Art. LXVI.—Myths of Observation.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 19th September, 1894.]
Those who have written on the transmission of the Hebrew Scriptures tell us concerning the sacred books that the utmost jealousy was observed in regard to a single “jot or tittle” being omitted or added; that any such departure from faithfulness in transcription was sufficient to bring about the destruction of the imperfect copy. There are some who deny the possibility of any great accuracy in regard to tradition, they apparently having imbibed the notion that unwritten story, passed from one to another, must necessarily have lost or gained much in personal transfer. This may to some extent be an idea based on insufficient evidence, and arising from too close arguing on lines of analogy drawn from individual experience. It is made certain by the legends collected at the present day all over the world that tradition may be orally transmitted, if not with the word-accuracy which renders the Jewish record so valuable, still with a verisimilitude and faithfulness of description which would make many of our literary “eye-witness” stories seem very misleading and doubtful in comparison. For hundreds of years, from priest to disciple, from Brahmin to Brahmin's son, has the Rig-Veda been banded down in India side by side with the written text, but with the oral version deemed more sacred and kept more jealously than the script itself. So has the Kalevala been transmitted for centuries, from old days before the Finns turned from heathendom, and the great epic has only been collected and pieced together during this generation.
The Polynesians, who have been separated and scattered so long that their language (which is at base but one) has
differentiated in the island-groups until the New-Zealander cannot understand the Tongan, nor the Samoan the Tahitian, —whose customs, religions, tattooing, all have become distinct, —still hand down the same legends almost word for word; unchanged by the passing of many centuries. These stories have in most cases been preserved by religious influences, the traditions relating mainly to gods and heroes round whom was wrapped much of awe and mystery. In New Zealand the priestly incantations and legends were perpetuated with a very lively sense of the deadly consequences of error and the fear of offending celestial persons whose resentment would be aroused by a careless slip or want of reverential attention. Years were spent in arduous training and in discipleship to learned teachers, and no innovation was possible in the authorized version recited in the presence of fiercely-critical elders. This short preamble may not be considered unnecessary as explaining why these legends are not to be looked on in the same light as mere tales of fiction invented at the present day to pass an idle hour. They are in many cases the heir-looms from an incalculably remote antiquity—a time, in my opinion, far antecedent to that covered by any historical period or literary record. Of course they are not all of equal value: some are corrupt, and others have been related by partially-uninstructed persons; but by the student of mythology and folklore points are to be perceived that tell of age and authenticity by subtle processes that the surface observer is not able to appreciate, just as to the eye of the naturalist important differences of allied species are apparent that the untrained by-stander would not only pass over, but might, with self-sufficiency, refuse to believe exist. They do exist, however, and in a similar manner intrinsic evidence of high antiquity is often presented to the trained student of mythology.
Concerning the deluge, I shall not in this paper dwell upon the many legends. They are to be found all over the world, and perhaps in no finer or more original manner than in the Polynesian hymns and traditions. To compare the allusions recorded by different ancient peoples would make a paper of exceeding length, and I trust that at some future time I shall be enabled to compile the different accounts, and show that they are of great (sometimes local) interest, even in regard to scientific points which are mere details of the stories. For the present I shall touch on a class of the traditions which seem to prove that, in some manner to us incomprehensible, the deluge of water was preceded or accompanied by another great catastrophe—namely, that of a terrible conflagration. The Hebrew account gives no hint of this, nor does the Chaldean, except perhaps by obscure references. It is only through the legendary statement of primitive peoples
widely separated that we acquire the idea that the memories of many scattered tribes have preserved the recollection of some terrible event in the far-off past, having a destructive fire for its source of terror, as it ravaged the inhabited lands. Hesiod tells us the story of the strife between Jove and Typhoeus, and describes the coming of the fiery spirit:—
“Beneath'his [Jove's] immortal feet vast Olympus trembled as the king arose and earth groaned beneath. And the heat from both caught the dark-coloured sea, both of the thunder and the lightning and fire from the monster. And all earth, heavens, and sea were boiling, and huge billows roared round the shores…. So, I wot, was earth melted in the glare of burning fire.”*
This tale, of course, might be thought to be a mere poetic fancy as to the conflict of the good and evil powers, but the references come with singular coincidence from far-distant places.
The legend of the British Druids records the double deluge of fire and water: “The profligacy of mankind had provoked the great Supreme to send a pestilential wind upon the earth…. At this time the patriarch, distinguished for his integrity, was shut up, together with his select company, in the enclosure with the strong door. Here the just ones were safe from injury. Presently a tempest of fire arose. It split the earth asunder to the great deep. The Lake Llion burst its bounds, and the waves of the sea lifted up themselves on high around the borders of Britain; the rain poured down from heaven, and the waters covered the earth.”†
Here we have a distinct account that the deluge of rain succeeded the tempest of fire. If we turn to the Norse mythology we find in the Voluspa, as it appears in the elder Edda, a description of the time when the conflict was taking place between Odin and Surt, just as we saw in the Greek the battle between Jove and Typhoeus.
Surt from the South comes
With flickering flame.
* * * *
Hlin's second grief,
When Odin goes
With the wolf to fight,
And the bright slayer
Of Beli with Surt.
* * * *
The sun darkens,
Earth in ocean sinks,
Fall from heaven
The bright stars.
[Footnote] * Theog., 841.
[Footnote] † “Mythology of the British Druids,” p. 226.
The younger Edda also in its version speaks of Heimdal's fight with Loki (a variant of the other tale), and says, “Thereupon Surt flings fire over the earth, and burns up all the world.” A man named Lifthraser and a woman named Life were preserved from the effects of the conflagration by being hidden in Hodmimer's hold, and “from these are the races descended.” In the dialogues of Plato§ we find that the Greek lawgiver Solon was told by the priest of Sais in Egypt, six hundred years before Christ, that the deluge of Deucalion and the earth being burnt up by the fall of Phaethon from the chariot of the sun related to actual events. He said,” This has the form of a myth, but really signifies a declination of the bodies moving around the earth and in the heavens, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth.” Let us turn from these European stories—Keltic, Greek, and Norse—to the narratives of simpler peoples. The Chinese have a triad of gods named Yu, Yih, and Tseih. The deluge was covering the whole earth, when its course was stayed by Yu opening up nine channels for the water, while Yih opened up the forests with fire. So in the Mahabharata, the great epic of India, there is a description of Aurva the Rishi, who produced from his thigh a devouring fire, which cried out with a loud voice, “I am hungry; let me consume the world.” The various regions were soon in flames, when Brahma interfered to save his creation, and gave Aurva an abode under the ocean, where he dwells as the submarine fire.‖ If now we leave Europe and Asia, and journey to South America, again the legend appears. The Tupi Indians of Brazil tell us the following:” Monau, without beginning or end, author of all that is, seeing the ingratitude of men, and their contempt of him who had made them joyous, withdrew from them, and sent upon them tata, the divine fire, which burned all that was upon the surface of the earth. He swept about the fire in such a way that in places he raised mountains and in others dug valleys. Of all men alone, Irin Magé was saved, whom
[Footnote] * Ygdrasil, the life-tree.
[Footnote] † She is the Vala, who is seeing the vision.
[Footnote] ‡ “Edda Soemundar Hinns Frôda,” p. 10.
[Footnote] § Timaeus, xi., 517.
[Footnote] ‖ Dowson's “Hindoo Mythology.”
Monau carried into the heaven. He, seeing all things destroyed, spoke thus to Monau: ‘Wilt thou also destroy the heavens and their garniture? Alas! henceforth where will be our home? Why should I live, since there is none other of my kind?' Then Monau was so filled with pity that he poured a deluging rain upon the earth, which quenched the fire, and flowed on all sides, forming the ocean, which we call parana, the great water.”* If we travel from Brazil thousands of miles north to the tribes of British Columbia, the Tacullies, they inform us that when the earth had been made, and “became afterwards peopled in every part, it remained until a fierce fire of several days' duration swept over it, destroying all life with two exceptions. One man and one woman hid themselves in a deep cave in the heart of a mountain, and from these two the world has since been re-peopled.”† The natives in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe ascribe its origin to a great natural convulsion. There was a time, they say, when their tribe possessed the whole earth, and were strong, numerous, and rich; but a day came when a people rose up stronger than they, and defeated and enslaved them.” Afterwards the Great Spirit sent an immense wave across the continent from the sea, and this wave engulfed both the oppressors and the oppressed, all but a very small remnant, Then the taskmasters made the remaining people raise up a great temple so that they of the ruling caste should have a refuge in case of another flood…. Half a moon had not elapsed, however, before the earth was again troubled, this time with strong convulsions and thunderings, upon which the masters took refuge in their great tower, closing the people out. The poor slaves fled to the Humboldt River, and, getting into canoes, paddled for life from the awful sight behind them, for the land was tossing like a troubled sea, and casting up fire, smoke, and ashes. The flames went up to the very heavens, and melted many stars, so that they rained down in molten metal on the earth, forming the ore that white men seek.”‡ The Indians of Utah and California have legends of a time when the sun-god came too near the earth, and scorched the people with his fierce heat. The god Tawats determined to deliver humanity from this great trouble, so he came to” the brink of the earth, and there watched long and patiently, till at last, the sun-god coming out, he shot an arrow at his face. The fierce heat consumed the arrow ere it had finished its intended course; then another arrow was sped, but that also was consumed; and another, and still another,
[Footnote] * Brinton's” Myths of the New World,” p. 227.
[Footnote] † Bancroft's” Native Races,” vol. iii., p. 98.
[Footnote] ‡ Bancroft, vol. iii., p. 89.
till only one remained in his quiver: but this was the magical arrow that had never failed its mark. Tawats, holding it in his hands, lifted the barb to his eye and baptised it in a divine tear. Then the arrow sped and struck the sun-god full in the face, and the sun was shivered into a thousand fragments, which fell to the earth, causing a general conflagration. [Here perhaps I may be allowed to call attention to the exquisite beauty of this poetical idea in the mind of a savage—the arrow of deliverance was powerless till touched with the tear of divine pity.] Then Tawats, the hare-god, fled before the destruction he had wrought, and as he fled the burning earth consumed his feet, consumed his body, consumed his hands, and his arms. All were consumed but the head alone, which bowled across valleys and over mountains, fleeing destruction from the burning earth, until at last, swollen with heat, the eyes of the god burst, and the tears gushed forth in a flood which spread over the earth and extinguished the fire.”* In this story we have again the deluge of waters succeeding the great fire and extinguishing it. The Yurucares of the Bolivian Cordilleras and the Mbocobi of Paraguay all attribute the destruction of the world to a great conflagration which swept over the earth, consuming everything living except a few who took refuge in a deep cave.†
These tales, with all their wonderful series of coincidences, would have little except general interest for us were it not for the fact that the “fire and water” legends of disaster are repeated very clearly in New Zealand and in the islands of Polynesia. The most purely mythical versions are connected with the great hero Maui, and his feats for the benefit of mankind. He was desirous of obtaining the boon of fire for the use of the human race, so he went to his divine ancestress, the goddess of fire, Mahuika, to procure it.‡ It is unnecessary to repeat the whole of the tradition, which can be found in Grey's “Polynesian Mythology,” White's “Ancient History of the Maori,” and several other books,§ but the end of the legend deserves special notice. After Maui had obtained by artifice all the fire in the possession of the goddess, she became enraged and pursued him. “Then out she pulled the one toe-nail that she had left, and it too became fire, and as she dashed it down on the ground the whole place caught fire. And Maui ran off and made a rush to escape, but the fire followed hard
[Footnote] * “Popular Science Monthly,” October, 1879, p. 799.
[Footnote] † Brinton's “Myths of the New World,” p. 217.
[Footnote] ‡ The Moriori version of this name—-namely, “Mauhika”—seems more correct, as it suggests an etymology: mau, enduring; hika, to kindle fire by friction.
[Footnote] § The Polynesian fire-getting legends are to be found compared in Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xx., p. 369.
after him, close behind him; so he changed himself into a fleet-winged eagle, and flew with rapid flight, but the fire pursued and almost caught him as he flew. Then the eagle dashed down into a pool of water; but when he got into the water he found that almost boiling. The forests just then caught fire, so that he could not alight anywhere, and the earth and the sea both caught fire too, and Maui was very near perishing in the flames. Then he called on his ancestors Tawhiri-ma-tea and Whaitiri-matakataka to send down an abundant supply of water, and he cried aloud, ‘Oh, let water be given to me to quench this fire that pursues after me,’ and lo, there appeared squalls and gales, and Tawhiri-ma-tea sent heavy lasting rain, and the fire was quenched; and before Mahuika could reach her place of shelter she almost perished in the rain, and her shrieks and screams became as loud as those of Maui had been when he was pursued by the fire: thus Maui ended this proceeding. So was extinguished the fire of Mahuika, the goddess of fire.”* Here we have plainly the story of the earth being swept by fire and the forests consumed, followed by a deluge of water which. extinguished the flames. This is the North Island legend; but the South Island priests of the Ngaitahu say, when speaking of the deluge, that at the same time was “the fire of destruction.” † Colenso gathered, half a century ago, information from old chiefs, one of whom (from the East Coast, North Island) said, “Anciently the land was burnt up by the fire of Tamatea,” when all things perished. Another, a chief of the Ngatiporou, of the East Cape, said that “all the moas perished in the fire of Tamatea.” ‡ Now, as we know that the moa (if by “moa” is meant the Dinoris, which I doubt) did not perish by fire, the inference is that this “fire of Tamatea” was probably a legend brought with them from afar, and localized. I have just recovered an interesting legend not yet published. It is as follows:” The descendants of Tarangata were the parents of Fire. He conceived the idea that he was destined to become the conqueror of the world. He protruded his tongue to lick up Water, thinking he could consume it all. Then came forth the great Wave to do battle with him. The one shot forth his tongue, the other did the same on his part. Aha! The name of the battle was Kaukau-a-wai. Then, then indeed was the power of Water exhibited. Aha! This was the defeat of Fire. It flew; it retreated; it was conquered
[Footnote] * Grey's “Polynesian Mythology,” p. 30, ed. 1885.
[Footnote] † White's “Ancient History of the Maori,” vol. i., p. 181.
[Footnote] ‡ See Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xii., p. 81. The Tamatea mentioned is, however, almost certainly not the Tamatea of the tribe Ngatikahungunu, but probably the ancient deity mentioned by Wohlers in Trans., vol. vii., p. 6.
by Water. Before all was over, however, everything on earth had melted.” The story of Maui having procured fire from celestial sources, and in doing so setting the world in flames, is the most widely distributed of all the Polynesian legends. The Mangaian (Cook Islands) version says that Maui resolved to be revenged for his trouble by setting fire to his fallen adversary's abode. In a short time all the nether world was in flames, which consumed the fire-god and all he possessed. Even the rocks cracked and split with the heat: hence the ancient saying, “The rocks at Orovaru are burning,” equivalent to saying, “The foundations of the earth are on fire.”* In Hawaii (Sandwich Islands) was preserved a distinct tradition that, on account of the wickedness of the people then living, the god Tane destroyed the world by fire, and afterwards organized it as it is now, the first man of the new race being called Wela-ahi-lani (Burning fire of heaven). † They have also a distinct tradition of the watery deluge.
Before leaving Polynesia, we may also notice that the Maoris speak of the deluge as “the overturning of the world.” So the Ngaitahu relate that “Puta was the cause of the land being turned upside down,”‡ and the flood spoken of in the legend of Tawhaki, when the earth was overwhelmed with the waters, is called “the overturning by Mataaho.”§ Now, the Greenlanders have the same expression as this. They are very much afraid of certain spirits called Inguersoit, who are supposed to be the souls of those people that died when “the world was turned upside down” in the days of the deluge. They are thought to have become flames of fire, and to have found shelter in the clefts of the rocks.‖
Having thus collected a certain number of facts as material for reasoning upon, let us consider if they contain any material worthy of study. Of course, when I speak of facts I do not allude to the substance of the stories as being facts, but to the convergence of certain lines of tradition. The first point to consider is the truthfulness of the idea contained in the old legends. Are they sheer, profitless lies, or are they merely veils for the truth? That they are lies, in the sense of being made with the intention to deceive, I do not think possible. The field for lying is so vast and originality so rare that I do not think it reasonable to suppose that pure false-
[Footnote] * “Myths and Songs of the South Pacific,” by the Rev. W. Wyatt Gill, LL.D., p. 56.
[Footnote] † Fornander's “The Polynesian Race,” vol. i., 63.
[Footnote] ‡ White's” Ancient History of the Maori,” i., 181.
[Footnote] § In Grey's “Polynesian Mythology” (edition 1885) this is translated “the overwhelming of the Mataaho.” It is a mere clerical error for “overturning,” as can be seen by reference to the Maori text, p. 47.
[Footnote] ‖ Crantz, vol. i., p. 208.
hoods with identical incidents would have sprung up in a hundred different places, and continue to agree with each other in their repetitions over vast spaces of time. The next hypothesis is that they are religious parables. It will be found that in almost all tales of the great ancient catastrophe, whether of fire or water, the notion of its having been a punishment for human sin is very prominent. Not only in the Biblical account, but in heathen traditions, it is said that men grew evil. Thus, in the Teutonic legend, that of the Scandinavian Voluspa which I before quoted, we find that before the earth was burned, and before its re-emergence from the waters, the time was one of brothers fighting against each other, cruelty and luxury reigning. “The age of axes, the age of lances, in which bucklers are cleft,… the age of ‘north winds,’ the age of fierce beasts, succeeds before the world falls to pieces…. Not one dreams of sparing his neighbour.” * The Druid tells us that it was “the profligacy of man” that provoked the deluge and the conflagration. The Maori says that before the deluge “Man had become very numerous on the earth. Evil prevailed everywhere.” The Hawaiian relates that the earth was destroyed by fire on account of the evil conduct of its inhabitants. The Brazilian describes “the ingratitude of men and their contempt for him who had made them.” The tale is everywhere the same: a few are hidden from the fire in a great cave, or escape in a canoe from the overwhelming flood, to become the parents of a new race. If we grant that the stories had a religious origin, that the flood and fire were believed to be sent as punishments for sin, we may then ask, In what way was the tradition transmitted? Was it originally a legend handed down through many centuries to the descendants of those who really experienced the calamity in a certain locality? If so, it must be of stupendous antiquity, since the story is the property of ancient Briton, Scandinavian, Greek, Hindustani, Chinese, North and South American Indians, and Polynesian. The children of that one primitive people which experienced the flood must have differentiated into all these extremely foreign tribes. A far more probable theory is that the story, the property of one people, has been diffused to the others by communication. This, too, would necessitate a great antiquity; but for such antiquity there is good evidence. The more study one gives to the races of men the more impressed the mind becomes with the necessity for great spaces of time in which the drama even of man's life on earth can be played. Long periods are necessary for even the most simple phases of human existence
[Footnote] * Ida Pfeiffer's “Visit to Iceland,” p. 333.
to develope and play their part. I do not fear at the present day to shock the sensibilities of others by such a claim, for a champion of the orthodox, Professor Sayce, has stated that he considers that human beings have communicated with each other by means of articulate speech for at least forty thousand years. And this is a very mild estimate compared with what some anthropologists demand. If, then, we allow six thousand years for all recorded history (much even of that being mythical), we have behind, in the darkness of unrecorded ages, thirty – four thousand years of which we know absolutely nothing except geologically. Time is here for the growth and decadence of great peoples, for endless wanderings, tradings, wars, captivities, and, in fact, an infinite variety of circumstances before which the mind falters. It is quite possible, nay, even probable, that in that far-off unknown time there were means of communication as to language and tradition of which we now have no conception, and that legend and story may have passed from race to race during epochs since which the very configuration of the earth's surface has had time to change.
Thus, then, we have considered three theories for the origin of the “destruction” legend: that it was pure lying, evolved similarly in many places at once; that it was a religious story (record or parable) handed down from a people which differentiated into many alien races; or that it was a tale which, issuing from one source, flowed by intercommunication among people widely separated in regard to locality and ethnic character. There yet remains another explanation, which seems to me to be the most probable of all—viz., that it belongs to the class of legends named by Tylor “myths of observation.” These are mainly scientific discernments, distorted by imperfect observation, and affected by the primitive superstitions and dim perceptions of cause and effect which mark the simple mind of the barbarian. He sees, as the trained scientist sees, the facts of nature, and, unable to reason inductively, he deduces some false conclusion. He notices huge bones left uncovered by a landslip, or lying in a cave. Thence arises the idea that these are the bones of giants, and it is not long before around the incident are grouped all the accompaniments of myth—the war between the gods and giants, &c. The Siberians have often found bones, teeth, and other remains of mammoths partly exposed in river-banks or cliffs. They supposed, from seeing the remains thus half-buried in the ground, that these were the disjecta membra of some burrowing animal. The Chinese of the North call it fen-shu, the “digging-rat.” Soon arose legends of the creature's habits: the Yakuts and Tunguz have seen the earth heave and sink as a mammoth bored
underneath. In the Chinese Encyclopaedia of Kang-hi it is described as like “a” rat in shape, but as big as an elephant; it dwells in dark caverns, and shuns the light.” Rhinoceros horns brought to Europe by ancient travellers were supposed to be claws of griffins, those great four-footed birds with claws like lions, spoken of by Herodotus and Ctesias. The Siberians also think that the fossil horns of the rhinoceros are the claws of an enormous bird, and thence has grown a myth that monstrous birds in olden times fought with the ancestors of men. “One story tells how the country was wasted by one of them, till a wise man fixed a pointed iron spear on the top of a pine-tree, and the bird alighted there and skewered itself upon the lance.” * This legend is especially interesting, because it suggests the origin of some of our New Zealand stories concerning the great man-eating bird. The Rev. Mr. Stack relates a legend from the South Island, stating that a gigantic bird of prey had “built its nest on a spur of Mount Tarawera, and, darting down from thence, it seized and carried off men, women, and children, as food for itself and its young; for, though its wings made a loud noise as it flew through the air, it rushed with such rapidity upon its prey that none could escape from its talons. At length a brave man called Te Hau-o-Tawera came on a visit to the neighbourhood, and finding that the people were being destroyed, and that they were so paralysed with fear as to be incapable of adopting any means for their own protection, he volunteered to capture and kill this rapacious bird, provided they would do what he told them. This they willingly promised, and, having procured a quantity of manuka saplings, he went one night with fifty men to the foot of the hill, where there was a pool 60ft. in diameter. This he completely covered over with a network of saplings, and under this he placed fifty armed men armed with spears and thrusting-weapons, while he himself, as soon as it was light, went out to lure the pouakai from its nest. He did not go far before that destroyer espied him, and swooped down upon him. Hautere had now to run for his life, and just succeeded in reaching the shelter of the network when the bird pounced upon him, and, in its violent efforts to reach its prey, forced its legs through the meshes, and, becoming entangled, the fifty men plunged their spears into its body, and, after a desperate encounter, succeeded in killing it.”† White also relates that the fairy people, the Nuku-mai-tore, were greatly troubled by the visits of a huge flesh-eating bird. It was killed by the hero Pungarehu;
[Footnote] * Tylor's “Early History of Mankind,” p. 310.
[Footnote] † Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. x., p. 64.
and they found round the cave in which the creature had lived bones of human beings strewn about.* Now, it is exceedingly probable that the Maoris, seeing the huge bones of the Dinoris lying on the surface, as we even now find them (when uncovered?), constructed on the immensity of the remains a myth about a monstrous man-eating bird, unaware that the Dinornis was wingless. It is improbable that the remains of Harpagornis, comparatively scarce and unremarkable, should have suggested the myth. In the ancient world the discovery of fossil bones often either originated or became the illustrations of myth, just as Marcus Scaurus brought to Rome from Joppa the bones of the monster prevented by Perseus from devouring Andromeda, and as the rib-bone of the whale still preserved in St. Mary Redcliffe Church is supposed to have belonged to the Dun Cow slain by Guy, Earl of Warwick. Numberless such instances could be cited if necessary.
On the other hand, there are myths of observation in which, probably, the legend is not so much an accretion to the natural fact as a slightly altered transmission of actual record. The savage tribes of Brazil tell of the Curupira, an enormous monkey, covered with long shaggy hair, and with a bright-red face. No such animal now inhabits Brazil; but geologists say that in the Post-pliocene period such a creature existed in that country, and may, possibly, have lived down to the time when man came into being. A tradition has been preserved by Father Charlevoix, † from North American sources, concerning a great elk. He says, “There is current also among the barbarians a pleasant enough tradition of a great elk, beside whom others seem but ants. He has, they say, legs so high that 8ft. of snow did not embarrass him, his skin is proof against all sorts of weapons, and he has a sort of arm which comes out of his shoulder, and which he uses as we do ours.” Mr. Tylor, speaking of this legend, says, “It is hard to imagine that anything but the actual sight of a live elephant can have given rise to this tradition. The suggestion that it might have been founded on the sight of a mammoth frozen with his flesh and skin, as they are found in Siberia, is not tenable, for the trunks and tails of these animals perish first, and are not preserved like the more solid parts; so that the Asiatic myths which have grown out of the finding of these frozen beasts know nothing of such appendages. Moreover, no savage who had never heard of the use of an elephant's trunk would imagine from a sight of the dead animal, even if its trunk were perfect, that its use
[Footnote] * White's “Ancient History of the Maori,” vol. ii., p. 33.
[Footnote] † “History of New France,” vol. v., p. 187.
was to be compared with that of a man's arm.” I may add to Mr. Tylor's remark that “the beast with a hand” is a well-known ancient name for the elephant, and that in the island of Java (west portion, Sunda) the elephant is called “liman,” a word derived from lima, the common word for “hand” and “five” in Polynesia.
Thus, then, we have the myths of observation divided into two classes: one in which the natural object becomes suggestive and gathers myth—for instance, the discovery of large bones giving rise to the story that “there were giants in those days,” the war of the Titans, &c.; the other class is that wherein has perhaps been kept a dim record of events once observed, but which without the tradition would have been forgotten. If the stories both of the watery deluge and of the destructive fire are not religious dramas portraying the earthly punishment of the wicked, to which class of the myths of observation do they belong? I am strongly inclined to think that they do not belong to the series of tales which have preserved the memories of things which once existed, or circumstances that really happened. They are not like those legends in which is probably kept alive the memory of the elephant among American Indians or of the great anthropoid ape in Brazil. They are more likely to be partially-imperfect scientific observations. Thus: the savage sees, as we see, sea-shells on the top of a mountain, and he argues as we do, “This place was once covered with water.” But he does not go on, as the geologist does, gathering fact after fact, and deducing therefrom the knowledge that different portions of the earth's surface, now solid land, were once submerged, and have been upheaved. The untrained observer's imagination goes to work and pictures a sudden and dreadful catastrophe—in fact, a deluge. But what should such a deluge be for? What could such a drowning quantity of water have been needed for but to extinguish a world-destroying flame? Around him his watchful eye notices other rocks which have been subjected to the action of fire. This is not to be denied, for he can probably see in many places lava-flows actually in process of being converted into stone, and those who think that the uneducated mind is incapable of recognizing similar action in the plutonic rocks know little of the acute powers of reasoning (in some directions) possessed by primitive men. Here is the water-worn rock, so once there was a deluge; here is the fire-fused rock, so once there was a conflagration in which the whole earth was on fire. Given this idea, started in two or three places, however widely separated, and interchange of thought during the immense spaces of prehistoric time would well account for the dissemination of the myths.
I believe that the Maoris have many myths of observation
not of this kind, and to these I hope next year to call your attention; but the particular class of legends relating to the deluge has probably sprung from suggestions inspired by keen eyes and inquiring brains seeking to account for geological puzzles.
There is one thing which, it is only honest to say, troubles me and prevents my wholly accepting the “observation-myth” explanation. I cannot help thinking that at some exceedingly ancient date the world, or a large part of the then known world, was really visited by some great catastrophe. Major-General Schaw lately gave us his interesting paper on the Great Ice Age, * but neither in his paper nor, curiously enough, in the discussion that followed was mention made of the suddenness with which the climatic alteration was effected. The mammoths whose remains have been exhumed in thousands in Siberia were victims of some sudden calamity. In full vigour of life they were frozen up and preserved. So also with the vegetable remains now to be found in the polar regions. The stumps of magnolias, walnuts, limes, vines, and mimosas (which prove a luxuriant flora and almost tropical climate to have existed in Greenland and Spitzbergen) had not time to decompose and rot before the Terrible Age of the world set in.† That the calamity was accompanied by great cold appears to be taught by one of the oldest religious books in the world, the Zend Avesta of the Parsis. In this book the first Fargard of the Vendidad describes the creation of the world by the great spirit Ahura Mazda; and the second Fargard speaks thus:” The Maker, Ahura Mazda, of high renown in the Airyana Vaego, by the good River Daitya, called together a meeting of the celestial gods…. And Ahura Mazda spoke unto Yima, saying, ‘O fair Yima, son of Vivan-ghat, upon the material world the fatal winters are going to fall that shall bring the fierce foul frost; upon the material world the fatal winters are going to fall that shall make snow-
[Footnote] * See above, p. 513.
[Footnote] † As it was stated at the time this paper was read that the age of the luxuriant vegetation at the north pole was somewhere in the Tertiary period, and long antecedent to man's appearance on earth, I beg to be allowed to add the following quotation from a paper by the distinguished scientist, Sir Archibald Geikie, Director-General of the Geological Survey of Great Britain (“Smithsonian Report” for 1892): “There cannot be any doubt that after man had become a denizen of the earth a great physical change came over the Northern Hemisphere. The climate, which had previously been so mild that evergreen trees flourished within ten or twelve degrees of the north pole, now became so severe that vast sheets of snow and ice covered the north of Europe…. Such a marvellous transformation in climate, in scenery, and in inhabitants … is surely entitled to rank as a catastrophe in the history of the globe. It was probably brought about mainly, if not entirely, by the operation of forces external to the earth.”
flakes. fall thick even an aredvi deep on the highest tops of the mountains. And all the three sorts of beasts shall perish: those that live in the wilderness, and those that live on the tops of the mountains, and those that live in the bosom of the dale under the shelter of stables. Before that winter those fields would have plenty of grass for cattle; now, with floods that stream, with snows that melt, it will seem a happy land in the world—the land whereon footprints even of sheep may still be seen. Therefore make thee a Vara,’ “* &c., the god instructing Yima how the remnant of men, cattle, seed, and other things might be preserved against the time of trouble close at hand. Whatever that trouble was, whether of fire, or water, or intense cold, or of the whole three in succession, the memory of such an evil time could never have coexisted in the legends of Europeans, Asiatics, American Indians, and Polynesians if those people then occupied the localities they now inhabit, since we know that no catastrophe has been universal. In such case we have to rely upon the theories either of common descent or of free interchange of traditions al round the world in prehistoric times.
[Footnote] * Darmesteter's “Zend Avesta,” vol. i., p. 15.