The Civilization of the South American Indians

The Civilization of the South American Indians

The Civilization of the South American Indians

The Civilization of the South American Indians

Excerpt

Having read the proofs of Dr. Karsten's book, I am asked by the Editor to say a few words by way of introducing the work to English readers. This I have great pleasure in doing, although there is certainly no need for it. I think it will be generally admitted that Dr. Karsten's book is the most important contribution to the study of certain aspects of the South American native civilization which has yet appeared.

So far as the lower forms of civilization are concerned, there are, next to sociological field-work, no other investigations so urgently needed as monographs on definite classes of social phenomena among a certain group of related tribes. Social facts are largely influenced by local conditions, by the physical environment, by the circumstances in which the people in question live, by their habits and mental characteristics; and all these factors can, of course, much more easily be taken into account when the investigation is confined to a single people, or one ethnic unit, than when it embraces a class of phenomena as existing throughout the whole uncivilized world. Dr. Karsten's book combines the merits of the field-ethnologist with those of the monographer on a larger scale. His equipment for his task is exceptional. He is a trained sociologist, and an acute and thoughtful observer. He went to South America for the express purpose of studying its native tribes. He has spent five years in close contact with savages in different parts of the continent, and learned their language. And he has carefully searched all the available literature relating to the customs and beliefs of Indians in the various parts of the vast area with which he is dealing, and has thus been able to present, and comment upon, a large mass of facts falling outside the field for his own direct inquiries and personal observation.

In the present work Dr. Karsten has mainly restricted himself to a discussion of the religious and superstitious beliefs of the Indians . . .

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