Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 14, 1903.djvu/29

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Presidejitial A ddress. 1 7

of that most competent observer, Dr. Walter E. Roth, as to the aborigines of North-West-CentralQueensland. They have imagined "a time when all the birds and quadrupeds were blackfellows," and they use that phrase for an ex- pression of the most remote time that they can conceive of. Upon this foundation they have built fables, tales, and legends, to account for the colour and appearance of certain animals, to whom they attribute speech and cunning. They also believe in the power of a bone apparatus in the hands of a doctor or medicine man to produce sickness and death in the person against whom it is directed; and they stimulate their imagination by an elaborate system of sign language.

11. They practised cannibalism. Now my friend Mr- Morley Roberts has suggested that if we were rightly to regard the true function of cannibalism we should not feel the necessity for supposing that a very long period was needed to create the present large brain of man ; and he holds that cannibalism is a factor in evolution, by which those who show the greatest capacity for combined action are the fittest to survive ; that it leads to war, which brings forth the qualities that make man man ; that if it is now dying out, it is because it has done its work, and that probably all flesh-eating of any kind whatever will have the same fate. I am afraid that I cannot altogether agree with him, though the arguments by which he supports his views are wonderfully ingenious. I think that cannibalism is in general only to be accounted for by the exercise of imagination, as tribes would not adopt a custom so opposed to natural instinct if they did not persuade themselves that the result would be their acquiring the good qualities of the defunct.

12. This is illustrated by a poem written in French in 1847 by ^- Cheve, a naval officer, and stated by him to have been founded on an occurrence within his own experience in the Marquesas Islands. I will not attempt