Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/464

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

difficulty experienced in rearing them. To it the infanticide so common among the uncivilized and semi-civilized is, of course, mainly due—the burial of living infants with mothers who have died in childbirth; the putting to death one out of twins; the destruction of younger children when there are already several. For these acts there is an excuse like that commonly to be made for killing the sick and old. When, concerning the desertion of aged people by wandering prairie tribes, Catlin says, "It often becomes absolutely necessary in such cases that they should be left, and they uniformly insist upon it, saying, as this old man did, that they are old and of no further use, that they left their fathers in the same manner, that they wish to die, and their children must not mourn for them"—when, of the Nascopies, Heriot tells us that in his old age "the father usually employed as his executioner the son who is most dear to him"—when, in Kane, we read of the Assiniboin chief who "killed his own mother," because, being "old and feeble," she "asked him to take pity on her and end her misery"—there is suggested the conclusion that, as destruction of the ill and infirm may lessen the total amount of suffering to be borne under the conditions of savage life, so may the destruction of infants, when the region is barren or the mode of life so hard that the rearing of many is impracticable. And a like plea may be urged in mitigation of judgment on savages who sell or barter away their children: the needs of the younger ones possibly, in some cases, prompting this sacrifice of the elder.

Generally, then, among uncivilized peoples, as among animals, instincts and impulses are the sole incentives and deterrents. The status of a primitive man's child is like that of a bear's cub. There is neither moral obligation nor moral restraint; but there exists the unchecked power to foster, to desert, to destroy, as love or anger moves.

 

To the yearnings of natural affection are added in early stages of progress certain motives, partly personal, partly social, which help to secure the lives of children; but which, at the same time, initiate differences of status between children of different sexes. There is the desire to strengthen the tribe in war; there is the wish to have a future avenger on individual enemies; there is the anxiety to leave behind one who shall perform the funeral rites and continue oblations at the grave.

Inevitably, the urgent need to augment the number of warriors leads to preference for male children. On reading of such a militant race as the Chechemecas, that they "like much their male children, who are brought up by their fathers, but they despise and hate the daughters;" or of the Panches, that, when "a wife bore her first girl-child, they killed the child, and thus they did with all the girls born before a male child," we are shown the effect of this desire for sons; and