Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 14, 1903.djvu/335

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

Collectanea, 305

Neither eggs nor ham must be among the food taken to sea. Many years ago, an Armadale (Sutherlandshire) woman put boiled eggs in her husband's basket, but when at lunch-time they were discovered, the eggs were hastily thrown into the sea. About the same time a local factor was removing from Reay to the west of Sutherlandshire. A pig was sent to the Sandside harbour to be shipped with his other goods, but the crew refused to go to sea if it was put on board, so it had to be left behind.

During an extra good herring-fishing season many years ago at Wick, the curers objected one night to the men going to sea, on the plea that the women had already more fish than they could handle in twenty-four hours and, besides, that their stock of salt and barrels was very low. The men insisted, and said fishing was their business and fish they would while Providence sent such shoals to their hand. One curer, who had studied his men and their ways, bought a ham, which he cut in two and placed under the uppermost net in the first two boats that went to sea. When they arrived at the fishing ground and prepared to set their nets, they saw the ham. They stared at one another in blank dismay for a moment. Then each man hastened to his post, and soon they were bowling along back again towards the harbour.

All that I have related here has been told me by Caithness or Sutherlandshire fishermen, or by crofters who have gone to the fishing during the herring season. Living as I do in a Manse, it is easy for me to get into conversation and friendship with these men. I also speak Gaelic, which is everything when you want to gain a Highlandman's confidence. The late Mr. Angus Mackay, fisherman, Strathy, Sutherlandshire, who died last Christmas at the age of eighty-four, told me that all these customs and super- stitions, except the tabooing of the word "rat," were known to him and practised in his younger days, especially in Banff and on the Fife coast ; and to make quite sure of the accuracy of my report, I have taken this paper down to Mr. Robert Stevens, fisherman, Sandside, Reay, to whom I was originally indebted for much of the information it contains.^ He is not only one of the most superior and intelligent of our fishermen, but he belongs to a race of Caithness seamen who have handed down their superstitions as a legacy from father to son for generations.^ He says I may tell the gentlemen in London that all these superstitions are quite

' Caithness is mainly Scandinavian : Sutherland, Celtic. VOL. XIV. X