The Mafulu eBook

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

Then they go to the feet.  They keep both hands closed and together, and with the right fist they point to the toes, beginning with the big toe of the right foot, and so along the other toes of that foot, and then go to the big toe of the left foot, and so along the other toes of that foot, thus reaching the enumerative total of twenty.  They do not, when wishing to indicate a number, simply place their fingers and hands and feet simultaneously in the requisite position for doing so.  They always go through the whole process of finger and toe counting from the beginning.  For example, to indicate eight, they turn in the thumb and all the fingers of the right hand, and afterwards the thumb and two fingers of the left hand, separately, and one alter another, until the right position is reached; and similarly as regards numbers over ten, they solemnly turn down all the fingers one after another, and then point to the toes one after another, until they get to the right one for indicating the desired number.  When the fingers and toes of the person counting are exhausted, he has recourse to those of another person, if he wishes to count further, although he has then passed the limit of numerical phraseology.  For the purpose of counting big numbers they are always sitting, and as in counting they exhaust hands and feet, the latter are put together, If, for example, they reach eighty, there are four men sitting, with all their hands and feet crowded together; and if the number be eighty-three, there is also a fifth man with a thumb and two fingers of his right hand closed up.  Sometimes a number above ten, but not over twenty, is indicated with the hands only by counting up to ten in the ordinary way, and then opening all the fingers and counting again, until they reach the requisite amount in excess of ten.

I do not think it can be said that these people have in their minds any real abstract idea of number, at all events beyond twenty.  Each finger turned down and toe pointed to, in succession, seems to represent to their minds the article (e.g., a pig) which is counted, rather than a step in a process of mental addition.  But this is a matter upon which I can only express myself in a very general way; and indeed the mental stage at which the mere physical idea of the objects counted has developed into the abstract idea of numbers would in any case be exceedingly difficult to ascertain, or even, perhaps, to define.

They never use pebbles or sticks or anything else of that kind, and have no method of recording numbers or anything else by notching sticks; and they have no weights or measures.

Currency and Trade.

The Mafulu people have no currency in the true sense, every transaction being one of exchange; but nevertheless some specific articles, especially some of the dearer ones, can only be acquired by the offering of certain other specific articles, and certain things have definite recognised relative values for the purpose of exchange.

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The Mafulu from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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