“The old ethnology, like every science in its beginnings, was speculative. The new ethnology is inductive. Fifty or sixty years ago the attempt was first made to read the riddle of human origins and substantiate the answer by facts. One student after another—Spencer, Tylor, Morgan, and others—thought out a formula that seemed a reasonable explanation of how some activity of human civilization—institutional, religious, or inventive—began, developed, and reached its present condition; and then ransacked the accounts of travelers, missionaries, and residents among primitive tribes for each bit of evidence favorable to his theory. Thus the origin of marriage was plausibly traced back to the matriarchate and ultimate promiscuity, of society to totemic clans, of the historic religions to a belief in souls and ghosts, of pottery to clay-lined basketry. Twenty-five years ago this theory fabrication was in full swing; and in many non-scientific quarters it still enjoys vogue and prestige.
It is plain that the method of these evolutionary explanations was deductive. One started with an intuition, a rationalization, a guess, then looked for corroborative facts. Inevitably, all contrary facts tended to be ignored or explained away. What was more, the evidence being adduced solely with reference to whether it fitted or failed to fit into the theory under examination, it was torn from its natural relations of time, space, and association. This was very much as if a selection of statements, made by an individual on a given topic, were strung together, without reference to the circumstances under which he uttered them and without the qualifications which he attached. By the use of this method of ignoring context, a pretty good case might be made out to show that the Kaiser was really a pacificist republican at heart, Huxley a devout if not quite regular Christian, and Anthony Comstock a tolerant personality. Roosevelt could be portrayed as either a daring radical or as a hide-bound reactionary. Just such contrary interpretations did
emerge in the older ethnology. Totems, for instance, were held by one “authority” to have had their origin in magical rites concerned with food supply, by another in a sort of nicknames, by a third in a primitive, mystic adumbration of the concept of society itself.
Gradually it began to be recognized by students that this method might be necessary in the law-courts, where each party advowedly contends for his own interests, but that in science it led to exciting wrangling rather more than to progress toward impartial truth. And so a new ethnology modestly grew up which held for its motto: “All possible facts first, then such inferences as are warranted.” “All facts” means not only all items but also these items in their natural order: the sequence in which they occur, their geographical relation, the degree to which they are associated.
The anthropologist no longer compares marriage customs from all over the world as they come to hand. He realizes that marriage is likely to be a different rite as it is practiced respectively among peoples, with and without civil government, or among nations that have come under the influence of a world religion or remain in a status of tribal ceremony. The whole culture of the group must be more or less known before the history and meaning of an institution can become intelligible. Detached from its culture mass, a custom reveals as little of its functioning as an organ dissected out of the living body.
Equally important for the interpretation of ethnic facts, are their geographical associations, their distribution. Is a custom or invention peculiar to one people or is it shared by many distinct peoples occupying a continuous area? Such a question may seem trivial. But the answer usually bears heavy significance. A unique institution, or one found in various spots but in disconnected ones, is, other things equal, either of recent and independent origin in each locality, or it is a lingering survival of a custom that was once wide-spread. In short, it represents the beginning or end of a process of development.
On the other hand, where we find an art or institution possessed in common by dozens or hundreds of tribes situated without any gaps between them on the map, it would be far-fetched to assume that each of them independently evolved this identical phenomenon. Why
presuppose a hundred parallel causes, each operating quite separately, when one will suffice, in view of the fact that human beings imitate each other’s manners and borrow knowledge. We know that Christianity, gun-powder, the printing press, were originated but once. Even with history wiped out, we could infer as much, from their universality among the nations of Europe.
Now this is just the situation as regards primitive peoples. Their history has been wiped out—it was never preserved by themselves or their neighbors. But knowledge of the geographical occurrence of a custom or invention, usually affords rather reliable insight into its history, sometimes into its origin. When the available information shows that Indian corn was grown by all the tribes from Chile and Brazil to Arizona and Quebec, it is evident that the history of native American agriculture is as much of a unit, essentially, as the history of Christianity or of fire-arms. It is a story of invention only at its outset, of diffusion and amplification through its greater length. When pottery is further discovered to possess almost exactly the same aboriginal distribution as maize, it becomes likely that this art, too, was devised but once; and likely, further, that it was invented at about the same time as maize culture and diffused with it.
By evidence such as this, reënforced by the insight gained from the stratification of prehistoric objects preserved in caves and in the ground, native, American history is being reconstructed for some thousands of years past. The outline of this history runs about as follows.
Eight, ten, or twelve thousand years ago, contemporary with the last phase of the Old Stone Age of Europe or the opening there of the New Stone Age, man, for the first time, entered the New World. He came from Asia across Behring Strait, a narrow gap with an island stepping-stone in the middle, and probably frozen over solidly in midwinter. In race he was Mongoloid—not Chinese, Japanese, or Mongol proper, but proto-Mongoloid; a straight-haired type, medium in complexion, jaw protrusion, nose-breadth, and inclining probably to round-headedness; an early type, in short, from which the Chinese, the Malay, and the Indian grew out, like so many limbs from a tree. This proto-Mongoloid stock must have been well established in Asia long before. This is morally certain from the fact that the proto-Negroids and proto-Caucasians were living at least
ten to fifteen thousand years earlier, as attested by their discovered fossils, Grimaldi man and Cro-Magnon man.
Well, somewhere about 8000 B. C., then, bands of proto-Mongolians began to filter in through the easy, northwest gate of America. Others pushed them behind; before them, to the south, the country was ever more pleasantly tempting, and life easier. They multiplied, streamed down the Pacific coast, wandered across to the Atlantic, entered the tropics in fertile Mexico, defiled through Panama, and slowly overran South America. Separate groups of entrants into Alaska may have brought distinct languages with them; or, if they all came with one mother-tongue, their migrations to diverse environments and long, long separations provided ample opportunity for differentiation into dialects, languages, and families. The history of speech in the Old World covered by records, is but little more than three thousand years old, just a third of the ten thousand years with which we are dealing in America. Multiply by three the difference between twentieth-century English and ancient Sanskrit or one of its modern representatives such as Bengali, and there is just about the degree of speech distinctness that exists between the American language families, such as Siouan and Algonkin, Aztec and Maya.
So with the racial type. Fundamentally, one physical type stretches from Cape Horn to Alaska. Superficially, it is intricately variegated—here with round heads, there with long—with short faces or hooked noses or tall statures or wavy hair, in this or that group of tribes. In fact, it might seem that during ten thousand years the variety of climates and habitats might have succeeded in moulding the Indian into racial types of even greater distinctness than we encounter; until we remember that he found the two continents empty, and was never subjected to mixtures with white or black or dwarf races, to mixtures such as were experienced by many of the peoples of the eastern hemisphere.
What the first immigrants brought with them in culture was rudimentary. They kept dogs, but no other domesticated animal. They were not yet agricultural, and subsisted on what they wrested from nature. They knew something of weaving baskets and mats; clothed and housed themselves; probably had harpoons and possibly bows; made fire with the drill; cut with flint knives; and believed in magic, spirits, and the perpetuity of the soul.
In and about southern Mexico they prospered the fastest, became most numerous, acquired some leisure, began to organize themselves socially, and developed cults of increasing elaborateness. They “invented” maize-agriculture and pottery; architecture in stone; irrigation; cloth weaving and cotton growing; the smelting and casting of copper, silver, and gold; a priesthood, calendar system, picture-writing, pantheon of gods, and sacrifices; and accustomed themselves to town life.
Gradually these amplifications of culture spread: slowly to the north, more rapidly and completely to the south, into the similar environment of Colombia and Peru. Not all of the civilization devised in Yucatan and Guatemala, was carried into South America. Writing and time reckoning, for instance, never squeezed through the Isthmus, and the Incas got along with traditions and records of strings. On the other hand the South Americans, also growing populous and wealthy, added some culture elements of their own—bronze alloying, the hammock, the Pan’s pipe, the balance scale, the surgical art of trephining the skull, the idea of a vast, compactly organized empire.
In Peru then, and in Mexico, two nearly parallel centers of civilization grew up during thousands of years; sprung from the same foundation, differentiated in their superstructures, that of Mexico evidently the earlier, and, at the time of discovery, slightly more advanced. The Peruvian civilization, if we include with it those of western Colombia and Bolivia, rayed itself out through the whole southern continent, becoming feebler and more abbreviated with increasing distance from its focus.
The South Mexican center similarly diffused its light through most of the northern continent. First its influences traveled to northern Mexico and the Southwest of the United States—Arizona and New Mexico, the seat of the Cliff-dwellers. There they took new root and then spread northward and eastward—altered, diluted, with much omitted. We may compare Mexico to a manufacturing district, where capital, inventiveness, resources and industry, flourish in mutual alliance; the Southwest to one of its outlets, a sort of distributing point or jobbing center, which imports, both for its own consumption and for re-export; the articles of trade in this case being elements of civilization—inventions, knowledge, arts.
Throughout, it was a flow of things of the mind, not a drift of the bodies of men; of culture, not of populations. And the radiation was ever northward, counter to the drift of the migrations which had begun thousands of years before, and which, in part, seem to have continued to crowd southward even during the period of northward spread of civilization. It was much as in Europe fifteen hundred years ago, when Goth and Vandal and Frank and Lombard pounded their way southward into the Roman empire, but the civilization of Rome—writing, learning, money, metallurgy, architecture, Christianity, laws—streamed ever against the human pressure, until the farthest barbarians of the North Sea had become, in some measure, humanized.
Thus the Southwest learned from Mexico to build in stone, to grow and weave cotton, to irrigate, to obey priests, and in some rude measure to organize the year into a calendar. None of these culture elements traveled farther. But the maize-beans-squash agriculture, pottery making, the organization of cult societies, the division of the community into clans, reckoning descent from one parent only, some tendency toward town life and the confederation of towns, all of which the Southwest had also acquired from Mexico, it passed on to its neighbors, notably to those of the Gulf States between Louisiana and Georgia. Here, these institutions were once more worked over and, in the main, reduced, and then some of them passed on northward, first to the Mound-builders of the Ohio valley, and then to the Iroquois of New York. From the Iroquois, in turn, some of their Algonkian neighbors and foes were just beginning to be ready to learn certain betterments, when the white man came and swept their cultures into memory.
We have thus, a series of culture centers—Mexico, Southwest, Southeast, Iroquois, Atlantic Algonkins—of descending order of advancement, and subsequent to one another in time. They constitute a ladder of culture development, and, although undated, represent a real sequence of history.
One area was but haltingly and sparsely infiltrated from the Southwest: the North Pacific Coast, centering in British Colombia. In this mild and rich environment a native culture grew up that, in the main, went its own way. It did not attain to the heights of Mexico, scarcely even equaled the Southwest. Pottery and agriculture
failed to reach it. But out of its own resources, it developed, independently, a number of the arts and institutions which the remainder of North America drew from Mexico: clan organization and cult societies, for instance, the beginnings of a calendar and cloth weaving. And it added features, all its own: plank houses, totem poles, a remarkable style of decorative art, a society based on wealth. Here then we have a minor, but mainly independent culture center of the greatest interest.
In a still smaller way, and without as great a freedom from southern influences, the tribes of the treeless Plains, in the heart of the continent, developed a little civilization of their own. This was founded on what they had originally got from the Southwest and Southeast, was remodeled on the basis of an almost exclusive dependence on the buffalo, and underwent a brief and stirring efflorescence from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, after the Plains tribes had got horses from the Spaniards. Here, then, grew up customs and appliances like the tepee, the travois, the camp circle, warfare as a game with “coups” as counters.
Similarly in the far north, along the shores of the Arctic, where the Eskimo spread themselves. Here, almost nothing penetrated from Mexico, but stern necessity forced a special inventiveness on the mechanical side and the way was near for the entrance of influences from Asia, some few of which may have diffused beyond the Eskimo to the North Pacific Coast tribes.
Such, then, are the outlines of the history of the native, American race and civilization. It is a long and complexly rich story, only partly unraveled. Those who wish it in greater fullness will find it in Wissler’s The American Indian. Only enough has been sketched here to show that modern anthropology is an inductive science with a minimum of speculation; that it aims at truly historical reconstructions and is beginning to achieve them; and that it lies in the nature of its tasks to distinguish and analyze the several native culture areas or local types of Indians before proceeding to conclusions based on combinations.
Therefore it is, that many small items of ethnic knowledge acquire considerable importance. From the average man’s point of view, it is of little moment that the Zuñi farm and the Yurok and Nootka do not, or that the former refuse to marry their dead wives’ sisters
and the latter insist on it. At best, such bits of facts have for the layman only the interest of idle curiosities, of antiquarian fragments. To the specialist, however, they become dependable means to a useful end, much as intimate knowledge of the position of arteries and nerves serves the surgeon.
But, just as the exact understanding of anatomy which modern medicine enjoys, bulks to infinitely more than any one anatomist could ever have discovered, so with ethnology. No one mind could ever observe or assemble and digest all the cultural facts that are needed. Many workers are busy, have been systematically busy for two or three generations. Though they may, now and then, enliven their toil by a scientific quarrel over this or that set of facts or interpretation, they are inherently coöperating, laboring cumulatively at a great joint enterprise. Sometimes, they divide their interests topically: one specializes on social customs, another on material arts, a third along lines of religion. But, in the main, the cultural context is so important that it has been found most productive for each investigator to try to learn everything possible about all the phases of culture of a single tribe, or, at most, of two or three tribes.
To do this, he “goes into the field.” That is, he takes up his residence, for a continuous period or repeatedly for several years, among a tribe, on its reservation or habitat. He enters into as close relations as possible with its most intelligent or authoritative members. He acquires all he can of their language, reduces it to writing, perhaps compiles texts, a dictionary or grammar. Day after day he records notes from visual observation or the memory of the best informants available on the industries, beliefs, government, family life, ceremonies, wars, and daily occupations of his chosen people. And with all this, there flow in his personal experiences and reactions. The final outcome is a monograph—a bulky, detailed, often tedious, but fundamental volume, issued by the government or a scientific institution.
It is from intensive studies such as these, that the stories which form the present volume have sprung as a by-product. Have sprung as a sort of volunteer crop, it might be said, under the stimulus of the editorial suggestion of Dr. Parsons. The monographs have a way of sticking pretty closely to the objective facts recorded. The mental
workings of the people whose customs are described, are subjective, and therefore much more charily put into print. The result is that every American anthropologist with field experience, holds in his memory many interpretations, many convictions as to how his Indians feel, why they act as they do in a given situation, what goes on inside of them. This psychology of the Indian is often expressed by the frontiersman, the missionary and trader, by the man of the city, even. But it has been very little formulated by the very men who know most, who have each given a large block of their lives to acquiring intensive and exact information about the Indian and his culture.
There is, thus, something new, something of the nature of an original contribution, in each of these stories; and they are reliable. To many of us, the writing of our tale has been a surprise and of value to ourselves. We had not realized how little we knew of the workings of the Indian mind on some sides, how much on others.
The fictional form of presentation devised by the editor has definite merit. It allows a freedom in depicting or suggesting the thoughts and feelings of the Indian, such as is impossible in a formal, scientific report. In fact, it incites to active psychological treatment, else the tale would lag. At the same time the customs depicted are never invented. Each author has adhered strictly to the social facts as he knew them. He has merely selected those that seemed most characteristic, and woven them into a plot around an imaginary Indian hero or heroine. The method is that of the historical novel, with emphasis on the history rather than the romance.
There is but one important precedent for this undertaking, and that single-handed instead of collective, and therefore depictive of one people only, the Keresan Pueblos. This is The Delight Makers of Bandelier, archæologist, archivist, historian, and ethnologist of a generation ago; and this novel still renders a more comprehensive and coherent view of native Pueblo life than any scientific volume on the Southwest.
The present book, then, is a picture of native American life, in much the sense that a series of biographies of one statesman, poet, or common citizen from each country of Europe would yield a cross-sectional
aspect of the civilization of that continent. France and Russia, Serbia and Denmark, would each be represented with its national peculiarities; and yet the blended effect would be that of a super-national culture. So with our Indians. It is through the medium of the intensive and special coloring of each tribal civilization, that the common elements of Indian culture are brought out most truthfully, even though somewhat indirectly.
There are only a few points at which the composite photograph, produced by these twenty-seven stories, should be used with caution, and these disproportions or deficiencies are unavoidable at present. The first of them is religion. The book is likely to make the impression that some sixty per cent, of Indian life must have been concerned with religion. This imbalance is due to the fact that religion has become the best known aspect of Indian life. Ritual and ceremony follow exact forms which the native is able to relate with accuracy from memory, long after the practices have become defunct. Moreover, once his confidence is gained, he often delights in occupying his mind with the matters of belief and rite that put an emotional stamp on his youth. Social usages are much more plastic, more profoundly modified to suit each exigency as it arises, and therefore more difficult to learn and portray. The mechanical and industrial arts have a way of leaving but pallid recollections, once they have been abandoned for the white man’s manufactures; and to get them recreated before one’s eyes is usually very time-consuming. Thus, through a tacit coordination of Indians and ethnologists to exploit the vein of most vivid productivity, religion has become obtruded; and some excess must be discounted. Yet the over-proportion is perhaps all for the best. For the Indian is, all in all, far more religious than we, and the popular idea errs on the side of ignoring this factor. The stories are substantially truthful in their effect, in that the average Indian did spend infinitely more time on affairs of religion than of war, for instance.
On the side of economics and government, the book is underdone. It is so, because ethnological knowledge on these topics is insufficient. It is difficult to say why. Possibly ethnologists have not become sufficiently interested or trained. But economic and political institutions are unquestionably difficult to learn about. They are the first
to crumble on contact with Anglo-Saxon or Spanish civilization. So they lack the definiteness of ceremonialism, and their reconstruction from native memories is a bafflingly intricate task.
As regards daily life, personal relations, and the ambitions and ideals of the individual born into aboriginal society, in other words the social psychology of the Indian, we have done much better. In fact, collectively we have brought out much that is not to be found anywhere in the scientific monographs, much even that we had not realized could be formulated. This element seems to me to contain the greatest value of the book, and to be one that should be of permanent utility to historians and anthropologists, as well as to the public which is fortunately free from professional trammels. The exhibit of the workings of the Indian mind which these tales yield in the aggregate, impresses me as marked by a rather surprising degree of insight and careful accuracy.
Only at one point have we broken down completely: that of humor. One might conclude from this volume that humor was a factor absent from Indian life. Nothing would be more erroneous. Our testimony would be unanimous on this score. And yet we have been unable to introduce the element. The failure is inevitable. Humor is elusive because its understanding presupposes a feeling for the exact psychic situation of the individual involved, and this in turn implies thorough familiarity with the finest nuances of his cultural setting. We could have introduced Indian jokes, practical ones and witty ones, but they would have emerged deadly flat, and their laughs would have sounded made to order. An Indian himself, or shall we say, a contemporary of the ancients, may let his fancy play, and carry over to us something of his reaction: witness Aristophanes, Plautus, Horace. But the reconstructor, if he is wise, leaves the task unattempted. That prince of historical novelists, Walter Scott, for the most part collapses sadly when he tries to inject into his romances of the Middle Ages, the humor that marks his modern novels of Scotland; and so far as he salvages anything, it is by substituting the humor of his own day for the actual mediæval one. Hypatia is a superb picture of the break-down of Roman civilization; but how silly and boring are its humorous passages! A greater artist, in Thaïs, and another in Salammbô, have wisely evaded at
tempting the impossible, and, at most, touched the bounds of irony. Where the masters have succumbed or refrained, it is well that we scientists, novices in the domain of fiction, should hold off; though we all recognize both the existence and the importance of humor in Indian life. This element, then, the reader must accept our bare word for—or supply from his own discrimination and intuition.
A. L. Kroeber