Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/38

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and a lock of the infant's hair is cooked together in a rice pan, and when it is done, a general rush takes place upon the pan, and a scramble after its contents, especially by the women, as it is thought that those who are fortunate enough to get a portion may hope to become mothers.

With respect to names for children, these are bestowed without ceremony, and are generally descriptive, as they usually are among uncivilized tribes.

When the destiny of the child is pronounced unfavorable by the Sikidy, it is generally exposed to death, or else murdered outright, although an offering may sometimes avert the evil. The exposure is usually effected in this way: An infant—a new-born, perfectly helpless, unconscious infant—smiling perhaps in innocence, is laid on the ground in the narrow entrance to a village or cattle yard, through which there is but just room enough for cattle to pass; several cattle are then driven violently in, and are made to pass over the spot where the child is placed, while the parents stand by with agonizing feelings waiting the result.

If the oxen pass over without injuring the infant, the omen is propitious, the powerful and evil destiny is removed, the parents may without apprehension embrace their offspring and cherish it as one rescued from destruction. But should the child be crushed to death by the feet of the oxen, which is likely to be the case, the parents return to mourn their loss in the bitterness of grief, with no other consolation than that which the monstrous absurdities of their delusions supply—that, had their beloved infant survived, it would have been exposed to the influence of that destiny which now required its exposure to destruction.

In this sacrifice of infant life the radical idea would not seem to be greatly different from that which led to the worship of Moloch, in which human beings were offered to a god in the form of an ox, the ox being a principal source from which our physical life is derived and maintained. If we derive our life or sustenance from the ox, it seems fair to give to it of our human life in return. Such would seem to be the darkling mode of reasoning that leads barbarous nations to the practice of infanticide.

But there is a gloomier cast still to the divinations by the Sikidy, where the child is doomed to inevitable death, without the possibility of escape. When this inhuman decision of the astrologers has been announced, the death of the innocent