We are told that in the island of Tanna, in the New-Hebrides, shell trumpets are blown as signals to the disease-makers, or sorcerers, to entreat them to stop plaguing their victims. " These disease-makers collected any nahak, or rubbish, that had belonged to any one, such as the skin of a banana he had eaten, wrapped it in a leaf like a cigar, and burnt it slowly at one end. As it burnt, the owner's illness increased; and if it was burnt to the end, he died; therefore, as soon as a man fell ill, feeling sure that some sorcerer was burning his rubbish, shell trumpets, which can be heard for miles, are blown as a signal to the sorcerers to stop, and wait for the presents which should be sent in the morning. When a disease-maker fell ill himself, he too believed that some one was burning his rubbish, and had his shells blown for mercy". *
The large chank-shell, Turbinella rapa, is a chief instrument of the Buddhists, who blow three times a day on this sacred shell, to summon believers to worship; and the same authority states that, according to the most ancient annals of the Cingalese, the chank-shell is sounded in one of the superior heavens of the demigods (similar to the conch-blowing tritons of Grecian Mythology) in honour of Buddha, as often as the latter wanders abroad on the earth.† Sir J. E. Tennent mentions that this chank-shell is exported from Ceylon to India as a wind instrument, and to be sawn into rings for anklets and bracelets; and also that a chank, in which the whorls were reversed, and ran from right to left, instead of from left to right, was regarded with such reverence, that a specimen formerly sold for its weight in gold, but that now one may be had for £4 or £5. The Chinese also hold reversed chank-shells in special veneration, and give high prices for them. They are kept in the Pagodas by the priests and used on special occasions, and the consecrated oil is kept in one of these sinistrorsal Turbinellidœ, with which the Emperor is anointed at his coronation.* From the earliest ages the Gulf of Manaar has been fished for chanks. Perforated conch shells, both a Triton (T. variegatum ?), and a large conical Strombus, perforated at the apex of the spire, not on the side of one of the upper whorls, as in the case of the Triton, are used by the natives of New Guinea, Humboldt Bay, or "Talok Lintju". - They are highly prized by them and make a booming noise.†
* Turner, 'Polynesia,' as quoted in Taylor's 'History of Mankind,' p. 128. .
† 'Voyage of the Novara.' .
A species of Triton was used formerly by the Indians of South America as a trumpet, and a specimen was dug up at Cañete, in Peru. The shell was called "Bosina," on account of the sound produced by blowing into it resembling the roar of a bull, and it was used to announce the approach of any great man into a town. It was ornamented with tassels of human hair, and a leather strap of exquisite workmanship. Mr. Walter Shaw, of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, at Callao, is said to have it in his possession.‡
Dr. Potter, in his 'Archeeologia Graeca,' vol. ii., states that the ancient Greeks used shells as trumpets as the Spaniards do at the present day; and that the first Grecian signals were lighted torches thrown from both armies, by men who were priests of Mars, and that these signals being laid aside, shells of fishes succeeded, which were sounded in the manner of trumpets, which in those days were not invented. Hence Theog-nis's riddle may easily be interpreted; -
"A sea-inhabitant with living mouth Spoke to me to go home, though dead it was".
Triton's shell-trumpet is famous in poetical story, whence Ovid, speaking of Neptune, says; -
"Already Triton at his call appears Above the waves a Tyrian robe he wears; And in his hand a crooked trumpet bears. The Sov'reign bids him peaceful sounds inspire, And give the waves the signal to retire; His writhen shell he takes, whose narrow vent, Grows by degrees into a large extent". - Dryden.
* Lubbock's 'Prehistoric Times,' vol. i. p. 222.
† 'A Naturalist on the 'Challenger'.
‡ 'Two Years in Peru,' by Thomas Hutchinson,' vol. i. p. 134.
And most of the poets mention this custom in their description of primitive wars.
Some of the North American Indian tribes hold sea-shells in great reverence, and it is said that the Omahas possessed a sacred shell which they transmitted from generation to generation. A skin lodge was built for it, and a man appointed as guardian, who resided in the lodge. It was placed on a stand and never allowed to touch the earth, and was concealed from sight by a number of mats made of strips of skins plaited. The whole formed a large package, and tobacco, roots of trees, and other objects were suspended from it. No one dared to open all these coverings to see the sacred shell, for if they attempted to look upon it, they were struck with instant and total loss of sight. The Indians took the shell with them to all the national hunts, and, before going any expedition against their enemies, consulted it. The medicine men seated themselves round the sacred lodge, the lower part of which was thrown up like a curtain, and the exterior mat was carefully removed from the shell, that it might have air. Some of the tobacco consecrated by having been long suspended to the coverings of the shell, was taken by the medicine men, and smoked to the "Great Medicine". During the ceremony every one listened most attentively, hoping to hear a sound proceed from the shell. At length some one imagined he heard a noise resembling a forced expiration of air from the lungs, and this was considered a favourable omen, and the tribe prepared for the expedition confident of success. If on the contrary the shell obstinately remained silent, the result of the expedition was regarded as doubtful.* The natives of Usambara, in South Africa, according to the late Mr. Keith Johnson, the leader of the East African Expedition, in 1879, attach marvellous powers to a large land shell, a species of Achatina, imagining that it can ward off all forms of evil and witchcraft, and for this reason it was held in high repute, and they place the dead shells in little enclosures of stone in their fields, and at the gateways of their villages, which are thus considered safe from the attacks of the enemy, or from disease.†