Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/414

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The negro in his native condition is not apparently of a lower grade of natural intelligence than the European of the common class. He probably excels the European in a kind of selfish cunning, while the restraint of moral scruples and of the finer feelings operates less strongly upon him. Yet he is not destitute of a sort of moral instinct, of a kind of taboo-conscience, that causes him to hesitate to do wrong. If he can not resist the temptation, he resorts to sophistics to give himself an apparent justification. This is a remarkably well-developed trait in his character. For this reason the negro is never an open thief, but will always seek or make an excuse, under the operation of which his robbery may be caused to appear in the light of a reparation made to him. Of such character are the numerous milongas which play so great a part in the life of the traveling trader, the name of which, a much-used word of unpleasant sound, combines in itself various equivocal ideas of criminal process, liability to penalties, oppression, and a great clamor. As an example of the milonga, we may notice a favorite trick among several of the tribes of sending their women into the camps of passing traders to tempt their members by coquettish behavior. On the slightest occasion, the men, who have been watching, rush in in a threatening way, and demand a quantity of goods as a recompense for the affront that has been offered them. The trader has to satisfy them, for he has not force enough to resist them. Another trick is to leave manioc-roots or baskets of grain in the road, where the hungry travelers may be prompted to take them up, when a similar scene of surprise and extortion will be enacted.

The negro is above everything positivist, practical, and materialist, and is inaccessible to intangible considerations. He is not, it is true, destitute of a sense of beauty, and has a word for the idea. But although, other conditions being the same, he will prefer a handsome woman to an ugly one, he is always moved by practical views in his choice. With this practicality is associated the persistent propensity toward falsehood that makes the traveler's way so hard. Hunger and thirst, heat and cold, fever and privation have, I confess, often proved less wearing upon me than the impossibility of ascertaining a fact by means of direct questioning; and I have frequently, in my vain struggles after clear information, been tempted to anathematize language as a tool of error. In indifferent matters the negro will say the first thing that occurs to him, because that is the easiest; in matters that touch his interest, such as the value of anything he may have for sale, no reply will suit him better than a false one. To these two incentives to lying—indifference and cunning—is added a third, the sense of the comic which much questioning arouses within him. Some traders are able to enjoy the stories the blacks tell under such circumstances; and they are perhaps harmless, unless the traveler puts them into his notebook and prints them for truth. The negro's moods are cheerful and wanton, superficial and changeable. Passion and hysterical anger are