Creation of gods

Wherever the two classes of spirits – those which had been souls, and the other which had never been in human form – were kept distinct, as was the case in the greater part of Melanesia, the divine worship of particular personalities is easily developed from the cult of souls in general. The Fijians, accordingly, distinguished between original deities and deified beings. They prayed to the images of departed relations, or arranged with living relations to raise them to divine honours whenever they should die. A man when in danger invokes the spirits of his father and grandfather in full assurance that they hear. The souls of old chiefs are deified after their death, and invoked by name with sacrifices.

A Fiji Islander. (From a photograph in the Godeffroy Album.)

A certain gradation is imported into this troop of spirits and souls by the distinctions of rank which prevailed among their former earthly tabernacles. For this reason the destiny of the souls of chiefs and priests which have quitted the earth is materially higher than that of the lower classes, since even in life the former were inhabited by higher powers, and these will have a yet more powerful effect when freed from the bodily husk. Since the souls of chiefs go to the stars, while others wait upon or within the earth, the stars are designated simply as the souls of the departed. As these take their way upward in the darkness they are of course easily seized and dragged about by evil spirits.


The origin of divine honours in many cases falls almost within the recollection of living people. Warriors reverence as a war-god the ghost of some champion whose bones and hair have the effect of amulets. Great works, such as the stone terraces of Waieo in the Marquesas, were referred to gods, and men who had produced such things were raised to the rank of gods. Deification of heroic men was often quite a matter of notoriety. Tabuarik, the most respected god of the Gilbert Islanders, was formerly a chief. Now he appears sometimes as Hai, sometimes he lives above the clouds and thunders, on which occasion the face of his wife may be seen flashing through the clouds. Tamatoa, the chief of Raiatea, was reverenced as a deity even in his lifetime. Even in the legends of the great creating gods we find indications of the notion that they have been men or can become so again, and a descent from the height of deity is an idea that constantly recurs.

Spirits which never were souls appear on a higher level. A Banks Islander of the older generation explained a vui to Codrington as follows: “It lives, thinks, has more intelligence than a man, knows things which are secret without seeing, is supernaturally powerful with mana, has no form to be seen, has no soul, because itself is like a soul.” They cannot, however, conceive even a ghost as entirely formless, and thus many assert that they have seen a ghost as vapour, or smoke, or some other indefinite form. Ghosts of this sort also pass into men; in Mota nopitu is the name both for a ghost and for one possessed by a ghost, while in the Banks Islands good spirits of the nature of elves or gnomes are known as nopitu vui. They give gifts to honest men and feed the poor; their presence is betrayed by a tender sound like the song of children.

Similarities and coincidences in labour and implements of labour

Craftmanship – cloth

Bark-cloth is prepared in all the Melanesian groups. Besides the paper mulberry, which is cultivated, the following trees supply the bast: FicusprolixaF. tinctoria, and Artocarpus incisus. The loom is unknown; the woven stuffs from New Guinea found in our collections seem to be a Malay importation. In New Guinea they merely beat soft the bast stripped off the india-rubber tree; but Fiji produces pieces 150 yards long, of stuff coloured in patterns, by means of the blocks shown at `The more easterly islands’. It is hard to say how far to the westward the Polynesian and Fijian method of preparing tapa extends, since it is an article of trade. In New Britain the tapa is thicker, and obviously more coarsely manufactured; nor is it printed, but painted, so that, as in New Guinea, the patterns are larger and more continuous throughout the stuff, from being drawn and not impressed. The use of a rule, too, permits the designing of wonderfully regular squares.

Craftmanship – plaiting

Wickerwork (basket, pouches, and fly-whisk), from Tongatabu. (Cook Collection, Vienna Ethnographic Museum.)
[Click on picture for higher resolution]

The art of plaiting is diligently practised. For the coarser mats coco-nut fibre is employed; for the finer, pandanus leaves and rushes. An intelligent Fijian can always tell you from which island a mat came. The coarser kinds are used as floorcloths and hangings to the huts; the finer as sails, or sleeping-mats, or for children. Floor-mats are 5 to 8 yards in length, sail-mats 100 and more. Sleeping-mats are of two kinds – a thicker to lie on, and a thinner for covering; one of the most valued sorts has a pleat running through the middle of each strip of plaiting. Borders are worked on with designs in darker bands; white feathers and scraps of European stuffs are woven in. One of the prettiest productions of the art is the women’s liku, a girdle woven from strips of the bast of the wau-tree (a kind of hibiscus), with the fibres of a root that grows wild, and blades of grass. Soft mats are made by plaiting the stalks of a fibrous plant into one, and removing the woody portions by bending and beating. Bags and baskets are admirably woven; fans, too, are made either of palm leaves strengthened at the edge and vandyked, or woven from bast. But superior to all these are the string and the cables – the best from coco-fibre, the inferior kinds from the bast of the wau-tree. In the Fiji Islands these are tastefully made up into balls, ovals, spindles, etc. Comparison with New Caledonia shows how high East Melanesia stands in this art. One has only to look at a New Caledonia fan beside one from Fiji. But in New Guinea, again, very elegant woven articles of all kinds are produced.

Craftmanship – Wood-carving

Carved spatulas for betel-lime from Dorey in New Guinea – largest height approx. 210mm(Christy Collection.)

Wood-carving again, of which we have seen specimens in the weapons, stands highest in East Melanesia, though the west can also [as seen in the image above] show remarkable work. Individual districts are poor in this respect: in the Banks Islands, for instance, hardly any carved human figures are to be seen. All the larger groups have their own subjects. The most wonderful fancy is shown in the appendages to houses and boats. In these simple artists there is a strong tendency to pass from imitation of Nature to conventionalised forms, so that this imitation is never very successful, especially where, as in Fiji and the New Hebrides, the human form is so rarely copied. One may see this in the representations of the human face, in which the nose appears as a line, falling downwards and forwards from the projecting forehead, with strongly distended nostrils, and ending in the mouth, a cross line sharply cut back. In some New Guinea masks this evokes a reminiscence of Ganesa and his proboscis. In Fiji this fancy is fused with the far better proportioned geometrical designs of Tonga. In San Christoval figures are better drawn than anywhere else, and in Isabel we find really artistic engraved work. We may notice also one characteristic production of Melanesian art: the ever-recurring grotesque heads of the New Caledonians. The carved head with large nose and a kind of bishop’s mitre on the top, [as shown on the right,] is a type which we find in a larger form by itself, as an idol. This religious sculpture shows a close affinity with idols from other parts of the South Seas, in connection with which we may recall the resemblance of the spear-heads to the knobstick of the Hervey Islanders as shown in the plate of “Polynesian Clubs.”

To the same branch of art we may refer the carved wooden masks. These are often trimmed round the lips with red beans, and fitted with wigs of real hair; and are carried at dances, dressed in feather clothing. All these carvings are executed with firm, strong cuts in palm wood. Lines in relief are coloured black, the general level red, and depressed parts are white. From New Ireland come examples of masks made by sawing off the face of a skull, just as in Peru; and with these are connected the ruddle-painted skulls of New Britain. The flexible tortoiseshell was formerly the favourite material in south-eastern New Guinea and in the Torres Islandsfor masks with wild arabesques and appendages like trunks and combs. Still earlier, indeed, it was much more worked, being used even for hats; now they have got to use tin masks in New Guinea, where formerly, in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Landparticularly, a vigorous style in masks used to prevail, corresponding with that of the carved woodwork generally.

Craftmanship – household utensils

Among the household utensils of the Hawaiians are pestles called penu, 5 to 8 inches high, made of basalt, smooth and beautifully worked, with a flat rubbing-surface and handles of various shapes. With these bread-fruit, taro, and bananas are ground, on a block having four feet and the upper side slightly hollowed. Primitive oil lamps are formed of conical bowls hollowed out in lava. Lastly, we must mention the preparation of the turmeric powder, to which is ascribed an importance amounting to sanctity as an embellishment for body, clothing, and utensils. In Nukuor the roots are ground by four to six women in special public buildings, they are then allowed to stand in water; on the following morning three young coconuts and three old soma nuts are offered by a priestess with prayer, after which the dye which has settled down in the water is collected, baked into cakes in coconut moulds, wrapped in banana leaves, and hung up in the huts till required for use.

Stone pestles from Hawaii – left hand pestle approx 160mm height. (Cook Collection, Vienna Museum.)

The industrial activity of the Melanesians is in some points behind, in many others in advance of that of the Polynesians. Weapons reach their highest development in the Solomon Islands; the artistically beautiful spears of Fauro have been spoken of with full justice. New Caledonia, parts of New Guinea, and the Admiralty Islands hold in many respects a lower position; while many natives of the southern and central Pacific have no knowledge of pottery. From New Guinea to the Fiji Islands vessels are freely made of clay mixed with sand. This art is absent in New Ireland and New Britain, but reaches its highest point in Fiji. Finsch mentions villages on Hall Sound in New Guinea, where one stock understands pottery and another does not. On the north coast Bilibili does a thriving trade as the centre of this industry in Astrolabe Bay by exporting its manufactures. In the New Hebrides the potter’s art must have died out; in Vate not one complete pot is now to be found, but only potsherds. This retrogression has been set down to the immigrating Polynesians, who have introduced the custom of cooking with hot stones. The highest points to which the earthenware industry has developed are found in New Guinea and the Fiji Islands, which are precisely the extreme points of its distribution. The Melanesians do not know the potter’s wheel, but they burn their vessels cleverly in the open with dry grass and reeds. The Fijian tools are a ring-shaped cushion (in New Guinea the upper part of an old pot), a flat round stone, and four wooden mallets. With this they make vessels which are quite as symmetrically formed as on the wheel. A shining glaze is given by rubbing them with resin while still hot. In New Guinea pots are painted black, white, and red, with figures of birds and fish; the shapes have extraordinary variety. The cooking vessels are simple but elegant urns, sometimes of considerable size.

Earthenware vessels from the Fiji Islands. (Godeffroy Collection, Leipzig.)

Ornamented covers are not uncommon, handles at the side are never found. Among the smaller drinking vessels are found some made of two or three fastened together, with separate spouts, and having also a common spout in the hollow handle [See also coloured plate]; also oval and spindle-shaped flasks with one opening, and boat-shaped ones with two. The decoration consists of impressed dotted or zig-zag lines and ribs, which Finsch, from his observations in New Guinea, states to be trade marks. Pots the size of casks are used there to keep sago. The wonderful wealth of forms is based not so much on recollection of the very similar South American shapes as on immediate imitation of Nature. Here, as among almost all races, the task of making pots is left to the women, and it is only the wives of fishermen and sailors who appear to devote themselves to it. May we see in this a case of migratory industrial tribes resembling the smiths of Africa?

Courtship and Weddings

In Melanesia circumcision usually takes place on the appearance of the beard. On attaining puberty, or sooner, the youth leaves the parental hut and avoids his mother and sisters, sleeping in the common hall, which, except at marriage festivities, no woman may enter. The ceremonies at the initiation of the nubile girls are simple, in Samoa no more than a feast with presents. The whole course of life is different where girls are betrothed from their birth, and are brought up from childhood in the house of their intended. In Isabel it is even the custom for a girl to live in the bridegroom’s family till she is full-grown. In Fiji, when that time has arrived, the bridegroom comes to the house of the parents, offers some whales’ teeth as a present, and takes the long-engaged bride to be his wife.

Tongan ladies. (From the Godeffroy Album.) [Click on image for higher resolution]

Here, as in the Banks Islands, any anticipation of his marital rights is jealously guarded against. If the girl goes wrong she is severely punished, even put to death; and her seducer, if he is caught, shares the same fate. A custom hard to explain is found in the Solomon Islands, in New Britain, and New Ireland – that girls on reaching puberty are locked up for some months in little huts of their own, entrance being allowed only to old women.

The ceremonies of courtship are conducted on the familiar lines. The courting is done on the young man’s behalf by relations or friends, who bring the symbolic presents to the house of the girl. These are in Samoa food, in New Britain heavy strings of money, carried on spears. The acceptance of these signifies a favourable disposition; but as this form of courtship is addressed not to the family but to the tribe, the final decision rests with the tribal chief. At the wedding an exchange of gifts takes place, the settlement of which often gives rise to some hard bargaining. The bridegroom gives a boat, weapons, pigs; the bride mats and bark-cloth.

In Samoa both tribes used to assemble for the wedding festivities in the public place of the village. The bride, followed by her friends and playmates, well oiled, carrying flowers and dressed in their best mats, walked along a mat-strewn path to the middle, where sat the bridegroom awaiting her. She took her place facing him, on a snow-white mat, while the young women brought the wedding presents, singing as they went. In the days when the chiefs still took a pride in the virtue of their daughters, inquiry into this followed; and great was the applause which greeted chief and tribe if no stain could be shown on her character. The bridegroom’s friends then escorted the bride to her future home, where she passed some days in seclusion.

This first solemnity would seem to have been only provisional, and the next five or six months a period of probation, since at the end of that period a second festive gathering was held, and the marriage sealed by a renewed exchange of presents. In Melanesia too this exchange but thinly concealed the purchase of wives. The price advanced by the father is repaid by the son; and in the Solomons a widow is at the absolute disposal of her deceased husband’s relatives, in the event of her marriage-price not being refunded. The necessity of refunding this is often the only ground of abstention from hasty divorces.

Among the better-to-do classes of the more advanced stocks, like the Fijians, cases occur, though exceptionally, of marriage of inclination. The acquisition of wives by capture still occurs, and the capture can be made good by the payment of an indemnity to the relations, in case the woman is content with her husband. Fights of a “pretence” kind, however, take place between the bride’s and the bridegroom’s friends, even where there is no trace of compulsion; and a slight resistance on the bride’s part is regarded as good manners.

In various parts of West Melanesia marriage is celebrated with ceremonies of a religious character. Thus at Dorey, on Geelvink Bay, the couple join hands sitting before an ancestral image, and eat sago together under the exhortations and congratulations of their friends; she offers him tobacco, he presents her with betel. During the first night the newly-married pair must sit up together while the relations partake of a copious and solemn meal; after which the young husband takes his wife home. In New Britain the couple are sprinkled with coconut milk, the nut being broken above their heads. The wedding revel with music and dancing is seldom forgotten.

Old Tongan woman. (From the Godeffroy Album.)

A man frequently takes two wives, or more, if his establishment allows. Among poor tribes like the Motus, on the other hand, monogamy is universal; but divorce is so easy that a kind of “Successive polygamy” arises. When the wife is done with she is laid aside or bartered away. In the Gilberts a man can demand the sisters of his wife in marriage, and is expected to marry his brother’s widows. The overplus of women among the Naiabeis of New Guinea decides the point, no less than does in other cases the more usual overplus of men. Peculiar family organisations not uncommonly show traces of polyandry. In the New Hebrides, for example, there is a kind of convention in cases of widowhood, that two widowers shall live with one widow; the children belonging to both. Dearth of women has lately given rise to something similar in the villages of labourers in Fiji, reminding us of the limitations of permitted marriages caused by the veve or veita system to be mentioned presently. In New Ireland and New Britainwidows are claimed as common property by all the men. But the re-marriage of the widower is opposed by all the female relations of the deceased wife: at first sportively, by using every possible form of annoyance to make the man keep at a distance, and then in earnest, if he does marry again, by destroying his house, goods, and crops.

Generally speaking, in the simpler conditions of Melanesia, morality stands in many respects higher than in Micronesia. Finsch says of New Britain: “The exemplary modesty and respectable demeanour of women and girls strikes the traveller coming from Micronesia in a specially pleasing way; and seems hardly compatible with the universal nudity.” In some islands, as Florida, the chief maintains public women, whose earnings go to him; but elsewhere nothing of the kind is known. Adultery is in many islands punished with death, or (in more recent times) with a fine. Jealousy is a great cause of contention, both public and private. But at certain seasons an ancient custom relaxes every tie. At the Nanga festival in Fiji the women are the willing prizes of whoever can catch them in a race; and at the same time all taboos of articles of food are taken off.

Tattooing and painting

The tattooing in Melanesia is only in isolated instances of the artistic character found among the Polynesians. It has more affinity with the Australian type of cicatrised wounds than with the Polynesian punctures, and it is often not applied until the age of maturity. Among the light-skinned Motus of New Guinea we find tattooing in patterns recalling those of Micronesia. On the south coast of New Guinea Miklouho-Maclay found even the shaven scalps of the women covered with tattooing. Where there are indications of a mixture of Melanesians with Polynesians, it has been thought that the races may be distinguished according to their respective methods of tattooing. For example, in the islands off the eastern point of New Guinea, in the Solomon Islands (where the cicatrised tattooing has been observed only in Bougainville, Isabel, and the Southern Islands), and in New Ireland. Men and women are often differently tattooed: in girls tattooing indicates that they have reached nubility; in men, the slaying of a child is one of the things announced by the tattooing of the breast on one side. In tattooing, also, East and West Melanesia represent the extremes which in the central parts are mingled.

In Fiji the puncturing with the four or five-toothed instrument is limited to women, and in them to particular parts – the lower part of the body and the thigh, the corner of the mouth, and the finger. It has a religious suggestion, and is enjoined by Ndengeh. But here, too, cicatrices appear in conjunction with it, produced as a rule by means of shells. In certain localities of West Melanesia the other kinds of tattooing are almost excluded, or at all events reduced to a minimum. Among other mutilations of the body, we get distinct reports of circumcision only from New Caledonia, the southern New Hebrides, and Fiji, which appears to have been the starting-point in comparatively recent times of its extension westward. In Finsch Harbour it is performed with much festivity, the women being banished into the forest until their boys’ wounds are healed; afterwards the patients go to live there. The custom of cutting off joints of the finger in times of mourning or sickness is almost universal. To go with the whole or half of the face and the breast painted with red clay is a practice usually confined to men, as also is that of blacking the body with a kind of earth which gives a lustre like black lead. Old women also are occasionally seen blacked; among the Motus this is said to be a sign of mourning. In warlike enterprises face and body are painted in stripes of white, yellow, red, and black; in Fiji this custom has been brought to a high point of art; the not very cleanly Maclure Papuas are reported to smear their bodies with clay.

Dressing of the hair

In Melanesia all hair is sedulously plucked out from the body, while the treatment of the hair of the head with caustic lime is quite as general as in Polynesia, at times carried even further. In Fiji the crisp black hair is towzled up, and great pains are expended upon colouring it with charcoal or lime; then it sometimes surrounds the head in a strong turban-like pad, or else reminds the observer of a full-bottomed wig, as also in New Guinea; while at times it hangs down in the form of numerous thin strands or wisps. On the other hand, in the Anchorite and Solomon Islands the hair is in some cases shaven, in others plaited into top-knots stuck together with gum, and often coloured red, black, yellow, or white, but constantly adorned with feathers, flowers, shells, or tastefully ornamented cones of bamboo. White parrot’s feathers stuck on the top of the head are signs of rank; in Malicollo the hair is dressed in porcupine fashion, wisps as thick as the quill of a pigeon’s feather being wound round with the bast of a kind of creeper; artificial wigs are also prepared from the coloured fibres of plants.

Fiji warrior in a wig. (From the Godeffroy Album.)

In Fiji, persons of eminence have private hair-curlers, who are occupied for hours every day in the preparation of the wigs. The geometrical accuracy of the individual details, the rounded softness of the outlines, the symmetrical dyeing with shiny black, dark blue, grey, white, red, yellow, have often been mentioned with eulogy.

Head-dress like an eye-shade from New Guinea – approx. 300mm length. – (British Museum.)

Beside hairdressing, head-dresses of various descriptions occur; the Hattams of New Guinea wear a little cowl with coloured feathers woven in, and Cook found among the naked New Hebrideans small caps of woven mat. In Fiji a turban of white masi, from which a piece of cloth falls down at the back, or two lappets over the ears, is indispensable for a man of rank. Open-work caps made of a piece of matting adorned with strips of dark bast are customary in New Ireland and New Hanover; woven eye-shades are found in New Guinea.

Melanesian Gods of Olympus and Hades

The fancy of the Melanesians did not soar to such grand achievements in the decoration of their Elysian fields; but it furnished the road thither with many and various obstacles. The Fijian name Mbulu points to the TonganBolotu; and even the Hawaiian ball-game is reproduced in New Caledoniaas a game played with oranges by the souls at the bottom of the sea. The first thing on the road to Hades is a city through all the houses of which the souls roam, for which reason the doors all open the same way. Then they have to pass in front of a giant, who tries to get them all with his great stone axe. Those who are wounded have to haunt the mountains as ghosts for ever; those who escape the giant, after being acquitted by Ndengei, get permission to enjoy the odour of the human sacrifices. Souls of unmarried men come off worst. Nangga-Nangga lies in wait for them, and as soon as he has caught them, heaves them up in both hands and throws them down upon a rock, where they are broken in two. For this cause it was usual among the tribes in Fiji to strangle widows, because the god regards male ghosts, who come without women, as bachelors. If the wife is the first to die, the husband cuts off his beard, and lays it under the left armpit of the corpse as proof of his existence.

The fighter who guards the entrance to the next world is met with elsewhere in Melanesia. In the Hades of the Vate Islanders Salatau tries to hit those who enter on the head with a club. No doubt it is the same spirit who in Fiji, under the name of Samujal or Suma, and Ravujalo, lies in wait for souls to eat them with his brothers. The souls of common people succumb, those of nobles get to Mbulu. These go to the upper part of a mountain, and find at the top of a precipice a father and a son with a paddle in their hands. If they question them, they are thrown over, and have to reach the next world by swimming. Why the paddle, if the souls have to swim after all? The meaning of the ferryman of souls has been forgotten; though it is not so in Fiji, where the souls’ places of embarkation lie to the north-west, and where it is believed that the rustle of the west wind can be heard all the way from Galongalo, the place of the swimming. After the death of their king the three eldest men of the tribe go with cloths in their hands to the bank of the river to escort the soul. There they call aloud for the ferryman, and wait till they see an extra large wave roll in upon the shore, the token of the invisible canoe. Immediately they turn away their faces, and cry: “Go on board, lord.” Then they hasten thence with all speed, for no living eye may look on the embarkation. The corpse is buried in the usual way.

Human figure of shells and hermit-crabs,
used as a temple-ornament in New Ireland
Approx 1300mm height. (Berlin Museum)
[Click on picture for higher resolution]

Human figure of shells and hermit-crabs

Souls which are excluded from the next world, either perish or come back to wander restlessly about the earth, like those who were wounded in the fight mentioned above. The same fate awaits those who cannot hit the tree of Takivelajawa with the whale-tooth that is buried with them for the purpose, and according to Fijian legend, untattooed women also, and avaricious people. This dangerous way of souls is moreover divided into stations, at each of which the soul dies once again. In the belief of the Solomon Islanders, the avaricious, murderers, and other sinners undergo a purification by being turned into ugly reptiles, snakes, toads, and the like. Similar traces of dim notions about future rewards and punishments are to be found everywhere. But it was certainly no original conception of the Fijians that souls have to come before Ndengei’s judgment seat.

Usually souls go with the sun into the ocean, to reach the next world at his rising on the following day. This is why the promontories whence they venture their leap into the darkness, lie on the west of the islands.

Where two souls were distinguished in every man and every object, as was the case among the Fijians, namely the shadow and the reflection, it is the dark one only that goes to the lower world, while that which is compared to a reflection remains about the grave; in this way the return of the dead in dreams is explained. Another conception sets a limit to the soul even in the next world, since it makes annihilation follow upon the highest stage of the life in Mbulu. But this annihilation is personified, and in another tradition assumes the character of the chief of the souls in Mbulu, who is thus probably conceived as a soul-eating god. Others, however, make the souls remain in their place until the earth has been destroyed by fire and renewed.

The Melanesian doctrine of ghosts and gods is in its main features very like the Polynesian. It is not too much to say that the foundation of Melanesian mythology is woven of Polynesian threads; only peculiar features are woven in, and often rest upon a weakening-down of threads and colours already in existence. Considering the great variety of gods in the oceanic regions, little importance can be assigned to the pre-eminence of any one. Name and dignity of the supreme god change from one island to another. It is only in the tales of the creation and of the nether world that more stability is to be observed. In Fiji the recognised chief of all gods and men is Dengeh, Tengei, or Ndengei. He is said to have at first moved about freely, but then in the form of a snake to have grown into the earth with his ringed tail. In that he resembles the Tongan lord of the place of spirits and Dianua the lord of spirits in New Caledonia. Since then he has become the god of earthquakes, storms, and the seasons. They say that whenever Ndengei shakes himself fertilising rain will fall, delicious fruits hang on the trees, and the yam fields yield an excellent crop. But Ndengei is also a god of wrath who declares himself in terrible fashion. He punishes and chastens his people, now by destroying the crops, now by floods; he could indeed easily wipe out mankind from the earth, for since he has lived in the bowels of the earth he has been tormented with so insatiable hunger that he would like to take in and swallow the whole world.

The gods in Fiji fall into different classes according to the degree of their relationship to Ndengei. As in Polynesia, people speak of the divine family – father, son, and daughter. Mautu-Maui, Ndengei’s assistant in creation, is called the “bread fruit” and “the son of the supreme god.” Ndengei has several sons besides who receive prayers on his account; his grandchildren are territorial gods, his distant relations subordinate tribal gods. Among them are symbolisations of properties or endowments, reminding one in their crude luxuriance of India; mechanical dexterity with eight arms, wisdom with eight eyes, Waluwakatini with eighty stomachs. The two ferrymen of souls also, and Rokomutu, born from his elbow, are mentioned as Ndengei’s children, for whom the legend of creation and the deluge offer the more obvious foundation.

Legends of migrations

Traditions are not kept alive by memory only. Political and social relations follow to this day the lines of old connections which link together island groups far distant from each other. Legends of migration survive in individual villages and families, where the old home is still remembered, and the connection with it often bound closer by special reverence. The Tonganswere long in the habit of respectfully greeting the people of Tokelau, as being their ancestors. Men from Ulie in the Carolines, who visited the island of Guam in the Mariannes in 1788, followed the roads from old descriptions preserved in songs; since then the intercourse has become brisker, and at the present day the Caroline islanders collect coco-nuts in the Mariannes on behalf of foreign traders.


Thakombau, the last king of Fiji. (From a photograph in the possession of Herr Max Buchner.)

Political connection, again, is often bound up with objects that have been either left behind or brought along. The Uluthi Islands are subject to Yap, because a great destruction, by means of an inundation of the sea, would take place if an axe belonging to one of the gods, which is buried in the latter island, were to be dug up. When these lines of attraction or attachment intersect, quarrels cannot be far off. Thus the Samoans relate that one of their chiefs fished up Rotuma and planted coco-palm on it. But in a later migration the chief Tukunua came that way with a canoe full of men and quarrelled with him about the prior right of possession. The Maoris found another ground for quarrelling: having come from little islands where land was scarce, every man laid claim to estates in New Zealand that were too large.

The scantiness of migration legends in Melanesia has been regarded as only a part of the general dearth of tradition which is a Melanesian characteristic. Fiji offers us unwonted examples of legends of inland migrations, directed from the north-west towards the south-east, which in still later times was uninhabited. No doubt this bears upon the fact that the home of souls lies across the sea, and that all the spots whence souls go, that is swim, to the next world, face north-west.


If, out of all these innumerable wanderings to and fro to which various causes have given rise, one group stands out by reason of the great extent of its ethnographic operation – that, namely, which has occupied the region between New Zealand and Hawaii, Fiji and Easter Island, with a strikingly homogeneous population – that is but part of the result of the great migratory movement in the Pacific. It is quite wrong to regard this as a single event, or as an exception. It is rather one case of the rule; for none of these races was ever at rest. They wandered far and near, colonising consciously and intentionally, like any Greeks or Phoenicians.

In any case this last series of great migrations and settlements is a single existing fact belonging to that stage in the development of culture which we call the stone age. For that reason it is not easy to understand; we have no means of comparison with similar achievements. The area which this colonising activity has rendered productive far exceeds the empire of Alexander or of Rome. In the domain of annexation it was the greatest performance previous to the discovery of America.

Dress, Weapons and Implements Of The Polynesians And Micronesians

Dress and ornament – Tattooing – Deformations of the body – Feather ornaments – Modes of wearing the hair – Objects used for ornament – Bark cloth – Tapa – Mats – Weapons and implements – Lack of iron – Working in stone – Manufacture of weapons from wood – Spears – Clubs – Limits of diffusion of bow and arrow – Slings – Industrial activity.

Dress and Ornament

THE stage of culture which the Polynesians have reached is very clearly expressed in their external appearance; that is, in their dress, their ornaments, their equipment. Living under a fortunate sky, and surrounded with water, both Polynesians and Micronesians bathe often, and are, therefore, a cleanly race. Unluckily they frequently destroy the effect of this virtue by excessive anointing of themselves with coco-palm oil or chewed coco-nut. They prefer fresh water to salt for bathing, and regard both as a good remedy against illness. Women with their newly-born infants, and even people in mortal sickness, will bathe.

Polynesian Neck Ornament
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Polynesian Neck Ornament

Deformations of the Body

Ear-button of whale’s tooth

Artificial mutilations and embellishments of the person are widely spread. Deformation of the skull, both by flattening it behind and elongating it towards the vertex, is found in isolated instances in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and the Paumotu group, but occurs nowhere with such frequency as on Mallicollo in the New Hebrides, where the skull is squeezed extraordinarily flat. Flattening of the nose is practised in Tahiti and among the YapIslanders; and the nasal septum is often bored to allow of the insertion of flowers or feathers.

The ears are bored, and bits of greenstone, teeth of men and sharks, feathers and flowers, stuck in for ornament. On Easter Island, as in Micronesia, the ear-lobes are dragged into flaps by heavy wooden plugs. The Micronesians also bore the rim of the ear in various ways.