Page images
PDF
EPUB

the evidence of the practice amongst the modern Basques. In Biscay, says Michel, “in valleys whose population recalls in its usages the infancy of society, the women rise immediately after childbirth and attend to the duties of the household, while the husband goes to bed, taking the baby with him, and thus receives the neighbours' compliments.

« It has been found also in Navarre, and on the French side of the Pyrenees. Legrand d'Aussy mentions that in an old French fable the king of Torelose is 'au lit et en couche' when Aucassin arrives and takes a stick to him and makes him promise to abolish the custom in his realm. The same author goes on to state that the practice is said still to exist in some cantons of Béarn, where it is called 'faire la couvade.' Lastly, Diodorus Siculus notices the same habit of the wife being neglected, and the husband put to bed and treated as the patient among the natives of Corsica about the beginning of the Christian era.

For a fuller account of the couvade I must refer my readers to Tylor's “Early History of Mankind," from which I have so largely quoted; his summing up of this curious custom is profound and philosophical. He says: “ The isolated occurrences of a custom among particular races, surrounded by other races that ignore it, may be sometimes to the ethnologist like those outlying patches of strata from which the geologist infers that the formation they belong to once spread over intervening districts, from which it has been removed by denudation; or like the geographical distribution of plants, from which the botanist argues that they have travelled from a distant home. The way in which the couvade appears in the new and old worlds is especially interesting from this

Ch. XX.]

THE COUVADE.

369

point of view. Among the savage tribes of South America it is, as it were, at home, in a mental atmosphere, at least, not so different from that in which it came into being as to make it a mere meaningless, absurd superstition. If the culture of the Caribs and Brazilians, even before they came under our knowledge, had advanced too far to allow the couvade to grow up fresh among them, they at least practised it with some consciousness of its meaning; it had not fallen out of unison with their mental state. Here we find, covering a vast compact area of country, the mental stratum, so to speak, to which the couvade most nearly belongs. But if we look at its appearances across from China to Corsica the state of things is widely different; no theory of its origin can be drawn from the Asiatic and European accounts to compete for a moment with that which flows naturally from the observations of the missionaries, who found it not a mere dead custom, but a live growth of savage psychology. The peoples, too, who have kept it

up

in Asia and Europe seem to have been, not the great progressive, spreading, conquering, civilising nations of the Aryan, Semitic, and Chinese stocks. It cannot be ascribed even to the Tartars, for the Lapps, Finns, and Hungarians appear to know nothing of it. It would seem rather to have belonged to that ruder population, or series of populations, whose fate it has been to be driven by the great races out of the fruitful lands to take refuge in mountains and deserts. The retainers of the couvade in Asia are the Miau-tsze of China and the savage Tibareni of Pontus.

In Europe they are the Basque race of the Pyrenees, whose peculiar manners, appearance, and language, coupled with their geographical position, favour the view that they are the remains of a people driven westward and westward, by the pressure of more powerful tribes, till they came to these last mountains, with nothing but the Atlantic beyond. Of what stock were the original barbarian inhabitants of Corsica we do not know; but their position, and the fact that they, too, had the couvade, would suggest their having been a branch of the same family who escaped their persecutors by putting out to sea and settling in their mountainous island." *

Let us now return to the Nahuatls, and see if they present any affinities to the nations of the old world. Humboldt's well-known argument, in which he sought to prove the Asiatic origin of the Mexicans, was based upon the remarkable resemblance of their system of reckoning cycles of years to that found in use in different parts of Asia. Both the Asiatic and Mexican systems of cycles are most artificial in their construction, and troublesome in practice, and they are very unlikely to have arisen independently on two continents. Humboldt says: “I inferred the probability of the western nations of the new continent having had communication with the east of Asia long before the arrival of the Spaniards from a comparison of the Mexican and Thibeto-Japanese calendars,

- from the correct orientation of the steps of the pyramidal elevations towards the different quarters of the heavens, and from the ancient myths and traditions of the four ages or four epochs of destruction of the world, and the dispersion of mankind after a great flood of waters." +

* E. B. Tylor, “Early History of Mankind,” pp. 288–297. + Humboldt, “ Aspects of Nature,” vol. ii. 174.

Ch. XX.] DERIVATION OF THE AMERICAN RACE.

371

Whilst there are undoubtedly many curious coincidences in the customs of the ancient Mexicans and the peoples of eastern Asia, there are, on the other hand, so many differences that I believe it is safer to infer that they were essentially distinct in origin, and that there had been communication between the two peoples in very early times, but that the foreign influence in Mexico was extremely feeble, and too weak to check the growth of an essentially indigenous civilisation. Possibly sun and serpent worship, baptism, and the use of the cross as a sacred emblem, were the survival of religious beliefs that had obtained in the very cradle of the human race. We cannot, however, believe that mankind had, before the separation and dispersion of the eastern and western nations, attained to any great astronomical knowledge, and it is quite possible that the extraordinary coincidences between the chronological and astronomical systems of the Nahuatls and the eastern Asiatics might have been brought about by some of the latter having been stranded on the American shore.

Humboldt argued that, as the western coasts of the American continent trend from N.-W. to S.-E., and the eastern coasts of Asia in the opposite direction, the distance between the two continents in 45° of latitude, or in the temperate zone, which is most favourable to mental development, is too considerable to admit of the probability of such an accidental settlement taking place in that latitude. We must then assume the first landing to have been made in the inhospitable climate of from 55° to 65°, and that the civilisation thus introduced, like the general movement of population in America, has proceeded by

successive stations from north to south." *

If we are obliged to assume that the people themselves came from the old world, such an origin might be sought for them as well as any other; but all research since Hamboldt's time has favoured the idea that there are no signs of the Nahuatls being a newer people than the nations of Asia. And if it is not the derivation of the people, but of some coincidences in their observances and knowledge, we may seek for it some simpler solution than the migration of a whole people down through North to Central America. That solution is, I believe, to be found in the fact, not taken into consideration by Humboldt, that the great Japanese current, after traversing the eastern coast of Japan, sends one large branch nearly directly east across the Pacific to the coast of California, and an offshoot from it passes southward along the Mexican coast and as far as the western coast of Central America. In Kotzebue's narrative of his voyage round the world, he says: “ Looking over Adams' diary, I found the following notice— Brig Foreşter, March 24, 1815, at sea, upon the coast of California, latitude 32° 45' N. longitude 133° 3' W. We saw this morning, at a short distance, a ship, the confused state of whose sails showed that they wanted assistance. We bent our course towards her, and made out the distressed vessel to be Japanese, which had lost both mast and helm. Only three dying Japanese, the captain and two sailors, were found in the vessel. We took these unfortunate people on board our brig, and, after four months' nursing, they entirely recovered. We learned from these people that they had sailed from the harbour of Osaka, in Japan,

* Humboldt, “ Aspects of Nature," vol. ii. 176.

« EelmineJätka »