The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas - Vol. 1

By Edward Westermarck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXI
THE DUEL

WHEN the system of revenge was replaced by the system of punishment, the offended party generally lost the right of killing the offender. But there are noteworthy exceptions to this rule. In a previous chapter we have seen that, among various peoples, in cases involving unusually great provocation, an avenger who slays his adversary is either entirely excused by custom or law, or becomes subject to a comparatively lenient punishment.1 A few words still remain to be said about the most persistent survival of the custom of exacting vengeance with eventual destruction of life, the modern duel. But in connection with this survival it seems appropriate to discuss the practice of duelling in general, in its capacity of a recognised social institution.

Duelling, or the fighting in single combat on previous challenge, is sometimes resorted to as a means of bringing to an end hostilities between different groups of people. Among the aborigines of New South Wales "the war often ends in a single combat between chosen champions."2 In Western Victoria quarrels between tribes are sometimes settled by duels between the chiefs, and the result is accepted as final. "At other times disputes are decided by combat between equal numbers of warriors, painted

____________________
1
Supra, p. 290sqq.
2
Fraser, Aborigines or New South Wales, p. 40.

-497-

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