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Voyages in the Southern Hemisphere, Vols. II - IIIVoyaging Accounts
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Description of the Inhabitants


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CHAP IX. A Description of the Inhabitants, their Habitations, Apparel, Ornaments, Food, Cookery, and Manner of Life.

THE stature of the men in general is equal to the largest of those in Europe: they are stout, well limbed, and fleshy; but not fat, like the lazy and luxurious inhabitants of the islands in the South Seas: they are also exceedingly vigorous and active; and have an adroitness, and manual dexterity in an uncommon degree, which are discovered in whatever they do. I have seen the strokes of fifteen paddles on a side in one of their canoes made with incredible quickness, and yet with such minute exactness of time, that all the rowers seemed to be actuated by one common soul. Their colour in general is brown; but in few deeper than that of a Spaniard, who has been exposed to the sun; in many not so deep. The women have not a feminine delicacy in their appearance, but their voice is remarkably soft; and by that, the dress of both sexes being the same, they are principally distinguished: they have, however, like the women of other countries, more airy cheerfulness, and a greater flow of animal spirits, than the other sex. Their hair, both of the head and beard, is black; and their teeth extremely regular, and as white as ivory: the features of both sexes are good; they seem to enjoy high health, and we saw many who appeared to be of a great age. The dispositions both of the men and women seemed to be mild and gentle; they treat each other with the tenderest affection, but are implacable towards their enemies, to whom, as I have before observed, they never give quarter. It may perhaps, at first, seem strange, that where there is so little to be got by victory, there should so often be war; and that every little district of a country inhabited by people so mild and placid, should be at enmity with all the rest. But possibly more is to be gained by victory among these people than at first appears, and they may be prompted to mutual hostilities by motives which no degree of friendship or affection is able to resist. It appears, by the account that has already been given of them, that their principal food is fish, which can only be procured upon the sea coast; and there, in sufficient quantities, only at certain times: the tribes, therefore, who live inland, if any such there are, and even those upon the coast, must be frequently in danger of perishing by famine. Their country produces neither sheep, nor goats, nor hogs, nor cattle; tame fowls they have none, nor any art by which those that are wild can be caught in sufficient plenty to serve as provision. If there are any whose situation cuts them off from a supply of fish, the only succedaneum of all other animal food, except dogs, they have nothing to support life, but the vegetables that have already been mentioned, of which the chief are fern root, yams, clams, and potatoes: when by any accident these fail, the distress must be dreadful; and even among the inhabitants of the coast, many tribes must frequently be reduced to nearly the same situation, either by the failure of their plantations, or the deficiency of their dry stock, during the season when but few fish are to be caught. These considerations will enable us to account, not only for the perpetual danger in which the people who inhabit this country appear to live, by the care which they take to fortify every village, but for the horrid practice of eating those who are killed in battle; for the hunger of him who is pressed by famine to fight, will absorb every feeling, and every sentiment which would restrain him from allaying it with the body of his adversary. It may however be remarked, that, if this account of the origin of so horrid a practice is true, the mischief does by no means end with the necessity that produced it: after the practice has been once begun on one side by hunger, it will naturally be adopted on the other by revenge. Nor is this all, for though it may be pretended, by some who wish to appear speculative and philosophical, that whether the dead body of an enemy be eaten or buried, is in itself a a matter perfectly indifferent; as it is, whether the breasts and thighs of a woman should be covered or naked; and that prejudice and habit only make us shudder at the violation of custom in one instance, and blush at it in the other: yet, leaving this as a point of doubtful disputation, to be discussed at leisure, it may safely be affirmed, that the practice of eating human flesh, whatever it may be in itself, is relatively, and in its consequences, most pernicious; tending manifestly to eradicate a principle which is the chief security of human life, and more frequently restrains the hand of murder than the sense of duty, or even the fear of punishment.

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© Derived from Vols. II-III of the London 1773 edition: National Library of Australia call no. FERG 7243, pages 446 - 448, 2004
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