Straw Figures and Last Man Capers
the island of Rousay
there was a tradition recorded in which a straw man took the place
of the bikko and was left at the house
of the last person to "cut off" or finish harvesting.
In all these cases where the "last man"
is given - unwillingly in most cases - a straw effigy, I have speculated
that the trophy may have once been thought to either represent or
contain the "spirit of the crop".
As such, its receipt
marked the receiver for some special purpose.
The last man traditions are dealt with further
in the next section.
The manufacture of straw figures at harvest time
is by no means restricted to Orkney but is widespread across Britain
However, there is one major difference. Elsewhere
to receive the straw likeness generally brought good luck and health
whereas in Orkney it was intended as an insult and greatly resented.
In a similar vein, in Orkney, at harvest time,
little emblems, known as "harvest knots" and made from
straw were once exchanged. It was thought that if one of these "hairst
roses" were placed on the toe of the master's boot, he would
be compelled to give the harvesters a bottle of whisky.
According to Orcadian antiquarian Ernest Marwick,
the harvest knot was regarded in some places as a fertility symbol
but unfortunately he was unaware of the significance of these.