An Essay on the Principle of Population

Thomas Robert Malthus
Malthus, Thomas Robert
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First Pub. Date
London: John Murray
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6th edition

Book I, Chapter IV

Of the Checks to Population among the American Indians.


We may next turn our view to the vast continent of America, the greatest part of which was found to be inhabited by small independent tribes of savages, subsisting, nearly like the natives of New Holland, on the productions of unassisted nature. The soil was covered by an almost universal forest, and presented few of those fruits and esculent vegetables which grow in such profusion in the islands of the South Sea. The produce of a most rude and imperfect agriculture, known to some of the tribe of hunters, was so trifling as to be considered only as a feeble aid to the subsistence acquired by the chase. The inhabitants of this new world therefore might be considered as living principally by hunting and fishing;*31 and the narrow limits to this mode of subsistence are obvious. The supplies derived from fishing could reach only those who were within a certain distance of the lakes, the rivers, or the sea-shore; and the ignorance and indolence of the improvident savage would frequently prevent him from extending the benefits of these supplies much beyond the time when they were actually obtained. The great extent of territory required for the support of the hunter has been repeatedly stated and acknowledged.*32 The number of wild animals within his reach, combined with the facility, with which they may be either killed or insnared, must necessarily limit the number of his society. The tribes of hunters, like beasts of prey, whom they resemble in their mode of subsistence, will consequently be thinly scattered over the surface of the earth. Like beasts of prey, they must either drive away or fly from every rival, and be engaged in perpetual contests with each other.*33


Under such circumstances, that America should be very thinly peopled in proportion to its extent of territory, is merely an exemplification of the obvious truth, that population cannot increase without the food to support it. But the interesting part of the inquiry, that part, to which I would wish particularly to draw the attention of the reader, is, the mode by which the population is kept down to the level of this scanty supply. It cannot escape observation, that an insufficient supply of food to any people does not shew itself merely in the shape of famine, but in other more permanent forms of distress, and in generating certain customs, which operate sometimes with greater force in the prevention of a rising population than in its subsequent destruction.


It was generally remarked, that the American women were far from being prolific.*34 This unfruitfulness has been attributed by some to a want of ardour in the men towards their women, a feature of character, which has been considered as peculiar to the American savage. It is not however peculiar to this race, but probably exists in a great degree among all barbarous nations, whose food is poor and insufficient, and who live in a constant apprehension of being pressed by famine or by an enemy. Bruce frequently takes notice of it, particularly in reference to the Galla and Shangalla, savage nations on the borders of Abyssinia,*35 and Vaillant mentions the phlegmatic temperament of the Hottentots as the chief reason of their thin population.*36 It seems to be generated by the hardships and dangers of savage life, which take off the attention from the sexual passion; and that these are the principal causes of it among the Americans, rather than any absolute constitutional defect, appears probable, from its diminishing nearly in proportion to the degree in which these causes are mitigated or removed. In those countries of America, where, from peculiar situation or further advantages in improvement, the hardships of savage life are less severely felt, the passion between the sexes becomes more ardent. Among some of the tribes seated on the banks of rivers well stored with fish, or others that inhabit a territory greatly abounding in game or much improved in agriculture, the women are more valued and admired; and as hardly any restraint is imposed on the gratification of desire, the dissoluteness of their manners is sometimes excessive.*37


If we do not then consider this apathy of the Americans as a natural defect in their bodily frame, but merely as a general coldness, and an infrequency of the calls of the sexual appetite, we shall not be inclined to give much weight to it as affecting the number of children to a marriage; but shall be disposed to look for the cause of this unfruitfulness in the condition and customs of the women in a savage state. And here we shall find reasons amply sufficient to account for the fact in question.


It is justly observed by Dr. Robertson, that, "Whether man has been improved by the progress of arts and civilization, is a question which in the wantonness of disputation has been agitated among philosophers. That women are indebted to the refinement of polished manners for a happy change in their state, is a point which can admit of no doubt."*38 In every part of the world, one of the most general characteristics of the savage is to despise and degrade the female sex.*39 Among most of the tribes in America their condition is so peculiarly grievous, that servitude is a name too mild to describe their wretched state. A wife is no better than a beast of burden. While the man passes his days in idleness or amusement, the woman is condemned to incessant toil. Tasks are imposed upon her without mercy, and services are received without complacence or gratitude.*40 There are some districts in America where this state of degradation has been so severely felt, that mothers have destroyed their female infants, to deliver them at once from a life in which they were doomed to such a miserable slavery.*41


This state of depression and constant labour, added to the unavoidable hardships of savage life, must be very unfavourable to the office of child-bearing;*42 and the libertinage which generally prevails among the women before marriage, with the habit of procuring abortions, must necessarily render them more unfit for bearing children afterwards.*43 One of the missionaries, speaking of the common practice among the Natchez of changing their wives, adds, unless they have children by them; a proof that many of these marriages were unfruitful, which may be accounted for from the libertine lives of the women before wedlock, which he had previously noticed.*44


The causes that Charlevoix assigns of the sterility of the American women, are, the suckling their children for several years, during which time they do not cohabit with their husbands; the excessive labour to which they are always condemned, in whatever situation they may be; and the custom established in many places, of permitting the young women to prostitute themselves before marriage. Added to this, he says, the extreme misery to which these people are sometimes reduced, takes from them all desire of having children.*45 Among some of the ruder tribes it is a maxim not to burthen themselves with rearing more than two of their offspring.*46 When twins are born, one of them is commonly abandoned, as the mother cannot rear them both; and when a mother dies during the period of suckling her child, no chance of preserving its life remains, and, as in New Holland, it is buried in the same grave with the breast that nourished it.*47


As the parents are frequently exposed to want themselves, the diffculty of supporting their children becomes at times so great, that they are reduced to the necessity of abandoning or destroying them.*48 Deformed children are very generally exposed; and, among some of the tribes in South America, the children of mothers who do not bear their labours well, experience a similar fate, from a fear that the offspring may inherit the weakness of its parent.*49


To causes of this nature we must ascribe the remarkable exemption of the Americans from deformities of make. Even when a mother endeavours to rear all her children without distinction, such a proportion of the whole number perishes under the rigorous treatment which must be their lot in the savage state, that probably none of those who labour under any original weakness or infirmity can attain the age of manhood. If they be not cut off as soon as they are born, they cannot long protract their lives under the severe discipline that awaits them.*50 In the Spanish provinces, where the Indians do not lead so laborious a life, and are prevented from destroying their children, great numbers of them are deformed, dwarfish, mutilated, blind and deaf.*51


Polygamy seems to have been generally allowed among the Americans, but the privilege was seldom used, except by the Caciques and chiefs, and now and then by others in some of the fertile provinces of the South, where subsistence was more easily procured. The difficulty of supporting a family confined the mass of the people to one wife;*52 and this difficulty was so generally known and acknowledged, that fathers, before they consented to give their daughters in marriage, required unequivocal proofs in the suitor of his skill in hunting, and his consequent ability to support a wife and children.*53 The women, it is said, do not marry early;*54 and this seems to be confirmed by the libertinage among them before marriage, so frequently taken notice of by the missionaries and other writers.*55


The customs above enumerated, which appear to have been generated principally by the experience of the difficulties attending the rearing of a family, combined with the number of children that must necessarily perish under the hardships of savage life, in spite of the best efforts of their parents to save them,*56 must, without doubt, most powerfully repress the rising generation.


When the young savage has passed safely through the perils of his childhood, other dangers scarcely less formidable await him on his approach to manhood. The diseases to which man is subject in the savage state, though fewer in number, are more violent and fatal than those which prevail in civilized society. As savages are wonderfully improvident, and their means of subsistence always precarious, they often pass from the extreme of want to exuberant plenty, according to the vicissitudes of fortune in the chase, or to the variety in the produce of the seasons.*57 Their inconsiderate gluttony in the one case, and their severe abstinence in the other, are equally prejudicial to the human constitution; and their vigour is accordingly at some seasons impaired by want, and at others by a superfluity of gross aliment, and the disorders arising from indigestions.*58 These, which may be considered as the unavoidable consequences of their mode of living, cut off considerable numbers in the prime of life. They are likewise extremely subject to consumptions, to pleuritic, asthmatic, and paralytic disorders, brought on by the immoderate hardships and fatigues which they endure in hunting and war, and by the inclemency of the seasons, to which they are continually exposed.*59


The missionaries speak of the Indians in South America as subject to perpetual diseases for which they know no remedy.*60 Ignorant of the use of the most simple herbs, or of any change in their gross diet, they die of these diseases in great numbers. The Jesuit Fauque says, that, in all the different excursions which he had made, he scarcely found a single individual of an advanced age.*61 Robertson determines the period of human life to be shorter among savages than in well-regulated and industrious communities.*62 Raynal, notwithstanding his frequent declamations in favour of savage life, says of the Indians of Canada, that few are so long lived as our people, whose manner of living is more uniform and tranquil.*63 And Cook and Pérouse confirm these opinions in the remarks which they make on some of the inhabitants of the north-west coast of America.*64


In the vast plains of South America, a burning sun, operating on the extensive swamps and the inundations that succeed the rainy seasons, sometimes produces dreadful epidemics. The missionaries speak of contagious distempers as frequent among the Indians, and occasioning at times a great mortality in their villages.*65 The smallpox every where makes great ravages, as, from want of care and from confined habitations, very few that are attacked recover from it.*66 The Indians of Paraguay are said to be extremely subject to contagious distempers, notwithstanding the care and attentions of the Jesuits. The small-pox and malignant fevers, which, from the ravages they make, are called plagues, frequently desolate these flourishing missions; and, according to Ulloa, were the cause that they had not increased in proportion to the time of their establishment, and the profound peace which they had enjoyed.*67


These epidemics are not confined to the south. They are mentioned as if they were not uncommon among the more northern nations;*68 and, in a late voyage to the north-west coast of America, Captain Vancouver gives an account of a very extraordinary desolation apparently produced by some distemper of this kind. From New Dungeness he traversed a hundred and fifty miles of the coast without seeing the same number of inhabitants. Deserted villages were frequent, each of which was large enough to contain all the scattered savages that had been observed in that extent of country. In the different excursions which he made, particularly about Port Discovery, the skulls, limbs, ribs and back-bones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were scattered promiscuously in great numbers; and, as no warlike scars were observed on the bodies of the remaining Indians, and no particular signs of fear and suspicion were noticed, the most probable conjecture seems to be, that this depopulation must have been occasioned by pestilential disease.*69 The small-pox appears to be common and fatal among the Indians on this coast. Its indelible marks were observed on many, and several had lost the sight of one eye from it.*70


In general, it may be remarked of savages, that, from their extreme ignorance, the dirt of their persons, and the closeness and filth of their cabins,*71 they lose the advantage which usually attends a thinly peopled country, that of being more exempt from pestilential diseases than those which are fully inhabited. In some parts of America the houses are built for the reception of many different families; and fourscore or a hundred people are crowded together under the same roof. When the families live separately, the huts are extremely small, close and wretched, without windows; and with the doors so low, that it is necessary to creep on the hands and knees to enter them.*72 On the north-west coast of America, the houses are, in general, of the large kind; and Meares describes one of most extraordinary dimensions, belonging to a chief near Nootka Sound in which eight hundred persons ate, sat, and slept.*73 All voyagers agree with respect to the filth of the habitations and the personal nastiness of the people on this coast.*74 Captain Cook describes them as swarming with vermin, which they pick off and eat;*75 and speaks of the state of their habitations in terms of the greatest disgust.*76 Pérouse declares that their cabins have a nastiness and stench to which the den of no known animal in the world can be compared.*77


Under such circumstances, it may be easily imagined what a dreadful havoc an epidemic must make, when once it appears among them; and it does not seem improbable, that the degree of filth described should generate distempers of this nature, as the air of their houses cannot be much purer than the atmosphere of the most crowded cities.


Those who escape the dangers of infancy and of disease, are constantly exposed to the chances of war; and notwithstanding the extreme caution of the Americans in conducting their military operations, yet, as they seldom enjoy any interval of peace, the waste of their numbers in war is considerable.*78 The rudest of the American nations are well acquainted with the rights of each community to its own domains.*79 And as it is of the utmost consequence to prevent others from destroying the game in their hunting grounds, they guard this national property with a jealous attention. Innumerable subjects of dispute necessarily arise. The neighbouring nations live in a perpetual state of hostility with each other.*80 The very act of increasing in one tribe must be an act of aggression on its neighbours; as a larger range of territory will be necessary to support its increased numbers. The contest will in this case naturally continue, either till the equilibrium is restored by mutual losses, or till the weaker party is exterminated, or driven from its country. When the irruption of an enemy desolates their cultivated lands, or drives them from their hunting-grounds; as they have seldom any portable stores, they are generally reduced to extreme want. All the people of the district invaded, are frequently forced to take refuge in woods or mountains, which can afford them no subsistence, and where many of them perish.*81 In such a flight each consults alone his individual safety. Children desert their parents, and parents consider their children as strangers. The ties of nature are no longer binding. A father will sell his son for a knife or a hatchet.*82 Famine and distresses of every kind complete the destruction of those whom the sword had spared; and in this manner whole tribes are frequently extinguished.*83


Such a state of things has powerfully contributed to generate that ferocious spirit of warfare observable among savages in general, and most particularly among the Americans. Their object in battle is not conquest, but destruction.*84 The life of the victor depends on the death of his enemy; and, in the rancour and fell spirit of revenge with which he pursues him, he seems constantly to bear in mind the distresses that would be consequent on defeat. Among the Iroquois, the phrase by which they express their resolution of making war against an enemy, is, "Let us go and eat that nation." If they solicit the aid of a neighbouring tribe, they invite them to eat broth made of the flesh of their enemies.*85 Among the Abnakis, when a body of their warriors enters an enemy's territory, it is generally divided into different parties, of thirty or forty; and the chief says to each, " To you is given such a hamlet to eat, to you such a village,"*86 &c. These expressions remain in the language of some of the tribes, in which the custom of eating their prisoners taken in war no longer exists. Cannibalism, however, undoubtedly prevailed in many parts of the new world;*87 and, contrary to the opinion of Dr. Robertson, I cannot but think that it must have had its origin in extreme want, though the custom might afterwards be continued from other motives. It seems to be a worse compliment to human nature and to the savage state, to attribute this horrid repast to malignant passions, without the goad of necessity, rather than to the great law of self-preservation, which has at times overcome every other feeling, even among the most humane and civilized people. When once it had prevailed, though only occasionally, from this cause; the fear that a savage might feel of becoming a repast to his enemies, might easily raise the passion of rancour and revenge to so high a pitch, as to urge him to treat his prisoners in this way, though not prompted at the time by hunger.


The missionaries speak of several nations, which appeared to use human flesh whenever they could obtain it, as they would the flesh of any of the rarer animals.*88 These accounts may perhaps be exaggerated, though they seem to be confirmed in a great degree by the late voyages to the north-west coast of America, and by Capt. Cook's description of the state of society in the southern island of New Zealand.*89 The people of Nootka Sound appear to be cannibals;*90 and the chief of the district, Maquinna, is said to be so addicted to this horrid banquet, that, in cold blood, he kills a slave every moon to gratify his unnatural appetite.*91


The predominant principle of self-preservation, connected most intimately in the breast of the savage, with the safety and power of the community to which he belongs, prevents the admission of any of those ideas of honour and gallantry in war, which prevail among more civilized nations. To fly from an adversary that is on his guard, and to avoid a contest where he cannot contend without risk to his own person, and consequently to his community, is the point of honour with the American. The odds of ten to one are necessary to warrant an attack on a person who is armed and prepared to resist; and even then each is afraid of being the first to advance*92 The great object of the most renowned warrior is by every art of cunning and deceit, by every mode of stratagem and surprise that his invention can suggest, to weaken and destroy the tribes of his enemies with the least possible loss to his own. To meet an enemy on equal terms is regarded as extreme folly. To fall in battle, instead of being reckoned an honourable death,*93 is a misfortune, which subjects the memory of a warrior to the imputation of rashness and imprudence. But to lie in wait day after day, till he can rush upon his prey when most secure, and least able to resist him; to steal in the dead of night upon his enemies, set fire to their huts, and massacre the inhabitants, as they fly naked and defenceless from the flames,*94 are deeds of glory, which will be of deathless memory in the breasts of his grateful countrymen.


This mode of warfare is evidently produced by a consciousness of the difficulties attending the rearing of new citizens under, the hardships and dangers of savage life. And these powerful causes of destruction may in some instances be so great as to keep down the population even considerably below the means of subsistence; but the fear that the Americans betray of any diminution of their society, and their apparent wish to increase it, are no proofs that this is generally the case. The country could not probably support the addition that is coveted in each society; but an accession of strength to one tribe opens to it new sources of subsistence in the comparative weakness of its adversaries; and, on the contrary, a diminution of its numbers, so far from giving greater plenty to the remaining members, subjects them to extirpation or famine from the irruptions of their stronger neighbours.


The Chiriguanes, originally only a small part of the tribe of Guaranis, left their native country in Paraguay, and settled in the mountains towards Peru. They found sufficient subsistence in their new country, increased rapidly, attacked their neighbours, and by superior valour or superior fortune gradually exterminated them, and took possession of their lands; occupying a great extent of country, and having increased, in the course of some years, from three or four thousand to thirty thousand,*95 while the tribes of their weaker neighbours were daily thinned by famine and the sword.


Such instances prove the rapid increase even of the Americans under favourable circumstances, and sufficiently account for the fear which prevails in every tribe of diminishing its numbers, and the frequent wish to increase, them,*96 without supposing a superabundance of food in the territory actually possessed.


That the causes,*97 which have been mentioned as affecting the population of the Americans, are principally regulated by the plenty or scarcity of subsistence, is sufficiently evinced from the greater frequency of the tribes, and the greater numbers in each, throughout all those parts of the country, where, from the vicinity of lakes or rivers, the superior fertility of the soil, or further advances in improvement, food becomes more abundant. In the interior of the provinces bordering on the Oronoco, several hundred miles may be traversed in different directions without finding a single hut, or observing the footsteps of a single creature. In some parts of North America, where the climate is more rigorous, and the soil less fertile, the desolation is still greater. Vast tracts of some hundred leagues have been crossed through uninhabited plains and forests.*98 The missionaries speak of journeys of twelve days without meeting a single soul,*99 and of immense tracts of country, in which scarcely three or four scattered villages were to be found.*100 Some of these deserts furnished no game,*101 and were therefore entirely desolate; others, which were to a certain degree stocked with it, were traversed in the hunting seasons by parties, who encamped and remained in different spots, according to the success they met with, and were therefore really inhabited in proportion to the quantity of subsistence which they yielded.*102


Other districts of America are described as comparatively fully peopled; such as the borders of the great northern lakes, the shores of Mississippi, Louisiana, and many provinces in South America. The villages here were large, and near each other, in proportion to the superior fruitfulness of the territory in game and fish, and the advances made by the inhabitants in agriculture.*103 The Indians of the great and populous empires of Mexico and Peru sprung undoubtedly from the same stock, and originally possessed the same customs as their ruder brethren; but from the moment when, by a fortunate train of circumstances, they were led to improve and extend their agriculture, a considerable population rapidly followed, in spite of the apathy of the men, or the destructive habits of the women. These habits would indeed in a great measure yield to the change of circumstances; and the substitution of a more quiet and sedentary life for a life of perpetual wandering and hardship, would immediately render the women more fruiful, and enable them at the same time to attend to the wants of a larger family.


In a general view of the American continent, as described by historians, the population seems to have been spread over the surface very nearly in proportion to the quantity of food which the inhabitants of the different parts, in the actual state of their industry and improvement, could obtain; and that, with few exceptions, it pressed hard against this limit, rather than fell short of it, appears from the frequent recurrence of distress for want of food in all parts of America.


Remarkable instances occur, according to Dr. Robertson, of the calamities which rude nations suffer by famine. As one of them, he mentions an account given by Alvar Nugnez Cabeça de Vaca, one of the Spanish adventurers, who resided almost nine years among the savages of Florida. He describes them as unacquainted with every species of agriculture, and living chiefly upon the roots of different plants, which they procure with great difficulty, wandering from place to place in search of them. Sometimes they kill game, sometimes they catch fish, but in such small quantities, that their hunger is so extreme as to compel them to eat spiders, the eggs of ants, worms, lizards, serpents, and a kind of unctuous earth; and, I am persuaded, he says, that if in this country there were any stones, they would swallow them. They preserve the bones of fishes and serpents, which they grind into powder and eat. The only season when they do not suffer much from famine, is when a certain fruit like the opuntia, or prickly-pear, is ripe; but they are sometimes obliged to travel far from their usual place of residence, in order to find it. In another place, he observes that they are frequently reduced to pass two or three days without food.*104


Ellis, in his Voyage to Hudson's Bay, feelingly describes the sufferings of the Indians in that neighbourhood from extreme want. Having mentioned the severity of the climate, he says, "Great as these hardships are which result from the rigour of the cold, yet it may justly be, affirmed that they are much inferior to those which they feel from the scarcity of provisions, and the difficulty they are under of procuring them. A story which is related at the factories, and known to be true, will sufficiently prove this, and give the compassionate reader a just idea of the miseries to which these unhappy people are exposed." He then gives an account of a poor Indian and his wife, who, on the failure of game, having eaten up all the skins which they wore as clothing, were reduced to the dreadful extremity of supporting themselves on the flesh of two of their children.*105 In another place, he says, "It has sometimes happened that the Indians who come in summer to trade at the factories, missing the succours they expected; have been obliged to singe off the hair from thousands of beaver-skins, in order to feed upon the leather."*106


The Abbé Raynal, who is continually reasoning most inconsistently in his comparisons of savage and civilized life, though in one place he speaks of the savage as morally sure of a competent subsistence, yet, in his account of the nations of Canada, says, that though they lived in a country abounding in game and fish, yet in some seasons and sometimes for whole years, this resource failed them; and famine then occasioned a great destruction among a people who were at too great a distance to assist each other.*107


Charlevoix, speaking of the inconveniences and distresses to which the missionaries were subject, observes that not unfrequently the evils which he had been describing are effaced by a greater, in comparison of which all the others are nothing. This is famine. It is true, says he, that the savages can bear hunger with as much patience as they shew carelessness in providing against it; but they are sometimes reduced to extremities beyond their power to support.*108


It is the general custom among most of the American nations, even those which have made some progress in agriculture, to disperse themselves in the woods at certain seasons of the year, and to subsist for some months on the produce of the chase, as a principal part of their annual supplies.*109 To remain in their villages exposes them to certain famine;*110 and in the woods they are not always sure to escape it. The most able hunters sometimes fail of success, even where there is no deficiency of game;*111 and in their forests, on the failure of this resource, the hunter or the traveller is exposed to the most cruel want.*112 The Indians, in their hunting excursions, are sometimes reduced to pass three or four days without food;*113 and a missionary relates an account of some Iroquois, who, on one of these occasions, having supported themselves as long as they could, by eating the skins which they had with them, their shoes, and the bark of trees, at length, in despair, sacrificed some of the party to support the rest. Out of eleven, five only returned alive.*114


The Indians, in many parts of South America, live in extreme want,*115 and are sometimes destroyed by absolute famines.*116 The islands, rich as they appeared to be, were peopled fully up to the level of their produce. If a few Spaniards settled in any district, such a small addition of supernumerary mouths soon occasioned a severe dearth of provisions.*117 The flourishing Mexican empire was in the same state in this respect; and Cortez often found the greatest difficulty in procuring subsistence for his small body of soldiers.*118 Even the missions of Paraguay, with all the care and foresight of the Jesuits, and notwithstanding that their population was kept down by frequent epidemics, were by no means totally exempt from the pressure of want. The Indians of the Mission of St. Michael are mentioned as having at one time increased so much, that the lands capable of cultivation in their neighbourhood, produced only half of the grain necessary for their support.*119 Long droughts often destroyed their cattle,*120 and occasioned a failure of their crops; and on these occasions some of the Missions were reduced to the most extreme indigence, and would have perished from famine, but for the assistance of their neighbours.*121


The late voyages to the north-west coast of America confirm these accounts of the frequent pressure of want in savage life, and shew the uncertainty of the resource of fishing, which seems to afford, in general, the most plentiful harvest of food that is furnished by unassisted nature. The sea on the coast near Nootka Sound is seldom or never so much frozen as to prevent the inhabitants from having access to it. Yet from the very great precautions they use in laying up stores for the winter, and their attention to prepare and preserve whatever food is capable of it for the colder seasons, it is evident that the sea at these times yields no fish; and it appears that they often undergo very great hardships from want of provisions in the cold months.*122 During a Mr. Mackay's stay at Nootka Sound, from 1786 to 1787, the length and severity of the winter occasioned a famine. The stock of dried fish was expended, and no fresh supplies of any kind were to be caught; so that the natives were obliged to submit to a fixed allowance, and the chiefs brought every day to our countrymen the stated meal of seven dried, herrings' heads. Mr. Meares says that the perusal of this gentleman's journal would shock any mind tinctured with humanity.*123


Captain Vancouver mentions some of the people to the north of Nootka Sound as living very miserably on a paste made of the inner bark of the pine-tree and cockles.*124 In one of the boat excursions, a party of Indians was met with who had some halibut, but, though very high prices were offered, they could not be induced to part with any. This, as Captain Vancouver observes, was singular, and indicated a very scanty supply.*125 At Nootka Sound, in the year 1794, fish had become very scarce and bore an exorbitant price; as, either from the badness of the season or from neglect, the inhabitants had experienced the greatest distress for want of provisions during winter.*126


Pérouse describes the Indians in the neighbourhood of Port François as living during the summer in the greatest abundance by fishing, but exposed in the winter to perish from want.*127


It is not therefore, as Lord Kaimes imagines, that the American tribes have never increased sufficiently to tender the pastoral or agricultural state necessary to them;*128 but, from some cause or other, they have not adopted in any great degree these more plentiful modes of procuring subsistence, and therefore have not increased so as to become populous. If hunger alone could have prompted the savage tribes of America to such a change in their habits, I do not conceive that there would have been a single nation of hunters and fishers remaining; but it is evident that some fortunate train of circumstances, in addition to this stimulus, is necessary for the purpose; and it is undoubtedly probable, that these arts of obtaining food will be first invented and improved in those spots which are best suited to them, and where the natural fertility of the situation, by allowing a greater number of people to subsist together, would give the fairest chance to the inventive powers of the human mind.


Among most of the American tribes that we have been considering, so great a degree of equality prevailed that all the members of each community would be nearly equal sharers in the general hardships of savage life and in the pressure of occasional famines. But in many of the more southern nations, as in Bogota,*129 and among the Natchez,*130 and particularly in Mexico and Peru, where a great distinction of ranks prevailed, and the lower classes were in a state of absolute servitude,*131 it is probable that, on occasion of any failure of subsistence, these would be the principal sufferers, and that the positive checks to population would act almost exclusively on this part of the community.


The very extraordinary depopulation that has taken place among the American Indians, may appear to some to contradict the theory which is intended to be established; but it will be found that the causes of this rapid diminution may all be resolved into the three great checks to population which have been stated; and it is not asserted, that these checks, operating from particular circumstances with unusual force, may not, in some instances, be more powerful even than the principle of increase.


The insatiable fondness of the Indians for spirituous liquors,*132 which, according to Charlevoix, is a rage that passes all expression,*133 by producing among them perpetual quarrels and contests which often terminate fatally, by exposing them to a new train of disorders which their mode of life unfits them to contend with, and by deadening and destroying the generative faculty in its very source, may alone be considered as a vice adequate to produce the present depopulation. In addition to this, it should be observed that almost every where the connexion of the Indians with Europeans has tended to break their spirit, to weaken or give a wrong direction to their industry, and in consequence to diminish the sources of subsistence. In St. Domingo, the Indians neglected purposely to cultivate their lands in order to starve out their cruel oppressors.*134 In Peru and Chili, the forced industry of the natives was fatally directed to the digging in the bowels of the earth, instead of cultivating its surface; and, among the northern tribes, the extreme desire to purchase European spirits directed the industry of the greatest part of them, almost exclusively, to the procuring of plenty for the purpose of this exchange,*135 which would prevent their attention to the more fruitful sources of subsistence, and at the same time tend rapidly to destroy the produce of the chace. The number of wild animals, in all the known parts of America, is even more diminished than the number of people.*136 The attention to agriculture has every where slackened, rather than increased, as might at first have been expected; from European connexion. In no part of America, either North or South, do we hear of any of the Indian nations living in great plenty, in consequence of their diminished numbers. It may not therefore be very far from the truth, to say that even now, in spite of all the powerful causes of destruction that have been mentioned, the average population of the American nations is, with few exceptions, on a level with the average quantity of food, which in the present state of their industry they can obtain.

Notes for this chapter

Robertson's History of America, vol. ii. b. iv. p. 127. et seq. octavo edit. 1780.
Franklin's Miscell. p. 2.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 129.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 106. Burke's America, vol. i, p. 187. Charlevoix, Hist. de la Nouvelle France, tom. iii. p. 304. Lafitau, Mœurs des Sauvages, tom. i. p. 590. In the course of this chapter I often give the same references as Robertson; but never without having examined and verified them myself. Where I have not had an opportunity of doing this, I refer to Robertson alone.
Travels to discover the Source of the Nile, vol. ii. pp. 223, 559.
Voyage dans l'Intérieur de l'Afrique, tom. i. p. 12, 13.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 71. Lettres Edif. et Curieuses, tom. vi. p. 48, 322, 330. tom. vii. p. 20. 12mo. edit. 1780. Charlevoix, tom. iii. p. 303, 423. Hennepin, Mœurs des Sauvages, p. 37.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 103.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 103. Lettres Edif, passim. Charlevoix, Hist. Nouv. Fr. tom. iii. p. 287. Voy. de Pérouse, c. ix. p. 402, 4to. London.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 105. Lettres Edif. tom. vi. p. 329. Major Roger's North America, p. 211. Creuxii Hist. Canad. p. 57.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 106. Raynal, Hist. des Indes, tom. iv. c. vii. p. 110, 8vo. 10 vol. 1795.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 106. Creuxii Hist. Canad. p. 57. Lafitau, tom. i. p. 590.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 72. Ellis's Voyage, p. 198. Burke's America, vol. i. p. 187.
Lettres Edif. tom. vii. p. 20, 22.
Charlevoix, N. Fr. tom. iii. p. 304.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 107. Lettres Edif. tom. ix. p. 140.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 107. Lettres Edif. tom. viii. p. 86.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 108.
Lafitau, Mœurs des Sauv. tom. i. p. 592.
Charlevoix, tom: iii. p. 303. Raynal, Hist. des Indes, tom. viii. l. xv. p. 22.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 73. Voyage d'Ulloa, tom. i. p. 232.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 102. Lettres Edif. tom. viii. p. 87.
Lettres Edif. tom. ix. p. 364. Robertson, b. iv. p. 115.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 107.
Lettres Edif. passim. Voyage d'Ulloa, tom. i. p. 343. Burke's America, vol. i. p. 187. Charlevoix, tom. iii. p. 303, 304.
Creuxius says, that scarcely one in thirty reaches manhood (Hist. Canad. p. 57); but this must be a very great exaggeration.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 85.
Charlevoix, tom., iii, p. 302, 303.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 86. Charlevoix, tom. iii. p. 364. Lafitau, tom. ii. p. 360, 361.
Lettres Edif. tom. viii. p. 83.
Lettres Edif. tom. vii. p. 317. et seq.
B. iv. p. 86.
Raynal, b. xv. p. 23.
Cook, third Voy. vol. iii. ch. ii. p. 520. Voy. de Pérouse, ch. ix.
Lettres Edif. tom. viii. p. 79, 339. tom. ix. p. 125.
Voyage d'Ulloa, tom. i. p. 349.
Id. tom. i. p. 549.
Lettres Edif. tom. vi. p. 335.
Vancouver's Voy. vol. i. b. ii. c. v. p. 256.
Id. c. iv. p. 242.
Charlevoix speaks in the strongest terms of the extreme filth and stench of the American cabins, "On ne peut entrer dans leurs cabanes qu'on ne soit impesté:" and the dirt of their meals, he says, "vous feroit horreur." Vol. iii. p. 338.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 182. Voyage d'Ulloa, tom. i. p. 340.
Meares's Voyage, ch. xii. p. 138.
Meares's Voyage, ch. xxiii. p. 252. Vancouver's Voyage, vol. iii. b. vi. c. i. p. 313.
Cook's 3d Voyage, vol. ii. p. 305.
Id. c. iii. p. 316.
Voyage de Pérouse, c. ix. p. 403.
Charlevoix; Hist. de la Nouv. France, tom. iii. 202, 203, 429.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 147.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 147. Lettres Edif. tom. viii. p. 40, 86, & passim. Cook's 3d Voy. vol. ii. p. 324. Meares's Voy. ch. xxiv. p. 267.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 172. Charlevoix, Nouv. France, tom. iii. p. 203.
Lettres Edif. tom. viii. p. 346.
Robertson, b. iv, p. 172. Account of North America, by Major Rogers, p. 250.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 150.
Robertson b. iv. p. 164.
Lettres Edif. tom. vi. p. 205.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 164.
Lettres Edif. tom. viii. p. 105, 271. tom. vi. p. 266.
Cautious as Captain Cook always is, he says of the New Zealanders, "it was but too evident that they have a great liking for this kind of food." Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 246. And in the last Voyage, speaking of their perpetual hostilities, he says, "and perhaps the desire of a good meal may be no small incitement." Vol. i. p. 137.
Cook's Third Voyage, vol. ii, p. 271.
Meares's Voyage, ch. xxiv. p. 255.
Lettres Edif. tom. vi. p. 360.
Charlevoix, No. Fr. tom. iii. p. 376.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 155. Lettres Edif. tom. vi. p. 182, 360.
Lettres Edif. tom. viii. p. 243. Les Chiriguanes multiplièrent prodigieusement, et en assez peu d'années leur nombre monta à trente mille ames.
Lafitau, tom. ii. p. 163.
These causes may perhaps appear more than sufficient to keep the population down to the level of the means of subsistence; and they certainly would be so, if the representations given of the unfruitfulness of the Indian women were universally, or even generally true. It is probable that some of the accounts are exaggerated, but it is difficult to say which; and it must be acknowledged, that, even allowing for all such exaggerations, they are amply sufficient to establish the point proposed.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 129, 130.
Lettres Edif. tom. vi. p. 357.
Id. p. 321.
Id. tom. ix. p. 145.
Id. tom. vi. p. 66, 81, 345. tom. ix. p. 145.
Id. tom. ix. p. 90, 142. Robertson, b. iv. p. 141.
Robertson, note 28 to p. 117, b. iv.
Robertson, p. 196.
P. 194.
Raynal, Histoire des Indes, tom. viii. l. xv. p. 22.
Hist. N. Fr. tom. iii. p. 338.
Lettres Edif. tom. vi. p. 66, 81, 345. ix. 145.
Id. tom. vi. p. 82, 196, 197, 215. ix. 151.
Charlevoix, N. Fr. tom. iii. p. 201. Hennepin, Mœurs des Sauv. p. 78.
Lettres Edif. tom. vi. p. 167, 220.
Id. tom. vi. p. 33.
Id. tom. vi. p. 71.
Lettres Edif. tom. vii. p. 383. ix. 140.
Id. tom. viii. p. 79.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 121. Burke's America, vol. i. p. 30.
Robertson, b. viii. p. 212.
Lettres Edif. tom. ix. p. 381.
Id. tom. ix. p. 191.
Id. tom. ix. p. 206, 380.
Meares's Voyage, ch. xxiv. p. 266.
Id. ch. xi. p. 132.
Vancouver's Voyage, vol. ii. b. ii. c. ii. p. 273.
Id. ib. p. 282.
Id. vol. iii. b. vi. c. i. p. 304.
Voyage de Pérouse, ch. ix. p. 400.
Sketches of the History of Man, vol. i. p. 99, 105, 8vo. 2d edit.
Robertson, b. iv. p. 141.
Lettres Edif. tom. vii. p. 21. Robertson, b. iv, p. 139.
Robertson, b. vii. p. 190, 242.
Major Rogers's Account of North America, p. 210.
Charlevoix, tom. iii. p. 302.
Robertson, b. ii. p. 185. Burke's America, vol. i. b. 300.
Charlevoix, N. Fr. tom. iii. p. 260.
The general introduction of fire-arms among the Indians has probably greatly contributed to the diminution of the wild animals. .

End of Notes

Book I, Chapter V

Of the Checks to Population in the Islands of the South Sea.


The Abbé Raynal, speaking of the ancient state of the British isles, and of islanders in general; says of them: "It is among these people that we trace the origin of that multitude of singular institutions which retard the progress of population. Anthropophagy, the castration of males, the infibulation of females, late marriages; the consecration of virginity, the approbation of celibacy, the punishments exercised against girls who become mothers at too early an age,"*1 &c. These customs, caused by a superabundance of population in islands, have been carried, he says, to the continents, where philosophers of our days are still employed to investigate the reason of them. The Abbé does not seem to be aware that a savage tribe in America surrounded by enemies, or a civilized and populous nation hemmed in by others in the same state, is, in many respects, circumstanced like the islander. Though the barriers to a further increase of population be not so well defined, and so open to common observation, on continents as on islands, yet they still present obstacles that are nearly as insurmountable; and the emigrant, impatient of the distresses which he feels in his own country, is by no means secure of finding relief in another. There is probably no island yet known, the produce of which could not be further increased. This is all that can be said of the whole earth. Both are peopled up to their actual produce. And the whole earth is in this respect like an island. But, as the bounds to the number of people on islands, particularly when they are of small extent, are so narrow, and so distinctly marked, that every person must see and acknowledge them, an inquiry into the checks to population on those, of which we have the most authentic accounts, may tend considerably to illustrate the present subject. The question that is asked in Captain Cook's first Voyage, with respect to the thinly scattered savages of New Holland, "By what means the inhabitants of this country are reduced to such a number as it can subsist?"*2 may be asked with equal propriety respecting the most populous islands in the South Sea, or the best peopled countries in Europe and Asia. The question, applied generally, appears to me to be highly curious, and to lead to the elucidation of some of the most obscure, yet important points, in the history of human society. I cannot so clearly and concisely describe the precise aim of the first part of the present work, as by saying that it is an endeavour to answer this question so applied.


Of the large islands of New Guinea, New Britain, New Caledonia, and the New Hebrides, little is known with certainty. The state of society in them is probably very similar to that which prevails among many of the savage nations of America. They appear to be inhabited by a number of different tribes, who are engaged in frequent hostilities with each other. The chiefs have little authority; and private property being in consequence insecure, provisions have been rarely found on them in abundance.*3 With the large island of New Zealand we are better acquainted; but not in a manner to give us a favourable impression of the state of society among its inhabitants. The picture of it, drawn by Captain Cook in his three different Voyages, contains some of the darkest shades that are any where to be met with in the history of human nature. The state of perpetual hostility, in which the different tribes of these people live with each other, seems to be even more striking than among the savages of any part of America;*4 and their custom of eating human flesh, and even their relish for that kind of food, are established beyond a possibility of doubt.*5 Captain Cook, who is by no means inclined to exaggerate the vices of savage life, says, of the natives in the neighbourhood of Queen Charlotte's Sound, "If I had followed the advice of all our pretended friends, I might have extirpated the whole race; for the people of each hamlet or village, by turns, applied to me to destroy the other. One would have thought it almost impossible that so striking a proof of the divided state in which these miserable people live, could have been assigned."*6 And, in the same chapter, further on, he says, "From my own observations, and the information of Taweiharooa, it appears to me, that the New Zealanders must live under perpetual apprehensions of being destroyed by each other; there being few of their tribe that have not, as they think, sustained wrongs from some other tribes, which they are continually upon the watch to revenge. And, perhaps, the desire of a good meal may be no small incitement.**** Their method of executing their horrible designs is by stealing upon the adverse party in the night; and if they find them unguarded (which, however, I believe, is very seldom the case) they kill every one indiscriminately, not even sparing the women and children. When the massacre is completed, they either feast and gorge themselves on the spot, or carry off as many of the dead bodies as they can, and devour them at home with acts of brutality too shocking to be described.**** To give quarter, or take prisoners, makes no part of the military law, so that the vanquished can only save their lives by flight. This perpetual state of war and destructive method of conducting it, operates so strongly in producing habitual circumspection, that one hardly ever finds a New Zealander off his guard, either by night or by day."*7


As these observations occur in the last Voyage; in which the errors of former accounts would have been corrected, and as a constant state of warfare is here represented as prevailing to such a degree that it may be considered as the principal check to the population of New Zealand, little need be added on this subject. We are not informed whether any customs are practised by the women unfavourable to population. If such be known; they are probably never resorted to, except in times of great distress; as each tribe will naturally wish to increase the number of its members in order to give itself greater power of attack and defence. But the vagabond life which the women of the southern island lead, and the constant state of alarm in which they live, being obliged to travel and work with arms in their hands,*8 must undoubtedly be very unfavourable to gestation, and tend greatly to prevent large families.


Yet powerful as these checks to population are, it appears, from the recurrence of seasons of scarcity, that they seldom repress the number of people below the average means of subsistence. "That such seasons there are," (Captain Cook says,) "our observations leave us no room to doubt."*9 Fish is a principal part of their food, which, being only to be procured on the sea-coast, and at certain times,*10 must always be considered as a precarious resource. It must be extremely difficult to dry and preserve any considerable stores in a state of society subject to such constant alarms; particularly, as we may suppose, that the bays and creeks most abounding in fish would most frequently be the subject of obstinate contest to people who were wandering in search of food.*11 The vegetable productions are, the fern root, yams, clams and potatoes.*12 The three last are raised by cultivation, and are seldom found on the southern island, where agriculture is but little known.*13 On the occasional failure of these scanty resources from unfavourable seasons, it may be imagined that the distress must be dreadful. At such periods it does not seem improbable that the desire of a good meal should give additional force to the desire of revenge, and that they should be "perpetually destroying each other by violence, as the only alternative of perishing by hunger."*14


If we turn our eyes from the thinly scattered inhabitants of New Zealand to the crowded shores of Otaheite and the Society Islands, a different scene opens to our view. All apprehension of dearth seems at first sight to be banished from a country that is described to be fruitful as the garden of the Hesperides.*15 But this first impression would be immediately corrected by a moment's reflection. Happiness and plenty have always been considered as the most powerful causes of increase. In a delightful climate, where few diseases are known, and the women are condemned to no severe fatigues, why should not these causes operate with a force unparalleled in less favourable regions? Yet if they did, where could the population find room and food in such circumscribed limits? If the numbers in Otaheite, not 40 leagues in circuit, surprised Captain Cook, when he calculated them at two hundred and four thousand,*16 where could they be disposed of in a single century, when they would amount to above three millions, supposing them to double their numbers every twenty-five years.*17 Each island of the group would be in a similar situation. The removal from one to another would be a change of place, but not a change of the species of distress. Effectual emigration, or effectual importation, would be utterly excluded, from the situation of the islands and the state of navigation among their inhabitants.


The difficulty here is reduced to so narrow a compass, is so clear, precise and forcible that we cannot escape from it. It cannot be answered in the usual vague and inconsiderate manner, by talking of emigration, and further cultivation. In the present instance, we cannot but acknowledge, that the one is impossible, and the other glaringly inadequate. The fullest conviction must stare us in the face, that the people on this group of islands could not continue to double their numbers every twenty-five years; and before we proceed to inquire into the state of society on them, we must be perfectly certain that, unless a perpetual miracle render the women barren, we shall be able to trace some very powerful checks to population in the habits of the people.


The successive accounts that we have received of Otaheite and the neighbouring islands, leave us no room to doubt the existence of the Eareeoie societies,*18 which have justly occasioned so much surprise among civilized nations. They have been so often described, that little more need be said of them here, than that promiscuous intercourse and infanticide appear to be their fundamental laws. They consist exclusively of the higher classes; "and" (according to Mr. Anderson)*19 "so agreeable is this licentious plan of life to their disposition, that the most beautiful of both sexes thus commonly spend their youthful days, habituated to the practice of enormities that would disgrace the most savage tribes.**** When an Eareeoie woman is delivered of a child, a piece of cloth dipped in water is applied to the mouth and nose, which suffocates it."*20 Captain Cook observes, "It is certain that these societies greatly prevent the increase of the superior classes of people, of which they are composed."*21 Of the truth of this observation there can be no doubt.


Though no particular institutions of the same nature have been found among the lower classes; yet the vices which form their most prominent features are but too generally spread. Infanticide is not confined to the Eareeoies. It is permitted to all; and as its prevalence among the higher classes of the people has removed from it all odium, or imputation of poverty, it is probably often adopted rather as a fashion, than a resort of necessity, and appears to be practised familiarly and without reserve.


It is a very just observation of Hume, that the permission of infanticide generally contributes to increase the population of a country.*22 By removing the fears of too numerous a family, it encourages marriage; and the powerful yearnings of nature prevent parents from resorting to so cruel an expedient, except in extreme cases. The fashion of the Eareeoie societies, in Otaheite and its neighbouring islands, may have made them an exception to this observation; and the custom has probably here a contrary tendency.


The debauchery and promiscuous intercourse which prevail among the lower classes of people, though in some instances they may have been exaggerated, are established to a great extent on unquestionable authority. Captain Cook, in a professed endeavour to rescue the women of Otaheite from a too general imputation of licentiousness, acknowledges that there are more of this character here than in any other countries; making at the same time a remark of the most decisive nature, by observing that the women who thus conduct themselves do not in any respect lower their rank in society, but mix indiscriminately with those of the most virtuous character.*23


The common marriages in Otaheite are without any other ceremony than a present from the man to the parents of the girl. And this seems to be rather a bargain with them for permission to try their daughter, than an absolute contract for a wife. If the father should think that he has not been sufficiently paid for his daughter, he makes no scruple of forcing her to leave her friend, and to cohabit with another person who may be more liberal. The man is always at liberty to make a new choice. Should his consort become pregnant, he may kill the child, and, after that, continue his connexion with the mother, or leave her, according to his pleasure. It is only when he has adopted a child and suffered it to live, that the parties are considered as in the marriage state. A younger wife however may afterwards be joined to the first; but the changing of connexions is much more general than this plan, and is a thing so common that they speak of it with great indifference.*24 Libertinism before marriage seems to be no objection to an union of this kind ultimately.


The checks to population from such a state of society would alone appear sufficient to counteract the effects of the most delightful climate, and the most exuberant plenty. Yet these are not all. The wars between the inhabitants of the different islands, and their civil contentions among themselves, are frequent, and sometimes carried on in a very destructive manner.*25 Besides the waste of human life in the field of battle, the conquerors generally ravage the enemy's territory, kill or carry off the hogs and poultry, and reduce as much as possible the means of future subsistence. The island of Otaheite, which, in the years 1767 and 1768, swarmed with hogs and fowls, was, in 1773, so ill supplied with these animals, that hardly any thing could induce the owners to part with them. This was attributed by Captain Cook principally to the wars which had taken place during that interval.*26 On Captain Vancouver's visit to Otaheite in 1791, he found that most of his friends, whom he had left in 1777, were dead; that there had been many wars since that time, in some of which the chiefs of the western districts of Otaheite had joined the enemy; and that the king had been for a considerable time completely worsted, and his own districts entirely laid waste. Most of the animals, plants and herbs, which Captain Cook had left, had been destroyed by the ravages of war.*27


The human sacrifices which are frequent in Otaheite, though alone sufficiently strong to fix the stain of barbarism on the character of the natives, do not probably occur in such considerable numbers as materially to affect the population of the country; and the diseases, though they have been dreadfully increased by European contact, were before peculiarly lenient; and, even for some time afterwards, were not marked by any extraordinary fatality.*28


The great checks to increase appear to be the vices of promiscuous intercourse, infanticide, and war, each of these operating with very considerable force. Yet, powerful in the prevention and destruction of life as these causes must be, they have not always kept down the population to the level of the means of subsistence. According to Mr. Anderson, "Notwithstanding the extreme fertility of the island, a famine frequently happens, in which it is said many perish. Whether this be owing to the failure of some seasons, to over-population, (which must sometimes almost necessarily happen,) or wars, I have not been able to determine; though the truth of the fact may fairly be inferred from the great economy that they observe with respect to their food, even when there is plenty."*29 After a dinner with a chief at Ulietea, Captain Cook observed, that when the company rose, many of the common people rushed in, to pick up the crumbs which had fallen, and for which they searched the leaves very narrowly. Several of them daily attended the ships, and assisted the butchers for the sake of the entrails of the hogs, which were killed. In general, little seemed to fall to their share, except offals. "It must be owned," Captain Cook says, "that they are exceedingly careful of every kind of provision, and waste nothing that can be eaten by man, flesh and fish especially."*30


From Mr. Anderson's account, it appears that a very small portion of animal food falls to the lot of the lower class of people, and then it is either fish, sea-eggs, or other marine, productions; for, they seldom or never eat pork. The king or principal chief is alone able to furnish this luxury every day; and the inferior chiefs, according to their riches, once a week, fortnight, or month.*31 When the hogs and fowls have been diminished by wars or too great consumption, a prohibition is laid upon these articles of food, which continues in force sometimes for several months, or even for a year or two, during which time of course they multiply very fast, and become again plentiful.*32 The common diet even of the Eareeoies, who are among the principal people of the islands, is, according to Mr. Anderson, made up of at least nine-tenths of vegetable food.*33 And as a distinction of ranks is so strongly marked, and the lives and property of the lower classes of people appear to depend absolutely on the will of their chiefs; we may well imagine that these chiefs will often live in plenty, while their vassals and servants are pinched with want.


From the late accounts of Otaheite in the Missionary Voyage, it would appear, that the depopulating causes above enumerated have operated with most extraordinary force since Captain Cook's last visit. A rapid succession of destructive wars, during a part of that interval, is taken notice of in the intermediate visit of Captain Vancouver;*34 and from the small proportion of women remarked by the Missionaries,*35 we may infer that a greater number of female infants had been destroyed than formerly. This scarcity of women would naturally increase the vice of promiscuous intercourse, and, aided by the ravages of European diseases, strike most effectually at the root of population.*36


It is probable that Captain Cook, from the data on which he founded his calculation, may have overrated the population of Otaheite; and perhaps the Missionaries have rated it too low;*37 but I have no doubt that the population has very considerably decreased since Captain Cook's visit, from the different accounts that are given of the habits of the people with regard to economy at the different periods. Captain Cook and Mr. Anderson agree in describing their extreme carefulness of every kind of food; and Mr. Anderson, apparently after a very attentive investigation of the subject, mentions the frequent recurrence of famines. The Missionaries, on the contrary, though they strongly notice the distress from this cause in the Friendly Islands and the Marquesas, speak of the productions of Otaheite as being in the greatest profusion; and observe that notwithstanding the horrible waste committed at feastings, and by the Eareeoie society, want is seldom known.*38


It would appear, from these accounts, that the population of Otaheite is at present repressed considerably below the average means of subsistence, but it would be premature to conclude that it will continue long so. The variations in the state of the island which were observed by Captain Cook in his different visits appear to prove that there are marked oscillations in its prosperity and population.*39 And this is exactly what we should suppose from theory. We cannot imagine that the population of any of these islands has for ages past remained stationary at a fixed number, or that it can have been regularly increasing, according to any rate, however slow. Great fluctuations must necessarily have taken place. Overpopulousness would at all times increase the natural propensity of savages to war; and the enmities occasioned by aggressions of this kind, would continue to spread devastation, long after the original inconvenience, which might have prompted them, had ceased to be felt.*40 The distresses experienced from one or two unfavourable seasons, operating on a crowded population, which was before living with the greatest economy, and pressing hard against the limits of its food, would, in such a state of society, occasion the more general prevalence of infanticide and promiscuous intercourse;*41 and these depopulating causes would in the same manner continue to act with increased force, for some time after the occasion which had aggravated them was at an end. A change of habits to a certain degree, gradually produced by a change of circumstances, would soon restore the population, which could not long be kept below its natural level without the most extreme violence. How far European contact may operate in Otaheite with this extreme violence, and prevent it from recovering its former population, is a point which experience only can determine. But, should this be the case, I have no doubt that, on tracing the causes of it, we shall find them to be aggravated vice and misery.


Of the other islands in the Pacific Ocean we have a less intimate knowledge than of Otaheite; but our information is sufficient to assure us that the state of society in all the principal groups of them is in most respects extremely similar. Among the Friendly and Sandwich islanders, the same feudal system and feudal turbulence, the same extraordinary power of the chiefs and degraded state of the lower orders of society, and nearly the same promiscuous intercourse among a great part of the people, have been found to prevail, as in Otaheite.


In the Friendly Islands, though the power of the king was said to be unlimited, and the life and property of the subject at his disposal; yet it appeared that some of the other chiefs acted like petty sovereigns, and frequently thwarted his measures, of which he often complained. "But however independent" (Captain Cook says) "on the despotic power of the king the great men may be, we saw instances enough to prove that the lower orders of people have no property nor safety for their persons, but at the will of the chiefs to whom they respectively belong."*42 The chiefs often beat the inferior people most unmercifully;*43 and, when any of them were caught in a theft on board the ships, their masters, far from interceding for them, would often advise the killing of them,*44 which, as the chiefs themselves appeared to have no great horror of the crime of theft, could only arise from their considering the lives of these poor people as of little or no value.


Captain Cook, in his first visit to the Sandwich Islands, had reason to think that external wars and internal commotions were extremely frequent among the natives.*45 And Captain Vancouver, in his later account, strongly notices the dreadful devastations in many of the islands from these causes. Incessant contentions had occasioned alterations in the different governments since Captain Cook's visit: Only one chief of all that were known at that time was living; and, on inquiry, it appeared that few had died a natural death, most of them having been killed in these unhappy contests.*46 The power of the chiefs over the inferior classes of the people in the Sandwich Islands appears to be absolute. The people, on the other hand, pay them the most implicit obedience; and this state of servility has manifestly a great effect in debasing both their minds and bodies.*47 The gradations of rank seem to be even more strongly marked here than in the other islands, as the chiefs of higher rank behave to those who are lower in this scale in the most haughty and oppressive manner.*48


It is not known that either in the Friendly or Sandwich Islands infanticide is practised, or that institutions are established similar to the Eareeoie societies in Otaheite. But it seems to be stated on unquestionable authority that prostitution is extensively diffused, and prevails to a great degree among the lower classes of women;*49 which must always operate as a most powerful check to population. It seems highly probable that the toutous, or servants, who spend the greatest part of their time in attendance upon the chiefs,*50 do not often marry; and it is evident that the polygamy allowed to the superior people must tend greatly to encourage and aggravate the vice of promiscuous intercourse among the inferior classes.


Were it an established fact that in the more fertile islands of the Pacific Ocean very little or nothing was suffered from poverty and want of food, as we could not expect to find among savages in such climates any great degree of moral restraint, the theory on the subject would naturally lead us to conclude, that vice, including war, was the principal check to their population. The accounts which we have of these islands strongly confirm this conclusion. In the three great groups of islands which have been noticed, vice appears to be a most prominent feature. In Easter Island, from the great disproportion of the males to the females,*51 it can scarcely be doubted that infanticide prevails, though the fact may not have come to the knowledge of any of our navigators. Pérouse seemed to think that the women in each district were common property to the men of that district,*52 though the numbers of children which he saw*53 would rather tend to contradict this opinion. The fluctuations in the population of Easter Island appear to have been very considerable since its first discovery by Roggewein in 1722, though it cannot have been much affected by European intercourse. From the description of Pérouse it appeared, at the time of his visit, to be recovering its population, which had been in a very low state, probably either from drought, civil dissensions, or the prevalence in an extreme degree of infanticide and promiscuous intercourse. When Captain Cook visited it in his second voyage, he calculated the population at six or seven hundred,*54 Pérouse at two thousand;*55 and, from the number of children which he observed, and the number of new houses that were building, he conceived that the population was on the increase.*56


In the Marianne Islands, according to Pere Gobien, a very great number*57 of the young men remained unmarried, living like the members of the Eareeoie society in Otaheite, and distinguished by a similar name.*58 In the island of Formosa, it is said that the women were not allowed to bring children into the world before the age of thirty-five. If they were with-child prior to that period, an abortion was effected by the priestess, and till the husband was forty years of age the wife continued to live in her father's house, and was only seen by stealth.*59


The transient visits which have been made to some other islands, and the imperfect accounts we have of them, do not enable us to enter into any particular detail of their customs; but, from the general similarity of these customs, as far as has been observed, we have reason to think that, though they may not be marked by some of the more atrocious peculiarities which have been mentioned, vicious habits with respect to women, and wars, are the principal checks to their population.


These however are not all. On the subject of the happy state of plenty, in which the natives of the South-Sea Islands have been said to live, I am inclined to think that our imaginations have been carried beyond the truth by the exuberant descriptions which have sometimes been given of these delightful spats. The not unfrequent pressure of want, even in Otaheite, mentioned in Captain Cook's last voyage, has undeceived us with regard to the most fertile of all these islands; and from the Missionary voyage it appears, that, at certain times of the year, when the bread-fruit is out of season, all temporary scarcity. At Oheitahoo, one of the Marquesas, it amounted to hunger, and the very animals were pinched for want of food. At Tongataboo, the principal of the Friendly Islands, the chiefs to secure plenty changed their abodes to other islands,*60 and, at times, many of the natives suffered much from want.*61 In the Sandwich Islands long droughts sometimes occur,*62 hogs and yams are often very scarce,*63 and visitors are received with an unwelcome austerity, very different from the profuse benevolence of Otaheite. In New Caledonia the inhabitants feed upon spiders,*64 and are sometimes reduced to eat great pieces of steatite to appease the cravings of their hunger.*65


These facts strongly prove that, in whatever abundance the productions of these islands may be found at pertain periods, or however they may be checked by ignorance, wars and other causes, the average population, generally speaking, presses hard against the limits of the average food. In a state of society, where the lives of the inferior orders of the people seem to be considered by their superiors as of little or no value, it is evident that we are very liable to be deceived with regard to the appearances of abundance; and we may easily conceive that hogs and vegetables might be exchanged in great profusion for European commodities by the principal proprietors, while their vassals and slaves were suffering severely from want.


I cannot conclude this general review of that department of human society which has been classed under the name of savage life, without observing that the only advantage in it above civilized life that I can discover, is the possession of a greater degree of leisure by the mass of the people. There is less work to be done, and consequently there is less labour. When we consider the incessant toil to which the lower classes of society in civilized life are condemned, this cannot but appear to us a striking advantage; but it is probably overbalanced by much greater disadvantages. In all those countries where provisions are procured with facility, a most tyrannical, distinction of rank prevails. Blows and violations of property seem to be matters of course; and the lower classes of the people are in a state of comparative degradation, much below what is known in civilized nations. In that part of savage life where a great degree of equality obtains, the difficulty of procuring food and the hardships of incessant war create a degree of labour not inferior to that which is exerted by the lower classes of the people in civilized society, though much more unequally divided.


But though we may compare the labour of these two classes of human society, their privations and sufferings will admit of no comparison. Nothing appears to me to place this in so striking a point of view, as the whole tenor of education among the ruder tribes of savages in America. Every thing that can contribute to teach the most unmoved patience under the severest pains and misfortunes, every thing that tends to harden the heart, and narrow all the sources of sympathy, is most sedulously inculcated on the savage. The civilized man, on the contrary, though he may be advised to bear evil with patience when it comes, is not instructed to be always expecting it. Other virtues are to be called into action besides fortitude. He is taught to feel for his neighbour, or even his enemy, in distress; to encourage and expand his social affections; and, in general, to enlarge the sphere of pleasurable emotions. The obvious inference from these two different modes of education is, that the civilized man hopes to enjoy, the savage expects only to suffer.


The preposterous system of Spartan discipline, and that unnatural absorption of every private feeling in concern for the public, which has sometimes been so absurdly admired, could never have existed but among a people exposed to perpetual hardships and privations from incessant war, and in a state under the constant fear of dreadful reverses of fortune. Instead of considering these phenomena as indicating any peculiar tendency to fortitude and patriotism in the disposition of the Spartans, I should merely consider them as a strong indication of the miserable and almost savage state of Sparta, and of Greece in general at that time. Like the commodities in a market, those virtues will be produced in the greatest quantity, for which there is the greatest demand; and where patience under pain and privations, and extravagant patriotic sacrifices, are the most called for, it is a melancholy indication of the misery of the people, and the insecurity of the state.

Notes for this chapter

Raynal, Histoire des Indes, vol. ii. liv. iii. p. 3. 10 vols. 8vo. 1795.
Cook's First Voyage, vol. iii. p. 240, 4to.
See the different accounts of New Guinea and New Britain, in the Histoire des Navigations aux terres Australes; and of New Caledonia and the New Hebrides in Cook's Second Voyage, vol. ii. b. iii.
Cook's First Voyage, vol. ii. p. 345. Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 101. Third Voyage, vol. i. p. 161, &c.
Cook's Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 246.
Id. Third Voyage, vol. i. p. 124.
Cook's Third Voyage, vol. i. p. 137.
Id. Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 127.
Cook's First Voyage, vol. iii. p. 66.
Id. p. 45.
Id. Third Voyage, vol. i. p. 157.
Id. First Voyage, vol. iii. p. 43.
Id. vol. ii, p. 405.
Cook's First Voyage, vol. iii. p. 45.
Missionary Voyage, Appendix, p. 347.
Cook's Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 349.
I feel very little doubt that this rate of increase is much slower than would really take place, supposing every check to be removed. If Otaheite, with its present produce, were peopled only with a hundred persons, the two sexes in equal numbers, and each man constant to one woman; I cannot but think that, for five or six successive periods, the increase would be more rapid than in any instance hitherto known, and that they would probably double their numbers in less than fifteen years.
Cook's First Voyage, vol. ii. p. 207, et seq. Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 352. Third Voyage, vol. ii. p. 157, et seq. Missionary Voyage, Appendix, p. 347, 4to.
Mr. Anderson acted in the capacity of naturalist and surgeon in Cook's last voyage. Captain Cook, and all the officers of the expedition, seem to have had a very high opinion of his talents and accuracy of observation. His accounts, therefore, may be looked upon as of the first authority.
Cook's Third Voyage, vol, ii. p. 158, 159.
Id. Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 352.
Hume's Essays, vol. i. essay xi. p. 431. 8vo. 1764.
Cook's Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 187.
Id. Third Voyage, vol. ii. p. 157.
Bougainville, Voy. autour du Monde, ch. iii. p. 217. Cook's First Voyage, vol. ii. p. 244. Missionary Voyage, p. 224.
Cook's Second Voyage, vol. i. p. 182, 183.
Vancouver's Voy. vol. i. b. i. c. 6. p. 98. 4to.
Cook's Third Voy. vol. ii. p. 148.
Id. p. 153, 154.
Cook's Second Voy. vol. i, p. 176.
Id. Third Voy. vol. ii. p. 154.
Id. p. 155.
Id. p. 148.
Vancouver's Voy. vol. i. b. i. c. 7. p. 137.
Missionary Voyage, p. 192 & 385.
Id. Appen. p. 347.
Id. ch. xiii. p. 212.
Missionary Voy. p. 195. Appen. p. 385.
Cook's Second Voy. vol, i. p. 182, & seq. and 346.
Missionary Voy. p. 225.
I hope I may never be misunderstood with regard to some of these preventive causes of over-population, and be supposed to imply the slightest approbation of them, merely because I relate their effects. A cause, which may prevent any particular evil, may be beyond all comparison worse than the evil itself.
Cook's Third Voy. vol. i. p. 406.
p. 232.
p. 233.
Cook's Third Voy. vol. ii. p. 247.
Vancouver, vol. i. b. ii. c. ii. p. 187, 188.
Cook's Third Voy. vol. iii. p. 157.
Cook's Third Voy. vol. i. p. 401. Vol. ii. p. 543. Vol. iii. p. 130. Missionary Voy. p. 270.
Cook's Third Voyage, vol. i. p. 394.
Id. Second Voy. vol. i, p. 289. Voyage de Pérouse, c. iv, p. 323. c. v. p. 336. 4to. 1794.
Pérouse, c. iv. p. 326. c. v. p. 336.
Id. c. v. p. 336.
Cook's Second Voy. vol. i. p. 289.
Pérouse, c. v. p. 336.
Une infinité de jeunes gens.—Hist. des Navigation aux Terres Australes, vol. ii. p. 507.
Cook's Third Voyage, vol. ii. p. 158, note of the Editor.
Harris's Collection of Voyages, 2 vols. folio edit. 1744, vol. i. p. 794. This relation is given by John Albert de Mandesloe, a German traveller of some reputation for fidelity, though I believe, in this instance, he takes his accounts from the Dutch writers quoted by Montesquieu (Esprit des Loix, liv. 23. ch. 17). The authority is not perhaps sufficient to establish the existence of so strange a custom; though I confess it does not appear to me wholly improbable. In the same account it is mentioned, that there is no difference of condition among these people, and that their wars are so bloodless that the death of a single person generally decides them. In a very healthy climate, where the habits of the people were favourable to population and a community of goods was established, as no individual would have reason to fear particular poverty from a large family, the government would be in a manner compelled to take upon itself the suppression of the population by law; and, as this would be the greatest violation of every natural feeling, there cannot be a more forcible argument against a community of goods.
Missionary Voy. Appen. p. 385.
Id. p. 270.
Vancouver's Voy. vol. ii. b. iii. c. viii. p. 230.
Id. c. vii. and viii.
Voyage in Search of Pérouse, ch. xiii. p. 420. Eng. transl. 4to.
Id. ch. xiii. p. 400. .

End of Notes

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