The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion
Page: 372Thus among the benefits which the Aino anticipates from the slaughter of the worshipful animals not the least substantial is that of gorging himself on their flesh and blood, both on the present and on many a similar occasion hereafter; and that pleasing prospect again is derived from his firm faith in the spiritual immortality and bodily resurrection of the dead animals. A like faith is shared by many savage hunters in many parts of the world and has given rise to a variety of quaint customs, some of which will be described presently. Meantime it is not unimportant to observe that the solemn festivals at which the Aino, the Gilyaks, and other tribes slaughter the tame caged bears with demonstrations of respect and sorrow, are probably nothing but an extension or glorification of similar rites which the hunter performs over any wild bear which he chances to kill in the forest. Indeed with regard to the Gilyaks we are expressly informed that this is the case. If we would understand the meaning of the Gilyak ritual, says Mr. Sternberg, “we must above all remember that the bear-festivals are not, as is usually but falsely assumed, celebrated only at the killing of a house-bear but are held on every occasion when a Gilyak succeeds in slaughtering a bear in the chase. It is true that in such cases the festival assumes less imposing dimensions, but in its essence it remains the same. When the head and skin of a bear killed in the forest are brought into the village, they are accorded a triumphal reception with music and solemn ceremonial. The head is laid on a consecrated scaffold, fed, and treated with offerings, just as at the killing of a house-bear; and the guests of honour (Narch-en) are also assembled. So, too, dogs are sacrificed, and the bones of the bear are preserved in the same place and with the same marks of respect as the bones of a house-bear. Hence the great winter festival is only an extension of the rite which is observed at the slaughter of every bear.”
Thus the apparent contradiction in the practice of these tribes, who venerate and almost deify the animals which they habitually hunt, kill, and eat, is not so flagrant as at first sight it appears to us: the people have reasons, and some very practical reasons, for acting as they do. For the savage is by no means so illogical and unpractical as to superficial observers he is apt to seem; he has thought deeply on the questions which immediately concern him, he reasons about them, and though his conclusions often diverge very widely from ours, we ought not to deny him the credit of patient and prolonged meditation on some fundamental problems of human existence. In the present case, if he treats bears in general as creatures wholly subservient to human needs and yet singles out certain individuals of the species for homage which almost amounts to deification, we must not hastily set him down as irrational and inconsistent, but must endeavour to place ourselves at his point of view, to see things as he sees them, and to divest ourselves of the prepossessions which tinge so deeply our own views of the world. If we do so, we shall probably discover that, however absurd his conduct may appear to us, the savage nevertheless generally acts on a train of reasoning which seems to him in harmony with the facts of his limited experience. This I propose to illustrate in the following chapter, where I shall attempt to show that the solemn ceremonial of the bear-festival among the Ainos and other tribes of North-eastern Asia is only a particularly striking example of the respect which on the principles of his rude philosophy the savage habitually pays to the animals which he kills and eats.