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Home > Articles > The Journal of the Antropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland > On Poisoned Arrows in Melanesia > Part 2
On Poisoned Arrows in Melanesia
Part 2 of 4

In Lepers' Island not long ago, a young man out of affection for his dead brother, took up his bones and made them into arrows. He carried these about with him, and did not speak of himself as "I," but as "We two," his brother and himself, and he was much feared; all the supernatural power of the dead brother was with the living. In Maewo the story is that a blind man, Muesarava, invented these deadly arrows in a time of war. While the enemies used arrow-heads of bird or fish-bones, and those wounded by them recovered, all who were hit by Muesarava died. When his enemies inquired how this came about, he told them to dig up one of the men he had killed and use his bones. This they did, and shot him, and he died. This original bone arrow-head still remains in the possession of the brother of a friend of mine; when a quarrel arises it is enough to bring that out and point it at the disturbers of peace.

It is the human bone which gives the deadly quality to the arrow; but yet the bone must be made into an arrow with the use of certain incantations which add supernatural power, mana, as it is most commonly called. The maker sings or mutters this charm as he ties the bone to the foreshaft; and hence I have been told that the supernatural power is put in where the bone joins the foreshaft. The knowledge of the incantation is confined to few; but still if a man should, like that young man at Oba, make his arrows from the bones of some one he knew, and call on the ghost, as he would be sure to do, in binding on the head, no doubt his arrows would be effective.

The poison is an addition to the power of the bone; the magical efficacy of the poison is added to the supernatural power residing in a dead man's bone. The native did not much consider, if at all, the natural power to hurt of either bone or poison. A fine point of bone breaking off deep in a wound must be most dangerous; pungent and burning juices smeared on the arrow-head may well inflame a wound. It was not, however, to natural effects that the native looked at all. A dead man's bone made the wound, the power of the ghost was brought by incantation to the arrow, therefore the wounded man would die. Euphorbia juice is hot and burning; it is smeared on the bone with an incantation which calls in the power of a dead man's ghost; when the wound is given the ghost will make it inflame.

The cure of the wounded man is conducted on the same principle. If the arrow-head, or a part of it, can be recovered, it is kept in a damp place or cool leaves; the inflammation of the wound is little, or subsides. Shells are kept rattling over the house where the wounded man lies to keep off the hostile ghost. In the same way the enemy who has inflicted the wound has by no means done all that he can do. He and his friends will drink hot and burning juices, and chew irritating leaves; pungent and bitter herbs will be burnt to make an irritating smoke, and will be tied upon the bow that sent the arrow; the arrow-head, if recovered, will be put into the fire. The bow will be kept near the fire, its string kept taut, and occasionally pulled, to bring on tension of the nerves and the spasms of tetanus.

I will now describe the preparation of the poisoned arrows as it has been described to me, for I have never seen the thing done. Here is an account of it written by a native of Maewo Aurora, in the New Hebrides:—"When they have dug up a dead man's bone they break it into splinters and cut it properly into shape, and sit down and rub it on a stone of brain coral with water. After that it is fixed into a bit of tree-fern wood; everyone cannot do that, it is some one who knows. "When that is done, the thick juice of the no-to (excævaria agallocha) is put upon it Then it is put in a cool place on the side wall of a public hall, and no fire is made there so that the cold may strike upon it and it may turn like mould. Then they dig up the root of a creeper they call loko, and come back and take off the bark and scrape the inner fibre into a leaf; and that, wrapped in another leaf, is put upon the fire. When it is cooked, this is wrapped in the web from the spathe of a cocoanut, and squeezed into a leaf of the nettle tree. Then, with a piece of stick, they smear it on the point of bone to help the toto. After this it is put again in a cool place, and swells up in lumps, which as it dries become smooth again. Then it is fastened to the reed, and bound round with a fine string. After that they take a green earth, which is only found in one spot, and paint it over. When it has been painted they take it to the beach and dip it into the sea-water till it becomes hard: then the toto is finished."

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