Read CHAPTER VII - SIGNIFICANCE OF NATIVE RITES of The Wonder Island Boys: Treasures of the Island , free online book, by Roger Thompson Finlay, on ReadCentral.com.

As heretofore stated, there had been no morning meal, and the dancing must have been a trying task, under those conditions.

“It would have been much better if we had something to eat before this part of the ceremony.  I am so hungry I could eat anything,” remarked George, as they neared the village.

“The natives do not think so.  That is part of the ceremony.  It must be carried out before a meal is taken,” answered John, “or it will not have the proper effect.”

Uraso overheard the remark, and he added:  “The Chief said they had never known such a scene as took place to-day, and that it was not a part of the regular ceremony to have the dancing at that time, but that the wonderful music seemed to win every one.”

“I heard him say it was the first time in years that he had danced.  How he enjoyed it,” remarked Muro.  “I admit that it was the best dance I had since the boys got back.  That was a big time at Unity when you returned.”

“I think,” said Harry, “that was the queerest performance I ever heard of.  What a foolish thing to cut a flower from the top of a tree, and go through all that ceremony, using Old Fantastic with his flourishing spear to conduct the ridiculous rites.”

“Do you think it is any more foolish than many things which civilized people do?” asked John.

Harry mused a while, and then continued:  “Probably not, when I think of it, but with us the ceremonies really mean something; at least, it seems to me that they are intended to.”

“Yes, and that is generally so with the native rites.  Sometimes the origin is rather obscure, but everything of this character comes from something in the past, of which it is symbolic.  Spencer, in his work on ‘Evolutions of Ceremonial Forms of Government,’ recites a curious instance of this, where he shows that the habit of stroking the mustache is a survival of scalping.”

The boys laughed.  “That must be pretty well far-fetched,” responded George.

“Do you think so?” answered John.  “He reasons it in this way.  It was, formerly the custom, among most savage tribes, to take the hair of victims, to be used as personal adornment, or to indicate the valor of the warrior.  Among some tribes in the Philippines and also in the interior of Africa, the custom is to take the head of an enemy.”

“Do you mean the Head hunters?”

“Yes; you have probably heard a great deal about them since we acquired the Philippines.  When men began to get a little higher in the scale of civilization, the victor required some token of submission from the conquered, so the latter plucked a wisp of hair from his head and presented it to indicate defeat.  During the seventeenth century it was the rule of the Spanish Court that all inferiors, in addressing superiors, must stroke the mustache, and this came from the old idea of the hair token.”

“Do you suppose that the taking of the flower has any particular significance?”

“Most assuredly!  There must be a flower before there can be fruit.  This is the beginning of the season or the beginning of the year, to these people, and the largest-flower, at the top of the greatest tree is the one taken while it is at full bloom, and incinerated.”

“Is that what they did in that bowl-shaped vessel?”

“Yes, and I imagine they will use the ashes in some part of their rites.”

“Did you ever know of other tribes that do anything like that?”

“Yes; very many; in fact most savage tribes have some sort of rites which they scrupulously follow out as a religious duty.  Ancient history records many such practices in detail.  Thus, the Druids, a peculiar class, or order of priests, which existed among the Celtic races, attributed a sacred or mystic character to plants, and venerated the oak tree.”

“I have read that they offered up human sacrifices,” said Harry.

“Yes; I was coming to that.  But do you know that they regarded the mistletoe as an antidote for all poisons and a cure for all diseases?  At certain seasons in the year it would be gathered, and with the greatest ceremonies one of the priests would ascend the tree on which it was found, and cut it off with a golden knife.”

“But is the mistletoe found on the Oak?”

“Yes; but it grows more frequently on the Apple tree.  The seeds are distributed by birds, and owing to the fact that it is found so infrequently on the oak, the Druids considered it peculiarly sacred on that account.”

The delicious odor of the roasted food, which met the people on their return, was a compensation for the lack of the morning breakfast.  The Chief had invited John, Uraso, Muro, the two boys, and Stut, to accompany him to his home.

There in the open court, if it might so be called, were the viands in the greatest profusion.  They were surprised to see that at each place was a couch, and before every visitor was laid a bountiful supply of food.  In all their wanderings George and Harry never ate with a greater relish than on the present occasion.

The meal the previous day, was not at all comparable to this.  It would have vied with many a meal set before our civilized gastronomies.  The table implements, it is true, were not found in profusion, but the wooden forks, or prongs were good substitutes for the more refined articles, and for plates hollowed bark sections were found serviceable.

The Sarsaparilla drink was the most favored liquid.  “I wish we had some ice for it,” suggested Harry.  “It will be a good thing to bring over some ice for the Chief.  I think he would enjoy it.”

“By the way, Harry, did you see what they did with the Korinos?”

“No.”

“Shut them up in that dark hole back of the house.”

“I wonder if they have given them anything to eat?”

“Oh, no!” said Muro.  “They are to be sacrificed this afternoon, and it wouldn’t do to feed them.”

“Poor fellows!” remarked George, as he gazed vacantly before him, lost in contemplation.

“Well, they have been found out, and will now be dealt with in accordance with their law.”

“Was that tall fellow one of them?”

“Yes; he is the principal chief of the Korinos.  Do you know they tried to escape last night?” exclaimed Uraso.

“Is that so?  Where could they go in safety on this island?”

“To their caves, of course,” remarked Harry.

“Yes,” added Uraso, “the Chief has no authority under ground.”

The people gorged; so did the Chief.  The meal was a course dinner, at least so far as the time it took to get through with all the dishes, and the boys smiled as they saw the Chief slowly sink down, and pass off into oblivion.

John sat there, gazing on him, and slowly nodding his head at the spectacle.  He did not evince disgust, and when George spoke to him about this peculiar savage trait, he remarked:  “Is he any worse than many people in our own country, who do the same thing?  This is not gluttony with the savage; he knows no better.  This is one of the great enjoyments of life which the savage knows.  Teach him something better and he will respond.”

“When you stop to think of it,” replied George, “I really don’t see why it is such an awful thing to eat until you are stuffed to sleepiness?”

“The real argument against it is on sanitary grounds,” suggested John.  “We regard gluttony as bad because it is a selfish exhibition of taste and habits, and in this I quite agree; but among savages the custom of regularity in habits is not one of their understood laws.  I have known North American Indians who could each devour from six to eight pounds of beef, and drink two quarts of coffee at one sitting.  But those men would not eat another meal for three days.”

During the meal hour there was a continual round of merriment, and every one was enjoying himself to the fullest extent.  But now the hum of voices ended.  The boys were surprised.

“They are taking their noon-day siestas,” said John, laughing.

The boys arose and passed out.  It was true, indeed.  The men, and women too, were taking naps everywhere, the grotesque figures lying where they had eaten their food.

They made a tour.  No one appeared to take any notice of them, as they passed through the open places between the huts, because all of the food was eaten in the open, and not within the huts.  The village looked like one immense picnic ground.

As they were returning toward the Chief’s house they caught sight of the hut in which the Korinos were confined.  To their astonishment two of them were crawling out the enclosure, and the leader was particularly noticeable, peering from the side of the hut.

“Shall we give the alarm?” asked Harry.

“No, no!  See John; he will know what to do.”

As they passed the hut the guards lay in blissful sleep, and seeing this the boys rushed in and excitedly told John of the jail delivery and the advisability of giving the alarm.

He held up his hand, in caution, as he smiled at the announcement.  “Do you want the poor fellows to be sacrificed?”

“By no means.”

“Then let them go.  Possibly the Chief may find some way to get them back.”

Two hours later the village took on another aspect.  It was now about five o’clock in the afternoon, but in the meantime boy-like they had investigated every part of the surrounding scenery, being particularly interested in the monkeys which were seen in the trees everywhere.

The most amusing to the boys was a small animal that had a “beard all around his face,” as George expressed it.  It was small, hardly exceeding a foot in height, a sort of olive-gray color, and a round tail twice the length of the body.

“I think I know what you have reference to,” suggested John, when appealed to.  “It is the Jacchus, and is related to the Marmozets and the Tamarins.  They are very active, like squirrels, and live on nuts, seeds, roots and fruit.”

The Chief awakened as the boys entered, and within the next half hour was ready for the continuance of the festival.

“I should like to know what the next thing is on the programme?  This is a little inconvenient, not knowing just what is going to take place,” was George’s observation.

“John will know if any one does, but I suppose he is too busy now with his Royal Highness,” answered Harry with a laugh.

But the boys were not kept long in suspense.  The natives understood, as it appeared, for they were soon congregated around the Palace, and now for the first time the boys noticed a large, imposing-looking native, who carried an immense knotted club.  To satisfy the reader’s curiosity, it may be well to describe him.  He wore a loin cloth, made of the skins of the small animals which were found all over the island, and, to all appearances, at least a half dozen different kinds of pelts were used to make up the garment, the ends, or corners of which hung down in points to form a fringe.

At his ankles were two huge bands, made of cloth, and plentifully decorated with spangles of shells, and rows of nuts, strung on cords, like beads.  Around his neck and trailing down the back was a collar of interwoven leaves, very artistically arranged, if judged from the viewpoint of savage decorations.

The head dress was unique, being made up of a band of coarsely-woven cloth, literally covered with large fish scales, and a pyramidal structure was fastened to this band, and extended up beyond the crown for a foot, or more.  At its apex was a mass of streamers, which fluttered around as the breeze floated by.

The weapon was fully five feet long, the head of the club, for such it was, terminated in a gnarled knot, bristling with small points.  This the boys recognized to be somewhat similar to the wicked thing that was carried by the Korino when he sought to slay Tarra.

The Chief was also differently attired.  He was literally covered with clothing, the different parts being dyed with various colors without any regard to harmony, or design.  Like all the others he wore no foot covering, but had bare feet.

The crown was also a cloth band, but this was surrounded by vertically-arranged thorns, huge things that showed their bristling points, and wound, or rather braided around them, were garlands of human hair, of different hues.

The Royal wand was an immense black staff, fully two inches thick, and six feet long, one end of which was pointed, the other end terminating within a large calabash.  This wand he held with the pointed end upward.

When he appeared at the doorway the people fell down on their faces, and after a few words all arose, and the man with the club turned toward the hut where the Korinos were confined.  Four of the largest warriors accompanied him, while the people looked on in expectancy.

“The fun will now begin,” whispered Harry, and it surely did.  The club bearer returned with a troubled look, and addressed the Chief.

The people soon learned of what had taken place, and the commotion was evident.  They speedily lost all semblance of order, and began to run to and fro.  The scowl on the face of the Chief was terrible, nor did he in the least attempt to conceal his anger.

With a vehemence that caused the crowd to shiver, he gave a command, and in a moment three men were brought forward, almost in a state of collapse with terror written in their countenances.  They were the unfortunate guards, as the boys quickly saw.

They were unable to answer the indictment of the Chief, because the escape had been as much of a surprise to them as to the Chief.  Uraso and Muro were quick to recognize the situation, and they informed John of the progress of the conversation.

The negligent guards had been condemned to take the places of the Korinos, as sacrifices.  The rites demanded some victims, and the boys now saw that the escape of the Korinos would not avoid the carrying out of the bloody rites.

The new, victims-to-be were firmly bound, and placed in the center of the crowd, and, strangely enough, it was now noticed that the people expressed the same degree of hatred to the poor unfortunates that they had manifested toward the Korinos an hour before.

The Chief was now at the head of the procession, which, instead of going to the north, passed alongside the slight elevation that led north of the grove, and toward the high elevation which the boys had noticed the day before.

The march was but a short one, and when the upper level was reached the boys were astounded to see that beyond, and next to the hill, on the north, was an open space, the floor of which was of solid rock.  This space covered nearly an acre, and near the center was a flat rocky table, fully ten feet in diameter and about four feet high, with a huge boulder in the center of the table.

The Chief and the victims marched directly to the stone table, the executioner tramping with a measured tread immediately ahead of the victims.  The people did not go near the rocky shelf, but circled about at a respectful distance.