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The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer

Part 7 out of 19

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whale. When a dead whale is washed ashore, the people accord it a
solemn burial. The man who first caught sight of it acts as chief
mourner, performing the rites which as chief mourner and heir he
would perform for a human kinsman. He puts on all the garb of woe,
the straw hat, the white robe with long sleeves turned inside out,
and the other paraphernalia of full mourning. As next of kin to the
deceased he presides over the funeral rites. Perfumes are burned,
sticks of incense kindled, leaves of gold and silver scattered,
crackers let off. When the flesh has been cut off and the oil
extracted, the remains of the carcase are buried in the sand. After
wards a shed is set up and offerings are made in it. Usually some
time after the burial the spirit of the dead whale takes possession
of some person in the village and declares by his mouth whether he
is a male or a female.

XXI. Tabooed Things

1. The Meaning of Taboo

THUS in primitive society the rules of ceremonial purity observed by
divine kings, chiefs, and priests agree in many respects with the
rules observed by homicides, mourners, women in childbed, girls at
puberty, hunters and fishermen, and so on. To us these various
classes of persons appear to differ totally in character and
condition; some of them we should call holy, others we might
pronounce unclean and polluted. But the savage makes no such moral
distinction between them; the conceptions of holiness and pollution
are not yet differentiated in his mind. To him the common feature of
all these persons is that they are dangerous and in danger, and the
danger in which they stand and to which they expose others is what
we should call spiritual or ghostly, and therefore imaginary. The
danger, however, is not less real because it is imaginary;
imagination acts upon man as really as does gravitation, and may
kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid. To seclude these
persons from the rest of the world so that the dreaded spiritual
danger shall neither reach them nor spread from them, is the object
of the taboos which they have to observe. These taboos act, so to
say, as electrical insulators to preserve the spiritual force with
which these persons are charged from suffering or inflicting harm by
contact with the outer world.

To the illustrations of these general principles which have been
already given I shall now add some more, drawing my examples, first,
from the class of tabooed things, and, second, from the class of
tabooed words; for in the opinion of the savage both things and
words may, like persons, be charged or electrified, either
temporarily or permanently, with the mysterious virtue of taboo, and
may therefore require to be banished for a longer or shorter time
from the familiar usage of common life. And the examples will be
chosen with special reference to those sacred chiefs, kings and
priests, who, more than anybody else, live fenced about by taboo as
by a wall. Tabooed things will be illustrated in the present
chapter, and tabooed words in the next.

2. Iron tabooed

IN THE FIRST place we may observe that the awful sanctity of kings
naturally leads to a prohibition to touch their sacred persons. Thus
it was unlawful to lay hands on the person of a Spartan king: no one
might touch the body of the king or queen of Tahiti: it is forbidden
to touch the person of the king of Siam under pain of death; and no
one may touch the king of Cambodia, for any purpose whatever,
without his express command. In July 1874 the king was thrown from
his carriage and lay insensible on the ground, but not one of his
suite dared to touch him; a European coming to the spot carried the
injured monarch to his palace. Formerly no one might touch the king
of Corea; and if he deigned to touch a subject, the spot touched
became sacred, and the person thus honoured had to wear a visible
mark (generally a cord of red silk) for the rest of his life. Above
all, no iron might touch the king's body. In 1800 King
Tieng-tsong-tai-oang died of a tumour in the back, no one dreaming
of employing the lancet, which would probably have saved his life.
It is said that one king suffered terribly from an abscess in the
lip, till his physician called in a jester, whose pranks made the
king laugh heartily, and so the abscess burst. Roman and Sabine
priests might not be shaved with iron but only with bronze razors or
shears; and whenever an iron graving-tool was brought into the
sacred grove of the Arval Brothers at Rome for the purpose of
cutting an inscription in stone, an expiatory sacrifice of a lamb
and a pig must be offered, which was repeated when the graving-tool
was removed from the grove. As a general rule iron might not be
brought into Greek sanctuaries. In Crete sacrifices were offered to
Menedemus without the use of iron, because the legend ran that
Menedemus had been killed by an iron weapon in the Trojan war. The
Archon of Plataea might not touch iron; but once a year, at the
annual commemoration of the men who fell at the battle of Plataea,
he was allowed to carry a sword wherewith to sacrifice a bull. To
this day a Hottentot priest never uses an iron knife, but always a
sharp splint of quartz, in sacrificing an animal or circumcising a
lad. Among the Ovambo of South-west Africa custom requires that lads
should be circumcised with a sharp flint; if none is to hand, the
operation may be performed with iron, but the iron must afterwards
be buried. Amongst the Moquis of Arizona stone knives, hatchets, and
so on have passed out of common use, but are retained in religious
ceremonies. After the Pawnees had ceased to use stone arrow-heads
for ordinary purposes, they still employed them to slay the
sacrifices, whether human captives or buffalo and deer. Amongst the
Jews no iron tool was used in building the Temple at Jerusalem or in
making an altar. The old wooden bridge (_Pons Sublicius_) at Rome,
which was considered sacred, was made and had to be kept in repair
without the use of iron or bronze. It was expressly provided by law
that the temple of Jupiter Liber at Furfo might be repaired with
iron tools. The council chamber at Cyzicus was constructed of wood
without any iron nails, the beams being so arranged that they could
be taken out and replaced.

This superstitious objection to iron perhaps dates from that early
time in the history of society when iron was still a novelty, and as
such was viewed by many with suspicion and dislike. For everything
new is apt to excite the awe and dread of the savage. "It is a
curious superstition," says a pioneer in Borneo, "this of the
Dusuns, to attribute anything--whether good or bad, lucky or
unlucky--that happens to them to something novel which has arrived
in their country. For instance, my living in Kindram has caused the
intensely hot weather we have experienced of late." The unusually
heavy rains which happened to follow the English survey of the
Nicobar Islands in the winter of 1886-1887 were imputed by the
alarmed natives to the wrath of the spirits at the theodolites,
dumpy-levellers, and other strange instruments which had been set up
in so many of their favourite haunts; and some of them proposed to
soothe the anger of the spirits by sacrificing a pig. In the
seventeenth century a succession of bad seasons excited a revolt
among the Esthonian peasantry, who traced the origin of the evil to
a watermill, which put a stream to some inconvenience by checking
its flow. The first introduction of iron ploughshares into Poland
having been followed by a succession of bad harvests, the farmers
attributed the badness of the crops to the iron ploughshares, and
discarded them for the old wooden ones. To this day the primitive
Baduwis of Java, who live chiefly by husbandry, will use no iron
tools in tilling their fields.

The general dislike of innovation, which always makes itself
strongly felt in the sphere of religion, is sufficient by itself to
account for the superstitious aversion to iron entertained by kings
and priests and attributed by them to the gods; possibly this
aversion may have been intensified in places by some such accidental
cause as the series of bad seasons which cast discredit on iron
ploughshares in Poland. But the disfavour in which iron is held by
the gods and their ministers has another side. Their antipathy to
the metal furnishes men with a weapon which may be turned against
the spirits when occasion serves. As their dislike of iron is
supposed to be so great that they will not approach persons and
things protected by the obnoxious metal, iron may obviously be
employed as a charm for banning ghosts and other dangerous spirits.
And often it is so used. Thus in the Highlands of Scotland the great
safeguard against the elfin race is iron, or, better yet, steel. The
metal in any form, whether as a sword, a knife, a gun-barrel, or
what not, is all-powerful for this purpose. Whenever you enter a
fairy dwelling you should always remember to stick a piece of steel,
such as a knife, a needle, or a fish-hook, in the door; for then the
elves will not be able to shut the door till you come out again. So,
too, when you have shot a deer and are bringing it home at night, be
sure to thrust a knife into the carcase, for that keeps the fairies
from laying their weight on it. A knife or nail in your pocket is
quite enough to prevent the fairies from lifting you up at night.
Nails in the front of a bed ward off elves from women "in the straw"
and from their babes; but to make quite sure it is better to put the
smoothing-iron under the bed, and the reaping-hook in the window. If
a bull has fallen over a rock and been killed, a nail stuck into it
will preserve the flesh from the fairies. Music discoursed on a
Jew's harp keeps the elfin women away from the hunter, because the
tongue of the instrument is of steel. In Morocco iron is considered
a great protection against demons; hence it is usual to place a
knife or dagger under a sick man's pillow. The Singhalese believe
that they are constantly surrounded by evil spirits, who lie in wait
to do them harm. A peasant would not dare to carry good food, such
as cakes or roast meat, from one place to another without putting an
iron nail on it to prevent a demon from taking possession of the
viands and so making the eater ill. No sick person, whether man or
woman, would venture out of the house without a bunch of keys or a
knife in his hand, for without such a talisman he would fear that
some devil might take advantage of his weak state to slip into his
body. And if a man has a large sore on his body he tries to keep a
morsel of iron on it as a protection against demons. On the Slave
Coast when a mother sees her child gradually wasting away, she
concludes that a demon has entered into the child, and takes her
measures accordingly. To lure the demon out of the body of her
offspring, she offers a sacrifice of food; and while the devil is
bolting it, she attaches iron rings and small bells to her child's
ankles and hangs iron chains round his neck. The jingling of the
iron and the tinkling of the bells are supposed to prevent the
demon, when he has concluded his repast, from entering again into
the body of the little sufferer. Hence many children may be seen in
this part of Africa weighed down with iron ornaments.

3. Sharp Weapons tabooed

THERE is a priestly king to the north of Zengwih in Burma, revered
by the Sotih as the highest spiritual and temporal authority, into
whose house no weapon or cutting instrument may be brought. This
rule may perhaps be explained by a custom observed by various
peoples after a death; they refrain from the use of sharp
instruments so long as the ghost of the deceased is supposed to be
near, lest they should wound it. Thus among the Esquimaux of Bering
Strait "during the day on which a person dies in the village no one
is permitted to work, and the relatives must perform no labour
during the three following days. It is especially forbidden during
this period to cut with any edged instrument, such as a knife or an
axe; and the use of pointed instruments, like needles or bodkins, is
also forbidden. This is said to be done to avoid cutting or injuring
the shade, which may be present at any time during this period, and,
if accidentally injured by any of these things, it would become very
angry and bring sickness or death to the people. The relatives must
also be very careful at this time not to make any loud or harsh
noises that may startle or anger the shade." We have seen that in
like manner after killing a white whale these Esquimaux abstain from
the use of cutting or pointed instruments for four days, lest they
should unwittingly cut or stab the whale's ghost. The same taboo is
sometimes observed by them when there is a sick person in the
village, probably from a fear of injuring his shade which may be
hovering outside of his body. After a death the Roumanians of
Transylvania are careful not to leave a knife lying with the sharp
edge uppermost so long as the corpse remains in the house, "or else
the soul will be forced to ride on the blade." For seven days after
a death, the corpse being still in the house, the Chinese abstain
from the use of knives and needles, and even of chopsticks, eating
their food with their fingers. On the third, sixth, ninth, and
fortieth days after the funeral the old Prussians and Lithuanians
used to prepare a meal, to which, standing at the door, they invited
the soul of the deceased. At these meals they sat silent round the
table and used no knives and the women who served up the food were
also without knives. If any morsels fell from the table they were
left lying there for the lonely souls that had no living relations
or friends to feed them. When the meal was over the priest took a
broom and swept the souls out of the house, saying, "Dear souls, ye
have eaten and drunk. Go forth, go forth." We can now understand why
no cutting instrument may be taken into the house of the Burmese
pontiff. Like so many priestly kings, he is probably regarded as
divine, and it is therefore right that his sacred spirit should not
be exposed to the risk of being cut or wounded whenever it quits his
body to hover invisible in the air or to fly on some distant

4. Blood tabooed

WE have seen that the Flamen Dialis was forbidden to touch or even
name raw flesh. At certain times a Brahman teacher is enjoined not
to look on raw flesh, blood, or persons whose hands have been cut
off. In Uganda the father of twins is in a state of taboo for some
time after birth; among other rules he is forbidden to kill anything
or to see blood. In the Pelew Islands when a raid has been made on a
village and a head carried off, the relations of the slain man are
tabooed and have to submit to certain observances in order to escape
the wrath of his ghost. They are shut up in the house, touch no raw
flesh, and chew betel over which an incantation has been uttered by
the exorcist. After this the ghost of the slaughtered man goes away
to the enemy's country in pursuit of his murderer. The taboo is
probably based on the common belief that the soul or spirit of the
animal is in the blood. As tabooed persons are believed to be in a
perilous state--for example, the relations of the slain man are
liable to the attacks of his indignant ghost--it is especially
necessary to isolate them from contact with spirits; hence the
prohibition to touch raw meat. But as usual the taboo is only the
special enforcement of a general precept; in other words, its
observance is particularly enjoined in circumstances which seem
urgently to call for its application, but apart from such
circumstances the prohibition is also observed, though less
strictly, as a common rule of life. Thus some of the Esthonians will
not taste blood because they believe that it contains the animal's
soul, which would enter the body of the person who tasted the blood.
Some Indian tribes of North America, "through a strong principle of
religion, abstain in the strictest manner from eating the blood of
any animal, as it contains the life and spirit of the beast." Jewish
hunters poured out the blood of the game they had killed and covered
it up with dust. They would not taste the blood, believing that the
soul or life of the animal was in the blood, or actually was the

It is a common rule that royal blood may not be shed upon the
ground. Hence when a king or one of his family is to be put to death
a mode of execution is devised by which the royal blood shall not be
spilt upon the earth. About the year 1688 the generalissimo of the
army rebelled against the king of Siam and put him to death "after
the manner of royal criminals, or as princes of the blood are
treated when convicted of capital crimes, which is by putting them
into a large iron caldron, and pounding them to pieces with wooden
pestles, because none of their royal blood must be spilt on the
ground, it being, by their religion, thought great impiety to
contaminate the divine blood by mixing it with earth." When Kublai
Khan defeated and took his uncle Nayan, who had rebelled against
him, he caused Nayan to be put to death by being wrapt in a carpet
and tossed to and fro till he died, "because he would not have the
blood of his Line Imperial spilt upon the ground or exposed in the
eye of Heaven and before the Sun." "Friar Ricold mentions the Tartar
maxim: 'One Khan will put another to death to get possession of the
throne, but he takes great care that the blood be not spilt. For
they say that it is highly improper that the blood of the Great Khan
should be spilt upon the ground; so they cause the victim to be
smothered somehow or other.' The like feeling prevails at the court
of Burma, where a peculiar mode of execution without bloodshed is
reserved for princes of the blood."

The reluctance to spill royal blood seems to be only a particular
case of a general unwillingness to shed blood or at least to allow
it to fall on the ground. Marco Polo tells us that in his day
persons caught in the streets of Cambaluc (Peking) at unseasonable
hours were arrested, and if found guilty of a misdemeanor were
beaten with a stick. "Under this punishment people sometimes die,
but they adopt it in order to eschew bloodshed, for their _Bacsis_
say that it is an evil thing to shed man's blood." In West Sussex
people believe that the ground on which human blood has been shed is
accursed and will remain barren for ever. Among some primitive
peoples, when the blood of a tribesman has to be spilt it is not
suffered to fall upon the ground, but is received upon the bodies of
his fellow-tribesmen. Thus in some Australian tribes boys who are
being circumcised are laid on a platform, formed by the living
bodies of the tribesmen; and when a boy's tooth is knocked out as an
initiatory ceremony, he is seated on the shoulders of a man, on
whose breast the blood flows and may not be wiped away. "Also the
Gauls used to drink their enemies' blood and paint themselves
therewith. So also they write that the old Irish were wont; and so
have I seen some of the Irish do, but not their enemies' but
friends' blood, as, namely, at the execution of a notable traitor at
Limerick, called Murrogh O'Brien, I saw an old woman, which was his
foster-mother, take up his head whilst he was quartered and suck up
all the blood that ran thereout, saying that the earth was not
worthy to drink it, and therewith also steeped her face and breast
and tore her hair, crying out and shrieking most terribly." Among
the Latuka of Central Africa the earth on which a drop of blood has
fallen at childbirth is carefully scraped up with an iron shovel,
put into a pot along with the water used in washing the mother, and
buried tolerably deep outside the house on the left-hand side. In
West Africa, if a drop of your blood has fallen on the ground, you
must carefully cover it up, rub and stamp it into the soil; if it
has fallen on the side of a canoe or a tree, the place is cut out
and the chip destroyed. One motive of these African customs may be a
wish to prevent the blood from falling into the hands of magicians,
who might make an evil use of it. That is admittedly the reason why
people in West Africa stamp out any blood of theirs which has
dropped on the ground or cut out any wood that has been soaked with
it. From a like dread of sorcery natives of New Guinea are careful
to burn any sticks, leaves, or rags which are stained with their
blood; and if the blood has dripped on the ground they turn up the
soil and if possible light a fire on the spot. The same fear
explains the curious duties discharged by a class of men called
_ramanga_ or "blue blood" among the Betsileo of Madagascar. It is
their business to eat all the nail-parings and to lick up all the
spilt blood of the nobles. When the nobles pare their nails, the
parings are collected to the last scrap and swallowed by these
_ramanga._ If the parings are too large, they are minced small and
so gulped down. Again, should a nobleman wound himself, say in
cutting his nails or treading on something, the _ramanga_ lick up
the blood as fast as possible. Nobles of high rank hardly go
anywhere without these humble attendants; but if it should happen
that there are none of them present, the cut nails and the spilt
blood are carefully collected to be afterwards swallowed by the
_ramanga._ There is scarcely a nobleman of any pretensions who does
not strictly observe this custom, the intention of which probably is
to prevent these parts of his person from falling into the hands of
sorcerers, who on the principles of contagious magic could work him
harm thereby.

The general explanation of the reluctance to shed blood on the
ground is probably to be found in the belief that the soul is in the
blood, and that therefore any ground on which it may fall
necessarily becomes taboo or sacred. In New Zealand anything upon
which even a drop of a high chief's blood chances to fall becomes
taboo or sacred to him. For instance, a party of natives having come
to visit a chief in a fine new canoe, the chief got into it, but in
doing so a splinter entered his foot, and the blood trickled on the
canoe, which at once became sacred to him. The owner jumped out,
dragged the canoe ashore opposite the chief's house, and left it
there. Again, a chief in entering a missionary's house knocked his
head against a beam, and the blood flowed. The natives said that in
former times the house would have belonged to the chief. As usually
happens with taboos of universal application, the prohibition to
spill the blood of a tribesman on the ground applies with peculiar
stringency to chiefs and kings, and is observed in their case long
after it has ceased to be observed in the case of others.

5. The Head tabooed

MANY peoples regard the head as peculiarly sacred; the special
sanctity attributed to it is sometimes explained by a belief that it
contains a spirit which is very sensitive to injury or disrespect.
Thus the Yorubas hold that every man has three spiritual inmates, of
whom the first, called Olori, dwells in the head and is the man's
protector, guardian, and guide. Offerings are made to this spirit,
chiefly of fowls, and some of the blood mixed with palmoil is rubbed
on the forehead. The Karens suppose that a being called the _tso_
resides in the upper part of the head, and while it retains its seat
no harm can befall the person from the efforts of the seven
_Kelahs,_ or personified passions. "But if the _tso_ becomes
heedless or weak certain evil to the person is the result. Hence the
head is carefully attended to, and all possible pains are taken to
provide such dress and attire as will be pleasing to the _tso._" The
Siamese think that a spirit called _khuan_ or _kwun_ dwells in the
human head, of which it is the guardian spirit. The spirit must be
carefully protected from injury of every kind; hence the act of
shaving or cutting the hair is accompanied with many ceremonies. The
_kwun_ is very sensitive on points of honour, and would feel
mortally insulted if the head in which he resides were touched by
the hand of a stranger. The Cambodians esteem it a grave offence to
touch a man's head; some of them will not enter a place where
anything whatever is suspended over their heads; and the meanest
Cambodian would never consent to live under an inhabited room. Hence
the houses are built of one story only; and even the Government
respects the prejudice by never placing a prisoner in the stocks
under the floor of a house, though the houses are raised high above
the ground. The same superstition exists amongst the Malays; for an
early traveller reports that in Java people "wear nothing on their
heads, and say that nothing must be on their heads . . . and if any
person were to put his hand upon their head they would kill him; and
they do not build houses with storeys, in order that they may not
walk over each other's heads."

The same superstition as to the head is found in full force
throughout Polynesia. Thus of Gattanewa, a Marquesan chief, it is
said that "to touch the top of his head, or anything which had been
on his head, was sacrilege. To pass over his head was an indignity
never to be forgotten." The son of a Marquesan high priest has been
seen to roll on the ground in an agony of rage and despair, begging
for death, because some one had desecrated his head and deprived him
of his divinity by sprinkling a few drops of water on his hair. But
it was not the Marquesan chiefs only whose heads were sacred. The
head of every Marquesan was taboo, and might neither be touched nor
stepped over by another; even a father might not step over the head
of his sleeping child; women were forbidden to carry or touch
anything that had been in contact with, or had merely hung over, the
head of their husband or father. No one was allowed to be over the
head of the king of Tonga. In Tahiti any one who stood over the king
or queen, or passed his hand over their heads, might be put to
death. Until certain rites were performed over it, a Tahitian infant
was especially taboo; whatever touched the child's head, while it
was in this state, became sacred and was deposited in a consecrated
place railed in for the purpose at the child's house. If a branch of
a tree touched the child's head, the tree was cut down; and if in
its fall it injured another tree so as to penetrate the bark, that
tree also was cut down as unclean and unfit for use. After the rites
were performed these special taboos ceased; but the head of a
Tahitian was always sacred, he never carried anything on it, and to
touch it was an offence. So sacred was the head of a Maori chief
that "if he only touched it with his fingers, he was obliged
immediately to apply them to his nose, and snuff up the sanctity
which they had acquired by the touch, and thus restore it to the
part from whence it was taken." On account of the sacredness of his
head a Maori chief "could not blow the fire with his mouth, for the
breath being sacred, communicated his sanctity to it, and a brand
might be taken by a slave, or a man of another tribe, or the fire
might be used for other purposes, such as cooking, and so cause his

6. Hair tabooed

WHEN the head was considered so sacred that it might not even be
touched without grave offence, it is obvious that the cutting of the
hair must have been a delicate and difficult operation. The
difficulties and dangers which, on the primitive view, beset the
operation are of two kinds. There is first the danger of disturbing
the spirit of the head, which may be injured in the process and may
revenge itself upon the person who molests him. Secondly, there is
the difficulty of disposing of the shorn locks. For the savage
believes that the sympathetic connexion which exists between himself
and every part of his body continues to exist even after the
physical connexion has been broken, and that therefore he will
suffer from any harm that may befall the several parts of his body,
such as the clippings of his hair or the parings of his nails.
Accordingly he takes care that these severed portions of himself
shall not be left in places where they might either be exposed to
accidental injury or fall into the hands of malicious persons who
might work magic on them to his detriment or death. Such dangers are
common to all, but sacred persons have more to fear from them than
ordinary people, so the precautions taken by them are
proportionately stringent. The simplest way of evading the peril is
not to cut the hair at all; and this is the expedient adopted where
the risk is thought to be more than usually great. The Frankish
kings were never allowed to crop their hair; from their childhood
upwards they had to keep it unshorn. To poll the long locks that
floated on their shoulders would have been to renounce their right
to the throne. When the wicked brothers Clotaire and Childebert
coveted the kingdom of their dead brother Clodomir, they inveigled
into their power their little nephews, the two sons of Clodomir; and
having done so, they sent a messenger bearing scissors and a naked
sword to the children's grandmother, Queen Clotilde, at Paris. The
envoy showed the scissors and the sword to Clotilde, and bade her
choose whether the children should be shorn and live or remain
unshorn and die. The proud queen replied that if her grandchildren
were not to come to the throne she would rather see them dead than
shorn. And murdered they were by their ruthless uncle Clotaire with
his own hand. The king of Ponape, one of the Caroline Islands, must
wear his hair long, and so must his grandees. Among the Hos, a negro
tribe of West Africa, "there are priests on whose head no razor may
come during the whole of their lives. The god who dwells in the man
forbids the cutting of his hair on pain of death. If the hair is at
last too long, the owner must pray to his god to allow him at least
to clip the tips of it. The hair is in fact conceived as the seat
and lodging-place of his god, so that were it shorn the god would
lose his abode in the priest." The members of a Masai clan, who are
believed to possess the art of making rain, may not pluck out their
beards, because the loss of their beards would, it is supposed,
entail the loss of their rain-making powers. The head chief and the
sorcerers of the Masai observe the same rule for a like reason: they
think that were they to pull out their beards, their supernatural
gifts would desert them.

Again, men who have taken a vow of vengeance sometimes keep their
hair unshorn till they have fulfilled their vow. Thus of the
Marquesans we are told that "occasionally they have their head
entirely shaved, except one lock on the crown, which is worn loose
or put up in a knot. But the latter mode of wearing the hair is only
adopted by them when they have a solemn vow, as to revenge the death
of some near relation, etc. In such case the lock is never cut off
until they have fulfilled their promise." A similar custom was
sometimes observed by the ancient Germans; among the Chatti the
young warriors never clipped their hair or their beard till they had
slain an enemy. Among the Toradjas, when a child's hair is cut to
rid it of vermin, some locks are allowed to remain on the crown of
the head as a refuge for one of the child's souls. Otherwise the
soul would have no place in which to settle, and the child would
sicken. The Karo-Bataks are much afraid of frightening away the soul
of a child; hence when they cut its hair, they always leave a patch
unshorn, to which the soul can retreat before the shears. Usually
this lock remains unshorn all through life, or at least up till

7. Ceremonies at Hair-cutting

BUT when it becomes necessary to crop the hair, measures are taken
to lessen the dangers which are supposed to attend the operation.
The chief of Namosi in Fiji always ate a man by way of precaution
when he had had his hair cut. "There was a certain clan that had to
provide the victim, and they used to sit in solemn council among
themselves to choose him. It was a sacrificial feast to avert evil
from the chief." Amongst the Maoris many spells were uttered at
hair-cutting; one, for example, was spoken to consecrate the
obsidian knife with which the hair was cut; another was pronounced
to avert the thunder and lightning which hair-cutting was believed
to cause. "He who has had his hair cut is in immediate charge of the
Atua (spirit); he is removed from the contact and society of his
family and his tribe; he dare not touch his food himself; it is put
into his mouth by another person; nor can he for some days resume
his accustomed occupations or associate with his fellow-men." The
person who cuts the hair is also tabooed; his hands having been in
contact with a sacred head, he may not touch food with them or
engage in any other employment; he is fed by another person with
food cooked over a sacred fire. He cannot be released from the taboo
before the following day, when he rubs his hands with potato or fern
root which has been cooked on a sacred fire; and this food having
been taken to the head of the family in the female line and eaten by
her, his hands are freed from the taboo. In some parts of New
Zealand the most sacred day of the year was that appointed for
hair-cutting; the people assembled in large numbers on that day from
all the neighbourhood.

8. Disposal of Cut Hair and Nails

BUT even when the hair and nails have been safely cut, there remains
the difficulty of disposing of them, for their owner believes
himself liable to suffer from any harm that may befall them. The
notion that a man may be bewitched by means of the clippings of his
hair, the parings of his nails, or any other severed portion of his
person is almost world-wide, and attested by evidence too ample, too
familiar, and too tedious in its uniformity to be here analysed at
length. The general idea on which the superstition rests is that of
the sympathetic connexion supposed to persist between a person and
everything that has once been part of his body or in any way closely
related to him. A very few examples must suffice. They belong to
that branch of sympathetic magic which may be called contagious.
Dread of sorcery, we are told, formed one of the most salient
characteristics of the Marquesan islanders in the old days. The
sorcerer took some of the hair, spittle, or other bodily refuse of
the man he wished to injure, wrapped it up in a leaf, and placed the
packet in a bag woven of threads or fibres, which were knotted in an
intricate way. The whole was then buried with certain rites, and
thereupon the victim wasted away of a languishing sickness which
lasted twenty days. His life, however, might be saved by discovering
and digging up the buried hair, spittle, or what not; for as soon as
this was done the power of the charm ceased. A Maori sorcerer intent
on bewitching somebody sought to get a tress of his victim's hair,
the parings of his nails, some of his spittle, or a shred of his
garment. Having obtained the object, whatever it was, he chanted
certain spells and curses over it in a falsetto voice and buried it
in the ground. As the thing decayed, the person to whom it had
belonged was supposed to waste away. When an Australian blackfellow
wishes to get rid of his wife, he cuts off a lock of her hair in her
sleep, ties it to his spear-thrower, and goes with it to a
neighbouring tribe, where he gives it to a friend. His friend sticks
the spear-thrower up every night before the camp fire, and when it
falls down it is a sign that the wife is dead. The way in which the
charm operates was explained to Dr. Howitt by a Wirajuri man. "You
see," he said, "when a blackfellow doctor gets hold of something
belonging to a man and roasts it with things, and sings over it, the
fire catches hold of the smell of the man, and that settles the poor

The Huzuls of the Carpathians imagine that if mice get a person's
shorn hair and make a nest of it, the person will suffer from
headache or even become idiotic. Similarly in Germany it is a common
notion that if birds find a person's cut hair, and build their nests
with it, the person will suffer from headache; sometimes it is
thought that he will have an eruption on the head. The same
superstition prevails, or used to prevail, in West Sussex.

Again it is thought that cut or combed-out hair may disturb the
weather by producing rain and hail, thunder and lightning. We have
seen that in New Zealand a spell was uttered at hair-cutting to
avert thunder and lightning. In the Tyrol, witches are supposed to
use cut or combed-out hair to make hailstones or thunderstorms with.
Thlinkeet Indians have been known to attribute stormy weather to the
rash act of a girl who had combed her hair outside of the house. The
Romans seem to have held similar views, for it was a maxim with them
that no one on shipboard should cut his hair or nails except in a
storm, that is, when the mischief was already done. In the Highlands
of Scotland it is said that no sister should comb her hair at night
if she have a brother at sea. In West Africa, when the Mani of
Chitombe or Jumba died, the people used to run in crowds to the
corpse and tear out his hair, teeth, and nails, which they kept as a
rain-charm, believing that otherwise no rain would fall. The Makoko
of the Anzikos begged the missionaries to give him half their beards
as a rain-charm.

If cut hair and nails remain in sympathetic connexion with the
person from whose body they have been severed, it is clear that they
can be used as hostages for his good behaviour by any one who may
chance to possess them; for on the principles of contagious magic he
has only to injure the hair or nails in order to hurt simultaneously
their original owner. Hence when the Nandi have taken a prisoner
they shave his head and keep the shorn hair as a surety that he will
not attempt to escape; but when the captive is ransomed, they return
his shorn hair with him to his own people.

To preserve the cut hair and nails from injury and from the
dangerous uses to which they may be put by sorcerers, it is
necessary to deposit them in some safe place. The shorn locks of a
Maori chief were gathered with much care and placed in an adjoining
cemetery. The Tahitians buried the cuttings of their hair at the
temples. In the streets of Soku a modern traveller observed cairns
of large stones piled against walls with tufts of human hair
inserted in the crevices. On asking the meaning of this, he was told
that when any native of the place polled his hair he carefully
gathered up the clippings and deposited them in one of these cairns,
all of which were sacred to the fetish and therefore inviolable.
These cairns of sacred stones, he further learned, were simply a
precaution against witchcraft, for if a man were not thus careful in
disposing of his hair, some of it might fall into the hands of his
enemies, who would, by means of it, be able to cast spells over him
and so compass his destruction. When the top-knot of a Siamese child
has been cut with great ceremony, the short hairs are put into a
little vessel made of plantain leaves and set adrift on the nearest
river or canal. As they float away, all that was wrong or harmful in
the child's disposition is believed to depart with them. The long
hairs are kept till the child makes a pilgrimage to the holy
Footprint of Buddha on the sacred hill at Prabat. They are then
presented to the priests, who are supposed to make them into brushes
with which they sweep the Footprint; but in fact so much hair is
thus offered every year that the priests cannot use it all, so they
quietly burn the superfluity as soon as the pilgrims' backs are
turned. The cut hair and nails of the Flamen Dialis were buried
under a lucky tree. The shorn tresses of the Vestal Virgins were
hung on an ancient lotus-tree.

Often the clipped hair and nails are stowed away in any secret
place, not necessarily in a temple or cemetery or at a tree, as in
the cases already mentioned. Thus in Swabia you are recommended to
deposit your clipped hair in some spot where neither sun nor moon
can shine on it, for example in the earth or under a stone. In
Danzig it is buried in a bag under the threshold. In Ugi, one of the
Solomon Islands, men bury their hair lest it should fall into the
hands of an enemy, who would make magic with it and so bring
sickness or calamity on them. The same fear seems to be general in
Melanesia, and has led to a regular practice of hiding cut hair and
nails. The same practice prevails among many tribes of South Africa,
from a fear lest wizards should get hold of the severed particles
and work evil with them. The Caffres carry still further this dread
of allowing any portion of themselves to fall into the hands of an
enemy; for not only do they bury their cut hair and nails in a
secret spot, but when one of them cleans the head of another he
preserves the vermin which he catches, "carefully delivering them to
the person to whom they originally appertained, supposing, according
to their theory, that as they derived their support from the blood
of the man from whom they were taken, should they be killed by
another, the blood of his neighbour would be in his possession, thus
placing in his hands the power of some superhuman influence."

Sometimes the severed hair and nails are preserved, not to prevent
them from falling into the hands of a magician, but that the owner
may have them at the resurrection of the body, to which some races
look forward. Thus the Incas of Peru "took extreme care to preserve
the nail-parings and the hairs that were shorn off or torn out with
a comb; placing them in holes or niches in the walls; and if they
fell out, any other Indian that saw them picked them up and put them
in their places again. I very often asked different Indians, at
various times, why they did this, in order to see what they would
say, and they all replied in the same words saying, 'Know that all
persons who are born must return to life' (they have no word to
express resurrection), 'and the souls must rise out of their tombs
with all that belonged to their bodies. We, therefore, in order that
we may not have to search for our hair and nails at a time when
there will be much hurry and confusion, place them in one place,
that they may be brought together more conveniently, and, whenever
it is possible, we are also careful to spit in one place.'"
Similarly the Turks never throw away the parings of their nails, but
carefully stow them in cracks of the walls or of the boards, in the
belief that they will be needed at the resurrection. The Armenians
do not throw away their cut hair and nails and extracted teeth, but
hide them in places that are esteemed holy, such as a crack in the
church wall, a pillar of the house, or a hollow tree. They think
that all these severed portions of themselves will be wanted at the
resurrection, and that he who has not stowed them away in a safe
place will have to hunt about for them on the great day. In the
village of Drumconrath in Ireland there used to be some old women
who, having ascertained from Scripture that the hairs of their heads
were all numbered by the Almighty, expected to have to account for
them at the day of judgment. In order to be able to do so they
stuffed the severed hair away in the thatch of their cottages.

Some people burn their loose hair to save it from falling into the
hands of sorcerers. This is done by the Patagonians and some of the
Victorian tribes. In the Upper Vosges they say that you should never
leave the clippings of your hair and nails lying about, but burn
them to hinder the sorcerers from using them against you. For the
same reason Italian women either burn their loose hairs or throw
them into a place where no one is likely to look for them. The
almost universal dread of witchcraft induces the West African
negroes, the Makololo of South Africa, and the Tahitians to burn or
bury their shorn hair. In the Tyrol many people burn their hair lest
the witches should use it to raise thunderstorms; others burn or
bury it to prevent the birds from lining their nests with it, which
would cause the heads from which the hair came to ache.

This destruction of the hair and nails plainly involves an
inconsistency of thought. The object of the destruction is avowedly
to prevent these severed portions of the body from being used by
sorcerers. But the possibility of their being so used depends upon
the supposed sympathetic connexion between them and the man from
whom they were severed. And if this sympathetic connexion still
exists, clearly these severed portions cannot be destroyed without
injury to the man.

9. Spittle tabooed

THE SAME fear of witchcraft which has led so many people to hide or
destroy their loose hair and nails has induced other or the same
people to treat their spittle in a like fashion. For on the
principles of sympathetic magic the spittle is part of the man, and
whatever is done to it will have a corresponding effect on him. A
Chilote Indian, who has gathered up the spittle of an enemy, will
put it in a potato, and hang the potato in the smoke, uttering
certain spells as he does so in the belief that his foe will waste
away as the potato dries in the smoke. Or he will put the spittle in
a frog and throw the animal into an inaccessible, unnavigable river,
which will make the victim quake and shake with ague. The natives of
Urewera, a district of New Zealand, enjoyed a high reputation for
their skill in magic. It was said that they made use of people's
spittle to bewitch them. Hence visitors were careful to conceal
their spittle, lest they should furnish these wizards with a handle
for working them harm. Similarly among some tribes of South Africa
no man will spit when an enemy is near, lest his foe should find the
spittle and give it to a wizard, who would then mix it with magical
ingredients so as to injure the person from whom it fell. Even in a
man's own house his saliva is carefully swept away and obliterated
for a similar reason.

If common folk are thus cautious, it is natural that kings and
chiefs should be doubly so. In the Sandwich Islands chiefs were
attended by a confidential servant bearing a portable spittoon, and
the deposit was carefully buried every morning to put it out of the
reach of sorcerers. On the Slave Coast, for the same reason,
whenever a king or chief expectorates, the saliva is scrupulously
gathered up and hidden or buried. The same precautions are taken for
the same reason with the spittle of the chief of Tabali in Southern

The magical use to which spittle may be put marks it out, like blood
or nail-parings, as a suitable material basis for a covenant, since
by exchanging their saliva the covenanting parties give each other a
guarantee of good faith. If either of them afterwards foreswears
himself, the other can punish his perfidy by a magical treatment of
the purjurer's spittle which he has in his custody. Thus when the
Wajagga of East Africa desire to make a covenant, the two parties
will sometimes sit down with a bowl of milk or beer between them,
and after uttering an incantation over the beverage they each take a
mouthful of the milk or beer and spit it into the other's mouth. In
urgent cases, when there is no time to spend on ceremony, the two
will simply spit into each other's mouth, which seals the covenant
just as well.

10. Foods tabooed

AS MIGHT have been expected, the superstitions of the savage cluster
thick about the subject of food; and he abstains from eating many
animals and plants, wholesome enough in themselves, which for one
reason or another he fancies would prove dangerous or fatal to the
eater. Examples of such abstinence are too familiar and far too
numerous to quote. But if the ordinary man is thus deterred by
superstitious fear from partaking of various foods, the restraints
of this kind which are laid upon sacred or tabooed persons, such as
kings and priests, are still more numerous and stringent. We have
already seen that the Flamen Dialis was forbidden to eat or even
name several plants and animals, and that the flesh diet of Egyptian
kings was restricted to veal and goose. In antiquity many priests
and many kings of barbarous peoples abstained wholly from a flesh
diet. The _Gangas_ or fetish priests of the Loango Coast are
forbidden to eat or even see a variety of animals and fish, in
consequence of which their flesh diet is extremely limited; often
they live only on herbs and roots, though they may drink fresh
blood. The heir to the throne of Loango is forbidden from infancy to
eat pork; from early childhood he is interdicted the use of the
_cola_ fruit in company; at puberty he is taught by a priest not to
partake of fowls except such as he has himself killed and cooked;
and so the number of taboos goes on increasing with his years. In
Fernando Po the king after installation is forbidden to eat cocco
(_arum acaule_), deer, and porcupine, which are the ordinary foods
of the people. The head chief of the Masai may eat nothing but milk,
honey, and the roasted livers of goats; for if he partook of any
other food he would lose his power of soothsaying and of compounding

11. Knots and Rings tabooed

WE have seen that among the many taboos which the Flamen Dialis at
Rome had to observe, there was one that forbade him to have a knot
on any part of his garments, and another that obliged him to wear no
ring unless it were broken. In like manner Moslem pilgrims to Mecca
are in a state of sanctity or taboo and may wear on their persons
neither knots nor rings. These rules are probably of kindred
significance, and may conveniently be considered together. To begin
with knots, many people in different parts of the world entertain a
strong objection to having any knot about their person at certain
critical seasons, particularly childbirth, marriage, and death. Thus
among the Saxons of Transylvania, when a woman is in travail all
knots on her garments are untied, because it is believed that this
will facilitate her delivery, and with the same intention all the
locks in the house, whether on doors or boxes, are unlocked. The
Lapps think that a lying-in woman should have no knot on her
garments, because a knot would have the effect of making the
delivery difficult and painful. In the East Indies this superstition
is extended to the whole time of pregnancy; the people believe that
if a pregnant woman were to tie knots, or braid, or make anything
fast, the child would thereby be constricted or the woman would
herself be "tied up" when her time came. Nay, some of them enforce
the observance of the rule on the father as well as the mother of
the unborn child. Among the Sea Dyaks neither of the parents may
bind up anything with a string or make anything fast during the
wife's pregnancy. In the Toumbuluh tribe of North Celebes a ceremony
is performed in the fourth or fifth month of a woman's pregnancy,
and after it her husband is forbidden, among many other things, to
tie any fast knots and to sit with his legs crossed over each other.

In all these cases the idea seems to be that the tying of a knot
would, as they say in the East Indies, "tie up" the woman, in other
words, impede and perhaps prevent her delivery, or delay her
convalescence after the birth. On the principles of homoeopathic or
imitative magic the physical obstacle or impediment of a knot on a
cord would create a corresponding obstacle or impediment in the body
of the woman. That this is really the explanation of the rule
appears from a custom observed by the Hos of West Africa at a
difficult birth. When a woman is in hard labour and cannot bring
forth, they call in a magician to her aid. He looks at her and says,
"The child is bound in the womb, that is why she cannot be
delivered." On the entreaties of her female relations he then
promises to loosen the bond so that she may bring forth. For that
purpose he orders them to fetch a tough creeper from the forest, and
with it he binds the hands and feet of the sufferer on her back.
Then he takes a knife and calls out the woman's name, and when she
answers he cuts through the creeper with a knife, saying, "I cut
through to-day thy bonds and thy child's bonds." After that he chops
up the creeper small, puts the bits in a vessel of water, and bathes
the woman with the water. Here the cutting of the creeper with which
the woman's hands and feet are bound is a simple piece of
homoeopathic or imitative magic: by releasing her limbs from their
bonds the magician imagines that he simultaneously releases the
child in her womb from the trammels which impede its birth. The same
train of thought underlies a practice observed by some peoples of
opening all locks, doors, and so on, while a birth is taking place
in the house. We have seen that at such a time the Germans of
Transylvania open all the locks, and the same thing is done also in
Voigtland and Mecklenburg. In North-western Argyllshire
superstitious people used to open every lock in the house at
childbirth. In the island of Salsette near Bombay, when a woman is
in hard labour, all locks of doors or drawers are opened with a key
to facilitate her delivery. Among the Mandelings of Sumatra the lids
of all chests, boxes, pans, and so forth are opened; and if this
does not produce the desired effect, the anxious husband has to
strike the projecting ends of some of the house-beams in order to
loosen them; for they think that "everything must be open and loose
to facilitate the delivery." In Chittagong, when a woman cannot
bring her child to the birth, the midwife gives orders to throw all
doors and windows wide open, to uncork all bottles, to remove the
bungs from all casks, to unloose the cows in the stall, the horses
in the stable, the watchdog in his kennel, to set free sheep, fowls,
ducks, and so forth. This universal liberty accorded to the animals
and even to inanimate things is, according to the people, an
infallible means of ensuring the woman's delivery and allowing the
babe to be born. In the island of Saghalien, when a woman is in
labour, her husband undoes everything that can be undone. He loosens
the plaits of his hair and the laces of his shoes. Then he unties
whatever is tied in the house or its vicinity. In the courtyard he
takes the axe out of the log in which it is stuck; he unfastens the
boat, if it is moored to a tree, he withdraws the cartridges from
his gun, and the arrows from his crossbow.

Again, we have seen that a Toumbuluh man abstains not only from
tying knots, but also from sitting with crossed legs during his
wife's pregnancy. The train of thought is the same in both cases.
Whether you cross threads in tying a knot, or only cross your legs
in sitting at your ease, you are equally, on the principles of
homoeopathic magic, crossing or thwarting the free course of things,
and your action cannot but check and impede whatever may be going
forward in your neighbourhood. Of this important truth the Romans
were fully aware. To sit beside a pregnant woman or a patient under
medical treatment with clasped hands, says the grave Pliny, is to
cast a malignant spell over the person, and it is worse still if you
nurse your leg or legs with your clasped hands, or lay one leg over
the other. Such postures were regarded by the old Romans as a let
and hindrance to business of every sort, and at a council of war or
a meeting of magistrates, at prayers and sacrifices, no man was
suffered to cross his legs or clasp his hands. The stock instance of
the dreadful consequences that might flow from doing one or the
other was that of Alcmena, who travailed with Hercules for seven
days and seven nights, because the goddess Lucina sat in front of
the house with clasped hands and crossed legs, and the child could
not be born until the goddess had been beguiled into changing her
attitude. It is a Bulgarian superstition that if a pregnant woman is
in the habit of sitting with crossed legs, she will suffer much in
childbed. In some parts of Bavaria, when conversation comes to a
standstill and silence ensues, they say, "Surely somebody has
crossed his legs."

The magical effect of knots in trammelling and obstructing human
activity was believed to be manifested at marriage not less than at
birth. During the Middle Ages, and down to the eighteenth century,
it seems to have been commonly held in Europe that the consummation
of marriage could be prevented by any one who, while the wedding
ceremony was taking place, either locked a lock or tied a knot in a
cord, and then threw the lock or the cord away. The lock or the
knotted cord had to be flung into water; and until it had been found
and unlocked, or untied, no real union of the married pair was
possible. Hence it was a grave offence, not only to cast such a
spell, but also to steal or make away with the material instrument
of it, whether lock or knotted cord. In the year 1718 the parliament
of Bordeaux sentenced some one to be burned alive for having spread
desolation through a whole family by means of knotted cords; and in
1705 two persons were condemned to death in Scotland for stealing
certain charmed knots which a woman had made, in order thereby to
mar the wedded happiness of Spalding of Ashintilly. The belief in
the efficacy of these charms appears to have lingered in the
Highlands of Pertshire down to the end of the eighteenth century,
for at that time it was still customary in the beautiful parish of
Logierait, between the river Tummel and the river Tay, to unloose
carefully every knot in the clothes of the bride and bridegroom
before the celebration of the marriage ceremony. We meet with the
same superstition and the same custom at the present day in Syria.
The persons who help a Syrian bridegroom to don his wedding garments
take care that no knot is tied on them and no button buttoned, for
they believe that a button buttoned or a knot tied would put it
within the power of his enemies to deprive him of his nuptial rights
by magical means. The fear of such charms is diffused all over North
Africa at the present day. To render a bridegroom impotent the
enchanter has only to tie a knot in a handkerchief which he had
previously placed quietly on some part of the bridegroom's body when
he was mounted on horseback ready to fetch his bride: so long as the
knot in the handkerchief remains tied, so long will the bridegroom
remain powerless to consummate the marriage.

The maleficent power of knots may also be manifested in the
infliction of sickness, disease, and all kinds of misfortune. Thus
among the Hos of West Africa a sorcerer will sometimes curse his
enemy and tie a knot in a stalk of grass, saying, "I have tied up
So-and-so in this knot. May all evil light upon him! When he goes
into the field, may a snake sting him! When he goes to the chase,
may a ravening beast attack him! And when he steps into a river, may
the water sweep him away! When it rains, may the lightning strike
him! May evil nights be his!" It is believed that in the knot the
sorcerer has bound up the life of his enemy. In the Koran there is
an allusion to the mischief of "those who puff into the knots," and
an Arab commentator on the passage explains that the words refer to
women who practise magic by tying knots in cords, and then blowing
and spitting upon them. He goes on to relate how, once upon a time,
a wicked Jew bewitched the prophet Mohammed himself by tying nine
knots on a string, which he then hid in a well. So the prophet fell
ill, and nobody knows what might have happened if the archangel
Gabriel had not opportunely revealed to the holy man the place where
the knotted cord was concealed. The trusty Ali soon fetched the
baleful thing from the well; and the prophet recited over it certain
charms, which were specially revealed to him for the purpose. At
every verse of the charms a knot untied itself, and the prophet
experienced a certain relief.

If knots are supposed to kill, they are also supposed to cure. This
follows from the belief that to undo the knots which are causing
sickness will bring the sufferer relief. But apart from this
negative virtue of maleficent knots, there are certain beneficent
knots to which a positive power of healing is ascribed. Pliny tells
us that some folk cured diseases of the groin by taking a thread
from a web, tying seven or nine knots on it, and then fastening it
to the patient's groin; but to make the cure effectual it was
necessary to name some widow as each knot was tied. O'Donovan
describes a remedy for fever employed among the Turcomans. The
enchanter takes some camel hair and spins it into a stout thread,
droning a spell the while. Next he ties seven knots on the thread,
blowing on each knot before he pulls it tight. This knotted thread
is then worn as a bracelet on his wrist by the patient. Every day
one of the knots is untied and blown upon, and when the seventh knot
is undone the whole thread is rolled up into a ball and thrown into
a river, bearing away (as they imagine) the fever with it.

Again knots may be used by an enchantress to win a lover and attach
him firmly to herself. Thus the love-sick maid in Virgil seeks to
draw Daphnis to her from the city by spells and by tying three knots
on each of three strings of different colours. So an Arab maiden,
who had lost her heart to a certain man, tried to gain his love and
bind him to herself by tying knots in his whip; but her jealous
rival undid the knots. On the same principle magic knots may be
employed to stop a runaway. In Swazieland you may often see grass
tied in knots at the side of the footpaths. Every one of these knots
tells of a domestic tragedy. A wife has run away from her husband,
and he and his friends have gone in pursuit, binding up the paths,
as they call it, in this fashion to prevent the fugitive from
doubling back over them. A net, from its affluence of knots, has
always been considered in Russia very efficacious against sorcerers;
hence in some places, when a bride is being dressed in her wedding
attire, a fishing-net is flung over her to keep her out of harm's
way. For a similar purpose the bridegroom and his companions are
often girt with pieces of net, or at least with tight-drawn girdles,
for before a wizard can begin to injure them he must undo all the
knots in the net, or take off the girdles. But often a Russian
amulet is merely a knotted thread. A skein of red wool wound about
the arms and legs is thought to ward off agues and fevers; and nine
skeins, fastened round a child's neck, are deemed a preservative
against scarlatina. In the Tver Government a bag of a special kind
is tied to the neck of the cow which walks before the rest of a
herd, in order to keep off wolves; its force binds the maw of the
ravening beast. On the same principle, a padlock is carried thrice
round a herd of horses before they go afield in the spring, and the
bearer locks and unlocks it as he goes, saying, "I lock from my herd
the mouths of the grey wolves with this steel lock."

Knots and locks may serve to avert not only wizards and wolves but
death itself. When they brought a woman to the stake at St. Andrews
in 1572 to burn her alive for a witch, they found on her a white
cloth like a collar, with strings and many knots on the strings.
They took it from her, sorely against her will, for she seemed to
think that she could not die in the fire, if only the cloth with the
knotted strings was on her. When it was taken away, she said, "Now I
have no hope of myself." In many parts of England it is thought that
a person cannot die so long as any locks are locked or bolts shot in
the house. It is therefore a very common practice to undo all locks
and bolts when the sufferer is plainly near his end, in order that
his agony may not be unduly prolonged. For example, in the year
1863, at Taunton, a child lay sick of scarlatina and death seemed
inevitable. "A jury of matrons was, as it were, empanelled, and to
prevent the child 'dying hard' all the doors in the house, all the
drawers, all the boxes, all the cupboards were thrown wide open, the
keys taken out, and the body of the child placed under a beam,
whereby a sure, certain, and easy passage into eternity could be
secured." Strange to say, the child declined to avail itself of the
facilities for dying so obligingly placed at its disposal by the
sagacity and experience of the British matrons of Taunton; it
preferred to live rather than give up the ghost just then.

The rule which prescribes that at certain magical and religious
ceremonies the hair should hang loose and the feet should be bare is
probably based on the same fear of trammelling and impeding the
action in hand, whatever it may be, by the presence of any knot or
constriction, whether on the head or on the feet of the performer. A
similar power to bind and hamper spiritual as well as bodily
activities is ascribed by some people to rings. Thus in the island
of Carpathus people never button the clothes they put upon a dead
body and they are careful to remove all rings from it; "for the
spirit, they say, can even be detained in the little finger, and
cannot rest." Here it is plain that even if the soul is not
definitely supposed to issue at death from the finger-tips, yet the
ring is conceived to exercise a certain constrictive influence which
detains and imprisons the immortal spirit in spite of its efforts to
escape from the tabernacle of clay; in short the ring, like the
knot, acts as a spiritual fetter. This may have been the reason of
an ancient Greek maxim, attributed to Pythagoras, which forbade
people to wear rings. Nobody might enter the ancient Arcadian
sanctuary of the Mistress at Lycosura with a ring on his or her
finger. Persons who consulted the oracle of Faunus had to be chaste,
to eat no flesh, and to wear no rings.

On the other hand, the same constriction which hinders the egress of
the soul may prevent the entrance of evil spirits; hence we find
rings used as amulets against demons, witches, and ghosts. In the
Tyrol it is said that a woman in childbed should never take off her
wedding-ring, or spirits and witches will have power over her. Among
the Lapps, the person who is about to place a corpse in the coffin
receives from the husband, wife, or children of the deceased a brass
ring, which he must wear fastened to his right arm until the corpse
is safely deposited in the grave. The ring is believed to serve the
person as an amulet against any harm which the ghost might do to
him. How far the custom of wearing finger-rings may have been
influenced by, or even have sprung from, a belief in their efficacy
as amulets to keep the soul in the body, or demons out of it, is a
question which seems worth considering. Here we are only concerned
with the belief in so far as it seems to throw light on the rule
that the Flamen Dialis might not wear a ring unless it were broken.
Taken in conjunction with the rule which forbade him to have a knot
on his garments, it points to a fear that the powerful spirit
embodied in him might be trammelled and hampered in its goings-out
and comings-in by such corporeal and spiritual fetters as rings and

XXII. Tabooed Words

1. Personal Names tabooed

UNABLE to discriminate clearly between words and things, the savage
commonly fancies that the link between a name and the person or
thing denominated by it is not a mere arbitrary and ideal
association, but a real and substantial bond which unites the two in
such a way that magic may be wrought on a man just as easily through
his name as through his hair, his nails, or any other material part
of his person. In fact, primitive man regards his name as a vital
portion of himself and takes care of it accordingly. Thus, for
example, the North American Indian "regards his name, not as a mere
label, but as a distinct part of his personality, just as much as
are his eyes or his teeth, and believes that injury will result as
surely from the malicious handling of his name as from a wound
inflicted on any part of his physical organism. This belief was
found among the various tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and
has occasioned a number of curious regulations in regard to the
concealment and change of names." Some Esquimaux take new names when
they are old, hoping thereby to get a new lease of life. The
Tolampoos of Celebes believe that if you write a man's name down you
can carry off his soul along with it. Many savages at the present
day regard their names as vital parts of themselves, and therefore
take great pains to conceal their real names, lest these should give
to evil-disposed persons a handle by which to injure their owners.

Thus, to begin with the savages who rank at the bottom of the social
scale, we are told that the secrecy with which among the Australian
aborigines personal names are often kept from general knowledge
"arises in great measure from the belief that an enemy, who knows
your name, has in it something which he can use magically to your
detriment." "An Australian black," says another writer, "is always
very unwilling to tell his real name, and there is no doubt that
this reluctance is due to the fear that through his name he may be
injured by sorcerers." Amongst the tribes of Central Australia every
man, woman, and child has, besides a personal name which is in
common use, a secret or sacred name which is bestowed by the older
men upon him or her soon after birth, and which is known to none but
the fully initiated members of the group. This secret name is never
mentioned except upon the most solemn occasions; to utter it in the
hearing of women or of men of another group would be a most serious
breach of tribal custom, as serious as the most flagrant case of
sacrilege among ourselves. When mentioned at all, the name is spoken
only in a whisper, and not until the most elaborate precautions have
been taken that it shall be heard by no one but members of the
group. "The native thinks that a stranger knowing his secret name
would have special power to work him ill by means of magic."

The same fear seems to have led to a custom of the same sort amongst
the ancient Egyptians, whose comparatively high civilisation was
strangely dashed and chequered with relics of the lowest savagery.
Every Egyptian received two names, which were known respectively as
the true name and the good name, or the great name and the little
name; and while the good or little name was made public, the true or
great name appears to have been carefully concealed. A Brahman child
receives two names, one for common use, the other a secret name
which none but his father and mother should know. The latter is only
used at ceremonies such as marriage. The custom is intended to
protect the person against magic, since a charm only becomes
effectual in combination with the real name. Similarly, the natives
of Nias believe that harm may be done to a person by the demons who
hear his name pronounced. Hence the names of infants, who are
especially exposed to the assaults of evil sprits, are never spoken;
and often in haunted spots, such as the gloomy depths of the forest,
the banks of a river, or beside a bubbling spring, men will abstain
from calling each other by their names for a like reason.

The Indians of Chiloe keep their names secret and do not like to
have them uttered aloud; for they say that there are fairies or imps
on the mainland or neighbouring islands who, if they knew folk's
names, would do them an injury; but so long as they do not know the
names, these mischievous sprites are powerless. The Araucanians will
hardly ever tell a stranger their names because they fear that he
would thereby acquire some supernatural power over themselves. Asked
his name by a stranger, who is ignorant of their superstitions, an
Araucanian will answer, "I have none." When an Ojebway is asked his
name, he will look at some bystander and ask him to answer. "This
reluctance arises from an impression they receive when young, that
if they repeat their own names it will prevent their growth, and
they will be small in stature. On account of this unwillingness to
tell their names, many strangers have fancied that they either have
no names or have forgotten them."

In this last case no scruple seems to be felt about communicating a
man's name to strangers, and no ill effects appear to be dreaded as
a consequence of divulging it; harm is only done when a name is
spoken by its owner. Why is this? and why in particular should a man
be thought to stunt his growth by uttering his own name? We may
conjecture that to savages who act and think thus a person's name
only seems to be a part of himself when it is uttered with his own
breath; uttered by the breath of others it has no vital connexion
with him, and no harm can come to him through it. Whereas, so these
primitive philosophers may have argued, when a man lets his own name
pass his lips, he is parting with a living piece of himself, and if
he persists in so reckless a course he must certainly end by
dissipating his energy and shattering his constitution. Many a
broken-down debauchee, many a feeble frame wasted with disease, may
have been pointed out by these simple moralists to their awe-struck
disciples as a fearful example of the fate that must sooner or later
overtake the profligate who indulges immoderately in the seductive
habit of mentioning his own name.

However we may explain it, the fact is certain that many a savage
evinces the strongest reluctance to pronounce his own name, while at
the same time he makes no objection at all to other people
pronouncing it, and will even invite them to do so for him in order
to satisfy the curiosity of an inquisitive stranger. Thus in some
parts of Madagascar it is taboo for a person to tell his own name,
but a slave or attendant will answer for him. The same curious
inconsistency, as it may seem to us, is recorded of some tribes of
American Indians. Thus we are told that "the name of an American
Indian is a sacred thing, not to be divulged by the owner himself
without due consideration. One may ask a warrior of any tribe to
give his name, and the question will be met with either a
point-blank refusal or the more diplomatic evasion that he cannot
understand what is wanted of him. The moment a friend approaches,
the warrior first interrogated will whisper what is wanted, and the
friend can tell the name, receiving a reciprocation of the courtesy
from the other." This general statement applies, for example, to the
Indian tribes of British Columbia, as to whom it is said that "one
of their strangest prejudices, which appears to pervade all tribes
alike, is a dislike to telling their names--thus you never get a
man's right name from himself; but they will tell each other's names
without hesitation." In the whole of the East Indian Archipelago the
etiquette is the same. As a general rule no one will utter his own
name. To enquire, "What is your name?" is a very indelicate question
in native society. When in the course of administrative or judicial
business a native is asked his name, instead of replying he will
look at his comrade to indicate that he is to answer for him, or he
will say straight out, "Ask him." The superstition is current all
over the East Indies without exception, and it is found also among
the Motu and Motumotu tribes, the Papuans of Finsch Haven in North
New Guinea, the Nufoors of Dutch New Guinea, and the Melanesians of
the Bismarck Archipelago. Among many tribes of South Africa men and
women never mention their names if they can get any one else to do
it for them, but they do not absolutely refuse when it cannot be

Sometimes the embargo laid on personal names is not permanent; it is
conditional on circumstances, and when these change it ceases to
operate. Thus when the Nandi men are away on a foray, nobody at home
may pronounce the names of the absent warriors; they must be
referred to as birds. Should a child so far forget itself as to
mention one of the distant ones by name, the mother would rebuke it,
saying, "Don't talk of the birds who are in the heavens." Among the
Bangala of the Upper Congo, while a man is fishing and when he
returns with his catch, his proper name is in abeyance and nobody
may mention it. Whatever the fisherman's real name may be, he is
called _mwele_ without distinction. The reason is that the river is
full of spirits, who, if they heard the fisherman's real name, might
so work against him that he would catch little or nothing. Even when
he has caught his fish and landed with them, the buyer must still
not address him by his proper name, but must only call him _mwele;_
for even then, if the spirits were to hear his proper name, they
would either bear it in mind and serve him out another day, or they
might so mar the fish he had caught that he would get very little
for them. Hence the fisherman can extract heavy damages from anybody
who mentions his name, or can compel the thoughtless speaker to
relieve him of the fish at a good price so as to restore his luck.
When the Sulka of New Britain are near the territory of their
enemies the Gaktei, they take care not to mention them by their
proper name, believing that were they to do so, their foes would
attack and slay them. Hence in these circumstances they speak of the
Gaktei as _o lapsiek,_ that is, "the rotten tree-trunks," and they
imagine that by calling them that they make the limbs of their
dreaded enemies ponderous and clumsy like logs. This example
illustrates the extremely materialistic view which these savages
take of the nature of words; they suppose that the mere utterance of
an expression signifying clumsiness will homoeopathically affect
with clumsiness the limbs of their distant foemen. Another
illustration of this curious misconception is furnished by a Caffre
superstition that the character of a young thief can be reformed by
shouting his name over a boiling kettle of medicated water, then
clapping a lid on the kettle and leaving the name to steep in the
water for several days. It is not in the least necessary that the
thief should be aware of the use that is being made of his name
behind his back; the moral reformation will be effected without his

When it is deemed necessary that a man's real name should be kept
secret, it is often customary, as we have seen, to call him by a
surname or nickname. As distinguished from the real or primary
names, these secondary names are apparently held to be no part of
the man himself, so that they may be freely used and divulged to
everybody without endangering his safety thereby. Sometimes in order
to avoid the use of his own name a man will be called after his
child. Thus we are informed that "the Gippsland blacks objected
strongly to let any one outside the tribe know their names, lest
their enemies, learning them, should make them vehicles of
incantation, and so charm their lives away. As children were not
thought to have enemies, they used to speak of a man as 'the father,
uncle, or cousin of So-and-so,' naming a child; but on all occasions
abstained from mentioning the name of a grown-up person." The
Alfoors of Poso in Celebes will not pronounce their own names. Among
them, accordingly, if you wish to ascertain a person's name, you
ought not to ask the man himself, but should enquire of others. But
if this is impossible, for example, when there is no one else near,
you should ask him his child's name, and then address him as the
"Father of So-and-so." Nay, these Alfoors are shy of uttering the
names even of children; so when a boy or girl has a nephew or niece,
he or she is addressed as "Uncle of So-and-so," or "Aunt of
So-and-so." In pure Malay society, we are told, a man is never asked
his name, and the custom of naming parents after their children is
adopted only as a means of avoiding the use of the parents' own
names. The writer who makes this statement adds in confirmation of
it that childless persons are named after their younger brothers.
Among the Land Dyaks children as they grow up are called, according
to their sex, the father or mother of a child of their father's or
mother's younger brother or sister, that is, they are called the
father or mother of what we should call their first cousin. The
Caffres used to think it discourteous to call a bride by her own
name, so they would call her "the Mother of So-and-so," even when
she was only betrothed, far less a wife and a mother. Among the
Kukis and Zemis or Kacha Nagas of Assam parents drop their names
after the birth of a child and are named Father and Mother of
So-and-so. Childless couples go by the name of "the childless
father," "the childless mother," "the father of no child," "the
mother of no child." The widespread custom of naming a father after
his child has sometimes been supposed to spring from a desire on the
father's part to assert his paternity, apparently as a means of
obtaining those rights over his children which had previously, under
a system of mother-kin, been possessed by the mother. But this
explanation does not account for the parallel custom of naming the
mother after her child, which seems commonly to co-exist with the
practice of naming the father after the child. Still less, if
possible, does it apply to the customs of calling childless couples
the father and mother of children which do not exist, of naming
people after their younger brothers, and of designating children as
the uncles and aunts of So-and-so, or as the fathers and mothers of
their first cousins. But all these practices are explained in a
simple and natural way if we suppose that they originate in a
reluctance to utter the real names of persons addressed or directly
referred to. That reluctance is probably based partly on a fear of
attracting the notice of evil spirits, partly on a dread of
revealing the name to sorcerers, who would thereby obtain a handle
for injuring the owner of the name.

2. Names of Relations tabooed

IT might naturally be expected that the reserve so commonly
maintained with regard to personal names would be dropped or at
least relaxed among relations and friends. But the reverse of this
is often the case. It is precisely the persons most intimately
connected by blood and especially by marriage to whom the rule
applies with the greatest stringency. Such people are often
forbidden, not only to pronounce each other's names, but even to
utter ordinary words which resemble or have a single syllable in
common with these names. The persons who are thus mutually debarred
from mentioning each other's names are especially husbands and
wives, a man and his wife's parents, and a woman and her husband's
father. For example, among the Caffres a woman may not publicly
pronounce the birth-name of her husband or of any of his brothers,
nor may she use the interdicted word in its ordinary sense. If her
husband, for instance, be called u-Mpaka, from _impaka,_ a small
feline animal, she must speak of that beast by some other name.
Further, a Caffre wife is forbidden to pronounce even mentally the
names of her father-in-law and of all her husband's male relations
in the ascending line; and whenever the emphatic syllable of any of
their names occurs in another word, she must avoid it by
substituting either an entirely new word, or, at least, another
syllable in its place. Hence this custom has given rise to an almost
distinct language among the women, which the Caffres call "women's
speech." The interpretation of this "women's speech" is naturally
very difficult, "for no definite rules can be given for the
formation of these substituted words, nor is it possible to form a
dictionary of them, their number being so great--since there may be
many women, even in the same tribe, who would be no more at liberty
to use the substitutes employed by some others, than they are to use
the original words themselves." A Caffre man, on his side, may not
mention the name of his mother-in-law, nor may she pronounce his;
but he is free to utter words in which the emphatic syllable of her
name occurs. A Kirghiz woman dares not pronounce the names of the
older relations of her husband, nor even use words which resemble
them in sound. For example, if one of these relations is called
Shepherd, she may not speak of sheep, but must call them "the
bleating ones"; if his name is Lamb, she must refer to lambs as "the
young bleating ones." In Southern India wives believe that to tell
their husband's name or to pronounce it even in a dream would bring
him to an untimely end. Among the Sea Dyaks a man may not pronounce
the name of his father-in-law or mother-in-law without incurring the
wrath of the spirits. And since he reckons as his father-in-law and
mother-in-law not only the father and mother of his own wife, but
also the fathers and mothers of his brothers' wives and sisters'
husbands, and likewise the fathers and mothers of all his cousins,
the number of tabooed names may be very considerable and the
opportunities of error correspondingly numerous. To make confusion
worse confounded, the names of persons are often the names of common
things, such as moon, bridge, barley, cobra, leopard; so that when
any of a man's many fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law are called by
such names, these common words may not pass his lips. Among the
Alfoors of Minahassa, in Celebes, the custom is carried still
further so as to forbid the use even of words which merely resemble
the personal names in sound. It is especially the name of a
father-in-law which is thus laid under an interdict. If he, for
example, is called Kalala, his son-in-law may not speak of a horse
by its common name _kawalo;_ he must call it a "riding-beast"
(_sasakajan_). So among the Alfoors of the island of Buru it is
taboo to mention the names of parents and parents-in-law, or even to
speak of common objects by words which resemble these names in
sound. Thus, if your mother-in-law is called Dalu, which means
"betel," you may not ask for betel by its ordinary name, you must
ask for "red mouth"; if you want betel-leaf, you may not say
betel-leaf (_dalu 'mun_), you must say _karon fenna._ In the same
island it is also taboo to mention the name of an elder brother in
his presence. Transgressions of these rules are punished with fines.
In Sunda it is thought that a particular crop would be spoilt if a
man were to mention the names of his father and mother.

Among the Nufoors of Dutch New Guinea persons who are related to
each other by marriage are forbidden to mention each other's names.
Among the connexions whose names are thus tabooed are wife,
mother-in-law, father-in-law, your wife's uncles and aunts and also
her grand-uncles and grand-aunts, and the whole of your wife's or
your husband's family in the same generation as yourself, except
that men may mention the names of their brothers-in-law, though
women may not. The taboo comes into operation as soon as the
betrothal has taken place and before the marriage has been
celebrated. Families thus connected by the betrothal of two of their
members are not only forbidden to pronounce each other's names; they
may not even look at each other, and the rule gives rise to the most
comical scenes when they happen to meet unexpectedly. And not merely
the names themselves, but any words that sound like them are
scrupulously avoided and other words used in their place. If it
should chance that a person has inadvertently uttered a forbidden
name, he must at once throw himself on the floor and say, "I have
mentioned a wrong name. I throw it through the chinks of the floor
in order that I may eat well."

In the western islands of Torres Straits a man never mentioned the
personal names of his father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law,
and sister-in-law; and a woman was subject to the same restrictions.
A brother-in-law might be spoken of as the husband or brother of
some one whose name it was lawful to mention; and similarly a
sister-in-law might be called the wife of So-and-so. If a man by
chance used the personal name of his brother-in-law, he was ashamed
and hung his head. His shame was only relieved when he had made a
present as compensation to the man whose name he had taken in vain.
The same compensation was made to a sister-in-law, a father-in-law,
and a mother-in-law for the accidental mention of their names. Among
the natives who inhabit the coast of the Gazelle Peninsula in New
Britain to mention the name of a brother-in-law is the grossest
possible affront you can offer to him; it is a crime punishable with
death. In the Banks' Islands, Melanesia, the taboos laid on the
names of persons connected by marriage are very strict. A man will
not mention the name of his father-in-law, much less the name of his
mother-in-law, nor may he name his wife's brother; but he may name
his wife's sister--she is nothing to him. A woman may not name her
father-in-law, nor on any account her son-in-law. Two people whose
children have intermarried are also debarred from mentioning each
other's names. And not only are all these persons forbidden to utter
each other's names; they may not even pronounce ordinary words which
chance to be either identical with these names or to have any
syllables in common with them. Thus we hear of a native of these
islands who might not use the common words for "pig" and "to die,"
because these words occurred in the polysyllabic name of his
son-in-law; and we are told of another unfortunate who might not
pronounce the everyday words for "hand" and "hot" on account of his
wife's brother's name, and who was even debarred from mentioning the
number "one," because the word for "one" formed part of the name of
his wife's cousin.

The reluctance to mention the names or even syllables of the names
of persons connected with the speaker by marriage can hardly be
separated from the reluctance evinced by so many people to utter
their own names or the names of the dead or of the dead or of chiefs
and kings; and if the reticence as to these latter names springs
mainly from superstition, we may infer that the reticence as to the
former has no better foundation. That the savage's unwillingness to
mention his own name is based, at least in part, on a superstitious
fear of the ill use that might be made of it by his foes, whether
human or spiritual, has already been shown. It remains to examine
the similar usage in regard to the names of the dead and of royal

3. Names of the Dead tabooed

THE CUSTOM of abstaining from all mention of the names of the dead
was observed in antiquity by the Albanians of the Caucasus, and at
the present day it is in full force among many savage tribes. Thus
we are told that one of the customs most rigidly observed and
enforced amongst the Australian aborigines is never to mention the
name of a deceased person, whether male or female; to name aloud one
who has departed this life would be a gross violation of their most
sacred prejudices, and they carefully abstain from it. The chief
motive for this abstinence appears to be a fear of evoking the
ghost, although the natural unwillingness to revive past sorrows
undoubtedly operates also to draw the veil of oblivion over the
names of the dead. Once Mr. Oldfield so terrified a native by
shouting out the name of a deceased person, that the man fairly took
to his heels and did not venture to show himself again for several
days. At their next meeting he bitterly reproached the rash white
man for his indiscretion; "nor could I," adds Mr. Oldfield, "induce
him by any means to utter the awful sound of a dead man's name, for
by so doing he would have placed himself in the power of the malign
spirits." Among the aborigines of Victoria the dead were very rarely
spoken of, and then never by their names; they were referred to in a
subdued voice as "the lost one" or "the poor fellow that is no
more." To speak of them by name would, it was supposed, excite the
malignity of Couit-gil, the spirit of the departed, which hovers on
earth for a time before it departs for ever towards the setting sun.
Of the tribes on the Lower Murray River we are told that when a
person dies "they carefully avoid mentioning his name; but if
compelled to do so, they pronounce it in a very low whisper, so
faint that they imagine the spirit cannot hear their voice." Amongst
the tribes of Central Australia no one may utter the name of the
deceased during the period of mourning, unless it is absolutely
necessary to do so, and then it is only done in a whisper for fear
of disturbing and annoying the man's spirit which is walking about
in ghostly form. If the ghost hears his name mentioned he concludes
that his kinsfolk are not mourning for him properly; if their grief
were genuine they could not bear to bandy his name about. Touched to
the quick by their hard-hearted indifference the indignant ghost
will come and trouble them in dreams.

The same reluctance to utter the names of the dead appears to
prevail among all the Indian tribes of America from Hudson's Bay
Territory to Patagonia. Among the Goajiros of Colombia to mention
the dead before his kinsmen is a dreadful offence, which is often
punished with death; for if it happens on the _rancho_ of the
deceased, in presence of his nephew or uncle, they will assuredly
kill the offender on the spot if they can. But if he escapes, the
penalty resolves itself into a heavy fine, usually of two or more

A similar reluctance to mention the names of the dead is reported of
peoples so widely separated from each other as the Samoyeds of
Siberia and the Todas of Southern India; the Mongols of Tartary and
the Tuaregs of the Sahara; the Ainos of Japan and the Akamba and
Nandi of Eastern Africa; the Tinguianes of the Philippines and the
inhabitants of the Nicobar Islands, of Borneo, of Madagascar, and of
Tasmania. In all cases, even where it is not expressly stated, the
fundamental reason for this avoidance is probably the fear of the
ghost. That this is the real motive with the Tuaregs we are
positively informed. They dread the return of the dead man's spirit,
and do all they can to avoid it by shifting their camp after a
death, ceasing for ever to pronounce the name of the departed, and
eschewing everything that might be regarded as an evocation or
recall of his soul. Hence they do not, like the Arabs, designate
individuals by adding to their personal names the names of their
fathers; they never speak of So-and-so, son of So-and-so; they give
to every man a name which will live and die with him. So among some
of the Victorian tribes in Australia personal names were rarely
perpetuated, because the natives believed that any one who adopted
the name of a deceased person would not live long; probably his
ghostly namesake was supposed to come and fetch him away to the

The same fear of the ghost, which moves people to suppress his old
name, naturally leads all persons who bear a similar name to
exchange it for another, lest its utterance should attract the
attention of the ghost, who cannot reasonably be expected to
discriminate between all the different applications of the same
name. Thus we are told that in the Adelaide and Encounter Bay tribes
of South Australia the repugnance to mentioning the names of those
who have died lately is carried so far, that persons who bear the
same name as the deceased abandon it, and either adopt temporary
names or are known by any others that happen to belong to them. A
similar custom prevails among some of the Queensland tribes; but the
prohibition to use the names of the dead is not permanent, though it
may last for many years. In some Australian tribes the change of
name thus brought about is permanent; the old name is laid aside for
ever, and the man is known by his new name for the rest of his life,
or at least until he is obliged to change it again for a like
reason. Among the North American Indians all persons, whether men or
women, who bore the name of one who had just died were obliged to
abandon it and to adopt other names, which was formally done at the
first ceremony of mourning for the dead. In some tribes to the east
of the Rocky Mountains this change of name lasted only during the
season of mourning, but in other tribes on the Pacific Coast of
North America it seems to have been permanent.

Sometimes by an extension of the same reasoning all the near
relations of the deceased change their names, whatever they may
happen to be, doubtless from a fear that the sound of the familiar
names might lure back the vagrant spirit to its old home. Thus in
some Victorian tribes the ordinary names of all the next of kin were
disused during the period of mourning, and certain general terms,
prescribed by custom, were substituted for them. To call a mourner
by his own name was considered an insult to the departed, and often
led to fighting and bloodshed. Among Indian tribes of North-western
America near relations of the deceased often change their names
"under an impression that spirits will be attracted back to earth if
they hear familiar names often repeated." Among the Kiowa Indians
the name of the dead is never spoken in the presence of the
relatives, and on the death of any member of a family all the others
take new names. This custom was noted by Raleigh's colonists on
Roanoke Island more than three centuries ago. Among the Lengua
Indians not only is a dead man's name never mentioned, but all the
survivors change their names also. They say that Death has been
among them and has carried off a list of the living, and that he
will soon come back for more victims; hence in order to defeat his
fell purpose they change their names, believing that on his return
Death, though he has got them all on his list, will not be able to
identify them under their new names, and will depart to pursue the
search elsewhere. Nicobarese mourners take new names in order to
escape the unwelcome attentions of the ghost; and for the same
purpose they disguise themselves by shaving their heads so that the
ghost is unable to recognise them.

Further, when the name of the deceased happens to be that of some
common object, such as an animal, or plant, or fire, or water, it is
sometimes considered necessary to drop that word in ordinary speech
and replace it by another. A custom of this sort, it is plain, may
easily be a potent agent of change in language; for where it
prevails to any considerable extent many words must constantly
become obsolete and new ones spring up. And this tendency has been
remarked by observers who have recorded the custom in Australia,
America, and elsewhere. For example, with regard to the Australian
aborigines it has been noted that "the dialects change with almost
every tribe. Some tribes name their children after natural objects;
and when the person so named dies, the word is never again
mentioned; another word has therefore to be invented for the object
after which the child was called." The writer gives as an instance
the case of a man whose name Karla signified "fire"; when Karla
died, a new word for fire had to be introduced. "Hence," adds the
writer, "the language is always changing." Again, in the Encounter
Bay tribe of South Australia, if a man of the name of Ngnke, which
means "water," were to die, the whole tribe would be obliged to use
some other word to express water for a considerable time after his
decease. The writer who records this custom surmises that it may
explain the presence of a number of synonyms in the language of the
tribe. This conjecture is confirmed by what we know of some
Victorian tribes whose speech comprised a regular set of synonyms to
be used instead of the common terms by all members of a tribe in
times of mourning. For instance, if a man called Waa ( "crow")
departed this life, during the period of mourning for him nobody
might call a crow a _waa;_ everybody had to speak of the bird as a
_narrapart._ When a person who rejoiced in the title of Ringtail
Opossum (_weearn_) had gone the way of all flesh, his sorrowing
relations and the tribe at large were bound for a time to refer to
ringtail opossums by the more sonorous name of _manuungkuurt._ If
the community were plunged in grief for the loss of a respected
female who bore the honourable name of Turkey Bustard, the proper
name for turkey bustards, which was _barrim barrim,_ went out, and
_tillit tilliitsh_ came in. And so _mutatis mutandis_ with the names
of Black Cockatoo, Grey Duck, Gigantic Crane, Kangaroo, Eagle,
Dingo, and the rest.

A similar custom used to be constantly transforming the language of
the Abipones of Paraguay, amongst whom, however, a word once
abolished seems never to have been revived. New words, says the
missionary Dobrizhoffer, sprang up every year like mushrooms in a
night, because all words that resembled the names of the dead were
abolished by proclamation and others coined in their place. The mint
of words was in the hands of the old women of the tribe, and
whatever term they stamped with their approval and put in
circulation was immediately accepted without a murmur by high and
low alike, and spread like wildfire through every camp and
settlement of the tribe. You would be astonished, says the same
missionary, to see how meekly the whole nation acquiesces in the
decision of a withered old hag, and how completely the old familiar
words fall instantly out of use and are never repeated either
through force of habit or forgetfulness. In the seven years that
Dobrizhoffer spent among these Indians the native word for jaguar
was changed thrice, and the words for crocodile, thorn, and the
slaughter of cattle underwent similar though less varied
vicissitudes. As a result of this habit, the vocabularies of the
missionaries teemed with erasures, old words having constantly to be
struck out as obsolete and new ones inserted in their place. In many
tribes of British New Guinea the names of persons are also the names
of common things. The people believe that if the name of a deceased
person is pronounced, his spirit will return, and as they have no
wish to see it back among them the mention of his name is tabooed
and a new word is created to take its place, whenever the name
happens to be a common term of the language. Consequently many words
are permanently lost or revived with modified or new meanings. In
the Nicobar Islands a similar practice has similarly affected the
speech of the natives. "A most singular custom," says Mr. de
Roepstorff, "prevails among them which one would suppose must most
effectually hinder the 'making of history,' or, at any rate, the
transmission of historical narrative. By a strict rule, which has
all the sanction of Nicobar superstition, no man's name may be
mentioned after his death! To such a length is this carried that
when, as very frequently happens, the man rejoiced in the name of
'Fowl,' 'Hat', 'Fire,' 'Road,' etc., in its Nicobarese equivalent,
the use of these words is carefully eschewed for the future, not
only as being the personal designation of the deceased, but even as
the names of the common things they represent; the words die out of
the language, and either new vocables are coined to express the
thing intended, or a substitute for the disused word is found in
other Nicobarese dialects or in some foreign tongue. This
extraordinary custom not only adds an element of instability to the
language, but destroys the continuity of political life, and renders
the record of past events precarious and vague, if not impossible."

That a superstition which suppresses the names of the dead must cut
at the very root of historical tradition has been remarked by other
workers in this field. "The Klamath people," observes Mr. A. S.
Gatschet, "possess no historic traditions going further back in time
than a century, for the simple reason that there was a strict law
prohibiting the mention of the person or acts of a deceased
individual by _using his name._ This law was rigidly observed among
the Californians no less than among the Oregonians, and on its
transgression the death penalty could be inflicted. This is
certainly enough to suppress all historical knowledge within a
people. How can history be written without names?"

In many tribes, however, the power of this superstition to blot out
the memory of the past is to some extent weakened and impaired by a
natural tendency of the human mind. Time, which wears out the
deepest impressions, inevitably dulls, if it does not wholly efface,
the print left on the savage mind by the mystery and horror of
death. Sooner or later, as the memory of his loved ones fades slowly
away, he becomes more willing to speak of them, and thus their rude
names may sometimes be rescued by the philosophic enquirer before
they have vanished, like autumn leaves or winter snows, into the
vast undistinguished limbo of the past. In some of the Victorian
tribes the prohibition to mention the names of the dead remained in
force only during the period of mourning; in the Port Lincoln tribe
of South Australia it lasted many years. Among the Chinook Indians
of North America "custom forbids the mention of a dead man's name,
at least till many years have elapsed after the bereavement." Among
the Puyallup Indians the observance of the taboo is relaxed after
several years, when the mourners have forgotten their grief; and if
the deceased was a famous warrior, one of his descendants, for
instance a great-grandson, may be named after him. In this tribe the
taboo is not much observed at any time except by the relations of
the dead. Similarly the Jesuit missionary Lafitau tells us that the
name of the departed and the similar names of the survivors were, so
to say, buried with the corpse until, the poignancy of their grief
being abated, it pleased the relations "to lift up the tree and
raise the dead." By raising the dead they meant bestowing the name
of the departed upon some one else, who thus became to all intents
and purposes a reincarnation of the deceased, since on the
principles of savage philosophy the name is a vital part, if not the
soul, of the man.

Among the Lapps, when a woman was with child and near the time of
her delivery, a deceased ancestor or relation used to appear to her
in a dream and inform her what dead person was to be born again in
her infant, and whose name the child was therefore to bear. If the
woman had no such dream, it fell to the father or the relatives to
determine the name by divination or by consulting a wizard. Among
the Khonds a birth is celebrated on the seventh day after the event
by a feast given to the priest and to the whole village. To
determine the child's name the priest drops grains of rice into a
cup of water, naming with each grain a deceased ancestor. From the
movements of the seed in the water, and from observations made on
the person of the infant, he pronounces which of his progenitors has
reappeared in him, and the child generally, at least among the
northern tribes, receives the name of that ancestor. Among the
Yorubas, soon after a child has been born, a priest of Ifa, the god
of divination, appears on the scene to ascertain what ancestral soul
has been reborn in the infant. As soon as this has been decided, the
parents are told that the child must conform in all respects to the
manner of life of the ancestor who now animates him or her, and if,
as often happens, they profess ignorance, the priest supplies the
necessary information. The child usually receives the name of the
ancestor who has been born again in him.

4. Names of Kings and other Sacred Persons tabooed

WHEN we see that in primitive society the names of mere commoners,
whether alive or dead, are matters of such anxious care, we need not
be surprised that great precautions should be taken to guard from
harm the names of sacred kings and priests. Thus the name of the
king of Dahomey is always kept secret, lest the knowledge of it
should enable some evil-minded person to do him a mischief. The
appellations by which the different kings of Dahomey have been known
to Europeans are not their true names, but mere titles, or what the
natives call "strong names." The natives seem to think that no harm
comes of such titles being known, since they are not, like the
birth-names, vitally connected with their owners. In the Galla
kingdom of Ghera the birth-name of the sovereign may not be
pronounced by a subject under pain of death, and common words which
resemble it in sound are changed for others. Among the Bahima of
Central Africa, when the king dies, his name is abolished from the
language, and if his name was that of an animal, a new appellation
must be found for the creature at once. For example, the king is
often called a lion; hence at the death of a king named Lion a new
name for lions in general has to be coined. In Siam it used to be
difficult to ascertain the king's real name, since it was carefully
kept secret from fear of sorcery; any one who mentioned it was
clapped into gaol. The king might only be referred to under certain
high-sounding titles, such as "the august," "the perfect," "the
supreme," "the great emperor," "descendant of the angels," and so
on. In Burma it was accounted an impiety of the deepest dye to
mention the name of the reigning sovereign; Burmese subjects, even
when they were far from their country, could not be prevailed upon
to do so; after his accession to the throne the king was known by
his royal titles only.

Among the Zulus no man will mention the name of the chief of his
tribe or the names of the progenitors of the chief, so far as he can
remember them; nor will he utter common words which coincide with or
merely resemble in sound tabooed names. In the tribe of the Dwandwes
there was a chief called Langa, which means the sun; hence the name
of the sun was changed from _langa_ to _gala,_ and so remains to
this day, though Langa died more than a hundred years ago. Again, in
the Xnumayo tribe the word meaning "to herd cattle" was changed from
_alusa or ayusa_ to _kagesa,_ because u-Mayusi was the name of the
chief. Besides these taboos, which were observed by each tribe
separately, all the Zulu tribes united in tabooing the name of the
king who reigned over the whole nation. Hence, for example, when
Panda was king of Zululand, the word for "a root of a tree," which
is _impando,_ was changed to _nxabo._ Again, the word for "lies" or
"slander" was altered from _amacebo_ to _amakwata,_ because
_amacebo_ contains a syllable of the name of the famous King
Cetchwayo. These substitutions are not, however, carried so far by
the men as by the women, who omit every sound even remotely
resembling one that occurs in a tabooed name. At the king's kraal,
indeed, it is sometimes difficult to understand the speech of the
royal wives, as they treat in this fashion the names not only of the
king and his forefathers, but even of his and their brothers back
for generations. When to these tribal and national taboos we add
those family taboos on the names of connexions by marriage which
have been already described, we can easily understand how it comes
about that in Zululand every tribe has words peculiar to itself, and
that the women have a considerable vocabulary of their own. Members,
too, of one family may be debarred from using words employed by
those of another. The women of one kraal, for instance, may call a
hyaena by its ordinary name; those of the next may use the common
substitute; while in a third the substitute may also be unlawful and
another term may have to be invented to supply its place. Hence the
Zulu language at the present day almost presents the appearance of
being a double one; indeed, for multitudes of things it possesses
three or four synonyms, which through the blending of tribes are
known all over Zululand.

In Madagascar a similar custom everywhere prevails and has resulted,
as among the Zulus, in producing certain dialectic differences in
the speech of the various tribes. There are no family names in
Madagascar, and almost every personal name is drawn from the
language of daily life and signifies some common object or action or
quality, such as a bird, a beast, a tree, a plant, a colour, and so
on. Now, whenever one of these common words forms the name or part
of the name of the chief of the tribe, it becomes sacred and may no
longer be used in its ordinary signification as the name of a tree,
an insect, or what not. Hence a new name for the object must be
invented to replace the one which has been discarded. It is easy to
conceive what confusion and uncertainty may thus be introduced into
a language when it is spoken by many little local tribes each ruled
by a petty chief with his own sacred name. Yet there are tribes and
people who submit to this tyranny of words as their fathers did
before them from time immemorial. The inconvenient results of the
custom are especially marked on the western coast of the island,
where, on account of the large number of independent chieftains, the
names of things, places, and rivers have suffered so many changes
that confusion often arises, for when once common words have been
banned by the chiefs the natives will not acknowledge to have ever
known them in their old sense.

But it is not merely the names of living kings and chiefs which are
tabooed in Madagascar; the names of dead sovereigns are equally
under a ban, at least in some parts of the island. Thus among the
Sakalavas, when a king has died, the nobles and people meet in
council round the dead body and solemnly choose a new name by which
the deceased monarch shall be henceforth known. After the new name
has been adopted, the old name by which the king was known during
his life becomes sacred and may not be pronounced under pain of
death. Further, words in the common language which bear any
resemblance to the forbidden name also become sacred and have to be
replaced by others. Persons who uttered these forbidden words were
looked on not only as grossly rude, but even as felons; they had
committed a capital crime. However, these changes of vocabulary are
confined to the district over which the deceased king reigned; in
the neighbouring districts the old words continue to be employed in
the old sense.

The sanctity attributed to the persons of chiefs in Polynesia
naturally extended also to their names, which on the primitive view
are hardly separable from the personality of their owners. Hence in
Polynesia we find the same systematic prohibition to utter the names
of chiefs or of common words resembling them which we have already
met with in Zululand and Madagascar. Thus in New Zealand the name of
a chief is held so sacred that, when it happens to be a common word,
it may not be used in the language, and another has to be found to
replace it. For example, a chief of the southward of East Cape bore
the name of Maripi, which signified a knife, hence a new word
(_nekra_) for knife was introduced, and the old one became obsolete.
Elsewhere the word for water (_wai_) had to be changed, because it
chanced to be the name of the chief, and would have been desecrated
by being applied to the vulgar fluid as well as to his sacred
person. This taboo naturally produced a plentiful crop of synonyms
in the Maori language, and travellers newly arrived in the country
were sometimes puzzled at finding the same things called by quite
different names in neighbouring tribes. When a king comes to the
throne in Tahiti, any words in the language that resemble his name
in sound must be changed for others. In former times, if any man
were so rash as to disregard this custom and to use the forbidden
words, not only he but all his relations were immediately put to
death. But the changes thus introduced were only temporary; on the
death of the king the new words fell into disuse, and the original
ones were revived.

In ancient Greece the names of the priests and other high officials
who had to do with the performance of the Eleusinian mysteries might
not be uttered in their lifetime. To pronounce them was a legal
offence The pedant in Lucian tells how he fell in with these august
personages haling along to the police court a ribald fellow who had
dared to name them, though well he knew that ever since their
consecration it was unlawful to do so, because they had become
anonymous, having lost their old names and acquired new and sacred
titles. From two inscriptions found at Eleusis it appears that the
names of the priests were committed to the depths of the sea;
probably they were engraved on tablets of bronze or lead, which were
then thrown into deep water in the Gulf of Salamis. The intention
doubtless was to keep the names a profound secret; and how could
that be done more surely than by sinking them in the sea? what human
vision could spy them glimmering far down in the dim depths of the
green water? A clearer illustration of the confusion between the
incorporeal and the corporeal, between the name and its material
embodiment, could hardly be found than in this practice of civilised

5. Names of Gods tabooed

PRIMITIVE man creates his gods in his own image. Xenophanes remarked
long ago that the complexion of negro gods was black and their noses
flat; that Thracian gods were ruddy and blue-eyed; and that if
horses, oxen, and lions only believed in gods and had hands
wherewith to portray them, they would doubtless fashion their
deities in the form of horses, and oxen, and lions. Hence just as
the furtive savage conceals his real name because he fears that
sorcerers might make an evil use of it, so he fancies that his gods
must likewise keep their true name secret, lest other gods or even
men should learn the mystic sounds and thus be able to conjure with
them. Nowhere was this crude conception of the secrecy and magical
virtue of the divine name more firmly held or more fully developed
than in ancient Egypt, where the superstitions of a dateless past
were embalmed in the hearts of the people hardly less effectually
than the bodies of cats and crocodiles and the rest of the divine
menagerie in their rock-cut tombs. The conception is well
illustrated by a story which tells how the subtle Isis wormed his
secret name from Ra, the great Egyptian god of the sun. Isis, so
runs the tale, was a woman mighty in words, and she was weary of the
world of men, and yearned after the world of the gods. And she
meditated in her heart, saying, "Cannot I by virtue of the great
name of Ra make myself a goddess and reign like him in heaven and
earth?" For Ra had many names, but the great name which gave him all
power over gods and men was known to none but himself. Now the god
was by this time grown old; he slobbered at the mouth and his
spittle fell upon the ground. So Isis gathered up the spittle and
the earth with it, and kneaded thereof a serpent and laid it in the
path where the great god passed every day to his double kingdom
after his heart's desire. And when he came forth according to his
wont, attended by all his company of gods, the sacred serpent stung
him, and the god opened his mouth and cried, and his cry went up to
heaven. And the company of gods cried, "What aileth thee?" and the
gods shouted, "Lo and behold!" But he could not answer; his jaws
rattled, his limbs shook, the poison ran through his flesh as the
Nile floweth over the land. When the great god had stilled his
heart, he cried to his followers, "Come to me, O my children,
offspring of my body. I am a prince, the son of a prince, the divine
seed of a god. My father devised my name; my father and my mother
gave me my name, and it remained hidden in my body since my birth,
that no magician might have magic power over me. I went out to
behold that which I have made, I walked in the two lands which I
have created, and lo! something stung me. What it was, I know not.
Was it fire? was it water? My heart is on fire, my flesh trembleth,
all my limbs do quake. Bring me the children of the gods with
healing words and understanding lips, whose power reacheth to
heaven." Then came to him the children of the gods, and they were
very sorrowful. And Isis came with her craft, whose mouth is full of
the breath of life, whose spells chase pain away, whose word maketh
the dead to live. She said, "What is it, divine Father? what is it?"
The holy god opened his mouth, he spake and said, "I went upon my
way, I walked after my heart's desire in the two regions which I
have made to behold that which I have created, and lo! a serpent
that I saw not stung me. Is it fire? is it water? I am colder than
water, I am hotter than fire, all my limbs sweat, I tremble, mine
eye is not steadfast, I behold not the sky, the moisture bedeweth my
face as in summer-time." Then spake Isis, "Tell me thy name, divine
Father, for the man shall live who is called by his name." Then
answered Ra, "I created the heavens and the earth, I ordered the
mountains, I made the great and wide sea, I stretched out the two

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