Popular Science Monthly/Volume 12/March 1878/Evolution of Ceremonial Government II

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EFFICIENCY of every kind is a source of self-satisfaction; and proofs of it are prized as bringing applause. The sportsman, narrating his successes when opportunity serves, keeps such spoils of the chase as he conveniently can. Is he a fisherman? Then, occasionally, the notches cut on the butt of his rod show the number and lengths of his salmon; or, in a glass case, there is preserved the great Thames-trout he once caught. Has he stalked deer? Then in his hall, or dining-room, are fixed up their heads; which he greatly esteems when the attached horns have many "points." Still more, if he is a successful hunter of tigers, does he value the skins demonstrating his prowess.

Trophies of such kinds, even among ourselves, give to their owner some influence over those around him. A traveler who has brought from Africa a pair of elephant's tusks, or the formidable horn of a rhinoceros, impresses those who come in contact with him as a man of courage and resource, and, therefore, as one not to be trifled with. A vague kind of governing power accrues to him.

Naturally, by primitive men, whose lives are predatory, and whose respective values largely depend on their powers as hunters, animal-trophies are still more prized, and tend, in a greater degree, to bring honor and influence. Hence the fact that rank in Vate is indicated by the number of bones of all kinds suspended in the house. Of the Shoshone warrior we are told that, "killing a grizzly bear also entitles him to this honor, for it is considered a great feat to slay one of these formidable animals, and only he who has performed it is allowed to wear their highest insignia of glory, the feet or claws of the victim." Among the Santals "it is customary to hand these trophies (skulls of beasts, etc.) down from father to son." And when, with such facts to give us the clews, we read that the habitation' of the king of the Koossas "is no otherwise distinguished than by the tail of a lion or a panther hanging from the top of the roof," we can scarcely doubt that this symbol of royalty was originally a trophy displayed by a chief whose prowess had gained him supremacy.

But, as, among the uncivilized and semi-civilized, human enemies are more to be feared than beast enemies, and conquests over men are therefore occasions of greater triumphs than conquests over animals, it results that proofs of such conquests are usually still more valued. A brave who returns from battle does not get honor if his boasts are unsupported by evidence; but if he proves that he has killed his man by bringing back some part of him—especially a part which the corpse could not yield in duplicate—he raises his character in the tribe and increases his power. Preservation of trophies, with a view to display and consequent strengthening of personal influence, therefore becomes an established custom. In Ashantee "the smaller joints, bones, and teeth of the slain are worn by the victors about their persons." Among the Ceris and Opatas of North Mexico, "many cook and eat the flesh of their captives, reserving the bones as trophies." And another Mexican race, "the Chichimecs, carried with them a bone on which, when they killed an enemy, they marked a notch, as a record of the number each had slain." The meaning of trophy-taking, and its social effects, being recognized, let us consider in groups the various forms of it.

Of parts cut from the bodies of the slain, heads are the commonest; probably as being the most unmistakable proofs of victory.

We need not go far afield for illustrations both of the practice and its motives. The most familiar of books contains them. In Judges vii. 25, we read: "And they took two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb; and they slew Oreb upon the rock Oreb, and Zeeb they slew at the wine-press of Zeeb, and pursued Midian, and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side Jordan." The decapitation of Goliath by David, followed by carrying of his head to Jerusalem, further illustrates the custom. And, if, by so superior a race, heads' were taken home as trophies, we shall not wonder at finding the custom of so taking them among inferior races all over the globe. By the Chichimecs in North America "the heads of the slain were placed on poles and paraded through their villages in token of victory, the inhabitants meanwhile dancing round them." In South America, by the Abipones, heads are brought back from battle "tied to their saddles;" and the Mundrucus "ornament their rude and miserable cabanas with these horrible trophies." Of Malayo-Polynesians having a like habit, may be named the New-Zealanders; they dry and treasure up the heads of their slain foes. In Madagascar, during Queen Ranavalona's reign, heads raised on poles were placed along the coast. Skulls of enemies are preserved as trophies by the natives on the Congo, and by other African peoples: "The skull and thighbones of the last monarch of Dinkira are still trophies of the court of Ashantee." Among the Hill-tribes of India, the Kukis may be instanced as having this practice. Morier tells us that in Persia, under the stimulus of money-payments, "prisoners" (of war) "have been put to death in cold blood, in order that the heads, which are immediately dispatched to the king and deposited in heaps at the palace-gate, might make a more considerable show." And that among other Asiatic races head-taking persists spite of semi-civilization, we are reminded by the recent doings of the Turks, who have in some cases exhumed the bodies of slain foes and decapitated them.

This last instance draws attention to the fact that this barbarous custom has been, and is, carried to the greatest extremes, along with militancy the most excessive. Among ancient examples there are the doings of Timour, with his exaction of 90,000 heads from Bagdad. Of modern examples the most notable comes from Dahomey. "The sleeping-apartment of a Dahoman king," says Burton, "was paved with the skulls of neighboring princes and chiefs, placed there that the king might tread upon them." And, according to Dalzel, the king's statement, that "his house wanted thatch," was "used in giving orders to his generals to make war, and alludes to the custom of placing the heads of the enemy killed in battle, or those of the prisoners of distinction, on the roofs of the guard-houses at the gates of his palaces."

But now, ending instances, let us observe how this taking of heads as trophies initiates a means of strengthening political power; how it becomes a factor in sacrificial ceremonies; and how it enters into social intercourse as a controlling influence. That the pyramids and towers of heads built by Timour at Bagdad and Aleppo, must have conduced to his supremacy by striking terror into the subjugated, as well as by exciting dread of vengeance for insubordination among his followers, cannot be doubted; and that living in a dwelling paved and decorated with skulls, implies, in a Dahoman king, a character generating fear among enemies and obedience among subjects, is obvious. In Northern Celebes, where, before 1822, "human skulls were the great ornaments of the chiefs' houses," these proofs of victory in battle, used as symbols of authority, could not fail to exercise a governmental effect.

That heads are offered in propitiation of the dead, and that the ceremony of offering them is thus made part of a quasi-worship, there are clear proofs. One is supplied by the people just named. "When a chief died his tomb must be adorned with two fresh human heads, and if those of enemies could not be obtained slaves were killed for the occasion." Among the Dyaks, who, though in many respects advanced, have retained this barbarous practice sanctified by tradition, it is the same: "the aged warrior could not rest in his grave till his relatives had taken a head in his name." By the Kukis of Northern India sacrificial head-taking is carried still further. Making raids into the plains to procure heads, they "have been known in one night to carry off fifty. These are used in certain ceremonies performed at the funerals of the chiefs, and it is always after the death of one of their rajahs that these incursions occur."

That the possession of these grisly tokens of success gives an influence in social intercourse, proof is yielded by the following passage from St. John: "Head-hunting is not so much a religious ceremony among the Pakatans, Borneo, as merely to show their bravery and manliness. When they quarrel, it is a constant phrase, 'How many heads did your father or grandfather get?' If less than his own number, ' Well, then, you have no occasion to be proud.' "

The head of an enemy is of inconvenient bulk; and when the journey home is long there arises a question—cannot proof that an enemy has been killed be given by carrying back a part only? In some places the savage infers that it can, and acts on the inference.

This modification and its meaning are well shown in Ashantee, where "the general in command sends to the capital the jawbones of the slain enemies;" and where, as Ramseyer further tells us, "a day of rejoicing occurred on July 3d, when nineteen loads of jaws arrived from the seat of war as trophies of victory." When first found, the Tahitians, too, carried away the jawbones of their enemies; and Cook saw fifteen of them fastened up at the end of a house. Similarly of Vate, where "the greater the chief, the greater the display of bones," we read that, if a slain enemy was "one who spoke ill of the chief, his jaws are hung up in the chiefs house as a trophy:" a tacit threat to others who vilified him. A recent account of another Papuan race inhabiting Boigu, on the coast of New Guinea, further illustrates the practice, and also its social effect. Mr. Stone writes: "By nature these people are bloody and warlike among themselves, frequently making raids to the ' Big Land,' and returning in triumph with the heads and jawbones of their slaughtered victims, the latter becoming the property of the murderer, and the former of him who decapitates the body. The jawbone is consequently held as the most valued trophy, and the more a man possesses the greater he becomes in the eyes of his fellow-men." It may be added that, by the Tupis of South America, trophies of an allied kind were worn. In honoring a victorious warrior, "among some tribes they rubbed his pulse with one of the eyes of the dead, and hung the mouth upon his arm like a bracelet."

With the display of jaws as trophies, there may be named a kindred use of teeth. America furnishes instances. The Caribs "strung together the teeth of such of their enemies as they had slain in battle, and wore them on their legs and arms." The Tupis, after devouring a captive, preserved "the teeth strung in necklaces." The Moxos women wore "a necklace made of the teeth of enemies killed by their husbands in battle." In the times of the Spanish invaders, the Central Americans made an image, "and in its mouth were inserted teeth taken from the Spaniards whom they had killed." And a passage quoted above specifies teeth as among the trophies worn by the Ashantees.

Other parts of the head, easily detached and carried, also serve. Where many enemies are slain, the collected ears yield in small bulk a means of counting; and probably Zenghis Khan had this end in view when, in Poland, he "filled nine sacks with the right ears of the slain." Noses, again, are in some cases chosen as easily-enumerated trophies. Anciently, by Constantine V., "a plate of noses was accepted as a grateful offering;" and, at the present time, the noses they have taken are carried by soldiers to their leaders in Montenegro. That the slain Turks thus deprived of their noses, even to the extent of 500 on one battle-field, were so treated in retaliation for the decapitations the Turks had been guilty of, is true; but this excuse does not alter the fact that "the Montenegrin chiefs could not be persuaded to give up the practice of paying their clansmen for the number of noses produced."


The ancient Mexicans, having for gods their deified cannibal ancestors, in whose worship the most horrible rites were daily performed, in some cases took as trophies the entire skins of the vanquished. "The first prisoner made in a war was flayed alive. The soldier who had captured him dressed himself in his bleeding skin, and thus, for some days, served the god of battles. . . . He who was dressed in the skin walked from one temple to another; men and women followed him, shouting for joy." While we here see that the trophy was taken by the victor primarily as a proof of his prowess, we are also shown how there resulted a religious ceremony: the trophy was displayed for the supposed gratification of deities delighting in bloodshed. There is further evidence that this was the intention. "At the festival of the goldsmiths' god Totec, one of the priests put on the skin of a captive, and, being so dressed, he was the image of that god Totec." Nebel (plate 3, Fig. 1) gives the basalt figure of a priest (or idol) clothed in a human skin; and additional evidence is yielded by the custom of the neighboring state of Yucatan, where "the bodies were thrown down the steps, flayed, the priest put on the skins, and danced, and the body was buried in the yard of the temple. They took prisoners in war for these sacrifices, and condemned some of their own people to them."

Usually, however, the skin-trophy is relatively small: the requirement being simply that it shall be one of which the body yields no duplicate. The origin of it is well shown by the following description of a practice among the Abipones. They preserve the heads of enemies, and—

"When apprehension of approaching hostilities obliges them to remove to places of greater security, they strip the heads of the skin, cutting it from ear to ear beneath the nose, and dexterously pulling it off along with the hair. . . . That Abipon who has most of these skins at home excels the rest in military renown."

Evidently, however, the whole skin is not needful to prove previous possession of a head: the part covering the crown of the head, distinguished from other parts by the arrangement of its hairs, serves the purpose: hence scalping. Tales of Indian life have so far familiarized us with this custom that illustrations are needless. How in some cases, after a victory, "scalps are fixed on a pole" and danced round—how they are "highly prized as trophies, and publicly exhibited at feasts," need not be proved in detail. But one piece of evidence, supplied by the Shoshones, may be named; because it clearly shows us the use of the trophy as an accepted evidence of victory—a kind of legal proof regarded as alone conclusive. We read that—

"Taking an enemy's scalp is an honor quite independent of the act of vanquishing him. To kill your adversary is of no importance unless the scalp is brought from the field of battle; and were a warrior to slay any number of his enemies in action, and others were to obtain the scalps or first touch the dead, they would have all the honors, since they have borne off the trophy."

Though we usually think of scalp-taking in connection with the North American Indians, yet it is not restricted to them. Herodotus describes the Scythians as scalping their conquered enemies; and at the present time the Nagas of the Indian hills take scalps and preserve them.

Preservation of hair alone, as a trophy, is less general; doubtless because the evidence of victory which it yields is inconclusive; one head might supply hair for two trophies. Still there are cases in which an enemy's hair is displayed in proof of success in war. Speaking of a Naga, Grange says his shield "was covered over with the hair of the foes he had killed." The tunic of a Mandan chief is described by Catlin as "fringed with locks of hair taken by his own hand from the heads of his enemies." And we are told of the Cochimis that "at certain festivals their sorcerers. . . . wore long robes of skins, ornamented with human hair."


Among easily-transported parts carried home to prove victory, may next be named hands and feet. By the Mexican tribes, Ceris and Opatas, "the slain are scalped, or a hand is cut off, and a dance performed round the trophies on the field of battle." So, too, of the Californian Indians, who also took scalps, we are told that "the yet more barbarous habit of cutting off the hands, feet, or head, of a fallen enemy, as trophies of victory, prevailed more widely. They also plucked out and carefully preserved the eyes of the slain." Though this is not said, we may assume that either the right or the left foot or hand was the trophy; since, in the absence of any distinction, victory over two enemies instead of one might be alleged. Hands were trophies among ancient peoples of the Old World also. The inscription on a tomb at El Kab in Upper Egypt tells how Aahmes, the son of Abuna, the chief of the steersmen, "when he had won a hand" (in battle), "he received the king's commendation, and the golden necklace in token of his bravery;" and a wall-painting in the temple of Medinet Abou, at Thebes, shows the presentation of a heap of hands to the king.

This last instance introduces us to yet another kind of trophy. Along with the heap of hands thus laid before the king, there is represented a phallic heap; and an accompanying inscription, narrating the victory of Meneptah I. over the Libyans, besides mentioning the "cut hands of all their auxiliaries," as being carried on donkeys following the returning ai-my, mentions these other trophies as taken from men of the Libyan nation. And here a natural transition brings us to trophies of an allied kind, the taking of which, once common, has continued in the neighborhood of Egypt down to modern times. The great significance of the account Bruce gives of a practice among the Abyssinians must be my excuse for quoting part of it. He says:

"At the end of a day of battle, each chief is obliged to sit at the door of his tent, and each of his followers, who has slain a man, presents himself in his turn, armed as in fight, with the bloody foreskin of the man he has slain. . . . If he has killed more than one man, so many more times he returns. . . . After this ceremony is over, each man takes his bloody conquest, and retires to prepare it in the same manner the Indians do their scalps. . . . The whole army . . . on a particular day of review, throws them before the king, and leaves them at the gate of the palace."

Here it is noteworthy that the trophy, first serving to demonstrate a victory gained by the individual warrior, is subsequently made an offering to the ruler, and further becomes a means of recording the number slain—facts verified by the more recent French traveler d'Hericourt. That like purposes were similarly served among the Hebrews, proof is yielded by the passage which narrates Saul's endeavor to betray David when offering him Michal to wife: "And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king's enemies;" and David "slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and gave them in full tale to the king."


Associated with the direct motive for taking trophies there is an indirect motive, which probably aids considerably in developing the custom. Numerous facts unite to prove that the unanalytical mind of the savage thinks the qualities of any object reside in all its parts; and that, among others, the characteristics of human beings are thus conceived by him From this we found there arise such customs as swallowing parts of the bodies of dead relatives, or their ground bones in water, with the view of inheriting their virtues; devouring the heart of a slain brave to gain his courage, or his eyes in the expectation of seeing further; avoiding the flesh of certain timid animals, lest their timidity should be acquired. A further implication of this belief that the spirit of each person is diffused throughout him is, that possession of a part of his body gives possession of a part of his spirit, and, consequently, a power over his spirit: one corollary being that anything done to a preserved part of a corpse is done to the corresponding part of the ghost; and that thus a ghost may he coerced by maltreating a relic. Hence the origin of sorcery all over the world; hence the rattle of dead men's bones so prevalent with primitive medicine-men; hence "the powder ground from the bones of the dead" used by the Peruvian necromancers; hence the portions of corpses which our own traditions of witchcraft name as used in composing charms.

Besides proving victory over an enemy, the trophy therefore serves for the subjugation of his ghost; and that possession of it is, at any rate, in some cases, supposed to make his ghost a slave, we have good evidence. The primitive belief everywhere found, that the doubles of men and animals slain at the grave accompany the double of the deceased, to serve him in the other world—the belief which leads here to the immolation of wives, who are to manage the future household of the departed, there to the sacrifice of horses needed to carry him on his journey after death, and elsewhere to the killing of dogs as guides—is a belief which, in many places, initiates the kindred belief that, by placing portions of bodies on his tomb, the men and animals they belonged to are made subject to the deceased. Hence the bones of cattle, etc., with which graves are in many cases decorated; hence the placing on graves the heads of enemies or slaves, as above indicated; and hence a like use of the scalp. Concerning the Osages, Mr. Tylor cites from McCoy and Waitz the fact that they sometimes "plant on the cairn raised over a corpse a pole with an enemy's scalp hanging to the top. Their notion was that, by taking an enemy and suspending his scalp over the grave of a deceased friend, the spirit of the victim became subjected to the spirit of the buried warrior in the land of spirits." The Ojibways have a like practice, of which a like idea is probably the cause.


A collateral devolopment of trophy-taking, which eventually has a share in governmental regulation, must not be forgotten. I refer to the display of parts of the bodies of criminals.

In our more advanced minds the enemy, the criminal, and the slave, are well discriminated; but they are little discriminated by the primitive man. Almost or quite devoid as he is of the feelings and ideas we call moral—holding by force whatever he owns, wresting from the weaker the woman or other object he has possession of, killing his own child without hesitation if it is an incumbrance, or his wife if she offends him, and sometimes proud of being a recognized killer of his fellow-tribesmen—the savage has no distinct ideas of right and wrong in the abstract. The immediate pleasures or pains they give are his sole reasons for classing things and acts as good or bad. Hence, hostility and the injuries he suffers from it excite in him the same feeling, whether the aggressor is without the tribe or within it: the enemy and the felon are undistinguished. This confusion, now seeming strange to us, we shall understand better on remembering that, even in early stages of civilized nations, the family groups which formed the units of the national group were in large measure independent communities, standing to one another on terms much like those on which the nation stood to other nations; that they had their small blood-feuds as the nation had its great blood-feuds; that each family-group was responsible to other family-groups for the acts of its members, as each nation to other nations for the acts of its citizens; that vengeance was taken on innocent members of a sinning family, as vengeance was taken on innocent citizens of a sinning nation; and that so the inter-family aggressor (answering to the modern criminal) stood in a like relative position with the international aggressor. Hence the naturalness of the fact that he was similarly treated. Already we have seen how, in mediaeval days, the heads of slain family-enemies (murderers of its members or stealers of its property) were exhibited as trophies. And from the Salic law we also learn "that there was beside each dwelling a forked gibbet, as there was beside the public tribunals." Since, at the same time, the heads of foes slain in battle were brought back and displayed— since it is alleged by Lehuerou, on the authority of Strabo, that sometimes such heads were nailed up to the chief door of the house along with those of private foes—we have evidence that identification of the public and the private foe was associated with the practice of taking trophies from them both. A kindred alliance is traceable in the usages of the Jews. Along with the slain Nicanor's head, Judas orders that his hand be cut off; and he brings both with him to Jerusalem as trophies: the hand being that which he had stretched out in blasphemous boasts. And this treatment of the transgressor who is an alien is paralleled by the treatment of non-alien transgressors by David, who, besides hanging up the corpses of the men who had slain Ishbosheth, "cut off their hands and their feet."

It may, then, be reasonably inferred that the display of executed felons on gibbets, or their heads on spikes, originates from the bringing back of trophies taken from slain enemies. Though usually a part only of the slain enemy is fixed up, yet sometimes the whole body is, as when the dead Saul, minus his head, was fastened by the Philistines to the wall of Bethshan; and that fixing up the whole body of the felon is more frequent, probably arises from the fact that it has not to be brought from a great distance, as would usually have to be the body of an enemy.


Though no direct connection exists between trophy-taking and ceremonial government, the foregoing facts reveal such indirect connections as make it needful to note the custom. It enters as a factor into the three forms of control—social, political, and religious.

If, in primitive states, men are honored according to their prowess—if their prowess is estimated here by the number of heads they can show, there by the number of jawbones, and elsewhere by the number of scalps—if such trophies are treasured up for generations, and the pride of families is proportioned to the number of them taken by ancestors—if of the Gauls in the time of Posidonius we read that "the heads of their enemies that were the chiefest persons of quality they carefully deposit in chests, embalming them with the oil of cedars, showing them to strangers, glory and boast" that they or their forefathers had refused great sums of money for them—then, obviously, a kind of class-distinction is initiated by trophies. On reading that in some places a man's rank varies with the quantity of bones in or upon his dwelling, we cannot deny that the display of these proofs of personal superiority originates a regulative influence in social intercourse.

As political control evolves, trophy-taking becomes in several ways instrumental to the maintenance of authority. Beyond the awe felt for the chief whose many trophies show his powers of destruction, there comes the greater awe which, on growing into a king with subordinate chiefs and dependent tribes, he excites by accumulating the trophies others take on his behalf; rising into dread when he exhibits in numbers the relics of slain rulers. As the practice assumes this developed form, the receipt of such vicariously-taken trophies passes into a political ceremony. The heap of hands laid before an ancient Egyptian king served to propitiate; as now serves the mass of jawbones sent by an Ashantee captain to the court. When we read of Timour's soldiers that "their cruelty was enforced by the peremptory command of producing an adequate number of heads," we are conclusively shown that the presentation of trophies hardens into a form expressing obedience. Nor is it thus only that a political effect results. There is the derived kind of governmental restraint produced by fixing up the bodies or heads of felons.

Though offering part of a slain enemy to propitiate a ghost does not enter into what is commonly called religious ceremonial, yet it obviously so enters when the aim is to propitiate a god developed from an ancestral ghost. We are shown the transition by such a fact as that, in a battle between two tribes of Khonds, the first man who "slew his opponent struck off his right arm and rushed with it to the priest in the rear, who bore it off as an offering to Laha Pennoo in his grave;" Laha Pennoo being their "god of arms." Joining with this such other facts as that, before the Tahitian god Oro, human immolations were frequent, and the preserved relics were built into walls "formed entirely of human skulls," which were "principally, if not entirely, the skulls of those who have been slain in battle, we are shown that gods are worshiped by bringing to them, and accumulating round their shrines, these portions of enemies killed—killed, not unfrequently, in fulfillment of their supposed commands. And the inference is verified on seeing similarly used other kinds of spoils. The Philistines, besides otherwise displaying relics of the dead Saul, put "his armor in the house of Ashtaroth." By the Greeks the trophy, formed of arms, shields, and helmets, taken from the defeated, was consecrated to some divinity; and the Romans deposited the spoils brought back from battle in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Similarly of the Feejeeans, who are solicitous in every way to propitiate their bloodthirsty deities, we read that, "when flags are taken they are always hung up as trophies in the mbure" or temple. That hundreds of gilt spurs of French knights vanquished by the Flemish in the battle of Courtrai were deposited in the church of that place, and that in France flags taken from enemies were suspended from the vaults of churches (a practice not unknown in Protestant England), are facts that might be joined with these, did not so joining them imply the impossible supposition that Christians think to please "the God of love" by acts like those used to please the diabolical gods of cannibals.

Because of inferences to be hereafter drawn, one remaining general truth must be named, though it is so obvious as to seem scarcely worth mention. Trophy-taking is directly related to militancy. It begins during a primitive life that is wholly occupied in hostilities with men and animals; it develops with the growth of conquering societies in which perpetual wars generate the militant type of structure; it diminishes as growing industrialism more and more substitutes productive activities for destructive activities; and it is a truism to say that complete industrialism necessitates entire cessation of it.

The chief significance of trophy-taking, however, has yet to be pointed out. The reason for dealing with it under the general head of Ceremonial Government, though in itself scarcely to be classed as a ceremony, is that it furnishes us with the key to a large class of ceremonies which have prevailed all over the world among the uncivilized and semi-civilized. From the practice of cutting off and taking away portions of the dead body, there grows up the practice of cutting off portions of the living body.

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