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CHAPTER III.

SURVIVAL IN, CULTURE.

Survival and Superstition-Children's games-Games of chance-Tradi

tional sayings—Nursery poems—Proverbs—Riddles—Significance and survival in Customs : sneezing-formula, rite of foundation-sacrifice, prejudice against saving a drowning man.

WHEN a custom, an art, or an opinion is fairly started in the world, disturbing influences may long affect it so slightly that it may keep its course from generation to generation, as a stream once settled in its bed will flow on for ages. This is mere permanence of culture; and the special wonder about it is that the change and revolution of human affairs should have left so many of its feeblest rivulets to run so long. On the Tatar steppes, six hundred years ago, it was an offence to tread on the threshold or touch the ropes in entering a tent, and so it appears to be still. Eighteen centuries ago Ovid mentions the vulgar Roman objection to marriages in May, which he not unreasonably explains by the occurrence in that month of the funeral rites of the Lemuralia :

• Nec viduæ tædis eadem nec virginis apta

Tempora. Quæ nupsit, non diuturna fuit.
Hac quoque de causa, si te proverbia tangunt,

Mense malas Maio nubere volgus. ait.'2

The saying that marriages in May are unlucky survives

1 Will. de Rubruquis in Pinkerton, vol. vii. pp. 46, 67, 132 ; Michie • Siberian Overland Route,' p. 96.

Ovid. Fast. v. 487. For modern Italy and Fra ee Edélestane du Méril, · Études d'Archéol.' p. 121.

I.

CUSTOMS.

71

to this day in England, a striking example how an idea, the meaning of which has perished for ages, may continue to exist simply because it has existed.

Now there are thousands of cases of this kind which have become, so to speak, landmarks in the course of culture. When in the process of time there has come general change in the condition of a people, it is usual, notwithstanding, to find much that manifestly had not its origin in the new state of things, but has simply lasted on into it. On the strength of these survivals, it becomes possible to declare that the civilization of the people they are observed among must have been derived from an earlier state, in which the proper home and meaning of these things are to be found ; and thus collections of such facts are to be worked as mines of historic knowledge. In dealing with such materials, experience of what actually happens is the main guide, and direct history has to teach us, first and foremost, how old habits hold their ground in the midst of a new culture which certainly would never have brought them in, but on the contrary presses hard to thrust them out. What this direct information is like, a single example may show. The Dayaks of Borneo were not accustomed to chop wood, as we do, by notching out V-shaped cuts. Accordingly, when the white man intruded among them with this among other novelties, they marked their disgust at the innovation by levying a fine on any of their own people who should be caught chopping in the European fashion ; yet so well aware were the native woodcutters that the white man's plan was an improvement on their own, that they would use it surreptitiously when they could trust one another not to tell. The account is twenty years old, and very likely the foreign chop may have ceased to be an offence against Dayak conservatism, but its prohibition was a striking instance of survival by ancestral authority in the very teeth of common sense.

Such a proceeding as this would be usually, and not improperly,

1 Journ. Ind. Archip.' (ed. by J. R. Logan), vol. ii. p. liv.

as

described as a superstition ; and, indeed, this name would be given to a large proportion of survivals, such for instance as may be collected by the hundred from books of folk-lore and occult science. But the term superstition now implies a reproach, and though this reproach may be often cast deservedly on fragments of a dead lower culture embedded in a living higher one, yet in many cases it would be harsh, and even untrue. For the ethnographer's purpose, at any rate, it is desirable to introduce such a term

survival,' simply to denote the historical fact which the word “superstition' is now spoiled for expressing. Moreover, there have to be included as partial survivals the mass of cases where enough of the old habit is kept up for its origin to be recognizable, though in taking a new form it has been so adapted to new circumstances as still to hold its place on its own merits.

Thus it would be seldom reasonable to call the children's games of modern Europe superstitions, though many of them are survivals, and indeed remarkable ones. If the games of children and of grown-up people be examined with an eye to ethnological lessons to be gained from them, one of the first things that strikes us is how many of them are only sportive imitations of the serious business of life. As children in modern civilized times play at dining and driving horses and going to church, so a main amusement of savage children is to imitate the occupations which they will carry on in earnest a few years later, and thus their games are in fact their lessons. The Esquimaux children's sports are shooting with a tiny bow and arrow at a mark, and building little snow-huts, which they light up with scraps of lamp-wick begged from their mothers. Miniature boomerangs and spears are among the toys of Australian children, and even as the fathers keep up as a recognized means of getting themselves wives the practice of carrying them off by violence, so playing at such Sabine marriage has been noticed as one of the regular games of the little

i Klemm, 'Cultur-Geschichte,' vol. ii. p. 209.

,

native boys and girls. Now it is quite a usual thing in

" the world for a game to outlive the serious practice of which it is an imitation. The bow and arrow is a conspicuous instance. Ancient and widespread in savage culture, we trace this instrument through barbaric and classic life and onward to a high mediæval level. But now, when we look on at an archery meeting, or go by country lanes at the season when toy bows and arrows are 'in' among the children, we see, reduced to a mere sportive survival, the ancient weapon which among a few savage tribes still keeps its deadly place in the hunt and the battle. The cross-bow, a comparatively late and local improvement on the longbow, has disappeared yet more utterly from practical use ; but as a toy it is in full European service, and likely to remain so. For antiquity and wide diffusion in the world, through savage up to classic and mediæval times, the sling ranks with the bow and arrow. But in the middle ages it fell out of use as a practical weapon, and it was all in vain that the 15th century poet commended the art of slinging among the exercises of a good soldier :

* Use eek the cast of stone, with slynge or honde :

It falleth oftc, yf other shot there none is,
Men harneysed in steel may not withstonde,

The multitude and mighty cast of stonys ;
And stonys in effecte, are every where,
And slynges are not noyous for to beare.' 2

Perhaps as serious a use of the sling as can now be pointed out without the limits of civilization is among the herdsmen of Spanish America, who sling so cleverly that the saying is they can hit a beast on either horn and turn him which way they will. But the use of the rude old weapon is especially kept up hy boys at play, who are here again the representatives of remotely ancient culture.

As games thus keep up the record of primitive warlike arts, so they reproduce, in what are at once sports and little children's lessons, early stages in the history of childlike tribes of mankind. English children delighting in the imitations of cries of animals and so forth, and New Zealanders playing their favourite game of imitating in chorus the saw hissing, the adze chipping, the musket roaring, and the other instruments making their proper noises, are alike showing at its source the imitative element so important in the formation of language. When we look into the early development of the art of counting, and see the evidence of tribe after tribe having obtained numerals through the primitive stage of counting on their fingers, we find a certain ethnographic interest in the games which teach this earliest numeration. The New Zealand game of 'ti' is described as played by counting on the fingers, a number being called by one player, and he having instantly to touch the proper finger; while in the Samoan game one player holds out so many fingers, and his opponent must do the same instantly or lose a point. These may be native Polynesian games, or they may be our own children's games borrowed. In the English nursery the child learns to say how many fingers the nurse shows, and the appointed formula of the game is Buck, Buck, how many horns do I hold up ?' The game of one holding up fingers and the others holding up fingers to match is mentioned in Strutt. We may see small schoolboys in the lanes playing at the guessing-game, where one gets on another's back and holds up fingers, the other must guess how many. It is interesting to notice the wide distribution and long permanence of these trifles in history when we read the following passage from Petronius Arbiter, written in the time of Nero :Trimalchio, not to seem moved by the loss, kissed the boy and bade him get up on his back. Without delay the

1 Oldfield in .Tr. Eth. Soc.' vol. iii. p. 266 ; Dumont d'Urville, 'Voy. de l'Astrolabe,' vol. i. p. 411.

* Strutt, Sports and Pastimes,' book ii. chap.

i Polack, ‘New Zealanders,' vol. ii. p. 171.

? Polack, ibid. ; Wilkes, ‘U.Ș. Exp.' vol. i. p. 194. See the account of the game of liagi in Mariner, 'Tonga Is.' vol. ii. p. 339; and Yate, 'New Zealand,' p. 113.

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