Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/36

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34

A SKETCH OF

Falsehood is a common vice among all. To lie, is esteemed clever and pleasant, and more likely to serve one's purpose of interest or pleasure than to tell the truth. Their constant aim in business is to swindle, in professed friendship to extort, and in mere conversation to exaggerate and fabricate. The laws regard the testimony of witnesses as mere circumstantial evidence. There seems to be no idea of vice unless it is defined by law. Their sensuality is universal and gross, though generally concealed; continence is not supposed to exist in either sex before marriage, consequently it is not expected, and its absence is not regarded as a vice.

Many of the Malagasy seem to think that expediency alone determines the character of actions, and act as if they had no conception of what is vicious. But while they regard theft and other acts of darker moral turpitude as almost harmless, innumerable, unmeaning ceremonies, such as abstaining from this or that habit, or from sitting in this or that particular posture, are enjoined as a duty and the neglect of them regarded as criminal. And in this respect the degeneracy of civilized man touches hands with the barbarian. Involved in the snaky folds of our own cunning, we forget the necessity of moral principle, and ascribe all our calamities to the departure from some mere expediency, and seek to attain to all good by external and demonstrational observances, which are often puerile and absurd, and worse than useless to those who perform them.

The Malagasy are also great talkers and speech-makers. Often even when about to cross a river they have to make a long oath, or enter into an engagement, to acknowledge the sovereignty of the crocodile in his own element, and make a speech to deprecate his ire. An instance is related of an old man, who, having spent nearly half an hour upon the banks of a river in pronouncing an oath, then addressed the crocodile in "a neat and appropriate speech," urging him to do him no injury, because he had never done him, the crocodile, any; assuring him that he had never engaged in war with any of his species; but on the contrary, that he had always entertained the highest veneration for him, and if he came to attack him, sooner or later vengeance would follow, for all his relatives and friends would declare war against him. After about a quarter of an hour of such speechifying as this, the old man then plunged into the stream, feeling as fully assured, probably, that he had averted an impending evil, as modern speech-makers often do when they descend from the stump.