Page:Primitive Culture Vol 1.djvu/89

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71
CUSTOMS.

to this day in England, a striking example how an idea, the meaning of which has perished for ages, may continue to exist simply because it has existed.

Now there are thousands of cases of this kind which have become, so to speak, landmarks in the course of culture. When in the process of time there has come general change in the condition of a people, it is usual, notwithstanding, to find much that manifestly had not its origin in the new state of things, but has simply lasted on into it. On the strength of these survivals, it becomes possible to declare that the civilization of the people they are observed among must have been derived from an earlier state, in which the proper home and meaning of these things are to be found; and thus collections of such facts are to be worked as mines of historic knowledge. In dealing with such materials, experience of what actually happens is the main guide, and direct history has to teach us, first and foremost, how old habits hold their ground in the midst of a new culture which certainly would never have brought them in, but on the contrary presses hard to thrust them out. What this direct information is like, a single example may show. The Dayaks of Borneo were not accustomed to chop wood, as we do, by notching out V-shaped cuts. Accordingly, when the white man intruded among them with this among other novelties, they marked their disgust at the innovation by levying a fine on any of their own people who should be caught chopping in the European fashion; yet so well aware were the native wood-cutters that the white man's plan was an improvement on their own, that they would use it surreptitiously when they could trust one another not to tell.[1] The account is twenty years old, and very likely the foreign chop may have ceased to be an offence against Dayak conservatism, but its prohibition was a striking instance of survival by ancestral authority in the very teeth of common sense. Such a proceeding as this would be usually, and not improperly,

  1. 'Journ. Ind. Archip.' (ed. by J. R. Logan), vol. ii. p. liv.