The word savage, originally meaning wild or uncultivated, has come to mean cruel and blood-thirsty, because of the representations habitually made that wild or uncultivated tribes of men are cruel and blood-thirsty. And ferocity having come to be thought of as a constant attribute of uncivilized races, which are also distinguished by not having our religion, it is tacitly assumed that the absence of our religion is the cause of this ferocity. But if, struggling successfully against the bias of patriotism, we correct the evidence which that bias has garbled, we find ourselves obliged to receive this assumption with great qualifications.
When, for instance, we read Cook's account of the Tahitians, as first visited by him, we are surprised to meet with some traits among them, higher than those of their civilized visitors. Though some pilfering was committed by them, it was not so serious as that of which the sailors were guilty in stealing the iron bolts out of their own ship to pay the native women. And when, after Cook had enacted a penalty for theft, the natives complained of one of his own crew—when this sailor, convicted of the offence he was charged with, was condemned to be whipped, the natives tried to get him off, and, failing to do this, shed tears on seeing preparations for the punishment. If, again, we compare critically the accounts of Cook's death, we see clearly enough that the Sandwich-Islanders behaved amicably until they had been ill-used, and had reason to fear further ill-usage. The experiences of many other travellers similarly show us that friendly conduct on the part of uncivilized races, when first visited, is very general; and that their subsequent unfriendly conduct, when it occurs, is nothing but retaliation for injuries received from the civilized. Such a fact as that the natives of Queen Charlotte's Island did not attack Captain Carteret's party till after they had received just cause of offence, may be taken as typical of the histories of transactions between wild races and cultivated races. When we inquire into the case of the missionary Williams, "the Martyr of Erromanga," we discover that his murder, dilated upon as proving the wickedness of unreclaimed natures, was a revenge for injuries previously suffered from wicked Europeans. Here are a few testimonies respecting the relative behaviors of civilized and uncivilized:
- Hawkesworth's "Voyages," vol i., p. 573.
- Forster's "Observations," etc., p. 406.
- Parkyns's "Abyssinia," vol ii., p. 431.