Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

A Primeval Race (S234: 1873)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A book review of William E. Marshall's A Phrenologist Amongst the Todas printed in the 15 November 1873 issue of Athenæum. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page connect with:

    [[p. 624]] When the Nilgiri hills, in the south of India, were first explored, about sixty years ago, a very remarkable hill tribe was found to inhabit them, whose members did not till the ground, and were wholly engaged as herdsmen. At first sight they appeared to be entirely distinct from all the other races of India, and numerous theories were suggested as to their origin. The Tudas are tall, well-formed men, with handsome Jewish features, and masses of hair forming a sort of dense crown, for they wear no other head-dress. An aged Tuda, with snow white beard, loose mantle over one shoulder, and long staff, irresistibly reminded the first visitors to the Nilgiris of the pictures of Jewish patriarchs. There are other tribes on these hills, especially the Badagas, who are agriculturalists; but the Tudas claim to be lords of the soil, and must, therefore, have been the first occupiers. Living in small settlements called mands, consisting of a few huts shaped like the tilt of a waggon and a dairy, they are occupied exclusively in the care of their splendid buffaloes, and exact a tribute of grain from the Badagas for the use of their land.

    The Tudas must have been completely isolated on these hills for centuries; but long as they have been lords of the Nilgiris, there was an older and a more civilized race there before them, from which they are certainly not descended. Numerous cromlechs and cairns, containing relics of a departed people, are scattered over the hills, which, from time to time, have been more or less carefully examined. Capt. Congreve wrote a detailed account of them in 1847, and we understand that the results of the still more thorough examination undertaken by the late Mr. Breeks, the Commissioner of the Nilgiris, under the auspices of the Madras Government, are about to be published by his widow. These ancient remains belong to a people of whom we know nothing, and who are conjectured to have been the first stratum of Indian population, before the Dravidian races occupied the peninsula. But with the Tudas these more ancient occupiers of the hills had nothing to do.

    There are numerous published accounts of the Tudas, a people whose peculiarly isolated condition renders every detail of their habits and customs most interesting; but Col. Marshall's book is certainly the best and most exhaustive monograph that has appeared upon the subject. He has collected his materials with care and discrimination, and evidently conducted his personal investigations with tact and industry. His association with Mr. Metz, a German missionary, who has worked for many years on the Nilgiris, and with Mr. Pope, the well-known Dravidian scholar, has enabled him to supply his one defect, a want of knowledge of the barbarous Tuda dialect. An outline of the grammar of the Tuda language by Mr. Pope and the vocabulary collected by Mr. Metz render Col. Marshall's monograph as complete as can be desired.

    Language is the best test, except under rare circumstances, of the origin of a race; and that of the Tudas proves that these interesting people are of the Dravidian race, brethren of the inhabitants of the Indian peninsula, but isolated on their hills long ages ago; for no trace remains of the employment of any written character by the Tudas, so that they probably separated from the other Dravidians before writing was introduced. These Nilgiri herdsmen speak a dialect of old Kanarese; but, as Mr. Pope tells us, "they chiefly converse in the open air, calling to each other from one breezy hill-top to another. Their speech sounds like old Kanarese spoken in the teeth of a gale of wind."

    The Nilgiris form a great knot in the mountain range of the Western Ghauts, averaging a height of 7,000 feet above the sea; and, until last year, Dodabetta, the highest peak, was believed to be the loftiest land in India south of the Himalayas. In such a climate, probably the most delightful in the world, the Tudas have developed into a magnificent race, totally unlike their brethren in the plains. Indeed, they form a most striking example of the effect of climate on a race of men. They practise polyandry, and have intermarried most intimately for many generations, a circumstance which enables the inquirer to investigate the effects of such intercourse on their physical and intellectual development. The result is very interesting. While there is remarkable uniformity in the shape of the skull, the individual faculties frequently assume abnormal proportions, considerably at variance with the common average. This would seem to indicate the constant presence of what Mr. Galton would call the individual equation, apart from qualities inherited from parents. The average height of the Tudas is 5 ft. 8 in., while some individuals reach to 6 ft. 1 in., and there are no short people. Col. Marshall describes their features, hair, and limbs in detail, and illustrates his tabular statements with some excellent photographs, which convey an accurate idea of their appearance; and in his fifth chapter he gives a picturesque description of the land they inhabit, the Nilgiri plateau.

    "Picture an abrupt-edged table-land, on the apex of a solitary mountain--a very Laputa in its complete isolation--whose evergreen surface is one continued intermixture of rounded hills, with tracts of rolling prairie. The hills as accessible as those of Malvern; the prairie land as ceaseless, in its long undulations, as the billows of the ocean. Short coarse grass clothes the whole, save where the deep forest holds possession of the damp secluded valleys, or the cool little woods moss the banks of the prolonged gulleys, through which the trickling streams or dashing bourns course down the hill sides; then collect, and through successive vigorous rapids and tumultuous cataracts--where, from behind the clouds of spray and mist, noise roars its prolonged approval--precipitate themselves into the plains below. Wherever, in fact, rich soil and a perennial supply of moisture may be found, there are the ever silent woods; for the periods of annual drought are long; the monsoon rain flows quickly off the hard surface of the exposed hills, and the scorched grass containing the young saplings is yearly fired. These woods and forests, and lovely glades, whose perfect quiet is broken only by the calls of wild animals and birds, or by the rustic sounds of Tuda cattle--almost equally wild--herding in the open, form pre-eminently the characteristic features of the scenery."

    Col. Marshall has collected all the facts connected with the domestic economy of the Tudas with extreme care; describing the situations of their mands or villages, the method of building their houses, and all the interior furniture and utensils. He also describes the customs connected with the birth and naming of children, marriage rites, funerals, and gives a long list of relationships. Then follows an interesting chapter on the curious isolation of the Tuda people, and their strange persistency in idleness, though in contact with the agricultural Badagas and other busy trade-loving tribes. The Tudas have perfected a dairy system which enables them to live entirely at ease and without labour, and indeed they pass their lives in a considerable degree of homely comfort. [[p. 625]] But they have no implements for the chase, although their woods are full of game; they raise no grain, and have no desire for wealth, no lust of power. Col. Marshall looks upon these as the attributes of a primeval race which has remained almost unchanged, through avoiding conflict with nature and man. The Tuda is a simple idle man, but without taint of the ferocity of savagery.

    Great pains have been taken to obtain trustworthy statistics, the results of which are of considerable value in the study of the social economy of an isolated race. It appears that the Tudas number about 713 souls, of whom 465 are males, and 248 females. The proportion of men to women is 100 to 75; and of actually married men to married women it is as 100 to 77, which represents the existing state of polyandry in the tribe. It seems certain that the Tuda population is now increasing; and, if they persist in adhering to their present habits and customs, a time must inevitably come when the tribe will drift into a condition of great distress. As soon as the cattle have reached the largest number that the available pasturage, which is strictly limited, can sustain, some additional means of subsistence must be found, if the population continues to increase. Thrift will then be forced upon these simple people, who have enjoyed a pastoral existence for centuries, with scarcely a thought for the morrow. They must then sell their horns and hides, which are now heedlessly thrown away, to be turned into money by the low caste Kotas, and they must both work and learn some of the ordinary laws of trade.

    There is scarcely another example of a race so completely isolated as the Tudas, and the careful collection of all accessible materials for a study of their condition is certainly an important service to anthropology. Col. Marshall has not only done this conscientiously and well, he has also produced an agreeable and entertaining book, admirably illustrated, which we can recommend to the general reader as one from which he will derive interesting information in a pleasant form.

*                 *                 *                 *                 *

Return to Home