Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/311

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THE ETHICS OF TRIBAL SOCIETY.

law of the strong was never yet wrong—is the cynical expression of protesting submission to the inevitable, recognized as outrageous. It is the same bitter sarcasm that mocks at unjust and irresistible power in the popular saying, "Might makes right"; it is despair taking refuge and finding relief in ironical humor, which turns the first principles of ethics topsy-turvy.

Wildfangsrecht was originally applied to fugitive serfs and to strangers, but was soon extended to bastards and bachelors, gleemen and professional champions in ordeals by battle, all of whom lived more or less in a state of outlawry as to their persons and property, and could, under certain circumstances, be reduced to the condition of chattels. Foreigners who could prove the place of their nativity were subjected to a poll tax (cherage) for the protection vouchsafed to them by the reeve or Vogt, and were therefore called Vogtleute. In the Canton de Vaud and elsewhere in Switzerland this pollage is still levied as permis d'établissement, a lingering vestige of mediæval extortion which the most enlightened European governments have now abolished. Persons of unknown origin were treated as waifs (epaves), the mere flotson and waveson on the drifting tide of humanity, and were liable to be seized and envassaled by any petty lord on whose territory they chanced to strand. Perhaps a diligent study of these old laws might suggest to American legislators some drastic means of purging the country of tramps.

In "the good old time" in England any alien could be arrested and punished for the crimes and misdemeanors of other aliens, although having no complicity with them. They were all lumped together as a class, any individual of which was liable to be apprehended and held accountable for the debts incurred or for the offenses committed by any other individual of the class.

The idea of justice implied by such a proceeding corresponds to that entertained by the aboriginal Australian or American, who, when his wife dies, feels himself in duty bound to kill the wife of some member of another tribe, and avenges an injury inflicted upon him by a white man by slaying the first white man he happens to meet. The loss or offense, whatever it may be, is tribal, and is satisfied with tribal expiation or retaliation.

A case of this kind occurred quite recently in Dakota. A Sioux Indian, on the death of his squaw, went forth from his lodge with his gun and shot a missionary who was passing by. The red man had no grudge against the white man as an individual; on the contrary, he was personally fond of his victim, from whom he had received many acts of kindness; but the vow of vengeance was as sacred as that made by Jephthah the Gileadite, and had to be as religiously kept.

The old English custom, just referred to as a survival of the