Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/299

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


A HISTORY OF FIJI 295

It is a common mistake to assume that social anarchy is the rule in primitive communities ; for the reverse is true, and savage races are the ones par excellence most dominated by established forms, their system of life remaining unchanged for generation after generation. This is illustrated most clearly in an interesting paper by Lord Amherst of Hackney and Basil Thomson published by the Hakluyt Society of London in 1901, which shows that, since their discovery in 1568, the customs of the Solomon islanders have remained absolutely unaltered, until crushed under the rule of white men.

Among these fixed customs of savage tribes, some are actually better than our own. Thus in Fiji prostitution was checked as effectively as any mere system could prevent it. This was accomplished by obliging all the unmarried men to sleep each night in a special house, the Mbure-ni-sa, or men's house, while the virgins were kept at home with their parents.

Indeed, the use of the Mbure-ni-sa was even extended, under cer- tain conditions, to the married men. There were no milk-producing animals in Fiji, and the food of the natives is still so deficient in animal proteids that it can hardly afford sufficient nourishment for healthy growth until the child is nearly four years old. Accordingly, when a child was born, husband and wife separated; she going to live for a year with her mother's relatives, and he to sleep for the following two or three years in the Mbure with the unmarried men. Thus throughout the suckling period the risk of a new conception was avoided, and the full strength of the mother was preserved to nourish her infant.

Unhappily, the Europeans saw fit to break up this system, main- taining that it interfered with family life and was destructive of mutual affection. The tabu having thus been abolished, conceptions often occur within a year following the birth of a child, and the mother's milk is rendered inefficient as a means of nourishment, while at the same time the drain upon her strength is so great that the unborn child may not properly develop. Thus the new system has increased the birth-rate, but at the same time produces weak, sickly infants whose death-rate is far greater than in former times. This indeed is one of the most potent causes of the decrease of the Fijian population, espe- cially as the married women now attempt to escape the strain of these exhausting pregnancies by resorting to abortion, a practise which has increased in recent years to the serious impairment of the vitality of the race.

Moreover, the abolition of the Mbure-ni-sa has brought about a too sudden and promiscuous commingling of the young men and women, and the commission appointed by the British government to inquire into the causes which are producing the decline of the Fijian population has decided that sexual depravity has increased since the abandon-

�� �