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The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Custom

Minor Rites of the Nanga

Minor Rites of the Nanga

As the Nanga is the earthly dwelling-place of the Ancestral spirits, it is not necessary to seek the intervention of a Vere in order to invoke them as in the case of the Fijian tribal deities, who can only be consulted through the priest. A member of the Nanga could approach the Ancestors at any time by depositing an offering on the wall with proper invocations. For many years after the people had abandoned heathenism the native mission teachers used to keep a sharp look-out for footprints leading in the direction of the Nanga. Two years after the conversion of the Wainimala people a visitor to the Nanga found property and food and the carcasses of pigs in a state of putrefaction, showing that sacrifice was still being made. The Nanga that I last visited had not been used for twenty-eight years. At the eastern end I found the Vere's whistling staff, just where he had planted it in the earth. Moss-grown and fretted with decay, it still emits a shrill whistle when I blow upon it. All about the enclosure candle-nut trees had sprung up from the nuts that had been thrown aside, and about the walls were strewn a number of the curious funnel-shaped cooking-pots that were only used during the Nanga celebrations.

The Sevu (First-fruits) of the yam harvest were always piled in the Nanga before the yams were dug, and allowed to rot there. From these decayed offerings numerous yam-vines were seen sprouting among the undergrowth. From this custom the Nanga is generally spoken of as the Mbaki, which, as I have said, also gives its name to the Fijian year—ya-mbaki.

Before going on the war-path warriors used to repair to the Nanga to be made vunde (invulnerable). The rites appear to have been similar to those of the Kalou-rere.

But next in importance to the Vilavou celebration was the rite of circumcision, which Mr. Fison says was practised as a page 157propitiation to recover a chief from sickness. My inquiries did not confirm this. I was assured, on the contrary, that while offerings were certainly made in the Manga for the recovery of the sick, every youth was circumcised as a matter of routine, and that the rite was in no way connected with sacrifice for the sick. But, although Mr. Fison may have been wrong in his application of the ceremony, his description of the rite itself is undoubtedly correct. He says: "On the day appointed; the son of a sick chief is circumcised, and with him a number of other lads who have agreed to take advantage of the occasion. Their foreskins, stuck in the cleft of a split reed, are taken to the Nanga and presented to the chief priest, who, holding the reed in his hand, offers them to the ancestral gods, and prays for the sick man's recovery. Then follows a great feast, which ushers in a period of indescribable revelry. All distinctions of property are for the time being suspended. Men and women array themselves in all manner of fantastic garbs, address one another in the most indecent phrases, and practise unmentionable abominations openly in the public square of the town. The nearest relationships—even that of own brother and sister—seem to be no bar to the general licence, the extent of which may be indicated by the expressive phrase of an old Nandi chief,1 who said, 'While it lasts we are just like the pigs.' This feasting and frolic may be kept up for several days, after which the ordinary restrictions recur once more. The rights of property are again respected, and abandoned revellers settle down into steady-going married couples, and brothers and sisters may not so much as speak to one another. Nowhere in Fiji, so far as I am aware, excepting in the Nanga country, are these extravagances connected with the rite of circumcision."

1 Probably Nemani Ndreu, whose career I have described.