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The Concept of “Soul-Substance”

scheme of the genesis of the secret organisations of Melanesia[1] that they should have preserved, though in distorted form, features of an introduced concept which failed to implant itself in the beliefs of the people at large.

According to Geo. Brown,[2] the people of New Britain call the soul nio, which is also applied to the shadow. This soul leaves the body temporarily in sleep or fainting and permanently at death. Apparently it becomes one of the several kinds of being which are classed together as tebaran. Brown says definitely that there is only one kind of soul, but this can appear in many forms, and enters into animals such as rats, lizards and birds. Animals have souls independently of this incarnation of the souls of men, but plants have no souls. Danks[3] also states that the spirits of men can enter into animals.

In the account given by Brown, which probably applies specially to Duke of York Island, the nio corresponds in several respects with the more personal form of soul-substance, but it is probable that it becomes the ghost, and, if so, would differ essentially from the Indonesian concept.

In the Buin district of Bougainville[4] the soul is called ura, a word also used for shadow, reflexion and dream. The ura leaves a man in sleep or illness and flies in the form of a bird to the underworld, where stands a tree the leaves of which represent human lives. If the soul-bird plucks the leaf representing its host, the man dies and the soul-bird stays in the underworld. It may be noted that this appearance of the human soul in the form of a bird is associated in Buin with an unusually pure form of bird-totemism.

In the Shortland Islands,[5] the culture of which has much in common with that of Buin, the soul is called nunu.

  1. History of Melanesian Society, vol. ii. (1914), p. 205.
  2. Melanesians and Polynesians. London (1910), p. 190.
  3. Rep. Austral. Ass. vol. xii. (1909), p. 454.
  4. R. Thurnwald, Forschungen auf d. Salomo-Inseln u. d. Bismarck-archipel. Berlin, vol. i. (1912), p. 316.
  5. G. C. Wheeler, Arch. f. Religionswiss, vol. xvii. (1914), p. 86.