Project Canterbury

The Religious System of the Gods in the Island of Ngela.

By Charles Sapibuana.

From Mission Life, Vol V (New series) (1874), London, pages 579-584.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2008





[NOTE ON PRONUNCIATION OF NATIVE WORDS.--d=nd; b=mb; u=oo in boot; n=ng in singer. g=rough gutteral h, or ch, in Loch; ng=ng in languor.]

THEY are of different kinds: thus, they distinguish tribes do these gods. There are six tribes of men with us, and six principal gods. The following are the tribes: 1. Gaobata; 2. The Kakau; 3. Lahi; 4. Hongokiki; 5. Hibo; 6 Hongokama. And this is how they speak of them: Na gadira na Tidalo."+ [+ That is to say, they speak of their Tidalo, or god, as they would of their food, or of their most intimate friend or most bitter foe--as being something peculiarly and nearly their own. Gadira is a much stronger possessive than the common didira, differring form it both in kind and in degree.] They do not say, "Na didira." If they were speaking to strangers, however, then they might say, "Na didira."

The god of the Gaobata is Polika; the god of the Kakau is Barego; the god of the Lahi is Manoga; the god of the Hongokiki is Tidalo Tabu (we do not know his name, we only say that it is sacred); the god of the Hibo is Sisiro, the god of the Hongokama is Kuma.

And for this reason, they exclaim, "Butongu!" (By my Abomination!) thus swearing by their abomination. If you were to bring an accusation against anyone, and he should say, "E taho inau, Butongu!" (Not I, by my Abomination!) it would be the truth; for he swears by his Abomination--by that which is forbidden to him--and our belief is this, that should any one eat of his abomination he would die.

Now this is the explanation of the buto. We believe these tidalos to have been men once upon a time, and something which they did (or had to do with) long ago, becomes the forbidden thing of those who possess the tidalo; or something, which was with the tidalos long ago becomes their forbidden or abominable thing who possess the tidalos. For instance, the Gaobata tribe have for their buto the gima (huge bivalve). Now this gima is found on the spot where they catch fish for Polika: the fish, that is, wherewith to offer sacrifice to him, and they call this gima Polika, believing that it really is Polika, this gima, wherefore the tribe of the Gaobata do not eat the gima.

The tribe of the Hongokama possess a god whom they call Kuma, and their abomination is a bird--the pigeon--which kind of bird they do not eat.



NOW, all the war gods we call the Keramo; but they have each a name differing one from another. We do not, however, each of us know them severally by name. Only some one person knows them; but any others may help him in sacrificing, &c., not being initiated, however.

These are different from the gods of the tribes, which are possessed each by one tribe only. But, with regard to the Keramo, whoever wishes to possess one has to buy it. Much money is given to the real possessor of it (Acts viii. 18, 19) when they buy it from him, and so they call it "to buto"* [*Buto here means simply a length of native bead money, and has nothing to do with the buto translated abomination.] He then gives it up to them and shows them its leaves,+ [+The outward visible means of communion with the unseen Spirit, and of obtaining his strength.] and its dili (a dracaena), and its twigs, and its gura (shavings of a certain tree), and its ria (a scented broad-bladed rush something like the andropogon), and its wood, and its creeping plant. And all these things they believe to be the property# [#Didira.] of the tidalos.

For example: suppose a man of the Gaobata tribe to possess Hauri, he knows how to sacrifice to him, for only he knows his ria, and his dili, and his wood, and his creeper. Only he who worships him knows them. And should he wish some one to take his place when he dies, then, when he is an old man, he will show him that he may know them, and when he dies, succeed him.

Now, people of another tribe do not know them; they merely help about the sacrifice, and eat of the sacrifice, and of all the things which belong to the tidalo. When they are going forth to battle, they go and pluck up a ria plant. If the plant should not pluck up well, then shall they be beaten who begin the fighting; [Lit., death.] but if the ria pluck up well, then the god is favourable, [Grants.] and they who begin the fighting shall beat the others. Then they shall take the ria and they put it on their shields, and the dili also, and the creeper, with which they gird themselves, and the twigs of the tree, which they stick all about them, and then they go to battle. Now all these things which they take they suppose to belong to the tidalo, and they take them in order that the Keramo may come upon them and strengthen them, that they may prevail and beat the enemy. Moreover, they eat all these things belonging to Hauri and they call it eating Hauri, in order that he may enter into them and make them strong. [The italics are the translator's, who would draw attention to the sacramental nature of this belief.]

The enemy also does likewise, and, should the enemy prevail, then, [580/581] say they, "His Keramo is mighty." This is done separately by each party.

But if they want to kill a man, they first of all curse him by their god, and then they go and kill him. For instance, they who possess Hauri, they first say to the person they are about to kill, "E ganigo a Hauri, mu ku labugo!" (Eat thee, Hauri, that I may slay thee!) say they, and then they kill the man; for they think that this god will help them to succeed. It is also believed that murder is mana.* [*The difficulty of accurately translating this universal Polynesian and Melanesian word has been acknowledged. It means here, has a spiritual influence, has virtue, is of the nature of a spell or charm.] Whoever commits murder, not possessing a tidalo, his body will be bad from it, will ache and waste away; but if, on the other hand, he possess a tidalo to help him, then his body will not suffer on account of the man whom he slays. Thus, if any one who possessed Hauri here had just killed a man, he would quickly pray to Hauri to help him, and his body would not be the worse for the man whom he murdered, but he would escape clear; and he would say to his tidalo, "This is the man I have slain, and do thou strengthen me," would he say to his tidalo.

And every year they sacrifice to them: two sacrificings every year. And this is the sacrifice: they kindle fire for it, and they take a small fragment of food already mashed, which they throw down into the fire. Then they call upon the name of the tidalo. One of these tidalos I will explain to you; for instance, Hauri aforesaid. The man who sacrifices to him first calls upon the name of Hauri, and then mentions his fellows, whose names are different again, but they call them Hauri all the same. And these other tidalos whom they believe to be his fellows, we do not know their respective names; they know them only who sacrifice to them, and in this sacrificing we believe the food to have a spirit, [Tarunaga=spiritual. Is the same form as (gotu-ga-hill-y) taruna, meaning man's soul.] and when we burn it in the fire, the spirit of the food, which we do not see, is eaten by the tidalo, so we say.


Now this tidalo is possessed by a different person. Whoever sacrifices to Hauri does not rightly and duly sacrifice to Kulanikama; they are entirely distinct. Another man knows Hauri, but when he sacrifices to him, the tutu# [#Mashed food.] of Hauri is given to him who sacrifices to Kulanikama; and he who possesses Kulanikama, when he sacrifices to him, will give some of the tutu of Kulanikama to him who worships Hauri, and he will eat his tutu. Moreover, all Kulunikama's things are [581/582] distinct: his ria, his dili, his tree, and his creeping plant. Thus, with them who possess other tidalos they are different, and with him who possesses Kulanikama they are different again; he alone knows them (the ria and dili, &c.) And he who is master of the secret, when he grows old, will reveal it to some one else, who shall succeed him, and will know him (the tidalo) in his turn some day. But only one person sacrifices, as I have already explained, in the case of Hauri, When they sacrifice to him, many people go to the sacrifice, but only one officiates in handling of the tutu when the sacrifice is being performed, and they do not sacrifice emptily; but they sacrifice with fish and food in general, and the food is mashed.

And when they have prepared the food then they proceed to sacrifice, but they do not eat immediately. They first burn in the fire a small portion of the food--he who possesses the tidalo does it--calling upon the name of Kulanikama. When this is done, then do the men first eat; for we think that the tidalos should eat first, and then man afterwards.

But women do not partake of the sacrifice with which they sacrifice to these Keramo, tidalos of murder. Men and boys also do not eat the food offered to them. Well grown youths, rather, who are fit for murder and war, and who, therefore, eat the food offered to the tidalos of murder; but women do not eat thereof.

And when they sacrifice a pig they take the pig's heart and burn it with fire, saying, "Thine be the tutu and the pig, O Kulanikama!" say they, as they burn it in the fire. And when they who possess Kulanikama go to battle, they take, of course, the things belonging to Kulanikama--his ria and his dili and his wood and his creeping plant--and these they put about them and then go forth to battle. They do not take the leaves of any other tidalo.

These also are some of the Keramo:--

1. Rusua; 2. Na Malagaitabu;* [*Malagai=fighting man.] 3. Unahivure. A different man sacrifices to Rusua; and again a different man sacrifices to Na Malagaitabu; and a different man again sacrifices to Unahivure. All their respective leaves are distinct. They have each their dili and their ria and their wood and everything. But whoever sacrifices to Rusua will call upon Na Malagaitabu and Unahivure together with him, and so on throughout the three. These tidalos are not separated, nevertheless one man alone does not know the three; during sacrifice only will he invoke them together. Whoever sacrifices to Rusua knows only the set of leaves belonging to Rusua, and so it is also with the two others.

But the little boys do not eat of their sacrifices nor do the women; they, rather, who are fit to go to battle and slaughter do then eat of [582/583] their sacrifices. And they who possess these tidalos, when they go to battle, he who sacrifices to Rusua takes, of course, Rusua's leaves, and when he sees the man he wants to kill, he says, "Eat thee, Rusua, and I will slay thee," says he. And whoever sacrifices to Na Malagaitabu when he goes to battle takes, of course, the leaves of Na Malagaitabu, and then he goes to battle, and when he wants to kill a man he calls, of course, upon the name of Na Malagaitabu. And when he has slain his man he says, "Thine, this man here, O Na Malagaitabu!" says he, when he slays a man. (It is the same also with regard to Unahivure.)


Touching the Keramo, it is as follows: whoever offers the sacrifice is acquainted with all the leaves--the ria and the dili and the wood and everything pertaining to the tidalo in question. And when he has become an old man he will explain it to some of his own tribe, who, knowing it, shall take his place.

But the son does not take the place of those who possess tidalos. Our own belief is this, that the woman determines the tribe and not the man, who is different. When a man marries he will not take a wife of his own tribe, but a woman of another tribe, Thus: take a Gaobata man and a Hongokiki woman, now, the tribe of the child which they beget will be the Hongokiki.

And whoever possesses this Olekama, when he goes to battle, takes, of course, the set of leaves belonging to Olekama; he will not take the leaves of any other tidalo. And when he commits murder, he calls, of course, upon the name of Olekama. But the women do not eat of his tutu, no more do boys; the full grown men rather.


In this case also only one person offers his sacrifice, knowing all the leaves, et cetera,* [*Ma na gagua="and all the rest of it."] which belong to the Keramo. And if he wishes some one to take his place hereafter, he quickly initiates him while he is still alive, that, when he dies, he may be in his stead.

And when they go to battle they take, of course--those, that is, who know Siria--his various leaves, and then they go to battle, invoking Siria, for they will not invoke any other tidalo. And when they want to kill any one, they say to him, "Eat thee, Siria, and I will slay thee!" say they to him. And they who possess him say, when they speak of him, "Na gamami na Keramo ni labu tinoni" (Our Keramo of killing men). They speak thus because he helps them to the end that they may be strong, and succeed in killing men.

And with regard to the tidalos of this kind, namely, the Keramo, it [583/584] is believed to be like this, that when they go to battle* [*Lit., slaying of men.] but do not beat the enemy, then "Mighty are his (the enemy's) Keramo," say they, because they (the enemy) beat them, and they cannot prevail against them, whereas they depart scatheless from the fray.

We believe further as follows: should they not sacrifice to them, but neglect them for a year, and after than should not should not resume the sacrifices, then, if they who possess them go to battle and get wounded with a spear, or slain, it will be said, "The truth is that he did not sacrifice to the tidalo, who is therefore angered against him, and so they killed him," it will be said. Or, if one who possesses a Keramo be sick--or, if not he, then his wife or his child--it will be thought that he has neglected to sacrifice to the tidalo, so it will be said; for, if any who possesses a tidalo quickly prays to his tidalo and recovers, then, say they, "He has not neglected to sacrifice." But, granted that they recover, but do not recover quickly, only after a long interval, does the tidalo really cure them or not? They lie! They recover just of their own accord.

Tuanibola (Pigeon-leg) is also one of the Keramo, Salakai is another, and Na Abupono (Close-shave) another of the Keramo. Like all the others which I have already written--no one of them is different.

(To be continued.)

Project Canterbury