Popular Science Monthly/Volume 40/November 1891/Dress and Adornment III




THE savage loves finery. Anything bright and showy has for him remarkable attractiveness. Traders have often been blamed for their unequal trades with unsophisticated savages whereby they get a large return for articles of little value. Yet it must be admitted that often they could do little else. Truly useful and desirable articles are often passed by, and tawdry ornaments, beads, and tinsel are sought with avidity. The writer himself has frequently found, if cash payment is offered, that Indians demand preposterous prices for objects of ethnological interest; a few handfuls of beads or some yards of bright ribbon will bring about a quick and mutually satisfactory bargain. Early travelers found no people on some of the islands of the Pacific who would give anything for new kinds of fowls, domestic animals, or useful devices, but "a few red feathers would buy the PSM V40 D054 American indian with necklace of claws.jpgFig. 1.—American Indian with Necklace of Claws. whole island." "Necessity is always secondary to luxury" is a remark that will bear frequent quotation. Ornament is universal. The barbarian will go naked, unprotected, hungry, but he will have his ornaments.

The beginnings of ornament lie far back in antiquity, but they may also be seen in savage life of to-day. The incentive that develops it is personal vanity—the desire for self-individualization. A man wishes to mark himself off from his neighbor by some external sign. If he kills a savage beast, what is more natural than that he should use its skin, its teeth, its claws, as a trophy? Wearing these, he is known as a mighty or successful hunter. Possibly the oldest decoration we know is a necklace from Duruthy Cavern, in France. Under a stone, apparently fallen from the roof, was found part of the skeleton of a man. He had been crushed probably by the descending mass. Scattered about in such a way as to show that they had been strung together, were some forty large canine teeth of the cave bear, an PSM V40 D055 Ornamental apron made of toucan bones.jpg2.—Ornamental Apron made of Toucan-bones. Mundurucu Indians, South America. animal now extinct. The teeth were perforated, and several were carved—not poorly—with animal and other designs. This necklace must have been originally a fine affair, and it is a good example of trophy-wearing. Naturally, what happens in hunting life may also occur in war. There, too, parts of enemies slain in battle may be worn as trophies. In the Louisade Archipelago, bracelets made of the jawbone and clavicle of foes killed in war were worn by warriors. Nearly all North American tribes formerly took scalps, which were worked up as fringes for garments, head-dresses, or other articles of ornamental dress. Trophies of the chase or of war were, we firmly believe, the first objects of decoration, and their only purpose was to render conspicuous the individuality of their wearer. Later the idea of beauty in ornament arose, and with it a host of objects which were not trophies came to be worn.

In examining the objects of ornament worn by savage, barbarous, and civilized tribes, we find a marvelous variety of materials and designs. We are amazed at the ingenuity displayed in making the most unpromising materials into things of beauty. Through this impulse of personal vanity—the wish to emphasize his individuality—man has been led to make many interesting discoveries and to develop many important arts. A dude is not a pleasant object; but, after all, the motive which has produced him has been of vast service in the world's progress. We will consider some instructive examples of ornament. The animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms have all been laid under tribute for materials. Teeth, claws, shells, pearls, bone, hair, ivory, feathers, beans, seeds, grasses, leaves, fibers of all kinds, crystals, metals—these are but a few of the many substances that man has learned to use, more or less effectively, in self-adornment.

Necklaces are universal. Very simple are the garlands of red and yellow flowers, so popular throughout Polynesia. The whale-tooth necklaces of Samoa and the neighboring islands were really attractive, and were so highly valued that only kings and the most powerful chiefs could afford or dare to wear them. They consisted simply of the natural teeth perforated for stringing. They are now rare and seldom seen. Those at present used in the same district are lighter, more slender and artistic, but are made in England and sent out to the islands for trading. An interesting neck ornament was the palaoa of the Hawaiians. It consisted of a carved and polished piece of bone and ivory attached to an elaborately braided decoration of black hair. This ornament was PSM V40 D056 Necklace of whale teeth.jpgFig. 3.—Necklace of Whale's Teeth. Samoa. worn only by chiefs of high rank and had some talismanic virtue. Among the necklaces from Australia are those consisting of kangaroo-teeth strung on thread, and the carefully made and really beautiful ones composed of cassowary feathers. Necklaces of trophies of dangerous hunting, analogous to that from Duruthy Cavern already mentioned, are made by Indian hunters from claws of the royal Bengal tiger. From the same materials the skillful goldsmiths of India make marvels of beautiful work. Such a one lies before me. The claws are perfectly cleaned and polished, mounted in gold settings, and strung on a chain of gold; pendent at the lower end is a pretty tiger and a charm, both of gold. Hundreds of years of time and generation of art development lie between the necklaces of Duruthy and Bengal! One of the most instructive lessons in culture history is shown by two South African necklaces described by Wood. The lesson is this; in any art development, as new materials are gained, the old types are copied in the new material. One of these necklaces consists of beads and teeth. Six or seven fine leather thongs are strung with black beads of small size; rows one and a half inch long being made, a single bead of larger size, and in color white spotted with blue, is added; then follows another inch and a half of black beads; then comes a cluster of leopards' teeth three to five in number; this arrangement is repeated. The other necklace copies this in general plan. Rows of white beads are followed by a brass tooth; then come ruby-red beads with white spots; then another brass tooth, white beads, etc. The necklace with real teeth is of an older type than the other, and it is interesting, even after metal has been introduced and the ornamental and not the trophy idea prevails, to see the old trophy pattern carried over into a new and artificial material. Patterns survive.

Arm-bands and bracelets occur in great variety, but little need PSM V40 D057 Paloa.jpgFig. 4.—Paloa. Hawaiian Islands. be said of them. Two African forms only will detain us. Among the Kaffirs, and in the west of Africa as well, a plain ivory arm-ring, in a single piece, is in common use. Such are easily made. The tusk of the elephant is hollow save near the small end. Toward the larger end the ivory sheath is thin and irregular, but it thickens and becomes solid toward the tip. All that is necessary to make arm-bands is to remove the soft, vascular inner part and then to cut the ivory into cross-sections, two or three inches wide. The rings thus made vary, of course, in size. After being cut they are carefully polished. With such rings the whole arm from wrist to elbow is often covered. Schweinfurth describes a pretty ornament of metal rings—the dagobar—as in use among White Nile tribes. The individual rings are of iron and are narrow and neatly made. They are worn so closely together upon the arm as to make a continuous metal sheathing. Very curious are the arm-coils from Bouka Bay, New Guinea, which consist of one spiral strip of bark. Ear-rings are found in all times and among almost every people. They range in

PSM V40 D058 Neklace of tiger claws.jpg

Necklace of Tiger-claws. India. (Miss Abbie M. White.)

size, material, and elegance from the brilliant solitaire in gold setting, worn by our ladies, to the bird-skins worn in the ears in New Zealand or the immense ornaments of shell with carved ivory inlaying, from New Guinea. King Munza's sister begged lead bullets from Schweinfurth and hammered from them bright ear-rings. From New Zealand come very pretty ear-rings of green jade in the shape of sharks' teeth. Is it not certain that we here have another example of the law of copying an old form in a new material? PSM V40 D059 African arm ornament.jpgFig. 6.—African Arm Ornament. The Dagobar. Did the New Zealanders not wear real sharks' teeth, as some Alaskan and British Columbian tribes do now, before they made these more beautiful ones? Waist-girdles are interesting, not only in themselves, but also because of their influence upon dress development, already traced. In Australia they are often made of finely twisted human hair. Unique in material and really attractive in appearance are the Hottentot girdles made by stringing concave-convex disks of ostrich-egg shell. Such cords looked like a rope of ivory, and sometimes passed quite around the body. Nose ornaments and labrets were spoken of in the lecture on Deformations, and we care little to add to what is there said. Mr. Kunz recently showed us some interesting labrets made by the old Mexicans from jade and amethyst that show skillful work. These are all of the hat-shaped pattern, and the one of jade is very large. Were not some of the oldest ornaments known supposed to be hair-pins, we should hardly refer to these. From the lake dwellings of Switzerland we have a large number of these objects very neatly made, in a variety of large and ornamental patterns, from bronze. Vast quantities of bronze ornaments of all kinds—rings, arm-bands, wristlets, hair-pins, pendants, etc., have been found on these sites. Feathers are often worked up into wonderfully beautiful decorations. Some Upper Nile peoples use the "supple breast-feathers of the gray pelican, making them up into close perukes, which form excellent imitations of a luxuriant crop of gray hair." The head-dresses of bird-of-paradise feathers from the South Seas are beautiful in colors and graceful in form. The New Zealander made an elegant head-dress of pelican feathers, arranged in white bunches as wings on each side of the head, meeting above. The "war-bonnets" of eagle feathers, and the single, neatly wrapped and decorated feathers worn by American tribes, are well known. In this connection we may see how ornaments may indirectly encourage art. Such delicate and perishable ornaments need especial protection from dust and injury. Receptacles of some sort must be provided, and usually such would themselves be decorated. In buying war feathers from the Sacs and Foxes, we found them kept in neatly made wooden boxes with slide covers. These boxes were usually carved and painted. The New Zealander for his choicest feathers made, with an infinity of toil and pains, elegant carved boxes of hard green jade.

Pendants have been used from an early date and are much prized by barbarous people. Akin to them are all sorts of breastplates, brooches, etc. Wood describes the dibbi-dihhi of the Australian. This is ordinarily fan-shaped and made of shell. It is also, however, at times crescentic and nearly as large as a cheese-plate. They are ornamented with drilled and engraved designs. Very much like them are the shell gorgets that have been found in the mounds of Tennessee, Georgia, and Missouri. PSM V40 D060 Nose ornament.jpgFig. 7.—Nose Ornament. New Guinea. They are among the finest specimens of art from the mounds. From two to five or six inches in diameter, these are disks, neatly carved from shell. The upper surface is concave and usually bears a carved design, often conventional but always well done—a spider, a rattlesnake, combinations of circles, spirals, and dots, a human figure, etc. While speaking of ornaments of this shape and size we may refer to the sakahon of the Sacs and Foxes. These are still made by the native jewelers from German silver. Those worn by men are pendent; those for women have a pin for attachment, forming what is called a fibula. These sakahon are ingeniously made and are worn in great numbers—one little girl's dance-waist bore two hundred of them. They are usually about an inch and a half in size. Among our Iowa Indians these pinning sakahon are only used by women, but Mrs. Harriet Maxwell Converse has a great number of very small ones, of silver, not more than a half-inch in diameter, which were formerly worn by the famous Iroquois orator Red Jacket. Beads are highly prized. The earliest were made of shell or stone, and later these were copied in glass and metals. Glass beads have gone the world over. They have replaced many old materials, and have wrought great changes in many lines of aboriginal art work. But, there are beads and beads! Fashion changes as often among savages PSM V40 D061 Bird of paradise head dress.jpgFig. 8.—Head-dress of Bird-of-Paradise Feathers. South Sea Islands. as with ourselves, and the bead so highly prized today may be worthless to-morrow. In Africa iron beads are always good, but glass beads fluctuate. One author tells us "they prefer as beads the 'mandyoor'—long polyhedral prisms as large as a bean and as blue as lapis lazuli." But woe to the trader who took a stock of mandyoor there to-day! They might be a drug on the market. It may seem as if we have been too detailed in describing all these savage and barbaric decorations. We have simply aimed to show how varied in material and how diversified in form and use such ornaments may be. To show the profusion of ornament worn in some cases, and to illustrate the amount of discomfort which one will willingly endure for the sake of display, we quote a few descriptions:

Livingstone describes the sister of chief Sebatuane as "wearing eighteen solid brass rings as thick as one's finger on each leg; three of copper under each knee; nineteen brass rings on the right arm; eight of brass and copper on the left arm, and a large ivory ring above each elbow. She had a heavy bead sash around her waist and a bead necklace. The weight of rings upon her ankles was so great as to necessitate wrapping these with rags." Nubian women are particularly fond of silver, often wearing several watch-chains, three pairs of bracelets, bangles, ankle and leg ornaments, hair-pins, etc. That things were not much better in olden days is shown by Isaiah's remarks regarding the Jewesses: "Moreover the Lord saith. Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched-forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet. . . . In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets and the ear-rings, the rings and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and PSM V40 D062 Samoan chief with ornaments.jpgFig. 9.—Samoan Chief with Ornaments. the hoods and the veils" (Isaiah, iii, 16-23). King Munza, whose state dress we spoke of in the last lecture, had an extensive wardrobe of ornaments. It occupied several apartments. In one room there was nothing but hats and feathers, especially those of the red parrot, arranged in great round tufts. In one hut were bundles of tails of civets, genets, patamochoeri, and giraffes, with skins and thousands of ornaments. There were also long strings of teeth of rare animals, one of more than one hundred lions' fangs. Surely it would seem that he had enough. An even more striking illustration of discomfort endured for the sake of display than that of Sebatuane's sister is the African belle who wore copper arm-rings which became so hot in the sun's rays that she was obliged to have an attendant with a watering-pot who would from time to time drench her to cool the metal.

We have already said that the desire for ornament has led to much material progress. We believe that to it must be attributed the origin and development of metal-working. The evidence of this will be found in an examination of the metal-work of various primitive peoples. The bronze relics from the Swiss lakes are exceedingly various, but much the larger number of them are ornaments—not weapons or instruments. So in Africa, although it is true that the natives make wonderful assegai-blades, we believe that they use both copper and iron far more for leg-bands, arm-rings, and other decorations, than for articles of utility. As due to the ornament-search of man, metal-working possesses a special interest for us, and its beginnings deserve consideration. The first steps are well shown in North America. Here not only the recent tribes but also the builders of the mounds used native copper from Lake Superior. This was not smelted, but was beaten PSM V40 D063 Nubian girls with nose ornament.jpgFig. 10.—Nubian Girl with Nose Ornament. into shape with hammers of stone. Thin sheets were also beaten out between two stones and used for covering wooden forms. Prof. Putnam has found some very interesting spool-shaped ear ornaments of copper in Ohio mounds. These are not easy to describe, but they are very ingeniously made. They consist of two convex-concave disks of beaten copper, from an inch to two inches in diameter, held together by a narrow column of rolled copper-sheet. Such have been found in other metals as well as in copper. In one altar mound of the Turner group were found two bushels of ornaments of stone, copper, mica, shells, teeth, pearls, etc., nearly all perforated for suspension. Several copper ornaments, viz., bracelets, beads, and ear ornaments, were coated with beaten silver; one copper pendant was covered with beaten gold; one ear ornament of copper was covered with meteoric iron, and half of one of these ornaments was composed entirely of this latter metal.

Just how smelting arose we do not know. It may have been an accidental discovery, but, if so, the accident must have occurred in different places and at different times, as there is good evidence that the art has independently originated at several centers. In western Europe bronze preceded iron. In the heart of Africa it seems as if there had been no bronze age before the iron age. The Africans are often remarkable smiths, producing an excellent quality of iron with a very primitive outfit. The bellows consist of two wooden or pottery bowls with bladder tops, or of leather sacks; from these run pipes made of wood or of antelope horns; the tips of these are incased in a clay tube. Wooden sticks are fastened to the middle of the bladder covers or to the upper end of the skins. By working these handles up and down air is forced through the pipes into the tube and through the fire. This is built in a hole dug in the ground. The heated iron is worked hot between two stones used as anvil and hammer. Assegai-blades are made with this poor outfit of such excellence that they may be sharpened so as to be used as razors, and so pliable that they may be bent double and then straightened after reheating. This is iron working, not smelting. Schweinfurth describes how the Dyoor get the iron from the ore, and the process is practically the same throughout Africa, In March, just before seeding-time, he says, they go to the woods to smelt iron. In the shaded center of a very wooded spot they make groups of furnaces of clay. These are cones not more than four feet high, widening to a goblet shape. A cup-shaped cavity at the top communicates by a small throat with the main cavity of the furnace, which is filled

PSM V40 D064 African smiths at work.jpg

Fig. 11.—African Smiths at Work.

with charcoal. The upper receiver is filled with fragments of ore about a cubic inch in size. The hollow tunnel extends lower than the ground-level, and the melted ore, finding its way down through the fire, collects below. Openings here admit air and allow the withdrawal of slag. The iron has to be twice heated, and when taken out is in small bits which on reheating are beaten into one mass.

Metal-working had doubtless an exceedingly slow development; but it is remarkable how some people, strangers to the art as originators, acquire it as imitators. Thus the Sacs and Foxes smelt no ores, but a dozen men in the tribe make from German silver neat and tasteful bracelets, armlets, rings, sakahon, and ear-rings. The jeweler's outfit consists of a square block of wood for an anvil, a hammer, a pair of shears, compasses, and a set of rude punches made from scrap iron, steel nails, bits of old files, etc. To make a finger-ring, the workman selects a piece of German silver and cuts from it a narrow strip long enough to encircle the finger. A square, rectangular, or oval piece of copper may be cut for a setting. This is marked with a neat design worked on with punches tapped by a hammer. The strip of white metal is bent into ring-form, the setting is laid upon it at the junction where the ends meet, and the two are firmly held together by a brass wire passed around them. A drop of solder is put upon the junction inside, a small stick is thrust through the ring to support it, and it is held in an open fire until the solder melts, flowing into the junction and cementing the whole firmly. After cooling, the ring is smoothed with a file and polished.

Sometimes we find the same object serving at once ornamental and useful purposes. The arm-rings of metal or ivory with which the African delights to cover his arms to the elbow are a useful protection against weapons. The metal rings worn by Latuka warriors on their right wrists are set with four or five sharp-edged knife-blades and are terrible weapons. The Isenga wear rings of considerable weight and sharp-edged; usually these are incased in leather sheaths, but, when uncovered, they become horrid weapons for hand-to-hand fighting. The very heavy armbands of the Wakamba are of triple use, serving at once as ornaments, parries, and striking weapons. Ornament often becomes money. The Nubian woman or the Hindoo frequently carries the family wealth on her person as silver ornaments. The important influence of ornament upon dress has already been considered in a preceding lecture.

We know of only one paper which treats at all fully of ornament. It is by Mougeolles, Although we do not concur in all the conclusions of this author, we wish to call attention to some propositions that he lays down. With the statement of these and of one or two additional, we shall close:

(a) With the growth of dress, ornament declined. If our view as to how dress developed is correct, this is natural. If dress began as ornament, the ornamental idea would gradually disappear as it passed into a modesty-covering and a bodily protection. As dress develops, the sort of ornament must change: ornament at first attached to the person, gradually passes into ornament attached to the dress. We notice here again an example of woman's conservatism. Man in civilization wears little ornament, and what he does wear is fastened to the dress; woman wears more ornaments, and these are frequently attached to the person. Man in civilization still wears ornament "when he is a warrior, an officer, or a courtier." In all these cases we simply have survival of ornament in these conservative relations.

(b) The search for ornament is as universal as the social inequality from which it has been derived. We have seen that in its very beginnings ornament was a distinction. It was intended to mark a man from his fellows as one who had done what others had not accomplished. As the mark of social inequality it will exist wherever class distinctions are recognized.

(c) Jewelry in ornament tends to grow more and more delicate with advancing civilization, and finally disappears as social distinctions vanish. The first part of the proposition is shown by history. Ornament may be traced in Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and wherever there is actual progress toward true civilization ornament dwindles. The proposition as a whole grows out of the preceding. There is no place for ornaments in a true democracy where equality prevails. A revival of ornament indicates the retardation of democratic ideas.

(d) In our first lecture we referred to mutilations made to admit of ornament-carrying. We saw that ears, noses, cheeks, lips, and other parts are or have been pierced for insertion of ornaments. These mutilations tend to disappear with advancement, and those which are most painful disappear first. The least painful of these is ear-piercing, and we know that it still lingers in many cases where all other mutilations have disappeared.

(e) In ornament as in dress we find much in the way of survival that is interesting. Mougeolles claims that in the various head ornaments used as emblems of rank or power we have bits of history. He maintains that in very ancient Egypt masks were worn by hunters and warriors of the heads of slain animals. These are represented upon gods and goddesses in the bas-reliefs. The most commonly represented are made from heads of lions, jackals, etc. Isis wears a beef's head. Dog-headed figures are common. These animal head-dresses copied in other material continue in use, and, gradually conventionalized, lose their original form. He believes the crown was derived from a lion's head, the miter from that of a jackal, the Greek helmet from a horse's head.

(f) Notice the importance, in its results, of personal vanity. Without it we believe that man would have remained low in civilization. To the desire to mark himself off from his fellows by a visible sign we owe dress development; to it we owe a long list of important arts, chief among them perhaps that of metal-working; to it we owe much of the scientific method of studying the world around us: for, impelled by it, man first began to investigate Nature, beyond what was necessary to secure a food-supply and bodily protection; to it we owe the development of our æsthetic sense in large degree. It may be true that to-day in a civilized democracy there is no proper place for personal ornament and decoration; but we can forgive much of weak display and many a useless survival of the past on account of what personal vanity has done for man's progress.