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.

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