Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/650

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
632
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

finger held upward, vertically to and above the head, the concept being "the one who is above others." The same sign has variants in many lands. Baker was greeted at Shoa by each native seizing both his hands and raising his arms three times to their full stretch above his head. Perhaps this was to make him give the sign of chief, which as in fact made by them through him implied, "you are our superior," "we submit to you."

The Andamanese salute by raising one leg and touching the lower part of the thigh with the hand. This gesture, which among some peoples is insulting, in the light afforded by sign-language may mean, "I am supposed to be sitting"—equal to the modern "your servant." With this expression may be compared the custom of the Zambesi, who, according to Livingstone, show respect by slapping their thighs, and gratitude for presents by holding them in one hand and with the other slapping their thighs.

The punctilios relating to the fundamental rule that rank is defined by elevation are carried to absurdity in the Orient. When an English carriage was procured for the Rajah of Lombok it was found impossible to use it because the driver's seat was the highest, and for the same reason successive kings of Ava refused to ride in the carriages presented to them by ambassadors. In Burmah, that a floor overhead should be occupied would be felt as a degradation, contrary to civilized ideas that the lower stories are the most honorable. In Siam, on the principle that no man can raise his head to the level of his superior, he must not cross a bridge if one of higher rank chances to be passing below, and no mean person may walk upon a floor above that occupied by his betters. On the same principle the furniture or stage setting for old ceremonies required the dais or raised platform for the seats of dignitaries. That elevation has become convenient for preserving order to officers presiding over assemblies, so that their seat has grown in prominence, while the royal or nobiliary dais has become exceptional or at least occasional.

From this executed concept of higher and lower the mere diminution of stature by bowing the head has possibly some relation. Explanation may be suggested by two salutations of the Chinese. Ceremonially they bend forward more or less deeply, with hands joined on the breast. Their less formal greeting is to raise the arms in front with the hands joined, thus forming an arch the elevation of which specifies the degree of respect. The Cossacks "bow to the girdle"—that is, bend forward so as to form a right angle at the waist.

In gesture-speech, the consensus throughout the world is that a forward inclination of the head, or in its place a similar motion of the hand in advance with an easy descent, as if in the curve of least resistance, signifies assent, approval, agreement.