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Chap. XIX.
577
Man—Beauty.

In most, but not all parts of the world, the men are more ornamented than the women, and often in a different manner; sometimes, though rarely, the women are hardly at all ornamented. As the women are made by savages to perform the greatest share of the work, and as they are not allowed to eat the best kinds of food, so it accords with the characteristic selfishness of man that they should not be allowed to obtain, or use the finest ornaments. Lastly, it is a remarkable fact, as proved by the foregoing quotations, that the same fashions in modifying the shape of the head, in ornamenting the hair, in painting, tattooing, in perforating the nose, lips, or ears, in removing or filing the teeth, &c., now prevail, and have long prevailed, in the most distant quarters of the world. It is extremely improbable that these practices, followed by so many distinct nations, should be due to tradition from any common source. They indicate the close similarity of the mind of man, to whatever race he may belong, just as do the almost universal habits of dancing, masquerading, and making rude pictures.


Having made these preliminary remarks on the admiration felt by savages for various ornaments, and for deformities most unsightly in our eyes, let us see how far the men are attracted by the appearance of their women, and what are their ideas of beauty. I have heard it maintained that savages are quite indifferent about the beauty of their women, valuing them solely as slaves; it may therefore be well to observe that this conclusion does not at all agree with the care which the women take in ornamenting themselves, or with their vanity. Burchell[1] gives an amusing account of a Bush-woman who used as much grease, red ochre, and shining powder "as would have ruined any but a very rich husband." She displayed also "much vanity and too evident a consciousness of her superiority." Mr. Winwood Reade informs me that the negroes of the West Coast often discuss the beauty of their women. Some competent observers have attributed the fearfully common practice of infanticide partly to the desire felt by the women to retain their good looks.[2] In several regions the women wear charms and use love-philters to gain the affections of the men; and Mr. Brown enumerates four plants used for this purpose by the women of North-Western America.[3]

  1. 'Travels in S. Africa,' 1824, vol. i. p. 414.
  2. See, for references, Gerlaud 'Ueber das Aussterbeuden Naturvölker,' 1868, s. 51, 53, 55; also Azara, 'Voyages,' &c. tom. ii. p. 116.
  3. On the vegetable productions used by the North-Western American Indians, 'Pharmaceutical Journal,' vol. x.