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Home > Part 3
On Poisoned Arrows in Melanesia
Part 3 of 4

In the neighbouring island of Whitsuntide they finish with stuff found on rocks on the shore, and thought to be the dung of crabs, which is thought to have much magic power.

In Mota, in the Banks' Islands, the poison is made from the root of a climbing plant, loki, cooked over the fire with the root of pandanus. This mixture is black and thick, and is smeared on the points of human bone, which are put in the sun to dry, and then kept five days indoors wrapped up, when the stuff turns white. Another poison which causes more inflammation and acts more quickly is got from the toi, an euphorbia.

At Santa Cruz the foreshaft is of palm wood, carved with shark's tooth or shell. The bone head is covered with ashes and with the preparation which gives supernatural power. The foreshaft is bound at intervals with a string of fibre, which is covered with the same substance which covers the bone point. I feel sure that this binding is done with incantations which fasten supernatural qualities on the arrow.

The common result of a wound with these arrows is certainly tetanus, which is what is expected. Even if, however, the loki be, as has been supposed, some kind of strychnine, that is not the cause of the disease. After the lamented death of Commodore Goodenough, Dr. Messer, R.N., clearly established, I believe, the harmlessness, or comparative harmlessness, of the so-called poison on the arrows. For my own part, I have only desired to set forth the native view of the matter, which is of course quite independent of scientific research.

It may be asked how the very common belief has arisen that these arrows were poisoned with putrefying human flesh. I think that it arose when natives answered "dead man" to the early traders' inquiries. The native meant that the bone was human, and the deadly power of the weapon derived from ghosts. The European thinking of poison, not of magic, supposed that the poison was from a corpse.

In conclusion, let me call attention to the beautiful and elaborate ornamentation of the shaft from the Banks' Islands. This was executed with obsidian in Santa Maria, where certain men used in former days to make their livelihood by their art. This shaft adds some illustration to Mr. Balfour's paper read in January, 1888.

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