Amer. Anth.


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The fur-bearing animals that are caught in traps set and tended by the individual are considered his own property, both the fur and flesh, in a very strict sense. Accordingly, for one trapper to take the game from another’s traps that he may chance to discover is a serious misdeed. For this, however, there is no stated punishment. The victim of such theft usually takes his own means of attempting to identify the thief, and when his mind is made up he is apt to talk freely about the robbery. The discovery soon reaches the ears of the offender and the consequences thenceforth remain a matter of individual concern. There may be only suppressed ill-feeling or perhaps threats by the offended party. This is generally sufficient to check further poaching, as I have had opportunity to learn in several instances where I knew both parties. . . . [Far] The Ste. Marguerite Band of Montagnais-Naskapi, whose summer trading rendezvous is at Seven Island post . . . my notes mention in the total of ten heads of families . . . two who are commonly accused of being unscrupulous as concerns the traps of others. The offenders are frequently mentioned and pointed out without reserve. I gather that this is a form of punishment in the eyes of society.

In every band there are met those whose status among their associates is that of the undesirable. The visitor, like myself, is warned against reposing trust in them. Their relatives are often ashamed of them. Being avoided, they forfeit the satisfaction of friendship; hence this becomes their punishment. As mild as all this appears to us, it is serious enough in these lonesome societies. And should resentment lead the ostracized to further deeds intensifying his unpopularity, he may develop into being an offender of greater magnitude—ultimately to become a social outcast. This is a more serious situation. If he becomes morose, it is worse for him, and he may take steps to get even with his associates; to take vengeance on society and finally be murdered.1

Similarly, among the Orokaiva of New Guinea

reprobation [says Williams] certainly does much to keep offenders in check, and that quite independently of any power of concrete punishment. The native is proverbially susceptible to the opinions of others. . . . Certain it is that the disapproval of his fellows—whether it take the form of anger, disgust, or ridicule—makes him extremely uncomfortable. Without insisting on the emotional instability which is probably a character of primitive minds, we may say with confidence of the Orokaiva that when his ego is exalted he is happy and contented; and that when it is thrust down he is miserable and certainly penitent. One may occasionally hear the evening harangues, in which some grievance is aired and recriminations are poured upon the wrongdoer. Since among primitives there are usually two sides (in the sense of mere numbers) to every question, it is usual to hear excited answers from more than one individual; but at other times the culprit must endure in shame-faced silence. There are times, I am assured, when the perpetrator of some wrong remains undiscovered and the victims do not know upon whom to vent their indignation. Then the proper object of it may hide his guilt and even add his voice to the uproar, saying, "What scoundrel could have stolen your taro?" But it is perhaps more usual for him to own up and reinstate himself in public favor by a gift in conciliation. There are other ways of expressing public disapproval or of punishing the offender by holding him up to ridicule. When a man finds his coconuts stolen he may tie a fragment of husk to a stick and set it up on the track near his palms: then everyone will see that a theft has been committed, and the thief, even though his identity remain unknown, will feel a pang of shame whenever he passes the spot. Similarly, the owner of a ravaged garden will affix a taro leaf to a coconut palm in the midst of the village for all to see and for the special discomfort of the culprit. These devices . . . are a means of advertising a wrong and thereby of striking shame into the heart of the man who has committed it.1

1Speck, F.G.n/an/an/an/a, "Ethical Attributes of the Labrador Indians," , N.S., 35: 578–579, 565–566.

1 Williams, F. E., Orokaiva Society, 329–330 (Oxford University Press. By permission).


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Chicago: "Amer. Anth.," Amer. Anth. in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . "Amer. Anth." Amer. Anth., Vol. 35, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , 'Amer. Anth.' in Amer. Anth.. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from