The Descent of Man – Day 139 of 151

Having made these preliminary remarks on the admiration felt by savages for various ornaments, and for deformities most unsightly in our eyes, let us see how far the men are attracted by the appearance of their women, and what are their ideas of beauty. I have heard it maintained that savages are quite indifferent about the beauty of their women, valuing them solely as slaves; it may therefore be well to observe that this conclusion does not at all agree with the care which the women take in ornamenting themselves, or with their vanity. Burchell (53. ‘Travels in South Africa,’ 1824, vol. i. p. 414.) gives an amusing account of a Bush-woman who used as much grease, red ochre, and shining powder “as would have ruined any but a very rich husband.” She displayed also “much vanity and too evident a consciousness of her superiority.” Mr. Winwood Reade informs me that the negroes of the West Coast often discuss the beauty of their women. Some competent observers have attributed the fearfully common practice of infanticide partly to the desire felt by the women to retain their good looks. (54. See, for references, Gerland, ‘Ueber das Aussterben der Naturvolker,’ 1868, ss. 51, 53, 55; also Azara, ‘Voyages,’ etc., tom. ii. p. 116.) In several regions the women wear charms and use love-philters to gain the affections of the men; and Mr. Brown enumerates four plants used for this purpose by the women of North-Western America. (55. On the vegetable productions used by the North-Western American Indians, see ‘Pharmaceutical Journal,’ vol. x.)

Hearne (56. ‘A Journey from Prince of Wales Fort,’ 8vo. ed. 1796, p. 89.), an excellent observer, who lived many years with the American Indians, says, in speaking of the women, “Ask a Northern Indian what is beauty, and he will answer, a broad flat face, small eyes, high cheek-bones, three or four broad black lines across each cheek, a low forehead, a large broad chin, a clumsy hook nose, a tawny hide, and breasts hanging down to the belt.” Pallas, who visited the northern parts of the Chinese empire, says, “those women are preferred who have the Mandschu form; that is to say, a broad face, high cheek-bones, very broad noses, and enormous ears”(57. Quoted by Prichard, ‘Physical History of Mankind,’ 3rd ed. vol. iv. 1844, p. 519; Vogt, ‘Lectures on Man,’ Eng. translat. p. 129. On the opinion of the Chinese on the Cingalese, E. Tennent, ‘Ceylon,’ 1859, vol. ii. p. 107.); and Vogt remarks that the obliquity of the eye, which is proper to the Chinese and Japanese, is exaggerated in their pictures for the purpose, as it “seems, of exhibiting its beauty, as contrasted with the eye of the red-haired barbarians.” It is well known, as Huc repeatedly remarks, that the Chinese of the interior think Europeans hideous, with their white skins and prominent noses. The nose is far from being too prominent, according to our ideas, in the natives of Ceylon; yet “the Chinese in the seventh century, accustomed to the flat features of the Mongol races, were surprised at the prominent noses of the Cingalese; and Thsang described them as having ‘the beak of a bird, with the body of a man.'”

Finlayson, after minutely describing the people of Cochin China, says that their rounded heads and faces are their chief characteristics; and, he adds, “the roundness of the whole countenance is more striking in the women, who are reckoned beautiful in proportion as they display this form of face.” The Siamese have small noses with divergent nostrils, a wide mouth, rather thick lips, a remarkably large face, with very high and broad cheek-bones. It is, therefore, not wonderful that “beauty, according to our notion, is a stranger to them. Yet they consider their own females to be much more beautiful than those of Europe.” (58. Prichard, as taken from Crawfurd and Finlayson, ‘Phys. Hist. of Mankind,’ vol. iv. pp. 534, 535.)

It is well known that with many Hottentot women the posterior part of the body projects in a wonderful manner; they are steatopygous; and Sir Andrew Smith is certain that this peculiarity is greatly admired by the men. (59. Idem illustrissimus viator dixit mihi praecinctorium vel tabulam foeminae, quod nobis teterrimum est, quondam permagno aestimari ab hominibus in hac gente. Nunc res mutata est, et censent talem conformationem minime optandam esse.) He once saw a woman who was considered a beauty, and she was so immensely developed behind, that when seated on level ground she could not rise, and had to push herself along until she came to a slope. Some of the women in various negro tribes have the same peculiarity; and, according to Burton, the Somal men are said to choose their wives by ranging them in a line, and by picking her out who projects farthest a tergo. Nothing can be more hateful to a negro than the opposite form.” (60. The ‘Anthropological Review,’ November 1864, p. 237. For additional references, see Waitz, ‘Introduction to Anthropology,’ Eng. translat., 1863, vol. i. p. 105.)

With respect to colour, the negroes rallied Mungo Park on the whiteness of his skin and the prominence of his nose, both of which they considered as “unsightly and unnatural conformations.” He in return praised the glossy jet of their skins and the lovely depression of their noses; this they said was “honeymouth,” nevertheless they gave him food. The African Moors, also, “knitted their brows and seemed to shudder” at the whiteness of his skin. On the eastern coast, the negro boys when they saw Burton, cried out, “Look at the white man; does he not look like a white ape?” On the western coast, as Mr. Winwood Reade informs me, the negroes admire a very black skin more than one of a lighter tint. But their horror of whiteness may be attributed, according to this same traveller, partly to the belief held by most negroes that demons and spirits are white, and partly to their thinking it a sign of ill-health.

The Banyai of the more southern part of the continent are negroes, but “a great many of them are of a light coffee-and-milk colour, and, indeed, this colour is considered handsome throughout the whole country”; so that here we have a different standard of taste. With the Kaffirs, who differ much from negroes, “the skin, except among the tribes near Delagoa Bay, is not usually black, the prevailing colour being a mixture of black and red, the most common shade being chocolate. Dark complexions, as being most common, are naturally held in the highest esteem. To be told that he is light-coloured, or like a white man, would be deemed a very poor compliment by a Kaffir. I have heard of one unfortunate man who was so very fair that no girl would marry him.” One of the titles of the Zulu king is, “You who are black.” (61. Mungo Park’s ‘Travels in Africa,’ 4to. 1816, pp. 53, 131. Burton’s statement is quoted by Schaaffhausen, ‘Archiv. fur Anthropologie,’ 1866, s. 163. On the Banyai, Livingstone, ‘Travels,’ p. 64. On the Kaffirs, the Rev. J. Shooter, ‘The Kafirs of Natal and the Zulu Country,’ 1857, p. 1.) Mr. Galton, in speaking to me about the natives of S. Africa, remarked that their ideas of beauty seem very different from ours; for in one tribe two slim, slight, and pretty girls were not admired by the natives.

Turning to other quarters of the world; in Java, a yellow, not a white girl, is considered, according to Madame Pfeiffer, a beauty. A man of Cochin China “spoke with contempt of the wife of the English Ambassador, that she had white teeth like a dog, and a rosy colour like that of potato-flowers.” We have seen that the Chinese dislike our white skin, and that the N. Americans admire “a tawny hide.” In S. America, the Yuracaras, who inhabit the wooded, damp slopes of the eastern Cordillera, are remarkably pale-coloured, as their name in their own language expresses; nevertheless they consider European women as very inferior to their own. (62. For the Javans and Cochin-Chinese, see Waitz, ‘Introduct. to Anthropology,’ Eng. translat. vol. i. p. 305. On the Yuracaras, A. d’Orbigny, as quoted in Prichard, ‘Physical History of Mankind,’ vol. v. 3rd ed. p. 476.)

In several of the tribes of North America the hair on the head grows to a wonderful length; and Catlin gives a curious proof how much this is esteemed, for the chief of the Crows was elected to this office from having the longest hair of any man in the tribe, namely ten feet and seven inches. The Aymaras and Quichuas of S. America, likewise have very long hair; and this, as Mr. D. Forbes informs me, is so much valued as a beauty, that cutting it off was the severest punishment which he could inflict on them. In both the Northern and Southern halves of the continent the natives sometimes increase the apparent length of their hair by weaving into it fibrous substances. Although the hair on the head is thus cherished, that on the face is considered by the North American Indians “as very vulgar,” and every hair is carefully eradicated. This practice prevails throughout the American continent from Vancouver’s Island in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south. When York Minster, a Fuegian on board the “Beagle,” was taken back to his country, the natives told him be ought to pull out the few short hairs on his face. They also threatened a young missionary, who was left for a time with them, to strip him naked, and pluck the hair from his face and body, yet he was far from being a hairy man. This fashion is carried so far that the Indians of Paraguay eradicate their eyebrows and eyelashes, saying that they do not wish to be like horses. (63. ‘North American Indians,’ by G. Catlin, 3rd ed., 1842, vol. i. p. 49; vol. ii, p. 227. On the natives of Vancouver’s Island, see Sproat, ‘Scenes and Studies of Savage Life,’ 1868, p. 25. On the Indians of Paraguay, Azara, ‘Voyages,’ tom. ii. p. 105.)

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)