A Study of Early Egotism
ONE of the principal pessimistic fears for the future is that socialism and other deplorable isms will confirm the conditions of modern civilization which destroy all individuality. More than forty years ago John Stuart Mill pointed out the growing insignificance of the individual and the increasing importance of the masses. Inevitable as these conditions seem, it is difficult to be reconciled to them. Perhaps they may be made to appear just a trifle less unendurable by a knowledge of what life was when each man’s individuality was strong and the masses were not. Once brought face to face with the consequences of the religion of enmity, as Herbert Spencer calls it, — that is, the doctrine of every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost, — it is easier to accept the predicted results of the religion of amity, the doctrine of every man for his neighbor.
Whoever has considered the subject must agree with Mill that, according to our standard, “ there is no more accurate test of the progress of civilization than the progress of the power of coöperation.” That being granted, it must also be admitted that the morals evolved in the course of this development tend more and more to the full acceptance of the doctrine of amity. How can there be coöperation unless men are willing to work with and for one another ? That as yet, however, the doctrine has been only partially accepted is a fact beyond dispute. Hitherto there has always been among civilized peoples a conflict between the two opposing doctrines. But though the conflict still continues, it cannot be denied that the time when the doctrine of amity will have conquered, when men in their relations to one another will be governed not by law, but by love, is looked forward to as the ideal end of civilization. This being the case, it logically follows that states of society in which the doctrine of enmity, or the rule of egoism, is supreme must, to civilized men, seem the very lowest possible to humanity.
Mr. Lang, in his Custom and Myth, says, “ The study of the mental condition of savages is really the foundation of a scientific mythology.” So also it may be said that a study of their moral state is the basis of scientific sociology. It is among them that the individual has most power, and therefore that the doctrine of enmity is found in its most perfect form. This should help to reconcile the nineteenth-century cynic to his surroundings, since it is to savage life and culture he must look for the origins of civilization. There can be little doubt that as savages are now, so were our primitive ancestors in past ages. The supremacy of the individual among the former is so self-evident that it hardly calls for proof. “ As any people approach the condition of savages or slaves,” Mill writes, “ so are they incapable of acting in concert.” Moreover, if it be true, as we know it to be, that in proportion as men work together the masses acquire power, the converse of the proposition must also hold good: where there is the smallest possible division of labor, such as missionaries and travelers testify exists among savages, there will the individual be strongest. But more direct evidence is to be had in the belief of wild tribes, like the Comanche Indians, that every man should be a law unto himself, because the Great Spirit gave each the privilege of free and unrestrained use of his individual faculties ; or in the approved conduct and deified qualities of New Zealanders and West Africans; or, to descend still further in the human scale, in the apparent incapacity of the lowest savages — Fuegians and Western Australians, for example — to reach even the social level of elephants and monkeys. It may be objected that the savage sacrifices individuality when he burdens himself with chiefs, sorcerers, and custom, the latter being to him a more inexorable tyrant than is Worth or æstheticism to a modern slave. But his submission in these cases is the result, not of coöperation with his fellow-beings, but of his stern necessities as an individual. He can be a law unto himself to a limited extent only. Certain of his actions, whether he will it or no, are regulated by circumstances stronger than he. Thus, averse as he may be to effort or exertion of any kind, he must at times go in search of food, if he would not die of hunger; he must make weapons of defense, if he would not fall a prey to wild beasts or human enemies. In like manner, he bows before his chief to escape torture, or perhaps death; he respects the command of the sorcerer that he may not be bewitched ; he yields to the requirements of custom to save himself from being socially ostracized. He is unconscious that these are evils of his own creation, and would no more think of defying them than of evading the laws of hunger and thirst. Paradoxical as it may sound, the truth is that where men do not coöperate, but each acts for himself, there will the individual have least liberty.
The inevitable outcome of this individuality is egotism. It would be foolish to assert the complete disinterestedness of civilized man. Not even the most optimistic could think the capitalist invests his money entirely for the benefit of the people, or the politician seeks office solely for the good of his country. But if we have not yet fully adopted the doctrine of amity, we are at least conscious that it should be ours. The savage, for his part, would laugh at it as preposterous, there being just this difference between his selfishness and that of the modern American or Englishman: the latter strives to conceal where the former thinks there is nothing to be ashamed of. Again to quote Mill: “ The savage cannot bear to sacrifice for any purpose the satisfaction of his individual will. His social cannot even temporarily prevail over his selfish feelings, nor his impulses bend to his calculations.” He is, in a word, the personification of egotism. The new school of moralists teaches that individuals must be selfish in some things, that they may in the end be of more use to their fellow-beings. The savage doctrine is, Be selfish in all things, that you may be of use to yourself. In the highest moral creeds there enters the idea of self-sacrifice ; the lowest have for principle the sacrifice of others. In the former, virtue and vice in the individual cannot be considered apart from his social relations ; in the latter, they are entirely independent of these relations. The savage knows no good or evil save that which is good or evil to him personally. Hence his conception of evil is the very basest, the lowest rung in the moral ladder.
This assertion of savage egotism may at first seem too unqualified. It has often been demonstrated, not alone by eighteenth - century sentimentalists, that some savages possess characteristics and customs that civilized man would do well to emulate. It is this which bewilders many students of savage life. Accounts of missionaries and travelers are strangely at variance. In one book a savage is an angel, in another a fiend. But these apparent inconsistencies are easily explained. That which Mr. Wallace calls justice is really instinct. The hideous cruelties public opinion approves show how utterly deficient is the savage’s sense of his neighbor’s right. When Mr. Wallace and other travelers dwell with eloquence on the peace and friendliness in which some families and tribes live together, they forget that men, as well as animals, are governed by natural laws, — that the same, to them inexplicable, phenomenon occurs among all the higher species of beasts and birds. That which they would accept as absolute necessity in the animal kingdom, they look upon as deliberate virtue in the human world. It is not virtue, but nature, that keeps bees at peace within their hives, no matter how ready they are to sting the passer-by. Special merit is not attributed to sheep because they flock together. In the savage, as in the bee and the sheep, there is a strong instinct that insures the survival of the race together with that of the individual. It must be remembered that the doctrine of enmity does not imply that every man is forever fighting every other man. It means simply that that which benefits the individual being held by him to be good, and that which injures him evil, his well-being is his standard of right and wrong. The savage whose conduct is a confession of belief in this doctrine will commit a crime or perform a good action, provided it can benefit him, with equal willingness. What the result of this action will be to others is a matter of complete indifference to him. He is virtuous or vicious as it suits his own convenience. His realization of this fact Mr. Williams, the missionary, gives as a reason for the Fijian being always armed : “ His own heart tells him that no one could trust him and be safe, whence he infers that his own security consists in universal mistrust of others.” In almost every case it will be found that his virtues are purely negative. A Papuan is kind and friendly when life goes well with him, but he is turned into a wild beast by opposition or oppression. An Esquimaux is all politeness when it serves his purpose, but he becomes, as Mr. Tylor has demonstrated in treating this very subject, foul and brutal when he has nothing to expect or fear. The Australian, now cruel and heartless, is again affectionate and generous. “ The higher classes of Malay,” according to Mr. Wallace himself, “ are exceedingly polite, and have all the quiet ease and dignity of the best bred Europeans. Yet this is compatible with a reckless cruelty and contempt of human life which is the dark side of their character.”
The truth is, tribal and family relations are friendly only so long as it is to the advantage of the individual savage that they should be so. Were they based, not upon natural necessity, but upon a sense of justice, he would not be so much quicker than the civilized sufferer to solve the problem of a surplus population. Parental virtue is soon exhausted if the family increase too rapidly ; brotherly love extends but to the useful members of the community. Of course there are tribes who do not rid themselves of children and old people, but they are the exception. The Hottentots, “ the most friendly, the most liberal, and the most obedient people to one another that ever appeared upon earth,” are given to infanticide, and they confine aged men and women of the village in a solitary hut, to die of hunger or age, or else to be devoured by wild beasts. The Fijians are kind and dutiful to their parents until the latter grow old, when sons and daughters cheerfully bury them alive. Australians not only abandon the old, but turn them to good use by eating them. The list, however, is endless. New Zealanders and Tahitians, North and South American Indians, are no better in these respects than Hottentots, Fijians, and Australians. Even when savages do not thus dispose of old and young, the fact can hardly be brought forward as a proof of their disinterested love for one another. The civilized man, who simply leaves his family and friends alone, is not exalted on that account for his benevolence ; the absence of certain vices not necessarily establishing the presence of their opposite virtues.
That the savage has no respect for human life based upon a sense of his neighbor’s right is clearly proved by his selfish cruelty, not merely in this one particular, but in all his social relations. When murder is a means to further his own gain, he never hesitates to commit it. Why should he ? Suffering is not an evil unless he be the sufferer; conquest is a great good if he be the conqueror. Sometimes his murders and battles can be referred to the inevitable struggle for existence; but as a rule their sole object is the gratification of personal ambition or caprice. Nor does the savage seek to disguise his motives. The Inquisitor made religion his excuse ; the dynamiter throws his bomb in the name of liberty. But the Sioux murders men; women, and children simply that he may have a goodly number of feathers in his cap; the Dyak of Borneo, that he may present his bride with a human head, without which the ceremony of marriage cannot take place. According to Nicolo Conti, writing in 1430. the inhabitant of Java and Sumatra tried a new sword by thrusting it into the breast of the first person he met; according to Mr. Williams, the Fijian is consecrated and given the complimentary name Koroi for killing women and children during his wars. One Indian mentioned by Schoolcraft murdered Dr. Madison just “ to see how pretty he fall off his horse ; ” another killed the Americans who had just given him tobacco and presents because, when he went out hunting, he did not like to return without shooting something. Fuegians kill and eat their women in preference to their dogs because “ dogs catch otters.” The Australian hunter who comes home without game devours his wife. Perhaps civilized man will not cease to be cruel until the coming of the socialists’ millennium. But he no longer glories in his cruelty. He may go on inventing weapons of warfare more terrible than the savage ever dreamed of, but he shrinks from using them. Europe still maintains her huge standing armies, but she has her Red Cross soldiers as well. In times of peace, if prisoners are made and criminals hanged, it is not because enemies must be avenged, but because the well-being of the community must be insured. But the savage warrior, murderer, or captor manifests such inhuman joy in his deed, such unspeakable lust of blood, that the very word “savage ” has come to be synonymous with cruelty. The ingenious tortures of Inquisitors dwindle into insignificance when compared with those of the Red Indian; the nineteenth-century dynamiter is less indiscriminate in his choice of victims than the Faù, the cannibal of West Africa. The Australian, sharpening his spear before the fire, sings with glee : —
I ’ll spear his lights,
I ’ll spear his heart,
I ’ll spear his thigh ! ”
The Fijian chief Tanoa devoured his cousin limb by limb, while the poor victim literally watched the progress of the meal of which he was the principal dish. New Zealanders eat their prisoners of war with great rejoicings, in honor of the gods. Dyak huts are ornamented with skulls of the murdered; Indian wigwams with their scalps. One could fill pages with these horrors. Surely the placid monotony that will come with socialism is better than the excitement that has hitherto characterized the reign of the individual.
There are exceptions, of course. But it may as well be said here that it is the rule, and not the exception, with which this paper is concerned ; and the rule unquestionably is that when necessity obliges the savage to sacrifice others for his own advantage, he is only too ready to do so. Furthermore, when he is not forced to extremes, his want of consideration reveals itself in his utter indifference to the feelings and comfort of his fellow-men. He is passively as well as actively an egotist. He cannot understand that the desire to relieve the misery and supply the needs of his neighbor can be a motive for action. “ When a man is in distress, let them take him,” is an Oji proverb; and “ the distress referred to,” Captain Burton explains, “is capture by enemies, and the proverb means, ' The distress of others is no concern of yours ; do not trouble yourself about it.’ ” He elsewhere describes the East African as openly and recklessly egotistic, without gratitude or hospitality, wretchedly parsimonious, grudging food to animals. “ He will refuse a mouthful of water out of his own abundance to a man dying of thirst; utterly unsympathizing, he will not stretch out a hand to save another’s goods, though worth thousands of dollars.” “ A nephew,” according to the New Zealand saying, “ cannot be depended on in time of trouble ; instead of crossing the river to help you, he ’ll stand still on the other side whilst you are killed.” “ The Esquimaux,” Sir John Lubbock writes, “ give away nothing themselves without expecting to receive as much again, and, being unable to imagine any other line of conduct, are naturally very deficient in gratitude. . . . Though not cruel, the Esquimaux seem to be a somewhat heartless people. They do not indeed feel any actual pleasure in the infliction of pain, but they will take little trouble to remove or relieve suffering.” To multiply instances would be needless repetition.
Mr. Wallace, in writing of the Dyaks of Borneo, wonders if, when a wider division of labor and more complicated social state take the place of their present simple conditions, their happiness as a whole will not be diminished, and if evil passions will not be aroused by the spirit of competition. Modern, social, and labor systems are not unmitigated blessings, and yet their results in the main are happier than those of savage equality and independent labor. The Dyaks may be an exception, and their existence the ideal state longed for by eighteenthcentury philosophers ; but the picture of savage communities living under the same conditions is as a rule that of laziness and shiftlessness, drunkenness and destruction, dirt and misery. Radically wrong as are our arbitrary laws regulating work, they are better than the law of individual choice governing the great majority of savages, in obedience to which the individual works if it seems good to him to work, and loafs if he does not look for immediate return from his labor. Even Mr. Wallace, reason as he might in the Malay Archipelago, in South America realized that a division of labor would be of material assistance to the wilder Indian, who “ is all his life earning a scanty supply of clothing in a country where food may be had almost for nothing.” The East African will make no exertion unless he is hungry. “ When a slave becomes a free man, he will drink rain-water,” is another Oji proverb, of which this is Captain Burton’s explanation : “ because other water must be fetched from a distance. I commend,” he adds, “ this truly African proverb — showing that the emancipado is incapable of moderation in the use of his liberty—to the consideration of all real philanthropists. It is to see that if a man will not labor even for his own wants, they do him a service who compel him to work.” While this argument may not be thought to justify slavery, it certainly demonstrates that a social system like ours, in which no man’s work is altogether independent of that of his fellow-men, has its advantages.
Perhaps it is in the religion of savages that their egotism is best set forth. It is only among them that belief in the doctrine of enmity is expressed theoretically in their religion and practically in their lives at one and the same time. The brutal egotists of feudalism denounced it in theory, the God in whom they believed having given them as a second commandment, " Love thy neighbor as thyself,” but they adhered to it in practice. On the other hand, the old doctrine survived in the myths of civilized Greece and Rome, but philosophers and people had long ceased to uphold it. It has been said that the moral element is little represented in the religion of the lower races. Mr. Tylor declares that “ the lower animism is not immoral, it is unmoral,” and therefore thinks it desirable to keep the discussion of animism separate from that of ethics. But this is quite impossible, since the very absence of the moral element has its ethical value. The religion of savages, when it is not a foreign importation, is necessarily a direct outgrowth, and consequently a reflection, of their thoughts and feelings, their beliefs and ideals. It is the first expression they give to their rude conceptions, not merely of nature, but of conduct also. If, as with themselves, so with their gods and heroes, good and evil mean nothing but personal advantage and disadvantage, the latter must be, from an ethical as well as a mythological standpoint, of the utmost interest to modern pessimists.
The word “ religion ” is made to bear so many meanings it will be well at once to explain its exact significance here. Missionaries and travelers, from whom much of our knowledge of savages is derived, have declared that many wild races are entirely without religion. But they practically define the word as a belief or form of worship which recognizes a supreme being of good ; and this, naturally, they have not found among Australians and Fuegians, Veddahs and Dyaks. In its broadest sense, however, religion should include all theories and doctrines, no matter how childish and puerile they may be thought, which seek to explain the hidden and unknown forces of nature by ascribing them to supernatural sources. Accepted in this sense, — and for the present purpose it is so accepted, — scarcely a savage race can be said to be without religion.
All known tribes have attained that degree of mental development when man begins to account for the workings of nature. Totally ignorant of natural laws, they have no data from which to reason save their limited experience and observation ; and consequently, in their scheme of the universe as in their commonplace every-day life, they can see but personal motives and action. They animate everything, even objects civilized men call inanimate, and thus surround themselves with countless spiritual beings. In the very lowest stages of religion, these are usually the souls of the dead. Gradually independent spirits are evolved, animism eventually developing into personification. The savage, whose own welfare is the one end of his existence, has learnt by experience to look out for it. He can answer for the blessings of life, or, as Lubbock puts it, he thinks they come of themselves. But the evils are the work of others. Sometimes they are easily enough accounted for. He has not far to hunt for the human enemy who wounds him in battle or destroys his hut or village, and against whom he knows well enough how to be on his guard. But again, there are evils quite as unbearable, and therefore to be as carefully guarded against, — hideous nightmares and equally hideous indigestions, disease and death, — which he cannot refer to any visible agent. That they are the natural results of natural causes is a fact beyond his mental grasp. “ How can I alone be ill when others are well, unless I have been bewitched ? ” asks the East African. It is in endeavoring to discover the invisible foe responsible for these mysterious ills, in order that he may know how best to defend himself, that he is first led to consider natural forces and his relations to them. Thus, in the very beginning evil proves an incentive to good, since in his theories, rude though they be, are the germs of all religion, philosophy, and science. It may safely be asserted that had man never suffered he never would have thought.
The savage, understanding none but selfish motives for conduct, attributes them to spiritual beings, and, his own good being too frequently evil for others, naturally supposes their influence over men to be unfriendly. True, they are not invariably malevolent. Occasionally they have their good traits. In Tanna, the chiefs deified after death protect the finest trees; in New Zealand, they intercede with the higher deities for their living brothers. Madagascar ghosts, terrible as they are, have been known to soften ; the amatango lead the Zulus to victory ; and these are not the only exceptions. But it must be borne in mind that the savage, despite his unrestrained selfishness, often shows excellent qualities, and can be exemplary in his family relations. The spiritual beings in whom he believes, whether they be souls of the dead, independent spirits, or gods, like himself are indifferent to everything but their own impulses, enjoyments, and comforts; and, as with him, this indifference results at times in actions beneficial to man, though oftener in deeds inimical to him. Polynesian chiefs and African ancestors may be benevolent as ghosts, but one paragraph from Mr. Tylor’s Primitive Culture proves that all spirits are not as amiable. “ It is quite usual,” he says, “ for savage tribes to live in terror of the souls of the dead as harmful spirits. The Australians have been known to consider the ghosts of the unburied dead as becoming malignant demons. New Zealanders have supposed the souls of the dead to become so changed in nature as to be malignant to their nearest and dearest friends in life.” From this it appears that the distinctions of caste are preserved in the New Zealander’s world to come, the ordinary man there being on a very different footing from the chief. “ The Caribs said that, of man’s various souls, some go to the seashore and capsize boats, others to the forest to be evil spirits. Among the Sioux Indians the fear of the ghost’s vengeance has been found to act as a check on murder. Of some tribes in Central Africa it may be said that their main religious doctrine is the belief in ghosts, and that the chief characteristic of these ghosts is to do harm to the living. The Patagonians lived in terror of the souls of their wizards, which became evil demons after death. Turanian tribes of North Asia fear their shamans even more when dead than when alive, for they become a special class of spirits who are hurtfulest in all nature, and who among the Mongols plague the living on purpose to make them bring offerings.”
The pure spirits are no better than the ghosts. The Karen’s slumbers are disturbed, not because his deeds cry for vengeance, but because a spirit has chosen his stomach for a seat. The Australian falls a victim to small-pox, not because a certain Budyah objects to his vices, but because he is a spirit of mischief who enjoys a practical joke. The New Zealander suffers from illness when his heart and liver seem a tempting dish to Atona. The Indians of the Amazon Valley died when Juruparù ceased to vent his anger in thunder and to kill the moon, and turned his attention to poor mortals. The examples that could be brought forward are endless. That disease and death are caused by spirits is believed by East and West Africans, by Paraguay Indians and Esquimaux, by Tahitians and Australians. There is scarcely a savage community where the wizard or sorcerer is not, as with the North American Indians, the only respected medicine-man. The belief that has survived in the folklore of civilized peoples is still with savages one of the chief doctrines of accepted religion.
The difference between ghosts and spirits on the one hand, and definite deities on the other, is that with the latter, attributes being more clearly defined, egotism expresses itself in more pronounced malevolence. This is logical enough : the greater reverence shown to spiritual beings is due to their greater success, and success, according to the savage standard, is measured by the number of victims sacrificed in its attainment. The very functions of Fijian gods are enough to make their worshipers tremble. The Mpougwes, Captain Burton says, believe in two powers, one of good and one of evil. “ They have not only fear of, but also a higher respect for him ” (that is, power of evil) “ than for the giver of good, so difficult is it for the child-man’s mind to connect the ideas of benignity and power. He would harm if he could; ergo so would his god.” When these same Mpougwes refused to allow Captain Burton to enter the little huts consecrated to an idol, their reason was, “ Ologo, he kill man too much.” Whenever dualism, as with the Mpougwes, has been developed among inferior races, the evil spirit is as sure to predominate. Mandans and other North American Indians think much more highly of their demons than of the Great Spirit. Indeed, as a rule, when savages believe in and respect a Supreme Being, this belief lias its origin in Mohammedan or Christian teaching.
In such theories of spiritual beings, the moral element has no place. Innumerable legends, superstitions, and proverbs demonstrate the thoughtlessness and capriciousness from which arise many of their actions most injurious to man. There are earthquakes, bringing destruction and death to the human race, because the Mother Earth of the Caribs is dancing, or the god Chibchacum of the Chibchas is shifting the world from one shoulder to the other. There are volcano eruptions because the mountain spirits of the Kamchadals are heating the mountains in which they live. But an Ottawa legend throws most light upon the savage method of reasoning in this regard. O-na-wut-agut-o, when he was in the land of the sun and tlie moon, was on one occasion eager to know how they procured their dinner. He and the sun, walking across the great plain of the sky, came to a hole, through which they looked to the earth. “ Do you see,” said the sun, “that group of children playing beside a bridge ? Observe that beautiful and active boy; ” and as he said this he threw something from his hand. The child fell. The sun commanded the medicinemen, if they would have him get well, to make an offering of a roasted dog. The offering was made; it served for his meal; and the child recovered. Even when the idea of retribution enters into the savage theory of spiritual conduct, the egotism of spiritual motives is as marked. Men are not punished on account of their crimes. How could Ndauthina resent adultery, or Ravuravu murder, in the New Zealander ? Would Ologo be apt to take offense on moral grounds if the Mpougwe practices that in which he delights ? Punishments are inflicted or rewards bestowed by spiritual powers when their wants and pleasures have been neglected or furthered by their worshipers. The Dacotas were punished by their spirits when they forgot to make feasts for the dead. The Dyaks were stricken by disease when they omitted the customary offering of rags to their tree spirits. The “ oki ” of a sacred rock gave success to Huron Indians in return for gifts of tobacco. The angry river grew calm when it had received from the Kaffirs the entrails of an ox or a handful of millet.
Again, in the ideas some savages have evolved of a future life is to be seen how little morality has to do with virtues they think are worthy of eternal reward, and vices deserving of eternal punishment. The good deeds of Esquimaux are the taking of many whales and seals, or the being drowned at sea. The Tupinambas who after death will be privileged to dance in beautiful gardens with the souls of their fathers are those who have eaten many of their enemies. It is the Carib who did not go to war who hereafter must dwell in waste and barren lands beyond the mountains.
Were there no stories told of spiritual beings, their character would be revealed in the form of worship adopted by men who believe in them. As Mr. Andrew Lang says, " early religions are selfish, and not disinterested. The worshiper is not contemplative so much as eager to gain something to his advantage.”This advantage, however, is almost always his personal safety, since gods and spirits are equally selfish. They would be as unlikely as he is to confer a favor, unless forced or bribed to do so. Like him, they are not to be turned aside or softened by mere prayers and hymns of praise. Worship of such beings, strictly speaking, is useless. They must be conquered ; and if this cannot be done by force, then they must be circumvented by cunning or propitiated with bribes. It would have been more accurate had Mr. Lang declared early religions selfish because both the worshiped and the worshiper are eager to accomplish their own ends. When these conflict, a struggle must ensue. Thus, certain demons, in seeking for their pleasure to devour the sun and moon, threatened thereby to deprive Peruvians, or Caribs, or Chiquitos of the light necessary for the pleasure of the latter; and in consequence, when the huge dogs began their chase of the moon, Chiquitos pursued them in turn with arrows ; when Maboya set out upon the same mission, Caribs frightened him away with howls and dances. Often craft is believed to be as effectual as open battle, and this belief is the real explanation of fetichism. Spirits and gods are prevented from fulfilling their evil designs by the presence of some object, — a stone or stick, perhaps, a dead man’s or a chicken’s bone. The objects used for this purpose, whether by the fetich woman of Congo or her sister of Louisiana, whether by the priest of Borneo or the conjurer of Oregon, are as truly weapons of defense as the modern mitrailleuse or torpedo boat. How they came to be adopted in the struggle is a question apart. The important point here is that they are held to avert evils of spiritual birth.
The sacrifice offered at a more advanced stage of religious development is as much a bribe as dinners are said to be to temporal powers in the civilized world, while the character of the offering is a witness to the tastes and pleasures ascribed to the spiritual being who receives it. Food was given by the Nicaraguans to the spirit of the Smoking Mountains to quiet her, when the earth heaved or the storm raged. The Fijian brings fruits, turtles, puddings, and oysters unto the altar of his war-god, to purchase his aid in the coming battle. The vile cruelty of New Zealand divinities is established by the fact that slaves and prisoners of war were killed and eaten in their honor. So with the Mother Earth of the Khonds, to whom flesh torn from the victim was offered. That love of sensual pleasure is attributed to almost every being worshiped or feared by savages reveals itself in the food and drink, the Indian corn and bottles of brandy, presented to them. The prayer of the savage is sometimes a mere accompaniment to his sacrifice or libation ; at others it is a promise of gifts in the future; occasionally it is an instrument of personal and physical gain, and the savage prays for health, food, fair weather, for success in battle and the confusion of his enemies. Many Christians, when they pray, are equally of the earth, earthy. But appeals to the angels to still the storm, and to saints to cure disease, are survivals of primitive forms of worship. In the purest religions, as in the most perfect ethical code, the central idea is that of self-sacrifice. But even in his fasts and voluntary tortures, so terrible that a Christian Gertrude or Anthony might shrink from them, the savage looks for the something in return, — the mastery of certain spirits or gods, the acquirement of certain powers that will increase his might among men.
In the long struggle against spiritual forces, as in earthly battles, some men show themselves the most successful, and either by their own strength, or by the choice of their weaker brethren, they become recognized leaders in the fight; that is, priests or sorcerers, medicinemen or wizards. Their power once accepted, however, is but another evil to be dreaded. They can command spirits and ghosts and gods, either in behalf of others, or, as happens more frequently, to further personal ambition, and satisfy the desire for revenge. Disease and death are sometimes their work. They bewitch men and cattle ; they raise storms and rule the waters. They, too, therefore, have to be propitiated or circumvented by the ordinary savage, to whose comfort their good-will is indispensable. Were he less engrossed with self, he would treat the sorcerer with less respect. The more thoroughly the spirits believed in, the methods of worshiping them, and the priests consecrated to be mediators between them and men are examined, the more clearly will it be seen that the basis of primitive, and hence of all, religion is egotism. Nor should there be anything but encouragement in this fact. When the genuine teachings of Christ and Buddha are considered in connection with it, the student best realizes man’s well-nigh unlimited capacity for development.
The same conclusions are arrived at by a study of the heroes of savage tale and legend. There is not space, however, to enter into a detailed analysis of all. The briefest sketch of three of the most typical — the Polynesian Mani, the Zulu Uhlakanyana, and the North American Indian Manabozho — will be sufficient to give additional evidence of the egotistic tendency of savage ideals. Among the Polynesians of New Zealand there is no greater hero than Mani, or, to use the full name which distinguished him from his brothers, Mani-tiki-tiki-aTaranga. But throughout all his many and varied adventures selfishness was his chief characteristic. He intercepted his mother’s daily flight, that he might gratify his curiosity and discover her home, which she had carefully concealed from her children. He deprived his ancestress of her daily present of food, that he might obtain from her her jawbone, by which great enchantments could be wrought. He entrapped the sun, because the day was too short to suit him. Here the story adds, as his reason, the desire that man might have longer days in which to labor for himself. But this is so little in keeping with his usual reasoning that one suspects it to be a late modification. It is more probable that he was eager to make time for others to enable them to do his work as well as their own, for it was immediately after this that he “ stopped idly at home, doing nothing, although, indeed, he had to listen to the sulky grumblings of his wives and children at his laziness in not catching fish for them.” His other principal exploits had for objects the destruction of all the fire on the earth, the murder of the daughter of Maru-tewhare-aitu, the enchantment of the crops so that they might wither, the transformation of his brother-in-law into a dog.
The stories related of Uhlakanyana differ in incident from those told of Mani as widely as do Zulus from New Zealanders, and yet in inspiration the stories are identical. The Zulu hero, though a dwarf in stature, is, like Mani, a giant of selfishness. Born into the world almost as miraculously as Gargantua, he began immediately the prodigies which had for end his amusement or profit. He cheated the men of his kraal, and took their meat; he fooled his mother, and would not share his food with her. In his journeys he fell in with cannibals, hares, leopards, and from none could he part without his joke at their expense. To escape the cannibals, he served up their mother for their evening meal, and then, when only a few bones were left, and he was out of reach, he taunted them : “ You have been eating your mother all along, ye cannibals ! ” He promised to tell the hare stories of his prowess, and kept his word by impaling, then roasting and eating him, making a whistle of one of his bones. He feigned friendship with the leopard simply that he might devour first her cubs, and finally herself. After this, the story says, “ he went on his travels, for he was a man that did not stay in one place.” Neither did Tyll Eulenspiegel, the mediæval player of practical jokes. But Uhlakanyana has not a suggestion of the jollity and humor that redeem in a measure the tricks of an Eulenspiegel or a Panurge. And, on the other hand, he lacks the bravery and sociability that raise Jack the Giant-Killer above the level of a mere selfish adventurer.
The Indian Manabozho, now a god, now a hero, is as beautiful in person as Uhlakanyana is ugly and deformed, but there is little, if any, improvement in his principles. He is a more attractive hero, because he is braver and more sociable. He is not always alone, though his relations with others seldom lead to benevolence. “ He soon evinced,” says Schoolcraft, “ the sagacity, cunning, perseverance, and heroic courage which constitute the admiration of the Indians. And he relied largely upon these in the gratification of an ambitious, vainglorious, and mischief-loving disposition.” His career began with his endeavors to slay his own father. It was at the end of the combat between them, a combat during which huge boulders were scattered as if they had been grains of sand, that the conquered West bade Manabozho, “ Go and do good to man.” The fact that by this counsel Manabozho was pacified, and consented to spare his father, is suggestive of an Indian Christ. The sequel proves that he was but an Indian Mani. The West’s wisdom was probably due to Christian influence, but there can be no doubt of the Indian source of the subsequent incidents. Manabozho’s idea, as expressed in his actions, of doing good to others was to deceive and murder them, to take advantage of their friendliness, and to turn their better qualities to his own gain. If he willed good, it is certain that he worked evil. He tried to put an end to his father, and succeeded in killing his grandmother’s lover ; he destroyed the badger who sheltered him when in danger, and fooled the wolf who gave him a home. The stories told of him are many. But perhaps the most characteristic is that of the banquet, to which he invited all the animals and fowls with great parade of generosity. During the entertainment, bidding his guests dance, and taking up his drum, he directed them to move, with eyes shut, in a circle around him. “ They did so. When he saw a fat fowl pass by him, he adroitly wrung off its head, at the same time beating his drum, and singing with greater vehemence to drown the noise of the fluttering, and crying out in a tone of admiration, ' That’s the way, my brothers ! that’s the way ! ’ ” This is hardly the goodness to others preached by Christ and modern philosophers !
It has frequently been said that one unfortunate man finds little comfort in the knowledge that a second is still more unfortunate. However this may be, if he had his choice, he would probably prefer his own misfortune as being of the two the lesser evil. So, though the modern cynic may declare that the inferiority of uncivilized states of society cannot reconcile him to his own social conditions, there is not much doubt that if he, too, were forced to choose between them, he would decide in favor of the socialist, and not of the New Zealander or the Fijian ; he would worship at the shrine of Humanity rather than at that of Ravuravu or Ologo ; he would accept even Mr. Besant’s impossible heroes and heroines in preference to Mani or Manabozho.
Elizabeth Robins Pennell.