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   Chapter 3 Tabooed Acts.

The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (Third Edition, Vol. 06 of 12) By James George Frazer Characters: 57223

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


§ 1. Taboos on Intercourse with Strangers.

Primitive conceptions of the soul helped to mould early kingships by dictating rules to be observed by the king for his soul's salvation.

So much for the primitive conceptions of the soul and the dangers to which it is exposed. These conceptions are not limited to one people or country; with variations of detail they are found all over the world, and survive, as we have seen, in modern Europe. Beliefs so deep-seated and so widespread must necessarily have contributed to shape the mould in which the early kingship was cast. For if every person was at such pains to save his own soul from the perils which threatened it on so many sides, how much more carefully must he have been guarded upon whose life hung the welfare and even the existence of the whole people, and whom therefore it was the common interest of all to preserve? Therefore we should expect to find the king's life protected by a system of precautions or safeguards still more numerous and minute than those which in primitive society every man adopts for the safety of his own soul. Now in point of fact the life of the early kings is regulated, as we have seen and shall see more fully presently, by a very exact code of rules. May we not then conjecture that these rules are in fact the very safeguards which we should expect to find adopted for the protection of the king's life? An examination of the rules themselves confirms this conjecture. For from this it appears that some of the rules observed by the kings are identical with those observed by private persons out of regard for the safety of their souls; and even of those which seem peculiar to the king, many, if not all, are most readily [pg 102] explained on the hypothesis that they are nothing but safeguards or lifeguards of the king. I will now enumerate some of these royal rules or taboos, offering on each of them such comments and explanations as may serve to set the original intention of the rule in its proper light.

The general effect of these rules is to isolate the king, especially from strangers. The savage fears the magic arts of strangers and hence guards himself against them. Various modes of disenchanting strangers.

As the object of the royal taboos is to isolate the king from all sources of danger, their general effect is to compel him to live in a state of seclusion, more or less complete, according to the number and stringency of the rules he observes. Now of all sources of danger none are more dreaded by the savage than magic and witchcraft, and he suspects all strangers of practising these black arts. To guard against the baneful influence exerted voluntarily or involuntarily by strangers is therefore an elementary dictate of savage prudence. Hence before strangers are allowed to enter a district, or at least before they are permitted to mingle freely with the inhabitants, certain ceremonies are often performed by the natives of the country for the purpose of disarming the strangers of their magical powers, of counteracting the baneful influence which is believed to emanate from them, or of disinfecting, so to speak, the tainted atmosphere by which they are supposed to be surrounded. Thus, when the ambassadors sent by Justin II., Emperor of the East, to conclude a peace with the Turks had reached their destination, they were received by shamans, who subjected them to a ceremonial purification for the purpose of exorcising all harmful influence. Having deposited the goods brought by the ambassadors in an open place, these wizards carried burning branches of incense round them, while they rang a bell and beat on a tambourine, snorting and falling into a state of frenzy in their efforts to dispel the powers of evil. Afterwards they purified the ambassadors themselves by leading them through the flames.355 In the island of Nanumea (South Pacific) strangers from ships or from other islands were not allowed to communicate with the people until they all, or a few as representatives of the rest, had been taken to each of the four temples in the [pg 103] island, and prayers offered that the god would avert any disease or treachery which these strangers might have brought with them. Meat offerings were also laid upon the altars, accompanied by songs and dances in honour of the god. While these ceremonies were going on, all the people except the priests and their attendants kept out of sight.356 On returning from an attempted ascent of the great African mountain Kilimanjaro, which is believed by the neighbouring tribes to be tenanted by dangerous demons, Mr. New and his party, as soon as they reached the border of the inhabited country, were disenchanted by the inhabitants, being sprinkled with "a professionally prepared liquor, supposed to possess the potency of neutralising evil influences, and removing the spell of wicked spirits."357 In the interior of Yoruba (West Africa) the sentinels at the gates of towns often oblige European travellers to wait till nightfall before they admit them, fearing that if the strangers were admitted by day the devil would enter behind them.358 The whole Mahafaly country in Madagascar used to be tabooed to strangers of the white race, the natives imagining that the intrusion of a white man would immediately cause the death of their king. The traveller Bastard had the greatest difficulty in overcoming the reluctance of the natives to allow him to enter their land and especially to visit their holy city.359 Amongst the Ot Danoms of Borneo it is the custom that strangers entering the territory should pay to the natives a certain sum, which is spent in the sacrifice of buffaloes or pigs to the spirits of the land and water, in order to reconcile them to the presence of the strangers, and to induce them not to withdraw their favour from the people of the country, but to bless the rice-harvest, and so forth.360 The men of a certain district in Borneo, fearing to look upon a European traveller lest he should make them ill, warned their wives and children not [pg 104] to go near him. Those who could not restrain their curiosity killed fowls to appease the evil spirits and smeared themselves with the blood.361 "More dreaded," says a traveller in central Borneo, "than the evil spirits of the neighbourhood are the evil spirits from a distance which accompany travellers. When a company from the middle Mahakam river visited me among the Blu-u Kayans in the year 1897, no woman shewed herself outside her house without a burning bundle of plehiding bark, the stinking smoke of which drives away evil spirits."362 In Laos, before a stranger can be accorded hospitality, the master of the house must offer sacrifice to the ancestral spirits; otherwise the spirits would be offended and would send disease on the inmates.363 When Madame Pfeiffer arrived at the village of Hali-Bonar, among the Battas of Sumatra, a buffalo was killed and the liver offered to her. Then a ceremony was performed to propitiate the evil spirits. Two young men danced, and one of them in dancing sprinkled water from a buffalo's horn on the visitor and the spectators.364 In the Mentawei Islands, when a stranger enters a house where there are children, the father or other member of the family takes the ornament which the children wear in their hair and hands it to the stranger, who holds it in his hands for a while and then gives it back to him. This is thought to protect the children from the evil effect which the sight of a stranger might have upon them.365 When a Dutch steamship was approaching their villages, the people of Biak, an island off the north coast of New Guinea, shook and knocked their idols about in order to ward off ill-luck.366 At Shepherd's Isle Captain Moresby had to be disenchanted before he was allowed to land his boat's crew. When he leaped ashore, a devil-man seized his right hand and waved a bunch of palm leaves over the captain's head. Then "he placed the leaves in my left hand, putting a small green twig into his mouth, still [pg 105] holding me fast, and then, as if with great effort, drew the twig from his mouth-this was extracting the evil spirit-after which he blew violently, as if to speed it away. I now held a twig between my teeth, and he went through the same process." Then the two raced round a couple of sticks fixed in the ground and bent to an angle at the top, which had leaves tied to it. After some more ceremonies the devil-man concluded by leaping to the level of Captain Moresby's shoulders (his hands resting on the captain's shoulders) several times, "as if to show that he had conquered the devil, and was now trampling him into the earth."367 North American Indians "have an idea that strangers, particularly white strangers, are ofttimes accompanied by evil spirits. Of these they have great dread, as creating and delighting in mischief. One of the duties of the medicine chief is to exorcise these spirits. I have sometimes ridden into or through a camp where I was unknown or unexpected, to be confronted by a tall, half-naked savage, standing in the middle of the circle of lodges, and yelling in a sing-song, nasal tone, a string of unintelligible words."368

Disenchantment effected by means of stinging ants and pungent spices. Disenchantment effected by cuts with knives.

When Crevaux was travelling in South America he entered a village of the Apalai Indians. A few moments after his arrival some of the Indians brought him a number of large black ants, of a species whose bite is painful, fastened on palm leaves. Then all the people of the village, without distinction of age or sex, presented themselves to him, and he had to sting them all with the ants on their faces, thighs, and other parts of their bodies. Sometimes when he applied the ants too tenderly they called out "More! more!" and were not satisfied till their skin was thickly studded with tiny swellings like what might have been produced by whipping them with nettles.369 The object of this ceremony is made plain by the custom observed in Amboyna and Uliase of sprinkling sick people with pungent spices, such as ginger and cloves, chewed fine, in order by the prickling sensation to drive away the demon of disease [pg 106] which may be clinging to their persons.370 In Java a popular cure for gout or rheumatism is to rub Spanish pepper into the nails of the fingers and toes of the sufferer; the pungency of the pepper is supposed to be too much for the gout or rheumatism, who accordingly departs in haste.371 So on the Slave Coast of Africa the mother of a sick child sometimes believes that an evil spirit has taken possession of the child's body, and in order to drive him out, she makes small cuts in the body of the little sufferer and inserts green peppers or spices in the wounds, believing that she will thereby hurt the evil spirit and force him to be gone. The poor child naturally screams with pain, but the mother hardens her heart in the belief that the demon is suffering equally.372 In Hawaii a patient is sometimes pricked with bamboo needles for the sake of hurting and expelling a refractory demon who is lurking in the sufferer's body and making him ill.373 Dyak sorceresses in south-eastern Borneo will sometimes slash the body of a sick man with sharp knives in order, it is said, to allow the demon of disease to escape through the cuts;374 but perhaps the notion rather is to make the present quarters of the spirit too hot for him. With a similar intention some of the natives of Borneo and Celebes sprinkle rice upon the head or body of a person supposed to be infested by dangerous spirits; a fowl is then brought, which, by picking up the rice from the person's head or body, removes along with it the spirit or ghost which is clinging like a burr to his skin. This is done, for example, to persons who have attended a funeral, and who may therefore be supposed to be infested by the ghost [pg 107] of the deceased.375 Similarly Basutos, who have carried a corpse to the grave, have their hands scratched with a knife from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the forefinger, and magic stuff is rubbed into the wound,376 for the purpose, no doubt, of removing the ghost which may be adhering to their skin. Among the Barotse of south-eastern Africa a few days after a funeral the sorcerer makes an incision in the forehead of each surviving member of the family and fills it with medicine, "in order to ward off contagion and the effect of the sorcery which caused the death."377 When elephant-hunters in East Africa have killed an elephant they get upon its carcase, make little cuts in their toes, and rub gunpowder into the cuts. This is done with the double intention of counteracting any evil influence that may emanate from the dead elephant, and of acquiring thereby the fleetness of foot possessed by the animal in its life.378 The people of Nias carefully scrub and scour the weapons and clothes which they buy, in order to efface all connexion between the things and the persons from whom they bought them.379

Ceremonies observed at the reception of strangers may sometimes be intended to counteract their enchantments.

It is probable that the same dread of strangers, rather than any desire to do them honour, is the motive of certain ceremonies which are sometimes observed at their reception, but of which the intention is not directly stated. In the Ongtong Java Islands, which are inhabited by Polynesians, and lie a little to the north of the Solomon Islands, the priests or sorcerers seem to wield great influence. Their main business is to summon or exorcise spirits for the purpose of averting or dispelling sickness, and of procuring favourable winds, a good catch of fish, and so on. When strangers land on the islands, they are first of all received by the sorcerers, sprinkled with water, anointed with oil, and girt [pg 108] with dried pandanus leaves. At the same time sand and water are freely thrown about in all directions, and the newcomer and his boat are wiped with green leaves. After this ceremony the strangers are introduced by the sorcerers to the chief.380 In Afghanistan and in some parts of Persia the traveller, before he enters a village, is frequently received with a sacrifice of animal life or food, or of fire and incense. The Afghan Boundary Mission, in passing by villages in Afghanistan, was often met with fire and incense.381 Sometimes a tray of lighted embers is thrown under the hoofs of the traveller's horse, with the words, "You are welcome."382 On entering a village in central Africa Emin Pasha was received with the sacrifice of two goats; their blood was sprinkled on the path and the chief stepped over the blood to greet Emin.383 Before strangers entered the country or city of Benin, custom compelled them to have their feet washed; sometimes the ceremony was performed in a sacred place.384 Amongst the Esquimaux of Cumberland Inlet, when a stranger arrives at an encampment, the sorcerer goes out to meet him. The stranger folds his arms and inclines his head to one side, so as to expose his cheek, upon which the magician deals a terrible blow, sometimes felling him to the ground. Next the sorcerer in his turn presents his cheek to the smiter and receives a buffet from the stranger. Then they kiss each other, the ceremony is over, and the stranger is hospitably received by all.385 Sometimes the dread of strangers and their magic is too great to allow of their reception on any terms. Thus when Speke arrived at a certain village, the natives shut their doors against him, "because they had never before seen a white man nor the tin boxes that the men were carrying: [pg 109] 'Who knows,' they said, 'but that these very boxes are the plundering Watuta transformed and come to kill us? You cannot be admitted.' No persuasion could avail with them, and the party had to proceed to the next village."386

Ceremonies observed at entering a strange land to disenchant it. Ceremonies at entering a strange land to disenchant it or to propitiate the local spirits.

The fear thus entertained of alien visitors is often mutual. Entering a strange land the savage feels that he is treading enchanted ground, and he takes steps to guard against the demons that haunt it and the magical arts of its inhabitants. Thus on going to a strange land the Maoris performed certain ceremonies to make it noa (common), lest it might have been previously tapu (sacred).387 When Baron Miklucho-Maclay was approaching a village on the Maclay Coast of New Guinea, one of the natives who accompanied him broke a branch from a tree and going aside whispered to it for a while; then stepping up to each member of the party, one after another, he spat something upon his back and gave him some blows with the branch. Lastly, he went into the forest and buried the branch under withered leaves in the thickest part of the jungle. This ceremony was believed to protect the party against all treachery and danger in the village they were approaching.388 The idea probably was that the malignant influences were drawn off from the persons into the branch and buried with it in the depths of the forest. Before Stuhlmann and his companions entered the territory of the Wanyamwesi in central Africa, one of his men killed a white cock and buried it in a pot just at the boundary.389 In Australia, when a strange tribe has been invited into a district and is approaching the encampment of the tribe which owns the land, "the strangers carry lighted bark or burning sticks in their hands, for the purpose, they say, of clearing and purifying the air."390 On the coast of Victoria there is a tract of country between the La Trobe River and the Yarra River, which some of the aborigines called the Bad Country. It was supposed to act injuriously [pg 110] on strangers. Hence when a man of another clan entered it he needed some one of the natives to look after him; and if his guardian went away from the camp, he deputed another to take his place. During his first visit, before he became as it were acclimatised, the visitor did nothing for himself as to food, drinking-water, or lodging. He was painted with a band of white pipe-clay across the face below the eyes, and had to learn the Nulit language before going further. He slept on a thick layer of leaves so that he should not touch the ground; and he was fed with flesh-meat from the point of a burnt stick, which he removed with his teeth, not with his lips. His drinking-water was drawn from a small hole in the ground by his entertainers, and they made it muddy by stirring it with a stick. He might only take three mouthfuls at a time, each of which he had to let slowly trickle down his throat. If he did otherwise, his throat would close up.391 The Kayans and Kenyahs of Borneo think it well to conciliate the spirit of the land when they enter a strange country. "The old men, indeed, trusting to the protection afforded by omens, are in little need of further aid, but when young boys are brought into a new river of importance, the hospitality of the local demons is invoked. The Kayans make an offering of fowls' eggs, which must not be bought on the spot, but are carried from the house, sometimes for distances so long that the devotion of the travellers is more apparent than their presents to the spirits of the land. Each boy takes an egg and puts it in a bamboo split at the end into four, while one of the older men calls upon the hills, rocks, trees, and streams to hear him and to witness the offering. Careful to disguise the true nature of the gift, he speaks of it as ovē, a yam, using a form of words fixed by usage. 'Omen bird,' he shouts into the air, 'we have brought you these boys. It is on their account only that we have prepared this feast. Harm them not; make things go pleasantly; and they give you the usual offering of a yam. I give this to the country.' The little ceremony is performed behind the hut where the night is spent, and the boys wait about for the charm to take effect. The custom of the Kenyahs shows the same [pg 111] feeling for the unknown and unseen spirits that are supposed to abound. A fowl's feathers, one for each boy, are held by an old man, while the youngsters touch his arm. The invocation is quite a powerful example of native rhetoric: 'Smooth away trouble, ye mystic mountains, hills, valleys, soil, rocks, trees. Shield the lives of the children who have come hither.'?"392 When the Toradjas of central Celebes are on a head-hunting expedition and have entered the enemy's country, they may not eat any fruits which the foe has planted nor any animal which he has reared until they have first committed an act of hostility, as by burning a house or killing a man. They think that if they broke this rule they would receive something of the soul or spiritual essence of the enemy into themselves, which would destroy the mystic virtue of their talismans.393 It is said that just before Greek armies advanced to the shock of battle, a man bearing a lighted torch stepped out from either side and threw his torch into the space between the hosts. Then they retired unmolested, for they were thought to be sacred to Ares and inviolable.394 Now some peoples fancy that when they advance to battle the spirits of their fathers hover in the van.395 Hence fire thrown out in front of the line of battle may be meant to disperse these shadowy combatants, leaving the issue of the fight to be determined by more substantial weapons than ghosts can wield. Similarly the fire which is sometimes borne at the head of an army396 is perhaps in some cases intended to dissipate the evil influences, whether magical or spiritual, with which the air of the enemy's country may be conceived to teem.

Purificatory ceremonies observed on the return from a journey.

Again, it is thought that a man who has been on a journey may have contracted some magic evil from the strangers with whom he has been brought into contact. Hence, on returning home, before he is readmitted to the [pg 112] society of his tribe and friends, he has to undergo certain purificatory ceremonies. Thus the Bechuanas "cleanse or purify themselves after journeys by shaving their heads, etc., lest they should have contracted from strangers some evil by witchcraft or sorcery."397 In some parts of western Africa when a man returns home after a long absence, before he is allowed to visit his wife, he must wash his person with a particular fluid, and receive from the sorcerer a certain mark on his forehead, in order to counteract any magic spell which a stranger woman may have cast on him in his absence, and which might be communicated through him to the women of his village.398 Every year about one-third of the men of the Wanyamwesi tribe make journeys to the east coast of Africa either as porters or as traffickers. Before he sets out, the husband smears his cheeks with a sort of meal-porridge, and during his absence his wife may eat no flesh and must keep for him the sediment of the porridge in the pot. On their return from the coast the men sprinkle meal every day on all the paths leading to the camp, for the purpose, it is supposed, of keeping evil spirits off; and when they reach their homes the men again smear porridge on their faces, while the women who have stayed at home strew ashes on their heads.399 In Uganda, when a man returns from a journey, his wife takes some of the bark cloths from the bed of one of his children and lays them on her husband's bed; and as he enters the house, he jumps over one of his wives who has children by him, or over one of his children. If he neglects to do this, one of his children or one of his wives will die.400 When Damaras return home after a long absence, they are given a small portion of the fat of particular animals, which is supposed to possess certain virtues.401 A story is told of a Navajo Indian who, after long wanderings, returned to his own people. When he came within sight of his house, his people [pg 113] made him stop and told him not to approach nearer till they had summoned a shaman. When the shaman was come "ceremonies were performed over the returned wanderer, and he was washed from head to foot, and dried with corn-meal; for thus do the Navajo treat all who return to their homes from captivity with another tribe, in order that all alien substances and influences may be removed from them. When he had been thus purified he entered the house, and his people embraced him and wept over him."402 Two Hindoo ambassadors, who had been sent to England by a native prince and had returned to India, were considered to have so polluted themselves by contact with strangers that nothing but being born again could restore them to purity. "For the purpose of regeneration it is directed to make an image of pure gold of the female power of nature, in the shape either of a woman or of a cow. In this statue the person to be regenerated is enclosed, and dragged through the usual channel. As a statue of pure gold and of proper dimensions would be too expensive, it is sufficient to make an image of the sacred Yoni, through which the person to be regenerated is to pass." Such an image of pure gold was made at the prince's command, and his ambassadors were born again by being dragged through it.403 In some of the Moluccas, when a brother or young blood-relation returns from a long journey, a young girl awaits him at the door with a caladi leaf in her hand and water in the leaf. She throws the water over his face and bids him welcome.404 Among the Kayans of Borneo, men who have been absent on a long journey are secluded for four days in a small hut made specially for the purpose before they are allowed to enter their own house.405 The natives of Savage Island (South Pacific) invariably killed, not only all strangers in distress who were drifted to their shores, but also any of their own people who had gone away in a ship and returned home. This was done out of dread of disease. Long after they began to venture out to ships they [pg 114] would not immediately use the things they obtained from them, but hung them up in quarantine for weeks in the bush.406

Special precautions taken to guard the king against the magic of strangers.

When precautions like these are taken on behalf of the people in general against the malignant influence supposed to be exercised by strangers, it is no wonder that special measures are adopted to protect the king from the same insidious danger. In the middle ages the envoys who visited a Tartar Khan were obliged to pass between two fires before they were admitted to his presence, and the gifts they brought were also carried between the fires. The reason assigned for the custom was that the fire purged away any magic influence which the strangers might mean to exercise over the Khan.407 When subject chiefs come with their retinues to visit Kalamba (the most powerful chief of the Bashilange in the Congo Basin) for the first time or after being rebellious, they have to bathe, men and women together, in two brooks on two successive days, passing the nights under the open sky in the market-place. After the second bath they proceed, entirely naked, to the house of Kalamba, who makes a long white mark on the breast and forehead of each of them. Then they return to the market-place and dress, after which they undergo the pepper ordeal. Pepper is dropped into the eyes of each of them, and while this is being done the sufferer has to make a confession of all his sins, to answer all questions that may be put to him, and to take certain vows. This ends the ceremony, and the strangers are now free to take up their quarters in the town for as long as they choose to remain.408 Before strangers were admitted to the presence of Lobengula, king of the Matebeles, they had to be treated with a sticky green medicine, which was profusely sprinkled over them by means of a cow's tail.409 At Kilema, in [pg 115] eastern Africa, when a stranger arrives, a medicine is made out of a certain plant or a tree fetched from a distance, mixed with the blood of a sheep or goat. With this mixture the stranger is besmeared or besprinkled before he is admitted to the presence of the king.410 The king of Monomotapa, in South-East Africa, might not wear any foreign stuffs for fear of their being poisoned.411 The king of Cacongo, in West Africa, might not possess or even touch European goods, except metals, arms, and articles made of wood and ivory. Persons wearing foreig

n stuffs were very careful to keep at a distance from his person, lest they should touch him.412 The king of Loango might not look upon the house of a white man.413 We have already seen how the native king of Fernando Po dwells secluded from all contact with the whites in the depths of an extinct volcano, shunning the very sight of a pale face, which, in the belief of his subjects, would be instantly fatal to him.414 In a wild mountainous district of Java, to the south of Bantam, there exists a small aboriginal race who have been described as a living antiquity. These are the Baduwis, who about the year 1443 fled from Bantam to escape conversion to Islam, and in their mountain fastnesses, holding aloof from their neighbours, still cleave to the quaint and primitive ways of their heathen forefathers. Their villages are perched in spots which deep ravines, lofty precipices, raging torrents, and impenetrable forests combine to render almost inaccessible. Their hereditary ruler bears the title of Girang-Pu-un and unites in his hands the temporal and spiritual power. He must never quit the capital, and none even of his subjects who live outside the town are ever allowed to see him. Were an alien to set foot in his dwelling, the place would be desecrated and abandoned. In former times the representatives of the Dutch Government and the Regent of Java [pg 116] once paid a visit to the capital of the Baduwis. That very night all the people fled the place and never returned.415

§ 2. Taboos on Eating and Drinking.

Spiritual dangers of eating and drinking and precautions taken against them.

In the opinion of savages the acts of eating and drinking are attended with special danger; for at these times the soul may escape from the mouth, or be extracted by the magic arts of an enemy present. Among the Ewe-speaking peoples of the Slave Coast "the common belief seems to be that the indwelling spirit leaves the body and returns to it through the mouth; hence, should it have gone out, it behoves a man to be careful about opening his mouth, lest a homeless spirit should take advantage of the opportunity and enter his body. This, it appears, is considered most likely to take place while the man is eating."416 Precautions are therefore taken to guard against these dangers. Thus of the Battas of Sumatra it is said that "since the soul can leave the body, they always take care to prevent their soul from straying on occasions when they have most need of it. But it is only possible to prevent the soul from straying when one is in the house. At feasts one may find the whole house shut up, in order that the soul (tondi) may stay and enjoy the good things set before it."417 The Zafimanelo in Madagascar lock their doors when they eat, and hardly any one ever sees them eating.418 In Shoa, one of the southern provinces of Abyssinia, the doors of the house are scrupulously barred at meals to exclude the evil eye, and a fire is invariably lighted, else devils would enter and there would be no blessing on the meat.419 Every time that an Abyssinian of rank drinks, a servant holds a cloth before his master to [pg 117] guard him from the evil eye.420 The Warua will not allow any one to see them eating and drinking, being doubly particular that no person of the opposite sex shall see them doing so. "I had to pay a man to let me see him drink; I could not make a man let a woman see him drink." When offered a drink of pombe they often ask that a cloth may be held up to hide them whilst drinking. Further, every man and woman must cook for themselves; each person must have his own fire.421 The Tuaregs of the Sahara never eat or drink in presence of any one else.422 The Thompson Indians of British Columbia thought that a shaman could bewitch them most easily when they were eating, drinking, or smoking; hence they avoided doing any of these things in presence of an unknown shaman.423 In Fiji persons who suspected others of plotting against them avoided eating in their presence, or were careful to leave no fragment of food behind.424

Seclusion of kings at their meals.

If these are the ordinary precautions taken by common people, the precautions taken by kings are extraordinary. The king of Loango may not be seen eating or drinking by man or beast under pain of death. A favourite dog having broken into the room where the king was dining, the king ordered it to be killed on the spot. Once the king's own son, a boy of twelve years old, inadvertently saw the king drink. Immediately the king ordered him to be finely apparelled and feasted, after which he commanded him to be cut in quarters, and carried about the city with a proclamation that he had seen the king drink. "When the king has a mind to drink, he has a cup of wine brought; he that brings it has a bell in his hand, and as soon as he has delivered the cup to the king, he turns his face from him and rings the bell, on which all present fall down with their faces to the ground, and continue so till the king has drank.... [pg 118] His eating is much in the same style, for which he has a house on purpose, where his victuals are set upon a bensa or table: which he goes to, and shuts the door: when he has done, he knocks and comes out. So that none ever see the king eat or drink. For it is believed that if any one should, the king shall immediately die." The remnants of his food are buried, doubtless to prevent them from falling into the hands of sorcerers, who by means of these fragments might cast a fatal spell over the monarch.425 The rules observed by the neighbouring king of Cacongo were similar; it was thought that the king would die if any of his subjects were to see him drink.426 It is a capital offence to see the king of Dahomey at his meals. When he drinks in public, as he does on extraordinary occasions, he hides himself behind a curtain, or handkerchiefs are held up round his head, and all the people throw themselves with their faces to the earth.427 Any one who saw the Muata Jamwo (a great potentate in the Congo Basin) eating or drinking would certainly be put to death.428 When the king (Muata) of Cazembe raises his glass to his mouth to drink, all who are present prostrate themselves and avert their faces in such a manner as not to see him drinking.429 At Asaba, on the Lower Niger, where the kings or chiefs number fully four hundred, no one is allowed to prepare the royal dishes. The chiefs act as their own cooks and eat in the strictest privacy.430 The king and royal family of Walo, on the Senegal, never take their meals in public; it is expressly forbidden to see them eating.431 Among the Monbutto of central Africa the king invariably takes his meals in [pg 119] private; no one may see the contents of his dish, and all that he leaves is carefully thrown into a pit set apart for that purpose. Everything that the king has handled is held sacred and may not be touched.432 When the king of Unyoro in central Africa went to drink milk in the dairy, every man must leave the royal enclosure and all the women had to cover their heads till the king returned. No one might see him drink. One wife accompanied him to the dairy and handed him the milk-pot, but she turned away her face while he drained it.433 The king of Susa, a region to the south of Abyssinia, presides daily at the feast in the long banqueting-hall, but is hidden from the gaze of his subjects by a curtain.434 Among the Ewe-speaking peoples of the Slave Coast the person of the king is sacred, and if he drinks in public every one must turn away the head so as not to see him, while some of the women of the court hold up a cloth before him as a screen. He never eats in public, and the people pretend to believe that he neither eats nor sleeps. It is criminal to say the contrary.435 When the king of Tonga ate, all the people turned their backs to him.436 In the palace of the Persian kings there were two dining-rooms opposite each other; in one of them the king dined, in the other his guests. He could see them through a curtain on the door, but they could not see him. Generally the king took his meals alone; but sometimes his wife or some of his sons dined with him.437

[pg 120]

§ 3. Taboos on shewing the Face.

Faces veiled to avert evil influences. Kings not to be seen by their subjects.

In some of the preceding cases the intention of eating and drinking in strict seclusion may perhaps be to hinder evil influences from entering the body rather than to prevent the escape of the soul. This certainly is the motive of some drinking customs observed by natives of the Congo region. Thus we are told of these people that "there is hardly a native who would dare to swallow a liquid without first conjuring the spirits. One of them rings a bell all the time he is drinking; another crouches down and places his left hand on the earth; another veils his head; another puts a stalk of grass or a leaf in his hair, or marks his forehead with a line of clay. This fetish custom assumes very varied forms. To explain them, the black is satisfied to say that they are an energetic mode of conjuring spirits." In this part of the world a chief will commonly ring a bell at each draught of beer which he swallows, and at the same moment a lad stationed in front of him brandishes a spear "to keep at bay the spirits which might try to sneak into the old chief's body by the same road as the massanga (beer)."438 The same motive of warding off evil spirits probably explains the custom observed by some African sultans of veiling their faces. The Sultan of Darfur wraps up his face with a piece of white muslin, which goes round his head several times, covering his mouth and nose first, and then his forehead, so that only his eyes are visible. The same custom of veiling the face as a mark of sovereignty is said to be observed in other parts of central Africa.439 The Sultan of Wadai always speaks from behind a curtain; no one sees his face except his intimates and a few favoured persons.440 Similarly the Sultan of Bornu never shewed himself to his people and [pg 121] only spoke to them from behind a curtain.441 The king of Chonga, a town on the right bank of the Niger above Egga, may not be seen by his subjects nor by strangers. At an interview he sits in his palace concealed by a mat which hangs like a curtain, and from behind it he converses with his visitor.442 The Muysca Indians of Colombia had such a respect for their chiefs that they dared not lift their eyes on them, but always turned their backs when they had to address them. If a thief, after repeated punishments, proved incorrigible, they took him to the chief, and one of the nobles, turning the culprit round, said to him, "Since you think yourself so great a lord that you have the right to break the laws, you have the right to look at the chief." From that moment the criminal was regarded as infamous. Nobody would have anything to do with him or even speak to him, and he died an outcast.443 Montezuma was revered by his subjects as a god, and he set so much store on their reverence that if on going out of the city he saw a man lift up his eyes on him, he had the rash gazer put to death. He generally lived in the retirement of his palace, seldom shewing himself. On the days when he went to visit his gardens, he was carried in a litter through a street which was enclosed by walls; none but his bearers had the right to pass along that street.444 It was a law of the Medes that their king should be seen by nobody.445 The king of Jebu, on the Slave Coast of West Africa, is surrounded by a great deal of mystery. Until lately his face might not be seen even by his own subjects, and if circumstances compelled him to communicate with them he did so through a screen which concealed him from view. Now, though his face may be seen, it is customary to hide his body; and at audiences a cloth is held before him so as to conceal him from the neck downwards, and it is raised so as to cover him altogether whenever he coughs, sneezes, spits, or takes snuff. His face [pg 122] is partially hidden by a conical cap with hanging strings of beads.446 Amongst the Tuaregs of the Sahara all the men (but not the women) keep the lower part of their face, especially the mouth, veiled constantly; the veil is never put off, not even in eating or sleeping.447 Among the Arabs men remarkable for their good looks have been known to veil their faces, especially at festivals and markets, in order to protect themselves against the evil eye.448 The same reason may explain the custom of muffling their faces which has been observed by Arab women from the earliest times449 and by the women of Boeotian Thebes in antiquity.450 In Samoa a man whose family god was the turtle might not eat a turtle, and if he helped a neighbour to cut up and cook one he had to wear a bandage tied over his mouth lest an embryo turtle should slip down his throat, grow up, and be his death.451 In West Timor a speaker holds his right hand before his mouth in speaking lest a demon should enter his body, and lest the person with whom he converses should harm the speaker's soul by magic.452 In New South Wales for some time after his initiation into the tribal mysteries, a young blackfellow (whose soul at this time is in a critical state) must always cover his mouth with a rug when a woman is present.453 We have already seen how common is the notion that the life or soul may escape by the mouth or nostrils.454

§ 4. Taboos on quitting the House.

Kings forbidden to leave their palaces or to be seen abroad by their subjects.

By an extension of the like precaution kings are sometimes forbidden ever to leave their palaces; or, if they are [pg 123] allowed to do so, their subjects are forbidden to see them abroad. We have seen that the priestly king at Shark Point, West Africa, may never quit his house or even his chair, in which he is obliged to sleep sitting; and that the king of Fernando Po, whom no white man may see, is reported to be confined to his house with shackles on his legs.455 The fetish king of Benin, who was worshipped as a deity by his subjects, might not quit his palace.456 After his coronation the king of Loango is confined to his palace, which he may not leave.457 The king of Onitsha, on the Niger, "does not step out of his house into the town unless a human sacrifice is made to propitiate the gods: on this account he never goes out beyond the precincts of his premises."458 Indeed we are told that he may not quit his palace under pain of death or of giving up one or more slaves to be executed in his presence. As the wealth of the country is measured in slaves, the king takes good care not to infringe the law. One day the monarch, charmed by some presents which he had received from a French officer, politely attended his visitor to the gate, and in a moment of forgetfulness was about to break bounds, when his chamberlain, seizing his majesty by his legs, and his wives, friends, and servants rushing up, prevented him from taking so fatal a step. Yet once a year at the Feast of Yams the king is allowed, and even required by custom, to dance before his people outside the high mud wall of the palace. In dancing he carries a great weight, generally a sack of earth, on his back to prove that he is still able to support the burden and cares of state. Were he unable to discharge this duty, he would be immediately deposed and perhaps stoned.459 The [pg 124] Tomas or Habes, a hardy race of mountaineers who inhabit Mount Bandiagara in Nigeria, revere a great fetish doctor called the Ogom, who is not suffered to quit his house on any pretext.460 Among the natives of the Cross River in Southern Nigeria the sacred chiefs of certain villages are confined to their compounds, that is, to the enclosures in which their houses are built. Such chiefs may be confined for years within these narrow bounds. "Among these primitive people, the head chief is often looked upon as half divine, the human representative of their ancestral god. He regulates their religious rites, and is by some tribes believed to have the power of making rain fall when they require it, and of bringing them good harvests. So, being of such value to the community, he is not permitted, except on very rare occasions, to go outside his compound, lest evil should befall him, and the whole town have to suffer."461 The kings of Ethiopia were worshipped as gods, but were mostly kept shut up in their palaces.462 On the mountainous coast of Pontus there dwelt in antiquity a rude and warlike people named the Mosyni or Mosynoeci, through whose rugged country the Ten Thousand marched on their famous retreat from Asia to Europe. These barbarians kept their king in close custody at the top of a high tower, from which after his election he was never more allowed to descend. Here he dispensed justice to his people; but if he offended them, they punished him by stopping his rations for a whole day, or even starving him to death.463 The kings of Sabaea or Sheba, the spice country of Arabia, were not allowed to go out of their palaces; if they did so, the mob stoned them to death.464 But at the top of [pg 125] the palace there was a window with a chain attached to it. If any man deemed he had suffered wrong, he pulled the chain, and the king perceived him and called him in and gave judgment.465 So down to recent times the kings of Corea, whose persons were sacred and received "honours almost divine," were shut up in their palace from the age of twelve or fifteen; and if a suitor wished to obtain justice of the king he sometimes lit a great bonfire on a mountain facing the palace; the king saw the fire and informed himself of the case.466 The Emperor of China seldom quits his palace, and when he does so, no one may look at him; even the guards who line the road must turn their backs.467 The king of Tonquin was permitted to appear abroad twice or thrice a year for the performance of certain religious ceremonies; but the people were not allowed to look at him. The day before he came forth notice was given to all the inhabitants of the city and country to keep from the way the king was to go; the women were obliged to remain in their houses and durst not shew themselves under pain of death, a penalty which was carried out on the spot if any one disobeyed the order, even through ignorance. Thus the king was invisible to all but his troops and the officers of his suite.468 In Mandalay a stout lattice-paling, six feet high and carefully kept in repair, lined every street in the walled [pg 126] city and all those streets in the suburbs through which the king was likely at any time to pass. Behind this paling, which stood two feet or so from the houses, all the people had to stay when the king or any of the queens went out. Any one who was caught outside it by the beadles after the procession had started was severely handled, and might think himself lucky if he got off with a beating. Nobody was supposed to peep through the holes in the lattice-work, which were besides partly stopped up with flowering shrubs.469

§ 5. Taboos on leaving Food over.

Magical harm done a man through the remains of his food or the dishes he has eaten out of. Ideas and customs of the Narrinyeri of South Australia.

Again, magic mischief may be wrought upon a man through the remains of the food he has partaken of, or the dishes out of which he has eaten. On the principles of sympathetic magic a real connexion continues to subsist between the food which a man has in his stomach and the refuse of it which he has left untouched, and hence by injuring the refuse you can simultaneously injure the eater. Among the Narrinyeri of South Australia every adult is constantly on the look-out for bones of beasts, birds, or fish, of which the flesh has been eaten by somebody, in order to construct a deadly charm out of them. Every one is therefore careful to burn the bones of the animals which he has eaten lest they should fall into the hands of a sorcerer. Too often, however, the sorcerer succeeds in getting hold of such a bone, and when he does so he believes that he has the power of life and death over the man, woman, or child who ate the flesh of the animal. To put the charm in operation he makes a paste of red ochre and fish oil, inserts in it the eye of a cod and a small piece of the flesh of a corpse, and having rolled the compound into a ball sticks it on the top of the bone. After being left for some time in the bosom of a dead body, in order that it may derive a deadly potency by contact with corruption, the magical implement is set up in the ground near the fire, and as the ball melts, so the person against whom the charm is directed wastes with disease; if the ball is melted quite away, the victim will die. [pg 127] When the bewitched man learns of the spell that is being cast upon him, he endeavours to buy the bone from the sorcerer, and if he obtains it he breaks the charm by throwing the bone into a river or lake.470 Further, the Narrinyeri think that if a man eats of the totem animal of his tribe, and an enemy obtains a portion of the flesh, the latter can make it grow in the inside of the eater, and so cause his death. Therefore when a man partakes of his totem he is careful either to eat it all or else to conceal or destroy the refuse.471 In the Encounter Bay tribe of South Australia, when a man cannot get the bone of an animal which his enemy has eaten, he cooks a bird, beast, or fish, and keeping back one of the creature's bones, offers the rest under the guise of friendship to his enemy. If the man is simple enough to partake of the proffered food, he is at the mercy of his perfidious foe, who can kill him by placing the abstracted bone near the fire.472

Ideas and customs as to the leavings of food in Melanesia and New Guinea.

Ideas and practices of the same sort prevail, or used to prevail, in Melanesia; all that was needed to injure a man was to bring the leavings of his food into contact with a malignant ghost or spirit. Hence in the island of Florida when a scrap of an enemy's dinner was secreted and thrown into a haunted place, the man was supposed to fall ill; and in the New Hebrides if a snake of a certain sort carried away a fragment of food to a spot sacred to a spirit, the man who had eaten the food would sicken as the fragment decayed. In Aurora the refuse is made up by the wizard with certain leaves; as these rot and stink, the man dies. Hence it is, or was, a constant care with the Melanesians to prevent the remains of their meals from falling into the hands of persons who bore them a grudge; for this reason they regularly gave the refuse of food to the pigs.473 In Tana, one of the New Hebrides, people bury [pg 128] or throw into the sea the leavings of their food, lest these should fall into the hands of the disease-makers. For if a disease-maker finds the remnants of a meal, say the skin of a banana, he picks it up and burns it slowly in the fire. As it burns, the person who ate the banana falls ill and sends to the disease-maker, offering him presents if he will stop burning the banana skin.474 In German New Guinea the natives take the utmost care to destroy or conceal the husks and other remains of their food, lest these should be found by their enemies and used by them for the injury or destruction of the eaters. Hence they burn their leavings, throw them into the sea, or otherwise put them out of harm's way. To such an extent does this fear influence them that many people dare not stir beyond the territory of their own village, lest they should leave behind them on the land of their neighbours something by means of which a hostile sorcerer might do them a mischief.475 Similar fears have led to similar customs in New Britain and the other islands of what is now called the Bismarck Archipelago, off the north coast of New Guinea. There also the natives bury, burn, or throw into the sea the remains of their meals to prevent them from falling into the hands of magicians; there also the more superstitious of them will not eat in another village because they dread the use which a sorcerer might make of their leavings when their back is turned. This theory has led to an odd practical result; all the cats in the islands of the Archipelago go about with stumpy tails. The reason of the peculiarity is this. The natives sometimes roast and eat their cats; and unscrupulous persons might be tempted to steal a neighbour's cat in order to furnish a meal. Accordingly, in the interests of the higher morality people remove this stumbling-block from the path of their weaker brothers by docking their cats of a piece of their tails and keeping the severed portions in a secret place. If [pg 129] now a cat is stolen and eaten, the lawful owner of the animal has it in his power to avenge the crime: he need only bury the piece of tail with certain spells in the ground, and the thief will fall ill. Hence a man will hardly dare to steal and eat a cat with a stumpy tail, knowing the righteous retribution that would sooner or later overtake him for so doing.476

Ideas and customs as to the leavings of food in Africa, Celebes, India, and ancient Rome.

From a like fear, no doubt, of sorcery, no one may touch the food which the king of Loango leaves upon his plate; it is buried in a hole in the ground. And no one may drink out of the king's vessel.477 Similarly, no man may drink out of the same cup or glass with the king of Fida (Whydah) in Guinea; "he hath always one kept particularly for himself; and that which hath but once touched another's lips he never uses more, though it be made of metal that may be cleansed by fire."478 Amongst the Alfoors of Celebes there is a priest called the Leleen, whose duty appears to be to make the rice grow. His functions begin about a month before the rice is sown, and end after the crop is housed. During this time he has to observe certain taboos; amongst others he may not eat or drink with any one else, and he may drink out of no vessel but his own.479 An ancient Indian way of injuring an enemy was to offer him a meal of rice and afterwards throw the remains of the rice into a fishpond; if the fish swam up in large numbers to devour the grains, the man's fate was sealed.480 In antiquity the Romans used immediately to break the shells of eggs and of snails which they had eaten in order to prevent enemies from making magic with them.481 The common practice, [pg 130] still observed among us, of breaking egg-shells after the eggs have been eaten may very well have originated in the same superstition.

The fear of the magical evil which may be done a man through his food has had beneficial effects in fostering habits of cleanliness and in strengthening the ties of hospitality.

The superstitious fear of the magic that may be wrought on a man through the leavings of his food has had the beneficial effect of inducing many savages to destroy refuse which, if left to rot, might through its corruption have proved a real, not a merely imaginary, source of disease and death. Nor is it only the sanitary condition of a tribe which has benefited by this superstition; curiously enough the same baseless dread, the same false notion of causation, has indirectly strengthened the moral bonds of hospitality, honour, and good faith among men who entertain it. For it is obvious that no one who intends to harm a man by working magic on the refuse of his food will himself partake of that food, because if he did so he would, on the principles of sympathetic magic, suffer equally with his enemy from any injury done to the refuse. This is the idea which in primitive society lends sanctity to the bond produced by eating together; by participation in the same food two men give, as it were, hostages for their good behaviour; each guarantees the other that he will devise no mischief against him, since, being physically united with him by the common food in their stomachs, any harm he might do to his fellow would recoil on his own head with precisely the same force with which it fell on the head of his victim. In strict logic, however, the sympathetic bond lasts only so long as the food is in the stomach of each of the parties. Hence the covenant formed by eating together is less solemn and durable than the covenant formed by transfusing the blood of the covenanting parties into each other's veins, for this transfusion seems to knit them together for life.482

[pg 131]

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