Woman Triumphant/Women During the Remote Past

Women During the
Remote Past.



While we were young and credulous, black-robed theologians impressed upon our minds their theory of creation, according to which the first man was moulded by the divine author of all things in his own image and placed in an enchanting paradise. Here he enjoyed with his mate, whom the same deity formed from one of man's ribs, a state of innocense, bliss and happiness, since want, sickness, and death were as yet unknown, and all animals lived together in peace and harmony.

In later years, after we had become inquisitive, we found that this story of creation is merely one of innumerable similar myths invented by aboriginal people when they began to ponder over their origin. We also became acquainted with the theory of evolution, as taught by Lamarck, Darwin, Haeckel, Huxley, Taylor, Lubbock, Osborn, and other eminent anthropologists. And by investigating and comparing fossil facts and living forms we became convinced that man was not specially created, but gradually evolved from far lower animal forms. Furthermore, we recognized that primitive man never enjoyed paradisical peace and happiness, but was constantly compelled to a far more desperate struggle for existence than any human beings had to carry on during later periods.

To realize the innumerable hardships and terrors of this battle is almost beyond the power of imagination. Try to place yourself in the situation of such naked and unarmed beings. Day in and out they were persecuted by wild beasts, which in size as well as in strength and ferocity far surpassed those of to-day.

There were the terrible sabre-toothed tigers, whose enormous fangs hung like daggers from their upper jaws. There were fierce lions and bears, in comparison to which the present species would appear dwarfed. The plains and forests were infested with bloodthirsty hyenas and wolves, that hunted in packs and allowed no creature to escape which they were able to cut off from its retreat. Ugly snakes, quick as lightning, lurked in the underbrush and trees. The lakes and rivers were alive with hideous alligators, that made every attempt to get a drink a hazardous task. Even the skies were full of danger, as sharp-eyed eagles and vultures circled about, ready to swoop on any living thing that might expose itself to view. Awe-inspiring were also the immense mammoths, elephants and rhinoceros, which with heavy tread broke through the dense forests.

In contrast to these powerful beasts man was not protected at all. Indeed, his means of defense were so poor, that his survival strikes us almost as an inconceivable wonder. Neither was he armed with strong teeth, sharp claws, horns or poisonous stings. His body had no covering but a very thin and vulnerable skin. To escape his many pursuers, he was compelled to hide in almost inaccessible places, among the branches of high trees, or in the crags and on top of towering cliffs.

The never-ending struggle increased, when his kin multiplied and began to split into various bands, tribes and races. With this separation quarrels arose over the limits of the hunting grounds. Men began to fight and kill their neighbors. Even worse, they slaughtered the captives and devoured their flesh during cannibal feasts.


In physical appearance primeval men were far from resembling those ideal figures of Adam and Eve, pictured by mediæval artists who strove to give an idea of the glories of our lost Paradise. While these products of imagination can claim no greater authenticity than the illustrations to other fairy tales, we nevertheless owe to the diligent works of able scientists restorations of the figures of primeval men. These deserve full credit, as they are based on skeletons and bones, found in caves, which some hundred thousand years ago were inhabited by human-like beings. From such remains it appears that our predecessors were near relatives to the so-called man-apes, the orangutan, chimpanzee, gibbon, and gorilla. Ages passed before these ape-men, in the slow course of evolution, developed into man, distinctly human, though still on a far lower level than any savage people of to-day.

The ape-man probably knew no other shelter than nests of twigs and leaves, similar to those constructed by the orangutan and the gorilla. But with the gradual development of man's brain and intelligence he improved these nests to


tree-huts like those still used by certain aborigines of New Guinea, India, and Central Africa. To these huts they retreated at night, to be safe from wild beasts, and also at sudden attacks by superior enemies.

The cliff dwellings, abounding among the steep cañons of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona were similar retreats. Here we find thousands of stone houses, many hidden at such places and so high above the rivers that they can hardly be detected from below. In the cañon of the Rio Mancos several cliff dwellings are 800 feet above the river. To locate them from below a telescope is needed. How it was possible for human beings to get to some of these places, is a mystery still unsolved.

Other dwellings stand on almost unscalable boulders, or they are placed within the fissures and shallow caverns of perpendicular walls. They can be reached only by descending from the upper rim of the cãnon by means of long ropes, or by climbing upwards from below by using hands as well as feet. If one succeeds in getting to these places, one finds them always provided with store rooms for food and water. Constant danger of hostile assaults must have compelled people to live in such difficult retreats, which could be prepared only at enormous expenditure of time and labor.

Another form of refuge were the lake-dwellings, which were erected far out in the lakes on platforms resting on heavy posts. Traces of such structures have been found in



many parts of the world. They are still used by some of the aborigines of New Guinea and India, and also by the Goajiro Indians of Northern Venezuela. Indeed, Venezuela owes its name to the fact, that the Spanish discoverers of these lake-dwellings were reminded of Venice, the queen city of the Adriatic.

When in time such aboriginal tribes increased, so that their number spelled warning to their neighbors, they created more comfortable camps on the shores. Or they moved into caves, such as abound in all countries where limestone is prevailing.

Nomadic peoples like the Indians of North America and some tribes of Siberia prepare tents of dressed skins, which are sewed together and stretched over a framework of poles. Many aborigines of Southern Africa and Australia are satisfied with bush shelters. Or they construct lodges of willows, which they cover with bark or mud, to afford protection against rain and the fierce rays of the sun.

People, living in cold regions like the Eskimo, seek shelter from the biting winter storms by digging pits five or six feet deep. These holes they cover with dome-shaped roofs of whale-ribs and turf. Where these materials are not at hand the Eskimos rely on hemispherical houses, built of regular blocks of snow laid in spiral courses. The entrance is gained by a long passage-way that shuts off cold as well as penetrating winds.

Having thus summarized the principal kinds of primitive dwellings, we shall now briefly consider the activity of aboriginal peoples.



Explorers and scientists, who have lived among aboriginal tribes in order to study their manners and customs, have always found, that each sex has its own sphere of duty and work. To the stronger man fell the obligation of protecting his family, which consisted of his wife or wives and their offspring. It was also his share to support them with the products of the chase, and to provide suitable material for the building of the lodge. "These, activities," so states J. N. B. Hewitt in the 'Handbook of American Indians' (Vol. II, 969), "required health, strength and skill. The warrior was usually absent from the fireside on the chase, on the warpath, or on the fishing-trip, days, weeks or months, during which he often traveled many miles and was subjected to the hardships and perils of hunting and fighting, and to the inclemency of the weather, often without adequate shelter or food" To the lot of women fell the care of the children, the labor required in the home and in all that directly affected it.

The essential principle governing this division of labor and responsibility between the two sexes lies much deeper than in an apparent tyranny of the man. The ubiquity of danger from human foes as well as from wild beasts, the suddenness of their assaults when least expected, compelled aboriginal men to keep their weapons always at hand. During the day they hardly lay them aside, even for a minute, and at night they are always within reach. This fact explains, why the women and children transport all the loads, while the men carry nothing but their weapons when aborigines move from one place to another.

This division of functions consequently led men to confine their ingenuity and activity chiefly to the improvement and skillful handling of their arms, to the invention of snares for the game and to methods of fighting animal and human foes. It led also to the inclination to regard hunting and warfare as the only occupations worthy of men, and to relegate all domestic work to the women, since such labor would be degrading to the warrior.

But the despised work of the weaker sex has proven of far greater value to the progress of the human race than all heroic acts ever accomplished by fighting men. To woman's ingenuity we owe our comfortable homes. Women kept the warming hearth-fire burning, prepared the meals, watched faithfully over the children and made the clothes that gave protection against rain and cold. To women's inventive sense we owe also our most important industries: agriculture, weaving, pottery, tannery, basketry, dyeing, brewing, and many other peaceful arts.—

It has been said that human culture began with man's knowledge and control of fire, that mysterious, ever consuming, ever brightly flaming element, which was regarded by all aborigines as a thing of life, by some even as an animal. It must have all the more forcibly impressed men's imagination, inasmuch as it not alone promoted man's comfort, but even made life endurable, especially in cold climates.

It is certain that the practical knowledge of fire was obtained not at one given spot only but in many different parts of the world and in a variety of ways. In time men discovered also various methods of producing sparks, generally by rubbing two sticks of wood or by knocking two flints together. But as these methods were slow and laborious, it became the custom for each band to maintain a constant fire for the use of all families in order to avoid the troublesome necessity of obtaining it by friction. Generally this constant fire was kept in the centre of the village, to be in reach for


everybody. The duty to keep it always burning fell naturally to the women, as they remained always in the village, and especially to those women not burdened with the cares of maternity. As fire later on was regarded as a present of the good spirits or gods to men, these central fires were held sacred, and so the fire worship grew by degrees into a religious cult of great sanctity and importance.



While searching for edible roots and berries, women became aware of the usefulness of many plants. And soon they made attempts to cultivate them in closer proximity to their lodges.

Having cleaned a suitable spot women made with their primitive digging sticks the holes, into which they sunk the seeds, From which the plants were expected to develop. Experience, the mother of all wisdom, taught women that these plants needed constant attention. So the ground was kept free from weeds and properly watered. From time to time it was loosened with hoes, which in the beginning were made of bones, shells or stones, and later on of metal.

Such was the origin of our vegetable gardens, orchards, and grain fields. The continuous care, devoted to these plantations, greatly improved the quality of useful plants. Poor and tasteless varieties developed in time into those rich and palatable species, without which our present human race could scarcely exist for a single day. I need only name wheat, corn, barley, rye, peas, lentils, beans, rice, tapioca, potatoes, yams, turnips, bread-fruit, pears, apples, plums, cherries, bananas, dates, figs, nuts, oranges, coffee, cacao, tea, cotton and hemp, to convince the reader of the immense value of women's activity in agriculture.

As simple as were the tools for the cultivation of the soil, just as simple were the implements for the extraction of flour from the grain. Recent archæological research has disclosed the fact that many thousand years before Christ Egyptian women ground corn between two stones in just the same manner as the women of the Apache and Pueblo Indians and many other aboriginal tribes are doing to this day.

Other aboriginal women crushed the seeds in mortars of wood or stone. In several parts of Asia women succeeded in inventing hand-mills, which proved much more effective.

The necessity of storing provisions for the winter and hard times led to the invention of receptacles in which grain, nuts and dried berries might be kept and be safe from destruction by rain and animals. While pondering over the best methods of accomplishing this, women observed that certain insects and birds moulded their nests from wet clay, and that such nests, after hardening, were rain-proof. By this observation women became induced to use the same material for all kinds of nest-like vessels, in which provisions could be stored successfully. By accident such vessels came in contact with fire. Then it was found that by such baking the hardness of the vessels increased considerably, And so the preliminaries were discovered for the art of pottery, in which many aborigines became masters.

Similar observations led to the art of weaving. The nets, spread out everywhere by spiders for the capture of insects, gave women the first hint to make similar fabrics for the capture of birds and fishes. The spider's thread was imitated by long hair and the fibres of certain plants. These were twisted together in a manner similar to that used by the weaver-birds in constructing their airy nests. For many thousand years weaving was done exclusively by hand. But in time all kinds of apparatus were invented. And so weaving developed into an art that among many aboriginal tribes was improved to the highest degree. At the same time these female weavers created a genuine native art. So for instance the garters, belts, sashes and blankets of the Navajo and Pueblo Indians are, for their splendid quality as well as for their tasteful designs and colors, highly appreciated by all connoisseurs. The same is true in regard to the ponchos of the Mexicans and Peruvians, and the magnificent


shawls and carpets, made by the women of Cashmere, Afghanistan, Persia and other countries of the Orient.

Basketry, including matting and bagging, belongs also to the primitive textile arts in which many native women excelled. By using choice materials, or by adding resinous substances, some aboriginal women are able to make baskets water-tight for holding or carrying water for cooking. From crude beginnings basketry developed into an industry, which in many countries grew to great importance, as for instance in Morocco, where the markets are always supplied with large quantities of bags and baskets of beautiful design and workmanship.

Aboriginal women also attended to the dressing and tanning of skins of those animals which the men brought home from their hunting expeditions. In the domestic economy of many tribes skins were and are the most valued and useful property, especially in all regions having a severe climate. Every kind of skin, large enough to be stripped from the carcass of beast, bird or fish, is used here in some way.

A painting by George Catlin, the well-known artist, who during the first part of the last century travelled among the various Indian tribes of North America, illustrates the methods by which the skins of buffalo and deer are staked out upon the ground or between poles. We see the women engaged in scraping off the flesh and fat, a process which is followed by several others until the skin is fit to be used for tent covers, beddings, shields, saddles, lassoes, boats, clothes, mocassins, and thousands of other things.

Most skillful tanners and dressmakers are likewise the women of the Eskimo tribes. They make excellent suits from the skins and even the entrails of whales, walrus, seals and other animals.

To the keen sense of women we also owe undoubtedly most of our domestic implements. From the bones of fish and other animals they made needles and pins; from the horns splendid spoons and combs. Gourds, pumpkins and cocoanuts were turned into water bottles. Women also devised the comfortable hammocks. About the cribs, cradles and swings, invented in endless variety by aboriginal mothers for the protection and comfort of their darlings, volumes might be written. And by innumerable pictures and photographs it could be proven that the great care, bestowed nowadays upon our babies, is not the outcome of our advanced culture, but originated many thousand years ago among aboriginal women.

The same is true in regard to the dolls and play-things with which women seek to amuse those little ones, dearest to their hearts. What motherly affection, ever present and everlasting, has done for the welfare and progress of mankind, no one can conceive, nor describe, nor illustrate.

As brief as these remarks about aboriginal woman's activity are, they indicate, however, sufficiently her share in the founding and evolution of human culture. To appreciate this even more, we must not forget that the life of those women was one of constant care, misery and danger. The


blissful happiness of aboriginal existence, of which we read sometimes in novels, written by poetical dreamers, was never enjoyed by these women. How full of hardships their share was in reality, we find by investigating their place in the social life of their tribes.


Matrimony is, like all other human institutions, the result of evolution. In the dim past, after the ape-man had evolved to true man, it was not known at all. Most probably all the females were the common property of the males, the strongest of whom took hold of several women, leaving the rest to their inferior chums.

With the evolution of property rights these mates as well as their offspring came to be regarded as the absolute property of the husband and father, who could dispose of them at his pleasure by barter or otherwise. So it was among primitive men a hundred thousand years ago and so it is customary among aboriginal peoples to-day. At the death of the husband his rights generally go to the oldest son or to the person who becomes the head of the family.

Accordingly as girls are not masters of their own bodies, so the barter for women is customary among all aboriginal tribes. If a man sees a girl to his liking he bargains with the head of her family about the price. Among pastoral tribes it is generally paid in cattle; among hunters in skins or other objects of value.

Among the Zulu Kaffres the price for good-looking girls ranges from five to thirty cows. In Uganda it is three or four oxen; among the Samoyedes and Ostiaks of Siberia a number of reindeer; among the Sioux Indians two to twenty horses; among the Bedouins a number of camels; in Samoa pigs or canoes; among the Tatars sheep and several pounds of butter; among the Bongo twenty pounds of iron and twenty spear-heads; among other tribes a certain quantity of gold dust, beads, shells, and so on in endless variety. As soon as the price is paid the girl, without being asked her consent, is obliged to follow her new master.

As among aborigines women have no will of their own, they cannot object if their husbands exchange, trade or loan them to other men. So it is customary among many tribes that if persons of importance come visiting, the daughters or the wives of the host are assigned to comfort them over night. If among the inhabitants of the Fiji Islands men became tired of their "better halves," they killed and boiled them and arranged cannibal feasts in which all neighbors participated.

Aboriginal women also must gracefully assent to their husbands' taking several wives. Their number depends on the man's means. While poor men satisfy themselves with one wife, chiefs generally buy numbers. The despots of Dahomey in West Africa, for instance, filled their houses with hundreds of women, who were obliged not only to amuse these kings during their lifetime, but also to follow them in death. When such an autocrat was assembled to his ancestors, his body was deposited in a large cave. But in order that he should not travel alone through eternity, his wives as well as all the members of his court were led into the cave and provided with food for several days, whereupon the entrance of the cave was closed and the occupants were left to their fate.


If among the aborigines a man is too poor to buy a wife, he generally tries to steal one. But as he must not do so within his own clan, as he would trespass upon the property rights of his fellow-men, nothing remains but to kidnap a girl of some neighboring tribe. So he lurks around the villages till some day a girl, while gathering berries or edible roots, unfortunately happens to come too near his hiding place. In this case the manner of his proposal is sudden, but effective. A blow with his war club makes the damsel unconscious, whereupon he drags her to some secure place. Here he keeps her till she has recovered her senses and is able to follow him to his lodge.

George Gray, who has written about the natives of Australia, states that the life of young and attractive women among those tribes is a continuous chain of capture by different men, terrible wounds and long wanderings to unknown bands. In addition, such unfortunate females must suffer very often extremely bad treatment by other women, to whom they are brought as prisoners by their capturers.

But women have been kidnapped not merely for sexual reasons, but also for their ability to work. Herewith we open the darkest chapter in woman's history: Slavery, a word which has not lost its terrible meaning for women up to the present day.

Slavery has been practiced in all parts of the world in some form. But Africa was the continent where it prevailed from time immemorial to the greatest extent and assumed the most cruel forms. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, Spaniards, Portuguese, Italians, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Englishmen and Americans sailed to its coasts, to capture men as well as women and children, to sell and use them for slaves.

It is impossible for human imagination to conceive the horrors and misery, caused here by heartless pirates for thousands of years.

Imagine a peaceful village, approached stealthily in the night by cruel enemies, who surround it and then set fire to the huts. As the inhabitants rush out in terror, those who resist capture are killed, and those who have escaped the blessing of immediate death are fettered and marched off.

Imagine long columns of such unfortunate and often severely wounded men, women and children chained together and driven by ruthless brutes through pathless jungles and arid deserts, to far away markets. No matter how hot the sun burns down, they must move on. Woe to those who break down! They are left where they have dropped, to perish of hunger and thirst, or to be torn by wild beasts. Or, as a warning to the others, they are butchered in cold blood by their drivers. For those who reach their destination, where they are traded like cattle, an existence is waiting that will have fewer moments of joy than there are oases in an endless desert.

For time immemorial women also fell prey to religious superstition. To keep evil demons in good humor, or to thank some imaginary gods for victories and other blessings, human beings have been sacrificed by thousands. The "Dark


Continent" again holds the record in this respect. And again the autocrats of Dahomey were those who, in religious frenzy, spilled the blood of hundreds and thousands of men as well as of women.

From their country the so-called Vodoo-service, the worship of the "Great Snake," has been brought by slaves to the West Indies, where it was handed down from generation to generation. It still prevails in Hayti, "the black man's republic." Here it is, that the Vodoo priests and their devout followers meet in silent forests, to pay homage to their ugly god by sacrificing women as well as children.

Herodotus and other historians of classic times relate that every year in Egypt, when the Nile began to rise, to which that country owes its abundance, the priests; persuaded a beautiful girl to become the bride of the river-god. Adorned with jewels and flowers, and greeted by all the people, this virgin was led to the flat roof of a temple overlooking the mighty river. After prayers and invocations had been made, she was tossed into the swirling floods, which swiftly carried her away.

Among the early Latin peoples similar sacrifices seem to have been customary, as is indicated by the fact that in Rome on the 15th of May in every year the Vestal virgins, in presence of all the priests, municipal authorities and the people threw twenty-four life-size dolls, the so-called Argeer, into the Tiber.

To calm the rage of the god of fire and earthquake, the priests of ancient Japan also hurled beautiful virgins into the flaming crater of Fuji Yama.

Humanity needed thousands of years to shake off such monstrous illusions and customs, because nothing is so difficult as to eliminate ideas and customs that are rooted in religious superstition, and, through being handed down from generation to generation, become surrounded with a halo of sacredness and solemnity.

To such institutions belonged also, what by some students of human culture has been characterized as "hierarchical or sacred prostitution." As is generally known, there exist among almost all aboriginal tribes crafty charlatans, who pretend to have influence over those supernatural powers, which are believed to be the distributors of all blessings as well as of all evils. These so-called sorcerers, healers, conjurors, magicians, medicine-men, or shamans, the predecessors of the priests, usurped among many tribes the privilege of deflowering all virgins before their entrance into marriage. With the gradual evolution of priesthood this practice was made a rite, which among various nations of antiquity developed into the most voluptuous orgies known in history.