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Volume 27, 1894
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Art. lxvii.—Ceremonial Language.

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 8th August, 1894.]

Among the islanders known as the fair Polynesians only those of one group have a distinctly-marked ceremonial language—that is, a language possessing words and expressions used in addressing superior or high-born persons. There are faint traces in other island-groups of this usage, but not sufficiently defined to be of much interest. In islands belonging to races dwelling in or near the Pacific there still survive ceremonial languages probably of great age—namely, in the islands of Java and Bali in the Malay Archipelago, in Ponape of the Caroline group, in Lifu of Melanesia, and probably in several others. Far-off Madagascar, linguistically connected with the Malays, also has a partially ceremonial language. These dialects of respect and reverence present peculiar features to the student, and, although the Samoan is the only local variety with strong claims on our attention, we must briefly consider the others, and notice their general principle before touching oil the details of the Polynesian in particular.

There is in all nations and races a tendency to set apart

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certain words or phrases as being tapu, or “prohibited,” to the common or vernacular speech. We find it existing in modern tongues at the present day, and it takes form in two different ways. One is of interest grammatically: it consists of changing cases and numbers; the “tutoiment” the” thee-ing and thou-ing,” of French and German marking different address to inferiors and intimates. In German we have the ceremonious plural for singular in verbs. In English the third person is more ceremonious than the first, as when Mr. Jones writes that “Mr. Jones presents his compliments,” instead of “I present my compliments,” &c. The plural “we” for “I” of royalty and editors is also a ceremonial use of grammar; so is the use of a title instead of the second person, as “I hope that your Highness will come,” instead of “I hope that you will come.” The other line of ceremonial usage is a thousand times more interesting.it is the historical form of ceremonial speech. It is perhaps best illustrated by a well-known example, that of the superposition of Latin words, through Norman French, upon the Teutonic dialect of our ancestors. We are told that in many ways this was noticeable: thus, the poor Saxons who had to take care of animals for the lordly new-comers kept the old Saxon words cow, sheep, calf, deer, &c.; but the name of the cooked meats became Norman—beef, mutton, veal, venison, &c.—because the common people did not use these delicacies. For many generations Norman French was the Court language; and on the revival of classical learning at the time of the Renaissance the English tongue was still further enriched and added to by words of Latin derivation. This remains at the present moment the inflated and more stately form of our general speech. When Dr. Johnson corrected his sentence about a certain drama, “It has not wit enough to keep it sweet,” into “It has not sufficient vitality to preserve it from putrefaction,” he was merely changing from the short plain words of Saxon into the fuller Latin language of ceremony. This would have little scientific interest for us if we did not observe that herein is presered a historical record—-a record that, if all the documents in the world were burnt to-morrow, would assure the linguist that the English had once been conquered by a people speaking a Latin dialect. It is in this direction, and in this direction alone, that a study of a ceremonial language is of living interest; and it is in the hope of being able to trace some historical points, or to prove that there are no such historical points, that I venture to direct your attention to the ceremonial languages to be found southeast of the continent of Asia.

In Java we have a full language of ceremonial in actual use, and apparently of some antiquity; moreover, it proves,

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exactly as the English proved, to be of historical interest. In Java three languages are spoken: the first is that of the common people; this may be considered as a dialect of the Malay, or perhaps the Malay may be considered a dialect of Javanese. It has many words not used by the Malays; but even these perhaps may be considered as relics of the original speech better preserved in Jave than in Malacca or the outlying islands of the Archipelago, for Java was the centre of a high civilization for several centuries. The great island abounds in ruined cities, whose magnificent architecture is in ruins, and sometimes overgrown with tropical verdure—-the home of the serpent and the wild beast. In those splendid temples were preached the great Indian religions of Brahma and Buddha till these went down before the all-conquering faith of Islam. The vulgar tongue bears internal evidence of these great waves of conquest, and the Sanscrit and Pali of India are mixed with the Moslem Arabic in the vernacular of the Javanese. The Second language is the Kawi, the priestly tongue in which all documents and poetry are written; it is a mixture of Javanese and Sanscrit. The third language is the Basa-Krama, words meaning “polite” (in contradistinction to the ngoko, or vernacular), but both are from Sanscrit, being krama, “order,” and bhasa,” language.” It appears to be a thoroughly made-up dialect, formed by taking words not in common use and engrafting foreign words so as to avoid familiar native expressions. Some of these are taken from Malay or Sundanese, some from Sanscrit, others by corrupting the words of the vernacular. But, despite of research, there is not the slightest internal proof that the ceremonial language is older than the vernacular: in fact, the reverse is the case. It is evident that the Sanscrit and Arabic are late arrivals embroidered on to the simple web of the native speech, just as Norman French was worked over Saxon English. Precisely, so far as we can learn, was this the case also in Bali and the other islands. The ceremonial languages are recent growths, products of civilization, probably due to conquest, or else from the acceptance of overwhelmingly dominant religions.

If we can show something of the kind in Samoa it will prove of great historical interest. If we can show that the Samoan ceremonial language consists even in part of foreign words, or of words not found in common use anywhere in Polynesia, we shall have made a distinct advance. For my own part, I regret to say that I can do no such thing—-that I do not perceive any indication whatever showing conquest or religious supremacy by a foreign power, and that therefore the inquiry is historically void. But it is not scientifically void if we can show the negative side, and prove that in this direction at least search is useless.

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In the ceremonial language of the Samoans we have a word fofoga. A common man's eye is mata, a chief's eye is fofoga; a common man's nose is isu, a chief's nose is fofoga; a common man's mouth is gutu, a chief's mouth is (still) fofoga. This seems a rather inconvenient and indefinite style of address, unless we translate fofoga as feature, instead, of nose, mouth, &c. When an ordinary man bathes it is ta'ele; when a chief bathes it, is ‘au'au, to swim about, or fa'a-malu, to cool oneself. For the common word sau, to come, we have the respectful maliu-mai to a head-man, susu-mai to a great chief, afio-mai to the greatest chiefs. When a peasant eats it is ‘ai; when a chief eats it is taumafa. When a commoner coughs it is tale; when a chief coughs it is male. The oration of an ordinary person is lauga; a chief's address is afioga. The ordinary word for sickness is ma'i; the chief's word is gasegese, weariness. When a plebeian lies down it is taoto; when a chief lies down it is falafalana'i. Before a chief a thing is not “burnt” (susunu); it is fa'a-vela, “made warm.” The will or intention of a common man is loto; but a chief's will is finagalo. These may serve as sufficient to exemplify the subject.

There are three things to consider in analysing these chiefs' words: (1.) Are they foreign? (2.) Are they ancient? (3.) Do they stand in the same relation to Samoan as Basa-Krama does to Javanese, or Norman French did to English?

The answer is “No” to every one of these questions. As to their being foreign, although the etymology is, naturally enough, not clear at first sight, they are very certainly true Polynesian words, most of them true Samoan words. Taking the words which are not evidently Samoan, and “whose meanings are not mere evasions (such as gascgase, wearied, instead of ma'i, sick), we can trace them with ease. Fofoga, the chief's word for nose, eye, mouth, &c., is in the Tongan fofoga, the head or face applied to chiefs, and probably the Tahitian hohoa form, likeness. From the chiefs' words meaning “to come”—viz., maliu-mai, susu-mai, and afio-mai—we may eliminate the mai, as it only means “hither.” Maliu is a pure Polynesian word. It is found in Hawaiian—maliu, to attend to one, to listen to a request, to turn towards one and be gracious. Thus, maliu-mai means “be gracious hither,” a lofty-way of asking a chief to come. Susu is the Hawaiian hu, to come, to heave in sight, as a ship. Afio is a royal word in Tahiti; and in Maori means to wind round, to turn one thing round another, so that afio-mai is a form of “turn hither.” Taumafa, the chief's word “to eat,” is the Maori taumaha, a thank-offering to the gods, and the Tahitian taumaha, an offering of food to the gods. While the common man's cough is

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tale, the chief's cough is male, the latter word being the general Polynesian for “cough,” the Maori mare, the Tahitian mare the Hawaiian male, &c. Finagalo, a chiefs' will or desire, is the Maori hinengaro, the bowels, affections, feelings; Tahitian hinaaro, desire, affection; Tongan finagalo, the mind (applied only to the king); Futuna finagaro, the mind, the will, &c. Fetalai, to speak of a high chief, is the Tongan fetalai, to converse, to discuss, where fe is the reciprocal particle and tala means to tell, to speak of, just as it does in Samoan. All the other words could be similarly dissected or compared if worth the trouble. There is not the slightest reason for going outside Polynesia proper to find the equivalents of the words of the chief's language in Samoa. They may be remotely connected with Malay, but Polynesian is not a derivative from Malay, or so modern scholars believe; the conclusions are rather the other way.

As to the local antiquity of the chiefs' words, the oldest; legendary poem yet collected in Samoa is “The Genealogy of the Sun,” and of this the learned translator, the Rev. Mr. Pratt, remarks, “The entire absence of the chiefs' language is one mark of the age of the legend.” Thus it would appear that the chiefs' language is of modern growth. These two ceremonial languages (of Java and Samoa) are entirely distinct, and there is no pretence for believing them related, or that the Samoans brought their notion of a courtly language from the Malayan Archipelago. If the ancestors of the Samoans ever dwelt in or passed through the Malayan Archipelago (as they almost certainly did) they must have done so at a period far antecedent to the time when the Javanese invented their courtly language, because that is a thing of comparatively modern growth.

As a mere suggestion, I consider that the Samoan chiefs' language probably arose from the common Polynesian custom of making certain words tapu, or “prohibited,” if they form part of a chief's name. A great many words might after a time become prohibited to inferiors, and only used before men of high rank; thus gradually a court language might spring up. I trust that I have shown that from a scientific point of view the chiefs' language of Samoa is only of linguistic interest, and has no historical value whatever.