Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/31

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21
THE EARLY HISTORY OF FIRE.

The dried parenchyma of the Boletus igniarius, frayed cedar-bark, dry leaves, carbonized vegetal fibres, and the like, are the combustible materials commonly employed to receive the spark produced by friction or by concussion.

Is there or has there ever been a people absolutely ignorant of the means of producing fire ? Many authors answer this question affirmatively. Thus we are told that the natives of Tasmania, though acquainted with fire and making use of it, nevertheless are ignorant of the means of producing it. Hence it is the special duty of their women to carry fire-brands that burn day and night, and by the light of which the tribe make their way through the woods. If the torches or brands go out, it may be necessary to make a long journey in order to have them lighted again from the fire kept up by another tribe. Nearly every family, too, carries about a cone of banksia, which burns slowly like amadou.

PSM V10 D031 Tongue and pump drill.jpg
Fig. 6.—Esquimau Thong-drill. (Tylor.) Fig. 7.—Pump-Drill. (Tylor.

That the Australians are not so ignorant of the uses of fire as they are said to be, is shown by a legend current among them about the origin of fire. This legend we copy from Wilson, who, in his work, " Prehistoric Man," devotes a highly-interesting chapter to the question we are considering: "A long, long time ago, a little bandicoot[1] was the sole owner of a fire-brand, which he cherished with the greatest jealousy. So selfish was he in the use of his prize that he obstinately refused to share it with the other animals. So they held a general council, where it was decided that the fire must be obtained from the bandicoot either by force or strategy. The hawk and the pigeon were deputed to carry out this resolution ; and, after trying to induce the fire-owner to share its blessings with his neighbors, the pigeon, seizing, as he thought, an unguarded moment, made a dash to obtain the prize. The bandicoot saw that affairs had come to a crisis,

  1. A small, sharp-nosed animal, not unlike the Guinea-pig.