The Mafulu eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 349 pages of information about The Mafulu.

Art and design among the Mafulu people are only of a simple and primitive type.  There is no carving or other decoration on their houses, or even on their emone, nor is there any on their stone or wooden implements.  Art and design, other than the arrangement of feather ornaments, is, in fact, apparently confined to the very simple designs scratched upon some of their broad abdominal belts, smoking pipes and lime gourds and perhaps occasionally on one or two other things, and to the plaited designs displayed in the manufacture of other abdominal belts and of arm and leg ornaments and plaited forehead ornaments and feather frames, and to the very simple linear patterns in which some of their network is made, and the ground-staining and pattern-colouring of their perineal bands, dancing aprons and ribbons.  As regards the latter, the designs are of a very simple nature, never apparently representing anything either realistically or conventionally, and being confined to geometric designs of straight lines and bands, rectangular and zig-zag patterns with coloured triangles within the zig-zag patterns, and spots.  The patterns of the perineal bands and dancing ribbons are very simple indeed; but those of the dancing aprons are more elaborate, covering a considerable surface of cloth, and often displaying a fair variety of design on the same apron.

The Mafulu have no visible method of recording events or numbers, or sending messages, either by marks or notches on sticks, or tying of knots in string, or any other method, and they are quite unable to grasp the meaning of a map.

The limited nature of the ideas of artistic design possessed by the Mafulu people is, I think, a matter for surprise.  They are believed to have Papuan or Papuo-Melanesian blood in their veins.  But, even if they also have another distinct and more primitive ancestry of their own, not associated with the Papuo-Melanesian types, or even with the pure Papuan types, found on the coast and in the plains, one would imagine that contact with these types would have caused the Mafulu people to learn something of the more advanced art which these other peoples display and that we should not have to record a sudden drop from artistic designs embodying curves and natural imitative art to a system confined to straight lines, zig-zags, and spots.  This contact with the coast and plain people, or at all events with the latter, has certainly existed for some time back; for, though the mutual fear and antagonism between coast and mountain natives, which is usually found among savage peoples, has doubtless existed in this case, and is even now not altogether eradicated, [91] direct or indirect trading relationship, including in particular the interchange of the stone implements and feathers of the mountains for the shell decorations of the coast, is not a mere recent development of the last few years only.  It seems to me that the existence of this decorative hiatus points to a rather small inherent sense of design in the Mafulu mind.  It may be, however, that the absence of imitative art, to which I have already referred in connection with totemism and clan badges, is partly due to the absence of totemism and of the imitative stimulus, which, as Dr. Haddon has more than once pointed out, [92] arises from it.

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The Mafulu from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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