Popular Science Monthly/Volume 39/August 1891/Dress and Adornment I
By Prof. FREDERICK STARR.
FOR our course of lectures in anthropology this year we have selected a single subject: Dress and Adornment This will be treated in four lectures upon the following topics: 1. Deformation. 2. Dress. 3. Ornament. 4. Religious dress. It is not claimed that the treatment is exhaustive; it is hoped, however, that it will be suggestive. Nor is it the lecturer's expectation that his audience will agree with him in all his views; he simply asks a fair consideration.
The question as to whether beauty is a something inherent in an object or a person, that appeals to a universal sentiment of mankind, is one that has been much debated. The metaphysician and the anthropologist are likely to answer the question differently. There is certainly no one ideal of personal beauty that appeals to all the world alike. The face most beautiful to us would be displeasing to a Hottentot. We may well look for a moment at some ethnic ideals of beauty. The negro admires blackness; Clapperton tells us that among certain Africans the white color of the skin, of which Europeans are so proud, excites only pity, astonishment, or terror; the Chinese dislike our noses, which they say are like the beaks of birds; the woman in Cochin-China sighs to be round like an apple; and the Hottentot women do not look with disfavor upon those enormous fatty outgrowths above the hips which to us appear frightful. So a certain woman of the Nile tribes told Sir Samuel Baker that Lady Baker should have had her four lower incisor teeth knocked out and her lower lip pierced for a quartz labret—"by that she would become very beautiful." Thus we see, while all tribes have some ideal of beauty, it is an ideal which varies infinitely, and which has grown up among the tribes independently. All desire to attain to the ideal after it has once been established; and Tylor tells us that for this reason Hottentot mothers manipulate the baby's nose to make it more snub, while Persian mothers try to make it aquiline. In many cases, as we shall see, simple manipulation is not enough, and more heroic measures are taken to produce the desired effect.
Looking over the whole field of ethnology, we find a wonderful variety of curious deformations, mutilations, and modifications which are considered beautiful. Of these we shall describe a considerable number, commenting upon some as we mention them, and then shall try to draw from them some general principles of importance. For convenience, we shall group all bodily changes made for the sake of increasing personal beauty into four groups: 1. Perforations and filings. 2. Bandagings. 3. Color decorations, etc. 4. Hair-dressing.
First, then, as to perforations and filings—or mutilations. Many parts of the body are mutilated, either in order to make them serve as carriers of ornaments, as direct improvement of personal beauty, or for some useful end. The lips easily lend themselves to such an operation, and pierced lips are found in South America, in Africa and in the extreme Northwest of North America. The custom of piercing the lips in the past was also widely spread. The standard example is, of course, the Botocudo of South America, whose name comes from the Portuguese word for a plug, referring to the ornament inserted in the opening. These people wear, in lips and in ears, great circular disks, sometimes of hard and heavy wood, weighing even a quarter of a pound. This lip-plug drags the lip down to a horizontal position.Flower quotes Dampier as saying, in 1681, of the Corn Islanders, off the Mosquito Coast: "They have a fashion to cut holes in the lips of the boys when they are young, close to the chin, which they keep open with little plugs till they are fourteen or fifteen years old. They then wear beards in them, made of turtle or tortoise shell. The little notch at the upper end they put in through the lip, where it remains between the lips and the teeth; the under part hangs down over their chin; this they commonly wear all day, and when they sleep they take it out. They have likewise holes bored in their ears, both men and women when young, and by constant stretching with great pegs they grow to be as big as milled five-shilling pieces. Herein they wear pieces of wood, cut very smooth and round, so that the ear seems to be all wood, with a little skin around it."
In ancient Mexico labrets were worn, and very pretty little ones made of black obsidian and finely polished are not uncommon. These are shaped like a stove-pipe hat, the brim being placed between the lip and the lower teeth, and the crown projecting from the middle of the chin. Such labrets, although usually of obsidian, are sometimes of jade, and were occasionally of large size. Curiously enough, this same style of lip-plug is found among the western Eskimos. Within a century the custom of piercing the lips for labrets was prevalent in Alaska and British 'Columbia. The ornaments were sometimes three inches long by one and a half wide, of an oval form, and hollowed into troughs above and below. In fact, it is said that the Ahts took out the labret and used it as a spoon in eating hot soups, etc. Among the Tlingits of Alaska the women only wore labrets. The girl's lip was pierced as she approached womanhood, and a very small peg inserted in the opening. This hole was enlarged by the insertion from time to time of ever larger labrets. Only women of great age and high position wore the largest ones. The practice is now falling into disuse, and large labrets are almost a thing of the past. Small pegs of silver are the customary form at present. Fig. 1.—African wearing Lip Ornaments. In Africa labretifery is quite as common, and varies from tribe to tribe. The Loobah wear a polished cone of quartz, some worn by men being even two inches in length. Mittoo women wear circular plates (Fig. 1); the Bongo wear plugs in both upper and lower lips, and seem to delight in the noise made by the ornaments striking together. Schweinfurth, from whom most of these African examples are taken, says these same Bongo women wear bits of straw in holes at the edges of the nostrils, a clamp at the corner of the mouth, and numerous little iron rings in their ears. "Some of the women have the body pierced in little less than a hundred places." Nuehr women wear in the upper lip a small ornament of iron wire covered with beads, which at a little distance looks like a cigarette in the mouth. Yet more curious is the pelele worn by the Manganya women (Fig. 2). It is a ring, made of metal, ivory, or bamboo, sometimes two inches in diameter, and worn in the upper lip. When the muscles of this lip contract, they throw the ring upward, so that the nose appears through the hole. Fig. 2.—Manganya Woman wearing Pelele. But the lips are not alone in the matter of being perforated for insertion of ornaments. The nose is often pierced, and this may be in two ways, either through the septum or through the walls of the nostrils. Captain Cook (quoted by Flower) says of the east Australians: "Their principal ornament is the bone which they thrust through the cartilage which divides the nostrils from each other.... As this bone is as thick as a man's finger and between five and six inches long, it reaches quite across the face, and so effectually stops up the nostrils that they are forced to keep the month wide open for breath, and snuffle so when they attempt to speak that they are scarcely intelligible to each other."
The ornaments put through the walls of the nose vary greatly. There may be but one perforation in each wall or there may be several. In New Zealand flowers, in New Guinea a boar's tusk, in the Solomon Islands a crab's claw, in New Britain thorns, set upright, are the objects thus worn. These are all original and primitive; after the natives come in contact with whites, these give place to metal buttons and rings. In the Sturgis Collection is a rather pretty nose-ornament from New Guinea. It is V shaped, and the arms fit by stud-shanks, one into each wall of the nose. Nose-ornaments were known to the Jewess of the exile—Ezekiel, xvi, 12, "And I will put a jewel on thy nose"; and Isaiah, iii, 21, "The rings and nose-jewels." The cheeks are pierced by some Eskimos, who wear little round stud buttons in the holes. Ears are pierced the world over. A few cases must suffice. Schweinfurth says that Babucker women pierce the rim of the ears repeatedly and wear therein bits of straw an inch in length, having twenty such, perhaps, in each ear. This repeated piercing of the ear is common among barbarous people, and we have seen a woman of the Sac and Fox Indians who wore seven brass rings in one ear. Ears may be slit and stretched instead of pierced. They then hang in long loops. Catlin gives a picture of an Indian whose beauty had been increased in this way. The Anchorite Islander slits his ears (Fig. 3), while the Fijian often has them slit and stretched to such au extent that the two fists might be placed in the openings. Slit ears may be of practical use. The Kaffir carries his snuff-box in his ear-hole, and Captain Cook figures a Mangaia Islander who carried a large knife in his right ear.
"The Dyaks not only pull the lobes down to the shoulders, but also insert a number of brass rings around the rim. One man wore a large ring in each ear with smaller rings attached to it from which were pendent various articles. To one ear were thus attached two boar's tusks, an alligator's tooth, part of a hornbill's Fig. 3.—Anchorite Islanders with Slit Ears. beak, three small brass rings, and two little bells." Among the Bongo we find the flesh of the abdomen slit for the insertion of sticks.
Akin to these perforations are the various forms of filing, boring, and breaking of teeth. The great districts for such deformations to-day are Australia, Malaysia, and Africa. In times gone by these were prevalent in Central America and Mexico, and Hamy describes a number of varieties. In Africa a score or more tribes file their teeth. With them it serves as a tribal mark. Thus the Batoka knock out the upper front incisors and let the lower ones grow up above the jaw. The Bongo. Kredy, Asango, and others chip and file them to various forms. The most elaborate designs, however, are found among the islands of the Indian Archipelago, where teeth are chipped, filed, engraved, bored and fitted with brass-headed brads, and dyed so that white patterns appear on a black ground (Fig. 4). In these cases the decorative idea is prominent, although from the fact that Dyaks, Ryangs, and Batta differ in pattern and style the custom retains, even here, some tribal significance. Notice the two purposes of the practice (1) as tribal marks, (2) as a decoration. It should be also observed that many and curious reasons are assigned for the practice. The Batoka, for instance, say "they wish to resemble the cow, and not the zebra." Very generally these operations, like so many other mutilations, are performed as the individual approaches manhood or womanhood. In Australia it is markedly an initiatory practice, a recognition of the child becoming adult, a reception into the tribe. The second group of bodily deformations is that of bandagings—various and widely spread. With these we may consider some freaks of unrestrained growth. In China and Siam the fingernails are allowed to go uncut and attain great length. In China they are carefully oiled and kept in tubes; in Siam they are incased in silver tips. In China they also occur among religious ascetics. In all these the meaning is clear. The person with such nails does not and can not do ordinary manual labor. Hence they are a sign of nobility or of sanctity. The Marquesas Islander also wears his finger-nails long and pointed as a sign of Fig. 4.—Tooth-filing.—Malaysian Examples. rank. Of true bandaging—every one knows of the dwarfing of the Chinese woman's foot—the practice is confined to women, though not to women of the highest rank. Flower describes the physiological action and result of this: (a) Operation: "The four outer toes are bound under the sole in such a way as to leave the great toe only in a normal position and to bring the whole foot to a narrow point in front, (b) Results: The roots of the heel and toes are compressed downward and toward each other, shortening the foot and making a deep transverse fold in the middle of the sole." The subject of the operation, which is begun in childhood, is, of course, crippled for life. The bandaged foot becomes also an object that must not be seen, a disgrace; and yet the Chinaman calls it a "golden lily." In the Philippine Islands women bind their arms in order to gain the ideal of womanly beauty, a large fist. The results would even suit the present taste of Boston. The Wahamba, in East Africa, bind the legs of children, up to the knee, to make them calfless, "that they may run better"; while the Puris women, in South America, develop the calf excessively by bandages above and below, "for beauty."
The most remarkable bandaging, however, is that of the head. Deformation of this kind has a wide range in time and space. Hippocrates speaks of it 400 b. c., and it still exists. And where has it not prevailed? It is known to have existed in the Caucasus, the Crimea, Hungary, Silesia, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Polynesia, China, and other parts of Asia. Nowhere, Figs. 5 and 6.—Deformed Skulls. ever, has it been more prevalent than on the western coast of both
Americas. Of old races the Peruvians, Yucatanese, Mexicans, Caribs, Natchez, and some of the mound-building tribes deformed the head. In later days many tribes along the Northwest coast from Oregon to the Tlinkit territory have—or lately have had—the fashion. The method of applying the pressure varied. Sometimes a board was fastened firmly against the forehead, space being left between it and the back board of the baby-frame for the head to grow backward and upward to a wedgeform. Sometimes bands of cloth or bark were bound around the head so as to force the growth either upward or backward. All sorts of classifications of the various forms have been suggested. Three types, however, are particularly striking: (a) The "flat-head"—wedge-shaped; (b) the long cylindrical; (c) the "sugar-loaf." Ten have been described from Peru alone. All the important types may also be found within a very limited area surrounding Vancouver Island. Several questions arise in connection with this practice. Is the operation painful? Are the effects harmful? Is the result hereditable? "It might be supposed," says Mr. Kane, "that the operation would be attended with great suffering, but I never heard the infants crying or moaning, although I have seen their eyes seemingly start out of their sockets from the great pressure; but, on the contrary, when the thongs were loosened and the pads removed I have noticed them cry till they were replaced. From the apparent dullness of the children while under the pressure I should imagine that a state of torpor or insensibility Fig. 7—Flathead Child. is induced, and that the return to consciousness caused by its removal must be naturally followed by a sense of pain" (Fig. 7) (Flower). Are the effects of such alteration of the skull hurtful to the brain? Most authors agree that in savage or barbarous life little or no harmful result comes. This belief is founded upon two facts: (1) the individuals deformed appear quite as intelligent as their neighbors; (2) in such tribes as hold slaves the deformation exists only among the free population. Were the masters seriously affected by it in mind, they would ere now have become themselves the slaves. In civilization sad results follow. Dr. Foville proves that it causes headache, deafness, cerebral congestion, epilepsy, and worse brain troubles (Flower). As to heredity, Hippocrates claimed that the tendency to abnormal form of head did become hereditary; recent authors, as a rule, do not agree with him.
The third group of deformations or bodily alterations is color decoration, and under this we shall class body-painting, tattooing, and gashing.
Body-painting and face-painting are universal. The Gani wear no dress, but paint the whole body. Thus: "Two messengers were painted—their faces were white; the bodies were painted in two coats of purple and ashen-gray; the latter was scraped off so as to show the former in patterns below. Some men paint the body in horizontal stripes like the zebra, or in vertical stripes down the back, or with zigzags of a lighter color."
All our North American Indians paint, and the patterns vary with the individual, with the family, and with the occasion. From notes made upon Sacs and Foxes painted for the dance we will give but one or two cases. One man's face was painted black, except around the eyes and mouth, which were scarlet. Upon his forehead was a neat checkered pattern of yellow on the black background. Another's face was divided by a vertical line in two parts, one of which was a bright yellow, the other an equally bright green. Among the Fijians face-painting is carried to the extreme—e. g., "face all scarlet except nose, which is black;
face divided like a quartered heraldic shield and painted red and black or white; black face, white nose, scarlet ring about each eye, and a white crescent on forehead," etc.
And of our own ancestors, the Britons, Caesar said: "All Britons, however, paint themselves with woad (vitro), which gives a dark-blue color, and by this means they appear terrible in battle; they wear long hair, and the whole body is shaved except the head and upper lip" (v, xiv).
And we may select a last example from Egypt. Loret says the ancient Egyptian women had blue hair, green eyelashes, painted teeth, and reddened cheeks. He says the modern Egyptian women are much the same; they tinge their hands with henna, and prolong the eyes by means of kohol; they stain the nails brown, and paint blue stars on the chin and forehead. "One hesitates a little about putting his hand into a hand—even very small—which extends itself to you painted a brick-red. One is a little timid about looking too long into eyes—even very tender—when the blue star between them makes you squint."Loret, however, got bravely over both his hesitation and his timidity, and thinks the fashion not altogether bad.
This body-painting is the most individual of all the modifications we are to consider. Each person in it exercises his own personal caprice or fancy. It is greatly esteemed. To get material the Huron Indian went twenty miles. Painting serves several purposes: (a) Tylor says the Andaman Islander plasters himself with lard and colored clay as a protection against mosquitoes and heat, (b) In most of the cases cited, painting is simply for display, (c) It often serves as a sign of mourning, (d) In the "woad" of the Briton and the "war-paint" of the Indian.the purpose is to strike terror. Mougeolles suggests an origin for the practice that seems to us quite reasonable. Red is the commonest color used in body-painting; it was probably the earliest. The man who returned from battle covered with blood of hostile man or savage beast was a hero. Such a one might easily seek to constantly remind his neighbors of his success by replacing the real blood-stains by artificial ones as the original wore away. Humboldt says of the Orinocos that "no paint was a dishonor," but also that it was a chief's attribute, and that the chieftaincy was the reward of bravery. Herodotus says that "Thracian chiefs painted as a distinction. And, when in Rome, the victor ascended the Capitoline Hill painted with minium, there can be little doubt that he was simply using a very old symbol—of bloody victory.
Painting is temporary and needs frequent renewal. In many parts of the world we find color designs, elaborate, curious, sometimes beautiful, made permanent by tattooing. The pattern and the method vary greatly with locality. In some regions men only tattoo, in others only women, in others both sexes. Here it is confined to the nobles, there to the servile. In Abyssinia women chiefly tattoo. "The whole body is covered; even the gums are pricked blue. An old woman operator's tools were: a pot of blacking (charred herbs), a large iron pin, bits of hollow cane, and pieces of straw these last for pencils. She marks out the design, pricks dots with the pin loaded with the dye, and goes over it repeatedly. To allay the subsequent irritation it is plastered over with a green poultice; the scab must not be picked off" (Wood).
Very different, and only interesting because of its novelty, is the method of tattoo found among some Eskimos. The pattern is sketched and threads are passed under the skin. These threads are loaded with pigment, and are drawn back and forth until the pigment is taken into the skin, when the threads are removed. But the most remarkable examples are to be found in the Pacific islands. In the Marquesas Islands the patterns often represent animals: the head is covered with one design, the breast bears a shield, the arms and thighs are striped, the back is crossed, and each finger bears its own pattern. The tattoo is here applied to both sexes, though mainly to men. It is begun at nineteen or twenty years, and is rarely finished before forty. The instrument used is a small comb-chisel. The figure is drawn on the skin, the comb is dipped in ink of burnt cocoanut-shell and water, and driven by a mallet through the skin. Only a few square inches are tattooed at one time. The spot swells and becomes sore, with fever.
In New Zealand we find quite as remarkable a condition of things. The patterns here are composed of curves and spirals. The general design is conventional, and the lines of which it is composed bear special names. These may vary indefinitely in minor details. A difference of importance is found in the method of tattooing in New Zealand and that prevalent throughout Polynesia. Here the lines are cut, instead of being pricked in by Fig. 9.—Japanese, showing Tattoo. points. "The patient lies on his back, with his head between the knees of the squat operator, who draws the outline in black pigment and slightly scratches it. The chisel, of tooth or a bird's bone, is then taken and the pattern cut through the skin. The operator dips the edge of the chisel constantly into the pigment and rubs it into the cut each few inches, using a little bunch of fiber. The cutting is done by hammering the chisel, not by a knife. The complete pattern takes two or three years. During the operation friends sing, to drown the groans of the subject" (Wood). In Japan the tattoo was formerly very common, but is now prohibited by law. Such designs as "a monster crab on the small of the back, a pretty cottage on the chest, or a scarlet fish between the shoulders," were common (Fig. 9). As to the origin and meaning of the tattoo we can scarcely err in regarding it the same as for painting. The victor returns stained with blood and bearing an honorable wound. This is replaced by an artificial wound to show his prowess. We actually find this practice in Kaffirland, and the Tuski makes a permanent mark upon his face for each act of courage. The idea once originated, the arrangement of such scars in an ornamental fashion and the adoption of colors would gradually arise, and in time the whole matter would become simply ornamental, a sign of rank, or religiously symbolical.
Gashing is a most remarkable custom, best studied in Africa and Australia. In Africa, gashes cut upon the forehead, cheeks, breast, or elsewhere, serve two chief purposes: (1) as tribal marks; (2) as signs of prowess. The Yorubas have perpendicular scars from temples to chin; the Ijasha have a long parallelogram of cross-lines; the Maheés, three long oblique cuts on one cheek and a cross on the other; the Nyambanas, pimples or warts, the Fig. 10.—Nyambana Tribal Mark. size of a pea, from the top of the forehead to the tip of the nose (Fig. 10). These gashes are usually made with a knife, and wood-ashes or some other irritating material is rubbed in, to cause a swelling scar.
To what an extent these cuttings are carried may be seen in the Bornu, where "twenty cuts on each side of the face, converging in corners of the mouth, from the angle of the lower jaw and the cheek-bones, while a single cut runs down the center of the forehead; six cuts are made on each arm; six more on the thighs; the same number on the legs; four on each breast; nine on each side above the hip-bones. These are made in infancy, and the children suffer not only from the pain of wounds but from the countless flies that settle on the one hundred and three cuts."
As a sign of war prowess, the gash of the Kaffir warrior, already mentioned, may be described. After an act of bravery, the priest cuts a deep gash in the hero's thigh. This heals blue and is a prized honor. Interesting examples of scars as tribal marks might be described from Australia. To realize the value of a tribal mark, think for a moment of the savage man's relation to the world outside. He is a very Ishmaelite. So long as he remains on his own tribal territory he is safe; when on the land of another tribe, his life is the legitimate prey of the first man he meets. To men in such social relations the tribal mark is the only safety at home; without it he would be slain unrecognized by his own tribesmen. There must have been a time when the old Hebrews knew all about this matter of tribe marks. By this custom only can we fully understand the story of Cain (Gen. iv, 14, 15), who fears to be sent from his own territory lest he be slain by the first stranger he meets, but is protected by the tribal mark of those among whom he is to wander being put upon him. "I shall be fugitive and vagabond in the earth, and it shall come to pass that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any one finding him should kill him." But in scarring, as in so many other cases, the original idea is often lost, and the mark becomes merely ornamental. This is particularly true among Fig. 11.—Batoka Hair-dressing. women. Among men it more frequently retains its tribal or religious significance.
And last of the groups is Hair-dressing, which is wonderfully varied. Africa is again the best field for study. The Batoka works the hair into the form of a ring and then builds it up into a cone, piecing it out with the hair of beasts, and adorning it with red ochre (Fig. 11). The Kaffir, when he is no longer a boy, goes to a friend to have his hair dressed. "The friend takes an assagai, sharpens it carefully; takes gum, sinews, charcoal, and oil. He makes an oval ring of sinews half an inch thick, and fits it firmly over the head. He then weaves the hair into this, and fixes it with gum and charcoal. Oil and grease are applied until all shines. The head is then shaved, except the ring. This is variously useful—holds feathers firmly, carries snuff-spoons, etc.," in addition to its value as a distinction. Of one tribe it is said that they wear most exquisite helmets, formed of their own hair; these cost an infinity of care and trouble and time, and are resplendent with beads, ostrich-plumes, and metal crest. To attempt the barest outline of the diversity of hair-dressing, however, would take us too far. With two or three examples, outside the African area, we must stop. The Fijians are remarkably fond of grand coiffures. Williams tells us that "many chiefs have a special hair-dresser, to whom they sometimes devote several hours a day. Their heads of hair are frequently three feet in circumference—one was nearly five feet. They also dye their naturally black hair at times to white, flaxen, or red." A curious point may be mentioned in this connection.
Such head-decorations would be injured were one to lie down and rest his head upon the ground, so a special type of wooden pillow is used in Fiji. It is placed under the neck, and keeps the Fig. 12.—Fiji Pillow. hair free of the ground. Similar pillows are found wherever such care is bestowed in hair-dressing—as in Africa and Japan to-day, and in Egypt thousands of years ago. The cases already given are ornamental simply, or indicative of rank; hair-dressing may, however, become a tribal or family mark. The Siamese tuft—"lotus bud"—is such a case, as are also the Chinese queue, and the curious styles of hair-dressing that distinguish gentes among our Indian tribes.
Here we have a host of curious customs before us. From them we may draw some general conclusions. Leaving for the present all the religious significance of these mutilations and deformations aside, we find—
First. These alterations are an actual gain or advantage in several ways: (a) as tribal marks; (b) family signs; (c) social distinctions.
Second. Whatever the actual original significance of deformations, they illustrate the action of two important contrary laws: (a) A law of strife for self-assertion or individualization; this really operates as the beginning of every one of these we have considered. The man who has done something, feels himself to be some one—desires to mark himself off from the rest visibly. (b) But the law of imitation leads to that which was at first an individualizing thing, becoming customary and fashionable.
Third. These deformations are all beautiful to those who practice them. Is it not evident that in all of them the idea and the ideal of beauty are subsequent—not antecedent and original?