Folk-Lore/Volume 31/The Concept of "Soul-Substance" in New Guinea and Melanesia

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Folk-Lore, Volume XXXI
The Concept of "Soul-Substance" in New Guinea and Melanesia by W. H. R. Rivers

by w. h. r. rivers, ll.d.,, f.r.s.

(Read before the Society, 19th November, 1919.)

The work of Tylor, Bastian, Frazer, and many others has acquainted us with the widespread belief that man possesses more than one soul, that his behaviour is governed by more than one agency of a spiritual kind which to the rude intelligence explains the thoughts and actions of mankind as well as the mysteries of sleep, disease and death. The records which travellers have given us concerning these souls and their supposed properties, however, have been vague and scanty. As a rule we know little more than the fact that many peoples believe in a multiplicity of souls.

The Dutch ethnographers in Indonesia, and especially A. C. Kruijt, form a gratifying exception to this rule. They have collected a number of instances of native ideas concerning the spiritual nature of man. Among these ideas there stands out prominently one closely connected with man’s vitality. Kruijt calls this animating principle Zielestof, or “soul-substance,” but it is doubtful whether this term is the best that could be found. Most Indonesian peoples have the idea that this “soul-substance” resides in the living body and leaves it at death, when another spiritual entity, the ghost, comes into existence. For example, we learn from Kruijt that the Toradja of Central Celebes believe that so long as a person exists on earth he has a tanoana (soul-substance). Death is consequent on the permanent absence of the tanoana from the body. At the moment of death a double called the angga or ghost comes into existence and constitutes the post-mortem individuality of the person. Soul-substance and the ghost thus have different names and belong to separate categories of Indonesian belief. Moreover, the soul-substance persists after death so that there is then a double existence, though only a single spiritual entity has been present during life.

The first point to be considered is how far the entity which Kruijt calls Zielestof corresponds with the “soul” as ordinarily understood. The evidence brought forward by Kruijt seems to justify us in speaking of soul-substance as a variety of soul. His account makes it clear that the term is used both for a more or less personal entity and for an impersonal principle or essence, with no hard and fast line between the two and with much of the vagueness of definition characteristic of the more abstract concepts of lowly people.

In its more personal manifestations soul-substance can separate itself temporarily from the body during life. It may leave a person in sleep, dreams being believed to portray its experiences while away from the body. Its chief place of exit and entrance is by the anterior fontanelle, but it can also use mouth, nose, ear, or joint as its portal. If the soul-substance is away from the body for more than a limited time, the person falls sick, and if the absence is prolonged, he dies. It is believed that the soul-substance can be abstracted from the body, either by certain beings usually termed gods, who dwell in the sky, by evil spirits, or by the ghosts of the dead. It is the business of particular persons, often women, to recover the soul-substance of the patient and thus restore him to health. These leeches, as they may be called, usually work by the aid of friendly sky-spirits. If the soul-substance has been taken by a sky-being, the soul-substance of the leech leaves his or her body and visits the sky in the company of the friendly spirit in order to demand from the god the soul-substance of the patient.

When the soul-substance leaves the body, it may assume the form of an animal, and in this state may devour the soul-substance of another person who dies in consequence; while if the animal in which the soul-substance is temporarily embodied is killed its proper host will also die.

In all this there is nothing to distinguish the Indonesian soul-substance from the “soul” of many other peoples. I have now to consider a property of soul-substance which justifies the name applied to it. Soul-substance is believed to permeate the whole body and continues to reside in, or adhere to, any part separated from the rest, especially in hair, nails, teeth and the various secretions and excretions of the body. Since the sweat soaks into, or adheres to, clothes or other objects which have been in contact with the body, the soul-substance of a person can reside in, or adhere to, these objects. Certain parts of the body are held to be rich in soul-substance, the head, blood, bowels and liver being especially fortunate in this respect.

Animals, plants and inanimate objects also possess soul-substance generally in the form of a vague impersonal principle, but in some domestic animals and food plants it takes the more personal form associated with man. Dogs, buffaloes and oxen are so favoured among animals; rice and the coconut among plants. The consumption of anything possessing this form of soul-substance enables a man to add to his own store of the vital principle.

It is sometimes believed in Indonesia that the soul-substance is embodied in the shadow, but in this case it may be regarded as a “spurious” form of soul-substance. If a person’s shadow falls on food, this should not be eaten by another, for the food will contain the soul-substance of him who casts the shadow. Soul-substance is also identified with breath; thus, in Nias, it is believed that a being who dwells in the sky has a storehouse of breath with which he vitalizes each newly born human being, the breath again returning to the sky-being at death.

Among some tribes of Indonesia it is believed that after death the soul-substance becomes the ghost, but this is the exception. The more usual belief is that the soul-substance goes to the sky to form part of a store from which newly born human beings receive their supply. There appears to be a belief that one who receives the soul-substance of another resembles him in nature and is regarded as his incarnation.

The foregoing is far from exhausting the properties ascribed to soul-substance by Indonesian belief, but it will suffice to give its leading characteristics. I should like to call attention especially to its intimate connection with life and health. In its more impersonal form, it would seem to be a kind of vital principle or essence. In its other manifestations, and especially in those where it has a more personal nature, it is not so clearly connected with vitality.

According to Kruijt the concept of soul-substance underlies many beliefs and customs of the Indonesian. In its impersonal form it seems to provide the principle upon which sympathetic magic depends, being apparently combined with the belief that action on part of the soul-substance is equivalent to action on the whole. The hair, nails or secretions of a person act as vehicles of the magic influence through the soul-substance they contain. Similarly, spitting is prominent in the treatment of disease because the spittle is the vehicle of the soul-substance of the leech. The bond of blood-brotherhood depends on the union of soul-substance consequent on the mingling of blood. The belief that a man acquires the characters of an animal whose flesh he eats rests upon the belief that this flesh contains the soul-substance of the animal. A similar belief underlies both cannibalism and head-hunting, human flesh being eaten in order to add the soul-substance of the victim to that of the eater, while the heads of enemies are obtained in order to utilize the store of soul-substance which they contain.

The Indonesian beliefs which I have described thus provide a concept which links together customs of the most varied kind. Soul-substance may be regarded as a principle underlying the magico-religious beliefs and customs of the Indonesian which is as comprehensive in its sphere as is our own principle of gravity in the explanation of the material universe. The customs which are thus referred to the working of a common principle are not special to Indonesia, but are among the most widely distributed beliefs and customs of mankind. We are forced to ask whether the concept of soul-substance is limited to Indonesia and is the product of the Indonesian mind, or whether it has a wider distribution and underlies the magic, the medical art, the artificial kinship, the cannibalism and head-hunting of other peoples.

In a recent book[2] Mr. Perry has shown reason to believe that the concept of soul-substance was introduced into Indonesia by immigrants who brought with them the cultural use of stone, the cult of being connected with or residing in the sun, the belief in a home of the dead in the sky and other customs which he associates with the use of megalithic monuments. If, as seems certain, these immigrants came from the west, it becomes the task of the ethnologist to inquire whether, westwards of Indonesia, there is any evidence of a concept corresponding with the soul-substance of this region. To certain aspects of soul-substance there are clear parallels in the west, and I shall consider later the relation between the Indonesian belief in the double nature of existence after death and the two souls of the ancient Egyptian.

Before doing so I propose to inquire whether this is any evidence that the concept which Mr. Perry believes to have been introduced into Indonesia has travelled further afield. If we go eastwards from Indonesia we come to two regions, Melanesia and Polynesia, which have so much in common with Indonesia in general culture, as well as in language, that their close relation is now widely accepted.

Moreover, it is held that this community of language and culture is largely due to migrations in which people have passed from Indonesia eastwards, and it is therefore an obvious and legitimate problem to inquire what evidence there is for the presence of concepts in Polynesia and Melanesia similar to that of the Indonesian soul-substance. I propose first to seek for such evidence in Melanesia and in the island of New Guinea, which lies in the path of any travellers from Indonesia to Melanesia.

From one people of New Guinea we have an account of ideas agreeing very closely with those current in Indonesia. This comes from the Kai, a people of lowly culture and speaking a Papuan language, who live inland, but not far from the east coast of New Guinea. The account is given by a missionary, Ch. Keysser,[3] who was evidently acquainted with the work of the Dutch ethnographers, for he has adopted their term Zielestof in the German form “Seelstoff.” He tells us that the Kai believe in two distinct spiritual entities or principles which he calls “soul” and “soul-substance” respectively, but he does not give their native names. The “soul” leaves the body at death to become the ghost, but has its own soul-substance, through which it becomes liable to vicissitudes, including its death, similar to those of its sojourn on earth. The “soul-substance,” on the other hand, penetrates every living being and every object which we regard as inanimate. Every wooden object contains some of the soul-substance of the tree from which it comes, and every stone the soul-substance of the rock of which it is a fragment. Soul-substance is contained not only in the hair, nails, secreta of a man, but also in his look, his name, and all his actions. The efficacy of the utterance of names in magical formulas and of mimetic acts in rituals are believed to depend on this presence of soul-substance, which can be transmitted from one person to another or to an object, especially by contact. Measures by which soul-substance may be isolated are known, certain leaves being especially efficacious in this respect, and by this means a man can guard his own soul-substance or protect himself from the injurious influence of the soul-substance of another.

Another people of this part of New Guinea of whose beliefs concerning man’s spiritual nature we have been informed are the inhabitants of the small islands of Tami. The beliefs and customs of this people, who speak a Melanesian language, have been recorded by G. Bamler,[4] who seems to be unacquainted with the Indonesian evidence, for nowhere does he refer to “Seelstoff.” He tells us that the Tami believe in two kinds of soul, which they denote by terms he translates “short” and “long.” The short soul leaves the body at death and goes to the underworld of the dead. It, or rather the ghost which it there becomes, receives the offerings which are made to the dead, so that we can conclude with confidence that it represents the entity of the Kai which Keysser calls the soul.

The long soul, on the other hand, is identified with the shadow, and leaves the body to wander about in sleep, so that it resembles the more personal form of the soul-substance of the Kai. Bamler says that the concept corresponds with our “consciousness,” only personified. At death the long soul leaves the body and appears to the relatives and then goes eastwards to the large island of New Britain. We are not told of any properties of the long soul which agree with those of the more impersonal form of the soul-substance of the Kai.

In Kiriwina, one of the Trobriand Islands, at the south-eastern corner of New Guinea, the people distinguish two spiritual entities which leave the body at death. One called the baloma, which is identified with the image reflected from water, leaves the body at death and goes to Tuma, an island which according to the belief of some is connected with the netherworld. Dr. Malinowski,[5] to whom we owe this knowledge, was uncertain whether the baloma could be regarded as a soul dwelling in the body during life, or as a double which “detaches itself from the body at death.” It is of great interest that Dr. Malinowski should have been in such doubt concerning the state of the baloma during life, for if the baloma is a double which separates from the body at death, the concept would correspond almost exactly with that of Indonesia. The other spiritual entity, called the kosi, is identified with the shadow. It exists only for a short time after death, frequenting the usual haunts of the dead man, such as his garden or water-hole. According to the belief of some, only those who had been sorcerers during life had a kosi after death, and another belief, also limited to some persons, was that the kosi became a baloma after a time. Since the baloma clearly represents the ghost of Indonesia, the kosi must be the representative of the soul-substance if the two-fold nature of the Trobriand soul is related to the Indonesian belief.

The Mailu, who inhabit the coast of south-eastern New Guinea from Cape Rodney to the middle of Orangerie Bay, believe in three spiritual entities.[6] Of these the breath is considered to be the vital principle which ceases to exist at a man’s death; the second is that spiritual part of a man which wanders to the nether regions when he dies, and the third is an entity which dwells in the severed and preserved skull. The prominence of the head as a vehicle of soul-substance in Indonesia suggests that the third of these spiritual agencies may be the Mailu representative of the Indonesian soul-substance, but this is also identified with the breath, so that the Mailu have two beliefs which may be connected with the Indonesian concept.

The Koita and Motu believe in the existence of an entity, called sua by the Koita and lauma by the Motu, the absence of which from the body causes sickness. It is also believed to leave the body in sleep and to become the ghost at death. Among the Motu pigs have a laulauma which comes to an end when the animal dies so that it has no lauma or ghost. The shrinkage in size of a pig at death is ascribed to the absence of the laulauma.[7]

Lieut. E. W. P. Chinnery records[8] beliefs of the people of the mountainous districts of Papua which bear a closer likeness to the Indonesian concept of soul-substance. The body is believed to be permeated by the “strength” of a “thing within,” the influence of which becomes attached to everything with which the body is in any way associated. The “thing within” itself becomes the ghost after death, so that it would appear as if the concept of soul-substance has become an attribute of an entity within the body which becomes the ghost at death. The nature of the relation between the two is well illustrated by the belief that the status of a ghost depends on the “strength” of his soul during life. Various customs, including cannibahsm and the anointing of the body with the juices of the decaying dead, depend on the desire to add to the “strength” of the soul.

If now we pass from New Guinea eastwards we find that in one part of New Ireland the soul is called tanua, a word of which the primary meaning is said to be “shadow.” It is regarded as a principle which gives life to the body and continues to exist after death, being then called tabaran, the ghost of the dead. Peekel[9] says explicitly that animals and plants have no souls. The tanua of this region therefore corresponds with the soul of the Kai, and the only point of resemblance with soul-substance is its identification with the shadow. While the open religious cult of this region thus shows no evidence of the idea of soul-substance, there is much in common between this concept and the belief of the secret organization of New Ireland and New Britain called the Ingiet.[10] Members of this society can, if they wish, undergo a special initiation which allows them to take part in a rite called e magit. Magit is a term for something within a person which can be projected or ejected from the body so that it assumes, it may be the form of an animal, it may be that of another human being. When, as is usually the case, a member of the Ingiet projects his magit in order to do harm to another person, the magit becomes the vehicle by means of which the man carries out a process corresponding to the malignant magic of other peoples.

These beliefs in the existence within a person of a principle which can take the form of an animal, and in that form act upon and injure another person, brings us very near to the more personal form of the Indonesian concept of soul-substance. It may be noted that while in New Britain and New Ireland the power of projecting the magit is closely connected with certain stone images, the concept of soul-substance in Indonesia is, according to Perry, closely associated with the cultural and ceremonial use of stone.[11] I might point out that it is quite in accordance with my own scheme of the genesis of the secret organisations of Melanesia[12] that they should have preserved, though in distorted form, features of an introduced concept which failed to implant itself in the beliefs of the people at large.

According to Geo. Brown,[13] the people of New Britain call the soul nio, which is also applied to the shadow. This soul leaves the body temporarily in sleep or fainting and permanently at death. Apparently it becomes one of the several kinds of being which are classed together as tebaran. Brown says definitely that there is only one kind of soul, but this can appear in many forms, and enters into animals such as rats, lizards and birds. Animals have souls independently of this incarnation of the souls of men, but plants have no souls. Danks[14] also states that the spirits of men can enter into animals.

In the account given by Brown, which probably applies specially to Duke of York Island, the nio corresponds in several respects with the more personal form of soul-substance, but it is probable that it becomes the ghost, and, if so, would differ essentially from the Indonesian concept.

In the Buin district of Bougainville[15] the soul is called ura, a word also used for shadow, reflexion and dream. The ura leaves a man in sleep or illness and flies in the form of a bird to the underworld, where stands a tree the leaves of which represent human lives. If the soul-bird plucks the leaf representing its host, the man dies and the soul-bird stays in the underworld. It may be noted that this appearance of the human soul in the form of a bird is associated in Buin with an unusually pure form of bird-totemism.

In the Shortland Islands,[16] the culture of which has much in common with that of Buin, the soul is called nunu. This word is said by Wheeler to mean the lasting principle or essence of a human being and is also used for the shadow and the reflexion. When a man dies the nunu becomes a nitu or ghost, one cause of death being the catching of the nunu by a shooting-star, while some kinds of nitu also have the power of carrying off the soul. Defective intelligence is ascribed to loss of the nunu. In a case of this kind recorded by Wheeler the nunu, though taken in childhood, was said to be still present, and this apparent contradiction may possibly point to a duality in the concept.

In the Shortlands things have nunu, and a ghost to whom an offering is made eats the nunu of the offering. A dead man also takes with him to the next world the nunu of the objects which are destroyed at his death. There is thus much in common between the soul of the Shortlands and the personal form of the soul-substance of Indonesia.

In Eddystone Island (which, though only about fifty miles from the Shortlands, differs profoundly from those islands in culture), the soul is called ghalaghala, a word also used for the shadow and reflexion. When a man dreams, his ghalaghala leaves him so long as the dream lasts, and it leaves him permanently at death. The ghalaghala is said to be all over a man, thus accounting for the completeness of the reflexion seen in a mirror. Things also have ghalaghala. When an object is burnt in the rites after death its ghalaghala goes with the ghost to the place of the dead in Bougainville.

It is quite clear that there was only one word in Eddystone Island for the soul, but some of the death-rites[17] suggest the double nature of the corresponding concept. Soon after death a rite is performed in which the ghalaghala is caught and put under the ridge-pole of the house. While the ghalaghala is under the roof of the house a second ceremony takes place in connection with which the ghalaghala is said to go to a cave near the highest point of the island. On the eighteenth day after death the ghalaghala, although supposed to have departed, is transferred with the skull to a special shrine, while still later the ghost of the dead man, now called a tomate, goes to the home of the dead in Bougainville. This twofold nature of the destination of the soul points to its double nature.

Eddystone Island is the seat of a definite skull-cult, but there is no evidence that any spirit comparable with the head-spirit of the Mailu is believed to dwell in the head (see p. 59).

In Florida the soul is called tarunga.[18] It leaves the body in sleep and after death becomes a tindalo or ghost. The only hint of a double nature is given in the fact that a pig has a tarunga, but this never becomes a tindalo.

In San Cristoval the Rev. C. E. Fox records the existence of two souls which in Bauro, the home of the dual organisation,[19] are called ataro or aunga and nununa, while at Wango, the point of junction between the region of bird-totemism and the dual region, the two souls are called aunga and adaro. The aunga of Wango is compared with the shadow caused by the sun, and the adaro with the reflection in water. When a man dies the aunga comes out either at the fontanelle or from the mouth, and sets out on its journey to Rodomana, the distant home of the dead. The adaro, on the other hand, remains for some time with the body and then goes either into the jaw-bone, into a small stone statue placed on the burial mound (heo)^ or into a sacred stone.[20] Of these two concepts it is evidently the aunga which corresponds most nearly with the concept of soul-substance. The stone statue on the burial mound represents the deceased, and it is significant that it should be the adaro, corresponding with the ghost, which passes into it.

In the Banks Islands[21] the soul is called atai in Mota and talegi in Motlav. It is believed to leave the body in vivid dreams and in fainting attacks, health depending on its presence and sound condition. A man can be deprived of his soul either by a ghost (tamate) or by a spirit (vui), or the soul may be merely damaged, the two events leading to illness of different degrees of severity. When the soul has been taken by a vui, it can be recovered by one called a gismana, who sends out his soul to seek the captured soul and restore it to its owner,[22] this procedure corresponding closely with that of the Indonesian leeches.

The atai of Mota is said to have signified originally something peculiarly connected with a person and sacred to him; it might be a snake or a stone. We are told particularly that it does not mean a thing in which the soul is thought to be contained.[23] It is never used for the shadow, though the related ata is the word for the shadow in Samoa and for the reflected image in New Zealand.

In Maewo in the New Hebrides the soul is called tamaniu, a word applied in Mota to the guardian animal, while in Pentecost Island and Lepers’ Island the soul is tamtegi, a word related to the tamate which in other islands means ghost.

In Ambrim the body is supposed to be tenanted by the nin mauwan, or the spirit of life, which leaves the body temporarily in sleep, and becomes the ghost (temar) at death. When an important man is seriously ill, the nin mauwan of his son or brother may leave his body in sleep and consult with the ghosts of the sick man’s father or grandfather to learn the issue of the illness.

Pigs are believed to have a nin mauwan, but this does not become a temar or ghost when it dies. Nevertheless, the nin mauwan survives the death of the animal, and when a pig has been killed in certain ceremonies its nin mauwan enters an image to await the coming of an ancestral ghost. It will be noted how close a parallel this presents with the belief of Florida that a pig has a tarunga but does not become a tindalo.

I will conclude my survey of Melanesian beliefs by referring to Fiji where there is evidence of the twofold nature of the soul. T. Williams[24] tells us that some Fijians believe that man has two “spirits.” One, the dark spirit, or shadow, goes to Hades, while the other, or light spirit, identified with the reflected image, stays near the place where a man dies. This belief resembles that of the Trobriands and San Cristoval, and, if the information is to be trusted, it suggests that the dark spirit corresponds with the aunga of San Cristoval, and the light spirit with the shadow which enters a stone or stone image on the tomb.

With the exception of San Cristoval and Fiji we have no definite evidence in Melanesia of the belief in two souls comparable with those of Indonesia and New Guinea. In most parts of Melanesia the soul which leaves the body temporarily in sleep becomes the ghost, though here and there, as in Eddystone Island, we have evidence of a duality in the fate of the soul which may be a survival of a belief in its twofold nature.

Several of the properties attributed to the soul in Melanesia, such as its wanderings during sleep and its occasional embodiment in animal form, belong in Indonesia to the concept of soul-substance. Moreover, it will have been noted how frequently the survey just concluded has brought out the identification of the soul with the shadow. In New Guinea this occurs in Tami and Kiriwina. In Melanesia it is found in New Ireland, New Britain, Bougainville, the Shortland Islands, Eddystone Island, and San Cristoval, while the word for soul in Mota means shadow in Polynesia.

It is of great interest that in the two places of New Guinea and Melanesia which provide the clearest evidence of the duplicity of the soul, Kiriwina and San Cristoval, not only is there agreement in the identification of the soul with the shadow, but in both places the entity which is or becomes the ghost is identified with the reflection from water. In both places it is the entity which corresponds the more closely with the soul-substance of Indonesia which is identified, as sometimes in Indonesia, with the shadow, while the entity which corresponds with the ghost of Indonesia is identified with the reflexion from water. On the other hand, there is a very important difference between the two beliefs in that in the Trobriands it is the baloma, identified with the reflexion, which goes to a distant home of the dead, while in San Cristoval it is the aunga, identified with the shadow, which passes to the distant Rodomana.

The identification of the shadow with the soul becomes especially instructive when we trace out the vicissitudes which the Indonesian word for shadow has suffered in Melanesia. Among the Bahasa people and in Seran the shadow is nini, ninino, ninu, kaniniu; in Buru nunin; in north-east Celebes olinu.[25] Among the Barriai of New Britain the shadow is anunu, and it may be that the nio of the other end of the north coast of New Britain, which is used both for soul and shadow, is another form of the Indonesian word. In the Shortland Islands the word occurs more purely as nunu, used for both shadow and soul, and the relation to Indonesia is made clear by the accompanying use of the frequent Indonesian term for ghost, nitu, in these islands. Nununa occurs in San Cristoval as the term for one of the two “souls” of the Bauro district.

In the Banks Islands and the New Hebrides the Indonesian word again becomes obvious, though it is only in Ambrim that, in the form of nin, the word is used for the soul. In Mota the shadow is niniai, while nunuai is used for a memory-image, such as the ringing of a sound in the ears. In Maewo in the New Hebrides nunu is used for the relation between a person and the influence which affected his mother before his birth.[26] At Nogugu in Espiritu Santo the shadow is nunin, and in the island of Malo nunu.

Nunu, or words evidently related to it, are thus used in many parts of Melanesia for the shadow, this being, so far as we know, the primary meaning of the word in Indonesia. In some parts of Melanesia, as in the Shortland Islands, San Cristoval, Ambrim, and probably in Duke of York Island, the word has also come to mean soul, while elsewhere it has acquired other meanings, all of which are related in some measure to the concept of soul.

It may be noted that if these ideas have passed from Indonesia to Melanesia and have become attached to the Melanesian concept of “soul,” they are all derived from the more personal aspect of the soul-substance of Indonesia. We have no evidence from any part of Melanesia of the belief in the impersonal form of soul-substance which justifies this name. Sympathetic magic, spitting as a medical remedy, cannibalism, head-hunting and other customs which are explained in Indonesia by the presence of soul-substance are widely prevalent in Melanesia, but nowhere have we any hint that these customs rest on a belief in an essence permeating every part of man, animal or thing, by means of which its properties can be imparted to another being or object.

In one part of Melanesia there is, however, an important set of beliefs which are possibly related to the Indonesian concept of soul-substance. In the Banks and Torres Islands most of the religious and magical rites rest on the belief in a power of influence residing in the stones, leaves, words or other elements of the ritual. These objects are the vehicles by which an influence called mana is imparted from one being or object to another, just as an object which has been in contact with a person in Indonesia becomes a vehicle by which the spiritual influence called soul-substance within the person can be transmitted to another.

Behind this more or less impersonal application of the term mana, there is, as Codrington has pointed out,[27] a belief in a relation to a spiritual being, either a ghost or a spirit which has not been known to tenant a human form. If an object has mana, it is because it has been at some time associated with a person, human or spiritual, who was rich in mana. It is not generally known that this belief in a power, which, though derived from a person, is yet largely impersonal, has only a limited distribution in Melanesia, and hardly occurs, at any rate under the term mana, outside the Banks and Torres Islands. In other parts of Melanesia, when the word mana occurs, it applies explicitly to the power of a personal being, human or spiritual, just as is the case in Polynesia. It would take me too far from my immediate topic to consider whether the Polynesian concept of mana may be related to the soul-substance of Indonesia. I must be content to point out that one special clue to the nature of Polynesian culture is the great development of sacred chieftainship which has taken place there. If immigrants became divine chiefs of the people among whom they settled, and if these chiefs believed and taught that they were endowed with a special vital principle or essence, we have a basis for the process by which the soul-substance of Indonesia became the mana of Polynesia.[28]

In the Banks Islands, on the other hand, where sacred chieftainship has come to form part of the ritual of the ghost societies, it would seem as if the concept of soul-substance appears in a form more nearly like the Indonesian prototype, especially in its application to the purposes of religion and magic.

Having now concluded my survey of the various forms of belief in New Guinea and Melanesia which seem to be in any way related to the Indonesian concept of soul-substance, I may consider briefly whether it is possible to formulate any scheme to account for their relations.

The chief facts which need explanation are as follows:—In Indonesia there is a belief in an entity within a living man which is altogether distinct from the ghost which exists after death, this latter only coming into being at the moment of death as a kind of double of the deceased person. In New Guinea there are beliefs so much like these that we can be confident that they are due to direct transmission either from Indonesia or from the source whence Indonesia itself obtained the beliefs in question. Such differences as there are would be due to the changes to be expected when abstract beliefs are transmitted to such lowly people as the Kai or the natives of the mountainous districts visited by Mr. Chinnery. It is noteworthy that, if one of Dr. Malinowski’s alternatives concerning the nature of the baloma be accepted, we have an almost exact reproduction of the Indonesian belief among the more advanced people of the Trobriand Islands.

When we pass from New Guinea eastwards we find far less similarity with the Indonesian point of view, and there is no evidence whatever for the belief in a soul-substance diffused throughout the body, although there are many customs which would be readily explained by such a concept. There is no obvious difference in intelligence between the natives of New Guinea and Melanesia—if anything the Melanesians have the advantage in this respect—and if migrants from Indonesia succeeded in implanting their beliefs in the one place, it is difficult to see why there should have been so great a failure in the other.

A more important difference between the two regions is their distance from Indonesia. Once migrants from Indonesia have reached the shores of New Guinea they are in contact with an island, so large that it might almost be called a continent, the shores of which can be visited without calling upon the spirit of enterprise necessary for journeys to the more distant Solomon Islands. We can be fairly confident, therefore, that influences from Indonesia have permeated New Guinea which never reached Melanesia proper, and there is much in the cultures of the two regions to support this conjecture.

I suggest, therefore, that such evidence as we possess concerning the duplicity of the soul in Melanesia is due to some relatively early migration which reached both New Guinea and Melanesia, but has in the former place been overlaid by later influence from Indonesia which did not pass beyond New Guinea.

I have so far considered only the relation between the Indonesian concept and those of New Guinea and Melanesia. Mr. Perry has given us good reason to suppose that the Indonesian concept was introduced into that region from the west. This raises the possibility that the cultural influence which brought the ideas in question to Indonesia travelled on to Melanesia, introducing there the idea of the duality of the soul. For reasons which I shall mention in a moment it is of great importance that the district of Melanesia in which we have the most definite evidence of this duplicity is San Cristoval in the Solomon Islands. The Rev. C. E. Fox has recently sent to Professor Elliot Smith and myself a record of the modes of burial of men of a certain clan chiefly in that and neighbouring islands. These funerary customs bear so close a resemblance to those of Egypt as to leave no reasonable doubt that travellers, imbued with the essential ideas of Egyptian culture, reached San Cristoval and introduced, not only burial in pyramidal structures, but also the custom of erecting a statue to serve as the abiding place of the ghost of the dead man. Such extraordinary resemblances between the mortuary customs of Egypt and San Cristoval justify us in comparing the beliefs concerning the soul held in the two places. I have already described the belief of San Cristoval. Of the two souls of that region one leaves the body by the fontanelle or the mouth at death, and sets out on a long journey to a distant place called Rodomana, while the other enters the statue upon the funeral mound. In Egypt there was also a belief in two souls, one of which flew to the sun in the form of a bird, while the other, called the ka or double, was believed to inhabit the statue representing the dead man erected within the mastaba. With the exception of the substitution of the journey to the vague Rodomana for the journey of the dead to the sun in Egypt, there is an almost exact resemblance between the beliefs of the two peoples, a resemblance far closer than that which exists between the beliefs of Egypt and Indonesia. The main fact, therefore, which has to be explained is the existence of the closest similarity of belief between the widely separated Egypt and San Cristoval, while between these two regions there is another set of beliefs common to Indonesia and New Guinea, having many points of resemblance with those of Egypt and San Cristoval but of a more complex kind. This is the fact which calls for explanation, and for this purpose I venture to put forward the following hypothesis. Travellers imbued with the culture of Egypt, if not themselves Egyptian, reached Indonesia and passed on to Melanesia, the motive which lured them so far into the unknown being the desire for gold, pearls and other precious objects, which has been shown by Mr. Perry[29] to have furnished the motive for the early world-wide wanderings. In Melanesia, so distant from the main centres of the world’s activity that it was rarely reached by outside influence, the Egyptian beliefs concerning the nature of the soul have been preserved with a high degree of faithfulness. In Indonesia, on the other hand, so much nearer to the sources of modern civilisation, the early belief has been overlaid by many later influences, and the idea originally introduced has been so modified as to produce the highly complex set of beliefs which are implied in the existing concept of soul-substance. Later movements carried this modified and developed concept to New Guinea but failed to reach Melanesia.

If further knowledge should support this hypothetical scheme, a remarkable consequence will follow, for which indeed we have already other evidence. This consequence is that if we wish to find ancient beliefs preserved with the greatest fidelity we have to go to such distant and isolated spots as the islands of Melanesia, where the simple mentality of the people leads them to accept without any great modification beliefs which take their fancy, while the absence or scarcity of later external influence prevents the modification, and even obliteration, of beliefs, which are always liable to occur among more sophisticated peoples and in regions more open to the play of external influence. We are led to the extraordinary and at first sight most improbable view that if we wish to obtain knowledge concerning the beliefs of the ancient world for which we have no literary evidence, we have to go, not to countries where the beliefs were held, not to regions adjoining them which have been the seats of later civilisations, but to such distant and savage peoples as the natives of the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides.

  1. See art. “Indonesians,” Hastings’ Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics, vol. vii., p. 232; also A. C. Knight, Het Animism in den indischen Archipel. Gravenhage, 1906. I am indebted to Mr. W. J. Perry for much help in describing the Indonesian beliefs.
  2. The Megalithic Culture of Indotiesia. Manchester (1918).
  3. In Deutsch Neu-Guinea, by R. Neuhauss. Berlin, vol. iii. (1911), p. 111.
  4. In Deutsch Neu-Guinea, vol. iii., p. 518.
  5. Journ. Roy. Anth. Inst., vol. xlvi. (1916), p. 354.
  6. B. Malinowski, Trans. Roy. Soc. of South Australia.
  7. C. G. Seligmann, The Melanesians of British New Guinea. Cambridge (1910), p. 189.
  8. Man, vol. xix. (1919), p. 132.
  9. Religion u. Zauberei auf d. mittleren Neui-Mecklenburg. Munster (1910), p. 14.
  10. See W. H. R. Rivers, The History of Melanesian Society, vol. ii. (1914), p. 515.
  11. Op. cit. p. 153.
  12. History of Melanesian Society, vol. ii. (1914), p. 205.
  13. Melanesians and Polynesians. London (1910), p. 190.
  14. Rep. Austral. Ass. vol. xii. (1909), p. 454.
  15. R. Thurnwald, Forschungen auf d. Salomo-Inseln u. d. Bismarck-archipel. Berlin, vol. i. (1912), p. 316.
  16. G. C. Wheeler, Arch. f. Religionswiss, vol. xvii. (1914), p. 86.
  17. I am indebted to Mr. Hocart for the account of these rites.
  18. R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians. London (1891), p. 249.
  19. C. E. Fox, Journ. Roy. Anth. Inst., vol. xlix. (1919), p. 94.
  20. This account is based on letters recently received from Mr. Fox.
  21. R. H. Codrington, loc. cit.
  22. W. H. R. Rivers, op. cit. vol. i. p. 165.
  23. R. H. Codrington and J. Palmer, Mota Dictionary. London (1896), p. 7.
  24. Fiji and the Fijians. London (1856), vol. i. p. 241. It must be noted that Fison failed to confirm this information, and gives linguistic reasons to show that it is wrong. See J. G. Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, London (1911), p. 92, n. 3.
  25. G. Friederica, Wissenschaft. Ergebnisse. iii. Untersuchungen uber eine Melanesiche Wanderstrasse. Berlin (1913), p. 66. In some parts of Indonesia the banyan tree is called nunu.
  26. See History of Melanesian Society, vol. i. p. 151.
  27. Op. cit. p. 119.
  28. Such a process would also explain the intense power of taboo of Polynesian chiefs.
  29. “The Relationship between the Geographial Distribution of Megalithic Monuments and Ancient Mines.” Mem. and Proc. Manchester Lit. and Phil. Soc. 1915.

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