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The Aborigines of New Zealand: Two Lectures

Preserving the Heads of the Slain

Preserving the Heads of the Slain.

Another custom connected with war was preserving the heads of the slain. These were stuck on poles as trophies. Most nations have their own way of celebrating a victory. It has been customary among all to have some memorials, and the state of society among savages not admitting of extensive public monuments to preserve the renown of military exploits, the barbarian victor generally celebrates his triumph on the bodies of slain enemies, in disfiguring which he first exercises ingenuity, then converts it to a permanent trophy of his prowess. David carried the head of Goliath to Jerusalem, and laid it in triumph at the feet of Saul. Herodotus says, the ancient Seythians were wont to carry the heads of all the slain as a present to the king. The Galls hung them round the necks of their horses, and embalmed them, keeping large collections, which they showed with much exultation to their friends. England itself, to a very late period, used to expose the heads of traitors—a relic of barbarous times, when it was not considered mean and brutal to carry revenge beyond death.

The New Zealander had a method of preserving the heads, that left the hair, and teeth, and tatoo as plain and perfect as when alive; and when dry they would keep for ever. A French writer considers this art a proof of some original connection between the New Zealander and the ancient world, as the process is as effective as that by which the Egyptians prepared their mummies.

page 44

They frequently used taunting language to these heads—“What! you wanted to run away did you? My meri overtook you; and after you were cooked you became food for my mouth! Where is your father? He is cooked! And your brother? He is eaten! Where is your wife? There she sits a wife for me! And your children? There they are with loads on their backs, carrying food as my slaves!” Thus their hatred followed their enemies beyond the grave.