EVOLUTION OF CEREMONIAL GOVERNMENT
[Extracted from Popular Science Monthly, Volume 13, May-June 1878, pp. 146-66.]
SPEAKING of a party of Shoshones surprised by them, Lewis and Clarke say: "The other two, an elderly woman and a little girl, seeing we were too near for them to escape, sat on the ground, and, holding down their heads, seemed as if reconciled to the death which they supposed awaited them. The same habit of holding down, the head and inviting the enemy to strike, when all chance of escape is gone, is preserved in Egypt to this day." Here we are shown an effort to propitiate by absolute submission; and from acts so prompted originate obeisances.
When, at the outset, in illustration of the truth that ceremony precedes not only social evolution but even human evolution, I named the behavior of a small dog which throws itself on its back in presence of an alarming great dog, probably many readers thought I was putting on this behavior a somewhat forced construction. They would not have thought so had they known that a parallel mode of behavior occurs among human beings. Describing the Batoka salutation, Livingstone says, "They throw themselves on their backs on the ground, and, rolling from side to side, slap the outside of their thighs as expressions of thankfulness and welcome." Whether or not consciously adopted for this reason, the assumption of this attitude, which implies, "You need not subdue me, I am subdued already," is the best means of obtaining safety. Resistance generates antagonism and arouses the destructive instincts. The stronger animal or the stronger man becomes less dangerous when the weaker animal or man passively submits; because nothing occurs to excite the passion for victory. Hence, then, the natural genesis of this obeisance by prostration on the back, which, perhaps, more than any other position, makes self-defense impracticable. I say perhaps, because another attitude may be instanced as equally helpless, which more elaborately displays complete subjugation. "At Tonga Tabu .... the common people show their great chief .... the greatest respect imaginable by prostrating themselves before him, and by putting his foot on their necks." The like occurs in Africa. Laird says the messengers from the King of Fundah "each bent down and put my foot on their heads, and threw dust over themselves." And among ancient historic peoples this position, originated by defeat in battle, became the position assumed in acknowledgment of submission.
From these primary obeisances thus representing, as literally as may be, the attitudes of the conquered beneath the conqueror, there come [p.147] obeisances which express in various ways the subjection of the slave to the master: this last being the sequence of the first. Of old in the East such subjection was expressed when "Ben-hadad's servants girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the King of Israel." In Peru, where the militant type of organization was pushed to so great an excess, Garcilasso tells us that a sign of humility was to have the hands tied and a rope round the neck; that is, there was an assumption of those bonds which originally marked captives brought from the battle-field. Along with this mode of simulating slavery, another mode was employed when approaching the Ynca: servitude had to be indicated by carrying a burden; and "this taking up a load to enter the presence of Atahuallpa is a ceremony which was performed by all the lords who have reigned in that land."
These few extreme instances I give at the outset by way of showing the natural genesis of the obeisance as a means of obtaining mercy; first from a victor and then from a ruler. An adequate conception of the obeisance, however, includes another element. In the introductory chapter it was pointed out that sundry signs of pleasure, having a physio-psychological origin, which occur in presence of those for whom there is affection, pass into complimentary observances; because men are pleased by supposing themselves liked, and are therefore pleased by demonstrations of liking. Hence, while aiming to propitiate a superior by expressing submission to him, there is generally an endeavor further to propitiate him by exhibiting joy at his presence. Keeping in view, then, both these elements of the obeisance, let us now consider its varieties; with their political, religious, and social uses.
Though the loss of power to resist which prostration on the face implies does not reach the utter defenselessness implied by prostration on the back, yet it is sufficiently great to make it a sign of profound submission; and hence it occurs as an obeisance wherever despotism is unmitigated and subordination slavish. It was found in ancient America, where, before a Chibcha cazique, "people had to appear prostrate and with their faces touching the ground." We find it in Africa, where, "when he addresses the king, a Borghoo man stretches himself on the earth as flat as a flounder, in which attitude he lies, kissing the dust, till his business with his sovereign is at an end." Asia furnishes many cases of it: "When preferring a complaint, a Khond or Panoo will throw himself on his face, with hands joined, and a bunch of straw or grass in his mouth;" and while, in Siam, "before the nobles all subordinates are in a state of reverent prostration, the nobles themselves, in the presence of the sovereign, exhibit the same crawling obeisance." Similarly in Polynesia. Falling on the face is a mark of submission among the Sandwich-Islanders: the king did so to Cook when he first met him. And in the records of ancient historic peoples plenty of kindred illustrations are given: as when Mephibosheth fell on his face and [p.148] did reverence before David; or when the King of Bithynia fell on his face before the Roman Senate. In some cases this attitude of the conquered before the conqueror, thus used to signify entire subjection has its meaning emphasized by repetition. Bootan supplies an instance: "They ... made before the rajah nine prostrations, which is the obeisance paid to him by his subjects whenever they are permitted to approach."
Every kind of ceremony is apt to have its primitive character obscured by abridgment; and by abridgment this profoundest of obeisances is rendered a less profound one. In the assumption of a full length prostration there is, almost of necessity, the passage through an attitude in which the body is on the knees with the head on the ground; and still more on rising, a drawing up of the knees is a needful preliminary to raising the head and getting on the feet. Hence this attitude may be considered as an incomplete prostration. It is a very general one. Among the Coast negroes, if a native "goes to visit his superior, or meets him by chance, he immediately falls on his knees, and thrice successively kisses the earth, claps his hands, wishes the superior a good day or night, and congratulates him." Laird tells us that, in acknowledgment of his inferiority, the king of the Brass people never spoke to the king of the Ibos "without going down on his knees, and touching the ground with his head." At Embomma, on the Congo, "the mode of salutation is by gently clapping the hands, and an inferior at the same time goes on his knees and kisses the bracelet on the superior's ankle."
Often the humility of this obeisance is increased by emphasizing the contact of the head with the earth. On the Lower Niger, "as a mark of great respect, men prostrate themselves, and strike their heads against the ground." When, in past times, the Emperor of Russia was crowned, the nobility did homage by "bending down their heads, and knocking them at his feet to the very ground." In China, at the present time, among the eight obeisances, increasing in humility, the fifth is kneeling and striking the head on the ground; the sixth, kneeling and thrice knocking the head, which again doubled makes the seventh, and trebled, the eighth: this last being due to the emperor and to Heaven. Of old, among the Hebrews, repetition had a kindred meaning. Remembering that this obeisance is variously exemplified, as when Nathan "bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground," and as when Abigail did the like to David, and Ruth to Boaz, we have the additional fact that "Jacob bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother."
From what has gone before it will be anticipated that this attitude of the conquered man, used by the slave before his master and the subject before his ruler, becomes that of the worshiper before his deity. The East, past and present, yields sufficient examples. That complete prostration is made, whether the being to be propitiated is visible or invisible, is shown [p.149] us in Hebrew records by the statement that " Abraham fell upon his face" before God when he covenanted with him; by the fact that "Nebuchadnezzar fell upon his face, and worshiped Daniel;" and by the fact that when Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image there was a threat of death on "whoso falleth not down and worshipeth." Similarly, the incomplete prostration in presence of kings recurs in presence of deities. When making obeisances to their idols, the Mongols touch the ground with the forehead thrice, the Calmucks only once. So, too, the Japanese in their temples "fall down upon their knees, bow their head quite to the ground, slowly and with great humility." And sketches of Mohammedans at their devotions familiarize us with a like attitude.
While preserving in common the trait that the inferiors assuming them keep at a lower level than their superiors, these groveling obeisances admit of considerable variety. From the positions of prostration on back or face, and of semi-prostration on knees, we pass to sundry others, which, however, continue to imply relative inability to resist. In some cases it is permissible to vary the attitude, as in Dahomey, where "the highest officers lie before the king in the position of Romans upon the triclinium. At times they roll over upon their bellies, or relieve themselves by standing 'on all-fours.'" Duran states that "cowering ... was, with the Mexicans, the posture of respect, as with us in genuflection." Crouching is a sign of respect among the New Caledonians; as it is also in Feejee, and as it is also in Tahiti.
Other changes in attitudes of this class are entailed by the necessities of locomotion. In Dahomey, "when approaching royalty they either crawl like snakes or shuffle forward on their knees." When changing their places before a superior, the Siamese "drag themselves on their hands and knees." It is so, too, in Cambodia: "If any one had to approach the royal person, to give him anything or to obey a call, however far the distance, Cambodian etiquette prescribed a crawling progressive motion on knees and elbows." In Java an inferior must "walk with his hands upon his heels until he is out of his superior's sight." Similarly with the subjects of a Zulu king—even with his wives: Dingarn's wives said that "while he was present in the house they were never permitted to stand up, but always moved about" on their hands and knees. And, in Loango, extension of this attitude to the household appears not to be limited to the court: wives in general "dare not speak to them" (their husbands) "but upon their bare knees, and in meeting them must creep upon their hands." A neighboring state furnishes an instance of gradation in these forms of partial prostration, and a recognized meaning in the gradation. Burton tells us that the "Dakro," a woman who bears messages from the Dahoman king to the Meu, goes on all-fours before the king. Also, "as a rule, she goes on all-fours to the Meu, and only kneels to smaller men, who become quadrupeds to her."
Here we come incidentally upon a further abridgment of the original prostration;
whence results one of the most widely-spread obeisances. As from the entirely
prone posture we pass to the posture of the Mohammedan worshiper with forehead
on the ground, so from this we pass to the posture on all-fours, and from this,
by raising the body, to simple kneeling. That kneeling is, and has been in
countless places and times, a form of political homage, a form of domestic
homage, and a form of religious homage, needs no showing. We will note only that
it is, and has been everywhere, associated with coercive government; as in
Africa, where "by thus constantly practising genuflection upon the hard ground,
their" (the Dahomas') "knees in time become almost as hard as their heels;" as
in Japan, where "on leaving the presence of the emperor, officers walk backward
on their knees;" as in China, where "the viceroy's children .... as they
passed by their father's tent, fell on their knees and bowed three times, with
their faces toward the ground;" and as in mediaeval Europe, where serfs knelt to
their masters, feudal vassals to their suzerains, and, in 1444, the Duchess
Isabella de Bourbon, visiting the queen, went on her knees thrice during her
Not dwelling on the transition from descent on both knees to descent on one knee, which, less abject, comes a stage nearer the erect attitude, it will suffice to note the transition from kneeling on one knee to bending the knee. That this form of obeisance is an abridgment is well shown us by the Japanese:
"On meeting, they show respect by bending the knee; and when they wish to do unusual honor to an individual they place themselves on the knee and bow down to the ground. But this is never done in the streets, where they merely make a motion as if they were going to kneel. When they salute a person of rank, they bend the knee in such a manner as to touch the ground with their fingers."
We are shown the same thing equally well, or better, in China, where, among the
specified gradations of obeisance, the third is defined as bending the knee, and
the fourth as actually kneeling. Without accumulating evidence it will be
manifest that what still survives among ourselves as the courtesy with the one
sex, and what until recently survived with the other sex as the scrape (made by
a backward sweep of the right foot), are both of them vanishing forms of the
going down on one knee.
There remains only the accompanying bend of the body. This, while on the one hand the first motion passed through in making a complete prostration, is, on the other hand, the last motion that survives as the prostration becomes stage by stage abridged. In various places we meet indications of this transition. "Among the Soosoos, even the wives of a great man, when speaking to him, bend their bodies, and place one hand [p.151] upon each knee; this is done also when passing by." In Samoa, "in passing through a room where a chief is sitting, it is disrespectful to walk erect; the person must pass along with his body bent downward." Of the ancient Mexicans who, during an assembly, crouched before their chief, we read that "when they retired, it was done with the head lowered." And then, in the Chinese ritual of ceremony above cited, we find that obeisance number two, less humble than bending the knee, is bowing low with the hands joined. Having such facts before us, and bearing in mind that there are insensible transitions between the humble salaam of the Hindoo, the profound bow which in Europe shows great respect, and the moderate bend of the head expressive of consideration, we cannot doubt that the familiar and sometimes scarcely perceptible nod is the last trace of the aboriginal prostration.
These several abridgments of the prostration which we see occur in doing political homage and social homage occur also in doing religious homage. Of the Congoese, Bastian says that when they have to speak to a superior—
"They kneel, turn the face half aside, and stretch out the hands toward the person addressed, which they strike together at every address. They might have sat as models to the Egyptian priests when making the representations on the temple-walls, so striking is the resemblance between what is represented there and what actually takes place here."
And we may note kindred parallelisms in European religious
observances. There is the going on both knees and the going on one knee; and
there are the bowings and courtesyings on certain occasions at the name of
As already explained, along with the act expressing humility, the complete obeisance includes some act expressing gratification. To propitiate the superior most effectually it is needful at once to imply, "I am your slave," and "I love you."
Certain of the instances cited above have exemplified the union of these two factors. Along with the attitude of abject submission assumed by the Batoka, we saw that there go rhythmic blows of the hands against the thighs. In others of the cases named, clapping of the hands, also indicating joy, was described as being in Africa an accompaniment of movements showing submission; and many others may be added. Of the nobility who approach the King of Loango, Astley says, "They clap their hands two or three times, and then cast themselves at his majesty's feet into the sand, rolling over and over into it in token of subjection; "and Speke says of certain attendants of the King of Uganda, that they "threw themselves in line upon their bellies, and, wriggling like fish .... while they continued floundering, kicking about their legs, rubbing their faces, and patting their hands upon the ground." Going on their knees to superiors, the Balonda [p.152] "continue the salutation of clapping the hands until the great ones have passed;" and a like use of the hands occurs in Dahomey. A further rhythmical movement having like meaning must be added. Already we have seen that jumping as a natural sign of delight is a friendly salute among the Fuegians, and that it recurs in Loango as a mark of respect to the king. Africa furnishes another instance. Grant narrates that the King of Karague "sat concealed, all but his head, in the doorway of his chief hut, and received the salutations of his people, who, one by one, shrieked and sprang in front of him, swearing allegiance." Let such salutatory movements be gradually methodized, as they are likely to be in the course of development, and they will constitute the dancing with which a ruler is sometimes saluted; as in the before-named case of the King of Bogotá, and as in the case Williams gives in his account of Feejee, where an inferior chief and his suite, entering the royal presence, "performed a dance, which they finished by presenting their clubs and upper dresses to the Somo-somo king."
Of the other simulated signs of pleasurable emotion commonly forming part of the obeisance, kissing is the most conspicuous. This, of course, has to take such form as consists with the humility of the prostration or kindred attitude. As shown in some foregoing instances, we have kissing the earth where the superior cannot be, or may not be, approached close enough for kissing the feet or the garment. Others may be added. "It is the custom at Eboe, when the king is out, and indeed in-doors as well, for the principal people to kneel on the ground and kiss it three times when he passes;" and the ancient Mexican embassadors, on coming to Cortez, "first touched the ground with their hands and then kissed it." This, in the ancient East, expressed submission of conquered to conqueror; and is said to have gone as far as kissing the footmarks of a conqueror's horse. Abyssinia, where the despotism is extreme and the obeisances are servile, supplies us with a modification. In Shoa kissing the nearest inanimate object belonging to a superior or a benefactor is a sign of respect and thanks. From this we pass to licking the feet and kissing the feet. Drury tells us that licking the knee is a sign of respect among the Malagasy, but does not indicate such deep abasement as licking the feet; and, describing the return of a Malagasy chief from war, he says: "He had scarcely seated himself at his door, when his wife came out crawling on her hands and knees till she came to him, and then licked his feet; when she had done, his mother did the same; and all the women in the town saluted their husbands in the same manner." Slaves, etc., did the like to their masters. So in ancient Peru, where subordination was unqualified, "when the chiefs came before" (Atahuallpa), "they made great obeisances, kissing his feet and hands." And that this extreme homage was, and is now, the practice in the East we have clear proof. In Assyrian records Sennacherib mentions that Menahem of Samaria came up to bring presents and to kiss his feet. "Kissing his feet" was part of the reverence [p.153] shown to Christ by the woman with the box of ointment; and that the "catching hold of him by the feet" on the part of Mary Magdalene, doubtless accompanied by kissing, was not exceptional, we are shown by the description of a like act on the part of the Shunamite woman to Elisha. At the present day among the Arabs inferiors kiss the feet, the knees, or the garments, of their superiors. Kissing the shah's and the sultan's feet is now a form of homage in Persia and in Turkey; and Sir R. K. Porter narrates that, in acknowledgment of a present, a Persian "threw himself on the ground, kissed my knees and my feet, and wept with a joy that stifled his expression of thanks."
Kissing the hand is a less humiliating observance than kissing the feet, because it goes along with a less complete prostration. To kiss the feet implies bringing the head close to the ground; while there cannot be kissing of the hand without more or less raising of the body. This difference of implication is recognized in regions remote from one another. In Tonga, "when a person salutes a superior relation, he kisses the hand of the party; if a very superior relation, he kisses the foot." And D'Arvieux states that the women who wait on the Arabian princesses kiss their hands when they do them the favor not. to suffer them to kiss their feet or the border of their robe. The prevalence of this obeisance, as expressing loving submission, is so great as to render illustration superfluous.
What is implied where, instead of kissing another's hand, the person making the obeisance kisses his own hand? Is the one symbolic of the other, and meant to be the nearest approach to it possible under the circumstances? This appears a hazardous inference; but there is evidence justifying it. According to D'Arvieux, as quoted by Prof. Paxton—
"An Oriental pays his respects to a person of superior station by kissing his hand and putting it to his forehead; but, if the superior be of a condescending temper, he will snatch away his hand as soon as the other has touched it; then the inferior puts his own fingers to his lips and afterward to his forehead."
This, I think, makes it clear that the common custom of
kissing the hand to another originally expressed the wish, or the willingness,
to kiss his hand.
Here, as before, the observance, beginning as a spontaneous propitiation of conqueror by conquered, of master by slave, of ruler by ruled, and which we have just seen becomes, by extension under a modified form, a social propitiation, early passes also into a religious propitiation: to the ghost, and to the deity developed from the ghost, these actions of love and liking are used. That embracing of the feet, associated with kissing them, which we have seen occurred among the Hebrews as an obeisance to the living person, Egyptian wall-paintings represent as an obeisance made to the mummy inclosed in its case; and then, in pursuance of this action, we [p.154] have kissing the feet of statues of gods among the Romans and of holy images among Christians. Ancient Mexico furnished an instance of the transition from kissing the ground as a political obeisance to a modified kissing the ground as a religious obeisance. Describing the Mexican ceremony of taking an oath, Clavigero says, "Then naming the principal god, or any other they particularly reverenced, they kissed their hand, after having touched the earth with it." In Peru the observance was further abridged by dispensing with any object kissed. D'Acosta says, "The manner of worship was to open the hands, to make some noise with the lips as of kissing, and to ask what they wished, at the same time offering the sacrifice;" and Garcilasso, describing the libation of a drop of liquor to the sun, made before drinking at an ordinary meal, adds: "At the same time they kissed the air two or three times, which .... was a token of adoration among these Indians." Nor have European races failed to furnish kindred facts: kissing the hand to the statue of a god was a Roman form of adoration.
Once more, salutatory movements, which, as we have seen, being natural expressions of delight, become complimentary acts before a visible ruler, also become acts of worship before an invisible ruler. In illustration there is the dancing of David before the ark; and there is the dancing which was originally a religious ceremony among the Greeks: from the earliest times the "worship of Apollo was connected with a religious dance called Hyporchema." We have the fact that King Pepin, "like King David, forgetful of the regal purple, in his joy bedewed his costly robes with tears, and danced before the relics of the blessed martyr." And we have the fact that in the middle ages there were religious dances in churches.
To interpret another series of associated observances we must go back to the prostration in its original form. I refer to those expressions of submission which are made by putting dust or ashes on some part of the body.
Men cannot roll over in the sand in front of their king, or repeatedly knock their heads against the ground, or crawl before him, without soiling themselves. Hence the adhering dust or earth is recognized as a concomitant mark of subjection; and comes to be gratuitously assumed, and artificially increased, in the anxiety to propitiate. Already the association between this act and the act of prostration has been incidentally exemplified by cases from Africa; and Africa furnishes other cases which exemplify more fully this self-defiling as a definitely-elaborated form. "In the Congo regions," says Burton, "prostration is made, the earth is kissed, and dust is strewed over the forehead and arms, before every Banza or village chief; and he tells us that the Dahoman salutation consists of two actions—prostration and pouring sand or earth upon the head. Similarly we read that "in saluting a stranger they" (the Kakanda [p.155] people on the Niger) "stoop almost to the earth, throwing dust on their foreheads several times." And, describing "the punctiliousness of manners shown by the Balonda," Livingstone says:
"The inferiors, on meeting their superiors in the street, at once drop on their knees and rub dust on their arms and chest .... During an oration to a person commanding respect, the speaker every two or three seconds 'picked up a little sand, and rubbed it on the upper part of his arms and chest .... When they wish to be excessively polite, they bring a quantity of ashes or pipe clay in a piece of skin, and, taking up handfuls, rub it on the chest and upper front part of each arm.'"
Moreover, we are shown how in this case, as in all other cases, the ceremony
undergoes abridgment. Of these same Balonda Livingstone says, "The chiefs go
through the manœuvre of rubbing the sand on the arms, but only make a feint of
picking up some." And, on the Lower Niger, the people when making prostrations
"cover them" (their heads) "repeatedly with sand; or at all events they go
through the motions of doing so. Women, on perceiving their friends, kneel
immediately, and pretend to pour sand alternately over each arm." That in Asia
this ceremony was, and still is, performed with like meaning, is also clear. As
expressing political humiliation it was adopted by the priests who, when going
to implore Florus to spare the Jews, appeared "with dust sprinkled in great
plenty upon their heads, with bosoms deprived of any covering but what was
rent." And at the present time in Turkey abridgments of the obeisance may be
witnessed. At a review, even officers on horseback, saluting their superiors,
"go through the form of throwing dust over their heads;" and common people, on
seeing a caravan of pilgrims start, "went through the pantomime of throwing dirt
over their heads."
Hebrew records prove that this sign of submission made before visible persons was made before invisible persons also. Along with those bloodlettings and markings of the flesh and cuttings of the hair, which, at funerals, were used to propitiate the ghost, there went the putting of ashes on the head. The like was done to propitiate the deity; as when "Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads." Even still this usage occurs among Catholics on occasions of special humiliation.
Again we must return to that original obeisance which first actually is, and then which simulates, the attitude of the conquered before the conqueror, to find the clew to a further series of these bodily movements signifying submission. I refer to the joining of the hands. As described in a foregoing paragraph, the supplicating Khond "throws himself on his face with hands joined." Whence this attitude of the hands?
From the usages of a people among whom submission and all the [p.156] marks of
submission were carried to great extremes, an instance has already been given
indicating the natural genesis of this action. A sign of humility in ancient
Peru was to have the hands bound and a rope round the neck; that is, the
condition of captives was simulated. Proof that it has been a common practice to
make prisoners of war defenseless by tying their hands is superfluous; and,
indeed, the fact that, among ourselves, men charged with crimes are handcuffed
by the police when taken, sufficiently shows how obviously suggested is this
method of rendering prisoners impotent. If there needs further reason for
concluding that bound hands, at first distinguishing the conquered man, hence
came to be an adopted mark of subjection, we have it in two strange customs
found in Africa and China respectively. When the King of Uganda returned the
visit of Captains Speke and Grant, "his brothers, a mob of little ragamuffins,
several in handcuffs, sat behind him. ... It was said that the king, before
coming to the throne, always went about in irons, as his small brothers now do."
And then, of the Chinese, Doolittle tells us that "on the third day after the
birth of a child. . . . the ceremony of binding its wrists is observed. ...
These things are worn until the child is fourteen days old .... sometimes ... for several months, or even for a year. ... It is thought that such a tying
of the wrists will tend to keep the child from being troublesome in afterlife."
Such indications of its origin, joined with such examples of derived practices, force on us the inference that raising the joined hands as part of that primitive obeisance signifying absolute submission was in reality offering of the hands to be bound. The above-described attitude of the Khond exhibits the act in its original form; and on reading in Hue that "the Mongol hunter saluted us, with his clasped hands raised to his forehead," or in Drury that when the Malagasy approach a great man they hold the hands up in a supplicatory form, we cannot doubt that this position of the hands now expresses reverence because it originally implied subjugation. Of the Siamese, so abject in their political condition and so servile in their usages, La Loubere says, "If you extend your hand to a Siamese, to place it in his, he carries both his hands to yours as if to place himself entirely in your power." And that the presentation of the joined hands has the meaning here suggested is otherwise shown us. In Unyanyembe, "when two of them meet, the Wezee puts both his palms together, these are gently clasped by the Watusi" (a man of a more powerful race); and in Sumatra the salutation "consists in bending the body, and the inferior's putting his joined hands between those of the superior, and then lifting them to his forehead." By these cases we are reminded that a kindred act was once a form of submission in Europe. When doing homage, the vassal, on his knees, placed his joined hands between the hands of his suzerain.
That here, again, an attitude signifying political subordination becomes an [p.157] attitude of religious devotion, scarcely needs pointing out. We have in the East, by the Mohammedan worshiper, that same clasping of the hands above the head which we see expresses reverence for a living superior. Among the Greeks, "the Olympian gods were prayed to in an upright position with raised hands; the marine gods with hands held horizontally; the gods of Tartarus with hands held down." And the presentation of the hands joined palm to palm, once throughout Europe required from an inferior when professing obedience to a superior, is still taught to children as the attitude of prayer.
Nor should we omit to note that a kindred use of the hands descends into social intercourse. The filiation continues to be clear in the far East. "When the Siamese salute one another, they join the hands, raising them before the face or above the head." Of the eight gradations of obeisance in China, the first and least profound is that of joining the hands and raising them before the breast. Even among ourselves a remnant of this action is traceable. An obsequious shopman or fussy innkeeper may be seen to join and loosely move the slightly raised hands one over another, in a way suggestive of derivation from this primitive sign of obedience.
A group of obeisances having a different, though adjacent root, come next to be dealt with. Those which we have thus far considered do not directly affect the subject person's dress; but from modifications of dress, either in position, state, or kind, a series of ceremonial observances result.
The conquered man, prostrate before his conqueror, and becoming himself a possession, simultaneously loses possession of whatever things he has about him. The minor loss of his property is included in the major loss of himself; and so, while he surrenders his weapons, he also yields up, if the victor demands it, whatever part of his dress is worth taking: the motive for taking it being, in many cases, akin to the motive for taking his weapons; since, being often the hide of a formidable animal, or a robe decorated with trophies, the dress, like the weapons, becomes an addition to the victor's proofs of prowess. At any rate, it is clear that, whatever be the particular way in which the taking of clothing from a conquered man originates, the nakedness, partial or complete, of the captive, becomes additional evidence of his subjugation. That it was so regarded of old in the East, we have clear proof. In Isaiah xx. 2-4, we read: "And the Lord said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign ... so shall the King of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot." Nor are we without evidence, furnished by other races, that the taking off and yielding up of clothing hence become a mark of political submission, and in some cases even a complimentary observance. In Feejee, on the day for paying tribute—
"The chief of Somo-Somo, who had previously stripped off his robes, then sat down, and removed even the train or covering, which was of immense length, from his waist. He gave it to the speaker," who gave him " in return a piece large enough only for the purposes of decency. The rest of the Somo-Somo chiefs, each of whom, on coming on the ground, had a train of several yards in length, stripped themselves entirely, left their trains, and walked away .... thus leaving all the Somo-Somo people naked."
Further we read that, during Cook's stay at Tahiti, two men
of superior rank "came on board, and each singled out his friend .... this
ceremony consisted in taking off great part of their clothes and putting them
upon us." And then in another Polynesian island, Samoa, we find this
complimentary act greatly abridged: only the girdle is taken off and presented.
With such facts to give us the clew, we can scarcely doubt that this surrendering of clothing originates those obeisances which are made by uncovering the body, more or less extensively. We meet with all degrees of uncovering having this meaning. From Ibn Batula's account of his journey into the Soudan in the fourteenth century, Mr. Tylor cites the statement that "women may only come unclothed into the presence of the Sultan of Melli, and even the sultan's own daughters must conform to the custom;" and what doubt we might reasonably feel as to the existence of an obeisance thus carried to its original extreme, is removed on reading in Speke that at the present time, at the court of Uganda, "stark-naked, full-grown women are the valets." Other parts of Africa show us an incomplete, though still considerable, unclothing as an obeisance. In Abyssinia inferiors must bare their bodies down to the girdle in presence of superiors; "but to equals the corner of the cloth is removed only for a time." The like occurs in Polynesia. The Tahitians uncover "the body as low as the waist, in the presence of the king;" and Forster states that in the Society Isles generally "the lower ranks of the people, by way of respect, strip off their upper garment in the presence of their" principal chiefs. How this obeisance becomes further abridged, and also how it becomes extended to other persons than rulers, we are well shown by the natives of the Gold Coast. Cruickshank writes:
"They also salute Europeans, and sometimes each other, by
slightly removing their robe from their left shoulder with the right hand,
gracefully bowing at the same time. When they wish to be very respectful, they
uncover the shoulder altogether, and support the robe under the arm, the whole
of the person, from the breast upward, being left exposed."
And of these same people, Burton remarks that, "throughout Yoruba and the Gold Coast, to bare the shoulders is like unhatting in England."
That uncovering the head, thus suggestively compared with [p.159] uncovering the upper part of the body, has the same original meaning, can hardly be questioned. Even in certain European usages the relation between the two has been recognized, as by Ford, who remarks that "uncloaking in Spain is .... equivalent to our taking off the hat." It is recognized in Africa itself, where, as in Dahomey, the two are joined; "the men bared their shoulders, doffing their caps and large umbrella hats," says Burton, speaking of his reception. It is recognized in Polynesia, where, as in Tahiti, along with the stripping down to the waist before the king, there goes the uncovering of the head. Hence it seems that the familiar taking off of the hat among European peoples, often reduced among ourselves to touching the hat, is a remnant of that process of unclothing himself by which, in early times, the captive expressed the yielding up of all he had.
That baring the feet is an observance having the same origin, is well shown by these same Gold Coast natives; for while, as we have seen, they partially bare the upper part of the body in signification of their reverence, they also remove the sandals from their feet "as a mark of respect," says Cruickshank: they begin to strip the body at both ends. Throughout ancient America uncovering of the feet had a like meaning. In Peru, "no lord, however great he might be, entered the presence of the Ynca in rich clothing, but in humble attire and barefooted;" and in Mexico, "the kings who were vassals of Montezuma were obliged to take off their shoes when they came into his presence:" the significance of this act being so great that as "Michoacan was independent of Mexico, the sovereign took the title of cazonzi—that is, 'shod.' " Kindred accounts of Asiatics have made the usage familiar to us. In Burmah, "even in the streets and highways, a European, if he meets with the king, or joins his party, is obliged to take off his shoes." And similarly in Persia, every person who approaches the royal presence is obliged to bare his feet.
Verification of these several interpretations is yielded by the more obvious interpretations of certain usages which we similarly meet with in societies where extreme expressions of subjection are insisted upon. I refer to the appearing in presence of rulers, dressed in coarse clothing—the clothing of slaves. In ancient Mexico, whenever, to serve him, Montezuma's attendants "entered his apartments, they had first to take off their rich costumes and put on meaner garments .... and were only allowed to enter into his presence barefooted, with eyes cast down." So was it, too, in Peru: along with the rule that a subject, however great, should appear before the Ynca with a burden on his back, simulating servitude, and along with the rule that he should be barefooted, further simulating servitude, there went, as we have seen, the rule that "no lord, however great he might be, entered the presence of the Ynca in rich clothing, but in humble attire," again simulating servitude. The kindred though less extreme usage exists in Dahomey, where also autocracy is rigorous and subjection unqualified: the highest subjects, the king's [p.160] ministers, may "ride on horseback, be carried in hammocks, wear silk, maintain a numerous retinue, with large umbrellas of their own order, flags, trumpets, and other musical instruments. But, on their entrance at the royal gate, all these insignia are laid aside." Even in mediæval Europe, submission to a conqueror or superior was expressed by this laying aside of such parts of the dress and appendages as were associated with dignity, and the consequent appearance in such relatively-impoverished state as consisted with servitude. Thus, in France, in 1467, the headmen of a conquered town, surrendering to a victorious duke, "brought to his camp with them three hundred of the best citizens in their shirts, bareheaded, and bare-legged, who presented the keies of the citie to him, and yielded themselves to his mercy." And the doing of feudal homage included observances of kindred meaning. Saint Simon, describing one of the latest instances, and naming among other ceremonies gone through the giving up of sword, gloves, and hat, says that this was done "to strip the vassal of his marks of dignity in presence of his lord." So that, whether it be the putting on of coarse clothing or the putting off of fine clothing and its appendages, the meaning is the same.
Acts of propitiation of this kind, like those of other kinds, extend themselves from the feared being who is visible to the feared being who is no longer visible—the ghost and the god. On remembering that among the Hebrews the putting on sackcloth and ashes went along with cutting off the hair, self-bleeding, and making marks on their bodies—all to pacify the ghost; on reading that the habit continues in the East, so that a mourning lady described by Mr. Salt was covered with sackcloth and sprinkled over with ashes, and so that Buckhardt "saw the female relations of a deceased chief running through all the principal streets, their bodies half naked, and the little clothing they had on being rags, while the head, face, and breast," were "almost entirely covered with ashes"—it becomes clear that the semi-nakedness, the torn garments, and the coarse garments, expressing submission to a living superior, serve also to express submission to one who, dying and becoming a ghost, has so acquired a power that is feared.1
The inference that this is the meaning of the act is verified
on observing that it becomes also an act of religious subordination as is shown
when Isaiah, himself setting the example, exhorts the rebellious Israelites to
make their peace with Jahveh in the words —"Strip you, and make you bare, and
gird sackcloth upon your loins;" and as when the fourscore men who came from
Shiloh, and Samaria, to propitiate Jahveh, besides cutting their hair and
gashing themselves also tore their clothes. Nor does the parallelism fail with
baring the feet. This, which we have seen is one of those unclothings signifying
humiliation before a ruler, was one among the signs of mourning among the
Hebrews; as is shown by the command in Ezekiel (xxiv. 17), "Forbear to cry, make
no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of thine head upon thee, and put on thy
shoes upon thy feet," and among the Hebrews putting off the shoes was also an
act of worship. Elsewhere, too, it occurred as in common a mark of political
subordination and of religious subordination. Of the Peruvians, who went
barefoot into the presence of the Ynca, we read that "all took off their shoes,
except the king, at two hundred paces before reaching the doors" (of the temple
of the Sun); "but the king remained with his shoes on until he came to the
doors." Once more the like holds with the uncovering of the head. Used along
with other ceremonial acts to propitiate the living superior, it is used also to
propitiate the spirit of the ordinary dead, and also the spirit of the
extraordinary dead, which, becoming apotheosized, is permanently worshiped. We
have the uncovering round the grave which continues even among ourselves; and we
have, on the Continent, the uncovering by those who meet a funeral-procession.
We have the taking off the hat to images of Christ and the Madonna, out-of-doors
and in-doors, as enjoined in old books of manners; the unhatting on the knees
when the host is carried by in Catholic countries; and the baring the head on
entering places of worship everywhere.
Nor must we omit the fact that obeisances of this class, too, made first to supreme persons most feared and presently to less powerful persons, extend gradually until they become general. Quotations above given have shown incidentally that in Africa partial uncovering of the shoulder is used as a salute between equals, and that a kindred removal of the cloak in Spain serves a like purpose. So, too, the going barefoot into a king's presence, and into a temple, originates an ordinary civility: the Damaras take off their sandals before entering a stranger's house; a Japanese leaves his shoes at the door even when he enters a shop; "upon entering a Turkish house, it is the invariable rule to leave the outer slipper or galosh at the foot of the stairs." And then in Europe, from having been a ceremony of feudal homage and of religious worship, [p.162] uncovering the head has become an expression of respect due even to a laborer on entering his cottage.
These last facts suggest a needful addition to the argument. Something more must be said respecting the way in which all kinds of obeisances between equals have thus resulted by diffusion from obeisances which originally expressed surrender to a conqueror and submission to a ruler.
Proof has been given that rhythmical muscular movements, naturally signifying joy, such as jumping, clapping the hands, and even drumming the ribs with the elbows, become simulated signs of joy used to propitiate a king, when joined with attitudes expressing subjection. These simulated signs of joy become civilities where there is no difference of rank. According to Grant, "when a birth took place in the Toorkee camp .... women assembled to rejoice at the door of the mother, by clapping their hands, dancing, and shouting. Their dance consisted in jumping in the air, throwing out their legs in the most uncouth manner, and flapping their sides with their elbows." And then, where circumstances permit, such marks of consideration become mutual. Bosman tells us that on the Slave Coast, "when two persons of equal condition meet each other, they fall both down on their knees together, clap hands, and mutually salute, by wishing each other a good day." And cases occur where, between friends, there is reciprocity of compliment even by prostration. Among the Mosquitos, says Bancroft, "one will throw himself at the feet of another, who helps him up, embraces him, and falls down in his turn to be assisted up and comforted with a pressure." Such extreme instances yield verifications, if there need any, of the conclusion that the mutual bows, and courtesies, and unhattings, among ourselves, are remnants of the original prostrations and strippings of the captive.
But I give these instances chiefly as introducing the interpretation of a still more familiar observance. Already I have named the fact that between polite Arabs the offer of an inferior to kiss a superior's hand is resisted by the superior if he is condescending, and that the conflict ends by the inferior kissing his own hand to the other; and here, from Niebuhr, is an account of a nearly-allied usage:
"Two Arabs of the desert meeting, shake hands more than ten times. Each kisses his own hand, and still repeats the question, 'How art thou?' .... In Yemen, each does as if he wished the other's hand, and draws back his own to avoid receiving the same honor. At length, to end the contest, the eldest of the two suffers the other to kiss his fingers."
Have we not here, then, the origin of shaking hands? If of
two persons each wishes to make an obeisance to the other by kissing his hand,
and each refuses out of compliment to have his own hand kissed, what will
Just as when leaving a room, each of two persons, pro- [p.163] posing to give the other
precedence, will refuse to go first, and there will result at the doorway some
conflict of movements, preventing either from advancing; so, if each of two
tries to kiss the other's hand and refuses to have his own kissed, there will
result a raising of the hand of each by the other toward his own lips, and by
the other a drawing of it down again, and so on alternately. Though at first
such an action will be irregular, yet as fast as the usage spreads, and the
failure of either to kiss the other's hand becomes a recognized issue, the
motions may be expected to grow regular and rhythmical. Clearly the difference
between the simple squeeze, to which this salute is now often abridged, and the
old-fashioned hearty shake, exceeds the difference between the hearty shake and
the movement that would result from the effort of each to kiss the hand of the
Even in the absence of this clew yielded by the Arab observance, we should be obliged to infer some such genesis. After all that has been shown, no one can suppose that hand-shaking was ever deliberately fixed upon as a salute; and if it had a natural origin in some act which, like the rest, expressed subjection, the act of kissing the hand must be assumed as alone capable of leading to it.
Whatever its kind, then, the obeisance has the same root with the trophy and the mutilation. At the mercy of his conqueror, who, cutting off part of his body as a memorial of victory, kills him, or else, taking some less important part, marks him as a subject person, the conquered enemy lies prone before him now on his back, or now with neck under his foot, smeared with dust or dirt, weaponless, and with torn clothes, or, it may be, stripped of the trophy-trimmed robe he prized. Thus, the prostration, the coating of dust, and the loss of covering, incidental on subjugation, become, like the mutilation, recognized proofs of it: whence result, first of all, the enforced signs of submission of slaves to masters, and subjects to rulers; then the voluntary assumptions of humble attitudes before superiors; and, finally, those complimentary movements expressive of inferiority, made by each to the other between equals.
That all obeisances originate in militancy is a conclusion harmonizing with the fact that they develop along with development of the militant type of society. Attitudes and motions signifying subjection do not characterize headless tribes and tribes having unsettled chieftainships, like the Fuegians, the Andamanese, the Australians, the Tasmanians, the Esquimaux; and accounts of etiquette among the wandering and almost unorganized communities of North America make little, if any, mention of actions expressing servitude or subordination. There are indeed, in India, certain simple societies politically unorganized and peaceful, in which there occur humble obeisances; as instance the Todas. At marriage, a Toda bride puts her head under the foot of the bridegroom. But, since [p.164] exceptions of this kind, and less marked kinds, occur in settled cattle-keeping or agricultural tribes, whose ancestors passed through those stages between the wandering and the stationary, during which militant activities were general, we may reasonably suspect that these are surviving ceremonies that have lost their meanings: the more so as, in the case named, there exists neither that social subordination nor that domestic subordination which they express. On the other hand, in societies compounded and consolidated by militancy which have acquired the militant type of structure, we find political and social life conspicuously characterized by servile obeisances. If we ask in what slightly-developed societies occur the groveling prostrations and creepings and crawlings before superiors, the answer is clear. We find them in warlike, cannibal Feejee, where the power of rulers over subjects and their property is unlimited, and where, in some slave districts, the people regard themselves as brought up to be eaten; we find them in Uganda, where war is chronic, where the revenue is derived from plunder, both of neighboring tribes and of subjects, and where it is said of the king out shooting that, "as his highness could not get any game to shoot at, he shot down many people;" we find them in sanguinary Dahomey, where adjacent societies are attacked to get more heads for decorating the king's palace, and where everybody, up to the chief minister, is the king's slave. Among states more advanced they occur in Burmah and Siam, where the militant type, bequeathed from the past, has left a monarchical power equally without restraint; in Japan, where, with a despotism evolved and fixed during the wars of early times, there have ever gone these groveling obeisances of each rank to the rank above it; and in China, where, with a kindred form of government similarly derived, there still continue semi-prostrations and knockings of the head upon the ground before the supreme ruler. So is it again with kissing the feet as an obeisance. This was the usage in ancient Peru, where the entire nation was under a regimental organization and discipline. It prevails in Madagascar, where the militant structure and activity are decided. And among sundry Eastern peoples, living still, as they have ever done, under autocratic rule, this obeisance exists at present as it existed in the remote past. Nor is it Otherwise with complete or partial removals of the dress. The extreme forms of this we saw occurred in Feejee and in Uganda; while the less extreme form of baring the body down to the waist was exemplified from Abyssinia and Tahiti, where the kingly power, though great, is less recklessly exercised. So, likewise, with the baring of the feet. This was an obeisance to the king in ancient Peru and ancient Mexico, as it is now in Burmah and in Persia—all of them having the despotic governments evolved by militancy. And the like relation will be found to hold with the other extreme obeisances: the putting dust on the head, the assumption of mean clothing, the taking up of a burden to carry, the binding of the hands.
The same truth is shown us on comparing the usages of European [p.165] peoples in early ages, when war was the business of life, with the usages which obtain now that war has ceased to be the business of life. In feudal days homage was shown by kissing the feet, by going on the knees, by joining the hands, by laying aside sundry parts of the dress; but in our days the more humble of these obeisances have, some quite and others almost, disappeared: leaving only the bow, the courtesy, and the raising of the hat, as their representatives. Moreover, it is observable that, between the more militant nations of Europe and the less militant, kindred differences are traceable: on the Continent obeisances are fuller, and more studiously attended to, than they are here. Even from within our own society evidence is forthcoming; for by the upper classes, forming that regulative part of the social structure which here, as everywhere, has been developed by militancy, there is not only at court, but in private intercourse, greater attention paid to these forms than by the classes forming the industrial structures, among the members of which little more than the bow and the nod are now to be seen. And I may add the significant fact that, in the distinctively militant parts of our society—the army and navy—not only is there a more regular and peremptory performance of prescribed obeisances than in any other of its parts, but, further, that in one of them, the navy, specially characterized by the absolutism of its chief officers, there survives a usage analogous to usages in barbarous societies: in Burmah, it is requisite to make "prostrations in advancing to the palace;" the Dahomans prostrate themselves in front of the palace-gate; in Feejee, stooping is enjoined as "a mark of respect to a chief or his premises, or a chief's settlement;" and, on going on board an English man-of-war, it is the custom to take off the hat to the quarter-deck.
Nor are we without evidence of kindred contrasts among the obeisances made to the supernatural being, whether spirit or deity. The wearing sackcloth to propitiate the ghost, as now in China, and as of old among the Hebrews, the partial baring of the body and putting dust on the head, still occurring in the East as funeral-rites, are not found in advanced societies having types of structure more profoundly modified by industrialism. Among ourselves, most characterized by the degree of this change, obeisances to the dead have wholly disappeared, save in the uncovering at the grave. Similarly with the obeisances used in worship. The baring of the feet when approaching a temple, as in ancient Peru, and the taking off the shoes on entering it, as in the East, are acts finding no parallels here on any occasion, or on the Continent, save on occasion of penance. Neither the prostrations and repeated knockings of the head upon the ground by the Chinese worshiper, nor the kindred attitude of the Mohammedan at prayers, occurs where freer forms of social institutions, proper to the industrial type, have much qualified the militant type. Even going on the knees as a form of religious homage has, among ourselves, fallen greatly into disuse; and the most unmilitant of our sects, the Quakers, make no religious obeisances whatever.
The connections thus traced, parallel to connections already
traced, are at once seen to be natural on remembering that militant activities,
intrinsically coercive, necessitate command and obedience, and that therefore,
where they predominate, signs of submission are insisted upon; while,
conversely, industrial activities, whether exemplified in the relations of
employer and employed or of buyer and seller, being carried on under agreement,
are intrinsically non-coercive, and there-fore, where they predominate, only
fulfillment of contract is insisted upon: whence results decreasing use of the
signs of submission.
1 Tracing the natural genesis of ceremonies leads us to interpretations of what otherwise seem arbitrary differences of custom; as instance the use of white for mourning in China, and of black farther west. A mourning dress must have coarseness as its essential primitive character: this is implied by the foregoing argument; and for this there is direct as well as inferential evidence. By the Romans, mourning habits were made of a cheap and coarse stuff; and the like was the case with the mourning habits of the Greeks. Now, the sackcloth named in the Bible as used to signify mourning and humiliation was made of hair, which, among pastoral peoples, was the most available material for textile fabrics; and the hair used being ordinarily mere or less dark in color, the darkness of color incidentally became the most conspicuous character of these coarse fabrics, as distinguished from fabrics made of other materials, lighter, and admitting of being dyed. Relative darkness coming thus to be distinctive of a mourning dress, the contrast was naturally intensified; and eventually the color became black. Contrariwise in China. Here, with a swarming agricultural population, not rearing animals to any considerable extent, textile fabrics of hair are relatively expensive; and of the textile fabrics made of silk and cotton, those of cotton must obviously be much the cheaper. Hence, for mourning dresses cotton sackcloth is used: and the unbleached cotton being of a dirty white, this has by association established itself as the mourning color.