Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/35

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MADAGASCAR.

33

are hurled down a fearful precipice, in the presence of multitudes of spectators, who look on without the least emotion of pity; while the children who mingle with the crowd, amuse themselves by throwing stones at the lifeless bodies, which the dogs are rending to pieces. Yet this species of savagery would be likely to attend slave institutions, or a belief in witchcraft among any people.

They are exceedingly attached to their homes. The Hovas often, when setting out on a journey, take with them a small portion of their native earth, on which they often gaze when absent, and invoke their god that they may be permitted to return to restore it to the place from which it was taken. When returning from a foreign land to their native island, or from a distant province to their own, every countenance beams with gladness, they seem to be strangers to fatigue, and seek, by singing and dancing on their way, to give, vent to the fullness of their joy.

It is curious to see how many traits in common these barbarous people have with those people of Christendom who boast of having the highest order of refinement and civilization. Duplicity is one of their most conspicuous traits of character. The natives will invent the most specious pretences, and assume the most plausible air, to impose on the credulity of others, and ingratiate themselves into favor, while their real designs are hid for weeks and months in their own bosoms. If they wish to make a request, they will preface it by so complimentary a speech, and so many thanks and blessings for a kindness yet to be done, and by such servile flattery for a virtue to be illustrated in the forth-coming gift, that one might imagine the whole nation a tribe of office seekers and politicians. It is often impossible to understand their object for an hour or more, as they will talk on the most apparently dissimilar subjects, but with a visible restlessness, until, after all the windings of plausability are traveled through, they hit, as if by accident, on the point designed from the beginning.

In bartering, every trader asks, at least, twice as much as he intends to take; and they never forget to boast of any instance of successful fraud. The best sign of genius in children is esteemed a quickness to deceive, over-reach, and cheat. The people delight in fabulous tales, but in none so much or universally as those that relate instances of successful deceit or fraud, though involving loss of life, as well a property, to the injured person.