BLTC Press Titles


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The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite


Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)


Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle


Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe


A history of politics

by Edward Jenks

Excerpt:

Savages.—In spite of the constantly increasing intercourse between the most remote parts of the world, and the civilizing influences of commerce, there remain quite a considerable number of peoples who still live under primitive or savage conditions. Among them may be reckoned the Andamanese of the Bay of Bengal, the hill tribes of Madras, the Juangs of Orissa, the Veddahs of Ceylon, the Bushmen and Akkas of Africa, the Colorado Indians of North America, the Caribs of the centre and the Brazilians of the south, the Dyaks of Borneo, and the Eskimos of Greenland and Labrador. The Tasmanians of Van Diemen's Land were, until their recent extinction, perfect specimens of unadulterated savagery. But by far the most important examples, because the most remote from admixture and the most scientifically and recently studied, are the aborigines* of Australia, who, in the centre and north of that vast continent, still roam untouched and unreclaimed. Their numbers are considerable, and, though they are probably destined to disappear at no distant date, they are at present in full possession of their primitive organization, Owing to the praiseworthy efforts of a generation of students, promi

*The reader is cautioned that the term "Australian Native" is by local custom reserved for the descendants of the white colonists, and is rarely extended to the " blackfellow."

nent among them being Mr. A. W. Howitt, the Rev. Lorimer Fison, Professor Baldwin Spencer and Mr. Gillen, who have braved the hardships of the Australian desert, and won their way into the confidence of the savages by consistent kindness, we are now able to form some tolerably correct ideas of savage life. Their accounts may be profitably supplemented by the studies of the late Mr. Lewis Morgan, who, in the Red Indians of America, found a people just emerging from savagery into the patriarchal stage of society, and whose book on "Ancient Society" will ultimately be recognized as one of the great scientific products of the nineteenth century.

Savage life.— The material side of Australian existence may be best described in a series of negatives. The savages understand neither the cultivation of the land nor the rearing of sheep and cattle. Their only domestic animal (if "domestic" it can be called) is the dog. They have no idea of dwellings more advanced than a rude bough hut; for the most part they take shelter in caves, and behind pieces of bark propped up against trees or rocks. They have no food but the scanty game of the "bush " or forest, such as the wallaby and the opossum, and the natural products of the earth. The art of fire-making, in a very primitive form, is known to them ; but their notions of cooking are of the crudest. Still less have they the knowledge of working in metals, either by hammering or by melting. The recently adopted iron tomahawk is an article of barter, obtained from the enterprising traveller, in exchange for natural products. The indigenous weapons are the flint-headed spear and axe, and the wooden boomerang or throwing-stick. Australian legends go back to a time when even the use of stone knives was unknown, and operations, even on the human body, were performed with a charred stick. The "pitchi," or bark-basket, and the digging-stick of the women appear to be almost the only articles which can be classed as "tools." The clothing of the Australians may be described as purely ornamental. It consists, in fact, of certain decorations used in religious ceremonies; in ordinary life they are stark naked. The appalling feature of this miserable existence, always bordering on starvation, is that it seems to have gone on during countless ages. The fauna and flora of Australia are, it is well known, of a thoroughly archaic type; the naturalist discovers in its forests and rivers forms which have long since been extinct in other parts of the world. And as there is no evidence whatever of any intercourse between Australia and other lands during the period of recorded history, as, in fact, Australia was, until three centuries ago, an unknown land, we can only suppose that the Australian has led his present life during thousands of years. His isolation has been, no doubt,'the chief cause of his stagnation.

Savage institutions.— This view is entirely confirmed by a study of the non-material side of Australian life. Crude and primitive as it seems to us, its elaborateness of detail and complexity of ceremonial point to a history of great, but unrecorded, antiquity. When we consider the terror which all novelty has for the savage, especially in religious matters, we are bound to think that the elaborate ceremonies described in Messrs. Spencer's and Gillen's valuable book * must have taken centuries, perhaps even thousands of years, to work out. We may be very sure that no sudden change was made; but that only little by little was the elaborate ceremonial introduced. We cannot here do more than describe its leading features.

"Tribe" or "pack."—It is the custom to speak of the Australians and other savages as living in "tribes." But the term is most misleading; for the word "tribe" always suggests to us the notion of descent from a common ancestor, or, at any rate, of close blood relationship. Now there is, as we shall see, a most important stage in human progress, in which descent from a common ancestor plays a vital part in social organization. But the Australian "tribe"

*" The Native Tribes of Central Australia." London, 1899.


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