Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/687

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671
ANCESTOR-WORSHIP AMONG THE FIJIANS.

ANCESTOR-WORSHIP AMONG THE FIJIANS.[1]
By BASIL H. THOMSON.

THERE are more gods than tribes among the Fijians, and it is manifestly impossible to give an account of the religions of them all within reasonable limits; hence I take as a type the tribes inhabiting the northern and eastern portions of the island of Viti-Levu, the part of the group first colonized by Fijians. Like the Greeks, the Fijians made their gods as beings of like passions with themselves; but whatever may have been the fountain head of Greek mythology, it is clear that the Fijians humanized their gods, because they had once existed on earth in human form. Their mythology was traditional history. Like other primitive peoples, the Fijians deified their ancestors. The father ruled the family. Each member of it turned to him for the ordering of his daily life. No scheme entered the head of the young man that did not depend upon the consent or prohibition of the head of his family. Suddenly the father died. How were his sons to rid themselves of the idea of his controlling influence that had guided them ever since they were born, even though they had buried his body? He had been wont to threaten them with punishment for disobedience, and even now, when they did the things of which he disapproved in life, punishment was sure to follow—the crops failed, a hurricane unroofed the hut, floods swept away the canoe.

If they won a victory over their enemies, it was he who had strengthened their arms in response to their prayers and offerings. Then each son of the dead father founded his own family, but still owed allegiance to their eldest brother, who represented their father as the head of the joint family. Generations came and went; the tribe even increased its tens to hundreds, but still the eldest son of the eldest, who carried in his veins the blood of the common ancestor in its purest form, was venerated as the head of the tribe. The name of the ancestor was not forgotten. He was now a god, and had his temple and his priests, who had themselves come to be hereditary and had the strong motive of self-interest for keeping his memory green. My belief is that the extra-tribal mythology of the Fijians is in fact legendary history, that the gods that peopled their Olympus had been the men who were the founders of their race. The story of their origin, history, and beliefs is contained in a poem, the Saga of Nakauvadra, by an unknown author, a specimen of which follows:


  1. Abridged from an address delivered before the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute.