Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/411

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393
EXPLANATORY MYTHS.

shell, for the early forms of such characters, plain and simple pictures of objects, have been preserved in China to this day. Nor can we praise anything but ingenuity in the West Highland legend that the Pope once laid an interdict on the land, but forgot to curse the hills, so the people tilled them, this story being told to account for those ancient traces of tillage still to be seen on the wild hillsides, the so-called 'elf-furrows.'[1] The most embarrassing cases of explanatory tradition are those which are neither impossible enough to condemn, nor probable enough to receive. Ethnographers who know how world-wide is the practice of defacing the teeth among the lower races, and how it only dies gradually out in higher civilization, naturally ascribe the habit to some general reason in human nature, at a particular stage of development. But the mutilating tribes themselves have local legends to account for local customs; thus the Penongs of Burmah and the Batoka of East Africa both break their front teeth, but the one tribe says its reason is not to look like apes, the other that it is to be like oxen and not like zebras.[2] Of the legends of tattooing, one of the oldest is that told to account for the fact that while the Fijians tattoo only the women, their neighbours, the Tongans, tattoo only the men. It is related that a Tongan, on his way from Fiji to report to his countrymen the proper custom for them to observe, went on his way repeating the rule he had carefully learnt by heart, 'Tattoo the women, but not the men,' but unluckily he tripped over a stump, got his lesson wrong, and reached Tonga repeating 'Tattoo the men, but not the women,' an ordinance which they observed ever after. How reasonable such an explanation seemed to the Polynesian mind, may be judged from the Samoans having a version with different details, and applied to their own instead of the Tongan islands.[3]

  1. D. Wilson, 'Archæology, &c. of Scotland,' p. 123.
  2. Bastian, 'Oestl. Asien,' vol. i. p. 128; Livingstone, p. 532.
  3. Williams, 'Fiji,' p. 160; Seemann, 'Viti,' p. 113; Turner, 'Polynesia,'