Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/784

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

The sentiment, however, did not begin nor does it end with ns. So far back as we find traces of man upon earth, so far also do we discover signs of his treatment of the empty "cage"; and down to this year of grace 1890 the customs of humanity are as varied, as curious, and as interesting as at any period in the world's history.

In glancing over the subject, we find a noteworthy fact, that, whether the "garment no more fitting" be buried or burned, mummified, cast away, or eaten, some part of it is in almost every case preserved. With many peoples the chosen relic is the skull, which in Australia is made into a drinking-cup and kept for a memento as well as a common convenience by the next of kin; in some parts of Polynesia the skull of the "dear departed" is hung around the neck of a widow by a cord, and worn during the rest of her life; and in one of the Kingsmill Islands it is oiled, decorated with flowers, and daily presented with food.

In some races the affectionate care of the survivors extends to all the bones, which are distributed among the friends, each one of whom mourns over his one bone as if it were the whole body. Again, they are arranged in various fanciful ways: tied in a bundle and painted red, by one tribe; packed in a basket decorated with beads with the skull for a lid, by another; hung from the roof, or placed in an urn, or wrapped in.bark and carried with the tribe; or, finally, painted in stripes and dried in smoke.

Alexander the Great—as history tells us—was preserved in honey, and some of the royal Britons in wax; but the most famous embalmers, as we all know, were the Egyptians. Would they have taken so much pains, I wonder, if they had suspected they were preparing curios for the museums of impertinent nations yet unborn? Perhaps the most peculiar mode devised by man is the preservation of rich Thibetans in the form of cakes. The empty "hut," being reduced by fire to ashes, is mixed with wheat-flour and kneaded into cakes of graduated size, piled in a pyramid, and deposited in a small tower of suitable form.

Nearly all people cherish, in one way or another, the bones of their friends, and they may be conveniently divided into two great classes—those who take measures to dispose of the more perishable covering, and those who leave the work to the slower processes of Nature. Among the first named are some exceedingly strange customs: as that of the Caribs, who hang the empty case in water infested by extremely voracious little fishes, and in a few hours draw up the skeleton perfectly cleaned, paint it red, and hang it under the roof of the hut; and, perhaps even less agreeable, that not long ago in vogue among the Thibetans and others, of keeping a race of sacred dogs for the special business