« PreviousContinue »
subject to change my tie ma
them in their present hue. It is so connected with organic disposition, and has been transmitted unaltered through so many generations, that the same causes will doubtless continue to act in a uniform manner, and preclude all material change through ages to come.
The most observing travelers have likewise been struck with the almost perfect similarity of features found in the different families of these respective tribes. But this striking family-likeness is doubtVOL. X.-July, 1839.
For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review.
BY REV. J. DEMPSTER, A. M., MISSIONARY AT BUENOS AYRES.
[Continued from page 185.]
PART III.-NO. II.
THE Copper-colored race-which, in both Americas, amounts to not less than six millions-is a mysterious portion of the family of In seeking its origin the antiquary finds himself without even the dim light of fable, which sheds its faint and scattered beams on the infancy of most ancient nations that have long since been extinct. Nor is it less singular in the striking uniformity of its longsettled character. Though this race has existed in nearly two thousand tribes, which have been distinguished by hundreds of dissimilar languages, it has retained a surprising similarity in the great outlines of its physical and moral character. While its habits and manners are found to be modified to some extent by each particular tribe, there is an inflexibility, a steadfast perseverance, in what essentially characterizes the whole mass.
That the color of this people should vary so triflingly, though for centuries they have been spread from Hudson's Bay to the Straits of Magellan, is a problem not easy of solution. The strongest evidence has been urged, that the varying colors of the human race are directly referable to the powerful influence of climate. But these aborigines of the new world have existed through successive generations in every climate on the globe, and have retained almost the same complexion in the midst of the perpetual snows of the north, under the mild climate of the temperate zone, and under the glowing fervors of a vertical sun. Indeed, their color seems no longer subject to change by the influence of that element which painted them in their present hue. It is so connected with organic disposition, and has been transmitted unaltered through so many generations, that the same causes will doubtless continue to act in a uniform manner, and preclude all material change through ages to come.
The most observing travelers have likewise been struck with the almost perfect similarity of features found in the different families of these respective tribes. But this striking family-likeness is doubt. 31
VOL. X.-July, 1839.
less referable to the combined action of two very different causes— local situation and mental inactivity. The dissociating principles act so strongly on savages that the name of a river, a ridge of mountains, or a group of hills, forms an impassable limit to their friendly regards. Toward all beyond such narrow bounds the most implacable hatred is cherished, and the most bloody purposes are formed. The action of these principles has divided into hundreds of clans the ancient population of the American continent, and so effectually prevented intermarriages as that between many tribes they never occurred for centuries, but have been confined entirely within the narrow compass of each tribe respectively; and when these have been repeated through several successive ages, there becomes fixed a certain organic type, which may not improperly be entitled a "national equality of configuration."
So entirely similar are the features of different persons in the same tribe, that they can only be discriminated by the most attentive observation. An insulated state has been observed to produce a like effect, but to a more limited extent, among the Jews in Europe, and the various castes in India. But, in proportion as men are raised in the scale of intelligence, this tendency is counteracted. Hence it rises into effect most fully where mind is the least elicited. That the improvement of intellect acts as a powerful instrument to diversify the expression of the countenance, none can be ignorant who has the least acquaintance with the power of mind to imprint its operations on the face. And as the countenance reflects the emotions of the soul in proportion as they are frequent, variable, and enduring, and not in proportion to the violence in which transient bursts may break forth, the strong feelings occasionally awakened in the savage breast, by a thirst of blood, could not be such a mental exercise as to give variety to the physiognomy. These savages seem almost totally void of that sensibility which brings the mind in contact with the external world, and multiplies our joys or sorrows in proportion to the number and strength of surrounding incentives. Living, as most of these tribes do, under the happiest climate on the globe, where spontaneous nature provides for most of their wants, they feel but feebly the usual causes of mental anxiety, or incentives to vigorous exertion. Thousands of them wishing no covering but the paint which smears them, and no food but the fruit of their forests, remain so dead to that bright circle of exciting objects which act on civilized man as never to be roused from the everlasting slumbers in which they repose. Thus that interesting variety of expression found in improved society-where mind is summoned forth by the voice of thrilling events, where hope and fear, with their kindred emotions, are vividly and permanently excited-can never be expected among these indolent natives, who seem almost as void of emotion as the earth on which they lounge.
Another fact, originating in the social state of these tribes, has arrested the attention of most travelers who have visited them: I allude to the singular circumstance, that scarcely an instance of de formity has been found among these children of nature. This has been most groundlessly ascribed to a favorable influence which savage life exerts in producing corporeal beauty and vigor. But the strongest evidences exist that it is entirely referable to other
causes. These causes are two, which, though no way kindred, exert a combined influence in securing the event.
The first we shall mention is the fact, that a deformed female was never known to be married in these tribes; for we are assured that no amount of wealth or family friendship ever induces an Indian to make a wife of such a female. Hereditary deformity among such a people is therefore never likely to exist, though it is by no means an unusual occurrence in civilized society.
A concurring cause with that we have mentioned is found in the cruelty of parents toward their deformed offspring, and the imminent peril to which barbarous life exposes infancy. Were the affection for offspring in savage parents strong and vivid as in the bosom of civilized man, still their infirm infants would be unequal to the hardships of their condition; and when to these inevitable exposures are added the wanton neglect of those who instrumentally gave them existence, and their intentional neglect of their deformed and sickly infants, it can occasion no astonishment that such seldom survive to reach manhood. That savage life is incomparably worse than civilized life, as adapted to the increase and vigor of the species, every fact connected with the subject which history transmits unequivocally demonstrates.
In this hasty sketch of Indian character, we must, at least, bestow a passing notice on the manners and customs of this mysterious people. As in South America the temperature of every climate on the globe is found, from the unmelting frosts of the pole to the burning sun of the equator, some variety would be expected in the manners and customs of its ancient inhabitants. Spread out as these aborigines are, from the summits of the snow. capped Andes to the burning shores of the Amazon, it is impossible that all should have adopted the same modes of living. Those on the lofty table-lands of the Cordilleras, who never feel the relaxing influence of a tropical sun, are more active, manly, and enterprising. They are distinguished by a love of liberty, and an energy of character, to which those in the plains could never be roused by all those great changes which have passed with whirlwind speed over the revolutionary republics around them.
But this race, as a whole, appears remarkably adapted to the variety of its local situation. It is perfectly at home whether on the frosty ridges of the mountains, on the marshy shores of the Oronoco, on the woodless plains of the La Plata, or amid the spicy groves of the Amazon. It appears equally contented where it depends on the precarious supplies yielded by the game taken in the chase on the high lands, where it feeds on the spontaneous fruits of the fields and forests on the plains, where it is entirely supported by fish taken from their streams, which swarm with millions of the finny tribes, and where it lives for a quarter of the year on mere clay during the overflowing of the Oronoco.
Nor does the history of pathology furnish a more singular fact than those involved in this last-mentioned mode of Indian subsistence. The facts in the case are, that several large tribes on the Oronoco, and especially the Otomacs, who live chiefly on fish for three-fourths of the year, subsist almost exclusively on clay during the other three months; that they neither suffer decay in health or