chapter  I
42 Pages

CEREMONIAL BODY-PAINTING

T HE ethnologist who is studying an Indian tribe is no doubt confronted with one of his most difficult tasks when he tries to find out the original idea underlying such customs as bodypainting and tattooing. First of all, the Indian probably outdoes most other lower peoples in his natural reluctance to reveal his religious and superstitious ideas, especially such as he suspects seem strange and ridiculous to the white man. Very seldom would it occur to him to tell his white inquirer straight, for instance, that he paints and tattoos himself to ward off or purify himself from evil spirits. More­ over, we must not start from the assumption that the original ideas of these ancient customs are known to all individuals of the present generation. The savages of our own days are not “ primitive ” in the exact sense of the word, but have passed through a long evolution, and certainly not without considerable changes. Although the customs themselves have perhaps remained unaltered, the motives and ideas underlying them may have changed--a psychological law very potent in the history of human culture. As a matter of fact, I shall show later on that in the self-decorative practices secondary motives have largely taken the place of, or become accessory to, the original ones.