Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 16, 1905.djvu/264

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Tabou et Totemisme a Madagascar : Etude descriptive et THEORiQUE. Par Arnold van Gennep. Paris : E. Leroux, 1904.

The advantage, and indeed the necessity, for scientific purposes, of selecting for detailed analysis and description a group of rites practised in a well-defined area could not be better illus- trated than by the present work. There is a besetting temp- tation to generalise on data which are at best imperfect ; and generalisation founded on imperfect data can only result in conclusions unstable and probably misleading. The critic, therefore, who brings together and analyses the evidence as to any definite group of rites and institutions of a people, putting them into relation with the civilisation and mental atmosphere in which they have grown up, performs a signal service to research. Such a critic will test the strength of the evidence both as to quantity and quality. His labours, if conscientiously performed, will define for the student at home what is really known on the subject, and will indicate the direction to be taken by the explorer in the field. Mr. Farnell, in his work on The Cults of the Greek States, has performed this kind of service in one important province of enquiry. And now M. van Gennep has utilised the opportunity given to scientific men in France by the occupation of Madagascar to examine critically in the light of anthropological theories a prominent institution of the natives of that island.

After an introduction, in which the author rightly rejects the theories of Christian missionaries and others as to the original