The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead Volume Ii Part 44

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When a new temple was about to be dedicated, some of the people used to flee into the mountains to escape being sacrificed. The last human sacrifices are said to have been offered in 1807, when the queen of the islands was seriously ill.[117] Whenever war was in contemplation, the diviners used to sacrifice animals, generally hogs and fowls, and to draw omens from the manner in which they expired, from the appearance of their entrails, and from other signs. Sometimes, when the animal was slain, they disembowelled it, took out the spleen, and, holding it in their hands, offered their prayers. But if the contemplated expedition was of any importance or the danger was imminent, human sacrifices were offered to ensure the co-operation of the war-G.o.ds in the destruction of their enemies.[118]

[117] A. Marcuse, _op. cit._ p. 103.

[118] W. Ellis, iv. 150 _sq._

-- 8. _Festivals_

In every lunar month the people celebrated four festivals. The festival of the new moon lasted three nights and two days; the three others lasted two nights and one day. These nights and days were taboo or sacred: men who took part in the festivals might not speak to a woman under pain of death, and all the people were forbidden to sail the sea, to fish, to make bark-cloth, and to play games.[119] Besides these monthly festivals there was one called Macahity, which lasted for a whole month and seems to have celebrated the end of the old year. It fell in November, and has been compared by Lisiansky to our festival of Christmas. He tells us that "it continues a whole month, during which the people amuse themselves with dances, plays, and sham-fights of every kind. The king must open this festival wherever he is. On this occasion, his majesty dresses himself in his richest cloak and helmet, and is paddled in a canoe along the sh.o.r.e, followed sometimes by many of his subjects. He embarks early, and must finish his excursion at sun-rise.

The strongest and most expert of the warriors is chosen to receive him on his landing. This warrior watches the royal canoe along the beach; and as soon as the king lands, and has thrown off his cloak, he darts his spear at him, from a distance of about thirty paces, and the king must either catch the spear in his hand, or suffer from it: there is no jesting in the business. Having caught it, he carries it under his arm, with the sharp end downwards, into the temple or _heavoo_. On his entrance, the a.s.sembled mult.i.tude begin their sham-fights, and immediately the air is obscured by clouds of spears, made for the occasion with blunted ends. Hamamea [the king, Kamehameha] has been frequently advised to abolish this ridiculous ceremony, in which he risks his life every year; but to no effect. His answer always is, that he is as able to catch a spear, as any one on the island is to throw it at him. During the Macahity, all punishments are remitted throughout the country; and no person can leave the place in which he commences these holidays, let the affair requiring his absence be ever so important."[120] The ceremony of throwing a spear at the king during the festival of Macahity has been described also by the Scotch sailor Archibald Campbell, who may have witnessed it. He says: "The king remains in the _morai_ for the whole period; before entering it, a singular ceremony takes place. He is obliged to stand till three spears are darted at him: he must catch the first with his hand, and with it ward off the other two. This is not a mere formality. The spear is thrown with the utmost force; and should the king lose his life, there is no help for it."[121] This curious rite may perhaps have been a relic of an old custom which obliged the king to submit once a year to the ordeal of battle, in order to prove his fitness for a renewed tenure of office, death being the penalty of defeat and the kingdom the reward of victory in the combat.[122] During the continuance of the festival the priests were employed in collecting the taxes, which were paid by the chiefs in proportion to the extent of their territories; these taxes consisted of mats, feathers, and the produce of the country. The people celebrated the festival by dancing, wrestling, and other amus.e.m.e.nts.[123] The victor in the boxing matches and martial evolutions was crowned and treated as king of the festival, which was held in honour of the G.o.d Rono.[124]

[119] L. de Freycinet, _Voyage autour du Monde, Historique_, ii.

595. Compare U. Lisiansky, _Voyage round the World_, p. 118.

According to the latter writer, there were no taboos (festivals) in the eleventh month.

[120] U. Lisiansky, _Voyage round the World_, pp. 118 _sq._ From A. Campbell, _Voyage round the World_, p. 178, we learn that the festival fell in November, and from a brief native notice we may gather that the New Year celebration was the festival of Macahity. See J. Remy, _Histoire de l'Archipel Havaiien_, pp.

167, 169, "_a la celebration de la nouvelle annee, les citoyens, les chefs, les femmes, les enfants se livraient a des boxes furieuses, et plusieurs recevaient dans ces jeux des blessures tres graves_."

[121] A. Campbell, _op. cit._ p. 179.

[122] Compare _The Golden Bough_, Part III. _The Dying G.o.d_, pp.

117 _sq._

[123] A. Campbell, _op. cit._ pp. 178 _sq._

[124] O. von Kotzebue, _Neue Reise um die Welt_, ii. 88 _sq._

No one might go to war during the New Year festival; all the people had to repair to the temples (_morais_). Three kinds of idols were worshipped at this season; the princ.i.p.al of them, called Kekou-Aroha, was carried round the island by a priest; everything that he could seize with his left hand he had the right to appropriate, whether it was dogs, pigs, vegetables, or what not; and any person on whom he in like manner laid a hand was bound to a.s.sist him in carrying or leading to the temple the tribute or booty he had thus taken possession of.[125]

[125] L. de Freycinet, _Voyage autour du Monde, Historique_, ii.


Of the rigour with which the laws of taboo were enforced during one of these festivals we may gather an idea from a statement of the Russian navigator von Kotzebue. He says: "As Kareimoku's guests, we were present at the celebration of a _Tabu pori_, which lasted from the setting of the sun to sunrise on the third day. It is already known what degree of sanct.i.ty is imparted to him who joins in this communion with the G.o.ds during the time. Should he accidentally touch a woman, she must be instantly put to death. Should he enter a woman's house, the flames must immediately consume it."[126]

[126] O. von Kotzebue, _Voyage of Discovery into the South Sea and Beering's Straits_, iii. 248 _sq._ Compare A. von Chamisso, _Reise um die Welt_ (Leipzig, 1836), ii. 312.

--9. _Death and Funeral Rites_

The Hawaiians explained life as usual by the hypothesis of a soul (_uhane_), which animated the whole body, but had its seat especially in the sockets of the eyes, and above all in the lachrymal gland. During sleep the soul quits the body, wanders away, and sees the places and things which appear to it in dreams; usually it returns in time to resume its functions in the body without endangering the health of the sleeper. Occasionally, however, it happens that in its rambles it loses its way through falling in with a ghost or spectre, who frightens it; but even then it may be brought back with the help of a familiar spirit despatched to seek out and guide home the wanderer. When a man falls sick, his soul begins to feel ill at ease in his body, and if the sickness proves fatal, the soul quits him never to return.[127]

According to another account, the Hawaiians held that every man had two souls in his body, of which one never left him in life, while the other went forth from time to time in dreams or ecstasy, but only to return to its corporeal tabernacle. Sometimes a diviner would warn a man that he had seen his dream-soul roaming about, and that perhaps it might never come back, because a certain deity was angry with him. Upon that the terrified owner of the soul would naturally engage the diviner to recover his spiritual property by propitiating the angry deity with a valuable offering.[128]

[127] A. Bastian, _Inselgruppen in Oceanien_, pp. 272 _sq._

[128] J. J. Jarves, _op. cit._ p. 39 note; A. Marcuse, _Die Hawaiischen Inseln_, p. 105.

Sickness was commonly explained by the presence in the sufferer of an evil spirit, who must be exorcised if the patient was to be restored to health. For this purpose the services of a priest (_kahuna_) were engaged, who by the recitation of a suitable incantation invited or compelled the demon to declare through the mouth of the sick man why he had entered into him, and on what terms he would consent to take his departure. Sometimes, the demon was induced to perch on the head or shoulders of one of the bystanders, and from that coign of vantage to answer the interrogatory of the priest. But at other times he burrowed so deep into the patient's body and held his tongue so obstinately, that the priest had no alternative but to p.r.i.c.k the sick man's body with bamboo needles and to drop water into his eyes in order to drive out the evil spirit.[129]

[129] A. Bastian, _Inselgruppen in Oceanien_, p. 269.

When all remedies had proved vain and death had followed, the bodies of common people were buried in a crouching position. The upper part of the body was raised; the face was bent forwards to meet the knees; the hands were put under the hams and pa.s.sed up between the knees; then head, hands, and knees were bound together with cinnet or cord. Afterwards the corpse was wrapt up in a coa.r.s.e mat and interred on the first or second day after death. But the corpses of chiefs and priests were not thus doubled up; they were laid out straight, wrapt up in many folds of native cloth, and buried in that posture. Priests were generally committed to the earth within the precincts of the temple in which they had officiated. A pile of stones or a circle of high poles marked their grave. But it was only the bodies of priests or of persons of some importance that were thus interred. For ordinary people natural graves were preferred, where suitable places could be found, such as caves in the face of cliffs or large subterranean grottos. Sometimes the inhabitants of a village deposited their dead in one great cavern, but generally each family had a distinct sepulchral cave. Their artificial graves were either simple pits dug in the earth or large enclosures, which might be surrounded with high stone walls so as to resemble the ordinary temples (_heiaus_). Occasionally they buried their dead in sequestered spots near their dwellings, but often in their gardens, and sometimes in their houses. The graves were not deep, and the bodies were usually placed in them in a sitting posture.[130] A rude method of embalming by means of the flower of the sugar-cane was often practised, whereby the entrails and brains were extracted and the body desiccated.[131] When the dead was interred in the dwelling, the house was not uncommonly shut up and deserted, the survivors seeking for themselves a new habitation.[132] The custom no doubt sprang from a fear of the ghosts, which were supposed to linger about their final resting-places and to injure such as came within their reach; hence their apparitions were much dreaded. For the same reason burials were conducted in a private manner and by night. If people were seen carrying a dead body past a house, the inmates would abuse or even stone them for not taking it some other way; for they imagined that the ghost would ply to and fro between the grave and his old home along the path by which his corpse had been carried.[133] Sometimes, apparently, to prevent the ghost from straying, his grave was enclosed by a sort of fence composed of long poles stuck in the ground at intervals of three or four inches and fastened together at the top. At all events Ellis saw a priest's tomb thus enclosed, and he received this explanation of the fence from some people; though others merely said that it was a custom so to inter persons of consequence.[134] Nightmare was believed to be caused by a ghost attempting to strangle the dreamer; under the influence of this belief a strong man has been seen to run shrieking down the street, tugging with both hands at his throat to tear the incubus away, till he reached the door of a neighbour's house and, bursting in, fell fainting on the floor. He thought that the ghost of a chief, who had died the day before, had a grip on his throat and was trying to throttle him.[135]

Sometimes, however, affection for the dead sufficed to overcome the fear of the ghost, and the mouldering bones were carried about as relics by relations and friends.[136] When the Scotch sailor Archibald Campbell was in the islands in the early years of the nineteenth century, his patroness the queen kept by her the bones of her father wrapt up in a piece of cloth. Whenever she slept in her own house, the bones were placed by her side; in her absence they were set on a feather-bed which she had received from the captain of a ship, and which she used only for this purpose. On being asked by the Scotchman why she observed this singular custom, she replied that it was because she loved her father so dearly.[137] More usually, however, the bones of a beloved chief were carefully hidden to prevent his enemies from finding them and making arrow-heads out of them, with which to hunt rats, or otherwise profaning them. Hence there was a proverb to the effect that the bones of bad chiefs were not concealed. When the great King Kamehameha died in 1819, his bones were hidden and disappeared completely in some secret cave.[138]

[130] W. Ellis, _op. cit._ iv. 359 _sq._; J. J. Jarves, _op.

cit._ pp. 73 _sq._

[131] J. J. Jarves, _op. cit._ p. 73; J. Remy, _op. cit._ p.


[132] Tyerman and Bennet, _op. cit._ i. 429.

[133] W. Ellis, _op. cit._ iv. 360 _sq._; J. J. Jarves, _op.

cit._ p. 74; A. Marcuse, _Die Hawaiischen Inslen_, p. 109.

[134] W. Ellis, _op. cit._ iv. 129.

[135] H. T. Cheever, _Life in the Sandwich Islands_ (London, 1851), pp. 11 _sq._, quoting Sheldon Dibble, _History of the Sandwich Islands_, p. 99.

[136] O. von Kotzebue, _Neue Reise um die Welt_, ii. 98; A.

Bastian, _Inselgruppen in Oceanien_, p. 261.

[137] A. Campbell, _Voyage round the World_, pp. 206 _sq._

[138] J. Remy, _op. cit._ p. 153.

The death of a king or great chief in former days was the occasion for the observance of some singular ceremonies and customs. The grief, real or pretended, of the people found expression in many extravagant forms.

Men and women knocked out some of their front teeth with stones; but the custom seems to have been observed even more extensively by men than by women. The kinsmen or friends of the deceased chief set the example, and their retainers were obliged to imitate them. Sometimes a man broke out his own tooth with a stone, but more usually the service was rendered him by another, who fixed one end of a stick against the tooth and hammered the stick with a stone till the tooth broke off. If the men deferred the operation, the women would perform it on them in their sleep. More than one tooth was seldom sacrificed at one time; but as the mutilation was repeated at the decease of every chief of rank or authority, few men of mature years were to be seen with a whole set of teeth, and many lost all their front teeth both in the upper and the lower jaw. Another mutilation practised at such times was to cut one or both ears, but it seems to have been comparatively rare. Much commoner was the custom of burning circles or semi-circles on the face or breast by means of strips of burning bark. The mourners also polled their hair in various ways. Sometimes they made bald a small round piece on the crown of the head, like the tonsure of Catholic priests; sometimes they shaved or cropped close the whole head except round the edge, where a short fringe was left to hang down; sometimes they made their heads quite bald on one side and allowed the hair to remain long on the other; occasionally they cut out a patch in the shape of a horse-shoe either at the back of the head or above the forehead; sometimes they sh.o.r.e a number of curved furrows from ear to ear or from the forehead to the neck. When a chief who had lost a relative or friend had his own hair cut after any particular pattern, his followers and dependants usually cropped their hair in the same style. Not to clip or shave the hair in mourning was regarded as disrespectful to the dead, but the particular manner of cutting it was left to the taste of the individual.[139] Some people in their frenzy knocked out their eyes with clubs and stones and cut as well as burned their flesh.[140] Another peculiar badge of mourning, adopted princ.i.p.ally by the chiefs, was a black spot or line tattooed on the tongue. The painful operation was performed by puncturing the tongue with sharp fish-bones dipped in colouring matter.[141] But though these personal mutilations were popular and almost universal on the decease of chiefs, they appear not to have been practised by the common people among themselves. Thus a wife did not knock out her teeth on the death of her husband, and a son did not thus express his grief for the loss of his parents, nor they for the death of a child.[142]

[139] W. Ellis, _op. cit._ iv. 175 _sqq._, 181. Compare U.

Lisiansky, _op. cit._ p. 123; A. Campbell, _op. cit._ pp. 142 _sq._; J. Remy, _op. cit._ p. xlvii.

[140] C. S. Stewart, _Residence in the Sandwich Islands_, p.

166; J. J. Jarves, _op. cit._ pp. 65 _sq._

[141] W. Ellis, _op. cit._ iv. 177, 180 _sq._

[142] W. Ellis, _op. cit._ iv. 180.

Similar extravagances in the expression of grief were commonly exhibited by mourners, as we have seen, in other parts of Polynesia; but in Hawaii the rites observed at the death of a king or high chief were in so far peculiar that they a.s.sumed the character of a Saturnalia or orgy of unbridled l.u.s.t and crime. On this subject the Russian navigator Lisiansky, who visited the islands while the ancient system of superst.i.tion was still in full vogue, reports as follows: "On the death of the king, a scene of horror takes place that is hardly credible.

Twelve men are sacrificed; and shortly after the whole island abandons itself for a month to the utmost disorder and licentiousness. During this period, both s.e.xes go entirely naked, and men cohabit with women without any distinction: the woman who should dare to make resistance, would be considered as violating the laws of the country. The same licentiousness is observed on the death of a n.o.ble; but it does not extend beyond the domains of the deceased, and is of a much shorter duration, not continuing, as Mr. Young informed me, more than a few days, though attempts are made by the youth of the party to prolong the period. Those who are put to death on the demise of the king, or any great personage, are such as have offered themselves for the purpose during the life of their master; and they are in consequence considered and treated by him as his best friends, since they have sworn to live and die with him. When I reflect upon the horrid nature of this ceremony, I hardly know how to credit its existence amongst a race of men so mild and good as these islanders in general appear to be; but Mr.

Young, whose veracity I had no reason to doubt, a.s.sured me of the fact."[143]

[143] U. Lisiansky, _Voyage round the World_, pp. 122 _sq._

This John Young, who gave Lisiansky information as to the customs and religion of the Hawaiians, was an Englishman who had resided in the islands for many years at the time of the Russian navigator's visit in 1804. Originally a sailor, born at Liverpool, he had been compulsorily detained by the natives when he landed from his ship in Hawaii in March 1790. But from the first he received the kindest treatment from the king, Kamehameha, whose full confidence and high esteem he enjoyed and deserved. The king gave him a fine estate and appointed him to several responsible offices; in particular Young was governor of Hawaii for no less than nine years during the king's absence. He married a native woman of rank, by whom he had six children. While he remained warmly attached to his native country and rendered essential services to English vessels touching at the islands, he remained a voluntary exile for forty-five years in Hawaii, where he died at the patriarchal age of ninety-two in December 1835. During this long period he enjoyed the favour of the kings, chiefs, and people, and was highly respected and esteemed for his intelligence and good offices by European voyagers to the islands.[144] Thus he had the best opportunities for acquainting himself with the customs and beliefs of the natives, and it is much to be regretted that of the ample store of knowledge which he thus acquired nothing remains but a few scattered notices recorded by travellers to whom he had verbally communicated them.

[144] G. Vancouver, _Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and round the World_ (London, 1798), ii. 135 _sq._; W.

Ellis, _Polynesian Researches_, iv. 96; Tyerman and Bennet, _Journal of Voyages and Travels_, i. 377 _sq._; F. D. Bennett, _Narrative of a Whaling Voyage_, i. 238 _sq._

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