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The Golden Bough A study of magic and religion

Page: 359

Thus, for example, the Creeks, Cherokee, and kindred tribes of North American Indians “believe that nature is possest of such a property as to transfuse into men and animals the qualities, either of the food they use, or of those objects that are presented to their senses; he who feeds on venison is, according to their physical system, swifter and more sagacious than the man who lives on the flesh of the clumsy bear, or helpless dunghill fowls, the slow-footed tame cattle, or the heavy wallowing swine. This is the reason that several of their old men recommend, and say, that formerly their greatest chieftains observed a constant rule in their diet, and seldom ate of any animal of a gross quality, or heavy motion of body, fancying it conveyed a dullness through the whole system, and disabled them from exerting themselves with proper vigour in their martial, civil, and religious duties.” The Zaparo Indians of Ecuador “will, unless from necessity, in most cases not eat any heavy meats, such as tapir and peccary, but confine themselves to birds, monkeys, deer, fish, etc., principally because they argue that the heavier meats make them unwieldy, like the animals who supply the flesh, impeding their agility, and unfitting them for the chase.” Similarly some of the Brazilian Indians would eat no beast, bird, or fish that ran, flew, or swam slowly, lest by partaking of its flesh they should lose their ability and be unable to escape from their enemies. The Caribs abstained from the flesh of pigs lest it should cause them to have small eyes like pigs; and they refused to partake of tortoises from a fear that if they did so they would become heavy and stupid like the animal. Among the Fans of West Africa men in the prime of life never eat tortoises for a similar reason; they imagine that if they did so, their vigour and fleetness of foot would be gone. But old men may eat tortoises freely, because having already lost the power of running they can take no harm from the flesh of the slow-footed creature.

While many savages thus fear to eat the flesh of slow-footed animals lest they should themselves become slow-footed, the Bushmen of South Africa purposely ate the flesh of such creatures, and the reason which they gave for doing so exhibits a curious refinement of savage philosophy. They imagined that the game which they pursued would be influenced sympathetically by the food in the body of the hunter, so that if he had eaten of swift-footed animals, the quarry would be swift-footed also and would escape him; whereas if he had eaten of slow-footed animals, the quarry would also be slow-footed, and he would be able to overtake and kill it. For that reason hunters of gemsbok particularly avoided eating the flesh of the swift and agile springbok; indeed they would not even touch it with their hands, because they believed the springbok to be a very lively creature which did not go to sleep at night, and they thought that if they ate springbok, the gemsbok which they hunted would likewise not be willing to go to sleep, even at night. How, then, could they catch it?


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