Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 87.djvu/51

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47
A HISTORY OF FIJI

tain a license which he is obliged to exhibit whenever he purchases a drink at any public bar, and if arrested for drunkenness his license is confiscated, not to be renewed, and moreover the bartender is heavily fined if he be detected in selling drinks to natives who possess no license.

The Fijians of to-day are more orderly and sober than, and quite as contented as are any peoples of European ancestry, and illiteracy is rarer in Fiji than in Massachusetts. You were safer even fifteen years ago in any part of Fiji, although your host knew how you tasted, than you could be in the streets of any civilized city. It is clear that in disposition the Fijians are not unlike ourselves, and only in their time-honored customs were they barbarous. Indeed the lowest human beings are not in the far-off wilds of Africa, Australia or New Guinea, but among the degenerates of our own great cities. Nor are there any characteristics of the savage, be he ever so low, which are not retained in an appreciable degree by the most cultured among us.

Yet in one important respect the savage of to-day appears to differ from civilized man. Civilized races are progressive and their systems of thought and life are changing, but the savage prefers to remain fixed in the culture of a long past age, which, conserved by the inertia of custom and sanctified by religion, holds him helpless in its inexorable grasp. Imagination rules the world, and the world to the savage is dominated by a nightmare of tradition.

It is not that there are no individuals of progressive tendencies among primitive tribes, but the careers of their Luthers and Galileos are apt to be short and to end in tragedy. Indeed, only three hundred years ago our own leaders of progress struggled at the risk of their lives against the prejudices of their contemporaries. Even with us every effort of progress engenders a counteracting force in the community which tends to check its growth and to preserve the present status, accepting the acknowledged evil of to-day to preserve the even tenor of our way, for fear of the new is akin to the superstitious dread of the unknown. Whether the race be savage or civilized depends chiefly upon the nature of the customs that are handed down as patterns upon which to mold life. and thought. The more ancient the triumph of the conservatives the more primitive the culture which is conserved, and the more likely is it to be crude and barbarous. A wonderful instance of fixity of custom is afforded by the race which in the ice-age lived in the caverns in the valleys of the Dordogne and the Vezere in central France. Their skull measurements indicate that certain of these cave-dwellers were Esquimo and their implements and works of art are the same as those of the Esquimo of the Arctic regions of to-day, who have thus remained unchanged throughout unknown thousands of years, unaffected by their great journey northward following the edge of the retreating ice.