Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 43.djvu/785

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765
CRIMINAL FESTIVALS.

foundations of a palace, but only when great public edifices are a-building; and the inhabitants of Sumatra, gentle enough in their ordinary customs, solemnly eat their old men, in the belief that they are thereby observing the most sacred of their duties as sons.

There is a still more curious side in this strange phenomenon. Everything old and superannuated—usages, customs, laws, etc.—is the object of an extreme veneration, especially among primitive peoples. The Tupis believed that if they should depart from the customs of their ancestors they would be destroyed; in some clans of the Malagasy innovation and evil are inseparable ideas; the Araucanians have many very ancient usages which they hold sacred and observe without any constraint; the Hottentot-Koramas are entirely free in their actions, except when ancient usages are involved. Since these criminal festivals survive long after crime has begun to be a morbid exception, they end by becoming sacred, profiting by the veneration attached to all ancient things; to abolish them or neglect them would be for these peoples a failure in the holiest duties. Consequently, the deed, which appears horrible and worthy of punishment when it is done by a single man, is regarded as honorable when it is performed by the whole tribe or the whole people in these festivals; the crime of the individual becomes the duty of the mass.

These sanguinary festivals have been able, by the effect of another cause, to endure long, even among superior peoples, like the Greeks and Romans. Unfortunately, crime, especially murder and crimes of blood, is not an action of which man has an innate horror; horror of crime, when it exists, is only the effect of a long training, of a painful education of civilization. Murder, M. Taine writes, introduces two extraordinary emotions into the moral and animal machine of man, which overturn it: on the one hand, the sense of all-power exercised without control, obstacle, or danger, on human life and on sensible flesh; and, on the other hand, the sense of bleeding death with its always novel accompaniment of contortions and shrieks. That is why all those who can dispose at their caprice, without any danger, of the existence of other men—kings, princes, and mobs—are usually inclined to cruelty. This tendency to the sanguinary pleasures of murder would be more lively among half-civilized peoples, who have been only a little while accustomed to respect for human life; and therefore criminal festivals, although contradictory to the state of individual manners, would be a choice amusement for them; for all the ferocious instincts which usually slumber in the man could give themselves free course in them. It explains to us, too, why men have tried to preserve these festivals by ameliorating them, when civilization would not tolerate their primitive feroci-