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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 8, 1897.djvu/188

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164 Reviews.

investigation. Speaking of the law of inheritance by which the estate of a deceased passes to his brothers by the same mother, and of the difficulty experienced by his widows and children in obtaining any share, she refers to the uncertainty of male parentage as a possible reason for the law. "Nevertheless," she goes on, " this is one of the obvious and easy explanations for things it is well to exercise great care before accepting, for you must always remember that the African's mind does not run on identical lines with the European — what may be self-evident to you is not so to him, and vice versa. I have frequently heard African metaphy- sicians complain that white men make great jumps in their thought- course, and do not follow an idea step by step. You soon become conscious of the careful way a Negro follows his idea. . . . But so great faith have I in the lack of inventive power in the African, that I feel sure all their customs, had we the material that has slipped down into the great swamp of time, could be traced back either, as I have said, to some natural phenomenon, or to the thing being advisable for reasons of utility. The uncertainty in the parentage of offspring may seem to be such a utilitarian under- lying principle, but, on the other hand, it does not sufficiently explain the varied forms of the law of inheritance, for in some tribes the eldest or most influential son does succeed to his father's wealth ; in other places you have the peculiar custom of the chief slave inheriting. I think, from these things, that the underlying idea in inheritance of property is the desire to keep the wealth of ' the house,' i.e., estate, together, and if it were allowed to pass into the hands of weak people, like women and young children, this would not be done."

Here the caution and the grasp of mental conditions are excellent, showing that if Miss Kingsley has not yet fathomed all the depths of African institutions, at least she is in a fair way to do so. But it is obvious that the explanation she offers does not fulfil all the conditions. The law, as she states it, is that the inheritance passes to the brother [or brothers ? ] of the deceased by the same mother. This limitation would be unnecessary if the object were simply " to keep the wealth of the house together." It points rather to the existence of a rule of reckoning kinship only through females. The rights of the " uncle " among the Fans point in the same direction. The fact would seem to be that we have two, if not three, systems of kinship in conflict.