Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/April 1878/Evolution of Ceremonial Government III

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APRIL, 1878.


FACILITY of exposition will be gained by approaching indirectly the facts and conclusions here to be set forth.

As described by Burton, the ancient ceremony of infeftment in Scotland was completed thus: "He [superior's attorney] would stoop down, and, lifting a stone and a handful of earth, hand these over to the new vassal's attorney, thereby conferring upon him 'real, actual, and corporeal' possession of the fief." Among a distant, slightly-civilized people, a parallel form occurs. On selling his cultivated plot, a Khond, having invoked the village deity to bear witness to the sale, "then delivers a handful of soil to the purchaser." From cases where the transfer of lands for a consideration is thus expressed, we may pass to cases where lands are by a similar form surrendered to show political submission. When the Athenians applied to Persia for help against the Spartans, after the attack of Cleomenes, a confession of subordination was demanded in return for the protection asked; and the confession was made by sending earth and water. A like act has a like meaning in Feejee: "The soro with a basket of earth . . . is generally connected with war, and is presented by the weaker party, indicating the yielding up of their land to the conquerors." And similarly in India: When, some ten years ago, Tu-wên-hsin sent his "Panthay" mission to England, "they carried with them pieces of rock hewed from the four corners of the [Tali] mountain as the most formal expression of his desire to become feudatory to the British crown."

This giving of a part instead of the whole, where the whole cannot be mechanically handed over, may be called a symbolic ceremony; though, even apart from any further interpretation, we may say that it approaches as nearly to actual transfer as the nature of the case permits. We are not, however, obliged to regard this ceremony as one artificially devised; but we may affiliate it upon a ceremony of a simpler kind which at once elucidates it, and is elucidated by it. I refer to giving up a part of the body as implying a surrender of the whole. In Feejee, tributaries approaching their masters were told by a messenger that "they must all cut off their tobe (locks of hair that are left like tails). . . . They all docked their tails." Still, it may be replied that this act, too, is a symbolic act—an act artificially devised rather than naturally derived. If we carry our inquiry a step back, however, we shall find a clew to its natural derivation.

First, let us remember the honor which accrues from accumulated trophies; so that, among the Shoshones, for instance, "he who takes the most scalps gains the most glory." Let us join with this Bancroft's statement respecting the treatment of prisoners by the Chichimecs, that "often were they scalped while yet alive, and the bloody trophy placed upon the heads of their tormentors." And now let us ask what will happen if the scalped enemy survives and is taken possession of by his captor. The captor preserves the scalp as an addition to his other trophies; the vanquished enemy becomes his slave; and he is shown to be a slave by the loss of his scalp. Here, then, are the beginnings of a custom that may become established when social conditions make it advantageous to keep conquered foes as servants instead of eating them. The conservative savage will change his custom as little as possible. While the new practice of enslaving the captured grows up, there will continue the old practice of cutting from their bodies such parts as serve for trophies without impairing their usefulness; and it will thereafter result that the marks left will be marks of subjugation. Gradually as the receipt of such marks becomes by use identified with bondage, not only will those taken in war be marked, but also those born to them; until at length the bearing of the mark shows subordination in general.

That submission to mutilation may eventually grow into the sealing of an agreement to be bondsmen, is shown us by Hebrew history: "Then Nahash the Ammonite came up, and encamped against Jabesh-gilead: and all the men of Jabesh said unto Nahash, Make a covenant with us, and we will serve thee. And Nahash the Ammonite answered them, On this condition will I make a covenant with you, that I may thrust out all your right eyes." They agreed to be subjects, and the mutilation (not in this case consented to, however) was to mark their subjection. And while mutilations thus serve, like the brands a farmer puts on his sheep, to show first private ownership, and afterward political ownership, they also serve as perpetual reminders of the ruler's power; so keeping alive the dread that brings obedience. This fact we see in the statement that when the second Basil deprived fifteen thousand Bulgarian captives of sight, "the nation was awed by this terrible example."

Just adding that the bearing of a mutilation, thus becoming the mark of a subject race, survives as a token of submission when the trophy-taking which originated it has disappeared, let us now note the different kinds of mutilations, and the ways in which they severally enter into the three forms of control—political, religious, and social.


When the Araucanians on going to war send messengers summoning confederate tribes, these messengers carry certain arrows as their credentials; and, "if hostilities are actually commenced, the finger or (as Alçedo will have it) the hand of a slain enemy is joined to the arrows"—another instance added to those already given, in which hands cut off are brought home to show victory.

We have proof that in some cases living vanquished men, made handless by this kind of trophy-taking, are brought back from battle. King Osymandyas reduced the revolted Bactrians; and "on the second wall" of the monument to him "the prisoners are brought forward: they are without their hands and members." But, though a conquered enemy may have one of his hands taken as a trophy without much endangering his life, loss of a hand so greatly diminishes his value as a slave that some other trophy is naturally preferred.

The like cannot, however, be said of a finger. That fingers are sometimes carried home as trophies we have seen; and that conquered enemies, mutilated by loss of fingers, are sometimes allowed to live as slaves, the Bible yields proof. In Judges i. 6, 7, we read: "Adoni-bezek [the Canaanite] fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great-toes. And Adoni-bezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me." Hence, then, the fact that fingers are, in various places, cut off and offered in propitiation of living rulers, in propitiation of dead rulers, and in propitiation of dead relatives. The sanguinary Feejeeans, extreme in their loyalty to cannibal despots, yield sundry illustrations. Describing the sequence of an alleged insult, Williams says: "A messenger was. . . . sent to the chief of the offender to demand an explanation, which was forthwith given, together with the fingers of four persons, to appease the angry chieftain." Again, on the occasion of a chief's death, "orders were issued that one hundred fingers should be cut off; but only sixty were amputated, one woman losing her life in consequence." And once more: a child's hand "was covered with blood, which flowed from the stump where, shortly before, his little-finger had been cut off, as a token of affection for his deceased father." This propitiation of the dead by offering amputated fingers occurs elsewhere. When, among the Charruas, the head of the family died, "the daughters, widow, and married sisters, were obliged to have each one joint from the finger cut off; and this was repeated for every relation of the like character who died: the primary amputation being from the little-finger." By the Mandans, the usual mode of expressing grief on the death of a relation "was to lose two joints of the little-fingers, or sometimes the other fingers." A like custom was found among the Dakotas, and various other American tribes. Sacrificed in this way to the ghost of the dead relative or the dead chief, to express that subjection which would have pacified him while alive, the amputated finger becomes, in other cases, a sacrifice to the expanded ghost or god. During his initiation, the young Mandan warrior, "holding up the little-finger of his left hand to the Great Spirit, he expresses to him, in a speech of a few words, his willingness to give it as a sacrifice; when he lays it on the dried buffalo-skull, where the other chops it off near the hand with a blow of the hatchet." According to Mariner, the natives of Tonga cut off a portion of the little-finger as a sacrifice to the gods for the recovery of a superior sick relative.

Expressing originally submission to powerful beings alive and dead, this mutilation in some cases becomes, apparently, a mark of domestic subordination. The Australians have a custom of cutting off the last joint of the little-finger of females; and a Hottentot "widow, who marries a second time, must have the top joint of a finger cut off, and loses another joint for the third, and so on for each time that she enters into wedlock."

As showing the way in which these propitiatory mutilations of the hands are made so as to interfere least with usefulness, it may be noted that habitually they begin with the last joint of the little-finger, and affect the more important parts of the hand only if they recur. And we may join with this the fact that where, by amputating the hand, there is repeated in full the original mutilation of slain enemies, it is. where the usefulness of the subject person is not a consideration, but where the treatment of the external enemy is extended to the internal enemy—the criminal. The Hebrews made the loss of a hand a punishment for one kind of offense, as shown in Deuteronomy xxv. 11, 12. Of a Japanese political transgressor it is said, "His hands were ordered to be struck off, which in Japan is the very extremity of dishonor." In mediæval Europe hands were cut off for various offenses; and, among sundry penal mutilations enacted by William the Conqueror, loss of a hand is one.


Recent accounts from the East prove that some vanquished men deprived of their noses by their conquerors, either while obviously alive or when supposed to be dead, survive; and those who do so remain identifiable thereafter as conquered men. Consequently, the loss of a nose may become the mark of a slave; and, in some cases, it does this. Concerning certain ancient Central Americans, Herrera tells us that they challenged neighboring peoples when "they wanted slaves; if the other party did not accept of the challenge, they ravaged their country and cut off the noses of the slaves." And, describing a war that went on during his captivity in Ashantee, Ramseyer says the Ashantees spared one prisoner, "whose head was shaved, nose and ears cut off, and himself made to carry the king's drum."

Along with loss of nose occurs, in the last case, loss of ears, which naturally comes next to be dealt with. This is similarly interpretable as having originated from trophy-taking, and having in some cases survived; if not as a mark of ordinary slavery, still, as a mark of that other slavery which is often a punishment for crime. In ancient Mexico "he who told a lie to the particular prejudice of another had a part of his lip cut off, and sometimes his ears." Among the Honduras people a thief had his goods confiscated, "and, if the theft was very great, they cut off his ears and hands." One of the laws of an adjacent ancient people, the Miztecs, directed the "cutting off of an adulterer's ears, nose, or lips;" and by some of the Zapotecas, "women convicted of adultery had their ears and noses cut off."

But though absence of ears seems more generally to have marked a criminal than to have marked a vanquished enemy who, surviving the taking of his ears as trophies, had become a slave, we may suspect that it once did, among some peoples, mark an enslaved captive; and that, by mitigation, it gave rise to the method of marking a slave prescribed of old among the Hebrews, and which still continues in the East with a modified meaning. In Exodus xxi. 5, 6, we read that if, after his six years' service, a purchased slave does not wish to be free, his master shall "bring him to the door, or unto the door-post, and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall serve him forever." Commenting on this ceremony, Knobel says: "In the modern East, the symbol of piercing the ears is mentioned as the mark of those who are dedicated. . . . It expresses the belonging to somebody." And since, where there grows up unqualified despotism, private slavery is joined with public slavery, and the accepted theory is that all subjects are the property of the ruler, we may suspect that there hence results in some cases the universality of this mutilation. "All the Burmese," says Sangermano, "without exception have the custom of boring their ears. The day when the operation is performed is kept as a festival; for this custom holds, in their estimation, something of the rank that baptism has in ours."

As bearing indirectly upon mutilations of this class, I may add the curious fact named by Forsyth, that the Gond holds "his ears in his hands in token of submission."


Jaws can be taken as trophies only from those whose lives are taken. There are the teeth, however; some of these may be extracted from the jaws as trophies without seriously decreasing the usefulness of the prisoner. Hence another form of mutilation.

We have seen that teeth are worn as trophies in Ashantee and in South America. Now, if teeth are taken as trophies from captives who are preserved as slaves, loss of them must become a mark of subjection. Of facts directly showing that a propitiatory ceremony hence arises I can name but one. Among mutilations submitted to on the death of a king or chief in the Sandwich Islands, Ellis names knocking out one of the front teeth; an alternative being cutting the ears. The implication is tolerably clear; and when we further read in Cook that the Sandwich-Islanders knock out from one to four of the front teeth—when we see that the whole population becomes marked by these repeated mutilations undergone to propitiate the ghosts of dead rulers—when we infer that in propitiation of a much dreaded ruler deified after death, not only those who knew him may submit to this loss, but also their children subsequently born—we see how the practice, becoming established, may survive as a sacred custom when its meaning is lost. For, concluding that the practice has this sacramental nature, there are the further reasons derived from the fixing of the age for the operation, and from the character of the operator. Angas tells us that in New South Wales it is the Koradger men or priests who perform the ceremony of knocking out the teeth; and of a semi-domesticated Australian Haygarth writes that he said one day, "with a look of importance, that he must go away for a few days, as he had grown up to man's estate, and 'it was high time that he should have his teeth knocked out.' " Various African races, as the Batoka, the Dor, etc., similarly lose two or more of their front teeth; and habitually the loss of them is an obligatory rite. But the best evidence (which I have found since setting down the above) is furnished by the ancient Peruvians. A tradition among certain of them was that the conqueror Huayna Ceapac, finding them disobedient, "made a law that they and their descendants should have three of their front teeth pulled out in each jaw." Another tradition, given by Cieza, naturally derivable from the last, was that this pulling out of teeth by fathers from their young children was "a service very acceptable to their gods." And then, as happens with other mutilations of which the meaning has dropped out of memory, the improvement of the appearance was in some parts the assigned motive.

It should be added that, in this case as in most cases, the mutilation assumes modified forms. The Damaras knock "out a wedge shaped gap between their two front teeth;" "the natives in the neighborhood of Sierra Leone file or chip the teeth;" and various other tribes have allied usages.


As the transition from eating conquered enemies to making slaves of them mitigates trophy-taking so as to avoid causing death; and, as the tendency is to modify the injury inflicted, so that it shall in the least degree diminish the slave's usefulness; and as, with the rise of a class born in slavery, the mark which the slave bears no longer showing that he was taken in war, does not imply a victory achieved by his owner—there eventually remains no need for the mark to be one involving a serious mutilation. Hence it is inferable that mutilations of the least injurious and least painful kinds will become the commonest. Such, at any rate, seems a reasonable explanation of the fact that cutting off of hair for propitiatory purposes is the most prevalent of all mutilations.

Already we have seen the probable origin of the custom among the Feejeeans that tributaries had to make a propitiatory sacrifice of their locks on approaching their great chiefs; and there is evidence that a kindred sacrifice made in homage was demanded of old in Britain. In the Arthurian legends, which, unhistoric as they may be, yield good evidence respecting the manners of the times from which they descend, we read (in Mr. Cox's abridgment): "Then went Arthur to Caerleon; and thither came messengers from King Ryons, who said: 'Eleven kings have done me homage, and with their beards I have trimmed a mantle. Send me now thy beard, for there lacks yet one to the finishing of my mantle.' "

Some reasons exist for the belief that taking an enslaved captive's hair began with the smallest practicable divergence from taking the dead enemy's scalp; for the part of the hair in some cases given in propitiation, and in other cases worn subject to a master's ownership, answers in position to the scalp-lock. The hair yielded up by the tributary Feejeeans was the tobe, a kind of pigtail—the implication being that this could be demanded by, and therefore belonged to, the superior. Moreover, among the Calmucks, when one pulls another by the pigtail, or actually tears it out, this is regarded as a punishable offense, because the pigtail is thought to belong to the chief, or to be a sign of subjection to him. If it is the short hair on the top of the head that has been subjected to such treatment, it does not constitute a punishable offense, because this is considered the man's own hair and not that of the chief. And then I may add the statement of Williams, that the Tartar conquerors of China ordered the Chinese "to adopt the national Tartar mode of shaving the front of the head, and braiding the hair in a long cue, as a sign of submission." Another fact presently to be given joins with these in suggesting that a vanquished man, not killed, but kept as a slave, was allowed to wear his scalp lock on sufferance, the theory being that the victor might at any time demand it.

Be this as it may, however, the widely-prevalent custom of taking the hair of the slain, either with or without a part of the skin, has nearly everywhere resulted in the association between short hair and slavery. This association existed among both Greeks and Romans: "The slaves had their hair cut short as a mark of servitude." We find it thus throughout America. "Socially the slave is despised, his hair is cut short," says Bancroft of the Nootkas. "The privilege of wearing long hair was rigorously denied" to Carib slaves and captives, says Edwards. The slavery that punished criminality was similarly marked. In Nicaragua "a thief had his hair cut off, and became a slave to the person that had been robbed till he was satisfied." And this badge of slavery was otherwise inflicted as a punishment. By the Central Americans a suspected adulterer "was stripped and his hair was cut (a great disgrace)." One ancient Mexican penalty "was to have the hair cut at some public place." And during mediæval times in Europe cutting of hair was enacted as a punishment. Of course there follows a correlative distinction: long hair becomes honorable. If among the Chibchas "the greatest affront that could be put on a man or a woman was to have their hair cropped;" the assimilation to slaves in appearance was the obvious reason, the honorableness of long hair being an implication. "The Itzaex Indians," says Fancourt, "wore their hair as long as it would grow; indeed, it is a most difficult thing to bring the Indians to cut their hair." Long hair is a mark of distinction among the Tongans, and none are permitted to wear it but the principal people. Similarly with the New Caledonians and various others of the uncivilized, and similarly with semi-civilized Orientals, "the Ottoman princes have their beard shaved off, to show that they are dependent on the favor of the reigning emperor." By the Greeks, "in manhood,. . . the hair was worn longer," and "a certain political significancy was attached to the hair." In Northern Europe, too, "among the Franks. . . . the serfs wore the hair less long and less carefully dressed than freemen," and the freemen less long than the nobles: "The long hair of the Frank kings is sacred. . . . It is for them a mark and honorable prerogative of the royal race." Clothair and Childebert, wishing to divide their brother's kingdom, consulted respecting their nephews, "whether to cut off their hair so as to reduce them to the rank of subjects, or to kill them." I may add the extreme case of the Japanese mikado: "Neither his hair, beard, nor nails are ever [avowedly] cut, that his sacred person may not be mutilated," such cutting as occurs being done while he is supposed to sleep.

A parallel marking of divine rank may be noted in passing. Length of hair being significant of terrestrial dignity, becomes significant, too, of celestial dignity. The gods of various peoples, and especially the great gods, are distinguished by their flowing beards and long locks.

Domestic subordination, too, in many cases goes along with short hair; in low social states women commonly bear this badge of slavery. Turner tells us that in Samoa the women wore the hair short; the men wore it long. Among other Malayo-Polynesians, as the Tahitians and New-Zealanders, the like contrast occurs. Similarly with the Negrito races. "In New Caledonia the chiefs and influential men wear their hair long, and tie it up in a semi-conical form on the top of their head. The women all crop theirs close to the very ears." And cropped heads in like manner distinguish the women of Tanna, of Lifu, of Vate, and also the Tasmanian women. A kindred mode of signifying filial subordination may be added. Yielding up of hair once formed part of the ceremony of adoption in Europe. "Charles Martel sent Pepin, his son, to Luithprand, King of the Lombards, that he might cut his first locks, and by this ceremony hold for the future the place of his father;" and Clovis, to make peace with him, became the adopted son of Alaric, by offering his beard to be cut by him.

While coming thus to imply subjection to living persons, this mutilation simultaneously came to imply subjection to dead persons. How the yielding up of hair to the dead is originally akin to the yielding up of a trophy is well shown by the Dakotas: "The men shave the hair off their heads, except a small tuft on the top [the scalp-lock], which they suffer to grow and wear in plaits over the shoulders; the loss of it is the usual sacrifice at the death of near relations:" that is, they go as near as may be to surrendering their scalps to the dead. The meaning is again seen in the account given of the Caribs: "As their hair thus constituted their chief pride, it was an unequivocal proof of the sincerity of their sorrow, when, on the death of a relation or friend, they cut it short like their slaves and captives." Everywhere among the uncivilized, kindred forms occur. Nor was it otherwise with the ancient historic races. By the Hebrews making "baldness upon their heads" was practised as a funeral rite, as was also shaving off "the corner of their beard." Similarly by Greeks and Romans, "the hair was cut close in mourning." In Greece the meaning of this mutilation was recognized. Potter remarks: We find Electra in Euripides finding fault with Helena for sparing her locks, and thereby defrauding the dead; and he cites the statement that this sacrifice of hair (sometimes laid upon the grave) was "partly to render the ghost of the deceased person propitious." A significant addition must be made: "For a recent death, the mourner's head was shaved; for an offering to the long-dead, a single lock was cut off."

Naturally if, from propitiation of the dead, some of whom become deities, there grows up religious propitiation, the offering of hair may be expected to reappear as a religious ceremony; and we find that it does so. Already, in the just-named fact that, besides hair sacrificed at a Greek funeral, similar though smaller sacrifices were made afterward, we see the rise of that recurring propitiation characterizing worship of a deity. And when we further read that among the Greeks "on the death of any very popular personage, as a general, it sometimes happened that all the army cut off their hair," we are shown a step toward that propitiation by unrelated members of the community at large, which, when it becomes established, is a trait of religious worship. Hence certain Greek ceremonies. "The cutting off of the hair, which was always done when a boy became an ἕφηβος, was a solemn act, attended with religious ceremonies. A libation was first offered to Hercules,. . . and the hair after being cut off was dedicated to some deity, usually a river-god." So, too, at the first time of shaving among the Romans, "the hair cut off on such occasions was consecrated to some god."

Sacrifice of hair was an act of worship with the Hebrews also. We are told of "fourscore men, having their beards shaven, and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the Lord;" and Krehl gives sundry kindred facts concerning the Arabians.

Curious modifications of the practice occurred in Peru. Small sacrifices of hair were continual. "Another offering," writes D'Acosta, is "pulling out the eyelashes or eyebrows and presenting them to the sun, the hills, the combles, the winds, or whatever they are in fear of. . . . On entering the temples, or when they were already within them, they put their hands to their eyebrows as if they would pull out the hairs, and then made a motion as if they were blowing them toward the idol"—a good instance of the abridgment which ceremonies habitually undergo. Lastly, when, in presence of a national calamity, extreme propitiation of a deity is to be made, we sometimes find even the ruler sacrificing his hair. During an eruption of the great volcano in Hawaii, all other offerings having failed to appease the anger of the gods, "the king Kamehameha cut off part of his own hair, which was considered sacred, and threw it into the torrent [of lava], as the most valuable offering."

One further development remains: this kind of sacrifice becomes in some cases a social propitiation. Wreaths of their own hair plaited were bestowed upon others as marks of consideration by the Tahitians. In France, in the fifth and sixth centuries, it was usual to pluck out a few hairs from the beard on approaching a superior, and present them; and this usage was occasionally adopted as a mark of condescension by a ruler, as when Clovis, gratified by the visit of the Bishop of Toulouse, gave him a hair from his beard, and was imitated in so doing by his followers. Afterward the usage had its meaning obscured by abridgment: in the times of chivalry one mode of showing respect was to tug at the mustache.


Already, when treating of trophies, and when finding that those of the phallic class, major and minor, had the same meanings as the rest, the way was opened to explain the mutilations next to be dealt with. We have seen that, when the vanquished were not killed but preserved as slaves, it became imperative that the taking of trophies from them should neither endanger life nor be highly injurious; and that hence, instead of jaws, teeth were taken; instead of hands, fingers; instead of scalps, hair. Similarly, in this case, the fatal mutilation disappearing left only such allied mutilation as did not seriously, or at all, decrease the value of the enslaved enemy.

That castration was initiated by trophy-taking I find no direct proof; but there is direct proof that prisoners have in some cases been treated in the way that trophy-taking of the implied kind would entail. Of Theobald, Marquis of Spoleto, we read in Gibbon that "his captives. . . . were castrated without mercy;" and, for thinking that there was once an enforced sacrifice of the kind indicated made to a conqueror, there is the further reason that we find a parallel sacrifice made to a deity. At the annual festivals of the Phrygian goddess Amma [Agdistis], "it was the custom for the young men to make themselves eunuchs with a sharp shell, crying out at the same time, 'Take this, Agdistis!' " There was a like practice among the Phœnicians; and Brinton names a severe self-mutilation of the ancient Mexican priests which seems to have included this. Coming in the way shown to imply subordination, this usage, like many ceremonial usages, has in some cases survived where its meaning is lost. The Hottentots enforce semi-castration at about eight or nine years of age; and a kindred custom exists among the Australians.

Naturally, of this class of mutilations, the less serious is the more prevalent. Circumcision occurs among unallied races in all parts of the world—among the Malayo-Polynesians in Tahiti, in Tonga, in Madagascar; among the Negritos of New Caledonia and Feejee; among African peoples, both of the coast and the interior, from Northern Abyssinia to Southern Caffre-land; in America, among some Mexican peoples, the Yucatanese, and the people of San Salvador; and we meet with it again in Australia. Even apart from the fact that their monuments prove it to have been practised by the Egyptians from their earliest recorded times, and even apart from the reasons for believing that it prevailed among the Arabian peoples at large, these proofs that circumcision is not limited to region or race sufficiently dispose of the current theological interpretation. They sufficiently dispose, too, of another interpretation not uncommonly given; for a general survey of the facts shows us that, while the usage does not prevail among the most cleanly races in the world, it is common among the most uncleanly races. Contrariwise, the facts taken in the mass are congruous with the general theory thus far verified.

It was shown that among the Abyssinians down to recent times the trophy taken by circumcision from an enemy's dead body is presented by each warrior to his chief, and how all such trophies taken after a battle are eventually presented to the king. If the vanquished enemies, instead of being killed, are made slaves, and if the warriors who have vanquished them continue to present the usual proofs of their prowess, there must arise the circumcision of living captives, who thereby become marked as subjugated persons. A further result is obvious. As the chief and the king are propitiated by bringing them these trophies taken from their foes, and, as the primitive belief is that a dead man's ghost is pleased by whatever pleased the man when alive, there will naturally follow a presentation of such trophies to the ghost of the departed ruler. And then where in a highly-militant society governed by an absolute despot, divine by descent and nature, who, owning the entire population, requires them all to bear this badge of servitude, and who, dying, has his dreaded ghost anxiously propitiated, we may expect that the offering of these trophies taken from enslaved enemies to the king will develop into the offering of like trophies taken from each generation of male citizens to the god in acknowledgment of their slavery to him. Hence, when Movers tells us that among the Phœnicians circumcision was "a sign of consecration to Saturn," and when proof is given that of old the people of San Salvador circumcised "in the Jewish manner, offering the blood to an idol," we are shown just the results to be anticipated as eventually arising.

That this interpretation applies to the custom as made known to us in the Bible, there is clear evidence. We have already seen that the ancient Hebrews, like the modern Abyssinians, practised the form of trophy-taking which necessitates this mutilation of the dead enemy; and, as in the one case, so in the other, it follows that the vanquished enemy, not slain, but made prisoner, will by this mutilation be marked as a subject person. That circumcision was among the Hebrews the stamp of subjection, all the evidence proves. On learning that among existing Bedouins, as Mr. Palgrave shows, the only conception of God is that of a powerful living ruler, the sealing by circumcision of the covenant between God and Abraham becomes a comprehensible ceremony. There is furnished an explanation of the fact that, in consideration of a territory to be received, this mutilation, submitted to by Abraham, implied that "the Lord" was "to be a god unto" him; as also the fact that the mark was to be borne not by him and his descendants exclusively, as favored individuals, but also by slaves not of his blood. And, on remembering that in primitive beliefs the returning double of the dead potentate is believed to be indistinguishable from the living potentate, we get an interpretation of the otherwise strange tradition narrated in Exodus concerning God's anger with Moses for not circumcising his son: "And it came to pass by the way in the inn that the Lord met Moses, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet." That circumcision among the Jews was a mark of subordination to Jahveh is further implied by the facts that under the foreign ruler Antiochus, who brought in foreign gods, circumcision was forbidden, and those who, persevering in it, refused obedience to these foreign gods, were slain; while contrariwise Mattathias and his friends, loyal to the god of their fathers, and rebelling against foreign rule and worship, are said to have gone "round about, and pulled down the altars: and what children soever they found within the coast of Israel uncircumcised those they circumcised valiantly." Moreover Hyrcanus, having subdued the Idumeans, made them submit to circumcision as a condition of remaining in their country; and Aristobulus similarly imposed the mark on the conquered people of Iturea.

Quite congruous are certain converse facts. Mariner states that Tooitonga (the great divine chief of Tonga) is not circumcised, as all other men are: being unsubordinated, he does not bear the badge of subordination. And with this I may join a case in which whole tribes belonging to a race ordinarily practising circumcision are uncircumcised where they are unsubordinated. Naming certain Berbers in Morocco as thus distinguished, Rohlfs says: "These uncircumcised tribes inhabit the Rif Mountains. . . . All the Rif mountaineers eat wild-boar, in spite of the Koran law."


Besides mutilations entailing some loss of flesh, bone, skin, or hair, there are mutilations which do not imply a deduction—at least not a permanent one. Of these we may take, first, one which sacrifices a liquid part of the body, though not a solid part.

Bleeding as a mutilation has an origin akin to the origins of other mutilations. Did we not find that some uncivilized tribes, as the Samoyeds, drink the warm blood of animals—did we not find among existing cannibals, such as the Feejeeans, proofs that savages drink the blood of still-living human victims—it would seem incredible that from taking the blood of a vanquished enemy was derived the ceremony of offering blood to a ghost, and to a god. But when to accounts of horrors like these we join accounts of kindred ones which savages commit, such as that among the Amaponda Caffres "it is usual for the ruling chief, on his accession to the government, to be washed in the blood of a near relative, generally a brother, who is put to death on the occasion;" and when we infer that, before the rise of civilization, the sanguinary tastes and usages now exceptional were probably general, we may suspect that from the drinking of blood by conquering cannibals there arose some kinds of blood-offerings—at any rate, those of blood taken from immolated victims. Possibly some offerings of blood from the bodies of living persons are to be thus accounted for; but those which are not are explicable as sequences of the widely-prevalent practice of establishing a sacred bond of mutual obligation between living persons by partaking of each other's blood—the derived conception being that those who give some of their blood to the ghost of the man just dead and lingering near effect with it a union which on the one side implies submission, and on the other side friendliness.

On this hypothesis we have a reason for the great prevalence of self-bleeding as a funeral-rite, not among existing savages only, but among ancient and partially-civilized peoples—the Jews, the Greeks, the Huns, the Turks. We are shown how there arise kindred rites as permanent propitiations of those more dreaded ghosts which become gods—such offerings of blood (now taken from slain victims, now from their own bodies, and now from their newly-born infants) as those which the Mexicans gave the idols of their cannibal deities; such offerings as were implied by the self-gashings of the priests of Baal; and such as were sometimes made even in propitiating Jahveh— as by the fourscore men who came from Shechem, Shiloh, and Samaria. Moreover, the instances of bloodletting as a complimentary act in social intercourse cease to be inexplicable. During a Samoan marriage-ceremony the friends of the bride, to testify their respect, "took up stones and beat themselves until their heads were bruised and bleeding." In his account of the Central Americans, Martyr says, "When the Indians of Potonchan receive new friends,. . . as a proof of friendship, they, in the sight of the friend, draw some blood . . . . from the tongue, hand, or arm, or from some other part."

Here, however, my purpose in naming these offerings of blood under the head of mutilations is not so much to show their kinship of origin as to prepare the way for explaining the mutilations which result from them.


Gashings and tearings of the flesh make wounds which leave scars. If the blood-offerings which entail them are made by relatives to the departed spirit of an ordinary person, these scars are not likely to have any permanent significance; but, if they are made in propitiation of some deceased chief, not by his relatives alone, but by unrelated members of the tribe who stood in awe of him and fear his ghost, then like other mutilations they become signs of subjection. The Huns who "at the burial of Attila cut their faces with hollow wounds," in common with the Turks who did the like at royal funerals, thus inflicted on themselves marks which thereafter distinguished them as servants of their respective rulers. So, too, did the Lacedæmonians, who, "when their king died, had a barbarous custom of meeting in vast numbers, where men, women, and slaves, all mixed together, tore the flesh from their foreheads with pins and needles . . . . to gratify the ghosts of the dead." Customs of this kind would sometimes have further results. With the apotheosis of some notable king whose conquests gave him the character of founder of the nation, such marks, borne not by his contemporary followers only, but imposed by them on their children, might become national marks.

That the scars caused by propitiatory bloodletting at funerals do become recognized as binding to the dead those who bear them, and do develop in the way alleged, we have tolerably good evidence. The command in Leviticus, "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you," shows us the usage in that stage at which the scar left by sacrifice of blood is still a sign partly of family subordination and partly of other subordination. And the traditions of the Scandinavians show us a stage at which it betokens allegiance either to an unspecified supernatural being, or to a deceased ruler who has become a god. Odin, "when he was near his death, made himself be marked with the point of a spear;" and Niort "before he died made himself be marked for Odin with the spear-point."

That scars on the surface of the body, thus coming to express loyalty to a deceased father or a deceased ruler, or a god derived from him, initiate, among other disfigurements, those we class as tattooing, is a probable inference. Lacerations, and the traces they leave, are certain to take different forms in different places. The Andaman-Islanders "tattoo by incising the skin with small pieces of glass, without inserting coloring-matter, the cicatrix being whiter than the sound skin." Some natives of Australia have ridges raised on this or that part of the body, while others brand themselves. In Tanna the people make elevated scars on their arms and chests. And Barton, in his "Abeokuta," says: "The skin-patterns were of every variety, from the diminutive prick to the great gash and the large, boil-like lumps. . . . In this country every tribe, sub-tribe, and even family, has its blazon, whose infinite diversifications maybe compared with the lines and ordinaries of European heraldry—a volume would not suffice to explain all the marks in detail." Naturally, among the various skin mutilations originating in the way alleged, many will, under the promptings of vanity, take on a character more or less ornamental; and the use of them for decoration will often survive when their meaning has been lost.

Hypothesis apart, we have proof that these marks made by cutting gashes, or puncturing lines, or raising welts, or otherwise, are in many cases tribal marks—as they would, of course become if they were originally made when binding themselves by blood to the dead founder of the tribe. A clear exhibition of the feeling implied by the bearing of marks is contained in a statement Bancroft makes respecting the Cuebas of Central America: "If the son of a chief declined to use the distinctive badge of his house, he could, when he became chief, choose any new device he might fancy. A son who did not adopt his father's totem was always hateful to him during his lifetime." And if the refusal to adopt the family-mark where it is painted on the body is thus regarded as a kind of disloyalty, equally will it be so when the mark is one that has arisen from modified lacerations and such refusal will be tantamount to rebellion where the mark signifies descent from, and submission to, some great father of the race. Hence, then, the meaning of such facts as the following: "All these Indians," says Cieza of the ancient Peruvians, "wear certain marks by which they are known, and which were used by their ancestors. . . . Both sexes of the Sandwich-Islanders have a particular mark (tattooed) which seems to indicate the district in which, or the chief under whom, they lived." Of the Uaupes, "one tribe, the Tucános, are distinguished from the rest by three vertical blue lines on the chin."

That a special form of tattooing becomes a tribal mark in the way suggested, we have, indeed, some direct evidence. Among sundry mutilations undergone as funeral-rites, at the death of a chief among the Sandwich-Islanders, such as knocking out teeth, cutting the ears, cutting hair, etc., one is tattooing a spot on the tongue. Here we see this mutilation acquiring the signification of allegiance to a ruler who has died; and then when the deceased ruler, unusually distinguished, is apotheosized, the tattoo-mark becomes the sign of obedience to him as a deity. "With several Eastern nations," says Grimm, "it was a custom to mark one's self by a burned or incised sign as adherent to a certain worship. . . . Philo complains of his country-people in this respect." It was thus with the Hebrews. Bearing in mind the above-quoted interdict against marking themselves for the dead, we shall see the meaning of the words in Deuteronomy—" They have corrupted themselves, the spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation." And that such contrasted spots as are here referred to were understood in later times to imply the service of different deities is suggested by passages in Revelation, where an angel is described as ordering delay "till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads," and where "an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads," are described as standing on Mount Sion, while an angel proclaims that, "if any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God." Down to the present day in the East like marks have like meanings. Thomson, after specifying the method of tattooing, says: "This practice of marking religious tokens upon the hands and arms is almost universal among the Arabs of all sects and classes. Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem have the operation performed there, as the most holy place known to their religion." And still more definite is the statement of Kalisch, that "Christians in some parts of the East, and European sailors, were long in the habit of marking, by means of punctures and a black dye, their arms and other members of the body with the sign of the crucifix or the image of the Virgin; the Mohammedans mark them with the name of Allah." So that down to our own time among advanced races we trace in these skin-mutilations meanings like those avowedly given to them in ancient Mexico, where, when a child was dedicated to Quetzalcohuatl, "the priest made a slight cut with a knife on its breast, as a sign that it belonged to the cult and service of the god," and, like those still avowedly given to them by negroes in Angola, where in many regions every child as soon as born is tattooed on the belly, in order thereby to dedicate it to a certain fetich.

A significant group of evidences must be added. We have seen that, where cropped hair implies servitude, long hair becomes an honorable distinction; that, shorn beards being marks of subordination, unshorn beards are marks of supremacy; and that, occasionally, in opposition to circumcision, as associated with subjection, there is absence of it along with the highest power. Here we have a parallel antithesis. The great divine chief of the Tongans is unlike all other men in Tonga, not only as being uncircumcised, but also as being untattooed. Elsewhere classes are sometimes thus distinguished. Burton says of the people of Banza Nokkoi, on the Congo, that those who are tattooed "are generally slaves." And in this relation there may be significance in the statement of Boyle that "the Kyans, Pakatans, and Kennowits, alone in Borneo practise tattooing, and these are the three aboriginal races least esteemed for bravery." Not, however, that distinctions implied by tattooing and its absence are at all regular: we here meet with anomalies. Though in some places showing social inferiority, tattooing in other places is a trait of the superior. While in Feejee only the women are tattooed—while in Tahiti there is tattooing of both men and women, in the Sandwich Islands the men are more tattooed than the women. Sometimes the presence of this skin-mutilation is evidence of high rank. "In the province of Panuco, the noblemen were easily to be distinguished, as they had their bodies tattooed." But the occurrence of anomalies is not surprising. During the perpetual overrunnings of race by race, it must sometimes have happened that, an untattooed race having been conquered by one which practised tattooing, the presence of these markings became associated with social supremacy. Moreover, since, along with dispersions of tribes and obscurings of their traditions, the meanings of mutilations will often die, while they themselves survive, there may not unnaturally occur developments of them for purposes of display, tending to reverse their original significance; as seems implied by the statement of Angas that "tattooing is a class distinction among the New-Zealanders; the faces of slaves have not the spiral tattooing;" or that of Dobrizhoffer, that "every Abiponian woman you see has a different pattern on her face. Those that are most painted and pricked you may know to be of high rank and noble birth."

But a further cause exists for this conflict of meanings. There remains to be named a species of skin-mutilation having another origin and different implication.

Besides scars resulting from lacerations made in propitiation of dead relatives, dead chiefs, and deities, there are scars resulting from wounds received in battle. The presence of many such implies many conflicts with enemies; and hence, all the world over, they are held in honor and displayed with pride. The sentiment associated with them among ourselves in past times is indicated in Shakespeare by sundry references to "such as boasting show their scars." Lafeu says, "A scar nobly got, or a noble scar, is a good livery of honor;" and Henry V. foretells of an old soldier that "then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars."

Animated as are savages in still higher degrees than civilized by the feelings thus indicated—having no other kind of honor than that derived from the reputation for bravery—what may be expected to result? Will not the anxiety to bear honorable scars sometimes lead to the artificial making of scars? We have evidence that it does. Lichtenstein tells us that the priest among the Bechuanas makes a long cut in the skin from the thigh to the knee of each warrior who has slain some of the enemy in battle. There is a kindred usage among the Bachapin Caffres. Among the Damaras, "for every wild animal that a young man destroys, his father makes four small incisions on the front of the son's body as marks of honor and distinction." And then Tuckey, speaking of certain Congo people who make scars, says that this is "principally done with the idea of rendering themselves agreeable to the women:" a motive which is intelligible if such scars originally passed for scars got in war, and implying bravery. American races yield some evidence of like meaning. We read that "the Itzaex Indians [in Yucatan] have handsome faces, though some of them were marked with lines as a sign of courage." Facts furnished by other American tribes suggest that the infliction of torture on entering maturity originated from the habit of making scars artificially in imitation of scars bequeathed by battle. If self-injury to avoid service in war has in all times been frequent among those lacking courage, we may reasonably infer that among the more courageous, who have received no wounds, self-injury might be not unfrequent, where there was gained by it that character for bravery desired above everything. Though at first secret and exceptional, the reputation achieved might make it gradually more common and at length general; until, finally, public opinion, vented against those who did not follow it, made the usage peremptory. When we read in Dobrizhoffer that, among the Abipones, "boys of seven years old pierce their little arms in imitation of their parents, and display plenty of wounds," we are shown the rise of a feeling, and a consequent practice, which, growing, may end in a system of initiatory tortures at manhood. Hence, when of the Arawaks Schomburgk tells us that after a Mariquarri dance the blood will be running down their swollen calves, and strips of skin and muscle hang down the mangled limbs, we may suspect that in this and kindred self-mutilations we see an outcome of the ambition to bear honorable scars. Though, when the scars, being borne by all, are no longer distinctive, discipline in endurance comes to be the reason given for inflicting them, this cannot well have been the original reason; since primitive men, improvident in all ways, are very unlikely to have deliberately devised and instituted a usage with a view to a foreseen distant benefit: the assumption of anything like a legislative act is inadmissible.

However this may be, we have here a second origin for certain kinds of mutilations. And hence a probable reason why markings on the skin, though generally badges of subordination, become in some cases honorable distinctions and occasionally signs of rank.


Something must be added concerning a secondary motive for mutilation; parallel to, or sequent upon, a secondary motive for taking trophies.

In the last chapter we inferred that, prompted by his belief that the spirit pervades all parts of the corpse, the savage preserves relics of dead enemies partly in the expectation that he will be enabled thereby to coerce their spirits—if not himself, still by the help of the medicine-man. He has a parallel reason for preserving a part cut from one whom he has enslaved: both he and the slave think that he so obtains a power to inflict injury. When we find that the sorcerer's first step is to procure some hair or nail-parings of his victim, or else some piece of his dress pervaded by that odor which is identified with his spirit, it appears to be a necessary corollary that the master who keeps by him the tooth of a slave, a joint of his finger, or even a lock of his hair, thereby retains a power of delivering him over to the necromancer, who may bring on him one or other fearful evil torture by demons, disease, death.

Thus it seems possible that, where the part cut off is preserved, mutilation has a secondary governmental effect. The subjugated man is made obedient by a dread akin to that which Caliban expresses of Prospero's magically-inflicted torments.


The evidence that bodily mutilation of the living has been a sequence of trophy-taking from the dead, is thus at once abundant and varied. As the taking of the trophy implies victory carried even to the death, the derived practice of cutting off a part from the living prisoner comes to imply subjugation; and eventually the voluntary surrender of such a part expresses submission, and becomes a propitiatory ceremony because it does this.

Hands are cut off from dead enemies; and, answering to this, besides some identical mutilations of criminals, we have the cutting-off of fingers or portions of fingers, to pacify living chiefs, deceased persons, and gods. Noses are among the trophies taken from slain foes; and we have loss of noses inflicted on prisoners, on slaves, on transgressors of certain kinds. Ears are brought back from the battlefield; and occasionally they are cut off from prisoners, criminals, or slaves; while there are people among whom pierced ears mark the servant or the subject. Jaws and teeth, too, are trophies; and teeth, in some cases knocked out in propitiation of a dead chief, are, in various other cases, knocked out by a priest as a quasi-religious ceremony. Most prevalent and complete is the evidence furnished by mutilation of the hair. Scalps are taken from killed enemies, and sometimes their hair is used to decorate a victor's dress; and then come various sequences. Here the enslaved have their heads cropped; here scalp-locks are worn subject to a chiefs ownership, and these are demanded in sign of submission; while, elsewhere, men are shorn of their beards to ornament the robe of a superior: unshorn hair being thus rendered a mark of rank. Among numerous peoples, hair is sacrificed to propitiate the ghosts of relatives; whole tribes cut it on the deaths of their chiefs or kings; it is yielded up to express subjection to deities; occasionally it is offered to a living superior in token of respect; and this complimentary offering is extended to others. Similarly with genital mutilations, there is a like, taking of parts from slain enemies and from living prisoners; and there is a presentation of them to kings and to gods. Nor is it otherwise with mutilations of another class. Self bleeding, initiated partly, perhaps, by cannibalism, but more extensively by the mutual giving of blood in pledge of loyalty, enters into several ceremonies expressing subordination: we find it occurring in propitiation of ghosts and of gods, and occasionally as a compliment to living persons. Naturally it is the same with the resulting marks. Originally indefinite in form and place, but rendered definite by custom, and at length often decorative, these healed wounds, at first entailed only on relatives of deceased persons, then on all the followers of a man who was much feared while alive, so became marks expressive of subjection to a dead ruler, and eventually to a god: thus growing into tribal and national marks.

If, as we have seen, trophy-taking as a sequence of conquest enters as a factor into those governmental restraints which conquest initiates, it is to be inferred that the mutilations originated by trophy-taking will do the like. The evidence justifies this inference. Beginning as marks of personal slavery, and becoming marks of political and religious subordination, they play a part like that of oaths of fealty and pious self-dedications. Moreover, being public acknowledgments of submission to a ruler, visible or invisible, they enforce authority by making conspicuous to all eyes the extent of his sway. And where they signify class-subordination, as well as where they show the subjugation of criminals, they further strengthen the hands of the regulative agency.

If mutilations originate as alleged, we may expect to find some connection between the extent to which they are carried and the social type as simple or compound, militant or industrial. On grouping the facts as presented by fifty-two peoples, the connection emerges with as much clearness as can be expected. In the first place, since the development of mutilation as a custom goes with conquest, and resulting aggregation, it is inferable that simple societies, however savage, will be less characterized by it than the larger savage societies compounded out of them, and less than even the semi-civilized societies. This proves to be true. Of peoples who form simple societies that practise mutilation either not at all or in slight forms, I find, among races wholly unallied, eleven—Fuegians, Veddahs, Andamanese, Dyaks, Todas, Gonds, Santals, Bodo and Dhimals, Mishmis, Kamtchadales, Snake Indians; and these are characterized throughout either by absence of chieftainship, or by chieftainship of an unsettled kind. Meanwhile, of peoples who mutilate little or not at all, I find but two in the class of compound societies; of which one, the Kirghiz, is characterized by a wandering life that makes subordination difficult, and the other, the Iroquois, had a republican form of government. Of societies practising mutilations that are moderate, the simple are relatively fewer, and the compound relatively more numerous: of the one class there are ten—Tasmanians, Tannese, New Guinea people, Karens, Nagas, Ostiaks, Esquimaux, Chinooks, Comanches, Chippewyans; while of the other class there are five—New-Zealanders, East Africans, Khonds, Kukis, Calmucks. And of those it is to be remarked that in the one class the simple headship, and in the other class the compound headship, is unstable. On coming to the societies distinguished by severer mutilations, we find these relations reversed. Among the simple I can name but three—the New Caledonians (among whom, however, the severer mutilation is not general), the Bushmen (who are believed to have lapsed from a higher social state), and the Australians (who have, I believe, similarly lapsed); while, among the compound, twenty-one may be named—Feejeeans, Sandwich-Islanders, Tahitians, Tongans, Samoans, Javans, Sumatrans, Malagasy, Hottentots, Damaras, Bechuanas, Caffres, Congo people, coast negroes, inland negroes, Dahomans, Ashantees, Fulahs, Abyssinians, Arabs, Dakotas. Social consolidation being habitually effected by conquest, and compound and doubly-compound societies being, therefore, during early states, militant in their activities and types of structure, it follows that the connection of the custom of mutilation with the size of the society is indirect, while that with its type is direct. And this the facts show us. If we put side by side those societies which are most unlike in respect of the practice of mutilation, we find them to be those which are most unlike as being wholly unmilitant in organization, and wholly militant in organization. At the one extreme we have the Veddas, Todas, Bodo and Dhimals; while, at the other extreme, we have the Feejeeans, Abyssinians, ancient Mexicans.

Derived from trophy-taking, and developing with the development of the militant type, it is to be anticipated that mutilations decrease as fast as the societies consolidated by militancy become less militant, and disappear as the industrial type of structure evolves. That they do so European history at large may be assigned in proof. And it is significant that in our own society, now predominantly industrial, such slight mutilations as continue are connected with that regulative part of the organization which militancy has bequeathed: there survive only the now-meaningless tattooings of sailors, the branding of deserters, and the cropping of the heads of felons.

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