A FACT that has been before us incidentally, though not the subject of specific remark, is the age-long belief in the continued existence of the soul. We have noted that the soul is "the separable factor" in man's duality, "with a life all its own." It would be normal then next to examine this continuance of life beyond death, to determine its character. But before discussing primitive conceptions concerning the dead, their state and powers, it is important to note that there are hints from widely separated regions which suggest that once there was a belief nearly or quite universal that death is not inevitable. It is likely that in the youth of the race, death was practically always the result of violence--from man or beast--or of accident. And it follows from what we have just noticed of the parity of being and the attribution of life to insensate objects, that even accidents would not be recognized as such but would be interpreted as the result of purposive activities. Moreover, evidence is abundant that, in a somewhat advanced stage of human history, man was a contemporary of huge and ferocious animals which have become extinct. While cave deposits reveal that he knew how to master some of these, on the other hand it must be conceded that cave men must often have succumbed, if all did not eventually lose their lives, to the attacks or have come off second best in the encounters which they themselves brought on. The increase in the numbers of human beings is always attended by the mastery and extinction of beasts of prey. In the days when men were few and beasts were present in numbers now hardly conceivable, the number of casualties to men either in the bunt or when themselves hunted must have been great. We have to take into account also feuds among men in the undisciplined state. When the stage of culture was low, feuds between tribes and clans, which, be it remembered, were small in those days, were often waged to extinction. Within the memory of man the sparseness of population in Australia has been with high probability of correctness ascribed to the feuds which for a single reason raged between different tribes. The mortality from this cause must have been great. And how complete may have been the slaughter in such cases is seen when we remember that so late as the time of Samuel a numerous people was devoted to extinction in the name of religion--in this case religion being the mask for human animosities. Under circumstances perhaps more numerous than we can imagine, men, women, and children were slaughtered to the last individual.
From what has preceded in the way of showing early man's conceptions of the potency of things about him, what would now be regarded as accident was by him regarded as the result of purposive action by the objects which seemed to work disaster. If a limb fell from a tree in a storm and killed a man, the explanation was that the tree had cast its weapon in anger, or the wind had, with intent, flung this missile with deadly aim. Stories have passed in recent times of African tribes that hewed down and chopped to bits a tree, a limb from which had caused the death of one
[1. 1 Sam. 15.]
of their number. Similarly, if a man were drowned by river or ocean, it was the angry flood or the offended sea which bad removed from this life the deceased human.
Recalling once more the steadfastness with which man holds to convictions once entertained, remembering that the new has always had to fight, and fight hard, for entrance into his mind, we may regard the instances to be adduced in which the belief that death is always an ab extra event, to be accounted for by causes other than "natural," as illustrative of and probably presumptive of the existence of the same belief in much wider circles than those in which it now obtains. It is best accounted for as a "superstition," i.e., as "something left over from earlier times." To be sure, in some cases, perhaps in all, the belief has taken on the complexion of a more advanced culture, it explains the death by "spiritual" means instead of by mere brute or physical force. This is a way that superstitions have. They fit themselves to the environment, mental or physical, which has wrapped itself about them.
From Australia quite concordant testimony from competent observers is accessible. Thus R. B. Smyth cites the statement of Mr. Daniel Bunce (curator of the Botanical Gardens at Geelong), a man well acquainted with the blacks, to the effect that "no tribe be has ever met with believe in the possibility of a man's dying a natural death. If a man is taken ill, it is at once assumed that some member of a hostile tribe has stolen some of his hair. This is quite enough to cause serious illness. If the man continues sick and gets worse, it is assumed that the hair has been burned by his enemy. Such an ad, they say, is sufficient to imperil his life. If the man dies, it is assumed that the thief has choked his victim and taken away his kidney fat."
Mr. Smyth continues: "Mr. John Green says that the men of the Yarrow tribe firmly believe that no one ever dies a natural death. A man or a woman dies because of the wicked arts practised by some member of a hostile tribe."
In Appendix 3 to the same work (ii. 289-290) Albert A. C. Le Souef accounts for the paucity of population in part by the fad that a death by disease involves the death of others, because the first case was believed to be
[2. Aborigines of Victoria, i. 110.]
caused by sorcery, and a murdering expedition is at once carried out for vengeance. (This in turn starts a blood feud, and so on.)
Taplin remarks of the Narrinyeri: "When a man dies they conclude at once that sorcery has been the cause of the mournful event, and that either ngadhungi or millin [two methods of sorcery] have been practised against him."
Spencer and Gillen testify that "no such thing as natural death is realized by the native; a man who dies has of necessity been killed by some other man, or perhaps even by a woman."
Dawson's affirmation is quite concordant: "Natural deaths are generally--but not always--attributed to the malevolence and the spells of an enemy belonging to another tribe."
In New Guinea the same belief holds, as witnessed by Newton.
"About Wedau and Wamira the spirits of the dead go eventually to some place to the eastward of Cape Frere, in a valley in the mountains called Iola, the approach to the
[1. Narrinyeri, in Native Tribes of South Australia, p. 19.
2. Native Tribes of Central Australia, p. 48.
3. Dawson, Australian Aborigines, p. 63.]
abode of the spirits being through a hole in the ground. When the spirit arrives it is questioned at once, 'Where have you come from?' 'What have you come for?' just as every time you go into a village every one who meets you asks you (these questions). The newly arrived one says, 'I have come from Wedau' or 'Wamira,' as the case may be, or the answer may state more explicitly the section of the village, and 'Where else should I go except to my own people?' Then the question is asked, 'Who sent you?' and for answer the name of some sorcerer or witch is given, the one responsible for the death."
Indirect testimony is furnished by Neuhass to the same effect for German New Guinea, whose people separate souls with reference to post mortem continuance according as they died by the sword or by magic--the two methods which they recognize of passing from this life. The Mafulu of this island regard a death otherwise unaccounted for as due to spirits acting under sorcerers. An exception is conceived, however, in the case of very old persons, which seems to show the transition
[6. In Far New Guinea, p. 219.]
to a more advanced knowledge. And in Hood Peninsula, British New Guinea, death is the result of the activities of spirits or magicians. Gomes asserts that in Borneo all sickness (and therefore death not otherwise accounted for) by external means is caused by spirit possession. Among Melanesians: "It must . . . be remembered that . . . death is not admitted to occur without some obvious cause such as a spear thrust. Therefore when vigorous and active members of the community die, it becomes necessary to explain their fate, and such deaths are firmly believed to be produced by sorcery." In far away Africa "nearly all diseases, bad luck, misfortune, sorrow, and death are caused by witchcraft, i.e., by some one using a fetish to curse a person."
Among the Indians of Guiana, "Every death, every illness, is regarded not as the result of natural law, but as the work of a kenaima (i.e., a man possessed by a spirit for the purpose of blood revenge, and able to
[7. Williamson, Ways of South Sea Savage, p. 286.
8. JAI, xxviii (1899), 216 ff.
9. Sea Dyaks of Borneo, p. 183.
10. Seligmann, Melanesians, p. 779.
11. Weeks, Primitive Bakongo, p. 219.]
send his spirit forth to inflict evil). Such a kenaima is . . . the real or supposed cause of almost every evil, and especially of every death."
Concordant testimony is given by Brett: "A person dies--and it is supposed that an enemy has secured the agency of an evil spirit to compass his death." A sorcerer is employed to discover the guilty individual, and a relative of the deceased is charged with the work of vengeance. He is a kenaima, possessed by the spirit of destruction.
It is the "left-overs" that often reveal to the discriminating observer the conditions which are implied, which surrounded the full bloom of what have become survivals. It is not difficult to imagine, and it is in accord with primitive psychology to presume, that the few cases here brought together, which might conceivably be much extended by definite research, suppose a much larger area over which such ideas were regnant.
[12. Im Thum, Among the Indians of Guiana, p. 329.
13. Indian Tribes of Guiana, pp. 357 ff.]