Saturday, 27 October 2012

Fiji - Gods of War

In his book, On Fiji Islands, Ronald Wright describes a trip he took to Bau, a small island off the coast of Viti Levu.  It seems to hard to believe it now, but Bau (pronounced Mbau) was once the centre of political power in Fiji and home to the 19th-century Fijian warlord, Cakobau, who proclaimed himself King of Fiji, before gifting the islands to Britain.  Cakobau was responsible for the conversion of Bau to Christianity and the end of warfare and cannibalism, which the islanders had a reputation for. 

Cagawalu - supreme deity of Bau

Cakobau's conversion to Christianity was partly a result of feeling 'let down' by the island's supreme deity, Cagawalu, the god of war.  Wright associates the rise in Cagawalu's popularity, with the rise in the power of the Bau kingdom - therefore, it makes sense that the loss of political influence in Bau, would also mean the triumph of the Christian god of peace over the Fijian god of war!

The not-so-Pacific islands

Despite the name, many of the Pacific islands were quite warlike, especially in Polynesian islands like New Zealand, where the Maoris had a fierce reputation as warriors and war-makers.  The people of Hawaii worshipped a war god called Kū, who ressembles the Maori war god Tū, also known as Tū-mata-uenga (Tu of the angry face), Tū-kai-taua (Tu the destroyer of armies) or Tū-ka-riri (Tu the angry).  Interestingly,  was known as the 'old god of war' in Tahiti - perhaps because he was imported at an earlier date and later replaced by the Tahitian god of war, 'Oro.

Featured gods of Hawaii and the Aztecs


Huitzilopochtli, Aztec god of war
I also find it really interesting that the Hawaiian god of war,  is depicted as being covered in feathers.  There has been even more evidence in recent months (since I wrote my blog post on Dinosaurs) that dinosaurs may have been feathered and may have evolved into modern-day birds.  I realise that dinosaurs and humans missed each other by millions of years, but I can't help but wonder at terrifying war gods, like Hawaii's , but also Huitzilopochtli of the Aztecs - who has a very bird-like appearance.  Perhaps, there was some ancestral memory or inherited knowledge of larger, bird-like creatures that were predators of pre-historic man?

Human sacrifice and the forces of darkness

Huitzilopochtli is most associated with the human sacrifics that were made in his honour.  Actually, Huitzilopochtli was a solar god, who fought the forces of darkness and demanded human sacrifice to appease the violent nature of the struggle between the dark and the light.  I guess, war is ultimately about sacrifice - we might turn up our noses nowadays at savage practices such as human sacrifice, but if you think of how many young men were 'sacrificed' to appease the gods of World War 1, or the 'war on/of terror' in Afghanistan.  Is it really that different? 

Kali trampling Shiva by Raja Ravi Varma
Even today, war is perceived as a struggle between 'good and evil' or 'dark and light'.  Kali, the Hindu goddess of darkness was seen as the great destroyer, an antithesis of Shiva, the creator - but also his consort.  It seems that the human need to destroy and create goes hand-in-hand.  I'm pretty sre that lucrative contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq were being drawn up, even as Western armies were preparing for invasion.

The 'intelligent' war gods of Europe

Many war gods are also gods of fertility, during times of peace.  A good example is Anann, the Irish goddess of war, who was also a fertility goddess and managed Ancient Ireland's livestock!  Ancient Europeans also made human sacrifices to appease the gods of war - sacrifices were made to the Celtic war god, Lugus and the Nordic Odin.  By all accounts, Odin was the 'thinking man's god of war'.  As well as being God of war, he was famous for his creativity and was considered to be an intelligent god, developing war strategies - he was also revered for his magical powers. 

War Gods of Ancient Greece and Rome

The Ancient Greeks captured the essence of the war god by having two war gods - the male, Ares symbolised the violence of war and the unfettered masculine thirst for blood.  The female goddess, Athena had a more strategic approach to war and transcended the more primal instincts of blood-letting and needless sacrifice.  Ares always went into battle with his two closest companions, Phobos (fear) and Deimos (terror). 

Mars and the Vestal Virgin by Jacques Blanchard
The Roman god of war, Mars, was symbolised by the wolf and the woodpecker.  The wolf because of its brutality and power and the woodpecker because of its persistance in bringing down the Oak tree, which is much bigger than itself.  The 'red planet' is named after Mars which, I guess, is symbolic of his blood-thirsty role. 

War and Peace

Cakobau converted to Christianity because he believed that the old gods had deserted Fiji and that his people should submit to the new god of Christianity.  It got me thinking about the influence of monotheism and religions like Christianity and Islam.  Islam is the religion of 'submission' and peace - although there were war gods in Ancient Babylon, Sumeria and other parts of the (what we call) the Middle East, the adoption of Islam, saw the end of pagan beliefs and a new belief-system that promoted peace, tolerance and trade.  Likewise, the central messages of Christianity, particularly in the New Testament are all about 'Love Thy Neighbour' and 'Turn the other Cheek'

If the spread of Christianity and Islam helped pacify previously warring tribes and nations (as it did in Fiji), then why is the world still at war?  Which 'god' is still demanding the sacrifice of human lives?  Perhaps the new gods of war are oil, money and greed!

Image credits:

All images are taken from Wikimedia commons and are considered to be in the public domain and, therefore, copyright free. 
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