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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.

Heathen Worship

Heathen Worship.

To-day Paganism claims not a single adherent throughout the Archipelago. Christianity has now been embraced for a quarter of a century, and the memory of the old rites is rapidly vanishing. In a few years the knowledge of these that might still be gleaned will have become extinct. I have therefore added to my own gatherings a digest of information relating to the Ellice previously published. The religious customs of this Group, no doubt, were closely approximated to those of the Tokelaus described by Turner.*

On the subject of heathen worship, and indeed upon Funafuti lore in general, I owe most of the information gathered to the unwearied kindness of Mr. John O'Brien, who during forty years' residence has acquired a greater knowledge of native manners and customs than the younger generation of natives possesses. Mr. O'Brien kindly supplemented his recollections by questioning and interpreting from aged men on my behalf.

The first objects to which worship was addressed seem to have been Thunder and Lightning. A spirit, Tufokoula, was worshipped in the form of a sea bird. The Areva or cuckoo (Urodynamis taitensis, Sparrm.) was sacred on Nanomana. For the interesting superstition regarding this bird on the Gilberts, see a paper by Mr. A. J. North. To this succeeded ancestor worship. Toa, one of the traditionary "Kaounga," or first inhabitants, believed to have swum from Samoa, was one of the earliest deified. Erivada, son of Erikobai, a famous and powerful priest of the olden time, appears to have arranged the rites and deities. Firafi, § a former king and famous warrior, was introduced as an object of worship, and any distinguished tribesman was on his death added to the Funafuti pantheon. "They appear," remarks Newell, "to have had more elaborate religious rites than other

* Turner—loc. cit., p. 267.

Gill—Jottings., p. 25.

Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. (2), ix., p. 585.

§ Turner writes (loc. cit., p. 285) the name "Foilape," and adds that he was also one of the principal gods of Nukufetau. The reigning chief of Nukufetau when the "Peacock" visited the group bore his name. Newell says (loc. cit.), "Foilape was a man of enormous physical strength and a fearful despot. He had to flee for his life to Vaitupu, where he was honoured as a god, after he had been murdered as a despot."

page 47islands in the group. The group of atolls seems to have been filled with sacred places and shrines."

Erivada related that in a dream he was instructed by seven* spirits to make a god of a red stone, obtained by diving in the passage, wrapped in pandanus leaves and placed in a case, "fe'ou," like (as O'Brien described it) a hen-coop. If anyone fell sick the stone was taken out and beseeched to relieve or cure the sufferer. Erivada also manufactured from coloured pandanus leaves and shells the sacred casket, "bourou," supposed to be worn like a hat by Firafi. O'Brien, on his arrival, saw a ceremony performed by the priest, or as he termed him the "devil-master," to induce the spirit to send abundance of fish. This consisted of the bourou being taken out of the temple and carried thrice around it, followed by a procession of men and women stripped naked for the occasion. "Foilape," writes Turner, "was the principal god, and they had a stone at his temple. There was an altar also on which offerings of food were laid. At the order of the priest the altar was carried about the settlement, and as the god was supposed to be on it, the people danced in front and all around to please him." On Nukufetau, "Occasionally, after a death for instance, the people assembled, and in honour of the god paraded about the settlement, carrying shoulder high the box containing his treasures."

No fisher would use his catch till an offering was made to the temple. Receiving the first fruits of every haul, the priest would walk around the temple, and calling each of the numerous spirits by its name, would deposit upon post after post for each his fish in sacrifice. A barracouta was always appropriated by the temple, presenting this perquisite was called "greasing the mats of the temples."

Such valuables as fine mats or pearl shell fish-hooks were frequently offered. When any new or wonderful object was acquired, if for instance a bottle or tin came ashore, it was at once taken to the temple. In Nukufetau, Turner tells us that "Any rare beads or other fancy articles from a ship were presented. If concealed, the god knew it, he was omniscient, and brought death on the culprit." At Fotuna, "It forms an important part of the religion of this island to consider everything that arrives there, whether of great or little value, as the property of the gods, no matter whether it be a large canoe or a log of wood."§

* Referring to this mystic number, Newell writes (loc. cit.) of the ransom for a child's life upon Nukufetau of seven bowls of faausi, "So far as I know this is the only instance of the number seven being considered the number of completeness, as in the Hebrew Scriptures."

Turner—loc. cit.

Turner—loc. cit., p. 205.

§ Mariner—Tonga, i, 1817, p. 318.

page 48

Sometimes it would be announced by the sorcerer that a certain person was about to fall sick. The threatened victim then had to reside in the temple, and enchantments were pronounced over him twice a day; he was anointed with coconut oil, and was placed in the smoke of a lire so that the demon's eyes might be blinded and he escape.

A kind of divination was practised by spinning a coconut before the altar; if it came to rest in a particular position success was prophesied, but if the result was unpropitious the nut would be coaxed, fondled, and spun again. A similar divination by spinning a coconut is described by Mariner in Tonga.*

"A temple with a covering was known as a 'Fale-Atua,' a shrine was an 'Afa,' and the priest, as in the Tokelaus and in Samoa, was a 'Vakatua.' Long after the significance of the temple was forgotten the stone shrine or memorial was worshipped." A beautiful illustration of the gods and temple of Fakaafu by a member of the first European party who visited that island of the Tokelau Group, faces p. 274 of Dana's Corals and Coral Islands, 1872.

The last temple on Funafuti was destroyed by the hands of Mr. O'Brien.

On this atoll the priests chose the sailing dates for canoes visiting other islands. If the vessel missed her destination, the drifting and starving crew used first to kill and eat the "devil-master."

Regarding heathen worship, the Rev. S. J. Whitmee writes of the Ellice Group in general at the time when the Archipelago was passing from Paganism to Christianity:—" They worshipped the spirits of their ancestors; mostly those who originally peopled the islands, but some of later generations have been deified in some of the islands. They have shrines in some places where they offer their devotions, and where the gods come to hear their prayers and accept their offerings. Some have tangible representatives of their gods in the shape of stones:§ but as far as I could learn, they always had the idea of spiritual beings, taking up their abode in them either for a time or permanently. They have also a number of sacred men through whom they communicate with their gods. In some of the southern islands, now Christianized, there was only one sacred man in each village. He was chosen by the people from one particular family. At

* Mariner—Tonga, ii., 1817, p. 239.

Newell—loc. cit.

Whitmee—loc. cit., pp. 26, 27.

§ At the temple of Maumau on Nanomea, there stood a nine feet high coral sandstone slab from the beach. Turner—loc, cit., p. 291.

page 49his death, his successor was generally, but not necessarily, his brother or son. If one failed to satisfy the people, he was deposed and another chosen. This man was regarded as very holy. He dwelt with his family apart from the rest of the people. His house was generally built on piles over the shallow water in the lagoon. He never worked, but he and his family were fed by the community. He gained power over individuals and abundance of food, by promising the favour of the gods to those who treated him well, and denouncing their anger upon those who were niggardly and brought him little food. When the gods communicated with him he pretended to be possessed,* threw himself into all kinds of attitudes, raved, foamed at the mouth, and his eyes glared wildly. Then he pronounced the oracle to the people who had assembled around at a respectful distance. On two islands, the places where the houses of the priests stood were pointed out to me, and also the places where the people congregated. The distance between them could not have been less than two hundred yards. The priest performed incantations before the people went out to fish; and to the anger or favour of the gods the success or non-success of a fishing expedition was ascribed. On the northern islands there are several priests; they mix with the people, and seem to be far less exclusive than the single priest was on the southern islands."
"The natives of Niutao," writes Dr. Grill, "were accustomed to worship their heathen deities in a marae in the centre of the village. Of this great marae only one stone is now left, representing Tangaloa, god of heaven and principal deity of Polynesia… Only forty [Aug., 1872,] still adhered to their ancient faith, and these were easily distinguished by a single sacred leaf of the coconut worn on the left arm…. Half a mile distant in the bush is their ancient burial ground. Adjoining it is their pantheon, consisting of an oval, low enclosure, composed of flat stones, some higher than others, each representing a distinct divinity; so that the sacred men standing inside the enclosure —the people of course outside—could worship all the gods at once…. Returning to the village, we entered an idol-house. The god is the central side post, stouter than the rest and crooked. To the crooked post—utterly destitute of ornament—three green coconuts and a sacred leaflet were offered morning and evening. On these occasions the worshipper (with

* "When the priest on Vaitupu "became 'red,' by which they meant flushed and excited, it was a sign that the god had something to say." (Turner—loc. cit., p. 284.) For a description of Tongan priests in religious frenzy see Mariner—loc. cit., p. 106.

Gill—loc. cit., p. 12.

This act is illustrated by a woodcut in the test on p. 15.

page 50whom we conversed) goes through his incantations, and, husking the nuts with a stick kept for the purpose, drinks the water and eats the kernel, and then puts newly-plucked nuts in their place. Each new act of worship necessitates the tying of a fresh leaf round the post, and another round the arm of the worshipper. Pour old coconuts lay at the foot of this queer post god. In another idol house, we saw on a swinging tray, a smooth round pebble worshipped as a god. Offerings of green coconuts lay near it, with the sacred leaflet."

Of the same island, Niutao, Moresby observed:* "Native missionaries have been two years at work here, but half the people are as yet devil worshippers, and adore the evil spirit under the form of coconut leaves, skip jacks, and wooden posts. Every heathen family has a small devil hut, in which a tiny grass hammock is slung for the evil spirit to sleep in, and where offerings of fresh nuts are brought him every morning; many of these huts were in full use, but we were pleased to find others forsaken."

Turner informs us that "Kulu was the principal god in Niutao, and at the evening meal was prayed to for rain, Coconuts, fish, freedom from disease, &c. Offerings to Kulu were eaten only by the priest, or by any stranger to whom he might hand a share."

The same author says of Nanomana, "Foelangi and Maumau were the principal gods. They had each a temple; and under the altars, on which were laid out in rows the skulls of departed chiefs and people, § were suspended offerings of pearl shell and other valuables. Foelangi had an unchiseled block of stone to represent him, something like a six feet high gravestone. The household gods were incarnate in the fish. Offerings of food were taken to the temples, that the gods might first partake before anyone else ate anything. While visiting one of these temples I saw a number of fresh plucked and husked coconuts laid down, one before each skull. After a time the nuts were taken away and eaten by the family who laid them there. Clubs and great double edged wooden swords, fifteen feet long, and edged with sharks' teeth, were kept in the larger temples for display on festive occasions in honour of the gods, and taken occasionally to the rocks at the landing place to flourish about and frighten away any party from a ship or from another island attempting to land, until at least special permission from the

* Moresby—New Guinea, 1876, p. 78.

Turner—Samoa, 1884, p. 288.

Turner—op. cit., p. 289.

§ In Nanomana "On a 'paata' ( = shelf) were laid human skulls and jawbones."—Dr. Gill's MS. Diary.

page 51gods had been asked." The destruction of these temples by Christian converts in 1877 is related by Dr. Gill.*

Upon Nanomana Dr. Gill remarked to a native: "'Jehovah made the sky, the ocean, and all men.' The prompt reply was, 'Very likely Jehovah made you and your land; but the good gods Maumau and Foelangi' (their ancestors who came from Samoa) 'made us and Nanomanga.' …. They worship shooting stars and rainbows; but the principal objects of adoration are the skulls and jawbones of the dead…. Crowds of men ran to the beach to meet us, besmeared with ashes mixed with oil, each wearing the sacred leaflet on the left arm, with necklaces of flowers. In this costume they had been dancing and performing their wild incantations to the gods during the night. The response of the oracle was, that no foreign god or instructor should dwell on the land sacred to Maumau and Foilangi…. In one of these temples on a large swing-tray we counted eleven human skulls; on another tray, nine. It was to accommodate these skulls that the temples were built. It is the disgusting custom in Nanomanga, when a great chief or much loved head of a family dies, to bury the corpse, but on the third day, the head is removed, and the flesh gnawed off and eaten raw with coconut by the sacred men. The clean skull with the jawbone are then put on a tray in the appropriate temple, and thenceforth become objects of worship….

I called on King Atupa. He was reclining on a mat, with an ominous cough, and seemingly far gone in consumption. We were told that on his death, his skull would be added to the tray of gods in the adjoining temple."

" In Ellice's Group skulls of head chiefs are hung up in houses and taken down periodically, and oiled during the weeping and wailing of women. I was present at one such ceremony, At some islands the women not only weep, but beat their eyes from time to time with their fingers, until the eyelids are so swollen as to render it necessary to keep in the house for some days."§

An extraordinary species of quarantine is thus described by Mr. Whitmee at Nanomea: "At this island and at Nanomanga there are some singular heathen ceremonies gone through on the arrival of a ship or a canoe from another island. As these ceremonies occupy from six to eight hours, the whole of which is spent in a burning sun, and the ceremonies are not of the most pleasant nature, I was desirous of escaping their infliction if

* Gill—loc. cit., p. 24.

"By the teeth of children," according to Turner—loc. cit., p. 289.

Gill—loc. cit., p. 21.

§ (? Gill in) Davis—Anthrop. Kev., vii., p. 192.

Whitmee—loc. cit., p. 24.

page 52possible…. The four new arrivals were marched to the place where the representatives of their gods were, and there a number of prayers were offered by the priests. These were to deprecate the wrath of the gods on account of the arrival of a foreign ship, and especially this ship of the foreigner's God. They also prayed that no disease might be brought by the ship to their island; but if disease was on board that it might be taken to Fiji. And as they are suffering at the present time from drought, they also prayed the gods to send them plenty of rain, and plenty of food. These prayers were repeated at the shrines of the different gods (and they seem to be very numerous), and were followed by an offering of a large quantity of coconuts, which the people themselves eat after they have been presented to the gods. Then they marched around the gods in single file, and marched around the strangers, and afterwards joined in a dance…. I was told by Tavita there was no fear of a repetition of the previous days ceremonies, as they were vicarious, and gave all on board the freedom of the island while our ship remained. Had any other vessel arrived while we were there, those on board of her would have been free also, but for one arriving after we were out of sight the ceremonies must be repeated."

In describing the same rite, Turner says: * "Meat offerings were also laid on the altars, accompanied by songs and dances in honour of the god. While these ceremonies were going on all the population, except the priests and their attendants, kept out of sight."

Gill writes of Nanomana under date August 13, 1872: "We were the first visitors fortunate enough to escape being 'devilled' whilst the heathen performed incantations to prevent the introduction of disease."

* Turner—loc. cit. p. 292.

Gill—loc. cit., p. 19.

Admiral Moresby has described a like exorcism-which he as a visitor underwent in the New Hebrides.—New Guinea, 1876, p. 102.