Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/159

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135
TOTEM OR ETU WORSHIP.

afar while those daring men had cooked their bananas on the embers.

Here, in Samoa, there were very few idols, and no blood-stained maraes, altars, or temples; human sacrifice, or indeed any sort of sacrifice, was not required; hence the expression, "Godless as a Samoan," by which the men of other groups described any one who neglected the service of the temples. The Samoans, however, were diligent in the worship of their own ancestors, and, moreover, supposed that the spirit of their gods animated divers birds, fishes, or reptiles. As certain Indian tribes have adopted different animals as their totem-god, so in Samoa and the Hervey Isles, each chief had his etui.e., some living creature, which to him and to his people was sacred; and foreigners, ignorant of this matter, sometimes incurred serious danger from accidentally killing some revered reptile, or even insect. The man who found a dead body of his representative deity, say an owl, a heron, or a bat, would stop and wail piteously, beating his own forehead with stones till it bled; then wrapping up the poor dead creature with all reverence, he would solemnly bury it, with as much care as if it had been a near relation. This was supposed to be pleasing to the gods. When, therefore, any Samoan resolved to declare himself a Christian, he commenced by killing and eating the familiar spirit of his tribe, whether grasshopper, centipede, octopus, vampire-bat, snake, eel, lizard, parrot, or other creature.[1]

There was one chief who reverenced as his etu the fractured, but carefully mended, skull of a white man, whose firearms had won his admiration, though the man's crimes had led to his being clubbed. An amusing story is told of the terror with which these simple folk first beheld a talking cockatoo in the cabin of a vessel. With a cry of dismay they rushed on deck and leapt overboard, declaring that the captain had his etu in the cabin, and that they had heard it talking to him.

The story of the conversion of these much tattooed but little clothed warriors abounds in picturesque detail. Thus, when the great chief Malietoa promised Mr Williams that he would become

  1. See note on Etu worship at the end of this letter.