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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79

I. The Past

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I. The Past

The Pacific is of course the greatest of the oceans. But there is a characteristic of it that is far more distinctive; it is its mobility of bed. And from this flow some of the most striking phenomena in its history both physical and human. It has the greatest expanse of coralline formation over its surface. And this in the Pacific according to Darwin, confirmed by the Funafuti boring, implies a great secular subsidence. Almost every year we hear of some island appearing or disappearing in some part of it; whilst Agassiz found a great triangular steepsided plateau between the Galapagos and Easter Island a thousand fathoms or more under its surface almost wholly devoid of life, doubtless from the same cause, the volcanic mobility of its bed.

But the mobility naturally varies. There are belts that are now subsiding and belts that are rising. One zone, stretching from the south-east of Japan southeastwards over the equator down to within a couple of thousand miles of the South American coast has manifestly been subsiding during the existing geological era; for though it has depths between the series of islands of from two to four thousand fathoms, it has several lines of islets and groups of islets of wholly coralline formation. The region away to the southwest, extending from the Philippines to New Zealand in a southerly direction and from Celebes to Samoa in an easterly direction has evidently been rising for a long period.

Now the subsiding zone is of extreme importance in accounting for some of the peculiar phenomena in the human page 90 history of the ocean. The coral insect in this ocean raises its reef at the average rate of fifteen to eighteen inches in ten years. Taking this as the rate through recent geological times and taking the average depths for some distance around the groups of islets we should not be far wrong in concluding that in early human times, perhaps in early neolithic times, certainly in palaeolithic times these groups were both broad and lofty, probably the highest peak of each being visible from its neighbor. In that state of the ocean the least oceanic of canoes might venture in the lee of the groups right down into the far center of the great watery expanse. And this would account for one of the most singular phenomena in human culture. These central groups are occupied by a people, the Polynesians, who in some of their arts, the masculine, those of war, navigation, architecture and carving, rise to the higher levels of the barbaric stage. And yet they have adhered to arts that are purely palaeolithic; these are the art of thread-making, that of fire-making and the fictile art; they have never had a spindle; they have a pump-drill, but have never applied it to the production of fire; and, though they have plenty of clay, they have never made pottery. In early stages of culture these belong to the women's department, and woman, guided as she is by emotion oftener than by reason, is more conservative than man. This palaeolithic element in the household culture seems to indicate that man has been in Polynesia since palaeolithic times and that woman came into the region only in those times, when there were still only short canoe voyages to make to land that could be seen on the horizon. The absence of pottery from the arts of the natives of the northwest coast of America, along with the extraordinary Polynesian affinity of their arts and culture, points to a similar source at the same period for their earliest stratum; the identity of the British Columbian "slubbets" with the Maori patu-patu or mere in form, purpose and details of workmanship is only one of the many affinities between the two regions. Japan has no shell-heaps without pottery; but it is unlikely that an archipelago that in Saghalien is separated from the continent by only a few miles of shallow page 91 water would have no inhabitants till neolithic times; and, lying as it does on the line of volcanic fissure, it may have lost its original coastline with its mounds of debris. It was undoubtedly a Caucasian race with predominant light hair that went down into Polynesia; for many Polynesian families still have light hair, and the children have often up till puberty light bronzy and wavy hair; whilst the people have as a whole strikingly European features. In Japan a large proportion have white skin, and a considerable percentage wavy brown hair, especially over the mountains on the west coast of Hondo, where 20 per cent of the men are as tall as the Polynesians or the tallest Europeans.

If we assume the central isleted belt to continue subsiding, we can easily explain some of the most striking features of Polynesian culture and history. They were the only race in the history of the world that mastered the art of oceanic navigation in the ages of stone. Even the Scandinavians never launched out over thousands of miles of open ocean; they reached America by the stepping-stones of Spitzbergen, Iceland and Greenland. The Phenicians, the Arabs, the Malays and the Japanese were only coastal or monsoon sailors. The Polynesians were the first and only true oceanic navigators before the invention of the mariner's compass. Their traditions tell of voyages of thousands of miles guided by the rising of stars, the currents, the trade winds and the flight of birds; and, though they had greatly degenerated in oceanic daring and skill by the time Europeans entered the Pacific, yet many such voyages are reported by our discoverers. It is often assumed that there was a Melanesian people first in Polynesia; but, though the Fijians and the Solomon Islanders make large canoes, they have never ventured far from the coasts of their own groups; besides for nine months in the year the wind is against the possibility of their voyaging into Polynesia, and the other three months it is fitful and cyclonic, and would require the most daring and skillful navigators to make use of it. It was necessity that urged the Polynesians into oceanic voyaging and skill. The subsidence of their islands and the shrinking of the land on which they could live drove them far afield for page 92 other footing. There is no other region in the world that could have originated the art of oceanic navigation before the compass. Nothing but the command and exercise of such art can explain the comparative unity of their culture and language, though their islands are separated by thousands of miles of ocean and are scattered over a region some six thousand miles by six thousand—a marked contrast to the Melanesians, who occupy archipelagoes comparatively close together and whose language is unintelligible and culture is totally different in villages a few miles apart. The strange tangle of culture and language in this Caucasiconegroid people lying between Indonesia and Polynesia, but closer to the former, is to be explained by constant immigration through thousands of years from both West and East, and by the absence of the concentrative power of Polynesian chiefship and patriarchate except in Fiji, the highly Polynesianised neighbor of Tonga. In studying the languages of Polynesia, Melanesia and Indonesia comparatively I have found a stronger linguistic drift westwards than eastwards; I have found the full form and explanation of contracted common words oftener in Polynesian than in any of the languages of Indonesia or Melanesia. This accords with the facts of nature; the subsidence of the central belt of the Pacific, the home of the Polynesians, and the steady trade-wind from the southeast the greater part of the year. From my recent comparative study of the cultures and languages of the three regions I have come to the conclusion that any migrations into Polynesia from either region have been but refluxes from westward migrations of the Polynesians; the men or their descendants have after settling become homesick for their old archipelagoes and used their oceanic skill to return. Other migration into the far unknown vastitude of the Pacific lacks motive and cause; besides we have no historical instance of such a movement, whilst every other year we hear of castaways on the coast of Asia from the eastward. These refluxes would naturally be much rarer than the westward migrations; for the emigrants would know that their old island homes were growing narrower. Two proofs that this contraction of the areas page 93 they occupied was a fact are the constant search for other homes at least up till the fourteenth century of our era, and the universal customs of abortion and infanticide in the region.

But the question naturally arises, why, if the subsidence of their islets drove the Polynesians westwards, they did not seek new homes to the southeast, in the direction by which they originally came? If they came along that northwest-southeast zone, why did not they follow the same route away to the east? The natural reply is that the trade-wind usually blew the other way. But that could not have been uniformly the case when the belt of islands was high and mountainous; such a barrier would deflect the northeast trade-winds away to the southeast. In the olden times, before the zone of islands became a series of atolls and reefs, it must have been almost as easy to reach Easter Island, St. Felix and St. Ambrose and the Peruvian coast as to go westwards to Melanesia or Indonesia. And when this wind impulse was gone there still remained the route from the most southerly islands of Polynesia like New Zealand and Rapaiti to Easter Island and the coast of South America. Not far south of the tropics the westerlies blow almost all the year round; and when the American coast was reached the constant southerlies and the Humboldt current would bear the migrants up to Peru and Central America.

That this is no mere fanciful route can be deduced from various facts. There is a closer affinity of the Easter Islanders in language and culture and appearance to the Maoris than to other Polynesian peoples. They carried carving, the one in stone and the other in wood, to a greater pitch of perfection than any other Polynesians. Then the megalithic stone platforms and statues of Easter Island have their closest analogy in the rude statues of Tiahuanaco and those of the Valley of Huaraz on the Peruvian coast and in some rude statues in Mexico and especially in Tabasco and the south than anywhere else in the world. The megalithic art is in evidence all over Polynesia, coming from Korea and Japan across the Ladrones and the Carolines. It is also much in evidence on the Peruvian coast and in Central page 94 America; but it is nowhere to the east of the Andes in the south or of the plateau of Mexico in the north. Adobe and wattle are the usual materials for building, natural to both South and North America wherever permanent or urban dwellings have to be erected; in valleys and canons filled with fragments of stone enough to build hundreds of cities the traveller sees all the Indian villages built of mud in various forms. The only exceptions are the northwest coast, where timber from the forests is used, and the region of the pueblos and cliff-dwellings, where sometimes adobe and sometimes small stones are used. Cyclopean walls are the exception; and they are found only in the parts within reach of the Pacific coast. Wherever great timbers are available, the stone habit is abandoned; in British Columbia we see some traces of a former megalithic habit in the dolmenshaped tombs made of huge logs. But in Central America, in spite of abundant timber supplies, the stone habit and even the megalithic habit has prevailed during a long period of its prehistoric ages, a sufficient indication that the art was exotic. And before the Spanish arrived it was already beginning to fail, and many of the great stone buildings were tumbling into ruins. The aggressive advance of the Aztecs from the north was confusing the acquired instincts of the natives and throwing them back upon their earlier habits.

But long before the approach of these cruel warriors, there had evidently been enemies to guard against, not from the north or the Gulf of Mexico, but from the south and the Pacific Ocean. There is a striking contrast between the ruins on the two coasts; those in Yucatan, Tabasco and Chiapas are all of religious or communal buildings with little or no provision for defence; those on the Pacific side show careful provision in position or walls or in both for defence against a formidable enemy; and from Guerrero down to Honduras they are, none of them, close to the coast; they stand back on the ranges that rim parallel to the coast, and are generally on inaccessible or easily defensible spurs; they have all been fortresses of refuge for the agriculturists from the plains and valleys when some enemy landed on the far page 95 distant coast. It is clear that marauding expeditions were not infrequent along the Pacific coast of Central America.

It is also clear that many of these must have conquered and settled; whence else would have come the art of stone fortification? Nay, every indication seems to point to the Pacific as the source of the megalithic art as a whole. And the decorative designs of this region have a great similarity to and often identity with those seen on the pottery found in the graves of the coast of Peru; whilst I have seen llamas' heads on pottery even from the ancient graves of as far east as Chiapas and Yucatan, and on an old Tlascalan drum in the Mexican Museum there is carved the figure of a llama. All this points to the Pacific coast of South America as the source of some of these conquering expeditions.

On the Peruvian coast the only native seacraft was the balsa, and as a mere raft with the sea awash through its timbers it was quite unsuited to long oceanic marauding or conquering expeditions. There is evidence however in the ruins of the city of Grand Chimu on the coast near Truxillo pointing to the fact that deep-sea craft had belonged to the rulers. On the ocean side of the city are three great fortified, double-walled camps; and underneath their walls are three still deep and broad docks that have evidently once extended into the ocean beyond the surf; in them low dams with narrow entrances but wide enough to admit oceanic canoes formed large protected basins close to the gateways of the camps. The conquerors of this city must have come across the ocean; and it is not unnatural to conjecture that when the coast became the desert it now is, these masterful canoe-users went off in search of other lands to conquer. Of course the coast must have become comparatively rainless as soon as the series of islands across the equator from the southeast of Japan had sunk into low coral reefs and atolls and ceased to deflect the northeast trades into moist winds fitfully blowing on to the South American coast. But there are indications that the foothills at least had at one time boscage, if not arboreal vegetation, upon them; the frequent civilizations of the coast needed fire to bake the pottery that was so essential for the journey to the other world, and page 96 every stick and root would soon disappear from the slopes; the rains that still fall on the coastal ranges would then rush down in torrents and carry the humus of the cultivable ground into the ocean. The dews that constantly fall on that coast would now have nothing but desert to moisten. We have thus a true cause for the universal abandonment of those towns and cities whose ruins and graves spread over the whole region.

The first shores that the oceanic expeditions arising from this growing dessication would come across would be those of Central America; there they would settle and conquer the natives and introduce their own special arts. That there was a light-haired, European-featured, long-headed intrusive element in the ancient population of the Peruvian coast is manifest in its graves; thirty per cent of the skulls that I counted cast out of the graveyards of Pachacamac were longheaded; I took from off the scalps fine reddish-brown, wavy hair, though most had the long, lank, raven-black locks of the mongoloid; and the faces on the pottery in the many collections that I saw were in a large number of cases purely European. We have seen that this blonde element was widespread in ancient Polynesia. And there are indications that it was this element that largely formed the expeditions we have reason to believe went off to the central American coast; for throughout the Indian tribes that occupy the coastal ranges of the Mexican and Guatemalan coast, from Guerrero to Honduras, there is a considerable sprinkling of blonde-haired, European-featured people; had this intrusive element appeared only in recent or even in Spanish times the persistent Indian features and lank hair would have made it completely disappear. So permanent an infiltration of a light haired element along the Pacific coast of the two great centers of ancient American civilization could have been the result of no mere accident, such as is suggested by so many hypotheses as to the origin of the culture of Peru and Central America. The effect of a castaway junk or canoe would vanish within less than a generation. A derelict ship, even if it happened to have some women on board, would melt away into the ocean of semi-savage, page 97 lank-haired mongoloids and disappear like "the snowfall in the river." The stories of golden-haired and bearded reformers and founders of civilizations who came across oceans, so common on the Pacific side of both South and Central America, highly personalized as they are, find a more natural rationale in this blonde immigration than in a sun-myth, though it is not unlikely that both sources may have contributed to the result.

One thing is certain, and that is that, whilst there were longheaded occupants of America in palaeolithic times ultimately driven into the cul de sac of South America, and whilst there is evidence of later infiltrations of longheads on the Pacific coast, the great bulk of the former inhabitants of the continent were mongoloids that came from Asia in neolithic times; and so overwhelmingly predominant is this element and so devoted to land pursuits and ignorant of oceanic arts that it is reasonable to suppose that they came by land. Across Bering's Straits is the only possible route for such a migration from Asia. And, though a section of the incomers were hunters, a still larger section must have been at or near to the agricultural stage, so persistent are the elements of agriculture amongst even the most primitive tribes of America. And this implies a different climate in the countries lying about Bering's Straits than that of the present day. Nor is it difficult to see how such a change of climate occurred. The strait is not far from that volcanic fissure which so often sends up islands or submerges them, and a temporary shallowing of its waters is easily conceivable. If such a change occurred the colder water of the Arctic Ocean would have little or no issue into the Pacific; none but tropical waters would circulate in the north Pacific; the winters would be milder on both shores of it; temperate-zone flora and fauna would migrate northwards and with them both hunting and agricultural man. The subsidence of the bottom of the strait and the return of the Arctic waters and Arctic conditions would bar the way between the two continents except for peoples like the Esquimaux.

Soon after the closing of this migration route, pressure from the North would begin to cease, and the agricultural page 98 settlers towards the south would have peace for many ages, except from oceanic marauders. But little or no advance would be made unless where there were new types of men and arts and ideas filtering in and by cross-breeding forming variants; and from the situation of the old American civilizations it is evident that this occurred only on the Pacific coast and at points whither winds and currents easily carried oceanic migrants from the west. The semi-barbaric cultures of North Chili, North Argentine and the Bolivian plateau and those of Ecuador and Colombia are evidently reflections or waves from the coastal civilizations, as those of the pueblos, the cliff-dwellings and the mounds are of the civilizations of Central America. There is a cultural gap between the northwest coast and the cliff-dwellers; and when the wild hordes from the north, like the Aztecs, scattered the peaceful argiculturists of the Mexican plateau, they streamed away north and northeast, chiefly up the valleys of the great rivers, whilst the hunting tribes of the plains penned them into their districts and hammered them into town-dwellers and village-dwellers, who had to protect themselves by earthworks or fortified walls or on inaccessible positions.