Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 26, 1915.djvu/227

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


Reviews. 2 1 7

of performing in secret the cult, which they had brought with them, they founded in so doing the secret societies of Melanesia. In the islands where they were niore numerous secret worship was unnecessary, and there the secret societies do not exist, but the open cult corresponds with the secret societies elsewhere. A characteristic of their culture was the use of kava, which they carried all over Melanesia and Polynesia. Another immigration took place later, of a people who brought with them the use of the areca nut, and hence called " the betel people " ; but it only extended to northern Melanesia. They introduced some further social modifications. The civilization of Melanesia, as it existed when Europeans first came upon the scene, was the product of these immigrations and of the interaction of the autochthonous and intrusive cultures.

The scheme of which this is a rude outline is lucidly and elaborately worked out. Its validity depends on a large number of factors. Social organization, kinship terms, ghosts and spiritual beings, cultural practices, the kava ritual, betel practices, burial customs, decorative art, money, magic, stonework, puberty rites, tattooing, language are all in turn subjected to critical examination. A consistent edifice of theory is carefully built up out of all these elements of native culture. It is a triumph of synthetic reasoning on which the author may be heartily congratulated. Whether it will stand the test of further explorations, and of the criticism of observers approaching the subject from the point of view afforded by other islands than those here most profoundly treated, remains to be seen. The author, contemplating the possibility of a radical modification or even destruction, expresses the hope that any such result will be due to his insufficient knowledge of facts rather than to faults of method.

The strength of a chain is that of its weakest link. Dr. Rivers' hypothesis is forged of so many links that it would be no wonder if one of them should snap, with disaster to the whole. It is with no desire to contribute to such a catastrophe that I venture to draw attention to one or two links out of several that seem to me to require strengthening.

"At the present time," he says, "there is little question that it is peoples of the rudest culture who are the most ready to accept