Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 47.djvu/19

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STUDIES OF CHILDHOOD.1

dren are apt to be terrified by the strange and quite irregular behavior of a feather as it glides along the floor or lifts itself into the air.[1]

In these cases we may suppose that we have to do with a germ of superstitious fear which seems commonly to have its starting point in the appearance of something exceptional and uncanny that is unintelligible, and so smacking of the supernatural. The fear of feathers as uncanny objects plays, I am told, a considerable part in the superstitions of folklore. Such apparently selfcaused movement, so suggestive of life, might easily give rise to a vague sense of a mysterious presence or power possessing the object, and so lead to a crude form of a belief in supernatural agents.

In other cases of unexpected and mysterious movement the fear is slightly different. A little boy, when a year and eleven months, was frightened when visiting a lady's house by a toy elephant which shook its head. The same child, writes his mother, "at one year and seven months was very much scared by a toy cow which mooed realistically when its head was moved. This cow was subsequently given to him at about two years and three months. He was then still afraid of it, but became reconciled soon after, first allowing others to make it moo if he was at a safe distance, and at last making it moo himself."

There may possibly have been a germ of the fear of animals here; but I suspect that it was mainly a fear of the signs of life (movement and sound) appearing when they are not expected and have an uncanny aspect. The close simulation of a living thing by what is known to be not alive is disturbing to the child as to the adult. He will make his toys alive by his own fancy, but resent their taking on the full semblance of reality. In this sense he is a born idealist and not a realist. More careful observations on this curious group of child-fears are to be desired.

 


 
Concerning an African idea of the origin of monkeys or chimpanzees, Mr. Herbert Ward relates a fable of the natives of Balangi and adjacent tribes of the upper Congo, to the effect that many generations ago a tribe of natives who lived on the banks of the Congo River, near Bolobo, fell into a condition of debt and difficulties with their neighbors. In order to escape the persecutions of their wrathful creditors, they retired into the great forest. Time passed, but they still remained poor. Forest life degenerated them. Flair grew upon their bodies. They arranged to forego speech, lest they should be recognized. They are still in the forest, and are known as Bakewa, or monkey men. Upon being asked if they ate chimpanzees, a member of the Balangi tribe replied: "No; we are not cannibals!"

  1. See The Pedagogical Seminary, i, No. 2, p. 220.