Views in India, chiefly among the Himalaya Mountains/The Village of Naree
THE VILLAGE OF NAREE.
There can be no doubt that the occupation of the Himalaya by the British, and the gradual introduction of a more scientific method of cultivating the native products of the country, together with the development of its numerous resources, will tend greatly to improve the condition of the native inhabitants. Their poverty is wholly the effect of ignorance, for though there are a great many natural disadvantages, against which the husbandman must contend, yet a superior degree of skill, and a better acquaintance with the principles of agriculture, would speedily counterbalance these drawbacks, and render the soil quite equal to the support of a much larger population, while its exports might be very materially increased. The mountaineers, or Puharies, as these hill-people are called, though perhaps not equal in mental capacity to the inhabitants of the plains, exhibit no want of intelligence, and may be easily made to comprehend the means of procuring additional comforts; but there is one quality essentially necessary to render them agreeable to their British visitants, which is unteachable—and that is, cleanliness.
It is extraordinary how very small a portion of the human race seem to comprehend the blessing of that cheap luxury attainable by all, and how difficult it is to make people who have indulged in dirt and slatternliness, to comprehend the offensive nature of their habits, and to induce them to adopt a better system. Example appears to have no effect; the old Scottish saying, "the clartier the cosier," if once established, remains an incontrovertible dictum, notwithstanding its obvious fallacy, since nothing can be more conducive to warmth, as well as to health, than the cleansing of the pores, and the exchange of dirty garments for clean ones.
Every march throughout the Himalaya affords some proof of the inveterate nature of the preference manifested for dirt, and all its odious concomitants; and while admiring the picturesque appearance of the villages, the ingenuity displayed in the construction of the houses, and the convenient arrangement of some of the interiors, we were deterred from any thing approaching to close contact, either to men or dwellings, by the vermin and bad smells which invariably accompanied both.
The number of houses composing the village of Naree is small, and the primitive hamlets of the hill -districts do not usually exceed twenty-five or thirty, the families being in the same proportion; the advantages of division of labour not yet being understood, all the mechanical arts belonging to one trade, are carried on by the same individual, who transmits his occupation to his descendants. The greater number of the mountaineers call themselves Rajpoots, but they are unable to shew any legitimate claim to the title, so degenerate a race seldom springing from warlike ancestry. From whatever circumstance it may be caused, they do not exhibit the intrepidity, hardihood, and enterprise which usually characterize the people who inhabit alpine regions; but their timidity and apathy are not so offensive as their total want of sentiment. Notwithstanding the absence of refinement of feeling in the Hindoo character generally, the people of the plains manifest a high sense of honour: their marriages may be contracted without respect to that mutual affection which seems so requisite for the security of domestic happiness; but they regard female chastity as an essential, and, if not so easily roused to jealousy as the Mohammedans, will not brook dishonour, and will sacrifice
Village of Naree.
themselves, as well as those nearest and dearest to them, rather than see their women degraded. In the hills, no sort of respect is paid to the sex. Women are looked upon as expensive articles, since every man must purchase his wife; and in order to diminish the sum spent upon the acquisition and the support of this domestic slave, four or five brothers will be content with a revolting partnership in her affections. The demand being so small, it is generally supposed that the infanticide common to many of the Rajpoot tribes is practised with regard to daughters, it being difficult to dispose of a large family to advantage; at least, no satisfactory reason is given for the paucity of females,—who are not found unmarried in the houses of their parents, as would be the case if their number bore any proportion to that of the men. Such a wretched state of things cannot fail to retard the progress of civilization, which in all countries is more easily carried on by means of the women and children, who are of course influenced by their mothers, than by the adult male portion of the community. Women, on account of the greater liveliness of their imaginations, are readily induced to adopt novel modes of thinking, and, wherever they are in sufficient numbers to have any weight, will, notwithstanding every effort to depress and degrade them, obtain a very considerable degree of influence over the other sex. Thus, even amongst the American Indians, the squaws, though looked upon with contempt and disdain by their lordly masters, have contrived to introduce many innovations, both in religion and manners, in several of the tribes, which they have adopted from their European associates, while there are histories of the heart to be found in the annals of the wildest and most barbarous of these untamed savages. The Hindoo of the plains, though sunk in sensuality, occasionally evinces some finer feeling, and will, in the pursuit of a romantic attachment, afford materials for the poet; but nothing of the kind can exist amid a people who can neither understand or appreciate the charm of female purity; while the women, so long as the abominable system of polygamy prevails, which has been from time immemorial established in the Himalaya, must remain in their present wretched and most contemptible condition. In speaking thus of the native character, we must deplore the melancholy circumstances which have produced it, rather than inveigh against the people themselves, on account of the inevitable result of some inexplicable notions which prevailed in a remote antiquity, and of which they have never yet been taught the fallacy. It is impossible, in passing through a foreign country, not to speak with reprehension of systems and customs which militate against the ideas of persons farther advanced in morality and civilization; but we ought to be cautious in our censures, to pity while we condemn, and, moreover, (when, as in India, we have the opportunity,) to use our best endeavours to introduce a better code of morals, and to try the effects of instruction, before we stigmatize a whole race as inimical to all improvement. The language employed in commenting upon native vices of every kind, usually exhibits more of indignation, than of that discriminative justice which ought always to accompany inquiries into national character. It has been truly said, that we have thrown more odium on the faults of the natives than they deserve, and that in our reprobation of crimes and follies, which we have little or no temptation to commit, we forget how often we err on the score of benevolence, justice, courtesy, and charity, towards those who have so much right to expect all the Christian virtues at our hands. Never, perhaps, were the lines of Hudibras more strongly exemplified than in India, since most certainly there, we
Compound for sins we are inclined to,
By damning those we have no mind to.