The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion
Page: 379The elan, deer, and elk were treated by the American Indians with the same punctilious respect, and for the same reason. Their bones might not be given to the dogs nor thrown into the fire, nor might their fat be dropped upon the fire, because the souls of the dead animals were believed to see what was done to their bodies and to tell it to the other beasts, living and dead. Hence, if their bodies were illused, the animals of that species would not allow themselves to be taken, neither in this world nor in the world to come. Among the Chiquites of Paraguay a sick man would be asked by the medicine-man whether he had not thrown away some of the flesh of the deer or turtle, and if he answered yes, the medicine-man would say, “That is what is killing you. The soul of the deer or turtle has entered into your body to avenge the wrong you did it.” The Canadian Indians would not eat the embryos of the elk, unless at the close of the hunting season; otherwise the mother-elks would be shy and refuse to be caught.
In the Timor-laut islands of the Indian Archipelago the skulls of all the turtles which a fisherman has caught are hung up under his house. Before he goes out to catch another, he addresses himself to the skull of the last turtle that he killed, and having inserted betel between its jaws, he prays the spirit of the dead animal to entice its kinsfolk in the sea to come and be caught. In the Poso district of Central Celebes hunters keep the jawbones of deer and wild pigs which they have killed and hang them up in their houses near the fire. Then they say to the jawbones, “Ye cry after your comrades, that your grandfathers, or nephews, or children may not go away.” Their notion is that the souls of the dead deer and pigs tarry near their jawbones and attract the souls of living deer and pigs, which are thus drawn into the toils of the hunter. Thus the wily savage employs dead animals as decoys to lure living animals to their doom.
The Lengua Indians of the Gran Chaco love to hunt the ostrich, but when they have killed one of these birds and are bringing home the carcase to the village, they take steps to outwit the resentful ghost of their victim. They think that when the first natural shock of death is passed, the ghost of the ostrich pulls himself together and makes after his body. Acting on this sage calculation, the Indians pluck feathers from the breast of the bird and strew them at intervals along the track. At every bunch of feathers the ghost stops to consider, “Is this the whole of my body or only a part of it?” The doubt gives him pause, and when at last he has made up his mind fully at all the bunches, and has further wasted valuable time by the zigzag course which he invariably pursues in going from one to another, the hunters are safe at home, and the bilked ghost may stalk in vain round about the village, which he is too timid to enter.