Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/311

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279
RELIGIOUS WRESTLERS.

sling was stretched across the back, whirled round the head, and thus the missile was discharged with great force.

But the game which always excited the keenest interest was wrestling. Here, as in Japan, the announcement of a wrestling-match brought together thousands both of men and women, all in their holiday garbs. The wrestlers, like the archers, first repaired to the marae to do homage to the gods; then entering the ring, which was generally on some grassy spot near the sea-shore, they fell to work in good earnest. Sometimes the wrestlers of one island challenged those of another; or else the challenge was from men of different districts. Their dress consisted only of a waist-cloth, and a coating of fresh oil. The moment a man was thrown, the friends of the conqueror commenced to dance and sing triumphantly with an accompaniment of drums; and as the vanquished party raised songs of defiance, the din must have been pretty considerable. However, it subsided the moment fresh wrestlers entered the ring, and the spectators watched the progress of the struggle in dead silence and with intense interest. When the contest was over, the wrestlers returned to the marae to present their offerings to the protecting gods.

Without looking back to classical times and Greek games, it seems strange, does it not, that these very uncivilised savages of the South Seas should have assigned to wrestling precisely the same religious importance as is bestowed on it by the Shintoists of Japan. Possibly both nations retained this sacred game as practised by their common Malay ancestors,[1] from whom, probably, both derived their custom[2] of offering savoury meats, and making acts of homage to their deceased relations; though the Japanese, either from inborn refinement or Chinese influence, place on their domestic shrine only the tablets of the dead; whereas the Ta-

  1. I do not by this mean to suggest any trace of a common origin, merely founded on ancestor-worship, which prevailed in almost all countries, and which in the Pacific is to this day practised by the Papuan races. The islanders of the Torres Straits, in common with those of the Line islands, worship the skulls of their ancestors, and treasure them in their huts as reverently as did the Tahitians in heathen days.
  2. For a trace of this custom, as practised in the Marquesas, see p. 257.