Page:Journal of American Folklore vol. 12.djvu/11

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The Study of Ethics among the Lower Races. 3

we find a community of some fifteen thousand people wealthy and prosperous, living harmoniously together, having few quarrels, no murders, and yet no courts of law and no obvious punishments for breach of law, we may feel assured that they have some system of ethics which holds them together and makes them live like a band of brothers. Such are the Navahoes of New Mexico. Among Indian tribes in a lower state of advancement there were executive bands (dog-soldiers or soldier bands, as they were variously called), who had the right to discipline those who violated the customs of the tribe or the orders of the council ; but I never learned that such a band existed among the Navahoes.

One would think that among a people possessing much wealth, and, above all, much portable property, like the Navahoes, some rigorous punishment would be meted to the thief ; but no punish- ment exists for him. If found with the stolen property, he is expected to restore it, that is all. It is Bentham who says, " Utility is the basis of morals," but it is hard to see how his law can apply to theft among the Navahoes, for this is a custom (let us call it) which is exceedingly common among them. The majority of the people possess ornaments of silver and other portable wealth ; why do these not suppress the stealing among the improvident and impecunious ? Perhaps their present customs are a survival of the days, not long past, when, as a people they were very poor and had to steal from other tribes, if steal they must. To take from an enemy has been deemed proper among all races and at all times down to the year of our Lord 1898; but to take by force, stealth, or fraud from one of your own friends or kindred has long been regarded as unethical among Aryans. Let us see whether the Navaho myths approve of theft or condemn it. In the long myth of the blind boy who bore his crippled twin brother on his back, it is related that this miserable pair went among the holy ones of the Chelly canyon to be cured. The gods asked them if they brought with them the jewels and other precious things demanded as sacrifices. The children said, "No, we are poor and have nothing." Then the gods arranged a conspiracy with the twins. The latter went to the Moki towns, let loose plagues among the fields, and demanded and received gifts of the sacrificial treasures, to stay the plague they had themselves cre- ated. This was not theft, but a species of fraud worse than theft, not only pardoned but suggested by gods who afterwards received the spoils. Some extenuating circumstances are presented : the Mokis were an alien people and they treated their visitors inhospit- ably ; but in the myth of Narines//zani or the Self-taught, we find no such attempt at extenuation. In this it is related that the hero of the myth, the prophet, in order to make sacrifices to the gods and

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