Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/170

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"The chief of Somo-Somo, who had previously stripped off his robes, then sat down, and removed even the train or covering, which was of immense length, from his waist. He gave it to the speaker," who gave him "in return a piece large enough only for the purposes of decency. The rest of the Somo-Somo chiefs, each of whom, on coming on the ground, had a train of several yards in length, stripped themselves entirely, left their trains, and walked away . . . . thus leaving all the Somo-Somo people naked."

Further we read that, during Cook's stay at Tahiti, two men of superior rank "came on board, and each singled out his friend. . . . this ceremony consisted in taking off great part of their clothes and putting them upon us." And then in another Polynesian island, Samoa, we find this complimentary act greatly abridged: only the girdle is taken off and presented.

With such facts to give us the clew, we can scarcely doubt that this surrendering of clothing originates those obeisances which are made by uncovering the body, more or less extensively. We meet with all degrees of uncovering having this meaning. From Ibn Batula's account of his journey into the Soudan in the fourteenth century, Mr. Tylor cites the statement that "women may only come unclothed into the presence of the Sultan of Melli, and even the sultan's own daughters must conform to the custom;" and what doubt we might reasonably feel as to the existence of an obeisance thus carried to its original extreme, is removed on reading in Speke that at the present time, at the court of Uganda, "stark-naked, full-grown women are the valets." Other parts of Africa show us an incomplete, though still considerable, unclothing as an obeisance. In Abyssinia inferiors must bare their bodies down to the girdle in presence of superiors; "but to equals the corner of the cloth is removed only for a time." The like occurs in Polynesia. The Tahitians uncover "the body as low as the waist, in the presence of the king;" and Forster states that in the Society Isles generally "the lower ranks of the people, by way of respect, strip off their upper garment in the presence of their" principal chiefs. How this obeisance becomes further abridged, and also how it becomes extended to other persons than rulers, we are well shown by the natives of the Gold Coast. Cruickshank writes:

"They also salute Europeans, and sometimes each other, by slightly removing their robe from their left shoulder with the right hand, gracefully bowing at the same time. When they wish to be very respectful, they uncover the shoulder altogether, and support the robe under the arm, the whole of the person, from the breast upward, being left exposed."

And of these same people, Burton remarks that, "throughout Yoruba and the Gold Coast, to bare the shoulders is like unhatting in England."

That uncovering the head, thus suggestively compared with uncovering the upper part of the body, has the same original meaning,