The Melanesians: Studies in their Anthropology and Folklore/Chapter 5
SECRET SOCIETIES AND MYSTERIES.
There is certainly nothing more characteristic of Melanesian life than the presence of Societies which celebrate Mysteries strictly concealed from the uninitiated and from all females. A dress, with. a mask or hat, disguises the members if they appear in open day; they have strange cries and sounds by which they make their presence known when they are unseen. In some cases, as in Florida and Aurora, they make a public show of a piece of the handiwork of the ghosts with whom it is pretended that they have been associating. Such societies are the Dukduk of New Britain described by Mr. Brown and Mr. Komilly, the Matambala of Florida, the Tamate of the Banks' Islands, the Qatu of the Northern New Hebrides. A photograph from New Caledonia shews a figure which can hardly be distinguished from that of a tamate from the Banks' Islands, and Mr. Romilly mentions an institution like the Dukduk in New Guinea. It is plain, therefore, that this institution extends very widely through Melanesia, and the Nanga of Fiji, though in some respects different, cannot be thought to be entirely distinct from it; yet it is remarkable that nothing of the sort has as yet been found in Santa Cruz, or in the Solomon Islands east of Florida The Florida mysteries were believed to have been brought from Ysabel, where nothing of the kind has as yet been
observed. This belief, however, serves to point to a connexion with the Dukduk of New Britain, in the name of which a further connexion may probably be found. In all these societies the ghosts of the dead were supposed to be present; in the Banks' Islands their name is 'The Ghosts;' in Santa Cruz a ghost is duka; in Florida one method of consulting the ghosts of the dead is paluduka. It is very likely therefore that in New Britain the Dukduk are also 'The Ghosts.'
One very important point of difference separates these from the bora of Australia, in which the grown youth of the tribe are 'made young men,' and have imparted to them some knowledge of the religious beliefs and practices of the elders. Grown men and infants, married and unmarried, are equally admitted to the societies of Florida and the New Hebrides; and if in the Banks' Islands it is not customary to admit boys very young, there is certainly no limit of age as regards admission. It is no doubt the case that where these societies flourish, a youth who has not become a member of one of them does not take a position of full social equality with the young men who are members; and also that such a young man has probably no wife. Such a young man has not been able to meet the expense of initiation or of matrimony; his friends, from carelessness or poverty, have let him grow up without making proper provision for him; he remains uninitiated and unmarried from the same cause; but initiation is by no means a preliminary step to matrimony. It is difficult, in view of the strict secrecy and solemnity of the mysteries, to believe that there is no knowledge imparted in initiation of a religious character. The outer world of women and children, and the uninitiated,matawonowono,—whose eyes were closed,—undoubtedly believed that the initiated entered into association with the ghosts of the dead; the strangle cries and awful sounds that proceeded from the sacred and unapproachable lodge of the association, or from the forest when the members of it were abroad, were more than human in their ears; the figures that appeared were not those of men. An accident would no doubt sometimes make it plain that it was a man, some one well known and recognized, who was figuring as a ghost; but then his disguise was not the work of mortal hands; and the shrewd conjecture that all the rest were as much men and neighbours as the one whose fall revealed him might be entertained, but would be dangerous to express. It was only when the neophyte was admitted into the mysterious precincts that he found only his daily companions there, and learnt that there was nothing to be imparted to him except the knowledge how the sounds were produced, how the dresses and decorations were made, and in some cases a song and dance. There was no secret article of belief made known, and no secret form of worship practised. The ordinary forms of prayer and sacrifice were performed as elsewhere, though here in connexion with these mysteries. There were no forms of worship peculiar to the society, and no objects of worship of a kind unknown to those without.
It is remarkable also that, as far as I have been able to ascertain, there is nothing or very little that is obscene, or more objectionable from a moral point of view than imposture combined with, a certain amount of tyranny and intimidation. In some places the neophytes had to endure hardships or even tortures, which were absent, however, in the Banks' Islands, [where these societies are very numerous. The property of the uninitiated was plundered, and themselves beaten and oppressed when the mysteries were at work; all order and industry were upset. At the same time hideous and obscene orgies were absent; a native convert to Christianity might go into his lodge and find nothing there to offend him that he did not find in the village; an European visitor might go in and find nothing more mysterious to be revealed to him than the hats and dresses and the appliances for producing the unearthly sounds.
The Fijian nanga as described by Mr. Fison and Mr. Joske, to which the presence of women gives at once a different character, must be taken as representing these secret societies in that group, and it is reasonable to suppose direct connexion in origin between this and those that flourish in the islands further to the west. The institution in Fiji, however is so little conspicuous in the life of the people, probably because so limited in distribution, that it escaped for many years the observation of Mr. Fison himself. In the Banks' Islands the tamate would very soon call for notice. If no special celebration of the mysteries were being earned on, a visitor would soon become aware that there were near every village retreats frequented by most of his native companions, and unapproachable by some. The members of the societies would be proud to shew him these retreats and the wonderful works of art they contained. Very few days would pass without the appearance of some masked figures, or the sound of some strange noise or cry. In that group the number of these societies is surprising; some very insignificant, local, or recently started by individuals; some select and respected; one found everywhere, the principal and apparently original institution of the kind. In the Northern New Hebrides this Great Tamate of the Banks' Islands is not found, but others of the same character appear. I have seen a mask and a secret lodge as far south as Ambrym. The figure in the photograph from New Caledonia is so nearly identical with that of a tamate of the Banks' Islands, that the identity of the institution may be conjectured, or at any rate a connexion
must be taken to exist. Between the Banks' Islands and Florida the interval is considerable; but scholars from Florida, on their way to Norfolk Island many years ago, recognized their own matabala in the salagoro of Mota, to which as strangers they were freely admitted. The result of their admission was fatal to the mystery in either institution. A Florida boy who had seen what the Mota salagoro was and contained, knew very well what sort of mysteries those were at home into which he had not yet been initiated, and he ceased to believe in their supernatural character. The uninitiated boys from the Banks' Islands heard in Norfolk Island from their Florida schoolfellows what they had seen, and the sacredness of the salagoro was lost for them. The secret was out many years ago, though in Florida the power of the mysteries was maintained till Christianity prevailed in the only part of the island in which the institution had a seat.
In the Banks' Islands the tamate has survived the introduction of Christianity. All belief in the supernatural character of the associations has long disappeared, all women and children know that the tamate are men dressed in disguises made by themselves, and that the sounds and cries are naturally produced. But these societies had so important a place in the social arrangements of the people that they have held their ground as clubs. It is not only in the Banks' Islands that secrecy and a costume have their attractions. The secrecy of the lodges is still maintained, the salagoro is unapproachable by women and the uninitiated, the neophyte has still to go through his time of probation and seclusion, and the authority of the society is maintained by too much of the high-handed tyranny of old times. In truth, the social power of these societies was too great to be readily dissolved, and in the absence of any strong political organization the importance of the position of a member of the largest and most exclusive of the societies has been considerable. Many years ago I well remember how in the early morning of one day in the island of Mota a strange cry was heard repeated from every quarter, shrill, prolonged and unmistakeable. It was the cry of the tamate; the members of the Great Tamate were all out and in possession of the island; o vanua we gona, the country was in occupation, no one could go about, everything of the business of ordinary life was at a standstill till the tamate should be satisfied. Upon enquiry we were told that in the evening before a man in anger had taken up his bow. In accordance with the teaching of Bishop Patteson, and with the authority of the great man of the island, the society of the Great Tamate had forbidden the use of the bow and arrow in private quarrels under penalty of a fine to them. On this occasion the man who had been guilty of the offence hastened to atone for it with a pig, and all was quiet again. It is not surprising that membership in so powerful a society should be valued and not readily resigned.
I. The Banks' Islands.—The Banks' Islands, with the neighbouring Torres group, are undoubtedly the chief seat of these societies, which are there universally called 'The Ghosts,' o tamate, netmet. In the Torres Islands alone there are a hundred of them, and every man belongs to four or five. The chief society, the tamate liwoa of Mota, is present everywhere, though in some places it is not so important as some more exclusive one of local origin. Another association is distinguished by its peculiar dance, and differs from the others in having no permanent lodge or club-house; this, the Qat, is found in all the Banks' Islands, but not in the Torres Islands. All these tamate associations have as their particular badge a leaf or a flower. The very numerous and well-marked varieties of the croton, which all have their native names, furnish the leaves; the flowers are those of the many varieties of hibiscus, all also named. To stick flowers in the hair, rou, is very common; it is the particular part of the head which is ornamented by the particular flower that marks the member of the tamate. To assume the badge without being a member of a tamate is an offence against the society, to be punished according to the power and position of the society offended. In the Torres Islands, for example, one of the three great tamate societies is Nipir, and its badge is a hibiscus flower worn over the forehead. If any one not a member should be seen with this. flower thus worn, a bunch of flowers and leaves is set up in a public place by the society, and the offender knows that he must forfeit a pig. He brings his pig, ties it in the open space in the middle of his village, and stands by it; one of the society then beats him for his presumption, and after that he has to go through the regular initiation with the payment of the entrance fees.
The origin of these societies in the Banks' Islands has no light thrown upon it, as in Florida, by tradition, and must be presumed therefore to belong to no recent times. There is a story that a woman received from a ghost, whom she saw in a tree, an image with the hat and cloak of a tamate, and that she kept this hidden behind a partition in her house. It became known that she had something wonderful concealed, and she admitted men on payment to a private view. When those who had partaken of the secret became numerous enough they took it out of the woman's hands, made a lodge for themselves, were taught by the image, which was all the while itself a ghost, how to make the dress, and thus set up the first tamate association, with the strictest exclusion of all women ever afterwards. From this story nothing can be learnt concerning the origin of so widely spread an institution. The multitude of minor associations, generally named after birds, are however mostly local, and may be thought to be modern. Any one might start a new society, and gather round him his co-founders, taking any object that might strike their fancy as the ground and symbol of their association. A visitor to Norfolk Island having seen there a bird that was strange to him, established on his return to Mota a society-called 'the Norfolk Island Bird.' Some such new foundations will succeed and flourish, some will fail; but the whole number in the Banks' Islands and the Torres Islands must be very great. Three or four may be common to all the group, some few common to two or more islands, the rest more or less closely localized. Some are exclusive with heavy entrance payments, and are used by elder men of good position; some are cheap and easy of entrance. I think it probable that where the Great Tamate is powerful, all the members of the other societies belong also to that and work together with it, except the younger members of the least important, the seclusion of which is comparatively little respected.
The lodge or secret resort of the Great Tamate is the salagoro, established in some secluded place, generally amidst lofty trees, in the neighbourhood of every considerable village or group of villages. The path to it is marked where it diverges from the public path by bright orange-coloured fruits stuck on reeds, bunches of flowers, fronds of cycas, and the customary soloi, taboo marks, forbidding entrance. These are repeated at intervals till the winding path comes out into the open space in which the building stands. Such marks are quite sufficient to prevent intrusion, because they represent the whole force of the association, not because they rest on any specially religious sanction. The whole place is not sacred, rongo, it is set apart, tapu, by a sufficient authority. No woman or uninitiated person would think of approaching; foreigners are admitted without difficulty; that is to say, those who do not belong to those neighbouring islands in which the society is known to have a place, Solomon islanders for example. If nothing in the way of initiation or particular celebration should be going on, the visitor will find only a few members in the place; some who use it as a club for their meals, some whose business it is as newly-admitted members to prepare the meals, keep the place swept, and remain within for a fixed number of days. Very likely a cocoa-nut will be pointed out as representing some one whose personal attendance has been excused. The hats and dresses worn at the last dance or public demonstration may be inspected. The hats are really ingenious, and when new are handsome. They are made of bark, painted with such vegetable preparations as it is a secret of the fraternity to compound, and adorned in bands and in rings round the eyes on either side with the scarlet seeds of the abrus precatorius. The hats receive the whole head, and come down upon the
shoulders, where they meet the cloak with a fringe of cycas leaves. The shape of the hats is very various; some have a strange resemblance to the cocked hats of naval officers, and it has been naturally supposed that the pattern has been taken from them. But it is very unlikely that a naval officer has ever been seen in a cocked hat in the Banks' Islands, and the masks of that shape were certainly seen when masks were first seen there by Europeans Besides these hats the house of
the salagoro will not be found to contain anything more than the usual appliances for cooking: a certain disappointment is probably experienced by every one who first penetrates into the mysterious precincts. There is one object, however, which is not, or but lately was not, so readily made known. This is the apparatus by which the peculiar, and certainly very impressive, sound is made, which was believed by the outsiders to be the cry or voice of the ghosts. This is a flat, smooth stone, on which the butt-end of the stalk of a fan of palm is rubbed. The vibration of the fan produces an extraordinary sound, which can be modulated in strength and tone at the will of the performer, and which proceeding in the stillness of daybreak from the mysterious recesses of the salagoro, may well have carried with it the assurance of a supernatural presence and power. The origin of this contrivance is thus narrated. Two members of the Great Tamate in Vanua Lava going together along the shore heard a strange and unearthly sound as they approached a point of land, the usual haunt of ghosts. They found this to be produced by an old woman sitting on the beach and rubbing down shells for money upon a stone, who was contriving to do her work and at the same time shelter herself from the sun, by using the handle of her palmleaf umbrella for the stick which holds the shell. The men perceived the value of the discovery for the purpose of their mysteries, ran in upon the woman and killed her, and carried off the stone and her umbrella. This apparatus does the work which the 'bull-roarer,' too well known in the Banks' Islands to be used in mysteries, performs elsewhere.
To obtain admission into any of these societies is to tiro. Before admission can be obtained to the Great Tamate, the candidate or his friends has to usur with a pig of the valued kind called rawe; and there is also a period of fasting to be gone through. When he is admitted he is brought into the salagoro, and deposits money at the successive stages of his advance, marked by the soloi beside the path till he comes into the house. He has then to goto, remain secluded, so many days before he can go back into his village, and after that has to serve so many days more in the preparation of the daily oven. The number of days of seclusion and of attendance, and the amount of the admission fees, vary with the dignity of the society. In Ureparapara, where the Great Tamate is not of much importance, there are three chief societies, Ni Pir, No Vov, Ne Menmendol, into which the admission is difficult; the new member has to goto for a hundred days, and after that to attend to the oven for another hundred days. During his first hundred days he does not wash, and gets so dirty that when he comes out he is not recognized; so dirty is he, they say, that he cannot be seen. In this island the Great Tamate, though it retains the name, has not even a salagoro; a chamber for initiation is made in the gamal, the house of the Suqe Club; the entrance payment is small, and infants are admitted. In the Banks' Islands also the lesser societies have no salagoro, whether they be exclusive like the Oviovi or insignificant like the Meretang; the lodge is the sara. From all the lodges equally women, and the uninitiated, the matawonowono who have their eyes closed, are strictly excluded. Women will venture to stand near the entrance to the retreats of the lesser clubs, which are often very little secluded from the public road; but the salagoro of the Great Tamate and the sara of the important societies are very carefully respected. The croton leaves which are the badge of each are well known; a member of any one will mark with such a leaf the fruit-trees or garden that he wishes to reserve for a particular use, and the prohibition will be observed; he has behind him the whole tamate, with whom an offender would have to deal.
For the greater part of the year the salagoro or the sara is used as a kind of club; the newly admitted members have the duty of preparing a daily meal, which attracts some who have no other engagement; it affords a convenient and somewhat distinguished resort in the heat of the day. The European visitor will be likely to find there any man he wishes to see; he will find a meal there himself when he desires it; a yam from the salagoro oven will be sent to him as a compliment, of which no one will venture to partake whose eyes are still unopened. From time to time the members rouse themselves into activity, with a view to bring themselves into evidence, to attract recruits, to impress the people with a sense of their importance, and to enjoy a festival. Then they begin to make new masks and dresses within their lodge, and the solemn sound of the linge tamale warns all without that the mysteries have begun. The country is said to be close, o vanua we gona, no one can venture along the paths without the risk of being beaten by the tamate. They assume the greatest license in carrying off all they want, robbing gardens and stripping fruit-trees for their feast, and then any one will suffer who has spoken or acted without due respect to the society. The ghosts in their disguise will rush into the villages, chasing the terrified women and children, and beating any whom they can catch; the disadvantage of remaining outside as matawonowono is made apparent. Many of the lesser societies, composed of those who are members also of the Great Tamate, whose power is at their back, practise the same tyranny; but there are some that do not terrify or beat, but come out to show their finery and dance. A pretty and pleasant scene it is when two or three figures dance forth into the sunshine of the village place; their heads concealed in masks in shape like the cowls of Italian becchini, coming down in a point upon the breast, and with round eyes painted on the sides, white, and glistening with scarlet seeds and the fresh green of the cycas fronds; their bodies hidden in golden brown cloaks of sago leaves; each holding in either hand a cycas frond as a martyr in a picture holds his palm. The women and the little children crowd around full of admiration mixed with awe; 'these are good tamate, they never beat or chase us.' In Ureparapara it is not the custom to beat the outsiders, but they are not slack in insisting on their rules. When an initiation into their menmendol is going on there must be no smoke of fire; if smoke is seen anywhere, their sagilo, a bunch of their flowers and leaves, is set up, and a pig must be given for the offence.
In the part of the New Hebrides which closely adjoins the Banks' Islands these tamate societies are not so common as in those islands; but there are in Aurora, Araga (Pentecost Island), and Ambrym, mysterious associations which have a retreat unapproachable by the uninitiated, and a mask and dress. In the southern parts of Araga there is said to be what is called a tamate, but information fails concerning it; in Ambrym I have been taken into a secret place and shown a mask fashioned upon a skull and furnished with a wig of hair, and moreover decorated with the tusks of a boar. At any rate the Araga tamate is different from the Qeta to be hereafter described.
Different from these tamate societies in the Banks' Islands in having no permanent place of resort, and yet closely resembling them in all the most important characteristics, is the institution of the Qat, common to all the group. The great distinction of this, however, is the dance. The tamate will prepare and execute most elaborate performances of the dances of their islands, but the Qat itself is danced. For the initiation, whenever a sufficient number of candidates are forthcoming, an enclosure in a retired place is made by a fence of reeds, the two ends of which overlap to make an entrance, the shark's mouth as it is called, through which it is impossible to look. Here the neophytes remain, unwashed and blackened with ashes, for an appointed time, learning the dance and the song by which the steps of the dance are regulated. To obtain admission is, as with the tamate, to tiro, and money has to be paid; children too young to dance have the money paid for them and enter; when they are big enough they go in again to learn the dance. Nothing can better represent to a visitor the scene of an initiation into religious mysteries than the jealously guarded enclosure from which in the dead of night strange sounds and loud calls proceed, and the name of which associates it with Qat, who may be taken for the god whom they worship. But the name Qat refers to the hats and not to the vui; and enquiry does not discover any religious meaning in the initiation. The neophytes learn a dance difficult of execution and requiring much practice, not because of a complicated figure, but from the rapidity and accuracy with which the steps are stamped. The steps, as in other dances, follow a song, and the tapping of a bamboo. The Mota song is as follows: Veve! la us mae, na ven toa, to salsal, to salsal, Vevae, la us mae, na ven toa; 'Mother! bring a bow hither, that I may shoot a fowl, a flying fowl; Mother, bring a bow hither, that I may shoot a fowl.' The same with slight verbal change is what is used in Santa Maria, and no doubt in the other islands also. As they dance this song is silently followed, or sung in a low voice. There are other songs learnt and sung in the nin which are not known to the uninitiated: I have one from Gaua in Santa Maria, beginning 'Oh! make the fire and blow it into flame, we will finish covering in our oven', and having nothing in it which might not be found in other songs. It may perhaps be thought that the simple words of the song with which the Qat is danced veil some mysterious meaning; the initiated declare that it does not. When the appointed time is come the newly instructed dancers and the initiated come forth with lofty hats upon their heads. These hats, in which the Qat was no doubt originally danced, answer to the masks of the tamate, but are high and pointed, resting on the shoulders; they are now so tall that they require guy ropes on either side to support them, and it is impossible to wear them and dance. The Qat dance is wonderful indeed. The open space in the middle of a village on a moonlight night is lined with the spectators; the loud report of bursting bladders is heard from the wood around; one after another the performers, with a surprisingly rapid stamping motion of the feet, enter upon the ground, and come to an equally surprising sudden halt; the leader carries a length of bamboo made into a drum, with which he directs and controls the dance; the rest carry in their hands their bows. When the dancers are numerous and expert the weight and accuracy with which they beat the ground is wonderful; the island seems to shake beneath their feet. In Santa Maria, whether at Gaua or at Lakona, the Qat is more elaborate and difficult than in Mota or Motalava; boys at Norfolk Island will never undertake it. A practice of three or four months is needed for this before newly-initiated performers can venture to come out and dance. In former times, when the newly-taught dancers made their first appearance, the old members past their dancing days from far and near would gather round with their bows in their hands and jealously watch the steps; if they saw an error they would shoot; and if any one were hit the blame was laid on the faulty dancer; there was no quarrel with the shooter and no compensation to be made.
II. The New Hebrides. In the Northern New Hebrides the Qatu, with other institutions of the same kind, has its place in Maewo, Omba, and Araga. In Omba, Lepers' Island, I know no more than that there is a Qatu, the hats for which are made in the shape of a shark; from the other two islands information is abundant. In Maewo, Aurora, there is more than one Qatu, but one, the Qatu lata, is the chief. In all these there is initiation with trial of endurance by torments and hardships, but there is no secret imparted beyond the knowledge of the song and dance and the making of the decorations. For the initiation an enclosure is made with reeds near a group of villages; into these the neophytes are gathered, and here they remain unwashed and with very little food and water till the appointed time has expired, which may be thirty days. During this time they learn a dance, and songs, but they do not, as in the Banks' Islands, follow a song as they dance. Little boys are not initiated, because they could not endure the hardships and tortures to be gone through; but they can enter by proxy; a man already initiated will go through a formal initiation for them. There is no limit of age, no period of life to which initiation is more appropriate than another; it is a matter of payment, of giving pigs, which a wealthy man will give for his son or brother; an infant and a grown-up man are equally admitted. The mark of a member of the Qatu is the flower of the nalnal, a scitamineous plant, which no outsider is allowed to wear. Those who enter these societies assume a new name, which however does not, as in the neighbouring island, supersede the old one. They become Tari, or Vula; the young men, Tileg and Gao, though commonly so called, are Tari-koli and Vula-ngoda in the Qatu. While the initiation is going on, if women assemble, as they do, to hear the singing in the enclosure where the neophytes are being taught, it is an allowed custom for men to carry them off and ravish them. For a woman to see the newly initiated until they have returned to ordinary life is a mortal offence. They come out black with dirt and soot, and are not to be seen till they have washed. Not long ago a girl from the Uta, inland, saw by accident this washing. She fled to Tanoriki, where the Mission school is, for refuge, but they could not protect her. The Uta people sent for her and she went, knowing that she could not fail to die, and they buried her, unresisting, alive.
The great secret of the society is the making of the Qatu, from which the name is taken, and which corresponds to the qatu hats of the Banks' Islands, being in fact itself a hat or mask. It is made of tree-fern trunks; a pointed upright pact, large enough for a man to get within and carry it, and a cross-piece pointed at the ends. This cross is daubed with the white grated root of caladium, and painted with pigments only known within the society. The pointed top is adorned with a tuft of dracæna leaves; the ends are connected and kept firm by sticks ornamented with sago-palm frondlets; two large eyes are painted on the front; the back is covered with the hairy plexus from the sago fronds. When completed, and the day appointed comes, a man within it carries this forth with three other men supporting it; in old days it was believed by outsiders to be the work of ghosts. The correspondence between this and the tindalo work of the Florida Matambala is as remarkable as it is complete.
An account of his initiation into the chief Qatu, that called Qatu ta Gobio, was written for me by a native youth while his memory was fresh on the subject. He was probably sixteen years old when with two others he passed through what he thus relates.
'Father, let me tell you how I went into the Qatu. I did not know what it was when my brother said to me, Now you are to go into the Qatu. Then I went, and there was a very great crowd in the place where they were celebrating the Qatu. Then my brother asked me, Are you strong? and I answered him and said, All right! If I should die, all right! After that I went where there was a building, a gamal, put up for the purpose not far from the village; my malo (dress) and ornaments were taken off, and I went inside. The gamal was narrow, low, and very long, and they had placed inside it two rows of kalato leaves (of the nettle-tree) sprinkled with salt-water, which met together about a yard from the ground. And I bent my knees and I ran into it. And that thing, the kalato, that they had put in the gamal, bites exceedingly, and they had heated the salt-water before they poured it on the leaves, not stalks, nothing but leaves, and they bite exceedingly. Then when I came out from that thing I cried as I never did before or since, and nearly fainted with pain; and I neither ate nor drank water, but did nothing but cry for two days, and then I ate food. And the pig (one of his brother's which had been given as an entrance fee) they cooked in an oven; and they gave me some before it was done, and I ate it. After that I was thirsty, and they made a very small hole in the ground by stamping with the heel and poured cocoa-nut juice into it, and I drank. And they dashed water over me, which caused great pain. And the food that they gave me was extremely bad. When I was hungry they roasted a caladium root over the fire and gave it me underdone; and they trod my food into the ashes; and the water they poured on the ground, and then I drank the water. And if I had refused they would have beaten me to death; but I did not refuse, and I ate that food which they made so very bad for me. For my mashed food they mashed it on the ground; and they grated bananas that were not full grown to make loko, and stirred it together with dung; but we three did not quite eat up that loko that they made. Then we had to take up live embers in our hands; they stood round us with guns, and we laid hold on that burning fire; they commanded us to do it, and we laid hold of that fire. And we lay down on the ground and they trod upon us; they all ran over us, one of them taking the lead, and when he had stamped on us as he ran they all stamped on us. After that, when we rose from the ground, one man took a bow and pretended to shoot us. And we did not sit properly down, but lay down on the ground to eat our food, and our water also we lay down and drank. And with regard to that Qatu it is of tree-fern put together like planks, and we grated the qeta (caladium) and made the Qatu with it. And in the night after that we danced, and next morning we danced for the first time the Qatu dance; and after we had been thirty days in that gamal we killed a pig, and then went back into the village and stayed in the gamal and cooked that pig. And if one wishes to stay forty days in that gamal (i. e. of initiation) he then comes out; but that nettle will not soon leave him.'
Not satisfied with this experience, the same youth was afterwards admitted into another society in the way which he thus describes. 'Father, here again is another Qatu which we call the Taputae, and exceedingly bad it is. It is well that I should tell you the story of what they did to me. It was thus. They dug a deep hole, but not very deep, and brought a great quantity of dung and put it in the hole, till it was full of that very nasty dung; and they also poured water into the hole so that a man could sink in it. That hole was not like the well here, but it was dug like the drain by the kumara house beside the road; such it was, and I got into it; and this body of mine was all dung, and my hair also was all dung; and there was a man who poured a great quantity of dung over me. Then I got out, and washed myself in good water. But those others, grown up men, did not get into that; they did nothing but cry. Then some went away, and we danced in the night till morning, and then we danced the Qatu dance. After that we killed a pig. And the women cannot eat that pig, nor can some men, because they have not yet been initiated; and that pig is all eaten up at once, none of it will be put by, it will be eaten quite up.'
He adds that the bark of the varu, an hibiscus, is beaten out white for the decoration of this Qatu, and that the initiated will take a bit of this bark, catch a fish for it, and burn the bark as he cooks the fish, thinking that he will thereby obtain mana, magical power, for catching that kind of fish. If as he carries this bark he meets an outsider in the path who sees it, he will either kill him on the spot, or else he will take a pig from him, and the members of the Qat will agree to eat the pig and let him live.
There is in the same island another institution of the same character called the Welu. In this the neophyte lies down on his face in a hole in the ground cut exactly to his shape, and lighted cocoa-nut fronds are cast upon his back. He cannot move, and he will not cry. The scars remain upon his back—the mark of membership. While initiation into this is going on there are certain trials or games. A bundle of sticks is tied with a band of some creeper, and one of the neophytes cuts at it with an axe. If he severs it with one stroke his party score a gain; if he fails the initiated fall upon the others and they fight. The two parties also play the 'tug of war' with a large creeper; if the neophytes pull the others over they go the sooner out of the enclosure; if the others prevail they have to wait.
There are two things here which call for remark. The expression 'dancing the Qat,' and the fact that each mystery has its own dance, to learn which is the chief part of the
initiation, recall the dances of the Greek mysteries, and the African Bushman's use of 'dance' as equivalent to 'mystery.' (Lang's Custom and Myth.) But it appears certain that in these Qatu and Welu there is no secret knowledge conveyed, no esoteric religious instruction given, no mystery but the construction of the Qatu figure and the manner of the Qatu dance. In the second place the question arises, why, if no other advantage is to be gained than the position of an initiated member, natives are willing to pay the entrance fees and suffer as they do. But as it is certain that there is no 'making of young men,' and that initiation is not a step to matrimony, so it is equally certain that the social position of a native depends very much upon his membership of the most important of these clubs; an outsider could never be a person of consequence; a man of good social position would think it his duty to secure the same position for his son by entering him early in the clubs to which he himself belonged. To receive a new member with trials of his endurance, to let him rise into equality only through pain and contumely, has been, and may still be, the way of Universities and Schools; and there is no reason why the attraction of a mysterious secret which draws civilized men should not work upon the savage. The native neophyte also expected before his initiation that he really should join in company with the ghosts of the departed; when he was illuminated he enjoyed the deception of those who followed him, and was well satisfied to eat their pigs and take their money.
In the island of Araga, Pentecost or Whitsuntide, immediately south of Aurora, the institution is called the Qeta. I have the description of it from one who was made a member as an infant, but has seen all the proceedings of late years. The rites are celebrated at uncertain intervals, whenever there are a sufficient number of candidates forthcoming from a group of villages; at intervals perhaps of six or ten years. Some great man (or two or three of them together) presides and manages the arrangements, and teaches the songs and dance; the Qeta is said to be his or theirs. The scene of the meeting is some ute gogona, a place on which tapu has been laid. Many small houses are built there, in which the boys live during the first part of their seclusion. Boys of all ages are initiated, generally about the time of putting on the malo, the dress worn by men; all are initiated sooner or later, none grow up without it; to put on the malo and to enter the Qeta are necessary steps in life. The entrance payment is a mat given by the father, or guardian, one for each boy. When the day appointed for the Qeta comes, all the initiated assemble at the place, and the women keep away. There is no enclosure, but when the ceremony begins a stick is laid upon the ground as a mark of entrance, and two companies of the initiated stand singing within the mark with a space between them. The boy who enters steps over the stick, and as he does so, if he has already a malo, they break unexpectedly his girdle string; the malo falls and he enters naked. If the boy is too young to walk, he is carried over by his father or the friend who pays for him. The boys do not remain naked during the whole time of their seclusion, a fresh malo is given to each of them. My informant, himself initiated in his father's arms, began his story by saying that the Qeta was exceedingly bad. Being desired at the end of it to point out what there was exceedingly bad in the whole proceeding he referred to this, to expose a boy naked who had the malo was very bad indeed. When entered the neophytes stay in the houses, except when they come out to eat and sing and dance; they have their bodies blackened with charcoal, and wear no ornaments. There are long rows of seats made on which the boys sit to eat; the initiated feed them, giving each a bite, and the boys get nothing else to eat, though the initiated bring in food for themselves and eat it privately. The boys are taught a dance and song, singing aloud and dancing round the seats. The meaning of the song is trifling; its use is to mark the steps of the dance. There is absolutely no secret, or any other knowledge communicated than that of the song and dance, and nothing else in the way of initiation. The time of seclusion is uncertain. After the first three days the greater number of the initiated go away; food runs short, though the boys have very small bites; they begin to scatter a little, not going into the villages, but living in little houses near the gardens, the men looking after and feeding each household of boys. The whole time of seclusion lasts about five months, that is to say that yams are planted when it begins and the harvest is waited for. In the later time the restriction as to food is easier, but no fish or shell-fish is allowed; the beach is made gogona, unapproachable, on their behalf; no one can go there to gather shell-fish. During the whole time of seclusion the boys are not allowed to wash, and their bodies have become quite black. The conclusion, therefore, of the whole thing is that when the first yams are dug they assemble in one body and go down to the beach to wash and eat. The women then come and look at them. After this they return to their villages, and having become tari, they assume a name with that prefix, Tariliu, Tarisuluana. In all there appears to be no thought of intercourse with ghosts or spirits; but no doubt the master of the qeta makes his prayers and offerings for success.
III. Solomon Islands. From the New Hebrides to Florida in the Solomon Islands is a long step, but in the Matambala appears very plainly another form of the Qatu. The seat of it is a district of Florida called Belaga, where alone the rites were celebrated, men from the other districts coming to be initiated there. The origin of the institution is ascribed to one Siko, who came from Bugotu in Ysabel. To him sacrifices were made in their assemblies by a succession of men who had received the office till the year 1883, when the last embraced Christianity, and the Matambala came to an end. The mysteries were celebrated at irregular intervals of six or ten years, but the initiated formed a permanent body, and a certain part of the beach at Belaga with the forest behind it was always tambu, so that no uninitiated person might enter the precincts, and no woman might pass along the beach. Within this sacred region there were twelve vunutha sanctuaries, and in each one a sacred vovoko house was built; but the two vunutha at Materago and at Volotha were far more important than the rest, and the houses built there so sacred that no man entered them nor even approached them; there were images in them of birds and fish, crocodiles and sharks, the sun and moon, and men. The building of these two houses was the beginning of the chief part of the proceedings. In all that they did they supposed themselves to be following the course of Siko's actions.
I have a written account of the proceedings sent from Belaga by an old friend and pupil of mine, and explained to me in all particulars in Norfolk Island by a native of a neighbouring district, who remembered his own initiation perfectly well. I have also been furnished by Bishop Selwyn with the account given to him at Belaga, the seat of the Matambala, by initiated men. It is not easy in all points to connect the two accounts, and some of the particulars are described with unnecessary minuteness, but the general course and character of the proceedings are plain. The month in which the whole begins is that in which the canarium almonds become ripe, and the bigo, the gathering of the first-fruits, hereafter to be described, is the first step in the ceremonial. The cracking of the nuts begins at Gole and goes through the twelve places to Buthinigai. The women and children set baskets in rows along the road when the new moon of bigo is seen, and the men gather the almonds from morning till nightfall, and fill the baskets with them. The next moon is the moon of sweeping, and they sweep the paths from Gole to Buthinigai, signifying that the paths are now reserved for the Matambala. Then follows the time of the close tambu, when the whole district becomes sacred, and the Teimbelaga, when they all assemble at Materago to see the sasale dance of Siko in the night.
On the following morning the Matambala, those already initiated, go down to occupy houses that have been built upon the beach, and remain there till the proceedings are over. The initiated from each village take with them their friends who are to be admitted, but do not yet let them enter the vunutha, the sanctuary in the bush, where they themselves are occupied in making the structures of bamboo which are called the tindalo, the ghosts. These were of several forms. One called the Voi was described to the Bishop as a screen some ten feet long by nine high, made of bark painted and ornamented, and carried out by several men behind it into the open, where it could be seen by the women, children, and uninitiated, who firmly believed it to be not so much the handiwork of ghosts as an appearance of the ghosts themselves. Another, the Koitaba-vunutha, was so large that eighty or a hundred men inside it carried it down to the beach, where the outside population gazed at it. There was another instrument, the Kuku, a wooden club with a bird's head. One of the first proceedings of the Matambala men after the paths were swept, and the country was made close, was to cut down tall bamboos for these structures, tie them in bundles, and lay them in the sun to dry. 'After a while they brought these down to the vunutha, and added length to length till they were extremely long; and then they took vines and sago spathes and fastened them to the bamboos which they had prepared; and then they took coleus and turmeric; the coleus they chewed for the juice and squeezed wild oranges to mix with it and make it red; and the turmeric they pounded in a wooden pot. Then they painted with these things the sago spathes that they had fastened on to the bamboos, variegated and dazzling, very fearful for us to behold.' The tindalo figures, of which thirty or forty were made in one place, must have resembled the Qatu masks or hats of the Banks' Islands, though they were very much higher; for like them they were conical in shape, and were moved by men inside them. 'And when all was finished they appointed their day for the spectacle; and all the women and boys came out in the evening and viewed the tindalo, and all the men in the vunutha held up and brought down the tindalo images to the beach; and all the women and the boys thought that they were nothing but ghosts, because they did not know how they were made. After that they appointed again the day after the morrow for the show, and when that day came the women again came out into the open for the spectacle. And when the show made in that way was over, the men took the tindalo images back into the vunutha, and burnt up with fire all those images. When that was done, all the men came back to their villages from the vunutha. And it was not possible to make known to women and boys things of this kind; but at length, when this Gospel reached us, then it came out, so that all the women and the boys and the uninitiated understood all about things of this kind.'
The uninitiated were called telegai, the neophytes the new Matambala. As in the Banks' Islands and the New Hebrides, there was no knowledge communicated, except of the fact that whatever was done was the work of men and not of ghosts, which was no doubt a surprising revelation. Still, however, we may be sure that the Matambala, new and old, firmly believed that the art of making the images and the course of all their proceedings had been taught by Siko, now a tindalo, and that they were guided and enabled by the supernatural assistance of Siko and his companions, now tindalo, and by the ghosts also of their eminent predecessors in the Matambala, all of whom as well as Siko were invoked with sacrifices. But there was no esoteric doctrine taught, nor any secret imparted beyond that of the making of the images. On this point the witness of the initiated is as clear in Florida as in the Banks' Islands and the New Hebrides. A certain rite, or mark, of initiation there was; the candidate clasped a tree, and was touched in six places with a fire-stick on shoulders, loins, and buttocks. When thus branded they were told that they were now Siko's men, or Siko's messengers. In admission to these mysteries, also, there was no limit of age, and no time of life more appropriate than another. Grown-up men were admitted, who generally came from other parts of the island; at Belaga and the immediate neighbourhood the boys were initiated whenever the ceremonies took place. Young children, even sucklings, were made Matambala; for the latter they would go into the villages and beg milk from the women, since the infants could not come out of the sacred precints and the women could not go in; they were branded with the slender midribs of the leaflets of the cocoa-nut. Nothing was paid for entrance to the Matambala. The initiation of the new members was not performed till they had been some time living in the houses on the beach, while the mysterious figures were being constructed in the secret places in the wood; it was part of their preparation that they should be frightened by the bird-headed clubs, the kuku. and they were threatened with death if they revealed the secrets. Altogether they remained away from their homes three months.
During the whole of this time the Matambala, under cover of the terror of their pretended association with ghosts, and taking advantage of the closing of the paths, were playing tricks and robbing in all the country round. They would come as far as to Gaeta to steal pigs to sacrifice to Siko; they would cut down trees to fall across the roads, and no one dared remove them; they would pull down cocoa-nut palms and big trees with ropes in the night as a proof that the ghosts were abroad, for no mere man could be supposed so strong as to overthrow them. From time to time they sacrificed to Siko. More than once also they made their appearance in the villages. 'When the bamboos have been cut down, they appoint a three days' space for the going up inland of the ghosts (that is, of the Matambala), and when the three days' space is past, then about the time of the clock striking ten at night the ghosts go up. And all the women in the villages have been making tutu and gola (mashes of food) since morning. And when the night has come the men of the Matambala down at the beach take buro (bull-roarers), and seesee (bundles of cocoa-nut fronds to beat over a stick), and go up inland with them and approach the village; and they beat the seesee and whirl the buro, and come into the village; and they whistle and cluck, and all the women in the village shut fast their houses and are much afraid, because they think that they are surely ghosts; and they take the tutu and the gola, and give it to the ghosts outside. Then all the men cry mbuembue, and go down back again to the shore. After that, again, they fix their day for the going up of the ghosts, and they fix the fourth day; and when the fourth day has come, and it is night, then they take again as before the seesee and the buro, and go out again, and go and beat the seesee and whirl the buro, and whistle and cluck; and again they give them the tutu and soisombi mixed with almonds; and then all the men cry mbuembue, and go down again to the beach. The women prepared small holes in the wall of the house, through which to push out the food to the Matambala, a contrivance to prevent them from feeling the hands of the men. When the women hear the whistle they ask, 'Who are you, are you Siko?' and the man whistles in answer and takes the food. Great care was taken lest the men should be seen when the ghosts were believed to be about, and the Matambala were covered, as elsewhere, with a cloak of leaves; but in the daytime they went among the women, gave notice of what the ghosts were going to do, and called attention to what had been done by them.
The downfall of this superstition and imposture has been complete. It had long been undermined by the free admission of Florida boys and young men into the salagoro of the Banks' Islands, and the knowledge acquired there of what ghost mysteries really were. No Matambala celebration had taken place for some years; all the young people knew how the thing was done, though the elders did not give up their belief in Siko, or the notion that there was something supernatural about it. At length, as said before, the man who knew how to sacrifice to Siko became a Christian, the sacred precincts were explored, bull-roarers became the playthings of the boys, and the old men sat and wept over the profanation and their loss of power and privilege.
I know of no other Matambala or similar institution in the Solomon Islands; but in Malanta and Ulawa there is a period of seclusion for a boy as he grows up, which to a Banks' islander appears to be an entrance into the salagoro.
- Of the two large islands of Guadalcanar and Malanta, only a very small part has come under observation. The Santa Cruz people do not seem to be closely connected with the Solomon islanders. When it is remembered that the Nanga appears to be limited to a part only of Viti Levu in Fiji, and for a long time escaped notice there, it is reasonable to look for the discovery of many secret societies in Melanesia which have not yet been observed.
- It was a matter of principle with Bishop Patteson not to interfere in an arbitrary manner with the institutions of the people, but to leave it to their own sense of right and wrong, and their own knowledge of the character of what they did, to condemn or to tolerate what their growing enlightenment would call into question. So there arose among his early pupils the doubt whether it would be right for them as Christians to continue members of the tamate societies, to seek for admission into them, and frequent their lodges. The bishop put it to them that they should enquire and consult among themselves about the real character of the societies; did they offer worship and prayer to ghosts or spirits; were they required to take part in anything indecent or atrocious; did membership involve any profession of belief or practice of superstition peculiar to the members? After consultation they reported to him that they could not discover anything wrong in itself, except the pretence of association with ghosts, which had already ceased to be serious, and the beating and robbing of the uninitiated, which it was quite possible for them to refuse to take part in and to oppose. The bishop therefore would not condemn the societies, and in the Banks' Islands they continue to exist, and indeed to flourish more than it is at all desirable that they should.
- It is true that when white men were seen with hats they were supposed by the natives to wear what corresponded to their own masks. The native name for a mask worn in one of these societies is the same as that given to the society itself, tamate, a ghost; and tamate has long been established as the name of any European hat or cap. Hence it is natural rather to speak of these disguises as hats than as masks, and useful perhaps to do so, to distinguish them from the masks to cover the face which are in use elsewhere.
- Mr. Palmer thus describes the initiation of children at Pek in Vanua Lava. 'A number of children were about to enter the Salagoro, which was the cause of the gathering. We passed through a tall screen of cocoa-nut leaves some twenty feet high, made so as to hide the precincts of the Salagoro from the uninitiated. In the courtyard of the village there was a group of children, some babies earned in their fathers' arms, all boys; these were the candidates for admission into the Salagoro. We waited for a short time, when some one gave a signal, and one of the men gave a long, loud cry with all the strength of his lungs, and then came rushing from a path inland a curious figure I had seen dressing up for the occasion. This was the tamate wasawasa (the harmless ghost) who was to conduct the children into the Salagoro. He came along with a light, springy step, with two white rods in his hands, which he danced up and down. All you saw of the man were his two legs. On his head was a curious kind of hat or tamate; it is a mask with holes or slits in it, through which he saw; long fringes made of cocoa-nut leaves blanched covered his body entirely, and formed a kind of Inverness cape, through which his hands protruded. A singular effect is given to the figure by the peculiar high trotting action with which he rushes about, his leafy coat flying about him with a rustling noise. He came leaping into the tinesara over a stone wall with a springy bound, and danced round and round the group in the middle; and then all at once with a shout rushed into the midst of them, and beat his two white wands together till they were broken to shreds over the heads of the group. One little fellow got frightened and rushed away, but he soon was brought back again. Then the tamate retired into the enclosure, and the group filed off in a procession round the tinesara, where a number of pigs were tied to stakes. The pigs got a smack from each child; then they all went in single file into the tall enclosure. As we watched them, the same little fellow who was frightened before rushed back out of the screen, and after hiding himself for a moment jumped up and rushed away into the bush, amidst a roar of laughter. I heard afterwards that he ran away home, a distance of some five or six miles. This was only the preliminary ceremony. These children will have to remain in the enclosure forty or fifty days, till all the money and pigs are paid for the privilege of belonging to this club.'—Island Voyage, 1879.
- Order is kept in the same way among themselves. If any one has made a disturbance in the salagoro, a makomako, bunch of leaves, is set out, and the culprit has to put money upon it, to tape goro o makomako, make his atonement.
- The smaller societies make their appearance with less pretence. 'On my way home I met a wild and grotesque-looking party of men; they belonged to a tamate society, and they had been to pull a house to pieces in order to compel the owner, or his son perhaps, to join them. They were adorned with hibiscus flowers and croton leaves, their faces smudged with charcoal, and a leaf in the mouth, each carrying a stick. Two or three of these had on a tamate, a hat and mask, with a long fringe of leaves reaching down to the heels.' 'At this time of the year, when they are baking bread-fruit, some of the young men dress up in a mask and put on a dress of dried banana leaves, tied round the neck and reaching to the ground, and they dance along with a rustling noise from the dry leaves. They either talk gibberish or else in one of the neighbouring dialects. The women and children are supposed to be frightened of them, but they often give them their dried bread-fruit.' These are the Qasa. Rev. J. Palmer's Journals, Island Voyage, 1877, 1883.
- Thus Bishop Patteson described his first acquaintance with the Qatu at Mota. On that occasion a small boy was detected looking into the enclosure from a tree into which he had climbed; he was seized and taken inside; by way of punishment he was covered with the leaves of the kalato nettle-tree and he was compelled to join the neophytes.
- The native account begins, 'The Story of Siko who began it, a man from over sea. Siko was a man of former times, a countryman of Bugotu. And Doriki and he separated; the reason of their separation was that Siko should not be chief, said Doriki, and Doriki should not be chief, said Siko; and Doriki got the upper hand, so that Siko fled secretly, and made his way hither to Belaga; he first came ashore down at Siota, and he liked the place there, but he looked back and still could see to Bugotu, so he put again into his canoe his men and property, and came along to Materago, where he could no longer see to Bugotu, and so there he dwelt. After that he divided them (the men with him) to twelve villages, to Gole, Vunavutu, Salesapa, Talabuga, Materago, Nagokania, Taiegu, Balotoga, Tangadala, Volotha, Mavealu, Buthinigai; and he said to them, Let us do things as we did at Bugotu, said he to them. And he chose them to be chiefs in those villages,'—their names being given, one to each village.
- 'I was sorry one day to hear that a lot of Gaeta young men had been chaffing some old fellows who came from Materago to such an extent that they sat down and cried bitterly.' Journal of Rev. A. Penny, under whose teaching the downfall of the mysteries was brought about.