hair to his heels. At this stage in the proceedings one of the spectators stepped forward and exchanged clubs with the anointed, and soon another didthe same; then one gave him a gun in place of the club; and many similar changes were effected, under the belief that weapons thus passing through his hands derived some virtue. The mats were now removed, and a portion of them sent to the temple, some of the turmeric being sent after them. The king and old men, followed by the young men and two men sounding conches, now proceeded to the seaside, where the anointed one passed through the ancients to the water's edge, and, having wet the soles of his feet, returned, while the king and those with him counted one, two, three, four, five, and then each threw a stone into the sea. The whole company now went back to the town with blasts of the trumpet-shells and a peculiar hooting of the men. Custom requires that a hut should be built, in which the anointed man and his companions may pass the next three nights, during which the new-named hero must not lie down, but sleep as he sits; he must not change his masi, or remove the turmeric, or enter a house in which there is a woman, until that period has elapsed. In the case now described the hut had not been built, and the young chief was permitted to use the temple of the god of war instead. During the three days he was on an incessant march, followed by half-a-score of lads reddened like himself. After three weeks he paid me a visit on the first day of his being permitted to enter a house in which there was a female. He informed me that his new name was 'Kuila' (Flag)."

page 100

It is a remarkable fact that once in Fijian history an European was made koroi, for among the Fijians foreigners were outside the pale of tribal society, and could never aspire to enjoy the freedom of the tribe. But in 1808, when Charles Savage, the Swede, escaped with his musket from the wreck of the brig Eliza, and enabled Mbau to conquer her great rival, Verata, with the aid of his new and terrible weapon, he was made koroi against his will. I had the details of the ceremony from the old men of Mbau, who had the tradition from their fathers. Jiale (Charlie), as they called him, submitted to be stripped to the waist and smeared with turmeric and charcoal, but.insisted on retaining his trousers during the procession. And when he found that he was to abstain from eating and drinking for three days, he shamefully broke the tabu, burst out of the temple in a rage, and went to his own home, a fact that was not likely to be forgotten.

The decay of custom in warfare began with the introduction of fire-arms, which first made the establishment of great confederations possible, and so diminished war. The musket made the task of the early missionaries easier, for when they had won over the chief of a confederation, the vassal tribes followed like a flock of sheep, and so the musket ultimately put an end to war. The inland tribes, who could get few muskets, and whose frontiers, therefore, were the limits of the village lands, were the last to embrace Christianity.

There are pathetic stories of the terror inspired by the musket. At the siege of Verata men held up mats to ward off the bullets; at Nakelo, Savage was carried into action in an arrow-proof sedan chair of plaited sinnet, from which he picked off the defenders until they surrendered and were clubbed.

The rise of confederations changed everything. A village knowing itself weak in numbers and in arms, did not dare to defy the might of a power like Mbau or Rewa, and hastened to put itself under the protection of a powerful chief, paying tribute to him as a member of his confederation. Thus, while gunpowder increased the number of combatants engaged on page 101either side, it almost put an end to the internecine struggles of village against village.

Between 1860 and 1870 native warfare underwent a more drastic modification by the formation of Thakombau's army organized, officered and drilled by Europeans. When led by Europeans, the natives developed an unexpected courage in the field, and the campaign against the hill tribes of Navatusila impressed the whole group with the superiority of European methods. The Armed Native Constabulary, established immediately after annexation, and recruited from widely distant districts, tended to make drill so popular that the first step of any native conspirator has been to teach his followers evolutions compounded of native war-dances and European drill, in which the Fijians see a close resemblance.