Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/March 1892/Domestic Animals in India
|DOMESTIC ANIMALS IN INDIA.|
PASSING from the free to the fettered, we come to a beast which in India serves at once as an expression of wild liberty, more complete than that of the monkey, and of utter and abject slavery. For a wholly unmerited obloquy, relic of a dark aboriginal superstition, is added to the burden of toil and hard living. Yet there was once a time when in the nearer East, or ever the horse was known, he was held in high honor, carved in Assyrian sculptures, and reckoned a suitable steed for prophets and kings. Even now, in Cairo, Damascus, and Bagdad, although the Bedawi Arab pretends to despise him, he is regularly ridden by respectable people.
The Arabian Nights story of a conversation overheard between the ox and the ass shows the estimation in which he was held; and it is written that Mohammed himself had two asses, one of which was called Yafūr, nor did that great man disdain to ride double. But here in India, by formal prescription, only the gypsy, the potter, the washerman, and such-like folk, out-caste or of low caste, will mount or own the ass. This prescription.
and the ridiculous Hindu association of the donkey with the goddess of small-pox, account for the universal dislike and disdain in which this most useful, sagacious, and estimable animal is held. He is never fed by his owners, and his chronic hunger is mocked by a popular saying that to feed a donkey is neither sin nor sacrifice.
It would seem difficult to be cruel to a goat, but the keepers of the flocks of milch-goats regularly driven morning and evening into Indian cities contrive to inflict a good deal of pain. The nipples of the udder are tied up in torturing fashion, and there is an unnecessary use of the staff. But the worst cruelty is the practice of flaying them alive, in the belief that skins thus prepared have a better quality. The magistrates in the Presidency towns frequently have cases of this offense before them, and inflict absurdly inadequate fines.
A quaint belief is that in dry desert places where wells formerly existed goats will group themselves in a circle round the ancient well-brink, though not a trace of it is visible to the keenest
human eye. Those who sketch animals may have noticed that goats at rest have a way of grouping themselves as if posing Fig. 3.—A Sporting Man. for their portraits. It is possible that this unconscious trick is at the bottom of the well-brink belief. So far as I know, there are no sayings which notice the fine carriage of the head and the elegant horse-like gait of this beautiful animal. The Indian goat, as a rule, is much taller and of more slender build than the European animal.
From an administrative and economic point of view there are serious objections to the goat, which is one of the plagues of the Forest Department of the Government. It is the poor man's animal, and is supposed to cost nothing to keep. Every green shoot is nibbled off as soon as it peeps above the ground, and young trees are promptly destroyed by creatures which spend half their time on their hind legs, and have an effective reach up to the height of a man's head.
It is only in India and Peru that the sheep is used as a beast of burden. Borax, asafœtida, and other commodities are brought in bags on the backs of sheep driven in large flocks from Thibet into British territory. Only the picturesque shepherds return from these journeys; for the carriers of the caravan, feeding as they go, gather flesh in spite of their burdens, and provide most excellent mutton.
Sheep are numerous in India, but they are seldom kept by the cultivator or farmer, for the combination of agricultural with pastoral life, common in other countries, is almost unknown. In the towns of the plains rams are kept as fighting animals, and the sport is a source of gratification to many. A Mohammedan. "buck," going out for a stroll with his fighting ram, makes a picture of point-device foppery not easily surpassed by the sporting fancy of the West. The ram is neatly clipped, with a judicious reservation of salient tufts, touched with saffron and mauve dyes, and, besides a necklace of large blue beads, it bears a collar of hawk-bells. Its master wears loosely round his neck or on his shoulders a large handkerchief of the brightest colors procurable; his vest is of scarlet or sky-blue satin, embroidered with color and gold; his slender legs are incased in skin-tight drawers; a gold-embroidered cap is poised on one side of his head; his long black hair, parted in the middle, and shining with scented hair-oil, is sleeked behind his ears, where it has a drake's-tail curl which throws in relief his gold ear-rings; and, in addition to two or three
necklaces, he usually wears a gold chain. Patent-leather shoes and a cane complete the costume. As he first affronts the sunshine, he looks undeniably smart, but his return, I have observed, is not always so triumphant. The ram naturally loses interest in a stroll which has not another ram in perspective, and it is not easy to preserve an air of distinction when angrily propelling homeward a heavy and reluctant sheep.
The beauty of the cow counts almost as much as her usefulness in popular estimation, and the best breeds are really handsome. It is true that a British amateur, accustomed to the level back of the English beast, at first looks unfavorably on the hump and the falling hind quarter. The head seems too large and the body too short. But he acknowledges at once the clean, thoroughbred legs, the fine expression of the eye, the air of breeding in the broad, convex brow and slender muzzle, the character given by the deep, thin dewlap, the smooth, mole-like skin, and in the large breeds an indefinable majesty of mien. In addition to their high caste and shapely look, the hind legs are much straighter and less "cow-hocked" than those of the English animal, and are not swung so far out in trotting. On occasion the animal can jump a fence with a carriage of limbs like that of the horse. So
in a very short time the Briton drops his prejudices, and is even reconciled to the hump, which, like that of the camel and the fat tail of the dūmha sheep, has some mysterious relation to the varying conditions of a precarious food-supply. They say vaguely it is a reserve of sustenance, but it would take a physiologist to explain how it acts. Some insist that the sloping quarter is the result of ages of scanty or irregular feeding, but it is now, at all events, a fixed anatomical peculiarity.
To the stranger the great variety of breeds and their adaptation to a wide range of needs and conditions are not at first apparent. He sees an ox and another ox as he sees a native and another native, without noticing that they belong to distinct families. Orientals have a passion for classifying things, and see scores of differences in rice, cotton, wheat, cattle, and horses, which are barely perceptible even to trained English eyes. But among cattle, though there is a bewildering variety of local breeds, some broad differences may be easily learned. The backward slope of the horns of the large and small breeds of Mysore cattle—perhaps the most popular type in use—the royal bearing of the splendid white or fawn oxen of Guzerat, and the transport and artillery cattle bred in the Government farms, at once strike the eye. These are the aristocrats of the race, but they have appetites proportioned to their size, and are too costly for the ordinary cultivator.
They trot in bullock coaches or draw the springless and uncomfortable but delightfully picturesque native rāth or canopied ox-cart, the wagons of the Government commissariat and of the various Government baggage services.
India has been described by a European as the paradise of horses, and from his point of view the phrase is not unfitting. The natural affinity between horses and Englishmen becomes a closer bond by residence in India, where everybody rides—or ought to ride—where horses and horse-keep are cheap, and where large castes of stable servants, contented with a low wage, are capable, Tinder careful superintendence, of keeping their animals in a state of luxurious comfort. The horses, however, which serve native masters are born to purgatory rather than to paradise. Those in the hands of the upper classes suffer from antiquated and barbarous systems of treatment, and are often killed by mistaken kindness or crippled by bad training, while those of low degree are liable to cruel ill-usage, overwork, neglect, and unrelieved bondage.
The "thorn-bits" here engraved are ordinary specimens of those in use; the cut requires careful examination before their murderous character can be made out. Some say the Indian bit is severe because the average horseman, being of slight build, is physically incapable of holding a horse with a fair one. There may be something in this, but the weakness is more moral than physical; nerve is more wanting than muscle, and reason most of all.
When a native chief goes out, he is accompanied by a sowari—literally a "riding" of ministers, servants, guards, and attendants of all sorts. Formerly all rode; but, with good roads, good carriages have been introduced, and usually in these days only the horsemen of the guard ride. But on state occasions, led horses, richly caparisoned, always form part of the show, and there are many animals in princely stables kept solely for processional purposes. The animals most liked are the stallions of Marwar or Kathiawar. White horses with pink points, piebalds, and leopard-spotted A Painted Elephant. beasts are much admired, especially when they have pink Roman noses and light-colored eyes, with an uncanny expression. Their crippled, highly arched necks, curby hocks, rocking gait, and paralytic prancing often proclaim them as triumphs of training.
The docility of the elephant is never more evident than when he is dressed for parade on an occasion of state. It is a long and tiresome business to clothe the creature in the ornaments and housings with which Oriental taste loves to bedizen him. If the occasion be a very grand one, a day or two will be consumed in preparations. First the forehead, trunk, and ears are painted in bold patterns in color. This is a work of art, for the designs are often good, and the whole serai, excepting always the elephant himself, is deeply interested. His mind and trunk wander; he trifles with the color-pots; so with each stroke comes an order to stand still. Some mahouts are quite skillful in this pattern-work. Then the howdah pad is girthed on with cotton ropes, riding over flaps of leather to prevent the chafing to which the sensitive skin is liable. The howdah itself, a cumbrous frame of wood covered with beaten silver plates, is slung and tied with a purchase on the tail-root, and heavy cloths, broidered in raised work of gold and silver thread, are attached, hanging like altar-cloths down the sides. A frontlet of gold and silver diaper, with fringes of fish-shaped ornaments in thin beaten silver, necklaces of large silver hawk-bells and chain-work, with embossed heart-shaped pendants as big as the open hand, and hanging ornaments of chains of silver cartouches, are adjusted. A cresting of silver ornaments, like small vases or fluted soup-tureens, exaggerations of the knobs along a horse's crest, descend from the rear of the howdah to the tail; anklets of silver are sometimes fitted round the huge legs.
and a bell is always slung at his side. The pillars of the howdah canopies, and then the canopies themselves, with their finials, are fitted as the beast kneels.
It is officially stated that "all who have had to deal with elephants agree that their good qualities can not be exaggerated; that their vices are few, and only occur in exceptional animals; that they are neither treacherous nor retentive of injury; and that they are obedient, gentle, and patient beyond measure." This is higher and more sympathetic praise than is usually tied up in the pink tape of secretariats, and it is all true.
The normal load for continuous travel of a fair-sized elephant is eight hundred pounds, so the animal is equal to eight ponies. small mules, or asses; to five stout pack-mules or bullocks, and to three and one third of a camel. Under such a load the elephant travels at a fair speed, keeping well up with an ordinary army or baggage train, requiring no made road, few guards, and occupying less depth in column than other animals. He is invaluable in jungle country and all roadless regions where heavy loads are to be moved. In Burmah, and on the east and southeast frontier, elephants are absolutely necessary for military supply. When once a good road is made the beast is, of course, easily beaten by wheeled carriages.
He shines most as a special Providence when the cattle of a baggage-train or the horses of a battery are stalled in a bog or struggling helplessly at a steep place. An elephant's tusk and trunk serve at once as lever, screw-jack, dog-hooks, and crane, quickly setting overturned carts and gun-carriages right, lifting them by main force or dragging them in narrow, winding defiles, where a long team can not act; while his head, protected by a pad, is a ram of immense force and superior handiness.
A born forester, it is in jungle-work that the laboring elephant, outside Government service, is seen at his best. The tea-planters of Assam and Ceylon find him useful in forest-clearing and as a pack-animal. They even yoke him to the plow. He is the leading hand in the teak trade of Burmah—unrivaled in the heavy toil of the timber-yard, where he piles logs with wonderful neatness and quickness. Small timbers are carried on the tusks, chipped over and held fast by the trunk. A log with a thick butt is seized with judicious appreciation of balance, while long and heavy balks are levered and pushed into place.
The truth about the camel's character has often been debated. He is wonderful, and in his own way beautiful to look at, and his
patience, strength, speed, and endurance are beyond all praise. The camel-riders of Rajputana and central India, mounted on animals of a swift breed, cover almost incredible distances at high speed, finding it necessary to protect themselves against the rocking motion by broad leather belts, tightly buckled, which are often covered with velvet and prettily broidered in silk. Even they, who know the beast at his best, never pretend to like their mounts as one likes a Horse. So useful a beast is estimable, but the most indulgent observation fails to find a ground for affection, Europeans, at all events, who have to do with camels, seem to think it were as easy to lavish one's love on a luggage-van. He is a morose, discontented, grumbling brute, a servant of man, it is true, as is the water that turns a mill-wheel, the fire that boils a kettle, or the steam that stirs the piston of a cylinder. He does not come to a call like other beasts, but has to be fetched and driven from browsing. There are but few words made for his private ear, such as belong to horses, dogs, and oxen. An elephant has a separate word of command for sitting down with front legs, with hind legs, or with all together, and he moves at a word. A camel has but one, and that must be underlined with a tug at his nose-rope ere he will stoop. But he has a large share in that great public property of curses whose loss would enrich the world. Camel trappings are not so gaudy in India as in Egypt or Morocco, where riding animals are bedizened in scarlet and yellow. They are in a different key of color, belonging to a school of pastoral ornament in soberly colored wools, beads, and small white shells, which appears to begin (or end) in the Balkans and stretches eastward through central Asia into India, especially among the Biloch and other camel folk on our northwest frontier. Camel housings may be the beginning of the nomad industry of carpet-weaving. It is, perhaps, not too fanciful to trace on the worsted neck-band the original unit or starting-point of the carpets and "saddle-bags" which have given lessons to English upholsterers.
- Extracted from the author's recent book. Beast and Man in India, by the courtesy of the publishers, Messrs. Macmillan & Co.