Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

Part 6 out of 19

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 2.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

tie their children with a special kind of string to a particular
part of the house, lest the souls of the children should leave their
bodies and go into the corpse which is passing. The children are
kept tied in this way until the corpse is out of sight. And after
the corpse has been laid in the grave, but before the earth has been
shovelled in, the mourners and friends range themselves round the
grave, each with a bamboo split lengthwise in one hand and a little
stick in the other; each man thrusts his bamboo into the grave, and
drawing the stick along the groove of the bamboo points out to his
soul that in this way it may easily climb up out of the tomb. While
the earth is being shovelled in, the bamboos are kept out of the
way, lest the souls should be in them, and so should be
inadvertently buried with the earth as it is being thrown into the
grave; and when the people leave the spot they carry away the
bamboos, begging their souls to come with them. Further, on
returning from the grave each Karen provides himself with three
little hooks made of branches of trees, and calling his spirit to
follow him, at short intervals, as he returns, he makes a motion as
if hooking it, and then thrusts the hook into the ground. This is
done to prevent the soul of the living from staying behind with the
soul of the dead. When the Karo-Bataks have buried somebody and are
filling in the grave, a sorceress runs about beating the air with a
stick. This she does in order to drive away the souls of the
survivors, for if one of these souls happened to slip into the grave
and to be covered up with earth, its owner would die.

In Uea, one of the Loyalty Islands, the souls of the dead seem to
have been credited with the power of stealing the souls of the
living. For when a man was sick the soul-doctor would go with a
large troop of men and women to the graveyard. Here the men played
on flutes and the women whistled softly to lure the soul home. After
this had gone on for some time they formed in procession and moved
homewards, the flutes playing and the women whistling all the way,
while they led back the wandering soul and drove it gently along
with open palms. On entering the patient's dwelling they commanded
the soul in a loud voice to enter his body.

Often the abduction of a man's soul is set down to demons. Thus fits
and convulsions are generally ascribed by the Chinese to the agency
of certain mischievous spirits who love to draw men's souls out of
their bodies. At Amoy the spirits who serve babies and children in
this way rejoice in the high-sounding titles of "celestial agencies
bestriding galloping horses" and "literary graduates residing
halfway up in the sky." When an infant is writhing in convulsions,
the frightened mother hastens to the roof of the house, and, waving
about a bamboo pole to which one of the child's garments is
attached, cries out several times "My child So-and-so, come back,
return home!" Meantime, another inmate of the house bangs away at a
gong in the hope of attracting the attention of the strayed soul,
which is supposed to recognise the familiar garment and to slip into
it. The garment containing the soul is then placed on or beside the
child, and if the child does not die recovery is sure to follow,
sooner or later. Similarly some Indians catch a man's lost soul in
his boots and restore it to his body by putting his feet into them.

In the Moluccas when a man is unwell it is thought that some devil
has carried away his soul to the tree, mountain, or hill where he
(the devil) resides. A sorcerer having pointed out the devil's
abode, the friends of the patient carry thither cooked rice, fruit,
fish, raw eggs, a hen, a chicken, a silken robe, gold, armlets, and
so forth. Having set out the food in order they pray, saying: "We
come to offer to you, O devil, this offering of food, clothes, gold,
and so on; take it and release the soul of the patient for whom we
pray. Let it return to his body, and he who now is sick shall be
made whole." Then they eat a little and let the hen loose as a
ransom for the soul of the patient; also they put down the raw eggs;
but the silken robe, the gold, and the armlets they take home with
them. As soon as they are come to the house they place a flat bowl
containing the offerings which have been brought back at the sick
man's head, and say to him: "Now is your soul released, and you
shall fare well and live to grey hairs on the earth."

Demons are especially feared by persons who have just entered a new
house. Hence at a house-warming among the Alfoors of Minahassa in
Celebes the priest performs a ceremony for the purpose of restoring
their souls to the inmates. He hangs up a bag at the place of
sacrifice and then goes through a list of the gods. There are so
many of them that this takes him the whole night through without
stopping. In the morning he offers the gods an egg and some rice. By
this time the souls of the household are supposed to be gathered in
the bag. So the priest takes the bag, and holding it on the head of
the master of the house, says, "Here you have your soul; go (soul)
to-morrow away again." He then does the same, saying the same words,
to the housewife and all the other members of the family. Amongst
the same Alfoors one way of recovering a sick man's soul is to let
down a bowl by a belt out of a window and fish for the soul till it
is caught in the bowl and hauled up. And among the same people, when
a priest is bringing back a sick man's soul which he has caught in a
cloth, he is preceded by a girl holding the large leaf of a certain
palm over his head as an umbrella to keep him and the soul from
getting wet, in case it should rain; and he is followed by a man
brandishing a sword to deter other souls from any attempt at
rescuing the captured spirit.

Sometimes the lost soul is brought back in a visible shape. The
Salish or Flathead Indians of Oregon believe that a man's soul may
be separated for a time from his body without causing death and
without the man being aware of his loss. It is necessary, however,
that the lost soul should be soon found and restored to its owner or
he will die. The name of the man who has lost his soul is revealed
in a dream to the medicine-man, who hastens to inform the sufferer
of his loss. Generally a number of men have sustained a like loss at
the same time; all their names are revealed to the medicine-man, and
all employ him to recover their souls. The whole night long these
soulless men go about the village from lodge to lodge, dancing and
singing. Towards daybreak they go into a separate lodge, which is
closed up so as to be totally dark. A small hole is then made in the
roof, through which the medicine-man, with a bunch of feathers,
brushes in the souls, in the shape of bits of bone and the like,
which he receives on a piece of matting. A fire is next kindled, by
the light of which the medicine-man sorts out the souls. First he
puts aside the souls of dead people, of which there are usually
several; for if he were to give the soul of a dead person to a
living man, the man would die instantly. Next he picks out the souls
of all the persons present, and making them all to sit down before
him, he takes the soul of each, in the shape of a splinter of bone,
wood, or shell, and placing it on the owner's head, pats it with
many prayers and contortions till it descends into the heart and so
resumes its proper place.

Again, souls may be extracted from their bodies or detained on their
wanderings not only by ghosts and demons but also by men, especially
by sorcerers. In Fiji, if a criminal refused to confess, the chief
sent for a scarf with which "to catch away the soul of the rogue."
At the sight or even at the mention of the scarf the culprit
generally made a clean breast. For if he did not, the scarf would be
waved over his head till his soul was caught in it, when it would be
carefully folded up and nailed to the end of a chief's canoe; and
for want of his soul the criminal would pine and die. The sorcerers
of Danger Island used to set snares for souls. The snares were made
of stout cinet, about fifteen to thirty feet long, with loops on
either side of different sizes, to suit the different sizes of
souls; for fat souls there were large loops, for thin souls there
were small ones. When a man was sick against whom the sorcerers had
a grudge, they set up these soul-snares near his house and watched
for the flight of his soul. If in the shape of a bird or an insect
it was caught in the snare, the man would infallibly die. In some
parts of West Africa, indeed, wizards are continually setting traps
to catch souls that wander from their bodies in sleep; and when they
have caught one, they tie it up over the fire, and as it shrivels in
the heat the owner sickens. This is done, not out of any grudge
towards the sufferer, but purely as a matter of business. The wizard
does not care whose soul he has captured, and will readily restore
it to its owner, if only he is paid for doing so. Some sorcerers
keep regular asylums for strayed souls, and anybody who has lost or
mislaid his own soul can always have another one from the asylum on
payment of the usual fee. No blame whatever attaches to men who keep
these private asylums or set traps for passing souls; it is their
profession, and in the exercise of it they are actuated by no harsh
or unkindly feelings. But there are also wretches who from pure
spite or for the sake of lucre set and bait traps with the
deliberate purpose of catching the soul of a particular man; and in
the bottom of the pot, hidden by the bait, are knives and sharp
hooks which tear and rend the poor soul, either killing it outright
or mauling it so as to impair the health of its owner when it
succeeds in escaping and returning to him. Miss Kingsley knew a
Kruman who became very anxious about his soul, because for several
nights he had smelt in his dreams the savoury smell of smoked
crawfish seasoned with red pepper. Clearly some ill-wisher had set a
trap baited with this dainty for his dream-soul, intending to do him
grievous bodily, or rather spiritual, harm; and for the next few
nights great pains were taken to keep his soul from straying abroad
in his sleep. In the sweltering heat of the tropical night he lay
sweating and snorting under a blanket, his nose and mouth tied up
with a handkerchief to prevent the escape of his precious soul. In
Hawaii there were sorcerers who caught souls of living people, shut
them up in calabashes, and gave them to people to eat. By squeezing
a captured soul in their hands they discovered the place where
people had been secretly buried.

Nowhere perhaps is the art of abducting human souls more carefully
cultivated or carried to higher perfection than in the Malay
Peninsula. Here the methods by which the wizard works his will are
various, and so too are his motives. Sometimes he desires to destroy
an enemy, sometimes to win the love of a cold or bashful beauty.
Thus, to take an instance of the latter sort of charm, the following
are the directions given for securing the soul of one whom you wish
to render distraught. When the moon, just risen, looks red above the
eastern horizon, go out, and standing in the moonlight, with the big
toe of your right foot on the big toe of your left, make a
speaking-trumpet of your right hand and recite through it the
following words:

"OM. I loose my shaft, I loose it and the moon clouds over,
I loose it, and the sun is extinguished.
I loose it, and the stars burn dim.
But it is not the sun, moon, and stars that I shoot at,
It is the stalk of the heart of that child of the congregation,

Cluck! cluck! soul of So-and-so, come and walk with me,
Come and sit with me,
Come and sleep and share my pillow.
Cluck! cluck! soul."

Repeat this thrice and after every repetition blow through your
hollow fist. Or you may catch the soul in your turban, thus. Go out
on the night of the full moon and the two succeeding nights; sit
down on an ant-hill facing the moon, burn incense, and recite the
following incantation:

"I bring you a betel leaf to chew,
Dab the lime on to it, Prince Ferocious,
For Somebody, Prince Distraction's daughter, to chew.
Somebody at sunrise be distraught for love of me
Somebody at sunset be distraught for love of me.
As you remember your parents, remember me;
As you remember your house and houseladder, remember me;
When thunder rumbles, remember me;
When wind whistles, remember me;
When the heavens rain, remember me;
When cocks crow, remember me;
When the dial-bird tells its tales, remember me;
When you look up at the sun, remember me;
When you look up at the moon, remember me,
For in that self-same moon I am there.
Cluck! cluck! soul of Somebody come hither to me.
I do not mean to let you have my soul,
Let your soul come hither to mine."

Now wave the end of your turban towards the moon seven times each
night. Go home and put it under your pillow, and if you want to wear
it in the daytime, burn incense and say, "It is not a turban that I
carry in my girdle, but the soul of Somebody."

The Indians of the Nass River, in British Columbia, are impressed
with a belief that a physician may swallow his patient's soul by
mistake. A doctor who is believed to have done so is made by the
other members of the faculty to stand over the patient, while one of
them thrusts his fingers down the doctor's throat, another kneads
him in the stomach with his knuckles, and a third slaps him on the
back. If the soul is not in him after all, and if the same process
has been repeated upon all the medical men without success, it is
concluded that the soul must be in the head-doctor's box. A party of
doctors, therefore, waits upon him at his house and requests him to
produce his box. When he has done so and arranged its contents on a
new mat, they take the votary of Aesculapius and hold him up by the
heels with his head in a hole in the floor. In this position they
wash his head, and "any water remaining from the ablution is taken
and poured upon the sick man's head." No doubt the lost soul is in
the water.

3. The Soul as a Shadow and a Reflection

BUT the spiritual dangers I have enumerated are not the only ones
which beset the savage. Often he regards his shadow or reflection as
his soul, or at all events as a vital part of himself, and as such
it is necessarily a source of danger to him. For if it is trampled
upon, struck, or stabbed, he will feel the injury as if it were done
to his person; and if it is detached from him entirely (as he
believes that it may be) he will die. In the island of Wetar there
are magicians who can make a man ill by stabbing his shadow with a
pike or hacking it with a sword. After Sankara had destroyed the
Buddhists in India, it is said that he journeyed to Nepaul, where he
had some difference of opinion with the Grand Lama. To prove his
supernatural powers, he soared into the air. But as he mounted up
the Grand Lama, perceiving his shadow swaying and wavering on the
ground, struck his knife into it and down fell Sankara and broke his

In the Banks Islands there are some stones of a remarkably long
shape which go by the name of "eating ghosts," because certain
powerful and dangerous ghosts are believed to lodge in them. If a
man's shadow falls on one of these stones, the ghost will draw his
soul out from him, so that he will die. Such stones, therefore, are
set in a house to guard it; and a messenger sent to a house by the
absent owner will call out the name of the sender, lest the watchful
ghost in the stone should fancy that he came with evil intent and
should do him a mischief. At a funeral in China, when the lid is
about to be placed on the coffin, most of the bystanders, with the
exception of the nearest kin, retire a few steps or even retreat to
another room, for a person's health is believed to be endangered by
allowing his shadow to be enclosed in a coffin. And when the coffin
is about to be lowered into the grave most of the spectators recoil
to a little distance lest their shadows should fall into the grave
and harm should thus be done to their persons. The geomancer and his
assistants stand on the side of the grave which is turned away from
the sun; and the grave-diggers and coffin-bearers attach their
shadows firmly to their persons by tying a strip of cloth tightly
round their waists. Nor is it human beings alone who are thus liable
to be injured by means of their shadows. Animals are to some extent
in the same predicament. A small snail, which frequents the
neighbourhood of the limestone hills in Perak, is believed to suck
the blood of cattle through their shadows; hence the beasts grow
lean and sometimes die from loss of blood. The ancients supposed
that in Arabia, if a hyaena trod on a man's shadow, it deprived him
of the power of speech and motion; and that if a dog, standing on a
roof in the moonlight, cast a shadow on the ground and a hyaena trod
on it, the dog would fall down as if dragged with a rope. Clearly in
these cases the shadow, if not equivalent to the soul, is at least
regarded as a living part of the man or the animal, so that injury
done to the shadow is felt by the person or animal as if it were
done to his body.

Conversely, if the shadow is a vital part of a man or an animal, it
may under certain circumstances be as hazardous to be touched by it
as it would be to come into contact with the person or animal. Hence
the savage makes it a rule to shun the shadow of certain persons
whom for various reasons he regards as sources of dangerous
influence. Amongst the dangerous classes he commonly ranks mourners
and women in general, but especially his mother-in-law. The Shuswap
Indians think that the shadow of a mourner falling upon a person
would make him sick. Amongst the Kurnai of Victoria novices at
initiation were cautioned not to let a woman's shadow fall across
them, as this would make them thin, lazy, and stupid. An Australian
native is said to have once nearly died of fright because the shadow
of his mother-in-law fell on his legs as he lay asleep under a tree.
The awe and dread with which the untutored savage contemplates his
mother-in-law are amongst the most familiar facts of anthropology.
In the Yuin tribes of New South Wales the rule which forbade a man
to hold any communication with his wife's mother was very strict. He
might not look at her or even in her direction. It was a ground of
divorce if his shadow happened to fall on his mother-in-law: in that
case he had to leave his wife, and she returned to her parents. In
New Britain the native imagination fails to conceive the extent and
nature of the calamities which would result from a man's
accidentally speaking to his wife's mother; suicide of one or both
would probably be the only course open to them. The most solemn form
of oath a New Briton can take is, "Sir, if I am not telling the
truth, I hope I may shake hands with my mother-in-law."

Where the shadow is regarded as so intimately bound up with the life
of the man that its loss entails debility or death, it is natural to
expect that its diminution should be regarded with solicitude and
apprehension, as betokening a corresponding decrease in the vital
energy of its owner. In Amboyna and Uliase, two islands near the
equator, where necessarily there is little or no shadow cast at
noon, the people make it a rule not to go out of the house at
mid-day, because they fancy that by doing so a man may lose the
shadow of his soul. The Mangaians tell of a mighty warrior,
Tukaitawa, whose strength waxed and waned with the length of his
shadow. In the morning, when his shadow fell longest, his strength
was greatest; but as the shadow shortened towards noon his strength
ebbed with it, till exactly at noon it reached its lowest point;
then, as the shadow stretched out in the afternoon, his strength
returned. A certain hero discovered the secret of Tukaitawa's
strength and slew him at noon. The savage Besisis of the Malay
Peninsula fear to bury their dead at noon, because they fancy that
the shortness of their shadows at that hour would sympathetically
shorten their own lives.

Nowhere, perhaps, does the equivalence of the shadow to the life or
soul come out more clearly than in some customs practised to this
day in South-eastern Europe. In modern Greece, when the foundation
of a new building is being laid, it is the custom to kill a cock, a
ram, or a lamb, and to let its blood flow on the foundation-stone,
under which the animal is afterwards buried. The object of the
sacrifice is to give strength and stability to the building. But
sometimes, instead of killing an animal, the builder entices a man
to the foundation-stone, secretly measures his body, or a part of
it, or his shadow, and buries the measure under the
foundation-stone; or he lays the foundation-stone upon the man's
shadow. It is believed that the man will die within the year. The
Roumanians of Transylvania think that he whose shadow is thus
immured will die within forty days; so persons passing by a building
which is in course of erection may hear a warning cry, "Beware lest
they take thy shadow!" Not long ago there were still shadow-traders
whose business it was to provide architects with the shadows
necessary for securing their walls. In these cases the measure of
the shadow is looked on as equivalent to the shadow itself, and to
bury it is to bury the life or soul of the man, who, deprived of it,
must die. Thus the custom is a substitute for the old practice of
immuring a living person in the walls, or crushing him under the
foundation-stone of a new building, in order to give strength and
durability to the structure, or more definitely in order that the
angry ghost may haunt the place and guard it against the intrusion
of enemies.

As some peoples believe a man's soul to be in his shadow, so other
(or the same) peoples believe it to be in his reflection in water or
a mirror. Thus "the Andamanese do not regard their shadows but their
reflections (in any mirror) as their souls." When the Motumotu of
New Guinea first saw their likenesses in a looking-glass, they
thought that their reflections were their souls. In New Caledonia
the old men are of opinion that a person's reflection in water or a
mirror is his soul; but the younger men, taught by the Catholic
priests, maintain that it is a reflection and nothing more, just
like the reflection of palm-trees in the water. The reflection-soul,
being external to the man, is exposed to much the same dangers as
the shadow-soul. The Zulus will not look into a dark pool because
they think there is a beast in it which will take away their
reflections, so that they die. The Basutos say that crocodiles have
the power of thus killing a man by dragging his reflection under
water. When one of them dies suddenly and from no apparent cause,
his relatives will allege that a crocodile must have taken his
shadow some time when he crossed a stream. In Saddle Island,
Melanesia, there is a pool "into which if any one looks he dies; the
malignant spirit takes hold upon his life by means of his reflection
on the water."

We can now understand why it was a maxim both in ancient India and
ancient Greece not to look at one's reflection in water, and why the
Greeks regarded it as an omen of death if a man dreamed of seeing
himself so reflected. They feared that the water-spirits would drag
the person's reflection or soul under water, leaving him soulless to
perish. This was probably the origin of the classical story of the
beautiful Narcissus, who languished and died through seeing his
reflection in the water.

Further, we can now explain the widespread custom of covering up
mirrors or turning them to the wall after a death has taken place in
the house. It is feared that the soul, projected out of the person
in the shape of his reflection in the mirror, may be carried off by
the ghost of the departed, which is commonly supposed to linger
about the house till the burial. The custom is thus exactly parallel
to the Aru custom of not sleeping in a house after a death for fear
that the soul, projected out of the body in a dream, may meet the
ghost and be carried off by it. The reason why sick people should
not see themselves in a mirror, and why the mirror in a sick-room is
therefore covered up, is also plain; in time of sickness, when the
soul might take flight so easily, it is particularly dangerous to
project it out of the body by means of the reflection in a mirror.
The rule is therefore precisely parallel to the rule observed by
some peoples of not allowing sick people to sleep; for in sleep the
soul is projected out of the body, and there is always a risk that
it may not return.

As with shadows and reflections, so with portraits; they are often
believed to contain the soul of the person portrayed. People who
hold this belief are naturally loth to have their likenesses taken;
for if the portrait is the soul, or at least a vital part of the
person portrayed, whoever possesses the portrait will be able to
exercise a fatal influence over the original of it. Thus the
Esquimaux of Bering Strait believe that persons dealing in
witchcraft have the power of stealing a person's shade, so that
without it he will pine away and die. Once at a village on the lower
Yukon River an explorer had set up his camera to get a picture of
the people as they were moving about among their houses. While he
was focusing the instrument, the headman of the village came up and
insisted on peeping under the cloth. Being allowed to do so, he
gazed intently for a minute at the moving figures on the ground
glass, then suddenly withdrew his head and bawled at the top of his
voice to the people, "He has all of your shades in this box." A
panic ensued among the group, and in an instant they disappeared
helterskelter into their houses. The Tepehuanes of Mexico stood in
mortal terror of the camera, and five days' persuasion was necessary
to induce them to pose for it. When at last they consented, they
looked like criminals about to be executed. They believed that by
photographing people the artist could carry off their souls and
devour them at his leisure moments. They said that, when the
pictures reached his country, they would die or some other evil
would befall them. When Dr. Catat and some companions were exploring
the Bara country on the west coast of Madagascar, the people
suddenly became hostile. The day before the travellers, not without
difficulty, had photographed the royal family, and now found
themselves accused of taking the souls of the natives for the
purpose of selling them when they returned to France. Denial was
vain; in compliance with the custom of the country they were obliged
to catch the souls, which were then put into a basket and ordered by
Dr. Catat to return to their respective owners.

Some villagers in Sikhim betrayed a lively horror and hid away
whenever the lens of a camera, or "the evil eye of the box" as they
called it, was turned on them. They thought it took away their souls
with their pictures, and so put it in the power of the owner of the
pictures to cast spells on them, and they alleged that a photograph
of the scenery blighted the landscape. Until the reign of the late
King of Siam no Siamese coins were ever stamped with the image of
the king, "for at that time there was a strong prejudice against the
making of portraits in any medium. Europeans who travel into the
jungle have, even at the present time, only to point a camera at a
crowd to procure its instant dispersion. When a copy of the face of
a person is made and taken away from him, a portion of his life goes
with the picture. Unless the sovereign had been blessed with the
years of a Methusaleh he could scarcely have permitted his life to
be distributed in small pieces together with the coins of the

Beliefs of the same sort still linger in various parts of Europe.
Not very many years ago some old women in the Greek island of
Carpathus were very angry at having their likenesses drawn, thinking
that in consequence they would pine and die. There are persons in
the West of Scotland "who refuse to have their likenesses taken lest
it prove unlucky; and give as instances the cases of several of
their friends who never had a day's health after being

XIX. Tabooed Acts

1. Taboos on Intercourse with Strangers

SO much for the primitive conceptions of the soul and the dangers to
which it is exposed. These conceptions are not limited to one people
or country; with variations of detail they are found all over the
world, and survive, as we have seen, in modern Europe. Beliefs so
deep-seated and so widespread must necessarily have contributed to
shape the mould in which the early kingship was cast. For if every
person was at such pains to save his own soul from the perils which
threatened it on so many sides, how much more carefully must _he_
have been guarded upon whose life hung the welfare and even the
existence of the whole people, and whom therefore it was the common
interest of all to preserve? Therefore we should expect to find the
king's life protected by a system of precautions or safeguards still
more numerous and minute than those which in primitive society every
man adopts for the safety of his own soul. Now in point of fact the
life of the early kings is regulated, as we have seen and shall see
more fully presently, by a very exact code of rules. May we not then
conjecture that these rules are in fact the very safeguards which we
should expect to find adopted for the protection of the king's life?
An examination of the rules themselves confirms this conjecture. For
from this it appears that some of the rules observed by the kings
are identical with those observed by private persons out of regard
for the safety of their souls; and even of those which seem peculiar
to the king, many, if not all, are most readily explained on the
hypothesis that they are nothing but safeguards or lifeguards of the
king. I will now enumerate some of these royal rules or taboos,
offering on each of them such comments and explanations as may serve
to set the original intention of the rule in its proper light.

As the object of the royal taboos is to isolate the king from all
sources of danger, their general effect is to compel him to live in
a state of seclusion, more or less complete, according to the number
and stringency of the rules he observes. Now of all sources of
danger none are more dreaded by the savage than magic and
witchcraft, and he suspects all strangers of practising these black
arts. To guard against the baneful influence exerted voluntarily or
involuntarily by strangers is therefore an elementary dictate of
savage prudence. Hence before strangers are allowed to enter a
district, or at least before they are permitted to mingle freely
with the inhabitants, certain ceremonies are often performed by the
natives of the country for the purpose of disarming the strangers of
their magical powers, of counteracting the baneful influence which
is believed to emanate from them, or of disinfecting, so to speak,
the tainted atmosphere by which they are supposed to be surrounded.
Thus, when the ambassadors sent by Justin II., Emperor of the East,
to conclude a peace with the Turks had reached their destination,
they were received by shamans, who subjected them to a ceremonial
purification for the purpose of exorcising all harmful influence.
Having deposited the goods brought by the ambassadors in an open
place, these wizards carried burning branches of incense round them,
while they rang a bell and beat on a tambourine, snorting and
falling into a state of frenzy in their efforts to dispel the powers
of evil. Afterwards they purified the ambassadors themselves by
leading them through the flames. In the island of Nanumea (South
Pacific) strangers from ships or from other islands were not allowed
to communicate with the people until they all, or a few as
representatives of the rest, had been taken to each of the four
temples in the island, and prayers offered that the god would avert
any disease or treachery which these strangers might have brought
with them. Meat offerings were also laid upon the altars,
accompanied by songs and dances in honour of the god. While these
ceremonies were going on, all the people except the priests and
their attendants kept out of sight. Amongst the Ot Danoms of Borneo
it is the custom that strangers entering the territory should pay to
the natives a certain sum, which is spent in the sacrifice of
buffaloes or pigs to the spirits of the land and water, in order to
reconcile them to the presence of the strangers, and to induce them
not to withdraw their favour from the people of the country, but to
bless the rice-harvest, and so forth. The men of a certain district
in Borneo, fearing to look upon a European traveller lest he should
make them ill, warned their wives and children not to go near him.
Those who could not restrain their curiosity killed fowls to appease
the evil spirits and smeared themselves with the blood. "More
dreaded," says a traveller in Central Borneo, "than the evil spirits
of the neighbourhood are the evil spirits from a distance which
accompany travellers. When a company from the middle Mahakam River
visited me among the Blu-u Kayans in the year 1897, no woman showed
herself outside her house without a burning bundle of _plehiding_
bark, the stinking smoke of which drives away evil spirits."

When Crevaux was travelling in South America he entered a village of
the Apalai Indians. A few moments after his arrival some of the
Indians brought him a number of large black ants, of a species whose
bite is painful, fastened on palm leaves. Then all the people of the
village, without distinction of age or sex, presented themselves to
him, and he had to sting them all with the ants on their faces,
thighs, and other parts of their bodies. Sometimes, when he applied
the ants too tenderly, they called out "More! more!" and were not
satisfied till their skin was thickly studded with tiny swellings
like what might have been produced by whipping them with nettles.
The object of this ceremony is made plain by the custom observed in
Amboyna and Uliase of sprinkling sick people with pungent spices,
such as ginger and cloves, chewed fine, in order by the prickling
sensation to drive away the demon of disease which may be clinging
to their persons. In Java a popular cure for gout or rheumatism is
to rub Spanish pepper into the nails of the fingers and toes of the
sufferer; the pungency of the pepper is supposed to be too much for
the gout or rheumatism, who accordingly departs in haste. So on the
Slave Coast the mother of a sick child sometimes believes that an
evil spirit has taken possession of the child's body, and in order
to drive him out, she makes small cuts in the body of the little
sufferer and inserts green peppers or spices in the wounds,
believing that she will thereby hurt the evil spirit and force him
to be gone. The poor child naturally screams with pain, but the
mother hardens her heart in the belief that the demon is suffering

It is probable that the same dread of strangers, rather than any
desire to do them honour, is the motive of certain ceremonies which
are sometimes observed at their reception, but of which the
intention is not directly stated. In the Ongtong Java Islands, which
are inhabited by Polynesians, the priests or sorcerers seem to wield
great influence. Their main business is to summon or exorcise
spirits for the purpose of averting or dispelling sickness, and of
procuring favourable winds, a good catch of fish, and so on. When
strangers land on the islands, they are first of all received by the
sorcerers, sprinkled with water, anointed with oil, and girt with
dried pandanus leaves. At the same time sand and water are freely
thrown about in all directions, and the newcomer and his boat are
wiped with green leaves. After this ceremony the strangers are
introduced by the sorcerers to the chief. In Afghanistan and in some
parts of Persia the traveller, before he enters a village, is
frequently received with a sacrifice of animal life or food, or of
fire and incense. The Afghan Boundary Mission, in passing by
villages in Afghanistan, was often met with fire and incense.
Sometimes a tray of lighted embers is thrown under the hoofs of the
traveller's horse, with the words, "You are welcome." On entering a
village in Central Africa Emin Pasha was received with the sacrifice
of two goats; their blood was sprinkled on the path and the chief
stepped over the blood to greet Emin. Sometimes the dread of
strangers and their magic is too great to allow of their reception
on any terms. Thus when Speke arrived at a certain village, the
natives shut their doors against him, "because they had never before
seen a white man nor the tin boxes that the men were carrying: 'Who
knows,' they said, 'but that these very boxes are the plundering
Watuta transformed and come to kill us? You cannot be admitted.' No
persuasion could avail with them, and the party had to proceed to
the next village."

The fear thus entertained of alien visitors is often mutual.
Entering a strange land the savage feels that he is treading
enchanted ground, and he takes steps to guard against the demons
that haunt it and the magical arts of its inhabitants. Thus on going
to a strange land the Maoris performed certain ceremonies to make it
"common," lest it might have been previously "sacred." When Baron
Miklucho-Maclay was approaching a village on the Maclay Coast of New
Guinea, one of the natives who accompanied him broke a branch from a
tree and going aside whispered to it for a while; then stepping up
to each member of the party, one after another, he spat something
upon his back and gave him some blows with the branch. Lastly, he
went into the forest and buried the branch under withered leaves in
the thickest part of the jungle. This ceremony was believed to
protect the party against all treachery and danger in the village
they were approaching. The idea probably was that the malignant
influences were drawn off from the persons into the branch and
buried with it in the depths of the forest. In Australia, when a
strange tribe has been invited into a district and is approaching
the encampment of the tribe which owns the land, "the strangers
carry lighted bark or burning sticks in their hands, for the
purpose, they say, of clearing and purifying the air." When the
Toradjas are on a head-hunting expedition and have entered the
enemy's country, they may not eat any fruits which the foe has
planted nor any animal which he has reared until they have first
committed an act of hostility, as by burning a house or killing a
man. They think that if they broke this rule they would receive
something of the soul or spiritual essence of the enemy into
themselves, which would destroy the mystic virtue of their

Again, it is believed that a man who has been on a journey may have
contracted some magic evil from the strangers with whom he has
associated. Hence, on returning home, before he is readmitted to the
society of his tribe and friends, he has to undergo certain
purificatory ceremonies. Thus the Bechuanas "cleanse or purify
themselves after journeys by shaving their heads, etc., lest they
should have contracted from strangers some evil by witchcraft or
sorcery." In some parts of Western Africa, when a man returns home
after a long absence, before he is allowed to visit his wife, he
must wash his person with a particular fluid, and receive from the
sorcerer a certain mark on his forehead, in order to counteract any
magic spell which a stranger woman may have cast on him in his
absence, and which might be communicated through him to the women of
his village. Two Hindoo ambassadors, who had been sent to England by
a native prince and had returned to India, were considered to have
so polluted themselves by contact with strangers that nothing but
being born again could restore them to purity. "For the purpose of
regeneration it is directed to make an image of pure gold of the
female power of nature, in the shape either of a woman or of a cow.
In this statue the person to be regenerated is enclosed, and dragged
through the usual channel. As a statue of pure gold and of proper
dimensions would be too expensive, it is sufficient to make an image
of the sacred _Yoni,_ through which the person to be regenerated is
to pass." Such an image of pure gold was made at the prince's
command, and his ambassadors were born again by being dragged
through it.

When precautions like these are taken on behalf of the people in
general against the malignant influence supposed to be exercised by
strangers, it is no wonder that special measures are adopted to
protect the king from the same insidious danger. In the middle ages
the envoys who visited a Tartar Khan were obliged to pass between
two fires before they were admitted to his presence, and the gifts
they brought were also carried between the fires. The reason
assigned for the custom was that the fire purged away any magic
influence which the strangers might mean to exercise over the Khan.
When subject chiefs come with their retinues to visit Kalamba (the
most powerful chief of the Bashilange in the Congo Basin) for the
first time or after being rebellious, they have to bathe, men and
women together, in two brooks on two successive days, passing the
nights under the open sky in the market-place. After the second bath
they proceed, entirely naked, to the house of Kalamba, who makes a
long white mark on the breast and forehead of each of them. Then
they return to the market-place and dress, after which they undergo
the pepper ordeal. Pepper is dropped into the eyes of each of them,
and while this is being done the sufferer has to make a confession
of all his sins, to answer all questions that may be put to him, and
to take certain vows. This ends the ceremony, and the strangers are
now free to take up their quarters in the town for as long as they
choose to remain.

2. Taboos on Eating and Drinking

IN THE OPINION of savages the acts of eating and drinking are
attended with special danger; for at these times the soul may escape
from the mouth, or be extracted by the magic arts of an enemy
present. Among the Ewe-speaking peoples of the Slave Coast "the
common belief seems to be that the indwelling spirit leaves the body
and returns to it through the mouth; hence, should it have gone out,
it behoves a man to be careful about opening his mouth, lest a
homeless spirit should take advantage of the opportunity and enter
his body. This, it appears, is considered most likely to take place
while the man is eating." Precautions are therefore adopted to guard
against these dangers. Thus of the Bataks it is said that "since the
soul can leave the body, they always take care to prevent their soul
from straying on occasions when they have most need of it. But it is
only possible to prevent the soul from straying when one is in the
house. At feasts one may find the whole house shut up, in order that
the soul may stay and enjoy the good things set before it." The
Zafimanelo in Madagascar lock their doors when they eat, and hardly
any one ever sees them eating. The Warua will not allow any one to
see them eating and drinking, being doubly particular that no person
of the opposite sex shall see them doing so. "I had to pay a man to
let me see him drink; I could not make a man let a woman see him
drink." When offered a drink they often ask that a cloth may be held
up to hide them whilst drinking.

If these are the ordinary precautions taken by common people, the
precautions taken by kings are extraordinary. The king of Loango may
not be seen eating or drinking by man or beast under pain of death.
A favourite dog having broken into the room where the king was
dining, the king ordered it to be killed on the spot. Once the
king's own son, a boy of twelve years old, inadvertently saw the
king drink. Immediately the king ordered him to be finely apparelled
and feasted, after which he commanded him to be cut in quarters, and
carried about the city with a proclamation that he had seen the king
drink. "When the king has a mind to drink, he has a cup of wine
brought; he that brings it has a bell in his hand, and as soon as he
has delivered the cup to the king, he turns his face from him and
rings the bell, on which all present fall down with their faces to
the ground, and continue so till the king has drank. . . . His
eating is much in the same style, for which he has a house on
purpose, where his victuals are set upon a bensa or table: which he
goes to, and shuts the door: when he has done, he knocks and comes
out. So that none ever see the king eat or drink. For it is believed
that if any one should, the king shall immediately die." The
remnants of his food are buried, doubtless to prevent them from
falling into the hands of sorcerers, who by means of these fragments
might cast a fatal spell over the monarch. The rules observed by the
neighbouring king of Cacongo were similar; it was thought that the
king would die if any of his subjects were to see him drink. It is a
capital offence to see the king of Dahomey at his meals. When he
drinks in public, as he does on extraordinary occasions, he hides
himself behind a curtain, or handkerchiefs are held up round his
head, and all the people throw themselves with their faces to the
earth. When the king of Bunyoro in Central Africa went to drink milk
in the dairy, every man must leave the royal enclosure and all the
women had to cover their heads till the king returned. No one might
see him drink. One wife accompanied him to the dairy and handed him
the milk-pot, but she turned away her face while he drained it.

3. Taboos on Showing the Face

IN SOME of the preceding cases the intention of eating and drinking
in strict seclusion may perhaps be to hinder evil influences from
entering the body rather than to prevent the escape of the soul.
This certainly is the motive of some drinking customs observed by
natives of the Congo region. Thus we are told of these people that
"there is hardly a native who would dare to swallow a liquid without
first conjuring the spirits. One of them rings a bell all the time
he is drinking; another crouches down and places his left hand on
the earth; another veils his head; another puts a stalk of grass or
a leaf in his hair, or marks his forehead with a line of clay. This
fetish custom assumes very varied forms. To explain them, the black
is satisfied to say that they are an energetic mode of conjuring
spirits." In this part of the world a chief will commonly ring a
bell at each draught of beer which he swallows, and at the same
moment a lad stationed in front of him brandishes a spear "to keep
at bay the spirits which might try to sneak into the old chief's
body by the same road as the beer." The same motive of warding off
evil spirits probably explains the custom observed by some African
sultans of veiling their faces. The Sultan of Darfur wraps up his
face with a piece of white muslin, which goes round his head several
times, covering his mouth and nose first, and then his forehead, so
that only his eyes are visible. The same custom of veiling the face
as a mark of sovereignty is said to be observed in other parts of
Central Africa. The Sultan of Wadai always speaks from behind a
curtain; no one sees his face except his intimates and a few
favoured persons.

4. Taboos on Quitting the House

BY AN EXTENSION of the like precaution kings are sometimes forbidden
ever to leave their palaces; or, if they are allowed to do so, their
subjects are forbidden to see them abroad. The fetish king of Benin,
who was worshipped as a deity by his subjects, might not quit his
palace. After his coronation the king of Loango is confined to his
palace, which he may not leave. The king of Onitsha "does not step
out of his house into the town unless a human sacrifice is made to
propitiate the gods: on this account he never goes out beyond the
precincts of his premises." Indeed we are told that he may not quit
his palace under pain of death or of giving up one or more slaves to
be executed in his presence. As the wealth of the country is
measured in slaves, the king takes good care not to infringe the
law. Yet once a year at the Feast of Yams the king is allowed, and
even required by custom, to dance before his people outside the high
mud wall of the palace. In dancing he carries a great weight,
generally a sack of earth, on his back to prove that he is still
able to support the burden and cares of state. Were he unable to
discharge this duty, he would be immediately deposed and perhaps
stoned. The kings of Ethiopia were worshipped as gods, but were
mostly kept shut up in their palaces. On the mountainous coast of
Pontus there dwelt in antiquity a rude and warlike people named the
Mosyni or Mosynoeci, through whose rugged country the Ten Thousand
marched on their famous retreat from Asia to Europe. These
barbarians kept their king in close custody at the top of a high
tower, from which after his election he was never more allowed to
descend. Here he dispensed justice to his people; but if he offended
them, they punished him by stopping his rations for a whole day, or
even starving him to death. The kings of Sabaea or Sheba, the spice
country of Arabia, were not allowed to go out of their palaces; if
they did so, the mob stoned them to death. But at the top of the
palace there was a window with a chain attached to it. If any man
deemed he had suffered wrong, he pulled the chain, and the king
perceived him and called him in and gave judgment.

5. Taboos on Leaving Food over

AGAIN, magic mischief may be wrought upon a man through the remains
of the food he has partaken of, or the dishes out of which he has
eaten. On the principles of sympathetic magic a real connexion
continues to subsist between the food which a man has in his stomach
and the refuse of it which he has left untouched, and hence by
injuring the refuse you can simultaneously injure the eater. Among
the Narrinyeri of South Australia every adult is constantly on the
look-out for bones of beasts, birds, or fish, of which the flesh has
been eaten by somebody, in order to construct a deadly charm out of
them. Every one is therefore careful to burn the bones of the
animals which he has eaten, lest they should fall into the hands of
a sorcerer. Too often, however, the sorcerer succeeds in getting
hold of such a bone, and when he does so he believes that he has the
power of life and death over the man, woman, or child who ate the
flesh of the animal. To put the charm in operation he makes a paste
of red ochre and fish oil, inserts in it the eye of a cod and a
small piece of the flesh of a corpse, and having rolled the compound
into a ball sticks it on the top of the bone. After being left for
some time in the bosom of a dead body, in order that it may derive a
deadly potency by contact with corruption, the magical implement is
set up in the ground near the fire, and as the ball melts, so the
person against whom the charm is directed wastes with disease; if
the ball is melted quite away, the victim will die. When the
bewitched man learns of the spell that is being cast upon him, he
endeavours to buy the bone from the sorcerer, and if he obtains it
he breaks the charm by throwing the bone into a river or lake. In
Tana, one of the New Hebrides, people bury or throw into the sea the
leavings of their food, lest these should fall into the hands of the
disease-makers. For if a disease-maker finds the remnants of a meal,
say the skin of a banana, he picks it up and burns it slowly in the
fire. As it burns, the person who ate the banana falls ill and sends
to the disease-maker, offering him presents if he will stop burning
the banana skin. In New Guinea the natives take the utmost care to
destroy or conceal the husks and other remains of their food, lest
these should be found by their enemies and used by them for the
injury or destruction of the eaters. Hence they burn their leavings,
throw them into the sea, or otherwise put them out of harm's way.

From a like fear, no doubt, of sorcery, no one may touch the food
which the king of Loango leaves upon his plate; it is buried in a
hole in the ground. And no one may drink out of the king's vessel.
In antiquity the Romans used immediately to break the shells of eggs
and of snails which they had eaten, in order to prevent enemies from
making magic with them. The common practice, still observed among
us, of breaking egg-shells after the eggs have been eaten may very
well have originated in the same superstition.

The superstitious fear of the magic that may be wrought on a man
through the leavings of his food has had the beneficial effect of
inducing many savages to destroy refuse which, if left to rot, might
through its corruption have proved a real, not a merely imaginary,
source of disease and death. Nor is it only the sanitary condition
of a tribe which has benefited by this superstition; curiously
enough the same baseless dread, the same false notion of causation,
has indirectly strengthened the moral bonds of hospitality, honour,
and good faith among men who entertain it. For it is obvious that no
one who intends to harm a man by working magic on the refuse of his
food will himself partake of that food, because if he did so he
would, on the principles of sympathetic magic, suffer equally with
his enemy from any injury done to the refuse. This is the idea which
in primitive society lends sanctity to the bond produced by eating
together; by participation in the same food two men give, as it
were, hostages for their good behaviour; each guarantees the other
that he will devise no mischief against him, since, being physically
united with him by the common food in their stomachs, any harm he
might do to his fellow would recoil on his own head with precisely
the same force with which it fell on the head of his victim. In
strict logic, however, the sympathetic bond lasts only so long as
the food is in the stomach of each of the parties. Hence the
covenant formed by eating together is less solemn and durable than
the covenant formed by transfusing the blood of the covenanting
parties into each other's veins, for this transfusion seems to knit
them together for life.

XX. Tabooed Persons

1. Chiefs and Kings tabooed

WE have seen that the Mikado's food was cooked every day in new pots
and served up in new dishes; both pots and dishes were of common
clay, in order that they might be broken or laid aside after they
had been once used. They were generally broken, for it was believed
that if any one else ate his food out of these sacred dishes, his
mouth and throat would become swollen and inflamed. The same ill
effect was thought to be experienced by any one who should wear the
Mikado's clothes without his leave; he would have swellings and
pains all over his body. In Fiji there is a special name (_kana
lama_) for the disease supposed to be caused by eating out of a
chief's dishes or wearing his clothes. "The throat and body swell,
and the impious person dies. I had a fine mat given to me by a man
who durst not use it because Thakombau's eldest son had sat upon it.
There was always a family or clan of commoners who were exempt from
this danger. I was talking about this once to Thakombau. 'Oh yes,'
said he. 'Here, So-and-so! come and scratch my back.' The man
scratched; he was one of those who could do it with impunity." The
name of the men thus highly privileged was _Na nduka ni,_ or the
dirt of the chief.

In the evil effects thus supposed to follow upon the use of the
vessels or clothes of the Mikado and a Fijian chief we see that
other side of the god-man's character to which attention has been
already called. The divine person is a source of danger as well as
of blessing; he must not only be guarded, he must also be guarded
against. His sacred organism, so delicate that a touch may disorder
it, is also, as it were, electrically charged with a powerful
magical or spiritual force which may discharge itself with fatal
effect on whatever comes in contact with it. Accordingly the
isolation of the man-god is quite as necessary for the safety of
others as for his own. His magical virtue is in the strictest sense
of the word contagious: his divinity is a fire, which, under proper
restraints, confers endless blessings, but, if rashly touched or
allowed to break bounds, burns and destroys what it touches. Hence
the disastrous effects supposed to attend a breach of taboo; the
offender has thrust his hand into the divine fire, which shrivels up
and consumes him on the spot.

The Nubas, for example, who inhabit the wooded and fertile range of
Jebel Nuba in Eastern Africa, believe that they would die if they
entered the house of their priestly king; however, they can evade
the penalty of their intrusion by baring the left shoulder and
getting the king to lay his hand on it. And were any man to sit on a
stone which the king has consecrated to his own use, the
transgressor would die within the year. The Cazembes of Angola
regard their king as so holy that no one can touch him without being
killed by the magical power which pervades his sacred person. But
since contact with him is sometimes unavoidable, they have devised a
means whereby the sinner can escape with his life. Kneeling down
before the king he touches the back of the royal hand with the back
of his own, then snaps his fingers; afterwards he lays the palm of
his hand on the palm of the king's hand, then snaps his fingers
again. This ceremony is repeated four or five times, and averts the
imminent danger of death. In Tonga it was believed that if any one
fed himself with his own hands after touching the sacred person of a
superior chief or anything that belonged to him, he would swell up
and die; the sanctity of the chief, like a virulent poison, infected
the hands of his inferior, and, being communicated through them to
the food, proved fatal to the eater. A commoner who had incurred
this danger could disinfect himself by performing a certain
ceremony, which consisted in touching the sole of a chief's foot
with the palm and back of each of his hands, and afterwards rinsing
his hands in water. If there was no water near, he rubbed his hands
with the juicy stem of a plantain or banana. After that he was free
to feed himself with his own hands without danger of being attacked
by the malady which would otherwise follow from eating with tabooed
or sanctified hands. But until the ceremony of expiation or
disinfection had been performed, if he wished to eat he had either
to get some one to feed him, or else to go down on his knees and
pick up the food from the ground with his mouth like a beast. He
might not even use a toothpick himself, but might guide the hand of
another person holding the toothpick. The Tongans were subject to
induration of the liver and certain forms of scrofula, which they
often attributed to a failure to perform the requisite expiation
after having inadvertently touched a chief or his belongings. Hence
they often went through the ceremony as a precaution, without
knowing that they had done anything to call for it. The king of
Tonga could not refuse to play his part in the rite by presenting
his foot to such as desired to touch it, even when they applied to
him at an inconvenient time. A fat unwieldy king, who perceived his
subjects approaching with this intention, while he chanced to be
taking his walks abroad, has been sometimes seen to waddle as fast
as his legs could carry him out of their way, in order to escape the
importunate and not wholly disinterested expression of their homage.
If any one fancied he might have already unwittingly eaten with
tabooed hands, he sat down before the chief, and, taking the chief's
foot, pressed it against his own stomach, that the food in his belly
might not injure him, and that he might not swell up and die. Since
scrofula was regarded by the Tongans as a result of eating with
tabooed hands, we may conjecture that persons who suffered from it
among them often resorted to the touch or pressure of the king's
foot as a cure for their malady. The analogy of the custom with the
old English practice of bringing scrofulous patients to the king to
be healed by his touch is sufficiently obvious, and suggests, as I
have already pointed out elsewhere, that among our own remote
ancestors scrofula may have obtained its name of the King's Evil,
from a belief, like that of the Tongans, that it was caused as well
as cured by contact with the divine majesty of kings.

In New Zealand the dread of the sanctity of chiefs was at least as
great as in Tonga. Their ghostly power, derived from an ancestral
spirit, diffused itself by contagion over everything they touched,
and could strike dead all who rashly or unwittingly meddled with it.
For instance, it once happened that a New Zealand chief of high rank
and great sanctity had left the remains of his dinner by the
wayside. A slave, a stout, hungry fellow, coming up after the chief
had gone, saw the unfinished dinner, and ate it up without asking
questions. Hardly had he finished when he was informed by a
horror-stricken spectator that the food of which he had eaten was
the chief's. "I knew the unfortunate delinquent well. He was
remarkable for courage, and had signalised himself in the wars of
the tribe," but "no sooner did he hear the fatal news than he was
seized by the most extraordinary convulsions and cramp in the
stomach, which never ceased till he died, about sundown the same
day. He was a strong man, in the prime of life, and if any pakeha
[European] freethinker should have said he was not killed by the
_tapu_ of the chief, which had been communicated to the food by
contact, he would have been listened to with feelings of contempt
for his ignorance and inability to understand plain and direct
evidence." This is not a solitary case. A Maori woman having eaten
of some fruit, and being afterwards told that the fruit had been
taken from a tabooed place, exclaimed that the spirit of the chief,
whose sanctity had been thus profaned, would kill her. This was in
the afternoon, and next day by twelve o'clock she was dead. A Maori
chief's tinder-box was once the means of killing several persons;
for, having been lost by him, and found by some men who used it to
light their pipes, they died of fright on learning to whom it had
belonged. So, too, the garments of a high New Zealand chief will
kill any one else who wears them. A chief was observed by a
missionary to throw down a precipice a blanket which he found too
heavy to carry. Being asked by the missionary why he did not leave
it on a tree for the use of a future traveller, the chief replied
that "it was the fear of its being taken by another which caused him
to throw it where he did, for if it were worn, his tapu" (that is,
his spiritual power communicated by contact to the blanket and
through the blanket to the man) "would kill the person." For a
similar reason a Maori chief would not blow a fire with his mouth;
for his sacred breath would communicate its sanctity to the fire,
which would pass it on to the pot on the fire, which would pass it
on to the meat in the pot, which would pass it on to the man who ate
the meat, which was in the pot, which stood on the fire, which was
breathed on by the chief; so that the eater, infected by the chief's
breath conveyed through these intermediaries, would surely die.

Thus in the Polynesian race, to which the Maoris belong,
superstition erected round the persons of sacred chiefs a real,
though at the same time purely imaginary barrier, to transgress
which actually entailed the death of the transgressor whenever he
became aware of what he had done. This fatal power of the
imagination working through superstitious terrors is by no means
confined to one race; it appears to be common among savages. For
example, among the aborigines of Australia a native will die after
the infliction of even the most superficial wound, if only he
believes that the weapon which inflicted the wound had been sung
over and thus endowed with magical virtue. He simply lies down,
refuses food, and pines away. Similarly among some of the Indian
tribes of Brazil, if the medicine-man predicted the death of any one
who had offended him, "the wretch took to his hammock instantly in
such full expectation of dying, that he would neither eat nor drink,
and the prediction was a sentence which faith effectually executed."

2. Mourners tabooed

THUS regarding his sacred chiefs and kings as charged with a
mysterious spiritual force which so to say explodes at contact, the
savage naturally ranks them among the dangerous classes of society,
and imposes upon them the same sort of restraints that he lays on
manslayers, menstruous women, and other persons whom he looks upon
with a certain fear and horror. For example, sacred kings and
priests in Polynesia were not allowed to touch food with their
hands, and had therefore to be fed by others; and as we have just
seen, their vessels, garments, and other property might not be used
by others on pain of disease and death. Now precisely the same
observances are exacted by some savages from girls at their first
menstruation, women after childbirth, homicides, mourners, and all
persons who have come into contact with the dead. Thus, for example,
to begin with the last class of persons, among the Maoris any one
who had handled a corpse, helped to convey it to the grave, or
touched a dead man's bones, was cut off from all intercourse and
almost all communication with mankind. He could not enter any house,
or come into contact with any person or thing, without utterly
bedevilling them. He might not even touch food with his hands, which
had become so frightfully tabooed or unclean as to be quite useless.
Food would be set for him on the ground, and he would then sit or
kneel down, and, with his hands carefully held behind his back,
would gnaw at it as best he could. In some cases he would be fed by
another person, who with outstretched arm contrived to do it without
touching the tabooed man; but the feeder was himself subjected to
many severe restrictions, little less onerous than those which were
imposed upon the other. In almost every populous village there lived
a degraded wretch, the lowest of the low, who earned a sorry
pittance by thus waiting upon the defiled. Clad in rags, daubed from
head to foot with red ochre and stinking shark oil, always solitary
and silent, generally old, haggard, and wizened, often half crazed,
he might be seen sitting motionless all day apart from the common
path or thoroughfare of the village, gazing with lack-lustre eyes on
the busy doings in which he might never take a part. Twice a day a
dole of food would be thrown on the ground before him to munch as
well as he could without the use of his hands; and at night,
huddling his greasy tatters about him, he would crawl into some
miserable lair of leaves and refuse, where, dirty, cold, and hungry,
he passed, in broken ghost-haunted slumbers, a wretched night as a
prelude to another wretched day. Such was the only human being
deemed fit to associate at arm's length with one who had paid the
last offices of respect and friendship to the dead. And when, the
dismal term of his seclusion being over, the mourner was about to
mix with his fellows once more, all the dishes he had used in his
seclusion were diligently smashed, and all the garments he had worn
were carefully thrown away, lest they should spread the contagion of
his defilement among others, just as the vessels and clothes of
sacred kings and chiefs are destroyed or cast away for a similar
reason. So complete in these respects is the analogy which the
savage traces between the spiritual influences that emanate from
divinities and from the dead, between the odour of sanctity and the
stench of corruption.

The rule which forbids persons who have been in contact with the
dead to touch food with their hands would seem to have been
universal in Polynesia. Thus in Samoa "those who attended the
deceased were most careful not to handle food, and for days were fed
by others as if they were helpless infants. Baldness and the loss of
teeth were supposed to be the punishment inflicted by the household
god if they violated the rule." Again, in Tonga, "no person can
touch a dead chief without being taboo'd for ten lunar months,
except chiefs, who are only taboo'd for three, four, or five months,
according to the superiority of the dead chief; except again it be
the body of Tooitonga [the great divine chief], and then even the
greatest chief would be taboo'd ten months. . . . During the time a
man is taboo'd he must not feed himself with his own hands, but must
be fed by somebody else: he must not even use a toothpick himself,
but must guide another person's hand holding the toothpick. If he is
hungry and there is no one to feed him, he must go down upon his
hands and knees, and pick up his victuals with his mouth: and if he
infringes upon any of these rules, it is firmly expected that he
will swell up and die."

Among the Shuswap of British Columbia widows and widowers in
mourning are secluded and forbidden to touch their own head or body;
the cups and cooking-vessels which they use may be used by no one
else. They must build a sweat-house beside a creek, sweat there all
night and bathe regularly, after which they must rub their bodies
with branches of spruce. The branches may not be used more than
once, and when they have served their purpose they are stuck into
the ground all round the hut. No hunter would come near such
mourners, for their presence is unlucky. If their shadow were to
fall on any one, he would be taken ill at once. They employ thorn
bushes for bed and pillow, in order to keep away the ghost of the
deceased; and thorn bushes are also laid all around their beds. This
last precaution shows clearly what the spiritual danger is which
leads to the exclusion of such persons from ordinary society; it is
simply a fear of the ghost who is supposed to be hovering near them.
In the Mekeo district of British New Guinea a widower loses all his
civil rights and becomes a social outcast, an object of fear and
horror, shunned by all. He may not cultivate a garden, nor show
himself in public, nor traverse the village, nor walk on the roads
and paths. Like a wild beast he must skulk in the long grass and the
bushes; and if he sees or hears any one coming, especially a woman,
he must hide behind a tree or a thicket. If he wishes to fish or
hunt, he must do it alone and at night. If he would consult any one,
even the missionary, he does so by stealth and at night; he seems to
have lost his voice and speaks only in whispers. Were he to join a
party of fishers or hunters, his presence would bring misfortune on
them; the ghost of his dead wife would frighten away the fish or the
game. He goes about everywhere and at all times armed with a
tomahawk to defend himself, not only against wild boars in the
jungle, but against the dreaded spirit of his departed spouse, who
would do him an ill turn if she could; for all the souls of the dead
are malignant and their only delight is to harm the living.

3. Women tabooed at Menstruation and Childbirth

IN GENERAL, we may say that the prohibition to use the vessels,
garments, and so forth of certain persons, and the effects supposed
to follow an infraction of the rule, are exactly the same whether
the persons to whom the things belong are sacred or what we might
call unclean and polluted. As the garments which have been touched
by a sacred chief kill those who handle them, so do the things which
have been touched by a menstruous women. An Australian blackfellow,
who discovered that his wife had lain on his blanket at her
menstrual period, killed her and died of terror himself within a
fortnight. Hence Australian women at these times are forbidden under
pain of death to touch anything that men use, or even to walk on a
path that any man frequents. They are also secluded at childbirth,
and all vessels used by them during their seclusion are burned. In
Uganda the pots which a woman touches, while the impurity of
childbirth or of menstruation is on her, should be destroyed; spears
and shields defiled by her touch are not destroyed, but only
purified. "Among all the Déné and most other American tribes, hardly
any other being was the object of so much dread as a menstruating
woman. As soon as signs of that condition made themselves apparent
in a young girl she was carefully segregated from all but female
company, and had to live by herself in a small hut away from the
gaze of the villagers or of the male members of the roving band.
While in that awful state, she had to abstain from touching anything
belonging to man, or the spoils of any venison or other animal, lest
she would thereby pollute the same, and condemn the hunters to
failure, owing to the anger of the game thus slighted. Dried fish
formed her diet, and cold water, absorbed through a drinking tube,
was her only beverage. Moreover, as the very sight of her was
dangerous to society, a special skin bonnet, with fringes falling
over her face down to her breast, hid her from the public gaze, even
some time after she had recovered her normal state." Among the
Bribri Indians of Costa Rica a menstruous woman is regarded as
unclean. The only plates she may use for her food are banana leaves,
which, when she has done with them, she throws away in some
sequestered spot; for were a cow to find them and eat them, the
animal would waste away and perish. And she drinks out of a special
vessel for a like reason; because if any one drank out of the same
cup after her, he would surely die.

Among many peoples similar restrictions are imposed on women in
childbed and apparently for similar reasons; at such periods women
are supposed to be in a dangerous condition which would infect any
person or thing they might touch; hence they are put into quarantine
until, with the recovery of their health and strength, the imaginary
danger has passed away. Thus, in Tahiti a woman after childbirth was
secluded for a fortnight or three weeks in a temporary hut erected
on sacred ground; during the time of her seclusion she was debarred
from touching provisions, and had to be fed by another. Further, if
any one else touched the child at this period, he was subjected to
the same restrictions as the mother until the ceremony of her
purification had been performed. Similarly in the island of Kadiak,
off Alaska, a woman about to be delivered retires to a miserable low
hovel built of reeds, where she must remain for twenty days after
the birth of her child, whatever the season may be, and she is
considered so unclean that no one will touch her, and food is
reached to her on sticks. The Bribri Indians regard the pollution of
childbed as much more dangerous even than that of menstruation. When
a woman feels her time approaching, she informs her husband, who
makes haste to build a hut for her in a lonely spot. There she must
live alone, holding no converse with anybody save her mother or
another woman. After her delivery the medicine-man purifies her by
breathing on her and laying an animal, it matters not what, upon
her. But even this ceremony only mitigates her uncleanness into a
state considered to be equivalent to that of a menstruous woman; and
for a full lunar month she must live apart from her housemates,
observing the same rules with regard to eating and drinking as at
her monthly periods. The case is still worse, the pollution is still
more deadly, if she has had a miscarriage or has been delivered of a
stillborn child. In that case she may not go near a living soul: the
mere contact with things she has used is exceedingly dangerous: her
food is handed to her at the end of a long stick. This lasts
generally for three weeks, after which she may go home, subject only
to the restrictions incident to an ordinary confinement.

Some Bantu tribes entertain even more exaggerated notions of the
virulent infection spread by a woman who has had a miscarriage and
has concealed it. An experienced observer of these people tells us
that the blood of childbirth "appears to the eyes of the South
Africans to be tainted with a pollution still more dangerous than
that of the menstrual fluid. The husband is excluded from the hut
for eight days of the lying-in period, chiefly from fear that he
might be contaminated by this secretion. He dare not take his child
in his arms for the three first months after the birth. But the
secretion of childbed is particularly terrible when it is the
product of a miscarriage, especially _a concealed miscarriage._ In
this case it is not merely the man who is threatened or killed, it
is the whole country, it is the sky itself which suffers. By a
curious association of ideas a physiological fact causes cosmic
troubles!" As for the disastrous effect which a miscarriage may have
on the whole country I will quote the words of a medicine-man and
rain-maker of the Ba-Pedi tribe: "When a woman has had a
miscarriage, when she has allowed her blood to flow, and has hidden
the child, it is enough to cause the burning winds to blow and to
parch the country with heat. The rain no longer falls, for the
country is no longer in order. When the rain approaches the place
where the blood is, it will not dare to approach. It will fear and
remain at a distance. That woman has committed a great fault. She
has spoiled the country of the chief, for she has hidden blood which
had not yet been well congealed to fashion a man. That blood is
taboo. It should never drip on the road! The chief will assemble his
men and say to them, 'Are you in order in your villages?' Some one
will answer, 'Such and such a woman was pregnant and we have not yet
seen the child which she has given birth to.' Then they go and
arrest the woman. They say to her, 'Show us where you have hidden
it.' They go and dig at the spot, they sprinkle the hole with a
decoction of two sorts of roots prepared in a special pot. They take
a little of the earth of this grave, they throw it into the river,
then they bring back water from the river and sprinkle it where she
shed her blood. She herself must wash every day with the medicine.
Then the country will be moistened again (by rain). Further, we
(medicine-men), summon the women of the country; we tell them to
prepare a ball of the earth which contains the blood. They bring it
to us one morning. If we wish to prepare medicine with which to
sprinkle the whole country, we crumble this earth to powder; at the
end of five days we send little boys and little girls, girls that
yet know nothing of women's affairs and have not yet had relations
with men. We put the medicine in the horns of oxen, and these
children go to all the fords, to all the entrances of the country. A
little girl turns up the soil with her mattock, the others dip a
branch in the horn and sprinkle the inside of the hole saying,
'Rain! rain!' So we remove the misfortune which the women have
brought on the roads; the rain will be able to come. The country is

4. Warriors tabooed

ONCE more, warriors are conceived by the savage to move, so to say,
in an atmosphere of spiritual danger which constrains them to
practise a variety of superstitious observances quite different in
their nature from those rational precautions which, as a matter of
course, they adopt against foes of flesh and blood. The general
effect of these observances is to place the warrior, both before and
after victory, in the same state of seclusion or spiritual
quarantine in which, for his own safety, primitive man puts his
human gods and other dangerous characters. Thus when the Maoris went
out on the war-path they were sacred or taboo in the highest degree,
and they and their friends at home had to observe strictly many
curious customs over and above the numerous taboos of ordinary life.
They became, in the irreverent language of Europeans who knew them
in the old fighting days, "tabooed an inch thick"; and as for the
leader of the expedition, he was quite unapproachable. Similarly,
when the Israelites marched forth to war they were bound by certain
rules of ceremonial purity identical with rules observed by Maoris
and Australian blackfellows on the war-path. The vessels they used
were sacred, and they had to practise continence and a custom of
personal cleanliness of which the original motive, if we may judge
from the avowed motive of savages who conform to the same custom,
was a fear lest the enemy should obtain the refuse of their persons,
and thus be enabled to work their destruction by magic. Among some
Indian tribes of North America a young warrior in his first campaign
had to conform to certain customs, of which two were identical with
the observances imposed by the same Indians on girls at their first
menstruation: the vessels he ate and drank out of might be touched
by no other person, and he was forbidden to scratch his head or any
other part of his body with his fingers; if he could not help
scratching himself, he had to do it with a stick. The latter rule,
like the one which forbids a tabooed person to feed himself with his
own fingers, seems to rest on the supposed sanctity or pollution,
whichever we choose to call it, of the tabooed hands. Moreover among
these Indian tribes the men on the war-path had always to sleep at
night with their faces turned towards their own country; however
uneasy the posture, they might not change it. They might not sit
upon the bare ground, nor wet their feet, nor walk on a beaten path
if they could help it; when they had no choice but to walk on a
path, they sought to counteract the ill effect of doing so by
doctoring their legs with certain medicines or charms which they
carried with them for the purpose. No member of the party was
permitted to step over the legs, hands, or body of any other member
who chanced to be sitting or lying on the ground; and it was equally
forbidden to step over his blanket, gun, tomahawk, or anything that
belonged to him. If this rule was inadvertently broken, it became
the duty of the member whose person or property had been stepped
over to knock the other member down, and it was similarly the duty
of that other to be knocked down peaceably and without resistance.
The vessels out of which the warriors ate their food were commonly
small bowls of wood or birch bark, with marks to distinguish the two
sides; in marching from home the Indians invariably drank out of one
side of the bowl, and in returning they drank out of the other. When
on their way home they came within a day's march of the village,
they hung up all their bowls on trees, or threw them away on the
prairie, doubtless to prevent their sanctity or defilement from
being communicated with disastrous effects to their friends, just as
we have seen that the vessels and clothes of the sacred Mikado, of
women at childbirth and menstruation, and of persons defiled by
contact with the dead are destroyed or laid aside for a similar
reason. The first four times that an Apache Indian goes out on the
war-path, he is bound to refrain from scratching his head with his
fingers and from letting water touch his lips. Hence he scratches
his head with a stick, and drinks through a hollow reed or cane.
Stick and reed are attached to the warrior's belt and to each other
by a leathern thong. The rule not to scratch their heads with their
fingers, but to use a stick for the purpose instead, was regularly
observed by Ojebways on the war-path.

With regard to the Creek Indians and kindred tribes we are told they
"will not cohabit with women while they are out at war; they
religiously abstain from every kind of intercourse even with their
own wives, for the space of three days and nights before they go to
war, and so after they return home, because they are to sanctify
themselves." Among the Ba-Pedi and Ba-Thonga tribes of South Africa
not only have the warriors to abstain from women, but the people
left behind in the villages are also bound to continence; they think
that any incontinence on their part would cause thorns to grow on
the ground traversed by the warriors, and that success would not
attend the expedition.

Why exactly many savages have made it a rule to refrain from women
in time of war, we cannot say for certain, but we may conjecture
that their motive was a superstitious fear lest, on the principles
of sympathetic magic, close contact with women should infect them
with feminine weakness and cowardice. Similarly some savages imagine
that contact with a woman in childbed enervates warriors and
enfeebles their weapons. Indeed the Kayans of Central Borneo go so
far as to hold that to touch a loom or women's clothes would so
weaken a man that he would have no success in hunting, fishing, and
war. Hence it is not merely sexual intercourse with women that the
savage warrior sometimes shuns; he is careful to avoid the sex
altogether. Thus among the hill tribes of Assam, not only are men
forbidden to cohabit with their wives during or after a raid, but
they may not eat food cooked by a woman; nay, they should not
address a word even to their own wives. Once a woman, who
unwittingly broke the rule by speaking to her husband while he was
under the war taboo, sickened and died when she learned the awful
crime she had committed.

5. Manslayers tabooed

IF THE READER still doubts whether the rules of conduct which we
have just been considering are based on superstitious fears or
dictated by a rational prudence, his doubts will probably be
dissipated when he learns that rules of the same sort are often
imposed even more stringently on warriors after the victory has been
won and when all fear of the living corporeal foe is at an end. In
such cases one motive for the inconvenient restrictions laid on the
victors in their hour of triumph is probably a dread of the angry
ghosts of the slain; and that the fear of the vengeful ghosts does
influence the behaviour of the slayers is often expressly affirmed.
The general effect of the taboos laid on sacred chiefs, mourners,
women at childbirth, men on the war-path, and so on, is to seclude
or isolate the tabooed persons from ordinary society, this effect
being attained by a variety of rules, which oblige the men or women
to live in separate huts or in the open air, to shun the commerce of
the sexes, to avoid the use of vessels employed by others, and so
forth. Now the same effect is produced by similar means in the case
of victorious warriors, particularly such as have actually shed the
blood of their enemies. In the island of Timor, when a warlike
expedition has returned in triumph bringing the heads of the
vanquished foe, the leader of the expedition is forbidden by
religion and custom to return at once to his own house. A special
hut is prepared for him, in which he has to reside for two months,
undergoing bodily and spiritual purification. During this time he
may not go to his wife nor feed himself; the food must be put into
his mouth by another person. That these observances are dictated by
fear of the ghosts of the slain seems certain; for from another
account of the ceremonies performed on the return of a successful
head-hunter in the same island we learn that sacrifices are offered
on this occasion to appease the soul of the man whose head has been
taken; the people think that some misfortune would befall the victor
were such offerings omitted. Moreover, a part of the ceremony
consists of a dance accompanied by a song, in which the death of the
slain man is lamented and his forgiveness is entreated. "Be not
angry," they say, "because your head is here with us; had we been
less lucky, our heads might now have been exposed in your village.
We have offered the sacrifice to appease you. Your spirit may now
rest and leave us at peace. Why were you our enemy? Would it not
have been better that we should remain friends? Then your blood
would not have been spilt and your head would not have been cut
off." The people of Paloo in Central Celebes take the heads of their
enemies in war and afterwards propitiate the souls of the slain in
the temple.

Among the tribes at the mouth of the Wanigela River, in New Guinea,
"a man who has taken life is considered to be impure until he has
undergone certain ceremonies: as soon as possible after the deed he
cleanses himself and his weapon. This satisfactorily accomplished,
he repairs to his village and seats himself on the logs of
sacrificial staging. No one approaches him or takes any notice
whatever of him. A house is prepared for him which is put in charge
of two or three small boys as servants. He may eat only toasted
bananas, and only the centre portion of them--the ends being thrown
away. On the third day of his seclusion a small feast is prepared by
his friends, who also fashion some new perineal bands for him. This
is called _ivi poro._ The next day the man dons all his best
ornaments and badges for taking life, and sallies forth fully armed
and parades the village. The next day a hunt is organised, and a
kangaroo selected from the game captured. It is cut open and the
spleen and liver rubbed over the back of the man. He then walks
solemnly down to the nearest water, and standing straddle-legs in it
washes himself. All the young untried warriors swim between his
legs. This is supposed to impart courage and strength to them. The
following day, at early dawn, he dashes out of his house, fully
armed, and calls aloud the name of his victim. Having satisfied
himself that he has thoroughly scared the ghost of the dead man, he
returns to his house. The beating of flooring-boards and the
lighting of fires is also a certain method of scaring the ghost. A
day later his purification is finished. He can then enter his wife's

In Windessi, Dutch New Guinea, when a party of head-hunters has been
successful, and they are nearing home, they announce their approach
and success by blowing on triton shells. Their canoes are also
decked with branches. The faces of the men who have taken a head are
blackened with charcoal. If several have taken part in killing the
same victim, his head is divided among them. They always time their
arrival so as to reach home in the early morning. They come rowing
to the village with a great noise, and the women stand ready to
dance in the verandahs of the houses. The canoes row past the _room
sram_ or house where the young men live; and as they pass, the
murderers throw as many pointed sticks or bamboos at the wall or the
roof as there were enemies killed. The day is spent very quietly.
Now and then they drum or blow on the conch; at other times they
beat the walls of the houses with loud shouts to drive away the
ghosts of the slain. So the Yabim of New Guinea believe that the
spirit of a murdered man pursues his murderer and seeks to do him a
mischief. Hence they drive away the spirit with shouts and the
beating of drums. When the Fijians had buried a man alive, as they
often did, they used at nightfall to make a great uproar by means of
bamboos, trumpet-shells, and so forth, for the purpose of
frightening away his ghost, lest he should attempt to return to his
old home. And to render his house unattractive to him they
dismantled it and clothed it with everything that to their ideas
seemed most repulsive. On the evening of the day on which they had
tortured a prisoner to death, the American Indians were wont to run
through the village with hideous yells, beating with sticks on the
furniture, the walls, and the roofs of the huts to prevent the angry
ghost of their victim from settling there and taking vengeance for
the torments that his body had endured at their hands. "Once," says
a traveller, "on approaching in the night a village of Ottawas, I
found all the inhabitants in confusion: they were all busily engaged
in raising noises of the loudest and most inharmonious kind. Upon
inquiry, I found that a battle had been lately fought between the
Ottawas and the Kickapoos, and that the object of all this noise was
to prevent the ghosts of the departed combatants from entering the

Among the Basutos "ablution is specially performed on return from
battle. It is absolutely necessary that the warriors should rid
themselves, as soon as possible, of the blood they have shed, or the
shades of their victims would pursue them incessantly, and disturb
their slumbers. They go in a procession, and in full armour, to the
nearest stream. At the moment they enter the water a diviner, placed
higher up, throws some purifying substances into the current. This
is, however, not strictly necessary. The javelins and battle-axes
also undergo the process of washing." Among the Bageshu of East
Africa a man who has killed another may not return to his own house
on the same day, though he may enter the village and spend the night
in a friend's house. He kills a sheep and smears his chest, his
right arm, and his head with the contents of the animal's stomach.
His children are brought to him and he smears them in like manner.
Then he smears each side of the doorway with the tripe and entrails,
and finally throws the rest of the stomach on the roof of his house.
For a whole day he may not touch food with his hands, but picks it
up with two sticks and so conveys it to his mouth. His wife is not
under any such restrictions. She may even go to mourn for the man
whom her husband has killed, if she wishes to do so. Among the
Angoni, to the north of the Zambesi, warriors who have slain foes on
an expedition smear their bodies and faces with ashes, hang garments
of their victims on their persons, and tie bark ropes round their
necks, so that the ends hang down over their shoulders or breasts.
This costume they wear for three days after their return, and rising
at break of day they run through the village uttering frightful
yells to drive away the ghosts of the slain, which, if they were not
thus banished from the houses, might bring sickness and misfortune
on the inmates.

In some of these accounts nothing is said of an enforced seclusion,
at least after the ceremonial cleansing, but some South African
tribes certainly require the slayer of a very gallant foe in war to
keep apart from his wife and family for ten days after he has washed
his body in running water. He also receives from the tribal doctor a
medicine which he chews with his food. When a Nandi of East Africa
has killed a member of another tribe, he paints one side of his
body, spear, and sword red, and the other side white. For four days
after the slaughter he is considered unclean and may not go home. He
has to build a small shelter by a river and live there; he may not
associate with his wife or sweetheart, and he may eat nothing but
porridge, beef, and goat's flesh. At the end of the fourth day he
must purify himself by taking a strong purge made from the bark of
the _segetet_ tree and by drinking goat's milk mixed with blood.
Among the Bantu tribes of Kavirondo, when a man has killed an enemy
in warfare he shaves his head on his return home, and his friends
rub a medicine, which generally consists of goat's dung, over his
body to prevent the spirit of the slain man from troubling him.
Exactly the same custom is practised for the same reason by the
Wageia of East Africa. With the Ja-Luo of Kavirondo the custom is
somewhat different. Three days after his return from the fight the
warrior shaves his head. But before he may enter his village he has
to hang a live fowl, head uppermost, round his neck; then the bird
is decapitated and its head left hanging round his neck. Soon after
his return a feast is made for the slain man, in order that his
ghost may not haunt his slayer. In the Pelew Islands, when the men
return from a warlike expedition in which they have taken a life,
the young warriors who have been out fighting for the first time,
and all who handled the slain, are shut up in the large
council-house and become tabooed. They may not quit the edifice, nor
bathe, nor touch a woman, nor eat fish; their food is limited to
coco-nuts and syrup. They rub themselves with charmed leaves and
chew charmed betel. After three days they go together to bathe as
near as possible to the spot where the man was killed.

Among the Natchez Indians of North America young braves who had
taken their first scalps were obliged to observe certain rules of
abstinence for six months. They might not sleep with their wives nor
eat flesh; their only food was fish and hasty-pudding. If they broke
these rules, they believed that the soul of the man they had killed
would work their death by magic, that they would gain no more
successes over the enemy, and that the least wound inflicted on them
would prove mortal. When a Choctaw had killed an enemy and taken his
scalp, he went into mourning for a month, during which he might not
comb his hair, and if his head itched he might not scratch it except
with a little stick which he wore fastened to his wrist for the
purpose. This ceremonial mourning for the enemies they had slain was
not uncommon among the North American Indians.

Thus we see that warriors who have taken the life of a foe in battle
are temporarily cut off from free intercourse with their fellows,
and especially with their wives, and must undergo certain rites of
purification before they are readmitted to society. Now if the
purpose of their seclusion and of the expiatory rites which they
have to perform is, as we have been led to believe, no other than to
shake off, frighten, or appease the angry spirit of the slain man,
we may safely conjecture that the similar purification of homicides
and murderers, who have imbrued their hands in the blood of a
fellow-tribesman, had at first the same significance, and that the
idea of a moral or spiritual regeneration symbolised by the washing,
the fasting, and so on, was merely a later interpretation put upon
the old custom by men who had outgrown the primitive modes of
thought in which the custom originated. The conjecture will be
confirmed if we can show that savages have actually imposed certain
restrictions on the murderer of a fellow-tribesman from a definite
fear that he is haunted by the ghost of his victim. This we can do
with regard to the Omahas of North America. Among these Indians the
kinsmen of a murdered man had the right to put the murderer to
death, but sometimes they waived their right in consideration of
presents which they consented to accept. When the life of the
murderer was spared, he had to observe certain stringent rules for a
period which varied from two to four years. He must walk barefoot,
and he might eat no warm food, nor raise his voice, nor look around.
He was compelled to pull his robe about him and to have it tied at
the neck even in hot weather; he might not let it hang loose or fly
open. He might not move his hands about, but had to keep them close
to his body. He might not comb his hair, and it might not be blown
about by the wind. When the tribe went out hunting, he was obliged
to pitch his tent about a quarter of mile from the rest of the
people "lest the ghost of his victim should raise a high wind, which
might cause damage." Only one of his kindred was allowed to remain
with him at his tent. No one wished to eat with him, for they said,
"If we eat with him whom Wakanda hates, Wakanda will hate us."
Sometimes he wandered at night crying and lamenting his offence. At
the end of his long isolation the kinsmen of the murdered man heard
his crying and said, "It is enough. Begone, and walk among the
crowd. Put on moccasins and wear a good robe." Here the reason
alleged for keeping the murderer at a considerable distance from the
hunters gives the clue to all the other restrictions laid on him: he
was haunted and therefore dangerous. The ancient Greeks believed
that the soul of a man who had just been killed was wroth with his
slayer and troubled him; wherefore it was needful even for the
involuntary homicide to depart from his country for a year until the
anger of the dead man had cooled down; nor might the slayer return
until sacrifice had been offered and ceremonies of purification
performed. If his victim chanced to be a foreigner, the homicide had
to shun the native country of the dead man as well as his own. The
legend of the matricide Orestes, how he roamed from place to place
pursued by the Furies of his murdered mother, and none would sit at
meat with him, or take him in, till he had been purified, reflects
faithfully the real Greek dread of such as were still haunted by an
angry ghost.

6. Hunters and Fishers tabooed

IN SAVAGE society the hunter and the fisherman have often to observe
rules of abstinence and to submit to ceremonies of purification of
the same sort as those which are obligatory on the warrior and the
manslayer; and though we cannot in all cases perceive the exact
purpose which these rules and ceremonies are supposed to serve, we
may with some probability assume that, just as the dread of the
spirits of his enemies is the main motive for the seclusion and
purification of the warrior who hopes to take or has already taken
their lives, so the huntsman or fisherman who complies with similar
customs is principally actuated by a fear of the spirits of the
beasts, birds, or fish which he has killed or intends to kill. For
the savage commonly conceives animals to be endowed with souls and
intelligences like his own, and hence he naturally treats them with
similar respect. Just as he attempts to appease the ghosts of the
men he has slain, so he essays to propitiate the spirits of the
animals he has killed. These ceremonies of propitiation will be
described later on in this work; here we have to deal, first, with
the taboos observed by the hunter and the fisherman before or during
the hunting and fishing seasons, and, second, with the ceremonies of
purification which have to be practised by these men on returning
with their booty from a successful chase.

While the savage respects, more or less, the souls of all animals,
he treats with particular deference the spirits of such as are
either especially useful to him or formidable on account of their
size, strength, or ferocity. Accordingly the hunting and killing of
these valuable or dangerous beasts are subject to more elaborate
rules and ceremonies than the slaughter of comparatively useless and
insignificant creatures. Thus the Indians of Nootka Sound prepared
themselves for catching whales by observing a fast for a week,
during which they ate very little, bathed in the water several times
a day, sang, and rubbed their bodies, limbs, and faces with shells
and bushes till they looked as if they had been severely torn with
briars. They were likewise required to abstain from any commerce
with their women for the like period, this last condition being
considered indispensable to their success. A chief who failed to
catch a whale has been known to attribute his failure to a breach of
chastity on the part of his men. It should be remarked that the
conduct thus prescribed as a preparation for whaling is precisely
that which in the same tribe of Indians was required of men about to
go on the war-path. Rules of the same sort are, or were formerly,
observed by Malagasy whalers. For eight days before they went to sea
the crew of a whaler used to fast, abstaining from women and liquor,
and confessing their most secret faults to each other; and if any
man was found to have sinned deeply, he was forbidden to share in
the expedition. In the island of Mabuiag continence was imposed on
the people both before they went to hunt the dugong and while the
turtles were pairing. The turtle-season lasts during parts of
October and November; and if at that time unmarried persons had
sexual intercourse with each other, it was believed that when the
canoe approached the floating turtle, the male would separate from
the female and both would dive down in different directions. So at
Mowat in New Guinea men have no relation with women when the turtles
are coupling, though there is considerable laxity of morals at other
times. In the island of Uap, one of the Caroline group, every
fisherman plying his craft lies under a most strict taboo during the
whole of the fishing season, which lasts for six or eight weeks.
Whenever he is on shore he must spend all his time in the men's
clubhouse, and under no pretext whatever may he visit his own house
or so much as look upon the faces of his wife and womenkind. Were he
but to steal a glance at them, they think that flying fish must
inevitably bore out his eyes at night. If his wife, mother, or
daughter brings any gift for him or wishes to talk with him, she
must stand down towards the shore with her back turned to the men's
clubhouse. Then the fisherman may go out and speak to her, or with
his back turned to her he may receive what she has brought him;
after which he must return at once to his rigorous confinement.
Indeed the fishermen may not even join in dance and song with the
other men of the clubhouse in the evening; they must keep to
themselves and be silent. In Mirzapur, when the seed of the silkworm
is brought into the house, the Kol or Bhuiyar puts it in a place
which has been carefully plastered with holy cowdung to bring good
luck. From that time the owner must be careful to avoid ceremonial
impurity. He must give up cohabitation with his wife; he may not
sleep on a bed, nor shave himself, nor cut his nails, nor anoint
himself with oil, nor eat food cooked with butter, nor tell lies,
nor do anything else that he deems wrong. He vows to Singarmati Devi
that, if the worms are duly born, he will make her an offering. When
the cocoons open and the worms appear, he assembles the women of the
house and they sing the same song as at the birth of a baby, and red
lead is smeared on the parting of the hair of all the married women
of the neighbourhood. When the worms pair, rejoicings are made as at
a marriage. Thus the silkworms are treated as far as possible like
human beings. Hence the custom which prohibits the commerce of the
sexes while the worms are hatching may be only an extension, by
analogy, of the rule which is observed by many races, that the
husband may not cohabit with his wife during pregnancy and

In the island of Nias the hunters sometimes dig pits, cover them
lightly over with twigs, grass, and leaves, and then drive the game
into them. While they are engaged in digging the pits, they have to
observe a number of taboos. They may not spit, or the game would
turn back in disgust from the pits. They may not laugh, or the sides
of the pit would fall in. They may eat no salt, prepare no fodder
for swine, and in the pit they may not scratch themselves, for if
they did, the earth would be loosened and would collapse. And the
night after digging the pit they may have no intercourse with a
woman, or all their labour would be in vain.

This practice of observing strict chastity as a condition of success
in hunting and fishing is very common among rude races; and the
instances of it which have been cited render it probable that the
rule is always based on a superstition rather than on a
consideration of the temporary weakness which a breach of the custom
may entail on the hunter or fisherman. In general it appears to be
supposed that the evil effect of incontinence is not so much that it
weakens him, as that, for some reason or other, it offends the
animals, who in consequence will not suffer themselves to be caught.
A Carrier Indian of British Columbia used to separate from his wife
for a full month before he set traps for bears, and during this time
he might not drink from the same vessel as his wife, but had to use
a special cup made of birch bark. The neglect of these precautions
would cause the game to escape after it had been snared. But when he
was about to snare martens, the period of continence was cut down to
ten days.

An examination of all the many cases in which the savage bridles his
passions and remains chaste from motives of superstition, would be
instructive, but I cannot attempt it now. I will only add a few
miscellaneous examples of the custom before passing to the
ceremonies of purification which are observed by the hunter and
fisherman after the chase and the fishing are over. The workers in
the salt-pans near Siphoum, in Laos, must abstain from all sexual
relations at the place where they are at work; and they may not
cover their heads nor shelter themselves under an umbrella from the
burning rays of the sun. Among the Kachins of Burma the ferment used
in making beer is prepared by two women, chosen by lot, who during
the three days that the process lasts may eat nothing acid and may
have no conjugal relations with their husbands; otherwise it is
supposed that the beer would be sour. Among the Masai honey-wine is
brewed by a man and a woman who live in a hut set apart for them
till the wine is ready for drinking. But they are strictly forbidden
to have sexual intercourse with each other during this time; it is
deemed essential that they should be chaste for two days before they
begin to brew and for the whole of the six days that the brewing
lasts. The Masai believe that were the couple to commit a breach of
chastity, not only would the wine be undrinkable but the bees which
made the honey would fly away. Similarly they require that a man who
is making poison should sleep alone and observe other taboos which
render him almost an outcast. The Wandorobbo, a tribe of the same
region as the Masai, believe that the mere presence of a woman in
the neighbourhood of a man who is brewing poison would deprive the
poison of its venom, and that the same thing would happen if the
wife of the poison-maker were to commit adultery while her husband
was brewing the poison. In this last case it is obvious that a
rationalistic explanation of the taboo is impossible. How could the
loss of virtue in the poison be a physical consequence of the loss
of virtue in the poison-maker's wife? Clearly the effect which the
wife's adultery is supposed to have on the poison is a case of
sympathetic magic; her misconduct sympathetically affects her
husband and his work at a distance. We may, accordingly, infer with
some confidence that the rule of continence imposed on the
poison-maker himself is also a simple case of sympathetic magic, and
not, as a civilised reader might be disposed to conjecture, a wise
precaution designed to prevent him from accidentally poisoning his

Among the Ba-Pedi and Ba-Thonga tribes of South Africa, when the
site of a new village has been chosen and the houses are building,
all the married people are forbidden to have conjugal relations with
each other. If it were discovered that any couple had broken this
rule, the work of building would immediately be stopped, and another
site chosen for the village. For they think that a breach of
chastity would spoil the village which was growing up, that the
chief would grow lean and perhaps die, and that the guilty woman
would never bear another child. Among the Chams of Cochin-China,
when a dam is made or repaired on a river for the sake of
irrigation, the chief who offers the traditional sacrifices and
implores the protection of the deities on the work has to stay all
the time in a wretched hovel of straw, taking no part in the labour,
and observing the strictest continence; for the people believe that
a breach of his chastity would entail a breach of the dam. Here, it
is plain, there can be no idea of maintaining the mere bodily vigour
of the chief for the accomplishment of a task in which he does not
even bear a hand.

If the taboos or abstinences observed by hunters and fishermen
before and during the chase are dictated, as we have seen reason to
believe, by superstitious motives, and chiefly by a dread of
offending or frightening the spirits of the creatures whom it is
proposed to kill, we may expect that the restraints imposed after
the slaughter has been perpetrated will be at least as stringent,
the slayer and his friends having now the added fear of the angry
ghosts of his victims before their eyes. Whereas on the hypothesis
that the abstinences in question, including those from food, drink,
and sleep, are merely salutary precautions for maintaining the men
in health and strength to do their work, it is obvious that the
observance of these abstinences or taboos after the work is done,
that is, when the game is killed and the fish caught, must be wholly
superfluous, absurd, and inexplicable. But as I shall now show,
these taboos often continue to be enforced or even increased in
stringency after the death of the animals, in other words, after the
hunter or fisher has accomplished his object by making his bag or
landing his fish. The rationalistic theory of them therefore breaks
down entirely; the hypothesis of superstition is clearly the only
one open to us.

Among the Inuit or Esquimaux of Bering Strait "the dead bodies of
various animals must be treated very carefully by the hunter who
obtains them, so that their shades may not be offended and bring bad
luck or even death upon him or his people." Hence the Unalit hunter
who has had a hand in the killing of a white whale, or even has
helped to take one from the net, is not allowed to do any work for
the next four days, that being the time during which the shade or
ghost of the whale is supposed to stay with its body. At the same
time no one in the village may use any sharp or pointed instrument
for fear of wounding the whale's shade, which is believed to be
hovering invisible in the neighbourhood; and no loud noise may be
made lest it should frighten or offend the ghost. Whoever cuts a
whale's body with an iron axe will die. Indeed the use of all iron
instruments is forbidden in the village during these four days.

These same Esquimaux celebrate a great annual festival in December
when the bladders of all the seals, whales, walrus, and white bears
that have been killed in the year are taken into the assembly-house
of the village. They remain there for several days, and so long as
they do so the hunters avoid all intercourse with women, saying that
if they failed in that respect the shades of the dead animals would
be offended. Similarly among the Aleuts of Alaska the hunter who had
struck a whale with a charmed spear would not throw again, but
returned at once to his home and separated himself from his people
in a hut specially constructed for the purpose, where he stayed for
three days without food or drink, and without touching or looking
upon a woman. During this time of seclusion he snorted occasionally
in imitation of the wounded and dying whale, in order to prevent the
whale which he had struck from leaving the coast. On the fourth day
he emerged from his seclusion and bathed in the sea, shrieking in a
hoarse voice and beating the water with his hands. Then, taking with
him a companion, he repaired to that part of the shore where he
expected to find the whale stranded. If the beast was dead, he at
once cut out the place where the death-wound had been inflicted. If
the whale was not dead, he again returned to his home and continued
washing himself until the whale died. Here the hunter's imitation of
the wounded whale is probably intended by means of homoeopathic
magic to make the beast die in earnest. Once more the soul of the
grim polar bear is offended if the taboos which concern him are not
observed. His soul tarries for three days near the spot where it
left his body, and during these days the Esquimaux are particularly
careful to conform rigidly to the laws of taboo, because they
believe that punishment overtakes the transgressor who sins against
the soul of a bear far more speedily than him who sins against the
souls of the sea-beasts.

When the Kayans have shot one of the dreaded Bornean panthers, they
are very anxious about the safety of their souls, for they think
that the soul of a panther is almost more powerful than their own.
Hence they step eight times over the carcase of the dead beast
reciting the spell, "Panther, thy soul under my soul." On returning
home they smear themselves, their dogs, and their weapons with the
blood of fowls in order to calm their souls and hinder them from
fleeing away; for, being themselves fond of the flesh of fowls, they
ascribe the same taste to their souls. For eight days afterwards
they must bathe by day and by night before going out again to the
chase. Among the Hottentots, when a man has killed a lion, leopard,
elephant, or rhinoceros, he is esteemed a great hero, but he has to
remain at home quite idle for three days, during which his wife may
not come near him; she is also enjoined to restrict herself to a
poor diet and to eat no more than is barely necessary to keep her in
health. Similarly the Lapps deem it the height of glory to kill a
bear, which they consider the king of beasts. Nevertheless, all the
men who take part in the slaughter are regarded as unclean, and must
live by themselves for three days in a hut or tent made specially
for them, where they cut up and cook the bear's carcase. The
reindeer which brought in the carcase on a sledge may not be driven
by a woman for a whole year; indeed, according to one account, it
may not be used by anybody for that period. Before the men go into
the tent where they are to be secluded, they strip themselves of the
garments they had worn in killing the bear, and their wives spit the
red juice of alder bark in their faces. They enter the tent not by
the ordinary door but by an opening at the back. When the bear's
flesh has been cooked, a portion of it is sent by the hands of two
men to the women, who may not approach the men's tent while the
cooking is going on. The men who convey the flesh to the women
pretend to be strangers bringing presents from a foreign land; the
women keep up the pretence and promise to tie red threads round the
legs of the strangers. The bear's flesh may not be passed in to the
women through the door of their tent, but must be thrust in at a
special opening made by lifting up the hem of the tent-cover. When
the three days' seclusion is over and the men are at liberty to
return to their wives, they run, one after the other, round the
fire, holding the chain by which pots are suspended over it. This is
regarded as a form of purification; they may now leave the tent by
the ordinary door and rejoin the women. But the leader of the party
must still abstain from cohabitation with his wife for two days

Again, the Caffres are said to dread greatly the boa-constrictor or
an enormous serpent resembling it; "and being influenced by certain
superstitious notions they even fear to kill it. The man who
happened to put it to death, whether in self-defence or otherwise,
was formerly required to lie in a running stream of water during the
day for several weeks together; and no beast whatever was allowed to
be slaughtered at the hamlet to which he belonged, until this duty
had been fully performed. The body of the snake was then taken and
carefully buried in a trench, dug close to the cattle-fold, where
its remains, like those of a chief, were henceforward kept perfectly
undisturbed. The period of penance, as in the case of mourning for
the dead, is now happily reduced to a few days." In Madras it is
considered a great sin to kill a cobra. When this has happened, the
people generally burn the body of the serpent, just as they burn the
bodies of human beings. The murderer deems himself polluted for
three days. On the second day milk is poured on the remains of the
cobra. On the third day the guilty wretch is free from pollution.

In these last cases the animal whose slaughter has to be atoned for
is sacred, that is, it is one whose life is commonly spared from
motives of superstition. Yet the treatment of the sacrilegious
slayer seems to resemble so closely the treatment of hunters and
fishermen who have killed animals for food in the ordinary course of
business, that the ideas on which both sets of customs are based may
be assumed to be substantially the same. Those ideas, if I am right,
are the respect which the savage feels for the souls of beasts,
especially valuable or formidable beasts, and the dread which he
entertains of their vengeful ghosts. Some confirmation of this view
may be drawn from the ceremonies observed by fishermen of Annam when
the carcase of a whale is washed ashore. These fisherfolk, we are
told, worship the whale on account of the benefits they derive from
it. There is hardly a village on the sea-shore which has not its
small pagoda, containing the bones, more or less authentic, of a

Book of the day: