The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead Volume Ii Part 45

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In 1809, some five years after Lisiansky's visit to Hawaii, the Scotch sailor Archibald Campbell witnessed one of these Saturnalia held on the occasion of the death of the king's brother. He says: "The public mourning that took place on this occasion was of so extraordinary a nature that had I not been an eye-witness, I could not have given credit to it. The natives cut out their hair, and went about completely naked.

Many of them, particularly the women, disfigured themselves, by knocking out their front teeth, and branding their faces with red-hot stones, and the small end of calabashes, which they held burning to their faces till a circular mark was produced; whilst, at the same time, a general, I believe I may say an universal, public prost.i.tution of the women took place. The queens, and the widow of the deceased, were alone exempted.

When the captain of a ship that lay in the harbour remonstrated with the king upon these disgraceful scenes, he answered, that such was the law, and he could not prevent them."[145]

[145] A. Campbell, _Voyage round the World_, pp. 142 _sq._

To these enormities the French navigator L. de Freycinet bore similar testimony a few years later. He says: "The despair which is affected after the loss of royal personages or great n.o.bles presents also a remarkable resemblance to what takes place under similar circ.u.mstances among the inhabitants of the Marianne Islands. When we landed in Owhyhi [Hawaii], signs of sorrow everywhere presented themselves to our eyes and witnessed to the excesses that had been committed at the recent death of Tamehameha. At such a crisis anarchy displays all its horrors: the laws and the rules of taboo are broken without shame: the prohibited foods are devoured without scruple, chiefly by the women: the rights of property are ignored; force becomes the supreme law: the voice of chiefs is powerless: old enmities are avenged by blood or pillage: in a word, incredible scenes of disorder, of cruelty, and of l.u.s.t are everywhere renewed under the stimulus of impunity. Calm does not begin to reign again until the heir is definitely invested with the royal power. Such is the mode in which the common people, freed for the moment from all restraint, express the grief which they are supposed to feel at the death of their sovereign."[146]

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


The early missionaries to Hawaii also testified to the disorders which prevailed on these occasions, though they seem not to have witnessed them. From their accounts we gather that at such times the rights of property were as little respected as the chast.i.ty of women. "On such an occasion," says Stewart, "every restraint was cast off, and all were in the habit of following the impulse of any and every wild pa.s.sion that might seize them. Rights of person or of property were no longer regarded; and he who had the greatest muscular powers committed whatever depredation he chose, and injured any one he thought proper. Even the chiefs lost their ordinary pre-eminence, and could exert no influence of restraint on the excesses of their subjects. It was the time of redressing private wrongs, by committing violence on the property and person of an enemy; and everything that any one possessed was liable to be taken from him. Their grief was expressed by the most shocking personal outrages, not only by tearing off their clothes entirely, but by knocking out their eyes and teeth with clubs and stones, and pulling out their hair, and by burning and cutting their flesh; while drunkenness, riot, and every species of debauchery continued to be indulged in for days after the death of the deceased."[147] To the same effect Ellis writes that "as soon as the chief had expired, the whole neighbourhood exhibited a scene of confusion, wickedness, and cruelty, seldom witnessed even in the most barbarous society. The people ran to and fro without their clothes, appearing and acting more like demons than human beings; every vice was practised, and almost every species of crime perpetrated. Houses were burnt, property plundered, even murder sometimes committed, and the gratification of every base and savage feeling sought without restraint. Injuries or accidents, long forgotten perhaps by the offending party, were now revenged with unrelenting cruelty."[148] According to Jarves, the early historian of Hawaii, on these occasions no women were exempt from violation except the widows of the deceased.[149]

[147] C. S. Stewart, _Residence in the Sandwich Islands_, pp.

165 _sq._

[148] W. Ellis, _Polynesian Researches_, iv. 177.

[149] J. J. Jarves, _History of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands_, p. 66. Compare J. Remy, _op. cit._ p. xlvii.

Such outbursts of pa.s.sion, released from all restraints of custom or law, are not unknown elsewhere on the occasion of a death. Among the Ba-ila of Northern Rhodesia it is customary at funerals for the women to sing lewd songs. "Under ordinary circ.u.mstances it would be reckoned taboo for women to utter such things in the presence of men; but at funerals all restraints are removed. People do as they like. Gra.s.s may be plucked out of the thatched roofs; the fields may be robbed of the growing corn; all pa.s.sions are let loose; and no complaint for damage, theft, or adultery can be made. This last item used to be the case; nowadays fines are claimed."[150]

[150] E. W. Smith and A. M. Dale, _The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia_ (London, 1920), ii. 113 _sq._

The number of human victims sacrificed at the death of a chief varied with his rank. For a king of Hawaii the general number would seem to have been ten or twelve.[151] But when King Kamehameha died in 1819, the priest declared somewhat differently the custom in regard to human sacrifice on such an occasion. When the corpse had been removed from the king's own dwelling to a consecrated house for the performance of the proper rites, a sacred hog was baked and offered to it by the priest; for the dead king was now deemed to be a G.o.d. Then addressing the chiefs and the new king, the priest spoke as follows: "I will now make known to you the rules to be observed respecting persons to be sacrificed on the burial of his body. If you obtain one man before the corpse is removed, one will be sufficient; but after it leaves this house four will be required. If delayed until we carry the corpse to the grave, there must be ten; but after it is deposited in the grave, there must be fifteen.

To-morrow morning there will be a tabu, and if the sacrifice be delayed until that time, forty men must die." However, on this occasion, no human blood was shed, but three hundred dogs were sacrificed.[152] The victims who were killed at the death of the king, princes, and distinguished chiefs, and were buried with their remains, belonged to the lowest cla.s.s of society. In certain families the obligation of dying with the different members of such or such a n.o.ble house was hereditary, so that at the birth of a child it was known at whose death he must be sacrificed. The victims knew their destiny, and their lot seems to have had no terror for them.[153]

[151] J. Cook, _Voyages_, vii. 145; U. Lisiansky, _op. cit._ p.


[152] J. J. Jarves, _op. cit._ pp. 189, 190. Compare J. Remy, _op. cit._ pp. 125, 127; H. Bingham, _Residence of Twenty-one Years in the Sandwich Islands_, p. 71.

[153] O. von Kotzebue, _Voyage of Discovery into the South Sea and Beering's Straits_ (London, 1821), iii. 247.

At Honaunau, in the island of Hawaii, there was a sort of mausoleum in which the bones of dead kings and princes were deposited. For some reason it was spared in the general destruction of pagan monuments which took place in 1819, and it was still almost intact when the missionary Ellis visited and described it a few years later. It was a compact building, twenty-four feet long by sixteen feet wide, built of the most durable timber, and thatched with leaves. It stood on a bed of lava jutting out into the sea, and was surrounded by a strong fence, leaving a paved area in front and at the two ends. Several rudely carved male and female images of wood were placed on the outside of the enclosure, some on low pedestals under the shade of a tree, others on high posts planted on the jutting rocks which overhung the edge of the water. A number of effigies stood on the fence at unequal distances all around; but the princ.i.p.al a.s.semblage of idols was at the south-east end of the enclosed s.p.a.ce, where twelve of them stood in a semicircle on a crescent-shaped bas.e.m.e.nt of stone raised about two feet above the pavement. Some of them rested on small pedestals, others on pillars eight or ten feet high. The princ.i.p.al idol, distinguished by the variety and superiority of the carving on its body and especially on its head, stood in the middle, the others on either side of it, "as if perpetual guardians of 'the mighty dead' reposing in the house adjoining."[154]

[154] W. Ellis, _Polynesian Researches_, iv. 164 _sq._

When a death had taken place, the house in which it occurred, was deemed defiled, and continued in that state until after the burial. But if the deceased was a chief, the whole land was polluted, and the heirs sought a residence in another part of the country, until the corpse was dissected and the bones tied in a bundle; for when that was done the season of defilement terminated. Hence on the death of King Kamehameha, his son and successor, Liholiho, had to retire for a time to another district.[155]

[155] J. J. Jarves, _op. cit._ p. 191; H. Bingham, _Residence of Twenty-one Years in the Sandwich Islands_, pp. 71 _sq._; J.

Remy, _op. cit._ pp. 127, 129.

-- 10. _Fate of the Soul after Death_

The Hawaiians in general believed that the human soul exists after death, but their notions on the subject were, as usual, vague, confused, and contradictory. Some said that all the souls of the departed went to the Po, or place of night, and were there annihilated or eaten by the G.o.ds.[156] According to another account, the souls of the dead that had no claim to divinity fluttered about their old homes till the moment arrived when they became the food of the G.o.ds. It is not certain, adds de Freycinet, that they recognised the immortality of the soul in the case of persons of the lowest cla.s.s.[157] Others said that some souls went to the regions of Akea (Wakea) and Miru (Milu), two ancient kings of Hawaii. Of these two, Akea was reported to have been the first king of the island. When he died, he descended into the nether world and there founded a kingdom. His successor on the throne of Hawaii, by name Miru or Milu, also descended into the underworld at death, and shared the government of the infernal realm with his predecessor Akea. Their land is a place of darkness, their food, lizards and b.u.t.terflies. But there are streams of water of which they drink, and wide-spreading trees under which they recline.[158] Milu is described as the Hawaiian Pluto, the lord of the lower world to whose dominions departed spirits go. His abode was in the west, hence the ghosts of such as died on the eastern sh.o.r.e of an island always had to cross to the western sh.o.r.e before they could set out for their final place of rest in the spirit land. Some said that Milu had his dwelling under the ocean, and that he was the prince of wicked spirits.[159] However, according to some accounts, the two ancient kings, Milu and Akea, ruled over separate regions in the spirit land, which were tabooed to each other, so that n.o.body could pa.s.s from the one to the other. Akea or Wakea dwelt in the upper region, and there the souls of chiefs dwelt with him; whereas Milu occupied the muddy lower region, and there the souls of common folk abode with him.

In the upper region all was peaceful and orderly, and there persons who had faithfully complied with the precepts of religion in life were received after death. On the other hand the lower region, ruled over by Milu, was noisy and disorderly; evil spirits played their pranks there, and the souls of the dead subsisted on lizards and b.u.t.terflies.[160]

When persons recovered from a death-like swoon, it was supposed that their souls had gone to the underworld and been sent back to earth by Milu. The best account of the spirit land was given by one who had spent eight days in it, and on returning to life reported to his family what he had seen. According to his observations, the spirit land is flat and fruitful, it is tolerably well lighted, and everything grows there spontaneously, so that, contrary to some reports, the palace of Milu is a really delightful place. Milu himself is not married to any one particular wife; but from time to time he chooses for his consorts the most beautiful of the female ghosts when they arrive in deadland, and the women thus honoured are naturally taboo for the male ghosts. All souls live there in exactly the same state in which they quitted their bodies. The souls of those who died young, especially of those who fell in battle, are hale and strong; whereas the souls of those who perished of disease are sickly and weak, and weak, too, are the souls of such as died in old age.[161]

[156] W. Ellis, _op. cit._ iv. 365 _sq._

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


[158] W. Ellis, _op. cit._ iv. 366; J. J. Jarves, _op. cit._ p.

38; A. Bastian, _Inselgruppen in Oceanien_, p. 262. Ellis gives Miru as the form of the name, but the correct Hawaiian form is Milu; for in the Hawaiian dialect the ordinary Polynesian R is replaced by L. See E. Tregear, _Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary_, p. xxiii. In New Zealand and Mangaia the name Miru was given to the G.o.ddess of h.e.l.l or of the dead. See E. Tregear, _op. cit._ pp. 243, 244, _s.v._ "Miru."

[159] E. Tregear, _Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary_, pp.

243 _sq._, _s.v._ "Miru."

[160] H. T. Cheever, _Life in the Sandwich Islands_ (London, 1851), p. 12; A. Bastian, _Inselgruppen in Oceanien_, pp. 264 _sqq._; A. Marcuse, _Die Hawaiischen Inseln_, p. 99.

[161] A. Bastian, _Inselgruppen in Oceanien_, p. 264.

There were three places in the islands from which the ghosts took their departure for the other world. One was at the northern extremity of the island of Hawaii; one was at the western end of Maui; and one was at the southern point of Oahu.[162] According to one account, the ghosts on their pa.s.sage to Milu's subterranean realm went westward in the direction of the setting sun, and either leaped from a rock into the sea or vanished into a hole in the ground.[163]

[162] H. T. Cheever, _Life in the Sandwich Islands_, p. 12; A.

Marcuse, _Die Hawaiischen Inseln_, p. 99.

[163] A. Bastian, _Inselgruppen in Oceanien_, p. 265.

But before bidding a last farewell to earth, the soul of the deceased was believed to linger for a time in the neighbourhood of the grave or of the house. It had now become an _akua_ or divine spirit, but during its stay on earth it was dreaded as an _akua-lapu_ or "terrifying spirit," because it appeared to the living as a spectre or ghost. In time, however, it grew weaker and weaker and gradually disappeared altogether, like the other spirits (_akuas_). By that time it had found a guide to show it the way to Milu's realm, from which there is no return. Sometimes, however, the guardian G.o.d of a family would oppose the pa.s.sage of a soul to the other world, and send it back to life, so that the seemingly dead man recovered.[164] It is said to have been a firmly established belief that the dead appeared to the living and communicated with them in dreams.[165] The priests in particular were favoured with such messages from the other world.[166]

[164] A. Bastian, _op. cit._ p. 266.

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


[166] W. Ellis, _Polynesian Researches_, iv. 367.

A legend tells how a certain chief of Hawaii, sorrowing for the death of his wife, applied to a priest, who furnished him with a G.o.d called Kane-i-kou-alii (G.o.d of Chiefs), to guide him to the nether world of Milu, whither his beloved spouse had departed. Journeying together, the G.o.d and the man came to the end of the world, where grew a tree, which split open and allowed them to glide down into the depths. There the G.o.d hid behind a rock and allowed the chief to go on alone, but first he rubbed stinking oil over the chief's body. On arriving at Milu's palace the chief found the whole court full of spirits engaged in such noisy and tumultuous sports, that he could steal in among them un.o.bserved, all the more because the nearest spirits mistook him for a ghost newly arrived with the stench of his dead body still on him, so that they turned away from him in disgust and made uncomplimentary remarks on his unsavoury condition. When they had played all sorts of games, the chief suggested that, as a new form of sport, they should all take out their eyes and throw them in a heap. The suggestion was accepted, and every one hastened to comply with it. But the chief took care to mark where the eyes of Milu fell, and s.n.a.t.c.hing them up he hid them in the coco-nut beaker which he carried with him. As all the spirits were now blind, it was easy for the chief to make his way to the neighbouring realm of Akea or Wakea, which was tabooed to the spirits that swarmed in Milu's kingdom and might not be entered by them. However, after long negotiations, Milu was allowed to recover his eyes, on condition that the soul of the chief's wife should be sent back to earth and reunited to her body, which was happily accomplished.[167]

[167] A. Bastian, _Inselgruppen in Oceanien_, pp. 265 _sq._

The Hawaiians were not without some notion of a general resurrection of the dead. When the missionary William Ellis was conversing with some of the natives on that subject, they said that they had heard of it before from a native priest named Kapihe, who had lived at their village in the time of King Kamehameha. The priest told the king that at his death he would see his ancestors, and that hereafter all the kings, chiefs, and people of Hawaii would live again. When Ellis asked them how this would be effected, and with what circ.u.mstances it would be attended, whether they would live again in Hawaii or in Miru (Milu), the Hades of the Sandwich Islands, they replied that there were two G.o.ds, who conducted the departed spirits of their chiefs to some place in the heavens, where the souls of kings and chiefs sometimes dwelt, and that afterwards the two divine conductors returned with the royal and princely souls to earth, where they accompanied the movements and watched over the destinies of their survivors. The name of one of these G.o.ds was Kaonohiokala, which means the eyeball of the sun; and the name of the other was Kuahairo. Now Kapihe was priest to the latter G.o.d, and professed to have received a revelation, in accordance with which he informed King Kamehameha that, when the monarch should depart this life, the G.o.d Kuahairo would carry his spirit to the sky and afterwards accompany it back to earth again, whereupon his body would be restored to life and youth; that he would have his wives again and resume his government in Hawaii; that at the same time the existing generation would see and know their parents and ancestors, and that all the people who had died would rise again from the dead.[168] It is to be feared, however, that the priest was a deceiver; for King Kamehameha has not yet come to life again, and up to the present time the general resurrection has not taken place in Hawaii.

[168] W. Ellis, _Polynesian Researches_, iv. 144 _sq._

That must conclude what I have to say about the belief in immortality and the worship of the dead in Polynesia, The notions which the Polynesians entertained on this subject cannot but strike a civilised European as childish, while the customs which they based on them must appear to him in great part foolish, even where they were not barbarous and cruel. How far such childish notions and foolish customs tend to confirm or to refute the widespread, almost universal, belief in the survival of the human soul after death, is a question which I must leave my readers to answer for themselves.



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