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The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion

Page: 152

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. 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. The common practice, still observed among us, of breaking egg-shells after the eggs have been eaten may very well have originated in the same superstition.

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.

XX. Tabooed Persons

1. Chiefs and Kings tabooed

WE have seen that the Mikado’s food was cooked every day in new pots and served up in new dishes; both pots and dishes were of common clay, in order that they might be broken or laid aside after they had been once used. They were generally broken, for it was believed that if any one else ate his food out of these sacred dishes, his mouth and throat would become swollen and inflamed. The same ill effect was thought to be experienced by any one who should wear the Mikado’s clothes without his leave; he would have swellings and pains all over his body. In Fiji there is a special name (kana lama) for the disease supposed to be caused by eating out of a chief’s dishes or wearing his clothes. “The throat and body swell, and the impious person dies. I had a fine mat given to me by a man who durst not use it because Thakombau’s eldest son had sat upon it. There was always a family or clan of commoners who were exempt from this danger. I was talking about this once to Thakombau. ‘Oh yes,’ said he. ‘Here, So-and-so! come and scratch my back.’ The man scratched; he was one of those who could do it with impunity.” The name of the men thus highly privileged was


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