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V: Educating

Even before the physiology of paternity is understood, the savage fully realizes the importance of maintaining the strength of the home-group, and rites of multiplication analogous to those which have to do with animals and plants invite the reincarnating spirits to enter the womb. In the woman the first signs of puberty involve a sort of preliminary lying-in, and later on both child-bearing and the earlier care of the young belong largely to the mother's department; though in the couvade the father has to bear his share of the resulting taboos. On the other hand, the adolescent has to face an initiation which is a tribal, not a domestic, affair, and is initiated into mysteries which proclaim the sacredness of the moral code henceforth incumbent on him.

If the race of Man with his protracted stage of immaturity is to continue on this earth, it is plain that nature will have to be supplemented by a nurture no less liberally prolonged. Such a need might seem to imply a joint care on the part of the two parents, whose association must therefore be correspondingly lasting. Hence, we are apt to read back our modern habits into the far past, and to picture a primeval Adam and Eve with their children about their knees playing with toy spades or dressing up dolls in fig-leaves. Anthropological research, however, as we have already seen, leads one to suspect that the individual family is the outcome of a slow and rather tortuous process of development. Making all allowance for the strength of the tendency to pair, and, once paired, to become relatively insensitive to rival attractions, we must none the less recognize the clan rather than the married couple as the constituent molecule out of which that typical social aggregate, the tribe, has been gradually compounded.

Under mother-right, a system too widely spread to be dismissed as aberrant, and so related to father-right that when intermediate forms arise it always appears as the prior condition, the progenitors of the rising generation are by no means likewise its educators, that being rather the duty of the maternal uncles. Because the child is father to the man, it does not follow that the man is conscious of being father to the child. Paternity in the physiological sense is no plain fact like motherhood, but at best a matter of induction. Moreover, it can have little or no economic meaning so long as the woman's gathering goes to satisfy her brood, while the man's hunting must help out the similar efforts of his blood-sisters. In short, whereas it takes a wise father to know his own children, an uncle of very moderate intelligence may perceive under full mother-right that, however they may happen to come, plenty of children must be born and bred if his home-group is to remain strong and efficient. Parent he cannot be, since the women of his own mother's blood are untouchable; but tutor he can be and is, being in fact a sort of elder brother at one remove of classificatory relationship. To-day the avunculate is dead, occupying a dusty shelf in the museum of obsolete institutions; but history must not forget to give it full credit for lifting the education of youth once for all above the plane of parental instinct, and hence of individual whim, and treating it, disinterestedly, as a vital function of the social life as such.

Primitive education, then, in its earliest phase was presumably an affair of mothering, aided by such vicarious fathering as was provided by the males of the mother's kin. Thus bringing forth and bringing up came under one and the same category; so that, according to the logic of the age before fathers, maternal responsibility began with whatever conduct might have led up to the miracle a spontaneous pregnancy. In the Banks Islands, for instance, a woman finding herself with child recognizes that she must have allowed a crab or some other animal to have come too near her loin-cloth; and, very properly, crab or whatever it may be is taboo to her future progeny on what might be termed metagenetic grounds.1 So, too, the Arunta girl, apparently quite unaware of her condition until the quickening, takes due note of the fact that the startling experience occurs in the neighbourhood of one or other of those stocks or stones, teeming with unborn spirits belonging to the several totems, with which the whole country is so conveniently dotted. One learns with regret that a maiden is not always prepared to play the part of a happy mother, and does her best to dodge the insidious advances of these precocious infants, who, however, have been born so many times already that they know a trick or two, and sooner or later are sure to catch her napping.2 Meanwhile, it is the business of the men of a given totem to encourage the human spirits to come out and be born in profusion, exactly as they do with the spirits destined to become animals, these having their own vivarium in a separate stone near by.3 Though no hint of sex obtrudes itself into these ritual proceedings, the plea for increase loses nothing of its force, and reveals the maternal function as in the very forefront of human interest. In complete independence of any desire for a mate, the desire for children thus stands out in all its purity as among the deepest aspirations of our race. Taken as an end in itself, a season rich in births makes for present gladness, and promises future strength.

Now the fertility rite has a long and complex history of which a full treatment would carry us far beyond our present theme. Suffice it, then, to note that its object is normally the multiplication of all life, human as well as animal and vegetable, as if Mother Earth were expected to be delivered of every creature after its kind in one prolific litter. ‘Give us a good year’, cry the Masai to their god Engai, meaning this summary petition to cover children, grass, cattle, and probably loot into the bargain.4 Miss Jane Harrison might be able to furnish no justification from Greek literature for her Eniautos Daimon, or Spirit of the Year, as the personification of the influences to which all forms of the fertility cult involved a common reference; but there can be no doubt that such a generalization is in full accordance with the religious outlook of the savage.5 Indeed, aboriginal Australia, while it has actually combined every kind of increase under one idea, the Arunta using intichiuma or mbanbiuma to express multiplication whether of human beings, animals, or plants,6 have likewise satisfied their predilection for the externalized thought-image by symbolizing universal productiveness under the form of the bull-roarer, with its many-sided appeal to sight, hearing, touch, and the muscular sense. So, too, Howitt, writing more particularly about the Yuin, states explicitly: ‘The roaring of the mudthi—or bull-roarer—represents the muttering of thunder, and the thunder is the voice of Daramulun—the high god who presides over the initiation ceremonies—and therefore its sound is of the most sacred character. Umbara—the tribal bard—once said to me, “Thunder is the voice of him (pointing upwards to the sky) calling on the rain to fall and make everything grow up new”.’7 Doubtless, then, because this power of making things grow up new is immanent in the mysterious instrument, does it likewise figure as the central feature of the rites designed to make the boys grow up into men.

Thus there is ample testimony that, to the primitive mind, though like Topsy's account of her own origin it contents itself with limiting the notion of becoming to that of a spontaneous growth, the beneficence of Nature the all-giver—to quote the Homeric epithet for Mother Earth—is signally manifest, exciting awe and homage in due proportion. Nay, it is very interesting to observe that this association of two potent interests concerned respectively with breeding and with feeding does not arise out of any sneaking sympathy between the various lusts of the flesh; because breeding and mating have not been put together in thought. Rather, the mind of Man, even at this early stage, is capable of contemplating the conditions of existence objectively enough to perceive children and food to be vital necessities of a like order, since without either society must quickly perish. So far as divine Providence reflects human aspiration, its function of supplying children year by year as well as sustenance day by day corresponds to a far-seeing and unselfish longing of the human heart.

Let us next consider a ritual occasion of great significance to savage society, though modern religion, conservative as it is of ancient sentiments and customs, has come to ignore this crisis in the individual life of woman. The appearance of the first signs of puberty in the female is treated as a matter of grave concern to the community among savages all over the world; and it is not extravagant to surmise that the institution of secluding the girl during this period goes back to a time when parturience rather than nubility was taken to be the meaning of the omen. Whereas male participation might remain unrecognized as a precondition of child-bearing, it was much easier to perceive the connexion between two analogous events in the life-history of the other sex. Here, undoubtedly, we have the twofold source of the symbolism which declares the mother's blood to be the unifying principle of the matrilineal kin. So, too, the fact that woman is thus afforded by nature a double excuse for keeping the man at a distance cannot but invest her in his eyes with a certain mystery; which is bound to affect her social status whether for better or worse. From the very outset of her career as a grown woman, she is declared holy by a mystic sign. The puberty rite of seclusion simply confirms what Nature has unambiguously announced, namely, that henceforth she is dedicated to the supreme function of creating human life afresh.

Now to acknowledge this exclusive right to preside over the destinies of the race might not accord any too well with a theory of male dominance. Hence metaphysicians of that sex were, in its interests, obliged to elaborate a doctrine of reincarnating spirits, whose efforts to conform with a cyclical process of recruiting their several totems cause them to use a passing woman as a convenience, even against her will. This does not, however, sound like an explanation of childbirth coloured by any close or first-hand experience of its physical side. Nay, one may suspect that among the arcana of womankind in council there always was much lore bearing far more directly and helpfully on maternity as a practical problem. Whereas the males in a body were shut off by the taboo on Woman's blood from anything more than an exoteric knowledge of the facts, the females in their corporate capacity through sheer familiarity with them would be more or less immune from a like dread; but might nevertheless find it to their advantage to exploit a mystery securing them undivided authority in what would thus be left as their special department. How far Woman helped, perhaps with her tongue in her cheek, to frame the various beliefs pertaining to the totemic complex can never be known; and we may easily exaggerate her part as a contributor, since it is not for the goddess but rather for her priest to compose a suitable theology. But that power went with the sacredness emanating from her very person is not to be doubted. Nay, as has already been suggested, exogamy, with all its vast influence on the development of tribal society, may well have been founded on no other sanction than the mother's curse, the vengeance of her outraged blood.

It is hardly necessary to go into details about the seclusion of girls following on the first signs of puberty, more especially as the reports, though numerous enough, are singularly meagre; no doubt because the male anthropologist is restricted to an outside view of what goes on. As a rule, our authorities comment without much sympathy with the savage point of view on the uncomfortable results of being shut up in a hut by oneself; of being condemned to eat apart and to sit by a separate fire; of being cut off from the sun's rays—not of course in order to shield the complexion, but lest something should go wrong with the light of day; or even perhaps, as on the La Plata, of being sewn up so tight in a hammock that it is almost impossible to move. It strikes the civilized observer as bad enough that this premature confinement of the future mother should last forty days, as in Guiana. Much more, then, does he protest when, as among the Eskimo or the Tlingit, it is prolonged for a whole year. Dealing with the latter people, one author assures us that as a consequence the Tlingit maidens are apt to be ‘waddling, crooked, and sometimes limping in their gait’. It is interesting to find, however, that another writer, whose insight is perhaps deeper, attributes their ‘modest reserve and strong characters’ to the opportunity thus afforded for privacy and meditation.8

Meanwhile, though completely withdrawn from general society, the girl is not so taboo to members of her own sex that they may not attend to her wants; and it would be interesting to know how much instruction, if any, is imparted to her by her more experienced friends in the course of her novitiate. It may be added that most of these accounts are drawn from peoples who are fully aware of the father's part in producing a family; so that it is definitely as a prelude to matrimony that the girl undergoes her period of consecrated leisure. Immediately afterwards, her ‘coming out’ is celebrated with much pomp and hilarity. She is washed, dressed up, and exhibited to the world in all her eligibility. At the dance held in her honour every kind of felicitation is offered. Thus in addition to health and happiness, the Hupas wish her truthfulness as the brightest ornament in a bridal trousseau.9

So much for the preparatory rite of consecration heralding the holy state of motherhood—far holier in the eyes of the savage than that of the matrimony which at first means so little for him in a moral or even a social way. The same principle of a more or less rigid confinement governs her life throughout the primitive world, from a certain period of her pregnancy which may well correspond with the quickening in most cases—though our information is usually very deficient on such points—up to a month or more after her delivery. Now one is apt to think of a taboo as entirely in the interest of those who avoid the person on whom it is laid, as if the latter were some social leper interdicted by his uncleanness from all the offices of humanity. Yet it should not be overlooked in how many cases the avoidance is mutual. The mourner, for instance, shuns the gay throng, which in its turn would banish all reminder of death from its midst. Thus only on a very one-sided view of the situation ought one to reckon the woman's abstention at such times from general society, and incidentally from no inconsiderable a portion of hard labour, among the disabilities of a down-trodden sex. On the contrary, she has gone broody’ betimes to her own physical advantage no less than that of her offspring; and social convention has, as usual, but regularized and defined a precautionary inaction which doubtless has its ultimate root in the maternal instinct itself.

Nor is the purely medical side of this truly religious institution of sole interest, since its moral aspect is even more important. Consecrated, that is, set apart, as she is in order that the miracle of birth shall be enacted within her to the glory of her consummated womanhood, all her taboos, though they may have originated in a blind shrinking from common contacts and the daily task, take on during the long hours of her suspense a fresh meaning charged with a tender solicitude for the welfare of the fruit of her womb. She must be careful about her food, since to eat turtle will make her child lazy, and so on. Again, how much better to sit at home quietly than to wander in the wild woods and meet some grinning monkey, whose features, as she believes, she might be unlucky enough to transmit to the future human being.

Such untoward freaks of heredity, then, are best met by a policy of lying in, that is, of lying low. All the more is this so because here is an individual and therefore lonely task, in which the intervention of friends can be of little avail; more especially if, as on the Gold Coast, it takes the form of pelting and abusing the expectant mother in order to frighten evil influences away. Yet, on the whole, she has reason to offer much thanks for this relief from many duties, including conjugal duties, that must interfere with spiritual concentration on the most disinterested and ennobling of her vital functions. Virgin Mother or not, according to the changing verdict of science, she is the Pure Mother from the beginning to the end of human history, so far as maternity as such is Nature's chief reservoir of tender emotion, a never-failing source of loving-kindness of as elemental a type as blood or milk. On her, therefore, all education, all care of offspring, must primarily rest, however well or badly culture may discharge its secondary task of abetting race as the ultimate condition of human survival.

And what of paternity? We have already seen that, according to the earliest version of the book of life as composed by Man, it deserved no notice, though duly entered in the second edition as an after-thought distinctly out of harmony with pre-established views about conception. The tardiness of this acknowledgement of the responsibilities involved in fathering comes out rather clearly in the study of the custom of couvade, so alien to our own notions that it provokes a smile regardless of the religious significance which it bears for simpler folk. ‘Faire la couvade’, writes Cotgrave in 1650, is ‘to sit cowering or skowking within doors.’ Applied to South America, where they are apt to dispense with doors, it means for a man ‘skowking’ in his hammock, while his wife is similarly playing the broody hen; for a couvée, our word ‘covey’, as applied to partridges, simply means a sitting of eggs. Thus the father must adopt a quasi-maternal pose, not, as some authors have surmised, in order to get the fact firmly fixed in his thick head that he is second parent, a sort of mother's lieutenant; but rather in order that his masculine activities and his taste for strong meat and stronger drink shall not prejudice the well-being of the future infant. Wherefore he very wisely lies up, and imitates the resposeful existence of the cradle, no doubt primarily in the child's interest; though from his own point of view he would be sure to find himself sluggish in the hunt or at his ball-play when so contagious a lethargy had descended upon his wife and companion.

Indeed, the companionship between them is perhaps more in point here than any explicit recognition of the fact that his wife would not have been a mother without his co-operation. Among the Dieri of South Australia, if a child hurts itself, any adult relative will cut himself so as to relieve the pain.10 Or, again, the Arunta father though unaware of his physiological relationship to his wife's child, will nevertheless help in a case of difficult parturition by letting his hair-girdle be tied to her body; whereupon, if he walks about at a respectable distance away, the child will be led to follow him out into the world.11 This obstetrical co-liability of the male associate survives into civilized society; so that, for instance, the Hindu husband, while the child is on its way, should not merely avoid ill-omened acts such as attending a funeral or crossing the ocean, but must not even shave completely, and—most impressive symptom of his spiritual vulnerability at such a time—may not refuse his wife anything that she asks.12

Even so, these ritual precautions on the masculine side are but the pale reflex of the woman's functions, alike passive and active, as exercised in ushering new life into existence, with all the wise women of the tribe standing by to help. It remains for our lady anthropologists—nowadays, I am glad to say, increasingly numerous—to go out into the field and collect evidence about this essentially feminine province of early custom and ritual; as, for instance, Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson has done for her part of India in her book The Rites of the Twice-born. Such studies must go on to observe many curious practices incidental to the natal process; an example being the disposition of the afterbirth which, being deemed to be sympathetically connected with the child's fate, as if it were a sort of twin, must be guarded from all risk, as witness its careful preservation by the royal houses of ancient Egypt and modern Uganda. Thereupon it would be necessary to follow, at first almost day by day, and by months and years through the whole course of infancy and early childhood, that endless series of domestic ceremonies which centre round the mother and her charge. No doubt spiritual delicacy is a matter of degree, and their sacredness comes to involve fewer restrictions as time goes on, and excitement gives way to the calm of routine. But the savage mother, with her long lactation, is by no means liberated from her anxieties when the formal period of stricter seclusion is over, and she has, so to speak, been duly ‘churched’.

Nursery life, as those who have most to do with it will know best, consists of one crisis after another. After all, the child is new to the world, so that whatever he does or suffers in the way of a fresh experience will tend to get on to somebody's nerves, his own or those of his elders. From the first bathing or feeding, onwards through the miseries of teething and weaning, to inaugural concessions to fashion such as hair-cutting, ear-boring, or tattooing, there is ever a further stage of development, physical and social, to be faced by one not yet competent to fend for himself—a fledgling half in and half out of the nest. All such occasions, then,—and they might be multiplied indefinitely—give rise to religious rites, whether they remain the women's affair or involve male intervention in the shape of the priest or diviner; and such rites are sacraments historically bound up with that earliest of all churches, namely the home.

If it be objected that we have pushed back the subject of education too far, so as to embrace the nurture of the individual even in its prenatal phase, the answer is that parental responsibility begins from the first moment of conception; the scope of the interest of religion in the welfare of the child being therefore correspondingly wide. As our own rite of infant baptism makes clear, or indeed as is implied by legal and moral prohibitions which bracket abortion with infanticide, the potential soul is by anticipation a subject of rights; and these in their turn imply duties as towards the society which exists in and through the interlinked succession of its members. So gradual and imperceptible is the process by which the initiative passes from teacher to pupil, as the mind of the latter comes to react to habits prescribed in advance, that it is simplest to regard the whole individual life as an education from start to finish; in so far as its entire stock of acquisitions can be treated as distinct from, and complementary to, its hereditary bias on the one hand, and personal initiative on the other. Thus the moment at which consciousness comes into play is by no means so significant from the educational point of view as it might seem, unconscious influences being quite as important in their own way. Nor, again, will the point at which various higher faculties emerge into full activity be found easy to note, much less to deal with by standardized methods of training.

Meanwhile, religion is not determined in its attitude towards such matters by any close study of the processes of Nature, such as undoubtedly must afford educational theory a wider choice of means. Rather the peculiar function of religion is to envisage and exalt ends. It greets the perfected Christian in the heedless babe, the ripe fruit in the unopened bud. It has done its duty by humanity if it provides it with a horoscope, urging it forward to achieve a destiny written in the stars. Thus it hardly matters whether the blessing is sought on behalf of mother or of child, of teacher or of learner, so long as all concerned are made aware of the high purpose realized in this supreme business of getting good value out of the rising generation. To the adult it might seem on the face of it very tiresome work thus to be ever beginning all over again; and, as far as instinct goes, Nature has perhaps granted to the female sex more than its fair share of the faculty of being able to live again in the life of the young. Yet so conspicuously does the ceremonial idealism of the savage set up the picture of holy mother and holy child among its most sacred objects, that primitive society is never in danger of failing to observe the injunction ‘let the children first be filled’, as the only sure way of leaving an inheritance to their children's children.

Being here concerned with education only so far as it comes within the sphere of consecration, we cannot pause to consider at any length the nature of the early training, alike technical and moral, which takes place whilst the child is still tied to his or her mother's apron-strings—supposing indeed the toilette of the lady in question to run to such lengths. Belonging, too, to this initial phase of instruction is the time spent by a boy who, at about the coming of his second teeth if not before, has left the company of his mother and sisters to sleep in some sort of men's house or bachelor's club. A fairly safe generalization would be to say that at this stage Nature serves as pedagogue in chief; which to some minds might seem equivalent to the admission that the savage child is decidedly ‘spoilt’. Yet play and imitation between them are no bad managers of an infant school. For the adult savage the close crowding entailed by his gregarious habits may be positively detrimental, as tending to stifle such individuality as may be in him. But childhood's first lesson must be to behave normally; and, while this is yet being taken in, it is well that the common example should distil ‘as the small rain upon the tender herb’. Indeed it may count, educationally speaking, as a positive advantage to enjoy a plurality of mothers and uncles, not to mention fathers, as happens to a more or less appreciable extent under a classificatory system of relationships. The more dew, the less need for a watering-pot. The reparatory school of to-day is but a concentrated substitute for the diffused care of parents and quasi-parents who are no longer able, or perhaps willing, to do their daily work with their children about them.

For the rest, children left to their own devices exhibit the social sense in a form none the less compelling because it is crude. Within each age-grade, as it struggles up the ladder of status, an organization develops holding good for its own petty world, and singularly prophetic of the general course of Man's political advance. All the loyalties of page to squire and of squire to knight are rehearsed beforehand in the relations of boys differing but slightly in age, yet none the less vastly in authority. In primitive society even for their food the small fry may well have to wait on the mercy of elders, themselves none too sure of their share of the scraps; so that a sense of discipline spreads through them from the belly upwards.

Meanwhile, their religious exercises have scarcely begun. Ceremonies are performed not so much by them as for them. Our authorities, however, might find it worth while to pay special attention to children's stories, if only because they illustrate the nature of primitive folk-lore as opposed to genuine myth. A savage does not wear his religious heart on his sleeve, and is quite capable of indulging his sense of humour by palming off on the unwary stranger, who approaches him notebook in hand, a tissue of phantasies elaborately designed to mask rather than to convey his real beliefs. Such an organized hypocrisy is part and parcel of that esotericism which primitive religion, and perhaps all religion, has a strong tendency to affect; and, whatever we may think of the initiate's predilection for keeping his womankind in the dark, it is certain that, intellectually as otherwise, strong meat will not suit the digestion of babes and sucklings.

Yet there is also truth in the contention that it is necessary to ‘receive the kingdom of God as a little child’, because a simple faith in things imagined rather than seen is the foundation of all aspiration. It may even be helpful that nursery stories should be imparted by a mother who half believes them, so long at all events as she does not call bogies from the vasty deep in order to help her to keep order—a possibility that may account for the hagridden state of mind manifested by some primitive communities at some times, though by no means so universally as certain accounts of their psychology might lead one to suppose. So much, then, for the primary education available for the savage during his religious nonage. Almost subconsciously trained up to the turning-point of puberty, he must now embark on a systematized course of conscious experiences, not to say studies, whereby he will be enabled to graduate as a full-fledged member of the social body.

Something has already been said about the initiation ceremony as a preparation for marriage; this essential purpose being expressed in the fact that the candidate for manhood is put through his examination by the relatives of his future bride. Wife-worthiness is, after all, a sound criterion of general usefulness; and Darwin might have gone straight to the savage for his identification of fitness with survival value. But, thanks to its association with religion, which stimulates all the higher feelings at once, initiation comes to stand for far more in the life of the savage than can be summed up in his duty as a father—an idea which, indeed, as we have already seen, it takes him a long time to grasp at all adequately. For one thing, as a future hunter and fighter, on whose exertions the very existence of the group depends, he must above all things learn to be tough. Whereupon society, with an enthusiasm bordering on the sadistic, enters into the task of helping him over the ‘tenderfoot’ stage by devising every kind of physical ordeal. On the moral side, too, it is thought expedient to intensify his resistance to fear by a kind of homoeopathic treatment; though a civilized observer, who perhaps is blessed with weaker nerves, might well doubt whether the dose was not administered on too generous a scale. From fear to reverence is but a step; and the novice whom the medicineman does his best to frighten, and correspondingly to impress, by bringing up his magic crystals out of his stomach, jumping up out of a grave in which he has been buried, and so on, undoubtedly learns to be in awe of the wonder-working powers of the tribal headmen, and to defer to their authority accordingly. Howitt cites the very significant confession made to him by a young man of the Yuin tribe after his initiation: ‘When I was a little boy I did not believe all I heard about the joias, but, when I saw the gommeras at the kuringal bringing them up from their insides, I believed it all.’13 These gommeras, by the way, are the official headmen or chiefs of the various local groups of this particular tribe; though Howitt informs us that to be fitted for this office they must be qualified medicine-men as well as skilful orators and fighters. Their other title was biamban, or master of ceremonies, an epithet likewise applied to no less a personage than the high god Daramulun in place of this his secret name, which it was not lawful to utter.14 As for the joias, which are crystals and other mysterious substances such as the gommera is wont to exhibit between his teeth when the ceremonies are at their height—and it is noteworthy that the relief in raised earth representing the anthropomorphic figure of Daramulun furnishes him with a mouthful of actual quartz fragments15—these are but the outward and visible signs of mana. Beholding these marvels, the simple-minded novice is prepared to say, as the people of Samaria said of Simon when he was ‘giving out that himself was some great one’, ‘This man is the great power of God’. The author of the Acts goes on to aver that Simon ‘had bewitched them with sorceries’; but, as applied to a far lower level of human culture, such a judgement would be unduly severe.

Indeed, it is remarkable how hard the bemused intelligence of the Australian native struggles to overcome the ritualist fallacy of confusing the symbol with that for which it stands. For joias are in the first place all-pervasive, so that the very flesh and bones of the medicineman are composed of them.16 In the next place, they act invisibly and at a distance when projected, whether in order to kill or to cure, though even so the supersensitive can detect them streaking like a flash of light through the air, or emitting a whistling sound as they fly. Nor is the joia simply an embodiment of human or superhuman power in the way of wonder-working; since tabooed animals have their joias, which the novice is carefully taught to avoid by a befitting abstinence. In this connexion Howitt finds it necessary to explain that not only is there an immaterial joia, but likewise a substance peculiar to the animal, which is believed to provide its indwelling potency with a sort of abode or shrine.17 On the principle that all mana is more or less transmissible, a gommera, we learn, is quite capable of making mouth-play with these physical oddments derived from sacred animals, and more especially with that of the species whence he gets his personal totem or secret name.18

Altogether, then, there are abundant proofs of an effort to impose a spiritual meaning on the material vehicle; and one might as well accuse the medicine-man of fraud as condemn the priest with his holy water for falsifying the laws of chemical analysis. Indeed, although the art of bringing up edifying matter from one's inside implies a thaumaturgical proficiency based on long practice, it is not without significance that these displays involve an ecstatic condition bordering on frenzy, so that, as Howitt puts it, the performers seem to be ‘overcome by their own magic’, and are left utterly exhausted when the inspiration leaves them.19 There may indeed be something of a calculated terrorism in their endeavours to harrow the souls of the novices. In their own eyes, however, they are throughout acting as the ministers of a grace of which the real presence is felt within. Nay, if crude, the symbolism of bringing up the crystal, that magic substance which, for instance, they find so helpful in their hypnotic experiments, is effective enough as a way of suggesting that, as the French say, they ‘have an interior’—in other words, that only he is a leader and a teacher of men who is one inwardly.

As for sorcery, whatever may have been the case with Simon Magus, the charge would be absurd as levelled against a Board of Education, presided over by ministers of state who likewise enjoy some of the attributes of bishops. No doubt joias can blast; but no theory of punishment human or divine can dispense with blasting in reason. We actually read that a novice who disgraces himself by a display of untimely levity is sometimes speared off-hand pour encourager les autres. By comparison, the dire warnings of supernatural disasters in store for those who break taboos are in kindlier vein, since at least they defer the evil day. In any case, it would seem to be a constitutional infirmity peculiar to the human imagination at all stages that it can conjure up a vision of vice with richer invention than it can frame a convincing picture of virtue.

Thus, though a commination service is at best but an inverted way of inculcating the ten commandments, it may have its uses as a means of visualizing the incidents and consequences of a giddy, as contrasted with a sober, life. Be this as it may, the greybeard wisdom of Australia finds it expedient to enact in vivid pantomime its Stone Age version of the rake's progress before a class that must pull long faces at the literal risk of their lives. They are careful however, to ring down the curtain on each fresh scene depicting now a piece of childish mischief and now cardinal sin with solemn cries of disapprobation. Meanwhile, it is to be noted that the kabos or tutors of the boys, to wit their future brothers-in-law, take no active part in this ‘buffoonery’, as Howitt rather unkindly terms it, but all the while stand by their charges so as to furnish a moral commentary on what they see.20 Whatever, then we may think of such a method of ethics, apparently it works.

So far we have been contemplating the mana of the biamban, the spiritual director of youth, in its negative aspect as a purge of iniquity, reinforcing tribal law with an invisible sanction more fearful than even its visible purge by blood. But this same mana can positively communicate a veritable grace of God, since Daramulun, the supreme biamban—‘the great master’, as Howitt renders it21—whose dwelling is in the all-seeing sky and who speaks in the thunder, abounds in that transcendent virtue whereof his ministers are likewise vehicles and vessels sanctified to his honour. Daramulun, so the novices are told, can ‘do anything and go anywhere’. He gave the tribal laws to the ancestors. From him the gommeras receive their crystals, and all the powers that go with them. Nay, a gommera may actually represent Daramulun as if present at the rites which he instituted, so that the young might learn to walk in his ordinances.22

Thus the whole character of this veritable god is that of a personified goodness conceived as an inward force whereby miracles are wrought, not as by the spirits of devils, but by the hands of holy men, fathers of the people. So, in order to ‘complete’ the novice, he must be made ngai or good. This is done by means of a ceremony that may be compared to the laying on of hands, being essentially the transference of a blessing. Here are Howitt's actual words: ‘They all shouted ngai! meaning “good”, and at the same time moved their arms and hands, as if passing something from themselves to the boys, who, being instructed by the kabos, moved their hands and arms as if pulling a rope towards themselves the palms of the hands being held upwards. The intention of this is that the boys shall be completely filled—saturated, I might say—with the magic proceeding from the initiated and the medicine-men, so that “Daramulun will like them”.’23

This must suffice as a glimpse of primitive ritual in the act of consecrating the natural impulse to train up a child in the way he shall go. If it be objected that savages do not always display such a capacity for religion, the answer is, firstly, that it is only fair to judge mankind by its best efforts, and, secondly, that, good evidence about the inward life of the savage being rare, it should be made the most of when available. Now Howitt, an observer of classical authority, was on the most intimate terms with the Yuin, being regarded by them as a gommera of an adjacent tribe, and in fact attending their kuringal or ‘bush-rite’ of initiation in that professed capacity.24 Moreover it so happened that one of the novices was by tribe a Wolgal, and as such unacquainted with the Yuin tongue, for which a substitute had to be found in pidgin-English.25 Howitt was thus the better able to follow proceedings rendered all the more obscure by use of a vocabulary reserved for these occasions and known only to the initiated. Thus it is not for the passing traveller to throw light on mysteries as jealously guarded as those of Eleusis; and we must be grateful for the barest peep behind a veil shrouding a holy of holies at which mankind may well have worshipped ever since there were cavemen in Europe, or even long before. But enough has been said to illustrate the importance to the primitive society of securing that their offspring shall be established before their eyes by the favour of heaven, and to prove the moral value of the association so anciently and firmly knit between the disciplined and the dedicated life, between goodness and godliness. Man strove to do his duty by posterity even in the days when physiology was no better than a fairytale. Nay, to the end of time a spiritual must reinforce a physical eugenics, if the human race is to fulfil itself in veritable ‘children of the promise’.

  • 1.

    W. H. R. Rivers, Journ. R. Anthrop. Inst. xxxix. 172–6.

  • 2.

    Spencer and Gillen, op. cit. i. 77.

  • 3.

    Ibid. i. 84.

  • 4.

    A. C. Hollis, The Masai, 347.

  • 5.

    Jane Harrison, Themis, xiii.

  • 6.

    Spencer and Gillen, op. cit. 145.

  • 7.

    Howitt, op. cit. 538.

  • 8.

    See Lafitau, Mœurs des sauvages, i. 263; Hartsinck, Indians of Guiana, 60; Petroff's Report on Alaska in Tenth Census of the U.S. 170, as contrasted with Langsdorff ap. Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States of N. Am. i. 110.

  • 9.

    Cf. Woodruff, Dances of the Hupa Indians, 59.

  • 10.

    Gason in J. D. Woods, The Native Tribes of South Australia, 280.

  • 11.

    Spencer and Gillen, op. cit. 487.

  • 12.

    Mrs. Sinclair Stevenson, The Rites of the Twice-born, 113.

  • 13.

    Howitt, op. cit. 533.

  • 14.

    Ibid. 543.

  • 15.

    See illustration in Howitt, op. cit. 553.

  • 16.

    Compare J. Mathew, Eaglehawk and Crow, 191.

  • 17.

    Howitt, op. cit. 560.

  • 18.


  • 19.

    Howitt, op. cit. 545; cf. 535.

  • 20.

    Ibid. 532.

  • 21.

    Ibid. 528.

  • 22.

    Ibid. 541.

  • 23.

    Howitt, op. cit. 535.

  • 24.

    Ibid. 518.

  • 25.

    ibid. 553.