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The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion

Page: 502

Near Eket in North Calabar there is a sacred lake, the fish of which are carefully preserved because the people believe that their own souls are lodged in the fish, and that with every fish killed a human life would be simultaneously extinguished. In the Calabar River not very many years ago there used to be a huge old crocodile, popularly supposed to contain the external soul of a chief who resided in the flesh at Duke Town. Sporting vice-consuls used from time to time to hunt the animal, and once an officer contrived to hit it. Forthwith the chief was laid up with a wound in his leg. He gave out that a dog had bitten him, but no doubt the wise shook their heads and refused to be put off with so flimsy a pretext. Again, among several tribes on the banks of the Niger between Lokoja and the delta there prevails “a belief in the possibility of a man possessing an alter ego in the form of some animal such as a crocodile or a hippopotamus. It is believed that such a person’s life is bound up with that of the animal to such an extent that, whatever affects the one produces a corresponding impression upon the other, and that if one dies the other must speedily do so too. It happened not very long ago that an Englishman shot a hippopotamus close to a native village; the friends of a woman who died the same night in the village demanded and eventually obtained five pounds as compensation for the murder of the woman.”

Amongst the Zapotecs of Central America, when a woman was about to be confined, her relations assembled in the hut, and began to draw on the floor figures of different animals, rubbing each one out as soon as it was completed. This went on till the moment of birth, and the figure that then remained sketched upon the ground was called the child’s tona or second self. “When the child grew old enough, he procured the animal that represented him and took care of it, as it was believed that health and existence were bound up with that of the animal’s, in fact that the death of both would occur simultaneously,” or rather that when the animal died the man would die too. Among the Indians of Guatemala and Honduras the nagual or naual is “that animate or inanimate object, generally an animal, which stands in a parallel relation to a particular man, so that the weal and woe of the man depend on the fate of the nagual.” According to an old writer, many Indians of Guatemala “are deluded by the devil to believe that their life dependeth upon the life of such and such a beast (which they take unto them as their familiar spirit), and think that when that beast dieth they must die; when he is chased, their hearts pant; when he is faint, they are faint; nay, it happeneth that by the devil’s delusion they appear in the shape of that beast (which commonly by their choice is a buck, or doe, a lion, or tigre, or dog, or eagle) and in that shape have been shot at and wounded.” The Indians were persuaded that the death of their nagual would entail their own. Legend affirms that in the first battles with the Spaniards on the plateau of Quetzaltenango the naguals of the Indian chiefs fought in the form of serpents. The nagual of the highest chief was especially conspicuous, because it had the form of a great bird, resplendent in green plumage. The Spanish general Pedro de Alvarado killed the bird with his lance, and at the same moment the Indian chief fell dead to the ground.

In many tribes of South-Eastern Australia each sex used to regard a particular species of animals in the same way that a Central American Indian regarded his nagual, but with this difference, that whereas the Indian apparently knew the individual animal with which his life was bound up, the Australians only knew that each of their lives was bound up with some one animal of the species, but they could not say with which. The result naturally was that every man spared and protected all the animals of the species with which the lives of the men were bound up; and every woman spared and protected all the animals of the species with which the lives of the women were bound up; because no one knew but that the death of any animal of the respective species might entail his or her own; just as the killing of the green bird was immediately followed by the death of the Indian chief, and the killing of the parrot by the death of Punchkin in the fairy tale. Thus, for example, the Wotjobaluk tribe of South-Eastern Australia “held that ‘the life of Ngǔnǔngǔnǔt (the Bat) is the life of a man, and the life of Yártatgǔrk (the Nightjar) is the life of a woman,’ and that when either of these creatures is killed the life of some man or of some woman is shortened. In such a case every man or every woman in the camp feared that he or she might be the victim, and from this cause great fights arose in this tribe. I learn that in these fights, men on one side and women on the other, it was not at all certain which would be victorious, for at times the women gave the men a severe drubbing with their yamsticks, while often women were injured or killed by spears.” The Wotjobaluk said that the bat was the man’s “brother” and that the nightjar was his “wife.” The particular species of animals with which the lives of the sexes were believed to be respectively bound up varied somewhat from tribe to tribe. Thus whereas among the Wotjobaluk the bat was the animal of the men, at Gunbower Creek on the Lower Murray the bat seems to have been the animal of the women, for the natives would not kill it for the reason that “if it was killed, one of their lubras [women] would be sure to die in consequence.” But whatever the particular sorts of creature with which the lives of men and women were believed to be bound up, the belief itself and the fights to which it gave rise are known to have prevailed over a large part of South-Eastern Australia, and probably they extended much farther. The belief was a very serious one, and so consequently were the fights which sprang from it. Thus among some tribes of Victoria “the common bat belongs to the men, who protect it against injury, even to the half-killing of their wives for its sake. The fern owl, or large goatsucker, belongs to the women, and, although a bird of evil omen, creating terror at night by its cry, it is jealously protected by them. If a man kills one, they are as much enraged as if it was one of their children, and will strike him with their long poles.”

The jealous protection thus afforded by Australian men and women to bats and owls respectively (for bats and owls seem to be the creatures usually allotted to the two sexes) is not based upon purely selfish considerations. For each man believes that not only his own life but the lives of his father, brothers, sons, and so on are bound up with the lives of particular bats, and that therefore in protecting the bat species he is protecting the lives of all his male relations as well as his own. Similarly, each woman believes that the lives of her mother, sisters, daughters, and so forth, equally with her own, are bound up with the lives of particular owls, and that in guarding the owl species she is guarding the lives of all her female relations besides her own. Now, when men’s lives are thus supposed to be contained in certain animals, it is obvious that the animals can hardly be distinguished from the men, or the men from the animals. If my brother John’s life is in a bat, then, on the one hand, the bat is my brother as well as John; and, on the other hand, John is in a sense a bat, since his life is in a bat. Similarly, if my sister Mary’s life is in an owl, then the owl is my sister and Mary is an owl. This is a natural enough conclusion, and the Australians have not failed to draw it. When the bat is the man’s animal, it is called his brother; and when the owl is the woman’s animal, it is called her sister. And conversely a man addresses a woman as an owl, and she addresses him as a bat. So with the other animals allotted to the sexes respectively in other tribes. For example, among the Kurnai all emu-wrens were “brothers” of the men, and all the men were emu-wrens; all superb warblers were “sisters” of the women, and all the women were superb warblers.


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