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POPULAR NOTIONS PERTAINING TO PRIMITIVE STONE ARTIFACTS IN SURINAM.
BY A. P. AND T. E. PENARD.
Primitive stone implements have been found in various parts of Surinam from the Boven Marowyne (Upper Maroni) to Nickerie, but they are not very common; and, so far as the writers know, probably not more than two hundred axes and adzes from this region have found their way into the museums and private collections of the world. The writers have made a large collection of these implements from this locality, and in so doing have had many opportunities of noting the superstitions and notions the natives have regarding them.
The stone "axes" herein referred to are generally of three distinct types: viz., —
(1) Simple celts, large or small unnotched specimens. In most cases the butts are more or less battered. They were probably used as adzes, wedges, chisels, scrapers, etc. Formerly the heavy club (aputu) was provided with one of these celts on the under side near one of the ends. A few specimens are double-edged.
(2) Unnotched specimens of the so-called "winged" type, in which the butts are comparatively large, having generally prominent, though sometimes very slight, protuberances. The edge is at the small end. They may have been hafted; but it is also possible that they were intended for use as hand-tools, for which purpose they seem well adapted. Some specimens of this type are very symmetrical, and the workmanship is excellent.
(3) Specimens with notches at the sides, evidently for the purpose of hafting. Sometimes these lateral notches extend as grooves over the faces for a short distance, rarely completely encircling the axe. In some cases the notches are ill-defined, forming large, shallow depressions. The specimens vary in size from very small to enormous affairs weighing more than fifteen hundred grams. Occasionally they possess features which are apparently ornamental, such as gracefully curved sides or a coating of pigment. This type comprises the finest specimens found in Guiana.
We have also heard of other types of stone objects: viz., —
(4) A stone having the form of a multi-pointed star, herein referred to as the "thunder-stone mother."
(5) A stone of pyramidal shape with sharp edges.
(6) A stone with serrated edge, supposed to be d saw.
The well-known cassava graters, and the large flat stones upon which the cassava bread was baked, have not as yet been clothed with curious popular notions.
Previous to the advent of the Europeans, stone axes were undoubtedly in common use by the Indians; but the white man's appearance sealed their fate. The Indians were quick to recognize the superior qualities of the steel blades of European make, and did everything in their power to obtain them. In the year 1604 Capt. Charles Leig* made a voyage to Guiana, and in the narrative of this voyage we find the following passage, showing how highly the Indians prized the steel axe, and the great amount of labor they were willing to perform for the sake of obtaining a single specimen: —
"Upon our return to Wiapoco, we gave the Indians for their trouble, and for providing us with food, an axe, for which all of them would have cruised with us for two or three months had the opportunity offered; and for another axe they brought us provisions for two months, consisting of bread, drink, crabs, fish, and such meat as they procured for themselves."
But the manufacture of stone axes did not cease entirely, and it is not unlikely that many were made after the arrival of the Europeans. In fact, a few specimens have been found which so closely resemble the European type with its wide bit, that we wonder if they were not made in imitation of the European shape. Barrere * pictures an hache de pierre of this shape. Im Thurn * describes a specimen of this type, and mentions this fact; and the writers are in possession of a similar specimen bearing evidence of the same nature, though less pronounced.
As the Indians gained possession of the coveted steel axes, their own stone blades gradually fell into disfavor. In time they became relics of a forgotten past, around which clung vague memories of their former use. Bat at last even these memories faded, and to-day there are few Guiana Indians who know the origin and functions of the stone objects which played so important a r&le in the life-history of their forefathers.
In the years from 1772 to 1777 Capt. John G. Stedman 4 conducted an expedition against the revolted Negroes in Surinam. His elaborate work describing this expedition, and containing general information regarding the natural history and the natives of Surinam, appeared in the year 1796. In one of the plates we find an illustration of a warclub, at one end of which is inserted what seems to be a stone. Teenstra,1 in his work on the agriculture of Surinam, which appeared in 1835, also mentions the war-club with the stone insert; and to-day we occasionally hear tales in which reference is made to the stone axe in its true capacity. The following Carib legend may serve as an example: —
1 Zeetogt van Kapiteyn Charles Leig gedaan na Gujana ... in bet jaar 1604 (Leyden, 1706).
'Pierre Barr6re, Nouvelle Relation de la France Equinoxiale (Paris. 1734). See illustration opposite p. 168.
1 E. F. Im Thurn, Among the Indians of Guiana (London, 1883).
4 J. G. Stedman, Narrative of a five years' expedition against the revolted Negroes of Surinam, on the Wild Coast of South America (London, 1796).
The "bad spirits" (Joleka), in trying to surpass God (Tamusi), who was busy creating the animals, created Monkey (Meku); but when they blew into it the breath of life, they blew it upside down. Then God made Man. The "bad spirits" ridiculed Man because of the smoothness of his skin and absence of any tail. But Man saw Monkey in a tree, and shot him with an arrow and killed him. Monkey, whose tail was curled around a branch, did not fall to the ground, but remained hanging in the tree. Then Man sharpened a stone into an axe, wi.th which he cut down the tree. He rubbed two sticks together to produce fire, roasted Monkey, and ate him.
We mention these things as indicating that the true nature of the stone axes must have been more generally known to the natives in comparatively recent times; and that the curious notions respecting these relics, whether introduced from elsewhere or whether arising independently in this locality, may be considered as reasonably modern, at least in Surinam.
Many are preserved by the Indians, Negroes, and Mulattoes as curiosities, or as amulets and charms. They ascribe to these stones mysterious properties, and for this reason can seldom be induced to part with them. The writers experienced not a little difficulty in procuring the specimens of their collection. The same difficulty has been experienced by other collectors in purchasing objects of this nature from the natives, not only in Surinam, but also in other parts of South America and the West Indies.
The Indians use the smoother specimens for polishing the clay in the manufacture of pottery. Workers in the bush sometimes use them as whetstones, for which purpose they are considered exceptionally good. The notched specimens are sometimes attached to a cord, and, used in this manner, are regarded as formidable weapons.
The widespread belief that these objects drop from the clouds during thunder-storms is also prevalent here, but opinions vary as to the number supposed to fall with each clap of thunder. Some say one large and exactly twelve smaller ones. Others say one large or else from seven to twelve smaller ones. Still others say one large in addition to from seven to twelve smaller ones. Then again it is said that the number depends entirely upon the size: if very large, there is only one; if small, the number is seven; for intermediate sizes the number varies accordingly. As a reason for believing that more than one fall, it is argued that a number of these thunder-stones are sometimes found within a comparatively small radius.
1 M. D. Teenstra, De Landbouw in de Kolonie Suriname (Groningen, 1835).
The color of the thunder-stone is said to correspond to that of the cloud from which it falls. If the storm is violent and the sky very dark, the thunder-stone will be dark; if the storm is less violent and the sky grayer, the thunder-stone will be of paler hue. And so the darkest are considered the most powerful, and strike deepest into the earth. It is held that the very darkest thunder-stones strike so hard and penetrate so deeply, that it requires seven years for them to work up gradually to the surface; while the paler specimens enter the earth to a depth of a few feet only, or may be found upon the surface still glowing hot from the lightning. In this connection, it may be said that the specimens vary greatly in color and shades, from gray, buff, bluish, and reddish, to nearly black, depending not only upon the character of the stone and exposure to weather, but to a great extent upon the nature of the soil in which they have been buried for a long period of time.
A Negro told us that he was standing in his field at Lelydrop, in the Para district, when a thunder-storm came up. Suddenly there came a heavy stroke of lightning, which struck an enormous locusttree l near him. The tree was split in two and uprooted, and came down with a terrible crash, leaving a big hole in the ground where the roots had been. In describing it, the man said that the hole was so big that it saved him the trouble of digging a water-hole or well (watra-oro). Exposed upon the bottom of this hole, he said, was a tremendous thunder-stone, which was still white-hot, and which, upon cooling, had the color of gray marble.
One day, after a thunder-storm, a little boy brought to one of the writers an ordinary big field-stone which he could hardly lift. He said that his mother had sent him with it, saying that it had fallen from the sky during the storm, and that when she picked it up it was still warm. He also said that his mother expected much money for it, because it was such a big stone.
It is said that lightning cannot strike where they are kept, and for this reason many are preserved in the houses of the credulous. C. J. Hering * relates the following anecdote: —
"A young man from the civilized class informed me that his mother possessed a thunder-stone, which she kept over the lintel of her front door; his mother attached great value to the object, and would not part with it for anything, because she believed that the stone gave protection to her house against lightning. He did not dare to turn the stone over to me, because he feared his mother's displeasure. I advised him to wait until •there was a violent thunder-storm, and then to take away the stone. He did this; and when the storm had passed, his mother told him that she owed the preservation of her house, and everything that was in it, to the thunderstone which she had placed over the door, and which had now disappeared. The young man was thus free from the suspicion of having taken the stone."
1 Hymenaa courbaril Linn.
1 C. J. Hering, "De Oudheden van Suriname," in Catalogus der Nederlandsche Wcst-Indische Tentoonstelling te Haarlem, 1899 (Amsterdam, 1899).
A friend of the writers once saw a big stone axe on the ground, under the spout of a water-conductor. When he stooped to pick it up, an old woman who occupied the house stopped him; she objected to his taking the stone, because, she explained, it protected her house against lightning. But she could not have valued this protection very highly, for after some bartering she parted with it for one gulden.1
Some people say that the masons who built the foundation-walls of the Lutheran Church at Paramaribo placed under each of the four walls seven stone axes, presumably as a precaution against lightning.
These notions are not confined to the genuine primitive implements, but may be applied to any unusual stone object. Thus one day a Negro brought us a common European paper-weight, which was made of stone, and which had the form of a book. He said seriously that it was not an ordinary thunder-stone, but one that had been thrown down by God; he said it was a "God's book" (Gado-boekoe).
We have been told that during a thunder-storm a thunder-stone will become restless, and will tremble and shake in an uncanny manner. The perspiration will stand out upon it, and the whole surface will become moist, although the stone may be kept in a perfectly dry place. These actions on the part of the thunder-stone should clearly demonstrate its supernatural origin.2
But the real test to determine the genuineness is to wind a string firmly around the middle of the object, and then apply a flame to it. If the string does not burn, the object is a true thunder-stone of the best quality; if the string burns partially, the object is a thunder-stone of poorer quality; if the string burns rapidly and completely, the object is of earthly origin.
Occasionally a stone axe is found embedded in a full-grown tree, where it had probably been placed by an Indian long ago, when the tree was a sapling. This was done in the process of natural hafting. One specimen in the writers' collection was found thus embedded in
1 Forty cents in United States money.
* It is not difficult to conceive the source of this notion. A sharp thunder-clap, causing the windows to rattle-and the walls to shake, would very likely affect the equilibrium of one of these objects lying on its convex surface upon a vibrating shelf, and the moisture in the atmosphere would probably condense upon the cold surface of the stone.