Mysteries Religion Belief In Immortality and the Worship of the Dead Among the Polynesians

Belief In Immortality and the Worship of the Dead Among the Polynesians

Belief In Immortality and the Worship of the Dead Among the Polynesians
Catalog # SKU3282
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 2.00 lbs
Author Name J. G. Frazer
ISBN 10: 1610336437
ISBN 13: 9781610336437


The Belief
In Immortality and
the Worship of the Dead
Among the Polynesians

Large Print

J. G. Frazer

The Polynesians are the tall brown race of men who inhabit the widely scattered islands of the Pacific, from Hawaii on the north to New Zealand on the south, and from Tonga on the west to Easter Island on the east. Down to the eighteenth century they remained practically unknown to Europe; the first navigator to bring back comparatively full and accurate information concerning them was our great English explorer, Captain James Cook.

--New Edition, large 14 point font



Thus at the date of their discovery the natives were quite unaffected by European influence: of our civilisation they knew nothing: of Christianity, though it had existed in the world for nearly eighteen hundred years, they had never heard: they were totally ignorant of the metals, and had made so little progress in the arts of life that in most of the islands pottery was unknown, and even so simple an invention as that of bows and arrows for use in war had not been thought of. Hence their condition was of great interest to students of the early history of man, since it presented to their observation the spectacle of a barbaric culture evolved from an immemorial past in complete independence of those material, intellectual, and moral forces which have moulded the character of modern European nations.

The lateness of their discovery may also be reckoned a fortunate circumstance for us as well as for them, since it fell at a time when scientific curiosity was fully awakened among us, and when scientific methods were sufficiently understood to allow us to study with profit a state of society which differed so widely from our own, and which in an earlier and less enlightened age might have been contemplated only with aversion and disgust.

The question of the origin of the Polynesian race is still unsettled, but the balance both of evidence and of probability seems to incline in favour of the view that the people are descended from one of the yellow Mongoloid races of South-Eastern Asia, who gradually spread eastward over the Indian Archipelago and intermingling to some extent with the black aboriginal inhabitants of the islands formed the lighter-tinted brown race which we call the Polynesian. A strong argument in favour of this theory is drawn from the Polynesian language, which belongs essentially to the same family of speech as the Melanesian and Malay languages spoken by the peoples who occupy the islands that intervene between Polynesia and the south-eastern extremity of the Asiatic continent. The black Melanesian race occupies the south-eastern portion of New Guinea and the chain of islands which stretches in a great curve round the north-eastern coasts of New Guinea and Australia. The brown Malays, with the kindred Indonesians and a small admixture of negritoes, inhabit the islands westward from New Guinea to the Malay Peninsula. Of the two kindred languages, the Polynesian and the Melanesian, the older in point of structure appears unquestionably to be the Melanesian; for it is richer both in sounds and in grammatical forms than the Polynesian, which may accordingly be regarded as its later and simplified descendant. But whereas the three peoples, the Polynesians, the Melanesians, and the Malays speak languages belonging to the same family, their physical types are so different that it seems impossible to look on the brown straight-haired Polynesians and Malays as pure descendants of the swarthy frizzly-haired Melanesians. Accordingly in the present state of our knowledge, or rather ignorance, the most reasonable hypothesis would appear to be that the Melanesians, who occupy a central position in the great ocean, between the Polynesians on the east and the Malays on the west, represent the original inhabitants of the islands, while the Polynesians and Malays represent successive swarms of emigrants, who hived off from the Asiatic continent, and making their way eastward over the islands partially displaced and partially blent with the aborigines, modifying their own physical type in the process and exchanging their original language for that of the islanders, which, through their inability to assimilate it, they acquired only in corrupt or degenerate forms.

Yet a serious difficulty meets us on this hypothesis. For both the Polynesians and the Malays, as we know them, stand at a decidedly higher level of culture, socially and intellectually, than the Melanesians, and it is hard to understand why with this advantage they should have fallen into a position of linguistic subordination to them, for as a rule it is the higher race which imposes its language on its inferiors, not the lower race which succeeds in foisting its speech on its superiors. But these are intricate questions which await future investigation. I cannot enter into them now, but must confine myself to my immediate subject, the beliefs of the Polynesians concerning the human soul and the life after death.

In spite of their diffusion over a multitude of islands separated from each other by hundreds and even thousands of miles of ocean, the Polynesians are on the whole a remarkably homogeneous race in physical type, language, and forms of society and religion. The differences of language between them are inconsiderable, amounting to little more than some well-marked dialectical variations: all dwell in settled homes and subsist partly by fishing partly by the fruits of the earth, tilling the soil and gathering coconuts and bread-fruit from the trees: all are bold and expert mariners, making long voyages in large well-built canoes: all possess a copious and comparatively well developed mythology; and all at the time of their discovery enjoyed, or perhaps we should rather say suffered from, a singular institution, half social, half religious, which may be summed up in the single Polynesian word taboo. Hence it would no doubt be possible to give a general account of the belief in human immortality which would hold good in outline for all the different branches of the Polynesian race; but such an account would necessarily be somewhat meagre, inexact in detail, and liable to many exceptions.

Accordingly I shall not attempt it, but shall describe the creed of each group of islanders separately. As the beliefs of the various islanders on this momentous topic are characterised by a general similarity, the method I have adopted will no doubt involve a certain sameness and repetition, but for the serious student of comparative religion I hope that these disadvantages may be more than outweighed by the greater accuracy and fulness of detail which this mode of treating the subject renders possible.

374 pages - 8½ x 11 softcover
ISBN-10: 1610336437
ISBN-13: 9781610336437

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