Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/586

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

zation, an Aryo-Turanian race, from Scythia. The author describes the probable steps of these immigrations, and assigns the part the Aryans took in the construction of the ancient civilization of the country, in plausible conjectures, which, however ingeniously drawn and stated, lack the essential quality of being known facts. He might, however, have had some substantial foundations on which to rest his hypotheses, had not the Spanish conquerors taken the pains to destroy all the monuments and records they could place their hands upon.

 

The Mask-Dances of New Ireland.—Herr Weisser, who has recently been cruising in the South Sea Islands, has communicated to Dr. Bastian some interesting facts respecting the use of masks by the savages of New Ireland and some of the neighboring islands. A kind of feast of masks takes place once a year, in the early days of May, and is made an occasion when hostile tribes meet each other in peace for that day only—and, possibly, for finding pretexts for another year's hostilities. Tribes that are neighbors are constantly at war with each other, and hardly a week passes but some person of one of the tribes is killed and eaten by members of another. Such is the course of life through the year, till the festival of peace and masks. During this time the brave carves out, adorns, and paints his mask according to his own notion, and generally with considerable artistic skill. Hence the masks in a large tribe will exhibit a great variety of patterns. Great care is taken that no one shall see the mask, for it is very important that the identity of the owner shall be concealed. When the work is finished, the owner puts his mark on it, and takes it to the mask-house. When the time comes for the parade of the masks, the champions put them on, having arrayed themselves for the occasion in red shirts of bark, and skirts reaching to their knees. They then go out armed to the neighboring tribes, giving notice of their approach by the blowing of conchs and the beating of their wooden drums. When the hostile tribe is reached, the mask-dance is executed with a sot of extraordinary movements, and then they all fall to eating together, not without some restraint, for instances of treachery have been known in which poison was concealed in tempting looking sago-cakes. Peace lasts till night, when the masks are inspected, compared, criticised, and jeered at with every manifestation of contempt. The last part of the proceedings excites mutual anger, and furnishes the occasion for the next year's hostilities.

 

Why we walk in Circles.—The reason that, when lost or not able to see, we walk in a circle, is still undetermined. Mr. George H. Darwin believes that it is because we are right or left legged, our "leggedness" being generally the converse of our "handedness," and that therefore right-handed men, being left-legged, are most apt to deviate to the right, and left-handed men to the left. Himself and Mr. Galton and others, making personal experiments in walking blindfolded, found themselves describing circles not more than fifty yards in diameter, to the right. Of eight schoolboys, six, who were totally right-handed, strode longer from left to right than from right to left, hopped on the left leg, and rose in jumping from that leg; one boy pursued the opposite course; and the last walked irregularly, with no average difference between his strides. Walking on a match for straightness, the left-legged boys all diverged to the right, the seventh boy to the left, and the eighth won the prize. Measurements of Mr. Darwin's own stride, and of the strides of his friends, showed the same connection between divergence and comparative length of stride. Mr. Thomas Hawksley believes that the reason for the divergence is to be found in differences in the length of the legs, not enough to affect the visible step, but sufficient to reveal itself in a considerable walk.

 

Siberian Superstitions.—A Russian officer, who has spent several months in that region, has given a curious picture of the Yarchans, or the people of Yarkino, in Northern Siberia, who, while in the organization of their communal life they conform quite closely to the Russian system, have so little communication with the world that they still remain almost in a primitive condition, and the grossest superstitions prevail