Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 17, 1906.djvu/280

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

266 The Scape-Goat in European Folklore.

house and is supposed to fall a victim to the evil spirit. The Piaroas, according to Marcoy, have the same belief and the same custom in what is probably a more primitive form. They, too, conceive that a new hut is occupied by an evil spirit, which must be dislodged before they can take possession of their new abode. They proceed to capture some bird, by preference a toucan, and wrap it up in leaves ; they then place it across the threshold ; this is supposed to have the effect of preventing the spirit from making its escape. This done, the men of the family set to work to dance, gesticulate, and menace the evil spirit according to the familiar methods of savage rites of exorcism. At last the evil spirit attempts to leave the hut, but it cannot pass over the body of the toucan, and is compelled to enter it. The bird, terrified as well it may be, by the noise and confusion, struggles within the covering of leaves ; an old woman keeps her eye upon it and at the proper moment sets it free and herself escapes at full speed into the forest. The bird makes use of its recovered liberty and carries away the evil spirit.^

This description is confirmed by a later traveller, Chaf- fanjon, who adds some details of considerable interest. I abridge his description of the ceremony. The evil spirit has to be driven out of a newly finished hut, which from the description is evidently of the communal type found elsewhere in South America. The community which is to inhabit it goes out in quest of a bird, by preference a toucan, which is put near the door in a basket. Then the oldest man plucks from its tail and wings three feathers, which he fastens to the top of a stick taken from a tree termed by our author " I'Arbre aux Demons." Holding this in his left hand he enters the hut and lights as many fires as there are families to inhabit it. Then he plants his stick and the fire-brand

1 Tour du Monde, 1888, 348.