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Similar fasting is observed on every return of the same
day of the week, till the obsequies take place." ^ Among

1 Grey, Polynesian Mythology, p. stitutes of Vishnu, xix. 14.
26 H- ' Thurston, in the Madras Govern-

" Lucian, De luctu, 24. ment Museum's Bulletin, iv. 76.

'Ward, View of the History, &-c. ' Ha.rlcness, Description of a Singu-

of the Hindoos, ii. 76 sq. lar Race inhabiting the Neilgherry

• Vasishtha, iv. 14 sq. Cf. In- Hills, p. 97.



the Bogos of Eastern Africa a son must fast three days
after the death of his father.^ On the Gold Coast it is
the custom for the near relatives of the deceased to per-
form a long and painful fast, and sometimes they can only
with difficulty be induced to have recourse to food again.^
So also in Dahomey they must fast during the " corpse
time," or mourning.^ Among the Brazilian Paressi the
relatives of a dead person remain for six days at his grave,
carefully refraining from taking food.* Among the
aborigines of the Antilles children used to fast after the
death of a parent, a husband after the death of his wife,
and a wife after the death of her husband.^ In some
Indian tribes of North America it is the custom for the
relatives of the deceased to fast till the funeral is over.®
Among the Snanaimuq, a tribe of the Coast Salish, after
the death of a husband or wife the surviving partner
must not eat anything for three or four days.' In one of
the interior .divisions of the Salish of British Columbia,
the Stlatlumh, the next four days after a funeral feast are
spent by the members of the household of the deceased
person in fasting, lamenting and ceremonial ablutions.^
Among the Upper Thompson Indians in British Columbia,
again, those who handled the dead body and who dug the
grave had to fast until the corpse was buried.®

In several instances fasting after a death is observed only
in the daytime.

David and his people fasted for Saul and Jonathan until even
on the day w^hen the news of their death arrived.^" Among the
Arabs of Morocco it is the custom that if a death takes place
in the morning everyone in the village refrains from food until

'Munzinger, Die Sitten und das America, ii. 187.

Recht der Bogos, p. 29. ' Boas, in Fifth Report on the

^ Cruickshank, Eighteen Years on North-WesternTribesofCanada,-p./\$.

the Gold Coast, ii. 218. * Tout, " Ethnology of the Stlat-

' Burton, Mission to Gelele, ii. 163. lumh of British Columbia,' in Jour.

*von den Steinen, Unter den Anthr. Inst. xxxv. 138.

Naturvolkern Zentral-Brasiliens,. p. "Teit, 'Thompson Indians of

435. Cf. ibid. p. 339 (Bakairi). British Columbia,' in Memoirs of the

' Du Tertre, Histoire ginirale des American Museum of Natural His-

Antilles, ii. 371. tory. Anthropology, i. 331.

•Charlevoix, Voyage to North- ^o 2 Samuel, i. 12. Cf. ibid. in. 35.


the deceased is buried in the afternoon or evening ; but if a person
dies so late that he cannot be buried till the next morning the
people eat at night. In the Pelew Islands, as long as the dead
is unburied, fasting is observed in the daytime but not in the
evening.! j^, jrjjj after a burial the kana-bogi, or fasting till
evening, is practised for ten or twenty days.^ In Samoa it
was common for those who attended the deceased to eat nothing
during the day, but to have a meal at night. ^ In the Tuhoe
tribe of the Maoris, " when a chief of distinction died his
widow and children would remain for some time within the
whare potae [that is, mourning house], eating food during the
night time only, never during the day." * The Sacs and Foxes
in Nebraska formerly required that children should fast for three
months after the death of a parent, except that they every day
about sunset were allowed to partake of a meal made entirely
of hominy.5 Among the Kansas a man who loses his wife
must fast from sunrise to sunset for a year and a half, and
a woman who loses her husband must observe a similar fast for
a year.8 In some tribes of British Columbia and among the
Thlinkets, until the dead body is buried the relatives of the
deceased may eat a little at night but have to fast during the
day.' Among the Upper Thompson Indians a different custom
prevailed : " nobody was allowed to eat, drink, or smoke in the
open air after sunset (others say after dusk) before the burial,
else the ghost would harm them." ®

Very frequently mourners have to abstain from certain
victuals only, especially flesh or fish, or some other staple
or favourite food.

In Greenland everybody who had lived in the same house
with the dead, or who had touched his corpse^ was for some
time forbidden to partake of certain kinds of food.' Among the
Upper Thompson Indians " parents bereft of a child did not
eat fresh meat for several months." ^'' Among the Stlatlumh of

1 Waitz, op. cit. v. 153. Ann. Rep. Bur. Ethn. i. 95.

''Williams and Calvert, Fiji, p. « Dorsey, 'Mourning and War

169- Customs of the Kansas,' in American

' Turner, Nineteen Years in Poly- Naturalist, xix. 679 sq.
nesia, p. 228. Idem, Samoa, p. 145. ' Boas, loc. cit. p. 41.

*Best, 'Tuhoe Land,' in Trans. ' Teit, loc. cit. p. 328.
and Proceed, of the New Zealand ' Egede, Description of Greenland,

Institute, XXX. 38. p. 149 sq. Cranz, History of Green-

= Yarrow, 'Mortuary Customs of land, i. 218.
the North American Indians,' in " Teit, loc. cit. p. 332


British Columbia a widow might eat no fresh food for a whole
year, whilst the other members of the deceased person's family
abstained from such food for a period of from four days to as
many months. A widower was likewise forbidden to eat fresh
meats for a certain period, the length of which varied with the
age of the person — the younger the man, the longer his absten-
tion.i In some of the Goajiro clans of Colombia a person is
prohibited from eating flesh during the mourning time, which
lasts nine days.^ Among the Abipones, when a chief died, the
whole tribe abstained for a month from eating fish, their prin-
cipal dainty.* While in mourning, the Northern Queensland
aborigines carefully avoid certain victuals, believing that the
forbidden food, if eaten, would burn up their bowels.* In
Easter Island the nearest relatives of the dead are for a year or
even longer obliged to abstain from eating potatoes, their chief
article of food, or some other victuals of which they are particu-
larly fond.^ Certain Papuans and various tribes in the Malay
Archipelago prohibit persons in mourning from eating rice or
sago.^ In the Andaman Islands mourners refuse to partake of
their favourite viands.'' After the death of a relative the
Tipperahs abstain from flesh for a week.^ The same is the
case with the Arakh, a tribe in Oudh, during the fifteen days
in the month of Kuir which are sacred to the worship of the
dead.® Among the Nayadis of Malabar the relatives of the
deceased are not allowed to eat meat for ten days after his
death.i" According to Toda custom the near relatives must
not eat rice, milk, honey, or gram until the funeral is over.^^
Among the Hindus described by Mr. Chunder Bose a widow is
restricted to one scanty meal a day, and this is of the coarsest
description and always devoid of fish, the most esteemed article
of food in a Hindu lady's bill of fare. The son, again, from

^Tout, in Jour. Anthr. Inst. XXX.V. 'Browne, quoted by Balton, op.

138 sq. cit. p. no.

' Candelier, Rio-Hacha, p. 220. ' Crooke, Tribes and Castes of the

' Charlevoix, History of Paraguay, North-Western Provinces and Oudh,

i. 405, i. 84.

*Lumholtz, Among Cannibals, i» Thurston, in the Madras Govem-

p. 203. - ment Museum's Bulletin, iv. 76.

' Geiseler, Die Oster-Insel, pp. 28, " Idem, ibid. i. 174. Dr. Rivers

30. says (Todas, p. 370) that, among the

° Wilken, ' Ueber das Haaropfer, Todas, a widower is not allowed to

und einige andere Trauergebrauche eat rice nor drink milk, and that on

bei den Volkern Indonesien's,' in every return of the day of the week

Revue coloniale Internationale , iv. on which his wife died he takes no

348 sq. food in the morning but only has

' Man, 'Aboriginal Inhabitants of his evening meal. The same holds^

the Andaman Islands,' in Jour, good for a widow.
Anthr. Inst. xii. 142. 353.


the hour of his father's death to the conclusion of the funeral
ceremony, is allowed to take only a meal consisting of atab rice,
a sort of inferior pulse, milk, ghee, sugar, and a few fruits, and
at night a little milk, sugar, and fruits — a regime which lasts
ten days in the case of a Brahmin and thirty-one days in the
case of a SAdra.i In some of the sacred books of India it is said
that, during the period of impurity, all the mourners shall
abstain from eating meat.^ In China " meat, must, and spirits
were forbidden even in the last month of the deepest mourning,
when other sorts of food had long been allowed already.'.' *

The custom of fasting after a death has been ascribed to
different causes by different writers. Mr. Spencer believes
that it has resulted from the habit of making excessive
provision for the dead.^ But although among some
peoples the funeral offerings no doubt are so extensive as
to reduce the survivors to poverty and starvation,^ I have
met vdth no statement to the effect that they are anxious
to give to the deceased all the eatables which they possess,
or that the mourning fast is a matter of actual necessity.
It is always restricted to some fixed period, often to a few
days only, and it prevails among many peoples who have
never been known to be profuse in their sacrifices to the
dead. With reference to the Chinese, Dr. de Groot
maintains that the mourners originally fasted with a view
to being able to sacrifice so much the more at the tomb ;
and he bases this conclusion on the fact that the articles of
food which were forbidden till the end of the deepest
mourning were the very same as those which in ancient
China played the principal part at every burial sacrifice.®
But this prohibition may also perhaps be due to a belief
that the offering of certain victuals to the dead pollutes
all food belonging to the same species.

Professor Wilken, again, suggests that the mourners
abstain from food till they have given the dead his due, in

1 Bose, The Hindoos as they are. * Spencer, Principles of Sociology,

pp. 244, 254 sq. i. 261 sqq.

' Gautama, xiv. 39. Institutes of ' Ibid. i. 262.

Vishnu, xix. 15. « de Groot, op. cit. (vol. ii. book)

' de Groot, Religious System of i. 652.
China, (vol. ii. book) i. 651.


order to show that they do not wish to keep him waiting
longer than is necessary and thus make him kindly disposed
towards them.^ This explanation presupposes that the
fast is immediately followed by offerings or a feast for the
dead. In some instances this is expressly said to be the
case ; ^ the ancient Chinese, for instance, observed a special
fast as an introductory rite to the sacrifices which they
offered to the manes at regular periods after the demise
and even after the close of the mourning.^ But generally
there is no indication of the mourning fast being an essen-
tial preliminary to a sacrifice to the dead, and in an instance
mentioned above the funeral feast regularly precedes it.*
It seems that Sir J. G. Frazer comes much nearer the
truth when he observes that people originally fasted after
a death " just in those circumstances in which they con-
sidered that theymight possibly in eating devour a ghost." ^
Yet I think it would generally be more correct to say
that they were afraid of swallowing, not the ghost, but
food polluted with the contagion of death. The dead
body is regarded as a seat of infection, which defiles
anything in its immediate neighbourhood, and this
infection is of course considered particularly dangerous if
it is allowed to enter into the bowels. In certain cases
the length of the mourning fast is obviously determined
by the belief in the polluting presence of the ghost. The
six days' fast of the Paressi coincides with the period
after which the dead is supposed to have arrived in
heaven no longer to return ; and they say that anybody
who should fail to observe this fast would " eat the mouth
of the dead " and die himself.* Frequently the fasting
lasts till the corpse is buried ; and burial is a common
safeguard against the return of the ghost.'' The custom

' Wilken, in Revue coloniale inter- " Frazer, ' Certain Burial Customs

nationale, iv. 347, 348, 350 sq. n. 32. as illustrative of the Primitive

''Selenka, Sonnige Welten, p. 90 Theory of the Soul,' in Jour. Anihr.

(Dyaks). Black, ' Fasting,' in En- Inst. xv. 94. See also Oldenberg,

cyclopedia Britannica, ix. 44. Die Religion des Veda, pp. 270, 590.

• de Groot, op. cii. (vol. ii. book) ' von den Steinen, op. cit. p.
i. 656. 434 sq.

• Supra, ii. 299. ' Infra, on Regard for the Dead.


of restricting the fast to the daytime probably springs
from the idea that a ghost cannot see in the dark, and is
consequently unable to come and pollute the food at
night. That the object of the fast is to prevent pollution
is also suggested by its resemblance to some other practices,
which are evidently intended to serve this purpose. The
Maoris were not allowed to eat on or near any spot where
a dead body had been buried, or to take a meal in a canoe
while passing opposite to such a place.^ In Samoa, while
a dead body is in the house, no food is eaten under the
same roof ; hence the family have their meals outside,' or in
another house.^ The Todas, who fast on the day when a
death has taken place, have on the following day their
meals served in another hut.^ In one of the sacred books
of India it is said that a Brahmana " shall not eat in the
house of a relation within six degrees where a person
has died, before the ten days of impurity have elapsed " ;
in a house " where a lying-in woman has not yet come out
of the lying-in chamber " ; nor in a house where a corpse
lies ; * and' in connection with this last injunction we are
told that, when a person who is not a relation has died, it
is customary to place at the distance of " one hundred
bows " a lamp and water-vessel, and to eat beyond that
distance.^ In one of the Zoroastrian books Ormuzd is
represented as saying, " In a house when a person shall
die, until three nights are completed . . . nothing
whatever of meat is to be eaten by his relations " f and
the obvious reason for this rule was the belief that the
soul of the dead was hovering about the body for the first
three nights after death. '' Closely related to this custom
is that of the modern Parsis, which forbids for three days
all cooking under a roof where a death has occurred, but
allows the inmates to obtain food from their neighbours

^ Polaok, Manners ani Customs of * Jpastamba, i. 5. 16. 18 sqq.
the New Zealanders, i. 239. s Haradatta, quoted by Biihler, in

■^ Turner, Nineteen Years in Poly- Sacred Books of the East, ii. ,59, n. 20.
nesia, p. 228. Idem, Samoa, p. 145. o Sh&yast Ld-Shdyast, xvii. 2.

^ Thurston, in the Madras Govern- ' West, in Sacred Books of the

ment Museum's Bulletin, i. 174. East, v. 382, n. 3.


and friends.^ Among the Agariya, a Dravidian tribe in
the hilly parts of Mirzapur, no fire is lit and no cooking
is done in the house of a dead person on the day when, he
is cremated, the food being cooked in the house of the
brother-in-law of the deceased.^ In Mykonos, one of the
Cyclades, it is considered wrong to cook in the house of
mourning ; hence friends and relatives come laden with
food, and lay the " bitter table." ^ Among the Albanians
there is no cooking in the house for three days after a
death, and the family are fed by friends.^ So also the
Maronites of Syria " dress no victuals for some time in
the house of the deceased, but their relations and friends
supply them." ^ When a Jew dies all the water in the
same and adjoining houses is instantly thrown away ; ^
nobody may eat in the same room with the corpse, unless
there is only one room in the house, in which case the
inhabitants may take food in it if they interpose a screen,
so that in eating they do not see the corpse ; they must
abstain from flesh and wine so long as the dead body is in
the house ; '^ and on the evening of mourning the
members of the family may not eat their own food, but
are supplied wdth food by their friends.^ Among the
Arabs of Morocco, if a person has died in the morning, no
fire is made in the whole village until he is buried, and in
some parts of the country the inmates of a house or
tent where a death has occurred, abstain from making fire
for two or three days. In Algeria " des que quelqu'un est
mort, on ne doit pas allumer de feu dans la maison
pendant trois jours, et il est d^fendu de toucher a de la
viande rotie, griI16e ou bouillie, a moins qu'elle ne vienne
de quelqu'un de dehors."^ In China, for seven days
after a death " no food is cooked in the house, and friends

1 West, ibid. v. 382, n. 2. Voyages, x. 290.

"Crboke, Tribes and Castes of the 'Allen, Modern Judaism, p. 435.
North-Western Provinces, i. 7. ' Bodenschatz, Kirchliche Verfass-

'Bent, Cyclades, p. 221. ung der heutigen Juden, iv. 177.

^ von. 'Rahn., Albanesische Studien, « Buxtorf, Synagoga Judaica, p.

p. 151. 707.

'Dandini, 'Voyage to Mount » Certeux and Carnoy, L'Alg6rie

Libanus,' in Pinkerton, Collection oj tradiiionelle, p. 220.



and neighbours are trusted to supply the common
necessaries of life.''^ There is no sufficient reason to
assume that this practice of abstaining from cooking food
after a death is a survival of a previous mourning fast,
but the two customs seem partly to have a similar
origin. The cooking may contaminate the food if done
in a polluted house, or by a polluted individual. The
relatives of the dead, or persons who have handled the
corpse, are regarded as defiled ; hence they have to abstain
from cooking food, as they have to abstain from any
kind of work,^ and from sexual intercourse.^ Hence,,
also, they are often prohibited from touching food ; and
this may in some cases have led to fasting, whilst in other
instances they have to be fed by their neighbours.*

Howeveri, an unclean individual may be supposed to
pollute a piece of food not only by touching it with his
hand, but in some cases by eating it ; and, in accordance
with the principle of -pars fro toto, the pollution may then
spread to all victuals belonging to the same species. Ideas
of this kind are sometimes conspicuous in connection with
the restrictions in diet after a death. Thus the Siciatl of
British Columbia believe that a dead body, or anything
connected with the dead, is inimical to the salmon, and
therefore the relatives of a deceased person must abstain
from eating salmon in the early stages of the run, as also
from entering a creek where salmon are found.^ Among
the Stlatlumh, a neighbouring people, not even elderly
widowers, for whom the period of abstention is compara-

1 Gray, China, i. 287 sq. (Samoans). Ellis, Polynesian Re-
' Supra, ii. 283 sq. searches, i. 403 (Tahitians). Frazer,
'Teit, loc. cit. p. 331 (Upper Golden Bough, i. 323 (Maoris).
Thompson Indians). Tout, in Jour. WiUiams and Calvert, Fiji, p. 169.
Anthr. Inst. -xxxv. i^g {Stla.thiio.h.oi Among the Upper Thompson In-
British Columbia). Oldenberg, Die dians the persons who handled the
Religion des Veda, pp. 578, 590 ; dead body would not touch the
Caland, Die Altindischen Todten- food with their hands, but must put
und Bestattungsgebrduche, p. 81. de it into their mouths with sharp-
Groot, op. cit. (vol. ii. book) i. 609 pointed sticks (Teit, loc. cit. p. 331).
(Chinese). Wilken, in Revue inter- ^ Tout, ' Ethnology of the Siciatl
nationale coloniale, iv. 352, n. 41. of British Columbia,' in /om>-. ^MiA*-.

* Turner, Samoa, p. 145 ; Idem, Inst, xxxiv. 33.
Nineteen Years in Polynesia, p. 228


tively short, are allowed to eat fresh salmon till the first
of the run is over and the fish have arrived in such
numbers that there is no danger of their being driven
away.^ It is not unlikely that if the motives for the re-
strictions in diet after a death were sufficiently known in
each case, a similar fear lest the unclean mourner should
pollute the whole species by polluting some individual
member of it would be found to be a common cause of
those rules which prohibit the eating of staple or favourite
food.^ But it would seem that such rules also may spring
from the idea that this kind of food is particularly sought
for by the dead and therefore defiled.

Moreover, unclean individuals are not only a danger to
others, but are themselves in danger. As Sir J. G. Frazer
has shown, they are supposed to be in a delicate condition,
which imposes upon them various precautions ; ^ and one
of these may be restrictions in their diet. Among the
Thlinkets and some peoples- in British Columbia the
relatives of the deceased not only fast till the body is
buried, but have their faces blackened, cover their heads
with ragged mats, and must speak but little, confining
themselves to answering questions, as it is believed that
they would else become chatterboxes.* According to early
ideas, mourners are in a state very similar to that of girls
at puberty, who also, among various peoples, are obhged to
fast or abstain from certain kinds of food on account of
their uncleanness.^ Among the Stlatlumh, for instance,

^ Tout, in Jour. Anthr. Inst. xxxv. Sproat, Scenes and Studies of Savage

139. • Life, p. 93 sq. (Ahts). Bourke,

"In the Arunta tribe. Central 'Medicine-Men of the Apache,' in

Australia, no menstruous woman is Ann. Rep. Bur. Ethn. ix. 501. Du

allowed to gather the Irriakura Tettre, Histoire gin&rale des Antilles,

bulbs, which form a staple article of ii. 371. Schomburgk, 'Natives of

diet for both men and women, the Guiana,' in Jour. Ethn. Sac. London,

idea being that any infringement of i. 269 sq. von Martius, Beitrage zur

the restriction would result in the Ethnographie Amerika's, i. 644

failure of the supply of the bulb (Macusfs). Seligmann, in Reports of

(Spencer and Gillen, Northern Tribes the Cambridge Expedition to Torres

of Central Australia, p. 615). Straits, v. 200 sqq. (Western Is-

' Frazer, Golden Bough, i. 343, &c. landers). Man, 'Aboriginal Inhabi-

'Boas, loc. cit. p. 41. tants of the Andaman Islands,' in

" Boas, /oc. ci<. p. 40 ijj. (various Jour. Anthr. Inst. xii. 94. See

tribes in British Columbia). Tout, in Frazer, op. cit. iii. 205 sqq.

Jour. Anthr. Inst, xxxiv. 33 (Siciatl) .

X 2


when a girl reaches puberty, she fasts for the first
four days and abstains from fresh meats_ of any kind
throughout the whole period of her seclusion. " There
was a two-fold object in this abstention. First, the
girl, it was thought, would be harmed by the fresh meat
in her peculiar condition ; and second, the game animals
would take offence if she partook of their meat in these
circumstances," and would not permit her father to kill

It should finally be noticed that, though the custom of
fasting after a death in the main has a superstitious origin,
there may at the same time be a physiological motive for
it.^ Even the rudest savage feels afflicted at the death of
a friend, and grief is accompanied by a loss of appetite.
This natural disinclination to partake of food may, com-
bined with superstitious fear, have given rise to prohibitory
rules, nay, may even in the first instance have suggested
the idea that there is danger in taking food. The mourn-
ing observances so commonly coincide with the natural
expressions of sorrow, that we are almost bound to assume
the existence of some connection between them, even
though in their developed forms the superstitious motive
be the most prominent.

An important survival of the mourning fast is the Lent
fast. It originally lasted for forty hours only, that is, the
time when Christ lay in the grave.^ Irenaeus speaks of
the fast of forty hours before Easter,* and TertuUian,
when a Montanist disputing against the Catholics, says
that the only legitimate days for Cliristian fasting were
those in which the Bridegroom was taken away.^ Sub-
sequently, however, the forty hours were extended to forty

^ Tout, in Jour. Anihr. Inst. xxxv. * Irenaeus, quoted by Eusebius,

'36. Historia ecclesiastica, v. 24 (Migne,

Online LibraryEdward WestermarckThe origin and development of the moral ideas → online text (page 32 of 89)