Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/778

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


WHAT we now call crime is a normal fact of social life among ruder peoples, who have not yet risen above the lowest grades of manhood. Murder, theft, pillage, are glorious exploits or rarely sought-out amusements among such; and cannibalism is a system of alimentation more prized than all others. Primitive man in most regions has no repugnance against killing and eating other men, but rather finds enjoyment in it. This being the moral condition of most primitive peoples, we can comprehend without difficulty that their festivals had a cruel and criminal character. As human flesh is the most exquisite viand for cannibal savages, it was natural that when they met to celebrate any welcome event in a festal way they should regale themselves liberally with this precious food. The Fijians never failed in their cannibal days to mark every public solemnity, like the dedication of a temple, with a grand feast of human flesh: and they celebrated their victories in war by carving and roasting their slain enemies on the field of battle. The Monbuttos celebrate grand man-eating festivals on the field of battle after a victory. The New-Zealanders carved up immediately after the battle their vanquished and wounded enemies, while prisoners were reserved, partly to be eaten by the braves, and partly for grand public festivals in which human flesh was the principal dish.

Murder is a pleasure to the primitive man, as with the Javanese, who tests the quality of his new dirk by plunging it into the heart of the first man he meets. It is quite natural, therefore, that there should be meetings among these people for the enjoyment of this pleasure, at which they engage in murderous festivities at the expense of some unfortunate victim. The red Indians, returning from an expedition, used to give themselves up to sanguinary orgies upon their prisoners, binding them to a stake in the midst of the village, when men, women, and children would inflict petty tortures upon them till they died, killed by pin-prickings.

We see, then, that in the beginning of civilization crime is individual and collective; there are crimes which each man commits on his own account, and criminal festivals, collective crimes, perpetrated by a whole tribe, a people, etc.

The same rule prevails with those very numerous crimes which are connected with religious ideas, such as human sacrifices in honor of defunct ancestors and then of the gods, who are only deified ancestors. Among so savage peoples, these ancestors would have been fierce and cruel men, to whom human sacrifices, kill-