National Geographic : 1945 Jul
Yank Meets Native Kminil iteynolts Irom American lieo tross An American Red Cross Guide Washes Her Feet in a Sikh Temple Before being permitted to view the Granth, or Sikhs' sacred book, Miss Mary Jane Young was obliged to go through this purification ceremony (page 112), while stocking-footed Yanks awaited their turn. She was conducting a Red Cross tour for GI's in Calcutta. However, tree worship does exist in New Guinea. In some parts of the island natives believe their ancestors live on the branches of trees and they hang red and white strips of cotton on the boughs. Often they place bas kets of food and other offerings on the tree to tempt the hungry spirits. When he clears his land for planting, a gar dener frequently leaves one big tree stand ing as a shelter for the garden spirit. The belief is that some trees harbor friendly gar den spirits which favor the owners of the gardens by giving them good crops, but are resentful of strangers and intruders. Boys back from Burma told me they had to curb their romantic inclinations to carve their initials in trees there.* "That was definitely on the 'don't' side," said one. "Those babies think their ances tors live in the trees, too." This brought a loud guffaw from a burly Yank who said that was nothing new. A lot of people right here believe their ancestors lived in trees and swung by their tails. And when he was told to pipe down, he couldn't resist tossing in his explanation for those who might not have been able to grasp his subtle meaning. "Monkeys, brother! Just plain monkeys!" A Painful Kind of Mourning A Yank who reported "there are head hunters and sorcerers and hocus-pocus makers all over New Guinea" also related some na tive reactions to deaths in the villages. "I saw a woman take her fingernails and scratch long bloody gashes in her face be cause her husband had been killed." When I asked him whether he had seen any of them "dressed in their widow's weeds" or with joints of their fingers missing or * See "Burma: Where India and China Meet," by John LeRoy Christian, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, October, 1943.