« ForrigeFortsæt »
the mourning,"1 though obviously from the nature of the case there can have been no bodily or even visual contact with the corpse to defile the mourner. Even the name of the deceased, as well as the news of his death, is dangerous to hear, and may not be pronounced. Thus the native tribes of Tasmania, now extinct, “never mentioned the dead ”;2 and the same reticence is observed by the Ainos, and the Australian black-men.* The Ostiaks avoid mentioning the name of the deceased ;5 the Caribs do not like to pronounce the names of their dead. The same dislike is found in Tierra del Fuego. The Guaycorous never utter the name of a deceased chief,S and the Abipones' abstain not only from the name of the deceased, but from any word of which the name may happen to form part. It would, however, be an error to suppose that it is only the names of things "unclean” and defiling, such as the name of one who is now a corpse, are dangerous to hear; in Polynesia, chiefs are so sacred that their names are strictly taboo, and the component syllables may not be used in common conversation. In Sumatra, the name of the tiger is taboo, and when a reference to him is unavoidable, euphemisms are employed, and he is called “Grandfather,” “ Ancient One," "The Free,” etc.10 The later Jews shrank from pronouncing the actual name of God, and made substitutions, to avoid unnecessary contact even of this indirect kind with the consuming holiness of the Lord. In ancient Greece, the rites to which the initiated alone were admitted were so sacred that all mention of them to the profane was tabooed-hence our uncertainty as to what those rites really were.
We have, however, yet to mention the peculiar characteristic of the institution of taboo, and that which gives it its widest range and greatest power. That is the transmissibility, the infection or contagion of taboo. Everything which comes in
1 Bastian, Der Mensch, iii. 24.
4 Bastian, Oest. Asien, v. 86. 6 Bastian, Der Mensch, ii. 362. & Père Delaborde in the Recueil de divers voyages (A.D. 1684), 8. ? Réville, Religions des peuples non-civilisés, i. 398. * Ibid. 384.
9 Ibid. 386. 10 Bastian, Oeste Asien, v. 51.
contact with a tabooed person or thing becomes itself as dangerous as the original object, becomes a fresh centre of infection, a fresh source of danger to the community. In the case of things" unclean," the modern mind can without difficulty understand that, granted the original object is really polluted, it communicates its pollution to whatever touches it. It requires no great exercise of the imagination to comprehend that in ancient Greece the offerings used for the purification of a murderer, became, in the very process of purifying him, themselves polluted and had to be buried. The rules about the uncleanness produced by the carcases of vermin in Leviticus xi. 32 ff., are also intelligible from this point of view: “Whatever they touch must be washed; the water itself is then unclean, and can propagate the contagion ; nay, if the defilement affect an (unglazed) earthen pot, it is supposed to sink into the pores, and cannot be washed out, so that the pot must be broken.”? It is, however, strange to find that the “infection of holiness” produces exactly the same results as the pollution of uncleanness, that is to say, it renders the thing touched taboo and therefore unusable. But in Tahiti if a chief's foot touches the earth, the spot which it touches becomes taboo thenceforth, and none may approach it—chiefs are therefore carried in Tahiti when they go out. If he enters a house, it becomes taboo; no one else may go into it ever after. No one may touch him, or eat and drink out of a vessel which he has touched. In New Zealand it is fatal to touch anything that is his or that he has used ; none may use a bed that he has slept in. If a drop of his blood happens to fall on anything, the thing on which it falls becomes his property. When a missionary had saved a choking Maori from death by extracting a bone from his throat by means of a pair of tweezers, the first thing the Maori did on recovering his breath was to claim the tweezers: they had touched him and were taboo, and thereby appropriated to him. In ancient Greece the priest and priestess of Artemis Hymnia amongst the Orchomenians, and the Rechabites amongst the Jews, might not enter a private house, for the same reason as the Polynesian chief. * Pausanias, ii. 31. ? Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, 447. Pausanias, viii, 13, and Jer. xxv. 9 ff.
The clothes as well as the drinking vessels of the Mikado were fatal to those who touched them. Amongst the Tshispeaking peoples of the Gold Coast, “all the commoner utensils that have been used during the festival [a general remembrance of the dead], such as calabashes and earthen pots, are carried out at daybreak on the ninth day, and thrown away.” 2 The Selli at Dodona were xaualeūvai, i.e. abstained from sleeping in a bed, probably for the reason that the bed would become too holy for anyone else to occupy afterwards. They were also suitTÓTodes, and the priest and priestess of Artemis Hymnia did not wash like other people, doubtless because of the excessive sanctity of their persons, just as the Arabians of old might not wash or anoint the head; and the head of a Maori chief was so sacred 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.” 4
As tabooed persons render everything taboo with which they come in contact, so holy places make everything in them taboo. The fish in the sacred river Reiti in Attica were themselves, like the stream, sacred to Demeter, and might be caught by her priests alone. In Pharæ (a town of Achæa) there was a stream sacred to Hermes, the fish of which, as being sacred to the god, were taboo and might not be caught at all. In Yabe there is a certain deity's hut which is so taboo, that whoso enters it, except on business, becomes the slave of the priest.? On the Slave Coast any person accidentally touched by the sacred python is thereby made dedicate to the god and has to serve it for the rest of his life. By an extension of the same principle, in Polynesia the holy places of the gods and the houses of the most sacred chiefs became asylums for fugitives. The very soil of holy places is sacred, and communicates its sanctity to that which touches it : hence in Peru, “none came within where the idol was, save the principal chiefs, who entered with much reverence and veneration, having removed their sandals,” i doubtless because the sandals by contact with the sacred soil would become taboo and unfit thereafter for daily use. In the same way in Tonga, the upper garment was removed in the presence of the king, because his glance would render it taboo, and therefore useless afterwards.
i Bastian, Oest. Asien, v. 282.
2 Ellis, Tshi-speaking Peoples, 228. Pausanias, viii. 14. * Frazer, Golden Bough, i. 191, quoting R. Taylor. * Pausanias, i. 38.
6 lbid. viii, 22. ? Bastian, Loango Küste, i. 219. • Ellis, Exce-speaking Peoples, 57.
The sanctity of the soil of sacred places gives rise to a remarkable coincidence in the practices of two races so widely separated as the ancient Mexicans and the negroes of the Gold Coast. The former practised “eating earth in honour of the god," the latter still “eat fetish." The Mexicans on entering any sacred place, or by way of taking oath, touched the soil with their finger and then placed the finger in the mouth. Amongst the negroes, " to make an oath binuing on a person who takes it, it is usual to give him something to eat or drink which in some way appertains to a deity ... the ordinary plan is to take something from the spot in which the deity resides . . . a little earth, or some leaves or berries . . . this is (incorrectly) called 'eating fetish.'”3 That this procedure somehow gives the deity of the place a greater hold over the person taking oath than he would have if the ceremony was omitted, is clear. How or why this should be, may be difficult for the enlightened reader to imagine, but it would be intelligible enough to the intending perjurer, who at the present day in an English court of justice kisses his thumb instead of “ the book," and thinks thereby to escape the consequences of his perjury. The mediæval practice of swearing by or on the relics of a saint, and the classical custom of swearing or conjuring by the beard (which partakes of the peculiar sanctity of the head), though they do not involve eating or kissing, are inspired by the same feeling ; indeed, we may say generally that the practice of swearing “by"anything, and therefore the very conception of an oath, is due in its origin to the feeling that the sacredness of the object held or kissed communicates itself and gives sacredness to the oath. Probably the earliest oaths are those of “compurgation,” and the person thus freeing
· Payne, The New World called America, i. 513, quoting Juan de Betanzos. 2 Sahagun, Appendix to bk. ii. 3 Ellis, Tshi-speaking Peoples, 196.
himself from the charge made against him does so by voluntarily making himself taboo, by "eating fetish ” or otherwise devoting himself to the god. Thus his enemy no longer can touch him, for he is taboo, nor is it necessary that his enemy should touch him; it is now the god's affair. Oaths of witness then follow the analogy of purgatory oaths.
But perhaps the most remarkable instance of the “contagion" of taboo is to be found in the fact that it is capable of infecting not only things but actions, and even time itself. Thus amongst the Basutos, on the day of a chief's decease work is tabooed : 1 the corpse “defiles” not only those who come in contact with it, but all work done on the fatal day. In Madagascar, work is taboo to the relatives of the deceased for a longer or shorter time according to his rank.? The Tshi-speaking negroes celebrate an annual feast for the dead generally, and “the whole eight days are termed egwah awotchwi, ' Eight Seats,' because it is a period of rest, during which no work may be performed.” 3 In the New World, the funeral ceremonies of the kings of Mechoacan “ lasted five days, and in all that time no Fire was permitted to be kindled in the City, except in the King's house and Temples, nor yet any Corn was ground, or Market kept, nor durst any go out of their houses.” 4 And it is not only in the case of things “ unclean” that time itself becomes a channel of infection : the “infection of holiness" is transmitted in the same way. On the Gold Coast, “ on the day sacred to or set apart for the offering of sacrifice to a local god, the inhabitants abstain from all work, smear their bodies with white clay, and wear white cloths in sign of rejoicing.” 5 On the Slave Coast, « every general, tribal, and local god, with the exception of Mawu, has his holy day.” 8 Amongst the Tshi-speaking peoples," on the day sacred to it the tutelary deity) all the members of the family wear white or light-coloured cloths and mark themselves with white .... no work of any kind may be done, and should one of the members of the family
· Casalis, Les Bassoutos, 275. 2 Réville, Rel. des peup. non-civ. ii. 167. * Ellis, Tshi-speaking Peoples, 228. * Gage, A New Survey of the West Indies, 160. 5 Ellis, Tshi-speaking Peoples, 74.
Ellis, Ewe-speaking Peoples, 79.