Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/668

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

GHOST WORSHIP AND TREE WORSHIP.
By GRANT ALLEN.
II.

PROVIDED with this universal master-key, then, we can now proceed to unlock many intricate puzzles of tree and plant worship which have hitherto baffled us. How full of meaning from our present standpoint, for example, is Mr. Turner's statement that at a certain spot in the island of Savaii there was "an old tree inland of the village, which was a place of refuge for murderers and other capital offenders! If that tree was reached by the criminal he was safe, and the avenger of blood could pursue no farther, but wait investigation and trial. It is said that the king of a division of Upolu, called Atua, once lived at that spot. After he died, the house fell into decay; but the tree was fixed on as representing the departed king, and out of respect for his memory it was made the substitute of a living and royal protector."[1] Not less striking is the case of the large tree, Hernandia peltata, in which "a family god of the same name" (as the native one of the tree) "was supposed to live; and hence no one dared to pluck a leaf or break a branch." In all these relatively primitive cases it is noticeable that it is a family god who is believed to inhabit the tree. We stand as yet quite close to the original form of worship which is almost exclusively domestic and directed straight at the heads of the family ghosts. After all this, it is interesting to read that on the closely related Savage Island the kings—who would of course be the descendants of such divine ancestors, and therefore themselves both gods and priests—"were supposed to cause the food to grow"; and that "the people got angry with them in times of scarcity, and killed them; and, as one after another was killed, the end of it was that no one wished to be king."[2] Readers of The Golden Bough, however, will be more likely to suspect that the kings were sacrificed on the same principle as the Rex Nemorensis, and that at last the royal stock got exhausted by too rapid using up of the whole available supply of divinity. Indeed, the proper keeping up of the king-god's family, in cases where godship has to pay for its dignity by the unpleasant incident of final sacrifice, willing or unwilling, must be an endless source of anxiety and trouble to primitive politicians. Where the safety of the crops and of the tribesmen themselves depends entirely upon a single life, a very painful state of tension must often exist, and the authorities must frequently


  1. Turner, Samoa, p. 65.
  2. Ibid., p. 305.