5. The Head tabooed
Hair, Sacred, Child, Spirit, Touched, Heads
MANY peoples regard the head as peculiarly sacred; the special sanctity attributed to it is sometimes explained by a belief that it contains a spirit which is very sensitive to injury or disrespect. Thus the Yorubas hold that every man has three spiritual inmates, of whom the first, called Olori, dwells in the head and is the man’s protector, guardian, and guide. Offerings are made to this spirit, chiefly of fowls, and some of the blood mixed with palmoil is rubbed on the forehead. The Karens suppose that a being called the tso resides in the upper part of the head, and while it retains its seat no harm can befall the person from the efforts of the seven Kelahs, or personified passions. “But if the tso becomes heedless or weak certain evil to the person is the result. Hence the head is carefully attended to, and all possible pains are taken to provide such dress and attire as will be pleasing to the tso.” The Siamese think that a spirit called khuan or kwun dwells in the human head, of which it is the guardian spirit. The spirit must be carefully protected from injury of every kind; hence the act of shaving or cutting the hair is accompanied with many ceremonies. The kwun is very sensitive on points of honour, and would feel mortally insulted if the head in which he resides were touched by the hand of a stranger. The Cambodians esteem it a grave offence to touch a man’s head; some of them will not enter a place where anything whatever is suspended over their heads; and the meanest Cambodian would never consent to live under an inhabited room. Hence the houses are built of one story only; and even the Government respects the prejudice by never placing a prisoner in the stocks under the floor of a house, though the houses are raised high above the ground. The same superstition exists amongst the Malays; for an early traveller reports that in Java people “wear nothing on their heads, and say that nothing must be on their heads … and if any person were to put his hand upon their head they would kill him; and they do not build houses with storeys, in order that they may not walk over each other’s heads.”
The same superstition as to the head is found in full force throughout Polynesia. Thus of Gattanewa, a Marquesan chief, it is said that “to touch the top of his head, or anything which had been on his head, was sacrilege. To pass over his head was an indignity never to be forgotten.” The son of a Marquesan high priest has been seen to roll on the ground in an agony of rage and despair, begging for death, because some one had desecrated his head and deprived him of his divinity by sprinkling a few drops of water on his hair. But it was not the Marquesan chiefs only whose heads were sacred. The head of every Marquesan was taboo, and might neither be touched nor stepped over by another; even a father might not step over the head of his sleeping child; women were forbidden to carry or touch anything that had been in contact with, or had merely hung over, the head of their husband or father. No one was allowed to be over the head of the king of Tonga. In Tahiti any one who stood over the king or queen, or passed his hand over their heads, might be put to death. Until certain rites were performed over it, a Tahitian infant was especially taboo; whatever touched the child’s head, while it was in this state, became sacred and was deposited in a consecrated place railed in for the purpose at the child’s house. If a branch of a tree touched the child’s head, the tree was cut down; and if in its fall it injured another tree so as to penetrate the bark, that tree also was cut down as unclean and unfit for use. After the rites were performed these special taboos ceased; but the head of a Tahitian was always sacred, he never carried anything on it, and to touch it was an offence. So sacred was the head of a Maori chief that “if he only touched it with his fingers, he was obliged immediately to apply them to his nose, and snuff up the sanctity which they had acquired by the touch, and thus restore it to the part from whence it was taken.” On account of the sacredness of his head a Maori chief “could not blow the fire with his mouth, for the breath being sacred, communicated his sanctity to it, and a brand might be taken by a slave, or a man of another tribe, or the fire might be used for other purposes, such as cooking, and so cause his death.”
6. Hair tabooed
WHEN the head was considered so sacred that it might not even be touched without grave offence, it is obvious that the cutting of the hair must have been a delicate and difficult operation. The difficulties and dangers which, on the primitive view, beset the operation are of two kinds. There is first the danger of disturbing the spirit of the head, which may be injured in the process and may revenge itself upon the person who molests him. Secondly, there is the difficulty of disposing of the shorn locks. For the savage believes that the sympathetic connexion which exists between himself and every part of his body continues to exist even after the physical connexion has been broken, and that therefore he will suffer from any harm that may befall the several parts of his body, such as the clippings of his hair or the parings of his nails. Accordingly he takes care that these severed portions of himself shall not be left in places where they might either be exposed to accidental injury or fall into the hands of malicious persons who might work magic on them to his detriment or death. Such dangers are common to all, but sacred persons have more to fear from them than ordinary people, so the precautions taken by them are proportionately stringent. The simplest way of evading the peril is not to cut the hair at all; and this is the expedient adopted where the risk is thought to be more than usually great. The Frankish kings were never allowed to crop their hair; from their childhood upwards they had to keep it unshorn. To poll the long locks that floated on their shoulders would have been to renounce their right to the throne. When the wicked brothers Clotaire and Childebert coveted the kingdom of their dead brother Clodomir, they inveigled into their power their little nephews, the two sons of Clodomir; and having done so, they sent a messenger bearing scissors and a naked sword to the children’s grandmother, Queen Clotilde, at Paris. The envoy showed the scissors and the sword to Clotilde, and bade her choose whether the children should be shorn and live or remain unshorn and die. The proud queen replied that if her grandchildren were not to come to the throne she would rather see them dead than shorn. And murdered they were by their ruthless uncle Clotaire with his own hand. The king of Ponape, one of the Caroline Islands, must wear his hair long, and so must his grandees. Among the Hos, a negro tribe of West Africa, “there are priests on whose head no razor may come during the whole of their lives. The god who dwells in the man forbids the cutting of his hair on pain of death. If the hair is at last too long, the owner must pray to his god to allow him at least to clip the tips of it. The hair is in fact conceived as the seat and lodging-place of his god, so that were it shorn the god would lose his abode in the priest.” The members of a Masai clan, who are believed to possess the art of making rain, may not pluck out their beards, because the loss of their beards would, it is supposed, entail the loss of their rain-making powers. The head chief and the sorcerers of the Masai observe the same rule for a like reason: they think that were they to pull out their beards, their supernatural gifts would desert them.
Again, men who have taken a vow of vengeance sometimes keep their hair unshorn till they have fulfilled their vow. Thus of the Marquesans we are told that “occasionally they have their head entirely shaved, except one lock on the crown, which is worn loose or put up in a knot. But the latter mode of wearing the hair is only adopted by them when they have a solemn vow, as to revenge the death of some near relation, etc. In such case the lock is never cut off until they have fulfilled their promise.” A similar custom was sometimes observed by the ancient Germans; among the Chatti the young warriors never clipped their hair or their beard till they had slain an enemy. Among the Toradjas, when a child’s hair is cut to rid it of vermin, some locks are allowed to remain on the crown of the head as a refuge for one of the child’s souls. Otherwise the soul would have no place in which to settle, and the child would sicken. The Karo-Bataks are much afraid of frightening away the soul of a child; hence when they cut its hair, they always leave a patch unshorn, to which the soul can retreat before the shears. Usually this lock remains unshorn all through life, or at least up till manhood.
|Written By Sir James George Frazer|
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