Page:Eskimo Life.djvu/276

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
232
ESKIMO LIFE

say; he intimated that he had forgotten it, but that we could learn it from his wife's brother.'[1]

Among the Indians, the name plays a great part; they even try to keep it secret, and therefore a man is often called by a nickname.[2] Among many races, custom forbids the mention of the names of relations, as, for instance, a husband's, a mother-in-law's, a son-in-law's, the names of parents, or the name of the king. This potency of the name goes to considerable lengths amongst certain races. When the King of Dahomey, Bossa Ahadi, ascended the throne, he had everyone beheaded who bore the name of Bossa.

The fear of mentioning names is common to humanity; we find it in many of our legends,[3] and it prevails among us even to this day, especially upon the west coast.[4] It may probably be traced to the fact that the name and the thing are apt to melt into one. People come to think that when once the name is known the thing[5] is known as well, so that

  1. Meddelelser om Grönland, pt. 10, p. 113.
  2. See Schoolcraft, in Antiquarisk Tidsskrift, 1861-63, p. 119, &c., Also Andrée, Ethnographische Parallelen und Vergleiche, p. 180; Tylor, Early History of Mankind, p. 142.
  3. The reluctance prevailed among our forefathers. 'Sigurd concealed his name because people believed in the old days that a dying man's curse had great power, when he called his enemy by name.'—Sæmundar Edda, ed. by Sophus Bugge, p. 219.
  4. Information received from Prof. Moltke Moe.
  5. The way in which name and thing melt into one appears clearly, to mention one instance, in the Swabian custom of 'throwing the names of three shrewish women' into the wine, in order to turn it into good vinegar.