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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/846

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ciple may be seen in the transformation of languages, through the prevalence in certain classes of society of the affectation of peculiar pronunciations. So the investigator, having discovered and proved a fact, tries to generalize it and magnify its importance; and sometimes he is able to make his contemporaries participate in the error. Yet the exaggeration is occasionally justified, and then occurs one of those great discoveries that mark new eras.

I shall not go into all these questions, but shall examine simply the part played by exaggeration in our idea of the beautiful; nor shall I consider whether, as some philosophers believe, there is an ideal of beauty—a beau ideal—outside of and above us, but shall confine myself to the illustration of the conceptions of beauty exhibited in the customs of the various races of men.

When we look at the ornamentation of costumes, for instance, and at devices for enhancing personal appearance, we find that they have been carried so far as to provoke mutilations. The negroes of Africa, strongly differentiated as they are from other races, are prone to exaggerate the peculiarities of their physiognomy. With lips already thick, some tribes stick thorns into them to provoke irritation and cause them to swell out still farther. The Wolowe women of the Senegal have learned to increase the prognathism or projection forward of the upper jaw. According to Faidherbe's description of the process, "as soon as the girl child's first incisors have appeared, they are extracted with a pair of pincers, and when the second begin to come out they are forced by a continual action of the lower incisors and the tongue into a forward direction." The negro women of the shores of Lake Tanganyika, to make their breasts larger, cause them to be stung by ants. The women of the Assinians of Guinea are, according to Mondière, still more ingenious. It is a sign of beauty among them, he says, to have the largest possible nipples; and "children of five years, as well as larger ones, may be seen hunting the nymphæ of the Myrmidus fornarius and pulling at their breasts while the insects bite them, to make them swell more quickly."

The negroes are also proud of their woolly hair, and some of them go so far as to build an enormous structure on their heads. Travelers say that the plaited headdress of the young women at Jenna, in the valley of the Niger, looks like a dragon's crest. The same custom prevails in Oceania among the Fijians, who have woolly hair too, and wear coiffures measuring as much as about five feet in circumference.

Many peoples—Malays, Kirghis, Hottentots, Namaquas, Bushmen, Brazilian Indians, and Society Islanders—are addicted to the practice of flattening their noses, and sometimes, as in the case of