Propagation of Art and Culture

In understanding the likeness which pervades the culture of all mankind, the great difficulty is to disentangle the small part of art and custom which any people may have invented or adapted for themselves, from the large part which has been acquired by adopting from foreigners whatever was seen to suit their own circumstances. Original invention and modification of culture must take place somewhere, but to localise it in geography and chronology is so perplexing that anthropologists are fain to fall back, especially as to the more simple and primitive developments, on the view that they arose each in some one centre, or possibly more than one, thence propagating themselves over the world.

Who shall say, for instance, where and by whom were begun the use of the club and spear which are found everywhere, and of the bow, which is found almost everywhere? The problem becomes more manageable as it passes to special varieties of these simple weapons, and to appliances which are more complex and elaborate. For though as yet no definite rule has been ascertained for distinguishing similar inventions which may have arisen separately, from the travelling of one invention from place to place, yet at any rate experience and history lead us to judge that the more complex, elaborate, and unfamiliar an art or institution is, the more right we have to consider that it was only devised once, and travelled from this its first home to wherever else it is found. History often helps us to follow these lines of movement which have spread civilization over the world, while on the other hand the tracing of the arts through the regions of the world is among the most important aids to early history.

Thus in the case of the Bushmen already mentioned, mere inspection suggests that the glass beads which reach them through the traders are to be traced through an art history leading back through Phoenicia to Egypt, while the dakka-pipe is a record not of native African invention, but of the migration of the deleterious habit of hemp-smoking westward and southward probably from Central Asia.

It is well for the student to cultivate the habit, of which this book will give many opportunities, of endeavouring to separate, in the inventory of life among any people, the products of native invention from the borrowed appliances of the foreigner. Thus in the war-dance of the Sioux, the guns and iron-headed tomahawks bartered from the white trader figure beside the more genuine drum and stone-headed club; and the swords and daggers of the African countries show at a glance the influence of Asia which has spread with and beyond the range of the Moslem religion.


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