Whenever the eye was fixed in death the house became a scene of indescribable lamentation and wailing. "Oh, my father, why did you not let me die, and you live here still?" "Oh, my brother, why have you run away and left your only brother to be trampled upon?" "Oh, my child, had I known you were going to die! Of what use is it for me to survive you; would that I had died for you!" These and other doleful cries might have been heard two hundred yards from the house; and they were accompanied by the most frantic expressions of grief, such as rending garments, tearing the hair, thumping the face and eyes, burning the body with small piercing firebrands, beating the head with stones till the blood ran, and this they called an "offering of blood" for the dead.

After an hour or so the more boisterous wailing subsided, and, as in such a climate the corpse must be buried in a few hours, preparations were made without delay. The body was laid out on a mat, oiled with scented oil, and, to modify the cadaverous look, they tinged the oil for the face with a little turmeric. The body was then wound up with several folds of native cloth, the chin propped up with a little bundle of the same material, and the face and head left uncovered, while, for some hours longer, the body was surrounded by weeping relatives. If the person had died of a complaint which carried off some other members of the family, they would probably open the body to "search for the disease." Any inflamed substance they happened to find they took away and burned, thinking that this would prevent any other members of the family being affected with the same disease. This was done when the body was laid in the grave.

While a dead body was in the house no food was eaten under the same roof; the family had their meals outside, or in another house. Those who attended the deceased were most careful not to handle food, and for days were fed by others as if they were helpless infants. Baldness and the loss of teeth were supposed to be the punishment inflicted by the household god if they violated the rule. Fasting was common at such times, and they who did so ate nothing during the day, but had a meal in the evening. The fifth day was a day of "purification." They bathed the face and hands with hot water, and then they were "clean," and resumed the usual time and mode of eating.

The death of a chief of high rank was attended with great excitement and display; all work was suspended in the settlement; no stranger dared to pass through the place. For days they kept the body unburied, until all the different parties connected with that particular clan assembled from various parts of the islands, and until each party had, in turn, paraded the body, shoulder high, through the village, singing at the same time some mournful dirge. The body, too, was wrapped up in the most valuable fine mat clothing which the deceased possessed.

The burial generally took place the day after death. As many of the friends as could be present in time attended. Every one brought a present, and the day after the funeral these presents were all so distributed again as that every one went away with something in return for what he brought. The body was buried without a coffin, except in the case of chiefs, when a log of wood was hollowed out for the purpose. The body being put into this rude encasement, all was done up again in some other folds of native cloth, and carried on the shoulders of four or five men to the grave. The friends followed, but in no particular order; and at the grave again there was often further wailing and exclamations, such as, "Alas! I looked to you for protection, but you have gone away; why did you die? would that I had died for you!"

The grave was called "the fast resting-place," and in the case of chiefs, "the house thatched with the leaves of the sandal wood," alluding to the custom of planting some tree with pretty foliage near the grave. There was no village burying-ground all preferred laying their dead among the ashes of their ancestors on their own particular ground. They carried the skulls of their dead from a land where they had been residing during war back to the graves of their fathers as soon as possible after peace was proclaimed. The grave was often dug close by the house. They made it about four feet deep, and after spreading it with mats, like a comfortable bed, there they placed the body with the head to the rising of the sun, and the feet to the west. With the body they deposited several things which may have been used during the person's illness, such as his clothing, his drinking-cup, and his bamboo pillow. The sticks used to answer the purpose of a pick-axe in digging the grave were also carefully buried with the body. Not that they thought these things of use to the dead; but it was supposed that if they were left and handled by others further disease and death would be the consequence. Other mats were spread over the body, on these a layer of white sand from the beach, and then they filled up the grave. The spot was marked by a little heap of stones a foot or two high. The grave of a chief was neatly built up in an oblong slanting form, about three feet high at the foot and four at the head. White stones or shells were intermixed with the top layer, and if it had been a noted warrior his grave might be surrounded with spears, or his club laid loosely on the top.

Embalming was known and practised with surprising skill in one particular family of chiefs. Unlike the Egyptian method, as described by Herodotus, it was performed in Samoa exclusively by women. The viscera being removed and buried, they, day after day, anointed the body with a mixture of oil and aromatic juices. To let the fluids escape, they continued to puncture the body all over with fine needles. In about two months the process of desiccation was completed. The hair, which had been cut and laid aside at the commencement of the operation, was now glued carefully on to the scalp by a resin from the bush. The abdomen was filled up with folds of native cloth; the body was wrapped up with the same material, and laid out on a mat, leaving the hands, face, and head exposed. A house was built for the purpose, and there the body was placed with a sheet of native cloth loosely thrown over it. Now and then the face was oiled with a mixture of scented oil and turmeric, and passing strangers were freely admitted to see the remains of the departed. Until about twenty years ago there were four bodies laid out in this way in a house belonging to the family to which we refer, viz. a chief, his wife, and two sons. They were laid on a platform raised on a double canoe. They must have been embalmed upwards of thirty years, and although thus exposed, they were in a remarkable state of preservation. They assigned no particular reason for this embalming, further than that it was the expression of their affection to keep the bodies of the departed still with them as if they were alive. None were allowed to dress them but a particular family of old ladies, who all died off; and, as there was a superstitious fear on the part of some, and an unwillingness on the part of others, to handle them, it was resolved at last to lay them underground.

Burnings for the dead. - On the evening after the burial of any important chief his friends kindled a number of fires at distances of some twenty feet from each other, near the grave; and there they sat and kept them burning till morning light. This was continued sometimes for ten days after the funeral; it was also done before burial. In the house where the body lay, or out in front of it, fires were kept burning all night by the immediate relatives of the departed. The common people had a similar custom. After burial they kept a fire blazing in the house all night, and had the space between the house and the grave so cleared as that a stream of light went forth all night from the fire to the grave. The account the Samoans give of it is, that it was merely a light burning in honour of the departed, and a mark of tender regard.

The unburied occasioned great concern. No Roman was ever more grieved at the thought of his unburied friend wandering a hundred years along the banks of the Styx than were the Samoans while they thought of the spirit of one who had been drowned, or of another who had fallen in war, wandering about neglected and comfortless. They supposed the spirit haunted them everywhere, night and day, and imagined they heard it calling upon them in a most pitiful tone, and saying, "Oh, how cold! oh, how cold!" Nor were the Samoans, like the ancient Romans, satisfied with a mere "tumulus inanis" at which to observe the usual solemnities; they thought it was possible to obtain the soul of the departed in some tangible transmigrated form. On the beach, near where a person had been drowned, and whose body was supposed to have become a porpoise, or on the battlefield, where another fell, might have been seen, sitting in silence, a group of five or six, and one a few yards before them with a sheet of native cloth spread out on the ground in front of him. Addressing some god of the family he said, "Oh, be kind to us; let us obtain without difficulty the spirit of the young man!" The first thing that happened to light upon the sheet was supposed to be the spirit. If nothing came it was supposed that the spirit had some ill-will to the person praying. That person after a time retired, and another stepped forward, addressed some other god, and waited the result. By-and-by something came; grasshopper, butterfly, ant, or whatever else it might be, it was carefully wrapped up, taken to the family, the friends assembled, and the bundle buried with all due ceremony, as if it contained the real spirit of the departed. The grave, however, was not the hades of the Samoans, as we have already seen in Chapter III. Prayers at the grave of a parent or brother orchief were common. Some, for example, would pray for health in sickness and might or might not recover. A woman prayed for the death of her brother, he died, but soon after she died also. A chief promised to give a woman some fine mats, he deceived her, and off she went and prayed at the grave of his predecessor in the title. The man took ill and died. She confessed what she had done, but said she did not pray for death, but only pain to make him smart for his deceit. And so the custom was carried on, but with fluctuating belief in its efficacy.