1862 in Samoa: Seemann reported ‘Every town god had a specific name’ and dwelled in a family of a bird

30jul_bird-lev-zosterops2In Samoa Gods took up their abodes generally in birds; and the whole family of the bird which their god had selected was held sacred by the towns. The image – of white-eyes (a family of small, insectivorous, warbler-like birds) – in Fiji – (possibly Bridled White-eye Zosterops conspicillatu). In Rota there live Bridled White-eye Zosterops rotensis and in Samoa, White-eye Zosterops samoensis. The image is from the 1840 US Exploring Expedition.

The name of the God: Every town god had a specific name, and his protection was always directly importuned by the inhabitants before undertaking any public object.

One god was called ” Aitu-o-le-Lagi ” ( Langi), the God of the Heavens ;

another, ” Tiu Pu- lotu,” the King of Pulotu (the Samoan Elysium); another,

” Le Vae-vavc” (the Swift-footed.)

These gods took up their abodes generally in birds ; and the whole family of the bird which their god had selected was held sacred by the town. If at any time one of these birds were found dead, the mourning of the people was great ; they wept over it, and cut their heads with stones. Then, with solemn ceremony and repeated lamentations, the dead bird was tenderly wrapped in a mat or a siapo (tapa), and publicly buried. The professed object of all this was to propitiate the god whose visible incarnation had thus died, and so to prevent his abandonment of the town, or the infliction of some dire evil which the neglect would inevitably incur’.

Seemann, Berthold, 1825-1871. Viti : an account of a government mission to the Vitian or Fijian islands in the years 1860-61 / by Berthold Seeman. (Cambridge : Macmillan, 1862)

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