Page images


Whenever the bird was seen the priest would say that the god had come, and fix upon a day for his entertainment.

The village gods, like those of the household, had all some particular incarnation: one was supposed to appear as a bat, another as a heron, another as an owl. If a man found a dead owl by the roadside, and if that happened to be the incarnation of his village god, he would sit down and weep over it, and beat his forehead with stones till the blood flowed. This was thought pleasing to the deity. Then the bird would be wrapped up and buried with care and ceremony, as if it were a human body. This, however, was not the death of the god. He was supposed to be yet alive, and incarnate in all the owls in existence. The flight of these birds was observed in time of war. If the bird flew before them, it was a signal to go on; but if it crossed the path, it was a bad omen, and a sign to retreat. Others saw their village god in the rainbow, others saw him in the shooting star; and in time of war the position of a rainbow and the direction of a shooting star were always ominous.

The constant dread of the gods, and the numerous and extravagant demands of a cunning and avaricious priesthood, made the heathenism of Samoa a hard service.

I have collected and arranged alphabetically in the two following chapters the names of the principal

gods formerly worshipped in Samoa. The notices of each will explain more fully the religion of the people, and especially that system of zoolatry which so extensively prevailed.




1. AITU LANGI, or Gods of heaven.

1. THESE gods were supposed to have fallen from the heavens at the call of a blind man to protect his son from a cannibal chief. They were scattered over several villages, but did not move about in the bodies of mortals. A large temple was erected to one of them in which there were ten seats on which sat the principal chiefs. A large shell was the only visible representation of the god, and in time of war it was carefully consulted. If it stood on end and made an unusual noise they went to battle cheerfully; if, however, it only murmured what they imagined to be "Go back, go back," there was no fighting that day. Tupai was the name of the high priest and prophet. He was greatly dreaded. His very look was poison. If he looked at a cocoanut tree it died, and if he glanced at a bread-fruit tree it also withered away.

2. Aitu langi was the name of a village god in another place, and supposed to be incarnate in the owl. If, when going to fight, an owl flew before, it was a good sign; but if across the road or backwards they returned immediately.

2. ALII TU, or The God who stands.

This god was seen in the Ve'a, or rail (Rallus pectoralis). The flight of this bird was also observed during war. If it flew before, it was a good omen ; if otherwise they went back disconcerted.

3. AVE I LE TALA, or Take to the end of the house.

This was the name of an accoucheur god, whose priest went, when sent for, and prayed for the safety of the patient. This god is specially noted as having predicted the arrival of a powerful foreign god, who was to eat up all the gods of Samoa except one, and that was himself; and then he added pathetically through the priest to the family where he was supposed to reside, "When the great god comes, do not you all leave me, but let two still keep aloof and stand by me." On the introduction and rapid spread of Christianity many said, "The prediction of Ave i le tala has come true."


I. These were the names of two oblong smooth stones which stood on a raised platform of loose

stones inland of one of the villages. They were supposed to be the parents of Saato, a god who controlled the rain. When the chiefs and people were ready to go off for weeks to certain places in the bush for the sport of pigeon-catching, offerings of cooked taro and fish were laid on the stones, accompanied by prayers for fine weather and no rain. Any one who refused an offering to the stones was frowned upon; and in the event of rain was blamed and punished for bringing down the wrath of the fine-weather god, and spoiling the sports of the season.

2. Persons going to search for bush yams in time of scarcity gave a yam to the stones as a thank-offering, supposing that these gods caused the yams to grow, and could lead them to the best places for finding such edible roots.

3. Any one passing by casually with a basket of cooked food would stop and lay a morsel on the


4. When such offerings were eaten in the night by dogs or rats, it was supposed that the god chose to become incarnate for the time being in the form of such living creatures.

5. FANONGA, Destruction.

1. This was the name of a war-god, and supposed to be incarnate in the Samoan owl (Strix delicatula. In time of war, offerings of food were pre

« PreviousContinue »