"Once upon a time I thought I knew the meaning of the word savage. Since then I have dwelt among people who dress in skins, live mainly, on raw meat and are as alien to and untouched by the European world as can possibly be conceived. The term ‘savage’ has now lost its validity for me."

Vilhjalmur Stefanson (1925)

(lived among Eskimos 6 years)


"What is a savage?…It is another way of life."

Louis L’Amour

Sackett’s Land




"If anything is given to a Hottentot, he at once divides it among all present-a habit which as is known, so much struck Darwin among the Fuegians. He cannot eat alone, and, however hungry, he calls those who pass by to share his food. And when Kolben expressed his astonishment therat, he received the answer: "That is Hottentot Manner." But this is not Hottentot only: it is an all but universal habit among the "savages."

P. Kolben

(The present State of the Cape of Good Hope London, 1731)



"Every time a savage tracks his game he employs a minuteness of observation, and an accuracy of inductive and deductive reasoning which, applied to other matters, would assure some reputation as a man of science….The intellectual labor of a "good hunter or warrior" considerably exceeds that of an ordinary Englishman."

Thomas Huxley

Collected Essays, 1907





"Their (Hottentots) word is sacred, they know nothing of the corruptness and faithless arts of Europe. They live in a great tranquility and are seldom at war with their neighbors. They are "all kindness and goodwill to one another….One of the greatest pleasures of the Hottentots certainly lies in their gifts and good offices to one another. The integrity of the Hottentots, their strictness and celerity in the exercise of justice, and their chastity, are things in which they excel all or most nations in the world."

P. Kolben (The present state of the Cape of Good Hop

London 1731)


"When a man has grown rich, he convokes the folk of his Clan to a great festival, and after much eating, distributes among them all his fortune. On the Yukon river, Dall saw an Aleonte family distributing in this way ten guns, ten full fur dresses, 200 strings of beads, numerous blankets, ten wolf furs, 200 beavers, and 500 zibelines. After that they took off their festival dresses, gave them away, and, putting on old rugged furs, addressed a few kind words to their kinsfolk, saying that though they are now poorer than any of them, they have won their friendship."


(Alaska and its Resources, Cambridge, U.S. 1870)


"The principal use of the accumulation of personal wealth is for periodically distributing it."

Dr. Rink (commenting on Eskimos)


"The savage is not an ideal of virtue, nor is he an ideal of "savagery." But the primitive man has one quality, elaborated and maintained by the very necessities of his hard struggle for life-he identifies his own existence with that of his tribe; and without that quality mankind would never have attained the level it has attained now."

P. Kropotkin

Mutual Aid 1903


"Man has never been so ferocious or so stupid as to submit to such an evil as war without some kind of effort to prevent it….and the number of ancient institutions which bear the marks of a design to stand in the way of war, or to provide an alternative to it, are numerous."

Sir Henry Maine

(Study of the Tribal origin of International Law) London 1888


"Endurability (he wrote) is their feature. It is simply colossal. Not only do they bathe every morning in the frozen sea, and stand naked on the beach, inhaling the icy wind, but their endurability, even when at hard work on insufficient food, surpasses all that can be imagined. During a protracted scarcity of food, the Aleoute cares first for his children; he gives them all he has and himself fasts. They are not inclined to stealing; that was remarked even by the first Russian immigrants. Not that they never steal; every Aleoute would confess having sometime stole something, but was always a trifle; the whole is so childish. The attachments of the parents to their children is touching, though it is never expressed in words or pettings. The Aleoute is with difficulty moved to make a promise, but once he has made it he ill keep it whatever may happen. (An Aleout made Veniaminoff a gift of dried fish, but it was forgotten on the beach in the hurry of departure. He took it home. The next occasion to send it to the missionary was in January; and in November and December there was a great scarcity of food in the Aleoute encampment. But the fish was never touched by the starving people, and in January it was sent to its destination.)

Their code of morality is both varied and severe. It is considered shameful to be afraid of unavoidable death; to ask pardon from an enemy; to die without ever having killed an enemy; to be convicted of stealing; to capsize a boat in the harbour; to be afraid of going to sea in stormy weather; to be the first in a party on a long journey to become an invalid in case of scarcity of food; to show greediness when spoil is divided, in which case every one gives his own part to the greedy man to shame him; to divulge a public secret to his wife; being two persons on a hunting expedition, not to offer the best game to the partner; to boast of his own deeds, especially of invented ones; to scold anyone in scorn. Also to beg; to pet his wife in other people’s presence, and to dance with her; to bargain personally: selling must always be made through a third person, who settles the price. For a woman it is a shame not to know sewing, dancing and all kinds of woman’s work; to pet her children and husband, or even to speak to her husband in the presence of a stranger."


(Memories relative to the District of Unalashka)

Russian, 3 Vols St Petersburg 1840


"West European men of science, when coming across these facts, are absolutely unable to stand them; they cannot reconcile them with a high development of Tribal morality; and they prefer to cast doubt upon the exactitude of absolutely reliable observers, instead of trying to explain the parallel existence of the two set of facts: a high tribal morality together with the abandonment of the parents and infanticide. But if these same Europeans were to tell a savage that people, extremely amiable, fond of their own children, and so impressionable that they cry when they see a misfortune simulated on the stage, are living in Europe within a stone’s throw from dens in which children die from sheer want of food, the savage, too, would not believe them. I remember how vainly I tried to make some of my Tungus friends understand our civilization of individualism: They could not, and they resorted to the most fantastical suggestions. The fact is that a savage, brought up in ideas of a Tribal solidarity in everything for bad and for good, is as incapable of understanding a "moral" European, who knows nothing of that solidarity, as the average European is incapable of understanding the savage. But if our scientist had lived amidst a half-starving Tribe which does not posses among them all one man’s food for so much as a few days to come, he probably might have understood their motives. So also the savage, if he had stayed among us, and received our education, maybe, would understand our European indifference towards our neighbors, and our Royal Commissions for the prevention of "baby farming". "Stone houses make stony hears," the Russian peasants say. But he ought to live in a stone house first."

P. Kropotkin

Mutual Aid among Savages 1903


"Remember the rights of the savage, as we call him. Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eyes of Almighty God, as can be your own."

W.E. Gladstone (speech 1879)


"Shall we go on conferring our Civilization upon the peoples that sit in darkness, or shall we give those poor things a rest?"

Mark Twain


"A persistent tendency in European literature, art, and thought since the 18th century….to attribute superior virtue to primitive, non-European civilization…Later primitivism expanded to include among the objects of its enthusiasm the violent, the crude, undeveloped, ignorant, naïve, non-intellectual or sub-intelligent of any kind, such as peasants, children, and idiots."

William Rose Benet


"Thoreau took the bad ideas and worse ideals of the primitivists, added the pitiful self-obsession of the romantics, and mixed all of this into transcendentalism, that stew of bossy Brahmin spiritual hubris."

P.J. O’Rourke

All the Trouble in the World


Book: "Savage: The Life and Times of Jemmy Button" by Nick Hazlewood

Book: "The Book of the Eskimo"

© 2001



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