The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice group : its zoology, botany, ethnology and general structure based on collections made by Charles Hedley of the Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W.
To-day Paganism claims not a single adherent throughout the Archipelago. Christianity has now been embraced for a quarter of a century, and the memory of the old rites is rapidly vanishing. In a few years the knowledge of these that might still be gleaned will have become extinct. I have therefore added to my own gatherings a digest of information relating to the Ellice previously published. The religious customs of this Group, no doubt, were closely approximated to those of the Tokelaus described by Turner.*
On the subject of heathen worship, and indeed upon Funafuti lore in general, I owe most of the information gathered to the unwearied kindness of Mr. John O'Brien, who during forty years' residence has acquired a greater knowledge of native manners and customs than the younger generation of natives possesses. Mr. O'Brien kindly supplemented his recollections by questioning and interpreting from aged men on my behalf.
* Turner—loc. cit., p. 267.
† Gill—Jottings., p. 25.
‡ Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. (2), ix., p. 585.
§ Turner writes (loc. cit., p. 285) the name "Foilape," and adds that he was also one of the principal gods of Nukufetau. The reigning chief of Nukufetau when the "Peacock" visited the group bore his name. Newell says (loc. cit.), "Foilape was a man of enormous physical strength and a fearful despot. He had to flee for his life to Vaitupu, where he was honoured as a god, after he had been murdered as a despot."
Erivada related that in a dream he was instructed by seven* spirits to make a god of a red stone, obtained by diving in the passage, wrapped in pandanus leaves and placed in a case, "fe'ou," like (as O'Brien described it) a hen-coop. If anyone fell sick the stone was taken out and beseeched to relieve or cure the sufferer. Erivada also manufactured from coloured pandanus leaves and shells the sacred casket, "bourou," supposed to be worn like a hat by Firafi. O'Brien, on his arrival, saw a ceremony performed by the priest, or as he termed him the "devil-master," to induce the spirit to send abundance of fish. This consisted of the bourou being taken out of the temple and carried thrice around it, followed by a procession of men and women stripped naked for the occasion. "Foilape," writes Turner, "was the principal god, and they had a stone at his temple. There was an altar also on which offerings of food were laid. At the order of the priest the altar was carried about the settlement, and as the god was supposed to be on it, the people danced in front and all around to please him." On Nukufetau, "Occasionally, after a death for instance, the people assembled, and in honour of the god paraded about the settlement, carrying shoulder high the box containing his treasures."†
No fisher would use his catch till an offering was made to the temple. Receiving the first fruits of every haul, the priest would walk around the temple, and calling each of the numerous spirits by its name, would deposit upon post after post for each his fish in sacrifice. A barracouta was always appropriated by the temple, presenting this perquisite was called "greasing the mats of the temples."
Such valuables as fine mats or pearl shell fish-hooks were frequently offered. When any new or wonderful object was acquired, if for instance a bottle or tin came ashore, it was at once taken to the temple. In Nukufetau, Turner tells us‡ that "Any rare beads or other fancy articles from a ship were presented. If concealed, the god knew it, he was omniscient, and brought death on the culprit." At Fotuna, "It forms an important part of the religion of this island to consider everything that arrives there, whether of great or little value, as the property of the gods, no matter whether it be a large canoe or a log of wood."§
* Referring to this mystic number, Newell writes (loc. cit.) of the ransom for a child's life upon Nukufetau of seven bowls of faausi, "So far as I know this is the only instance of the number seven being considered the number of completeness, as in the Hebrew Scriptures."
† Turner—loc. cit.
‡ Turner—loc. cit., p. 205.
§ Mariner—Tonga, i, 1817, p. 318.
Sometimes it would be announced by the sorcerer that a certain person was about to fall sick. The threatened victim then had to reside in the temple, and enchantments were pronounced over him twice a day; he was anointed with coconut oil, and was placed in the smoke of a lire so that the demon's eyes might be blinded and he escape.
A kind of divination was practised by spinning a coconut before the altar; if it came to rest in a particular position success was prophesied, but if the result was unpropitious the nut would be coaxed, fondled, and spun again. A similar divination by spinning a coconut is described by Mariner in Tonga.*
"A temple with a covering was known as a 'Fale-Atua,' a shrine was an 'Afa,' and the priest, as in the Tokelaus and in Samoa, was a 'Vakatua.' Long after the significance of the temple was forgotten the stone shrine or memorial was worshipped."† A beautiful illustration of the gods and temple of Fakaafu by a member of the first European party who visited that island of the Tokelau Group, faces p. 274 of Dana's Corals and Coral Islands, 1872.
The last temple on Funafuti was destroyed by the hands of Mr. O'Brien.
On this atoll the priests chose the sailing dates for canoes visiting other islands. If the vessel missed her destination, the drifting and starving crew used first to kill and eat the "devil-master."
* Mariner—Tonga, ii., 1817, p. 239.
† Newell—loc. cit.
‡ Whitmee—loc. cit., pp. 26, 27.
§ At the temple of Maumau on Nanomea, there stood a nine feet high coral sandstone slab from the beach. Turner—loc, cit., p. 291.
* "When the priest on Vaitupu "became 'red,' by which they meant flushed and excited, it was a sign that the god had something to say." (Turner—loc. cit., p. 284.) For a description of Tongan priests in religious frenzy see Mariner—loc. cit., p. 106.
† Gill—loc. cit., p. 12.
‡ This act is illustrated by a woodcut in the test on p. 15.
Of the same island, Niutao, Moresby observed:* "Native missionaries have been two years at work here, but half the people are as yet devil worshippers, and adore the evil spirit under the form of coconut leaves, skip jacks, and wooden posts. Every heathen family has a small devil hut, in which a tiny grass hammock is slung for the evil spirit to sleep in, and where offerings of fresh nuts are brought him every morning; many of these huts were in full use, but we were pleased to find others forsaken."
Turner informs † us that "Kulu was the principal god in Niutao, and at the evening meal was prayed to for rain, Coconuts, fish, freedom from disease, &c. Offerings to Kulu were eaten only by the priest, or by any stranger to whom he might hand a share."
* Moresby—New Guinea, 1876, p. 78.
† Turner—Samoa, 1884, p. 288.
‡ Turner—op. cit., p. 289.
§ In Nanomana "On a 'paata' ( = shelf) were laid human skulls and jawbones."—Dr. Gill's MS. Diary.
Upon Nanomana Dr. Gill remarked to a native: "'Jehovah made the sky, the ocean, and all men.' The prompt reply was, 'Very likely Jehovah made you and your land; but the good gods Maumau and Foelangi' (their ancestors who came from Samoa) 'made us and Nanomanga.' …. They worship shooting stars and rainbows; but the principal objects of adoration are the skulls and jawbones of the dead…. Crowds of men ran to the beach to meet us, besmeared with ashes mixed with oil, each wearing the sacred leaflet on the left arm, with necklaces of flowers. In this costume they had been dancing and performing their wild incantations to the gods during the night. The response of the oracle was, that no foreign god or instructor should dwell on the land sacred to Maumau and Foilangi…. In one of these temples on a large swing-tray we counted eleven human skulls; on another tray, nine. It was to accommodate these skulls that the temples were built. It is the disgusting custom in Nanomanga, when a great chief or much loved head of a family dies, to bury the corpse, but on the third day, the head is removed, and the flesh gnawed off and eaten raw with coconut by the sacred men.† The clean skull with the jawbone are then put on a tray in the appropriate temple, and thenceforth become objects of worship….
I called on King Atupa. He was reclining on a mat, with an ominous cough, and seemingly far gone in consumption. We were told that on his death, his skull would be added to the tray of gods in the adjoining temple."‡
" In Ellice's Group skulls of head chiefs are hung up in houses and taken down periodically, and oiled during the weeping and wailing of women. I was present at one such ceremony, At some islands the women not only weep, but beat their eyes from time to time with their fingers, until the eyelids are so swollen as to render it necessary to keep in the house for some days."§
* Gill—loc. cit., p. 24.
† "By the teeth of children," according to Turner—loc. cit., p. 289.
‡ Gill—loc. cit., p. 21.
§ (? Gill in) Davis—Anthrop. Kev., vii., p. 192.
‖ Whitmee—loc. cit., p. 24.
In describing the same rite, Turner says: * "Meat offerings were also laid on the altars, accompanied by songs and dances in honour of the god. While these ceremonies were going on all the population, except the priests and their attendants, kept out of sight."
Gill writes† of Nanomana under date August 13, 1872: "We were the first visitors fortunate enough to escape being 'devilled' whilst the heathen performed incantations to prevent the introduction of disease."‡
* Turner—loc. cit. p. 292.
† Gill—loc. cit., p. 19.
‡ Admiral Moresby has described a like exorcism-which he as a visitor underwent in the New Hebrides.—New Guinea, 1876, p. 102.