Source Book For Social Origins

Comment on Part III: Invention and Technology

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

In Part II we saw that the formal education of the savage child was concerned mainly with the development of his character. The serious and protracted attempt of the old men of the Australians to render the youth ertwa, murra, oknirra (man, good, very) was not only remarkably successful but embodied a very respectable ideal. And this insistence on a moral life is dominant in the educational systems of all savages. The North American Indians, especially, had developed a noble conception of personal character and an elaborate symbolism for impressing it on the young men. In this connection I may call attention to the following passage from Miss Fletcher's "The Hako : A Pawnee Ceremony" (Report o f the Bureau o f American Ethnology, 22: 365):

"There is one aspect of the ritual, essential to its understanding, that was carefully explained by the Kurahus, and the substance of many conversations on the subject follows. A man's life is an onward movement. If one has within him a determined purpose and seeks the help of the powers his life will `climb up.' Here the Kurahus made a gesture indicating a line slanting upward; then he arrested the movement and, still holding his hand where he had stopped, went on to say that as a man is climbing up he does something that marks a place in his life where the powers have given him the opportunity to express in acts his peculiar endowments, so this place, this act, forms a stage in his career, and lie takes a new name to indicate that he is

( 437) on a level different from that which he occupied previously. Some men, he said, can rise only a little way, others live on a dead level, and he illustrated his words by moving his hands horizontally. Men having power to advance, climb step by step, and here again he made his idea plain by a gesture picturing a slant, then a level, a slant and a level. In this connection he called attention to the words, in line 1359, 'rutûrahwitz pari,' `to overtake walking,' saying that the people who desire to have a name, or to change heir name, must strive to overtake in the walk of life an upper level, such a one as these ancient men spoken of in the ritual had reached, where they threw away the names by which they had been known before. 'Rutûrahwitz pari' is a call to the Pawnees, bidding them emulate these men and overtake them by the doing of like deeds."

The defect of this educational system, like that of our own system so long as it remained exclusively a moral discipline, was the absence of any considerable and exact body of knowledge.

Furthermore the whole attempt of the savage to control the outside world, so far as it contained a theory or doctrine, was based on magic. This is especially well illustrated in the selection from Frazer in Part VI, and I have alluded to it in the introductory chapter. Where civilized man controls through science the savage attempted to control through magic. He paid as much attention to his magic as we pay to our science but in doing so he wasted his attention.

In this state of affairs mechanical invention has a peculiar importance. The group solidarity of early man, secured through moral teaching, was hardly amore complete than the gregarious organization of some ani-

( 438) -mals, and his magic was a positive loss. But in mechanical invention he had the experimental method of modern science. And there is no doubt that primitive man's inventions raised him above the brutes just as our science constitutes our main superiority to the lower races. For the physical feebleness of man is conspicuous in comparison with the size and strength of many animals, and his subjugation of the animal world is a matter which cannot cease to engage our admiration. "The personal power of man to obtain the means of subsistence is exceedingly limited. His physical form is poorly adapted to the performance of those acts by which alone the resources of the earth are to be increased. With neither the wings of the eagle nor the fleetness of the hound, he finds himself soon outstripped by the grouse and the hare. With neither gills nor fins he is readily evaded by the inhabitants of the water. Destitute of appropriate weapons of offense, he finds himself no match for many of the animals which he would gladly kill for food. Unprovided with claws for digging the ground, he cannot burrow for safety either from his enemies or from the elements. Unfitted, as he is, for periodical migration for the purpose of escaping extremes of temperature, and yet frequently compelled to change his habitat in consequence of the rapid increase in his numbers which soon renders food scarce in any one locality, he finds himself in danger of being dashed against Scylla whenever he seeks to avoid Charybdis. With all these limitations upon his existence and progress, there remained but one hope for him and this lay through invention" (Professor Lester F. Ward, Dynamic Sociology, 1 : 548).

On its subjective side Part III may be regarded as a

( 439) continuation of Part II. Pp. 359-66, especially, deal with the formation of abstract conceptions and systems. An attentive reading of the selections from Mason and Pitt-Rivers reveals the most acute attention on the part of primitive man to the details of his environment and a marvelous ingenuity in taking advantage of them. It also confirms the view expressed in Part II that his mental organization is not defective. If we make due allowance for the low state of knowledge and the paucity of materials we must admit that his ingenuity and interest are of absolutely the same pattern as those of the modern scientist or inventor.

The whole of Mason's book, The Origin o f Invention, should be read, and additional titles on primitive invention will be found in his footnotes. I particularly wished to include here his paper on the Traps of the Amerinds, listed below, but considerations of space prevented it.


No notes for this document

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2