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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/848

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

way some peculiar features of mutilation hitherto obscure to ethnologists are reasonably explained—deformations practiced in all the quarters of the world by diverse peoples in no way related to one another, but urged by the same thought arising spontaneously in their minds. The value of the object inserted in the ear, lips, or nose varies according to the wealth of the wearer. The rich use something that is considered precious, as alabaster, rock crystal, or ivory among-different African tribes; while a poor man contents himself with a disk of horn or metal, or even a simple rolled leaf. The more wealthy he is, the heavier is the ornament and the more accentuated the deformation. While attention has not been particularly directed to this point, some travelers have noticed that the degree of mutilation varies in the same people according to the coquetry, wealth, or rank of the person. Sometimes the fancy runs to enormous bracelets and rings, the Bongo women wearing such ornaments weighing twenty-five kilogrammes. These shackles of enormous weight have been interpreted by some sociologists as reminiscences of slavery; Park Harrison supposed that the enlargement of the ear lobe was an offspring of sun worship; and other authors have invented a desire to resemble venerated animals as the prompting motive for mutilations.

Of kindred character with the deformations already described are those due to a desire to show that the subject is not obliged to work for his living. The mandarins and literati in Annam and China let their finger nails grow long and inclose them in sheaths. A similar custom exists in Polynesia and some parts of Africa. Fatness is a mark of woman's beauty and signifies ease and wealth in Uganda and among the Tuaregs. In contrast to these, the Javanese are proud of extreme thinness, and eat clay to produce it. This is an exaggeration of a characteristic of their race, for they are naturally slender.

Whatever is the fashion comes from the principle of exaggeration, and our clothes are shaped according to the same law. It is not more ridiculous to stretch the ear lobe till it lies on the shoulders than, as was done at the end of the fourteenth century, to wear shoes with toes so long that the ends of them were tied to the knee; or to wear the enormous ruffs of the reign of Henry III of France, and those structures which nearly doubled the height; or the headdresses of the time of Louis XIV, or the extravagant crinolines of thirty years ago.

We look upon the ways of our ancestors as ridiculous and incomprehensible, without considering that we are acting very much like them. We often meet at parties and balls persons who go beyond the present fashion, some exposing more of the shoulders, and some wearing more pointed shoes. A fashion modest in