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Edward Burnett Tylor correspondence in the Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections

2000 15 72000.15.7 Lorimer Fison, possibly the photograph sent by Mrs Fison in 1883 [see Fison 31]Transcription of Box 11a Tylor papers PRM ms collections Lorimer Fison correspondence:

Fison Part 1

Transcriptions of letters 2 to 16, box 11a Tylor papers: letters from Fison to Tylor. See here for Part 2 of the Fison correspondence (letters 17-30) and Part 3 (letters 31 to end).

These letters held at the Pitt Rivers Museum are of relevance to the development of museum anthropology at Oxford and also to anyone who is interested in the development of anthropology in Australia (and Fiji): for similar transcriptions of letters between Howitt and Tylor see here Howitt Part 1Howitt Part 2 All notes were added by the transcriber and are not present in the original handwritten letters.

These letters give a clear idea of the topics which interested Fison, Howitt and Tylor; the help that Tylor gave both Fison and Howitt to get published and the relationship between the three men. Note that selections from Fison's (and Howitt's) correspondence with Lewis H. Morgan was given in 'Selections from the Letters of Lorimer Fison and A.W. Howitt to Lewis Henry Morgan' B.J. Stern [ed.] American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Apr, 1930), pp. 257-279 and No. 3, Part 1 (Jul-Sep., 1930), pp. 419-453.

For a full catalogue of all Pitt Rivers Museum manuscript collections see hereFor a full listing of all the Fison papers see here under Box 11a. 

This section transcribes all of Fison letters from Letter 2 to 16. A letter from Augustus Lane Fox (Pitt-Rivers) to Tylor [which was ascribed the number Fison letter 1] is transcribed here

Fison 2

Fison 2 1st page smallTylor papers PRM ms collections, Fison letter 2 first pageLuvuka 17 August 1879

Dear Sir,

I have just received a note from Sir Arthur Gordon, [1] enclosing your letter to him of June 13, in which you state that my letter to the Anthropological Institute did not reach its destination & are good enough to assure me that communications from me would be welcome to the Institute. I am extremely obliged to you for that assurance, & feel myself under deep obligation to Sir Arthur Gordon for bringing my name under your notice. If I do not explain why I have that feeling, it is because I could not do so without using words which would have a sound of flattery. 

With regard to my letter aforesaid--not knowing how to address it, I sent it to a sister of mine, the wife of the Rev. W. Green, one of the Rugby masters, asking her to forward it. She replied that she had done so, & that it had been accompanied by a note from her husband. She gave me the name & address of the gentleman to whom it had been sent (I think the Sec'y [Secretary] of the Inst.); but I forget his name; &, being from home, I cannot refer to my note-book in which it is carefully recorded. There has evidently been some mischance, which I look upon as my good fortune, since it has brought me into direct communication with you.

The mischance, however, is likely to cause some considerable delay in the publication of the facts collected by Mr. Howitt & myself. [2] For explanation, I may tell you that, after collecting kinship terms for Mr. Morgan in Fiji & Tonga, I removed to Australia, where I spent four years, & prosecuted the inquiry among the Aborigines there. From time to time I sent memoranda on the subject to Mr. Morgan, who proposed at first to tabulate the information so supplied, & to publish it as a supplement to his work on systems of consanguinity &c. Subsequently, as additional memoranda from me reached him, he was good enough to suggest that I should write an independent work. He mentioned his suggestion to Prof. Joseph Henry, then Sec'y of the Smithsonian Inst. who wrote me a letter of encouragement, & promised the aid of the Smithsonian in the publication of my memoir. [3] While working in the Australian field, it was my great good fortune to gain the help of Mr. A.W. Howitt, & our correspondence resulted in a warm personal friendship (if I may judge of his feelings by my own) & in literary partnership. We agreed, at Mr. Brough Smyth's request, to furnish a chapter on the Australian intersexual regulations for the work on the Aborigines lately published by the Govt of Victoria. [4] But information came in all too slowly, & finally a bronchial ailment compelled me to return to the warmer climate of Fiji. Hence our engagement to Mr. Smyth was not fulfilled, & I am afraid that gentleman thinks hard things concerning me because of the failure. When I left Australia I wished to make over my materials to Howitt, leaving the work to him; but he positively refused my offer, & persisted in sending down to me in Fiji the information which continued to come in from our correspondents who were bring into communication with us by means of printed circulars which we [insert] had [end insert] distributed far & wide. In course of time we gathered material enough for a beginning, & put together as much as would make a small book at 200 pages, 8 vo in a fairsized type. This [insert] (having rec'd no reply to my letter to the Anthrop. Inst.) [end insert] we sent to Morgan, who submitted it to the Smithsonian authorities, writing a very complimentary prefactory note of his own by way of Introduction. By this time Unfortunately for us, Prof. Henry died before our MSS reached America, of course his promise to me was not binding on his successor, Prof. Baird, [5] who indeed most probably knew nothing about it. Last month I received from Mr. Morgan an official announcement of the arrival of our paper at the Smithsonian, & of the Secr.'s intention of laying them before a Committee. It was also stated that so many accepted MSS were already in hand, that if our work were approved, at least 1 1/2 years, probably 2 years, must elapse before it could be printed. This mail brings me no further tidings; & so there the matter rests for the present. I am especially sorry for this because the facts ascertained by us seem to be of special interest nowadays.

The copy of the Academy containing your Review of Mr. Morgan's Ancient Society has not yet reached me. [6] Mr. Morgan told me of it, & sent me an extract from it, some months ago. I may add that he wrote with evident pleasure of the courtesy with which you had treated him, as an agreeable contrast to the contemptuous discourtesy he had met with at the hands of Mr. McLennan. [7] I wrote by last Mail a letter to the Saturday Review commenting on a criticism of my friend Howitt's short contribution to Brough Smyth's compilation, in which I took the liberty of complaining of that discourtesy. The critique I believe to be Sir John Lubbock's. [8]

The memoirs sent by Howitt & myself are as follows:--

1. Origin & Development of the classificatory system of Kinship, as shown by the Australian classes, by L.F.

2. Monograph of the Kurnai Tribe of Gippsland, by A.W.H.

3. Theory of the Kurnai System, by L.F.

A note of mine on No 1 as to the distinction between descent through females, & relationship through females, was subsequently expanded into an Appendix. Its expansion was owing partly to certain remarks in Hearne's Aryan Household [9] which came into my hands after I had completed my ms., & partly to your own Review of Morgan's work. The appendix contains an examination of the case of Orestes before the Areopagus as set forth by Aeschylus, an attempt to explain Ancestral Worship, & a modest defence of Morgan's use of the term gens & phratria, with whose wording I am sure you would find no fault, even though you disagreed with its argument. From my own observations among savage & barbaric tribes I am fully persuaded that their exogamous intermarriage divisions will yet be recognised as the geriu of the Roman gens, & that we shall be able to trace the successive steps of their advance. Only, among many tribes of present day savages the gentes have uterine succession, whereas those others were aquatic, & this difference is a very good one & accounts for many things. When I have the pleasure of reading your Review, I shall see more clearly the grounds of your disagreement with Mr. Morgan. His extract was but a short one.

With reference to the point mentioned in your letter as to "marriage between whole make & female classes", I may say that the information given to me by Mr. Lance has been confirmed by not a few other competent observers. [10] Mr. Morgan, however, seems in his Ancient Society to treat that fact as showing actual present day marriage of that kind, whereas present usage in Australia as elsewhere is considerably in advance of ancient rule.

But this fact remains --- We have traced the classes from the extreme west (N.W. Cape) to the extreme south (Mt Gambier) through N.S. Wales & Queensland up to Port Darwin in the north, & turning aside to a telegraph station almost in the centre of the continent. Nearly everywhere among those tribes * [insert] Note * We have found other tribes not having the Kamilaroi class arrangement Of these more by & bye. [end insert] the classes have the same arrangements, though the words used to designate them, are widely different, & a man of a [insert] any [end insert] certain class is admitted to the [insert] marital [end insert] privileges of his class in any tribe other than his own -- that is, if the other tribe be one of those which have a like organization.

Thus, say that A & B are two intermarrying classes. Then, if a Kamilaroi native from the Darling River, belonging to Class A, visited a tribe at Port Darwin, he would be provided with a woman from Class B in that tribe, as his temporary wife. In the gesture language of the aborigines there is "a peculiar folding of the hands" which denotes a request for, or an offer of, this right as the case may be. This I give on Howitt's own authority. You are doubtless aware that he is a well known Australian explorer, & has seen much of the wild tribes.

The classes being thus spread over the continent, & the marital rights of A being acknowledged & granted without respect to locality, it seems probable that the various tribes are the result of the expansion of one tribe, whose old regulations they have kept up. It seems to me that among savages of the Australian type we have to keep fast hold of the fact that there is no such thing as personal individuality, if I may so speak. The class is the Individual. It is married to another class. Its child is the whole class resulting from that marriage, & is the successor of its mother's, not of its father's, class. That seems to me to be the fundamental idea. But usage gradually departs from the old rule, & when we get to descent in the male line the progress is very rapid. This is saying very much in a very few words, & taking many things for granted. [insert] ] [end insert] I cannot write at length now, because being away from home, I have not access to my notes, & moreover I am not very well. The shaking of my hand today must be my excuse for the handwriting of this letter, which I am afraid you will find to be somewhat illegible. 

[insert] [ [end insert] I may, however, note the following facts bearing upon the point mentioned by you.

1. The right of the a class irrespective of tribal locality.

2. The fact that what appeared to Eyre to be promiscuous intercourse is strictly regulated by the class rules.

3. A warrior taking a woman in war, or stealing a woman from another tribe, cannot have her to wife unless if she be of a class prohibited to him.

4. In the Kurnai tribe (which is an extremely interesting exception to the ordinary class-tribes -- to use a short term) marriage, as a general rule, can be affected no otherwise than by elopement. But the man must give previous notice to those males who are his pares, (I don't know how otherwise to designate them without going into a long explanation-) & they must meet the woman in the bush, & use her as their wife, before he can elope with her.

I may also add that the privilege of Ipai, noted by you in your work [insert] on [end insert] Early Institutions does not upset the entire arrangement, as it appeared to you to do. This, if I remember rightly, is your view of it. It simply permits the marriage of Ipai with one, though not with all, of his paternal half sisters. I think it is only a local infringement of the class rule. It never sanctions marriage with the uterine half sister. Where Mr. Ridley [insert] Lance [end insert] brought it under my notice. I pointed out to him its importance to [insert] my friend Mr. Ridley [end insert] as showing the probability of subdivisions of the classes distinguished by totems. [11] Mr. Ridley was soon afterwards commissioned by the Govt at the instance of Max Müller to make certain philological inquiries among the tribes with which he was acquainted. I went to his house, & drew up a memorandum [insert] on the subject [end insert] for him to take with him, suggesting what the probable marriage arrangements would be found to be. He made the inquiry, & found that not Ipai only but all the other classes of males, also in that tribe, or those tribes, had the same privilege, & that the regulations were based on totemic subdivisions.

The Sec'y of the Royal So'y [Society] of Victoria some year or two afterwards showed me a paper of Mr. Ridley's on these subdivisions. I think it was published by the Anthropological Society. 

Quite a number of my correspondents deny that the extended privileges exist in other Kamilaroi Tribes. The testimony of Mr. Ridley & Mr. Lance, however, is conclusive as to half sister marriage, among some of the Kamilaroi.

I am not sure whether I shall be able to write out an orderly statement of the point in question in time for the September mail, as this is a busy time of the year with us, & I have a great deal of work to do as Secretary of our Mission here in connection with our Annual meeting, which takes place in a few weeks. After that press of work is over, I shall have more time at my disposal, & will endeavour to state the matters at length. The copy of the Academy will probably help me.

I have sent to my sister, Mrs Waring, the widow of the late George Waring of Oxford, a paper on Land Tenure in Fiji. [12] This explains somewhat minutely the structure of Fijian Society, for therein Land Tenure here depends. I sent it to Mrs Waring, in the hope that she would know someone who could advise here as to the best way of getting it into some periodical or other, or the transactions of a society which publishes such things. I will write to her by this Mail asking her, if she has not already found a channel for it, to send it to you, on your application. I make this proviso simply because I cannot tell whether you are interested in that particular subject. All I want is to get it before the public as speedily as possible. It throws no light upon the matter concerning which you ask for information, as the more advanced Fijian tribes have aquatic succession the Town lot, the Arable Marks & the Waste, [?] as our own forefathers had them [insert] excepting that, having no cattle, they have no pasture land [end insert] The position of their houses even is regulated by the allowance for Eavesdrip, though they don't call it Eavesdrip.[13]

The subject of the paper necessitated an examination of chieftainship, & I have gone somewhat at length with that matter, showing that in Fiji at least birthright & Polygamy combined are necessary to produce the grades of rank found among these tribes. If you consider the paper worthy a place in any publication I shall esteem it a great favour, if you will kindly use your influence to get it published. Or, if you think it worth reading before one of the learned societies, & would take the trouble to read it, or to get it read, I should be very thankful. I do not know whether I am asking too much. If so, my fault arrives from pure ignorance of usage, & certainly not from presumption.

I must say one word more. You are kind enough to assure me that my communications will be welcome to the Anthropological Institute. I have "a sense of fear" that some things which I have to say may not be welcome to its President, whom I understand to be Sir John Lubbock. There are not a few statements in his Origins of Civilization [14] concerning tribes with which I am well acquainted, which are incorrect. And I have had occasion to say so in more than one place. Moreover both McLennan & himself have so discourteously attacked Morgan that I cannot help feeling towards them somewhat as a savage feels towards a man who has insulted his chief. No fair & courteous criticism, however adverse, could raise such a feeling in me. Perhaps during my 15 years of life among savages I may have acquired somewhat of their clannish feeling.

I sent a second paper to Mrs Waring on "Burial Customs in Fiji" which I think you might like to see. [15]

I will write to Melbourne by this Mail to ask that a copy of a paper of mine, which will probably soon be printed by the Royal Soc'y of Victoria, may be sent to you. It is on certain customs of the Banks Islanders.

Mrs Waring's address is c/o Robert Potts, M.A. Parker's Piece Cambridge. Mrs Potts is another brother in law of mine.[16] 

Believe me 

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq.

Notes [by transcriber]

[1] Arthur Hamilton-Gordon, see wikipedia

[2] Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908) Australian anthropologist, explorer and natural scientist.

[3] Joseph Henry (1797-1878) first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute.

[4] Robert Brough Smyth (1830-1899) Australian geologist and author, in 1878 he published the two-volume 'The Aborigines of Victoria' with the Government of Victoria.

[5] Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887) Second secretary of the Smithsonian from 1878.

[6] 'Ancient Society: or the lines of human progress from savagery through barbarism to civilization' Lewis H. Morgan 1877 Macmillan & Co., London. Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881) American anthropologist.

[7] John Ferguson McLennan (1827-1881) Scottish lawyer and anthropologist, very interested in kinship and marriage. I have not been able to ascertain who D. McLennan was. McLennan was criticising Kamilaroi and Kurnai. See 'The Invention of Primitive Society: Transformations of an Illusion', Adam Kuper pp. 94-100, including reference to Tylor's involvement.

[8] John Lubbock, first Baron Avebury, (1834-1913) Banker, politician and scientific writer, very interested in anthropology and archaeology.

[9] The Aryan household, its structure and its development; an introduction to comparative jurisprudence (1879) William Edward Hearn

[10] A settler, T.E. Lance of Bungawalbyn, on the Upper Clarence river, one of Fison and Howitt's Australian informants.

[11] William Ridley, (1819-1878) Presbyterian missionary and former Professor of Greek, Latin and Hebrew at the Australian College in Sydney.

[12] This paper, 'Land Tenure in Fiji', was later published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol 10 (1881) pp. 332-352. Fison's sister was George Waring's wife, she was Charlotte Mary Fison, born in Barningham, Suffolk around 1835, she married Waring in 1851, later her (and Lorimer Fison's) sister Lois came to live with them in Oxford too. George Waring died on 8 April 1878, see here for more information about him). Charlotte died in Suffolk in 1899. 

[13] Eavesdrip - the width of ground around a house or building which receives the rain water dropping from the eaves

[14] The origin of civilisation and the primitive condition of man: mental and social condition of savages, London: Longmans and Green, 1870.

[15] 'Notes on Fijian Burial Customs' was published by the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. 10 (1881) pp. 137-149.

[16] Robert Potts (1805-1885), mathematician, was born in Lambeth, London. He was educated privately in Kent, before matriculating at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1828 (B.A., 1832; M.A., 1835). Thereafter, he became a private tutor in the university. Potts won acclaim for his edition of Euclid's Elements, which was first published in 1845. He died at Cambridge on 4 August 1885. [see Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, Robert Potts: Correspondence, MS Add.4427-4428] See his DNB entry here, note that gives his birthdate as 1802x4 [sic]. His wife (and Fison's sister's, name was Jeannetta (?c1817-after 1885). However, this webpage says that Robert Potts married Jeannetta who was the daughter of William Charles Green, who does not sound as if he was the father of Fison!


Fison 3

Navuloa, Fiji [1]

9 Nov 1879

Dear Sir,

The copy of the "Academy" containing your critique on Mr. Morgan's Ancient Society -- which you were good enough to request, should be sent to Sir Arthur Gordon for transmission to me -- never reached his hands.

Consequently I am unable to ascertain the points on which you differ from his [insert] Mr. Morgan's [end insert] views, & on which any information in my possession concerning the Australians might possibly throw a little light. Mr. Morgan mentioned to me nothing more than your complaint of his use of the term gens, as applicable to the N.A. Indian totemic divisions, &, in so doing, he referred to the courteous manner of your complaint with an evident appreciation of it. Sir John Lubbock & Mr. McLennan have so dealt with his hypothesis as to make him more than usually sensible of personal courtesy on the part of an opponent.

I have added to my Memoir on Australian Marriage & Relationship, a few pages as to [insert] on [end insert] the gens as it appears amongst savages. These were written in consequence of what Mr. Morgan told me of your objection, but they contain no reference to yourself.

I have been too busy for the past three months to do much beyond the line of my official duties this being our busiest time -- & have therefore been unable to draw out for you the statement which I hoped to be able to send you. This, however, is of no great consequence, as Mr. Howitt & myself are endeavouring to arrange for immediate publication of our memoirs, &, I think, with every probability of success.

Believe me,

Dear Sir, 

Yours very truly,

Lorimer Fison

E.B. Tylor Esq. L.L.D.

&c &c &c


[1] Navuloa in Fiji, Fison was principal of the Navuloa [Methodist] Training Institute from 1875 to 1884.


Fison 4

Answered Feb. 18 1880

Navuloa Fiji 3 Dec 79

Dear Sir,

I wrote to you by last mail from Levuka. Unfortunately I omitted to take your letter with me, & the result was that I wrote Essex instead of Somerset in my address. I therefore trouble you with a few lines now, repeating the information which I fear has not reached you.

Sir A. Gordon tells me he never received his copy of the "Academy" (?) containing your critique on Morgan's "Ancient Society". I am therefore unable to judge as to the view you take of his theory. Had I seen the critique i should have known the points to touch upon. You mention only one in your note to Sir Arthur Gordon -- viz "the privilege of the stranger Ipai". [1] This, as I have already told you, is amply confirmed. But the practice can be affirmed of those tribes only which are organized like the Kamilaroi, & we know there are Australian tribes which have not that organization.

The only point mentioned to me by Mr. Morgan is your complaint of his use of the term "gens". 

I have done my best to explain both these points in my part of the work undertaken by Mr. Howitt & myself. In all probability it will soon be printed; & it is therefore unnecessary for me to go into particulars here.

I have proposed to Mr. Howitt that our title be "Group-Marriage & Relationship, & Marriage by Elopement." [2] This will include an exhaustive monograph of the Kurnai, or East Gippsland Aborigines, by my friend Howitt. The Kurnia permit marriage [insert] within their own tribe [end insert] only by elopement, & that not until after cruel resistance, & punishment if the runaways be caught. It is a peculiar & extremely interesting system, totally different from Marriage by Capture. And yet it can, I think, be shown to be nothing more than the Kamilaroi system in difficulties. I have devoted some little pains to working out its theori solution. 

My own memoir has been entirely rewritten, & considerably enlarged.

Mrs Waring writes to me by this mail, & says she has good hopes of getting my papers on Land Tenure, & Burial Customs, into one of the Reviews or Magazines. [3] If she have not succeeded in doing this [sic], you would confer a great favour upon me by examining the mss, &, if you think them worthy, procuring them a place in some journal, or Transactions of a Society

Believe me,

Yours very truly,

Lorimer Fison.

Edward B. Tylor Esq.

P.S. If I have asked too much I can only repeat my plea of ignorance of usage.

A letter has just come in from Mr. Morgan. He refers once more to your critique, but without going into particulars. Your objections appear to surprise him; but he makes a very clear distinction between them & those of Sir John Lubbock & Mr. McLennan. These he considers discourteous in the extreme, & therein I must say that I fully agree with him. More than once he has contrasted your courteous manner with their contemptuous scorn.


[1] This relates to Fison's investigations, following his and Morgan's interests, in group marriage.

[2] This is presumably a reference to Kamilaroi and Kurnai published in 1880, which was subtitled, 'group marriage and relationship, and marriage by elopement: drawn chiefly from the usage of the Australian aborigines: also the Kurnai tribe, their customs in peace and war'. 

[3] See Fison letter 2 above, this was his sister 'Mrs Waring, the widow of the late George Waring of Oxford', these were eventually published with Tylor's held in the journal of the Anthropological Institute in 1881; 'Notes on Fijian Burial Customs', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 10, (1881), pp. 137-149; 'Land Tenure in Fiji', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 10, (1881), pp. 332-352


Fison 5

Navuloa, Fiji

16 January 1880

Dear Sir,

I send you herewith a paper on the customs of Mota which has been published by the Royal Society of Victoria. [1] It contains a woodcut of the Ghost of the Sea, a tracing of which you have already seen in my letter forwarded to you by Sir Arthur Gordon. I think there are some things in it which will be interesting to you especially the Mota system of numeration & the question as to the possession of high numbers being a mark of superior intelligence. You will see what I say in my note on Mr. Codrington's statement of Mota numeration as to the number of spears usually carried by the Australian Natives. [2] I was under the impression from my own recollections of the blackfellows whom I met with at various times & places in Australia that they usually carried two spears. But I was afraid to commit myself to a positive statement, & therefore wrote "two or three". Since writing that note, I have received a copy of "South Australian Aboriginal Folklore" published by the S.A. Gov't last year. [3] As a whole it is of very little value, but there are in it a number of original drawings by Australian Aborigines representing hunting scenes &c. Those facing pp. 24, 40, 72, 124 all represent the men with two spears, & none give them more than two.

I am afraid that I shall be laughed at about the Freemasonry statement. But I cannot explain away the facts that have come to my knowledge through trustworthy channels. Only by last mail I received a letter from a gentleman well-known to me, who assured me that he had lately seen a number of Queensland blacks who make "the master sign of wonder" to a friend who was leaving Brisbane for Sydney by the steamer in which my correspondent was a passenger. Unless Stuart published a deliberate & useless lie, & moreover unless several trustworthy gentlemen have told me lies which could do neither them nor anyone else any good, Australian blackfellows certainly use signs which are current among freemasons at the present day. And whatever may be the origin of freemasonry as we have it now, we cannot say that it was not founded upon something older still.

The Rev. George Brown [4] was in Fiji a short time ago, & I had some talk with him about the New Britain secret societies, but he could tell me nothing definite. That sort of thing does not come into his line. He is an enthusiastic collector of frogs & strange fishes, but he does not study native customs. In his own line he has done admirable work. I hope, with a very faint hope, to have an opportunity some day or other of visiting his field, & making inquiries for myself. But even a personal inquiry in such a case is of comparatively little value unless one can either secure a thoroughly trustworthy & efficient interpreter, or fiend a countryman of one's own who has been long enough among the natives, has had sufficient interest in the subject, & who has neither looked at native things from an European standpoint, nor allowed preconceived notions as to idolatry, Satanic agency, & so forth to influence his view of native customs. Missionaries especially are sometimes apt to look upon all heathen customs as necessarily devil-inspired, & so to condemn customs, which are innocent in themselves, because they suppose them to have a meaning which the natives themselves most certainly do not attach to them.

The more I learn of savage customs the more plainly do I see the necessity of unlearning our own notions as a preliminary to understanding the working of the natives mind. It is scarcely possible even to state their customs without conveying an incorrect impression, for our words are not conterminous with theirs in their meanings. We cannot--for instance--use the words "God" & "worship" with reference to savages without conveying to an Englishman's mind something different from that which is in the mind of the savage when he uses the words which we have to render by those. His idea of God is very far from our own, & he means by "worship" something very different from that which we mean by it.

I am strongly inclined to think that the socalled worship of ancestors by tribes like the Fijians, is nothing more than what may be called an act of filial piety. The Fijian presents food & other useful things to his dead father or grandfather just as he presents them to his living elders. In so doing he does not perform an act of worship. He furnishes the dead who have a claim upon him with articles of which they stand in need. And in return they are bound to give him counsel & help, they just as the living are bound to give them. The counsel they give by entering into one of their descendants, & speaking through him. The help they are supposed to give invisibly, though sometimes they may assume a visible form. They are feared, it is true; but this is because they are supposed to have powers which the living cannot easily guard against. If they be offended, they cannot be shut out by a warfence like a living enemy. Hence, beyond the inutility of it, I see no harm in offering to the dead. They do not constitute deification. Moreover the offerings are not wasted. They are not burned as by some tribes. The day of a great sacrifice is the day of a great feast. The priests, who are the representatives of the dead, share out the food after it has been offered, & it is soon devoured.

In some of our tribes the priest's office is hereditary. But, like other officers, it is hereditary, not in a certain line of individuals form father to son, or to sister's son, but in a certain group of individuals. When the [insert] a [end insert] priest dies, this group of males assembles in the temple, & waits. Presently one of them begins to shake & tremble, his muscles contract & expand, his flesh twitches & quivers with a sort of crawling movement horrible to look upon, his eyeballs start & glare, his beard & moustaches bristle, his lips gather foam & draw back in a ghastly grin, he falls prostrate on the mat in strong convulsions. A weak stridulous voice is heard "It is I! It is I", & the name of one the dead ancestors ancestors proclaims himself. The man so chosen by the dead is The Mbete [insert] par excellence [end insert] for the time being, but the whole group of kinsfolk to which he belongs are also mbete, & eligible for election to the office.

In other Fijian tribes there is no such election, nor are there any priests. The offerings to the dead are made by the groups of males who are their descendants without any priest to come between them & the dead.

I do not hear from my sister Mrs Waring by the last Mail, but the November steamer brought me a letter from her stating that she was taking advice from friends as to getting my paper on Land Tenure in Fiji into some periodical or other. I daresay she had not been successful, & so did not write.

On p. 3 of the Mota paper Mr. Codrington states that "Daughters inherit land, if there are no sons". The heirs here indicated by him are the children of the sister of the deceased, not his own sons & daughters, I did not observe the possible misconstruction here or I would have provided against it.

Believe me,

Dear Sir,

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor, LL.D


[1] 'Notes on the customs of Mota, Banks Islands, by the Rev. R.H. Codrington, M.A. Oxford, with remarks by the Rev. Lorimer Fison, Fiji', Transactions of the Royal Society of Victoria, vol. XVI, 1879, pp. 119-143. Mota is an island in Vanuatu (then known as the New Hebrides). 

[2] Robert Henry Codrington (1830-1922), Anglican missionary and clergyman. 

[3] George Taplin [ed.] 'The folklore, customs and languages of the South Australian Aborigines, inquiries made by Authority of South Australian Government' (first series). Adelaide: Government Printer 1879.

[4] George Brown (1835-1917), Methodist missionary in various places in the Pacific. He did take an interest in, and publish on, social customs of the areas in which he lived.


Fison 6

Navuloa, Fiji, 18 May 1880

Dear Sir,

I was very glad to receive your letter of Feb. 18, & have to thank you for your kind interest in my papers. I take your opinion that they are more imitable for the journals of a Society than for a Magazine as a great compliment, & am not a little flattered thereby. It is a great advantage to them that they are launched under such auspices.

Some time ago the people at Levuka asked me for a Lecture in aid of their Mechanics Institute. As I had the Land Tenure paper ready, & as the subject is one of great local interest just now, I gave it to them as a lecture, promising that I must ask the gentlemen of the Press to abstain from publishing any precis of it, there being private reasons which made the request necessary. They respected my wish. Sir Arthur Gordon, in moving a vote of thanks at the close of the lecture, which he was good enough to do in very flattering terms, said in the strongest possible manner that his own inquiries led him precisely to my conclusions. He moreover said that, if I had not withheld the lecture from publication, he should have "intreated" me to publish it in a pamphlet form. I forgot to say in my last letter that, if the paper be printed in the Society's Transactions, I should like the reference to Mr Des Voeux in the footnote near the end to be omitted. Learned societies have nothing to do with personal disputes. [NB last two sentences crossed out in red pencil, possibly by Tylor when he followed Fison's wishes?] There is also a Fijian phrase which had better be altered. One of the designations of the Kaisi is given as "ngone tawa vakatamani". This is a provincialism, & it would be better as "ngone sa senga na tamandra". If it be not too late, I should like the alteration to be made indeed I should like to rewrite the whole affair. I do not remember ever writing anything which I did not year to alter after a lapse of time I am extremely obliged to you for your kind promise of sending me a few printed copies of the Burial Customs. Would it be presuming on your kindness to ask you to send a copy to my brothers in law Rev. W. Green, M.A. Rugby School, and R. Potts M.A. Parker's Piece Cambridge? I have no right thus to trespass upon your kindness; but it seems almost a calamity to post a paper in Fiji to those addresses after it has come all the way from England.

Our book is now in the printer's hands, & will be published in July or August. It will be nearly 400 pp. large 8vo, & the price 14/- or 15/- I have been so busy about it that I have not had time to put together my notes on "Games." I send you by this mail a sort of specimen of the information I get from the educated natives which I think will interest you. The Fijian is in their own handwriting. I have added a translation with notes. I send out scores of those little books when I want information on any point. There are now everywhere in Fiji young natives who can write well, & who will inquire of the elders at my bidding.

Some time ago I saw a reference to an article in an old number of the Fortnightly on the Incest of the Ancient Peruvians. I sent to Sydney, & had the article copied out. As I expected, I find that the thing is explained by certain present-day customs with which I am acquainted, & I will write a short memo. on it as soon as I can find time, & send it to you. The title of the paper is "Consanguinity in Marriage". It appeared in the Fort. Rev. vol ii 1865 pp. 715-719. I am persuaded that the custom was confined to the aristocracy.[1]

On Jan 16 I sent you a printed paper on Mota customs accompanied by a letter, & subsequently I sent you a very long letter which I find in my letter book (copy) dated Jan'y 4 -- a clerical error as I suppose, for Feb'y 4.

Mr. Codrington is sending me a ms of considerable dimensions on Melanesian languages & customs. I am to make what use of it I see fit. When it comes, I hope to find in it something of interest to send to you.

In the meanwhile here is a fact which will doubtless be of interest to medical men. The umbilical cord is cut, but never tied, in Fiji. The Rev. George Brown tells me the custom is the same in Tonga [insert] Samoa [end insert] Codrington says it is so in the Banks I., & Howitt finds it among all the Aust. tribes reached by his inquiries, with two exceptions. These tribes tie the cord with kangaroo sinew. I cannot learn that any evil effects result from the neglect of tying the cord. Believe me, Dear Sir, Yours very truly,

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq L.L.D.

P.S. The title of our book was to be "Group Marriage & Marriage by Elopement", but the printer rebelled against it as being too long for the Headline at the top of the pages. A friend of Mr Howitt's suggested "Kamilaroi & Kurnai", & this he at once adopted. The old designation will be a sort of sub-title.

Prof. Hearn of the Melbourne University, author of the Aryan Household &c, & the Melbourne Chief Justice with several other gentlemen who are interested in our work, have applied to the Minister of Justice asking that Howitt be released from his official duties for one year to enable him to pursue what they are good enough to call "these most important researches" among the Australian Aborigines. No better man for the work could be found. He is a well known Australia explorer, an indefatigable worker, a geologist & chemist of no mean attainments, an able man in every respect, with a genial manner combined with a capacity for command which has made him perhaps the most popular & the ablest leader of exploring parties we have ever had in Australia.


[1] William Adam, 'Consanguinity in marriage', Fortnightly Review ii: 710-730 and Fortnightly Review iii, 74-88 (1865).


Fison 7 

Levuka Jan'y 24 '81

My dear Sir

My friend Howitt has sent me a note from Messrs McMillan to you which was forwarded to him from England. I cannot refrain from expressing my sincere thanks for your great kindness in interesting yourself on our behalf. This is all the more valuable to us because we made a mistake in our choice of a publisher. We understood that Robertson was connected with an English house, [1] but find that he has only an agent in England who attends to the forwarding of parcels &c. Our work is of interest only to those who care for our special line of inquiry, these are limited in number, & are to be found chiefly, I suppose, in England and America, -- just the two places where our publisher has not means of selling our book. Were it not for your kindness in England, & Mr. Morgan's in America, we should have made a serious loss. As it is, I think we shall clear expenses, & if so we shall be exceptionally fortunate.

The Australian Reviewers have been invariably complimentary but I look forward with no little trepidation to the English critiques, if indeed I may expect any notice to be taken of our book. One writer in Australia I expect to be attacked by -- Mr. E.M. Curr, [2] who has long been preparing a work on the aborigines & who looks upon me as having "jumped his claim", to use an Australian gold miner's expression. I have seen a letter of his breathing forth threatenings & slaughters. But I most certainly have nothing to accuse myself of as far as he is concerned. Indeed the boot is on the other leg, & it is big enough to make several pairs of thigh boots for the family of the Giant of Goth. 

In '74 I sent him one of my printed circulars, [3] of which he took no notice excepting to incorporate some of my questions in a circular of his own which he printed subsequently. [4] 

I find that a few readers have taken my use of the words "marriage" &c as if I used them in their ordinary sense. Hence some of the Reviewers write of "the system of communal marriage now prevalent in Australia". I hoped that I had guarded against this sufficiently by repeated cautions.

A large number of clear instances of expiation for marriage, regulated by "class-rule" have come to light since we published our work. I scarcely know what to do some of these, as they are unfit for publication, & yet they ought to be published. Missionaries especially are at a disadvantage in inquiring into such matters. The natives learn to be ashamed of these before the miss'y, & deny all knowledge of them with the most convincing look of innocent surprise & reprobation on their faces. Moreover it is absolutely necessary among some tribes for the inquirer to be adopted into a class before he can get at the bottom of many things, especially things concerning the intersexual regulations which lie below the surface. I have been 17 years in Fiji, & for 12 of those years have been inquiring into these matters, but it was only a week or two ago that I ascertained the following custom. In the heathen days when a great chief took a wife, the time for the consummation of the marriage was fixed some time beforehand. On the day appointed his brothers & tribal brothers, together with the sisters & tribal sisters of the woman (such of these at least as were available) assembled in the house appointed for the purpose. I have not yet been able to satisfy myself as to whether any others could be present, but it is certain that none but kinsfolk of the parties were eligible. In the presence of these people, the chief consummated his marriage, they urging him on & encouraging him by shouts of "Utu!" (This word is used to express the striking against the shore of the prow of a canoe, or the coming together of two objects [insert] one of wh. is stationary [end insert]) "Utu tambua!" "Utu mangiti!" "Utu Kamunanga!"

What can one do with customs such as these as regards publication? To put them in Latin, as seems to be the rule, is little better than useless prudery. It did well enough when Latin was but little known, but it cannot be of much practical use nowadays. Take another instance. A short time ago I received from a highly intelligent gentleman, a Mr Harding, whose life of strange adventure would be wonderfully pleasant reading, an account of a scene he himself witnessed in Tana, & the meaning of wh. he ascertained by inquiry. The custom is as follows:--

When a girl arrives at [insert] a [end insert] marriageable age, her father notifies the fact, & the young men who are marriageable with her assemble in the public square where there is a enormous tree. Father & daughter sit down at the foot of the tree, & the young men dance before them. Presently the girl points to one of the dancers. Her father calls him. He retires to the behind the tree with her, & has connexion with her. She returns to her father, & the dance goes on. Another young man is pointed out, & the scene repeats itself. This continues until all the dancers have been thus accommodated. though the whole process may not be concluded at one "session." Outsiders, not of the proper group of youths, look on, but do not participate. Mr. Harding said to one of them, who having worked on a plantation in Fiji had acquired the Fijian language, "Why don't you go in?" The man replied with a look & gesture of angry disgust "Am I a pig? She is my sister." But she was his sister only in the sense that any Ipatha (for instance) is Ipai's sister. After the dancing arrangement is concluded the girl is eligible for marriage, & comes under the husband's tapu. Here is the temple of Mylitta over again. Instances of the same thing, minus the dancing, among Aust. tribes who have descent through males, have come in since the publication of K. & K. 

Believe me

Yours most gratefully

Lorimer Fison

E.B. Tylor Esq LL.D


[1] George Robertson (1825-1898), publisher, of Melbourne. 

[2] Edward Micklethwaite Curr (1820-1889) Squatter and author

[3] Presumably Fison's questionnaires, sent to people who he hoped would provide him with details of local Aboriginal culture.

[4] Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Curr, says 'his major work, apart from his Recollections, was done with assistance from newspapers and interested laymen throughout Australia. In his four-volume The Australian Race: Its Origins, Languages, Customs (Melbourne, 1886-87), as with an earlier work by R. Brough Smyth and assistants, the published information was only as reliable as the observations made by his helpers at Curr's request.'


Fison 8

Navuloa, Fiji, 1 Mar. 1881

My dear Sir,

I received your letter of Dec. 27 yesterday, & was made very glad by it. Once more I have to thank you for your great kindness, & this I do with all heartiness & sincerity. It is indeed kind of you to interest yourself as you have done on our behalf as to Kam. & Kurnai, & I am under additional obligation to you for reading the proofs of my paper on Burial Customs. [1] It was stupid of me to write raici instead of raithi, or raidhi, or raidi (the last is in accordance with Lepsius' Missionary Alphabet) but one gets into a fatal habit of using the Fijian letters when one has been long accustomed to the use of them. During my earlier years in Fiji I even accustomed myself to think in Fijian in order more fully to acquire the language. The consequences were disastrous when I subsequently removed for a short time to Australia. The Fijian words used to come into my mind, & I had to translate into English as I went on, once I started a congregation by commencing the opening prayer in Fijian instead of in English & I had to get rid of my acquired habit by a course of mental training almost as severe as that which I followed in order to acquire it. The experience was a very curious one, & suggested several interesting points of inquiry.

Your information as to the "bullroarer" in Africa is extremely interesting. It is a valuable fact, for (as far at least as Australia is concerned) it is impossible to maintain for a moment that the instrument could have been introduced by Europeans. I should be glad to hear if the medici [?] have taken any notice of the fact that the umbilical cord is not tied. This also is an important fact though not so from an ethnological point of view.

I have been for some time in communication with Col. Mallory. [2] A little, not much, may be contributed from Fiji to his work, & that little I have done. The natives here have had a dialect commonly intelligible in which [insert] the various [end insert] tribes could communicate, though the dialects used by them severally diverge very widely. Hence they have not had the need for gesture language which has been felt (say) by the Australians.

I asked Howitt to send something to Mallory, but he has gathered so much valuable information on the question, & is rapidly requiring so much more, that he thinks we ought to keep our Australian materials for another work of ours which has been for some time on the stocks.

I am very much obliged to you for your kindness in getting my petition for free postage put before the Colonial Office. The Australia Govt's will not offer any opposition; & if we can get the privilege of sending bona fide work without postage, it will be a great help to us. Hitherto our work has been very expensive, & we are not at all likely to remunerate ourselves by publication. In fact we expect, & always expected, to lose money by our book, & when to that loss is superadded the cost of postage one cannot help groaning in spirit.

I believe that some of the skulls Mr. Flower obtained must have belonged to members of the tribes which who compress the skull [insert] laterally [end insert] during infancy, & so narrow it. [3] I am not sure about this custom, but your references to the narrow skulls has reminded me that I ought to be sure about it. I will start an inquiry at once. I know that the thing is done somewhere on the S. coast of Navitilevu, & I think it probable that some at least of the Colo tribes practise it. I know every little of the Colo tribes. They were inaccessible to me when I lived in the neighbourhood years ago, & now the state of my lungs is such that I cannot climb the hills. 

I note your remark about my having "let fly with much vigour at Mr. McLennan &c", & that I may expect equal vigour in return. I shall not complain of any hard hitting if it be fair hitting. Indeed I am not at all sure that it will not be salutary. But I do most sincerely hope I have not produced the impression in your mind that I am fond of hitting for hitting's sake. I assure you that I am "the mildest mannered man". I have been a missionary for 17 years, & have never said a discourteous word to any living soul, nor have I had any personal quarrel with any man. In fact I have lived at peace with all men excepting the South Sea kidnappers, & their defenders. But I must own that appearances are horribly against me. There is my note about Mr. Des Voeux [4] (which I thank you for suppressing), there are my comments against Mr. McLennan, & Sir John Lubbock, & worse than all there is an awful row we had with Sir A. Gordon just before his departure, in which I appear as one of the combatants. Nevertheless, I am not a fighting man, unless I have to fight on behalf of a friend, or against misrepresentation of our mission. Mr. McLennan, as I thought, treated Morgan with the most contemptuous scorn. Sir John went out of his way to disparage Williams of Erromango. [5] Mr. Des Voeux (deceived, as I now believe, by the misrepresentations of other men) cast an unmerited slur upon our Mission as to land buying, & as to the last & worst affair, the publication was against my advice & against my will. Where controversy has to be undertaken on behalf of our mission here it falls to my lot officially. I being the Secretary of our mission in Fiji. And so, on behalf of others, I [insert] have [end insert] found myself not infrequently in the warpaint. But I do not don it willingly, & I am always glad to wash it off again. Nevertheless when fighting must be done I suppose one may as well do it vigorously. You will see that if I am attacked my replies will not be very virulent; & there are several points in my part of K. & K.--unguarded statements--which are quite open to attack, though I don't think the main theory will be affected thereby. However, it is not much use to try and prove one's amiability by mere assertion. I can but hope that, if what I have written has made you think me too fond of fighting, I may be able to remove the impression sooner or later. All the Australian Reviews of our work have been very favourable; but we wait for the verdict of English critics in the full expectation of much castigation. I am highly gratified by your remark that we "have made an important step in the difficult problem of early society". If we have done this we ought to be more than satisfied, & the assurance that we have done it could come no higher authority than yourself. Neither Howitt nor I consider that we have fully sifted the Australian facts. Since our ms went to the printer we have (or rather Howitt has) gathered much additional material throwing light on several important points connected with the change of the line of descent from females to males. He has found a large northern tribe with [insert] 4 [end insert] classes apparently formed in the Kamilaroi mould, but with descent through males. The totems [insert] in one district occupied by the tribe [end insert] are all fish totems, & Malay influences seem to be apparent. The Malays, I need not say, frequent the northern coasts to fish. All sorts of gradations also have been found. Mr. Howitt is indefatigable; & being a well known & much honoured Australian explorer, he has many acquaintances in out of the way parts of the Continent who send him information. But generally speaking it is very fragmentary, & he has to write many letters before he can satisfy himself as to a new fact.

I have two philological papers sent me by Codrington, one on the common original element of the S. Sea languages, & the second on the exchange of consonants between those languages. I think very highly of them; &, having his permission to deal with them as I please, I will send them to you as soon as I can find time to copy them out.

Believe me

Yours most truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D

I must apologise for these unseemly scraps of paper. I tore off the flyleaf of the other sheet of note paper activated by a fear of over-weight, & now I find I have forgotten to thank you for your kind offer as to posting my copies of Burial Custom & to give you the needful addresses.

If you will be good enough to send copies as follows, I shall be much obliged.

Robert Potts M.A. Parkers Piece Cambridge

William Fison, Burley in Wharfedale, Leeds, York

Rev W. Green M.A. Rugby School

Edward Fison, Ipswich, Sufolk

Mrs Watts (Howitt's sister)

Lewis H. Morgan, LL.D. Rochester, N.Y. U.S.A.

Rev W. Moulton D.D. The Leys, Cambridge

Hon Herbert J. Reynolds Calcutta

Rev. R.H. Codrington M.A. Norfolk Is. Sydney N.S.W. (Sydney postage only)

C.H. Fison. Ford Place, Thetford, Norfolk

James Fison, Barningham, Exworth, Suffolk

A.W. Howitt, Sale, Gippsland, Victoria

Sir William Stowell, C.J. Melbourne, Victoria

Professor Hearn, Melbourne University

G.F. Berry Jun'r Eccles, Manchester

I think these are all I need trouble you with, & I am ashamed to give you so much trouble. I owe you many thanks for so kindly offering to undertake it. [NB the names all have ticks against them, presumably by Tylor or his representative when they had sent out the copies]


[1] 'Notes on Fijian Burial Customs' was published by the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. 10 (1881) pp. 137-149.

[2] Garrick Mallory (1831-1894) American ethnologist who worked for the Bureau of American Ethnology

[3] William Henry Flower (1831-1899), English comparative anatomist and natural historian. Conservator of the Hunterian Museum. Fison is remarking on the paper by Flower published in 1881 on a set of Fijian skulls collected by Baron Anatole von Hugel, 'On the cranial characteristics of the natives of the Fiji islands', Journal of the Anthropological Institute ... vol. 10 (1881) pp. 153-174. These skulls are described in the paper as 'a series of sixteen crania, of both sexes, and various ages, of Kai Colos or natives of the mountainous regions of the interior of the large island of Viti Levu'. Although Flowers believes that they were not subject to artificial deformation, he remarks that the skulls were 'the most dolichocephalic or more properly stenocephalic, people in the world'. [page 158]

[4] According to several sources William Des Voeux was Governor of Fiji from January 1880 to 1886.

[5] John Williams (1796-1839) English missionary killed at Erromango.


Fison 9

Navuloa, Fiji 30 March '81

E.B. Tylor Esq: LL.D

Dear Sir,

By the last outgoing steamer I wrote thanking you very heartily for the kind interest you have taken in our book. In that letter, as in a previous one, I mentioned another mss of Mr. Codrington's which I promised to send you, & I now redress my promise. Mr. Codrington has a wonderful insight into these languages, & his observations appear to me to be of the very highest value. They arose out of our correspondence on island languages customs &c, during the course of which I was so delighted & instructed by his remarks that I urged him strongly to put them together in a connected form. He has done so to the extent of the papers now sent to you, which he looks upon as being simply tentative, their object being chiefly to invite criticisms. If you will kindly lay them before the Philological Soc'y, or deal otherwise with them in such manner as your experience may suggest as preferable, you will lay both Mr. Codrington & myself under very great obligation. I have annotated his MSS, but my notes are so insignificant that they do not warrant the addition of my name to the title page. If the Phil, or any other learned society, print the mss, a short note in the beginning or at the end explaining whose the notes are, is all I can aspire to. All my notes are enclosed in brackets, & signed with my initials. The others [insert] are Mr. Codrington's own [end insert] 

I have urged Mr. Codrington to send you a rough chart of the Islands marking them with the names he uses, some of which are the native names, while others are the English. I would prepare this chart myself, but I cannot distinguish his islands in several instances by reference to the ordinary maps, & the Admiralty charts are not to be trusted with regard to nomenclature. I have also asked him to explain his phrase "the nearer New Hebrides", which I suppose to mean those nearest to the Banks Is., where his mental standpoint probably was when he wrote.

Mr. Codrington is the only man living who is thoroughly competent to deal with a comprehensive view of the Melanesian languages. At least I can hear of no other, the Presbyterian Missionaries in Melanesia not being given to philology as far as I can make out. And besides, there are few more who have Mr. Codrington's special gift of insight. I can safely say that I have learned more from his letters as to the real structure of the Fijian language itself, than from my own intimate intercourse with the people. One learns to speak a language fluently enough by daily intercourse, but this does not teach more than that which lies on the surface. Mr. Codrington's remarks have taught me to look below the surface, & to them I am indebted for the discovery that I know very little of a language, which I was stupid enough to think I had at my fingers' ends.

I have been making inquiries about the "most narrow skulled of men", I find the practice of lateral compression of infants' heads to be general if not universal as far as the Navitilevu Hill tribes are concerned. [1] Moreover, I think it very likely [insert] nay positively certain [end insert] that the skulls, on which Mr. Flower based his remarks, came from those very tribes. Our native agents tell me that a gentleman, whom they describe as a 'fat jolly man" bought a number of skulls from the Hillfolk. [insert] Herr von Hugel also bought some [end insert] Our agents, who were coast people belonging to tribes who would look upon such traffic as the worst kind of sacrilege were horrified at the desecration, & remonstrated with the hill people about it. But they seemed to think that the coins in hand were preferable to their fathers' bones & so they cheerfully dug up their ancestors, with the exception of those who had died of the measles. These they respected, but I am compelled to add that their pious reverence for them was caused solely by a dread of letting the plague loose once more among themselves. if they opened those graves. The long narrow skulls therefore among the Fijians owe their peculiarity to art, not to nature, & the custom which produces it is only local. I have asked Mr. Codrington if he can trace the custom among his Melanesians.

In this case, as in many others, the facts are not what they seem. So also, I often see Fijians described as "frizzly haired": but the frizzly appearance of their hair is owing to the use of lime hairpowder, or rather pomatum. So also is the reddish brown hue. If they leave it alone it is of a purplish black & hangs down lies evenly enough on their heads. Naturally, it has a "wave" in it, which does not amount to a "ripple", still less to a "curl", & least of all to a "frizzle". Some of the Navitilevu tribes however may be woollier than others for aught I know. What I have said is based chiefly on what I have observed with regard to Fijian women who have married white men, & whose husbands, objecting to the inconvenience of the lime plastering, have prevailed upon them to let their hair take its natural course. Probably they have thereby only exchanged one nastiness for another. The lime dressing is suppressive of insect life.

I have lately read two papers by Mr. C. Staniland Wake, sent me by Mr. Morgan to whom Mr. Wake had forwarded them. [2] His remarks as to the bow being used [insert] in these seas [end insert] more as a plaything than as a deadly weapon, however true it may be with regard to Polynesians, does not apply to the Melanesians. The bow is their weapon par excellence & deadly shots they are. The most effective range is said to be about 50 yards; & within that range South Sea traders were far more afraid of a bow in their hands than of the old Tower Musket--the "Brown Bess" which finished its career among these islands, & I daresay among savages everywhere within reach of our commerce. Mr. Wake gives ndakai as the Fijian word for bow, but this is only the Mbau word. We have vuthu also, which is the common Melanesian vusu, whu, wusu, us, wus. Almost every book (which comes in my way) about language or customs in these waters shows that the Melanesians are very little known. Mr. Sayce [3] for instance, makes a statement which seems very extraordinary to us. Mr Codrington called my attention to it in his last letter. But I find I have not his letter with me, & I must wait till I go home before continuing my remarks on this point. Though I have headed my letter with my usual address, I am writing at Rewa, where I have been for the last day or two, our station being vacant at present, & I have to look after it till we get another missionary. I have been holding the "Quarterly meeting", as we call it, of our native agents. A case came before the meeting illustrative of my statement in "Kamilaroi & Kurnai" as to the avoidance of familiarity between relatives by marriage. Among the offenders brought up for judgment, one of our teachers was accused of indecent conduct. His offence was that he had gone fishing for bêche de mer with his daughter in law. There was no suggestion whatever of anything worse, but that in itself was sufficient to render him an improper person to be engaged in our work. I cautiously tested the feeling of the meeting about it, carefully avoiding the exhibition of any opinion of my own, which would have been sure to influence the expression of theirs, & it is certain that they looked upon the offence as a very grave one indeed. This Rewa meeting is the most interesting one we have in Fiji, & that not only from a strictly missionary point of view. Thus we have had on the present occasion between 200 & 300 men from a coastline extending 100 miles along "the back" of Navitilvu, from outlying islands, & from the mountain tribes. The business of the meeting is too pressing, its time too short, & its work too exhausting, to permit much else than the business itself, but I noted yesterday & today the following different words used for the numeral "one"--ndua, [insert] ndunga [end insert] hila, lia, tia, kila, kia [insert] t'la [end insert] ta, & taya, & for the simple negative senga, sengai, sikai, tikai, chikai (soft ch) scki'tikai, reya, [insert] warai [end insert] & alala--to which may be added mino [insert] yali, wandring, talwali [end insert] & manka of negatives within my knowledge, but not belonging to this part of the group: also the words for not, tawa, ta, & teri, which are all I now call to mind. This fact will give you some notion of the variety of dialects represented. We have, however, the immense advantage over the Melanesia missionaries, that the Bau dialect is sufficiently understood by all our people to serve roughly for practical purposes.

Among the young candidates for admission to our work I was delighted to see some of Prof. Flower's narrow-skulled friends. Very likely the brains that were at work this morning in agony under my viva voce examination are the lineal descendants of those once contained in the skulls measured by Mr. Flower. He may perhaps not be sorry to hear that all his young doli [insert] cho [end insert] cephalous friends "got through" very creditably.

Now that I am on the subject of our Rewa meeting I may mention a curious case, illustrating the imaginative powers of these natives, & their fine capacity of faith in all things the marvellous. One of our native agents was brought up for trial because of a sermon of his. He had taken the Day of Judgment as his subject, & as the conclusion, or "making heavy" of his discourse, he had introduced a report now current all over Navitilevu that the world is coming to an end next May. When I first heard of this report [insert] a week or two ago [end insert] I was naturally somewhat amused, but my amusement soon turned to horror when I found that I was quoted as the author of it. Straightway I set to work & traced the report along its line of extension back to a certain town, & there one of my own students was quoted as the authority. I got all my lads together, & sifted the matter thoroughly, the result being the following history of the report. On the night of Feb 2, we had a short, but sharp, hurricane. A few days afterwards in one of my little lectures to my students I talked to them about wind currents, cyclones &c & urged them to take all necessary precautions against the possible recurrence of the blow by securing their houses &c. In order to impress their minds more effectively I quoted a letter published in one of the Australian newspapers by an amateur astronomer, who announced that he had observed unusual disturbance in the sunspots which were supposed to be prophetic of [insert] connected with [end insert] atmospheric disturbance. On the following Saturday one of my students, who had gone to a town not far from Bau to take the Sunday services, gave the people in the house where he slept the benefit of his version of my remarks. Not many days afterwards a report began to spread that a great lady in Papalangi--she who had prophesied the coming of the measles to Fiji--had written to Mr. Fison to say that two great things would happen in 1881--first, iron would be sharp, & second, iron would float on the water. A few days more, & to this was added the final consummation of all things in the coming month of May.

So also, when I visited Tonga in 1874, I was astounded by a deputation which waited on me to inquire whether the following report concerning me were true. It had come from Fiji, they said, & was generally believed in the Friendly Islands. I had been a midshipman on board an English man o'war which was ordered to Fiji. For some offence my captain had sent me to the foreroyalmast head. All day I sat there without food or drink. Night came on, & still no word of recall was uttered by my cruel chief. It was a starless night, a fine breeze was blowing, & the ship went rushing swiftly through the dark. Suddenly a tremendous shock, an awful crash, & ship & crew disappeared. She had rushed bows on against a steep to shore reef, her bows were stow [sic] in, she backed off, & sank in deep water with all hands save one. That one was the unlucky lucky midshipman aforesaid. When the ship struck, the foremast fell with a jerk which sent him soaring through the night, over the intervening [insert] reef [end insert] shallow waters & pitched him into a tree top. Thus he arrives on Fijian ground. What small spark of truth could have been blown into that wonderful conflagration of romance I am utterly at a loss to imagine, unless it be the fact that, when I was a lad, I made one voyage to sea. These things are interesting as showing imaginative [four words crossed out, illegible] powers in the minds of these "brainless savages", & also as showing how quickly, & from how small a seed, a big legendary growth may spring. We might as well talk about "brainless children" as about "brainless savages".

The appearance of the mss does not please me. I would write more neatly if the pen manufacturers would only make a pen which will write a fine stroke on thick paper. Perhaps, however, I ought to blame our importers. I have recently bought more than £3 worth of pens, & I can't find one among them which will make a fine upstroke, & persevere in so doing for a quarter of an hour together. Moreover No 1 is especially shabby. It has travelled to Australia & back again; & I really have not the heart to write a fresh copy. But one thought comforts me a little viz: that untidy looking as these mss are, they are infinitely more legible than are nine tenths of those I receive from my correspondents.

The orthography of native words I think, is pretty accurate in Nos ii & iii, & I hope for the best as to No i, but you will see what I said about it in my expunged note to Howitt written on the back of the title page.

On referring to Mr. Codrington's letter I find Mr. Sayce's statement to be that the Malays Polynesian languages have no verbs. This statement appears very extraordinary to us; & I can account for it only on the supposition that he supposes these languages have no verbs excepting such as are formed out of other parts of speech by the addition of verbal prefixes. But, in addition to these, there are plenty of words which are verbs absolutely & nothing else. Mr. Codrington also says that in a Malagasy grammar lately received by him there is a statement that all verbs are primarily passive & only become active by the addition of causative prefixes. This statement also appears very extraordinary to us. I hope Mr. Codrington's papers will lead to a copious correspondence on many questions connected with these languages. He is the one man of all of us in these seas fully qualified to answer the questions which the Philological society would like to have answered. As for myself I am only beginning to learn that which he has long ago mastered, & I am trying to do with the little field afforded by the Fijian dialects what he has already done in the entire Melanesian field. My chief--if not my only--use is, by persistent correspondence, to prod him into giving us the benefit of his knowledge. He has so much to do at Norfolk Island that he can find but little time for anything beyond his mission work. Once more with many thanks

Believe me

Yours most sincerely

Lorimer Fison

P.S. In No. ii under sea, Codrington gives "Tasmati & Tamaur, the live & the dead sea." Surely this order should be reversed, but I have not ventured to alter it. I have noted it to him, & have asked him to settle the question in his letter to you.


[1] See Fison 8 above for these skulls.

[2] Charles Stanilake Wake (1835-1910) Anthropologist.

[3] Archibald Henry Sayce (1846-1933) Assyriologist and linguist.


Fison 10

Levuka April 14. 1881

Dear Sir,

Fison Burial CustomFison's sketch of the artificial cave as it appears in the JAI article, Notes on Fijian Burial CustomsThe San Francisco Mail has just brought me the copies of Burial Customs sent to me by you for which I am much obliged. I am especially flattered by the respectable appearance which your engraver has given to my rough sketch of the artificial cave. [1] I may mention here that, though my sketch was made from the descriptions given me by the natives, & not from actual observation, a gentleman who has seen one of these graves assures me that my drawing is a fair representation of the reality.

By the same mail I received a copy of the Saturday Review of Feb 12 containing the critique of K. & K. It is precisely what is good for us, a refreshingly vigorous hostile criticism; & I doubt not we shall be well supplied with the like beneficial discipline. I do not, however, feel in anywise shaken by the arguments advanced; & as to the smart crack or two of the critic's whip personally applied, you will find that no such applications to myself will stir me up. I do not think any critic has read our book very carefully, & I cannot for the life of me see how my statement that probably the "primary divisions were distinguished by totems" can be a "throwing up of the anthropological sponge". It matters nothing, as far as my theory is concerned, whether the names distinguishing those divisions were originally totems or not. For aught I know Ipai, Kubi &c may be words which were originally "animal names", & I cannot see that my theory is disturbed in any way by the admission of a probability that such may have been the case.

As to Mr. Ridley's omission of the Bandicoots from his list, I pointed out to him, when he returned from the trip during which he made, at my own suggestion, the inquiries about the marriage arrangements of the totems, that there must be a Bandicoot somewhere. He acknowledged the force of the argument, but said he could not add the totem because his informant had not given it to him. Subsequent inquiries of my own gave the arrangement as I have stated it in my Table. No one who has made similar inquiries can be at all surprised at Mr. Ridley's having failed to get a complete list. After a few questions requiring thought the Australian native gets tired, & says expostulatingly "too much berry hard work." In making my inquiries into the terms of relationship among the Fijians I found it profitable to keep relays of informants, & to change them frequently as the signs of weariness appeared. A small piece of tobacco, & half an hour's rest for its enjoyment, generally brought my native friends up to the mark again sufficiently refreshed.

I am glad, & were not a little proud, that our book has attracted attention enough to warrant its cutting up by the Saturday Review. As I said to Mr. C.S Wake in reply to a pleasant letter from him --- "it is of comparatively little importance that our views should be accepted & endorsed, if only we be held to have done good service." And in the meanwhile the hostile criticism which we are sure to get will be of great benefit to us.

I have already written to you at considerable length in readiness for the outgoing mail, & my letter is doubtless now lying in our Post Office, if it did not go by the Melbourne steamer. Our Colonial Secretary, through whom I sent Mr. Codrington's papers to you, wrote informing me that they had been duly forwarded.

I do not like to be troublesome, but can you tell me when my Land Tenure paper is likely to appear? I am anxious to know how some of the views will be received. With many thanks

and Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D

&c &c &c


[1] see page 144; Notes on Fijian Burial Customs, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 10, (1881), pp. 137-149


Fison 11

Navuloa 23 May 81

Dear Sir,

Since I sent you Mr. Codrington's papers I have become acquainted with a word of whose presence in Fiji I had been unaware, & as it has been an important connection with Mr. Codrington's note on the word for Sea in the Comparative List of Words, I should be glad to have it added to my own note.

The word Tathi is commonly used in some parts of Navitilevu for Sea, either by itself, or combined with Wai (water) as Waitathi. 

It is strange that though this word comes down to the coastline at Verata, within 10 miles of my own residence, I have remained for 18 years unacquainted with it. It is another lesson to me that I know very little about the language.

Believe me

Dear Sir,

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D

&c &c &c


Fison 12

Luvuka July 15: '81

Dear Sir,

I returned yesterday from a fortnight's voyage to the outlying island of Rotuma, & found a copy of the Academy containing your notice of our work. I thank you very heartily for it. It is friendly, cautious, highly suggestive, & of the greatest use to us.

I may point out that I am in nowise concerned to account for the origin of exogamy. I am content to take the two divisions, which are tangible facts, as my starting point, & to leave what lies behind them until we can get more evidence. But I must allow that the evidence for an absolute communism behind them is becoming stronger & stronger. The facts which are coming to my knowledge of temporary lapses into absolute communism in the intercourse of the sexes as a distinctly expiatory ceremony, are really startling.

Your point as to the exogamy of the two divisions not prohibiting intercourse between father & daughter is a strong one: but the tabu between son in law & father in law comes in to help us here, the son in law's wife being included therein. "My daughter's my daughter all my life" does not apply to my savage friends. Nevertheless I can see that further inquiry is needed here. Baron Mikluho Maklay [1] told Howitt a short time ago that somewhere or other a man had informed him that among his people the father custom was for the father to deflower his own daughter on the grounds that "he who planted the tee had a right to the first fruits." 

When I return to Navuloa I will look up Howitt's letter, & give you the locality specified by the Baron. This statement, however, needs careful testing. At present I am not inclined to receive it. A short time ago a man [insert] Fijian [end insert] was prosecuted before our Supreme Court for committing a rape on his own daughter, & I was astonished at the hesitating manner with which a very intelligent native assented to my statement that such a connexion was incestuous according to old customs. I must make further inquiry about it. I know that if the girl has been married the rape would have been a terrible offence, but the question now presents itself as to the nature of the offence before marriage.

My friend Howitt is greatly stirred up by Mr. McLennan's attack upon us in Nature. He has written a reply, & urges me to go & do likewise. But I do not feel any necessity for entering the arena. Mr. McL only questions my facts, & calls name which cannot hurt without supporting argument. I am sure of my facts. Every one of them has been most carefully tested, & for years I resisted Howitt's urgings towards publication because I thought we had not taken sufficient precautions against mistake. As for my theory, or theories, founded on the facts, they must shift for themselves.

Our practice has been, where we could not verify a statement by personal investigation, to send out a printed circular on it to our most trustworthy correspondents. The temptation has often been very strong to depart from this rule, but we have resisted it.

I was much interested by what I saw & heard at Rotuma, but having only 3 days to devote to the island I could do nothing (beyond the special object of my visit) but fill up a vocabulary of 71 words selected by Mr. Codrington from Wallace's list. I found two vocal sounds hitherto unknown to me among the islands--the sound of a in our all, & that of the German ö. The transposition of the syllables [insert] letters [end insert] also is common (as it is elsewhere) e.g. moon = hula or hual: mat = epa or eap: flesh = tiko or tiok.

I was amused at finding that the heathen Chinee has not a monopoly of ways that are dark & tricks that are vain. [2] His Rotuma brother shows a like "peculiarity." Sir A. Gordon's "young gentlemen" who have been living at Rotuma have made a fine collection of stone celts, & are surprised at the number offered for sale. Most of these are the most rubbishing impositions & I came upon a native fashioning one out of soft sandstone by means of an English grindstone! They have ground a number of shells into elegant adzes & chisels, & the demand for them has created a new & profitable branch of industry.

Can you tell me whether the Institute Ethnographique de Paris is of any weight?

Believe me,

Yours very truly,

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq: LL.D

P.S. I forgot to mention Dr. McFarlane's system of tracing & indicating relationships. It is most admirable in itself; but as far as concerns any use of it in connection with the notions of relationship held by savages, I am simply uninterested in it. The savage does not trouble himself about tracing relationships along single lines. He refers each single instance to its group, & then takes the relationship of that group to the others. These are few & simple. All the groups run into one, as far as he is concerned, two generations above him, & again two generations below him. Hence he never has any difficulty in determining the rock whence he was hewn, & the hole of the pit whence he was digged. We want to know the exact spot in the rock, & the precise corner of the pit. He is not so superfluous as to inquire so exactly.

After putting my letter into its envelope I received a note from the Mr. Harding from whom you have already heard. He sends me not only a lot of Central African words from Livingstone's "Last Journal" which are wondrously T.O. [turn over the page] Fijian like, but also a number of Carib names in Demerara--which phonetically spelt are as follows Yakarawa, Kauari, Sakwa, Aramatau, Takutu, Kawo or Kawau, Kotinga, Waikwa, Kuitaro, Katuni, Urua, Tomatai, Itabalia, Parua, Katunariba, Kwatata, Ositikwa, Warar-sararu, Wisisi, or waists, Katabu. And he says "Many of these names will strike you, as they did me, as being (to use your own term) absurdly Fijian. x x x At all events, my idea that the Caribs were from Africa originally, & the Polynesians from the Caribs, is not by any means contradicted so far, & has more interest attaching to it that [sic] I anticipated."

For my own part, I have no opinion whatever on the matter, nor am I qualified to form one. I simply wonder at the resemblance, & wait until some competent person explains it.

Livingstone's words given by Harding are:-

Makoloya, Kitwanga, Mataka*, Chirikaloma*, Wakatani*, Pamawawa, Makawa*, Maravi, Kambuira, Mpalapala, Kauma, Kanangoni* Rovuma, Tulosi* Maravi, Luapula, Nabungala, Mekanga, Matawatawa, Kwiloa*, Kotakota, Lamba*, Ngomano, Tamiala, Waiyau* Wanindi, Kombokombo*, Mata = to kill. [insert] Poly. Mate [end insert] Words marked * are pure Fijian -- e.g. Mataka = morning Wakatani = of a different root. Kanangoni (a woman's name in Africa) = eat-child. Lamba = to kill treacherously. Waiyau = Wealthy water Kombokombo is a cry of astonishment. Harding notes also the custom of making bark cloth. Luapula = Ruavula Palapala is the E. Fijian equivalent of Kombokombo. 

I hope you have rec'd [received] the two noseflutes one by post, the other by the hand of the Rev. Mr. Hutton of New Coll. Oxford. I could not get any music out of them, but my native lads played them melodiously. And yet I seem to remember that I once made a noseflute discourse. 


[1] Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay (1846–1888) Russian explorer.

[2] From a poem by Bret Harte (1836-1902) called 'The Heathen Chinee', Fison quotes it again in Fison 30, so it must have been a favourite poem


Fison 13

Navuloa, Fiji 30 July 1881

P.S. To my astonishment I find that some Aust. tribes count by scores as far as 100 at least. Hand is a tally -- six being hand & one.

Dear Sir,

I fear you will think me troublesome & unreasonable in asking you to make another alteration in Mr. Codrington's papers sent to you in March, but I cannot help myself, having ventured in the first place to ask you to be good enough to take charge of the papers.

Since I last wrote to you I have heard from Mr. Codrington who says "Since I wrote out the Conspectus, I have found that in Mota to season with salt is tasig with the transitive termination, whereas they never say tasi for salt, but nawo." May I ask you to add this as a note under the word "Sea tasi" [insert] in No. ii [end insert] or to incorporate it with Mr. C's remarks as you may think fit. The Fijian usage is precisely similar, tuituina with the causative affix being used for "to salt" -- (not to salt in the butchers sense, but to flavour with salt) while the noun is masima. In connection with the same word Mr. Codrington calls my attention to Sibree's Madagascar which gives Taimoro for a coast exposed to the S.E winds, also Itasy as the name of a lake. I am ashamed to give you so much trouble. 

I trust you have been good enough to remember your promise to excise that hasty note of mine concerning Mr. Des Voeux statement about missionaries buying land in Fiji. He made it, when he was here as Sir Arthur Gordon's locum tenens, under the influence of mistaken information supplied to him by men who ought not to have made the mistake; & since his return as Governor he has been so extremely kind to us, & personally so friendly & courteous to myself, that the appearance of my unfortunate note would be a great trouble to me. I am very glad that I wrote asking you to cut it out before we had any hint of Mr. Des Voeux return to Fiji as our Governor.

I have read & reread your notice of "Kamilaroi and Kurnai" & do not know how to thank you sufficiently for it. When I write my reply to our antagonists attacks, I shall take the opportunity of expressing my obligation to you. But I am in no hurry about replying, & moreover am waiting to see whether Sir John Lubbock will rise up against us. I should like to have all the three broadsides we expected poured into us Dr. Langs -- McLennan's -- Sir John's -- before I attempt to fire in return. But my fire will not be a very alarming one. I do not feel moved very much, though I think Mr. McLennan has not been quite fair. For instance he says I make a great deal of the Murdu legend, whereas I merely use it as an introduction to the subject, refer to it only once afterwards, found no argument upon it, & in fact attack no weight to it. He calls Mr. Lance's statement "a traveller's mistake", & leads his readers to suppose that Mr Lance had no adequate opportunities of observation. This is mere gratuitous assumption on his part, & it is altogether wrong. Mr Lance had exceptionally good opportunities, & he was a thoroughly qualified man. Instead of being a mere traveller in this tradition, he was a wealthy settler who lived for more than 30 years among the Kamilaroi, constantly employed them on his stations, & was on friendly terms with them.

Mr. McLennan has also ignored the fact that twenty lists of class names coinciding with, Ipai &c might have been given had it been worth while to give them, & that the marriage laws under those names are precisely the same with [insert] those of [end insert] the Ipai &c -- that is to say they have an "effect on the right of intermarriage". It seems strange to me that he should have ventured to deny a fact which is so well established. He accuses me of "being too easily satisfied with anything that seems to make for my view &c". All I can say on this point is that I have been many years collecting materials, & testing, & verifying the statements of my informants. My rule is never to adopt a "new fact" without verification. And, at all events, there are the facts open to anybody's testing at the present day. Mr. MacLennan's [sic] suggestion that the Kurnai girls' question "Do you eat Kangaroo, opposum &c" [insert] refers to her totem [end insert] (though the [insert] question is [end insert] not quoted correctly) is highly ingenious. But unfortunately the Kurnai totems are bird-totems. He is either disingenuous or careless in representing Howitt to say that among the Kurnai "the men are all called yeerung by the women, & the women all Djeetgun by the men". It is the women who call themselves Djeetgun &c which is quite a different thing when we have "systems of addresses" theories to deal with. He might have seen also, if he had read with any attention the book he criticises, that the Kurnai had not the monopoly of the women by the older men among them. Both the Saturday Reviewers & Mr. McLennan seem to advance this argument "Ridley is the great Australian authority, & even he did not understand the subject -- à fortiori &c". Mr. Ridley was my friend, & I had a great liking for him, but that does not do away with the fact that Mr. Lance knew far more about the Australian, than he did, & had far better "opportunities of observing power". Our own correspondents -- Howitt's & mine --- have several of them a more intimate knowledge of the Blacks than Ridley could possibly have acquired, & we have left no stone unturned in seeking for fully qualified men, now living among the blacks, acquainted with their dialects, & willing to help. To such men I have written many hundreds of pages, & have spent more than £20 out of my own pocket in printed circulars addressed to them on various points as they arose. There has been neither carelessness nor hastiness on our part.

As to the Kurnai Elopement marriage, I was so struck by its importance, that I specially requested my excellent colleague to make assurance doubly sure on that point. There is not a more conscientious, painstaking, & thoroughgoing inquirer on the face of the earth than Howitt -- witness his geological papers, which are marvels of industry, & clearheadedness -- and when he tells me he has made sure of his subject by sufficient & satisfactory inquiry, I for one am content to accept his statement.

We are sending to England a short paper on the chance in the line of Descent. I think it will be found that the unexpected presence of paternal descent, & even (if the statement of several competent men be sustained) occasional hereditary chieftainship, among the Australians, may be the result of the breaking up of a Kamilaroi organisation. I don't mean exactly my [?] Kurnai theory, but something like it -- dispersion, "fragmentation" to coin a word by any cause -- & it is possible that elopement may have done much work here. As far as we know at present, what may be called the anomalous tribes are found towards the Southern Coast, or behind great natural barriers to pursuit & that is along the lines of flight.

I think, if I were compelled to champion the "reformatory movement", I could find something to say in its favour; but, in order to become its [insert] out and out [end insert] champion, I must first accept, as an article of faith the Undivided Commune, & this I cannot see my way to do. As soon as I can see my way I will do it, that is to say as soon as it can be proved. In all I say in K. & K. I am careful to insert the saving clause "Granting the undivided commune" -- "if ever &c".

Nothing can be clearer to me than that the generations are kept distinct, theoretically at least, by the terms of relationship; & I am of opinion that Howitt is right in his view that the monopoly of women by older men is an usurpation. Moreover we have no evidence that the younger women are used as wives by the old men. They assert property in them, & lead them to their real "husbands" of their own generation (the women's). This is a highly profitable speculation for the old fellows. According to the terms of relationship the girl's father is quite distinct from her husband, though father in law & son in law have the same classname where there are only two classes. And at any rate father & daughter are not related as closely as are brother & sister -- only half as closely that is to say by one strain of blood, as against two strains. But I fear I try your patience too severely; & more over here is the end of my sheet.

Believe me, Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison


Fison 14

Navuloa, Fiji, Aug 12. 1881

Dear Sir,

I send you herewith 31 Fijian Fables selected out of a great number. [1] If one put in the indecent ones, quite a volume might be made up. I also send a Fable which I think is very good. You will recognise its family likeness. Mr. Walter Carew [2] tells me there is a Fijian "Hair & Tortoise"--the Heron & the Crab--but I have not met with it.

I wrote to you at some length a short time ago, & have nothing more to say just now excepting that I am strongly urged in letters received by this mail to write a reply at once to Mr. McLennan's critique. I don't like to refuse my friends, but I cannot say that I am eager for the work.

I shall esteem it a favour if you will kindly take charge of my riddles & fable.

Yours most truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LLD.

[Added in another pen]

I should have premised that Riddle propounding is quite an institution in Fiji--but perhaps I had better write another half sheet as an introduction.

During a visit to Rotuma whence I am just returned I noticed many small kites tied to cocoanut trees by knotted lengths of fibre. The string was about 30 or 40 feet long, & the kites never fall unless it broke, or the wind ceased. They were about 1 foot long, & nearly as broad, made of dry banana leaf--stretched by pins of the cocoanut leaf backbone or whatever it may be called--the small leaf of course. The shapes were [3 drawings, 1 crossed out roughly spade-head shaped] my hand shakes too much today for drawing

The native name for the kite is manman = bird. The Rotumans are a peculiar race. I see Whitmee puts them among the Melanesians in his map; but they are not Melanesians. I have sent 71 Rotuma words (selected from Wallace's list_ to Codrington, & will tell you what he makes of them. I have hunted fruitlessly for Howitt's letter containing Baron Mikluho Muklay's statement about father and daughter I think the place was somwhere in the Moluccas [3]


[1] These were presumably published as 'On Fijian Riddles', Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. 11 (1882) pp. 405-410.

[2] Walter Sinclair Carew was a New Zealander, he went to Fiji as a cotton planter in 1868. He was appointed as commissioner for Colo in the interior of Vitilevu in 1874 and later served as a magistrate and on the Lands Commission. Information from here, provided by Fergus Clunie 

[3] Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888) Russian explorer and anthropologist. 


Fison 15 

Navuloa, Fiji

Aug 13. 1881

E.B. Tylor Esq LL.D

Dear Sir,

This mail brought me from Macmillan a copy of your "Anthropology", [1] for which I return many thanks. The obligation is in nowise lessened by the fact that as soon as I saw Macmillan's first advertisement, I sent an order for the book to Sydney, received one of the copies of the first shipment, & had read it twice through before our kind gift arrived. This I shall keep for my own bookshelves & give the other to a friend.

I sent to the post the other day a number of Fijian Riddles, & a Fable addressed to you. Looking over my mss before putting them away, I found I had omitted a riddle which I had marked for sending. [2] "There is a hill, it is but a little one; & et we try in vain to climb it. Only here & there is there one who can reach its top."

I give you a literal translation of the answer--

"Its meaning. The hill is our Nose, our tongue strives in vain to climb to it: when we thrust out our tongue it cannot touch our nose. But here & there is a man whose tongue is longue, he stretches it forth & it touches his nose."

In examining the Fijian numerals in the various dialects I came upon the following "children's counting" which goes up to 10. The little ones sing it in a lively chant. It will be observed that the first four numerals are the ordinary ndua, rua, tolu, va, with K intercalated just as we used to act with g when I was a small boy




Another B




























Ko Lisai

(is) Lisai

Lele mai

Ferry hither


Nanduru takelo

(crooked post)




Vuki thala no

(turned wrong or upside down)




Lekaleka no









[NB Fison's diacretic marks are not given above but are in the original]

* Tavutavu means broiling on the coals, also the burning of reeds &c when plantations are cleared, also moonlight showing befoe the moon rises. The other words are uncertain. Tugi (Eng. hard g) is to strike with a hard instrument. 

The first is arranged thus in chanting

Ndukua, rukua, tokulu, vaka -- (very quick) Mate ko Lisai-i-i!

Nanduru takilo vuki thala no,

Lekaleka no,


- - - - - -

The second runs thus in a sort of rhyme

Ndukuai, rukuai

Tokolui, vakalai

Tugichia, lele mai,

Tavutavu, kondrukai

Tugimbonu, tugi-kei-i-i!

- - - - - - [Fison draws lines under these two chants]

White children have taught Fijian children the "gibberish talk" in general, but the childrens numerals given above are old, & indigenous.

The evidence as to actual communism is still growing. We shall soon have a paper ready bringing in an Australian tribe whose present usage is nearer the "theoretical right" than I expected to find. I have written my reply to McLennan & sent it to Howitt,

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison 

P.S. Both Howitt & myself have been offered -- & indeed have accepted -- the position of corresponding members of the Ethnographic Institution of Paris. Can we ask you to tell us in confidence what sort of Society it is? We do not want to waste our time upon a mere dilletante [sic] affair. But, when the thing was offered, we had to make a reply of some sort; & as Howitt said "if we find it is of no use to us, we can easily resign".


[1] 'Anthropology : an introduction to the study of man and civilization', published in London in 1881 by Macmillan. Second revised edition published in 1889, third revised edition in 1892

[2] Presumably Fison is referring to those published as 1882. 'On Fijian Riddles' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 11, (1882), pp. 405-410


Fison 16

Navuloa, Fiji

Sep 23. 1881

Dear Sir,

Your very kind letter of July 12, accompanied by the land tenure articles, has just arrived by H.M.S. "Emerald", which is now in quarantine with Sir Arthur Gordon on board.

I am detaining a boat in order to send a line of acknowledgment to Levuka for transmission to Australia by the Melbourne steamer, & can only write most hurriedly. I will write at length next week.

I don't know how to thank you for the trouble you have taken with my Land Tenure, & for all your kindness. Many thanks also for your copies of Academy Review. I wrote to you some time ago about it. 

I am very sorry to hear of Mr. McLennan's death--very sorry indeed. Of course both Howitt & myself will stop our reply to his critique. As to the "red hot shot" I never care how hot the shot may be, if it be fired fairly. This once for all, & no more. I read with great interest your obituary notice & thank you for sending it to me. 

One of my best friends in Melbourne is a man against whom I used to rise in hot indignation when I first became acquainted with him. But by & bye I found he was as true as steel, & one of the kindest hearted men on the face of the earth. When I found this out, he could never anger me more, & when he used to say in the course of argument "Fison--I didn't think you were such an ass!" I used to say "Just so, Symonds--That's your way of saying you differ from my opinion. Now let us have yours."

I am highly flattered by your proposal to make up some sort of record out of extracts from my letters, & shall be only too glad if you will be kind enough to do so. [1] Only please wait a little while. I should like Howitt to give you the corresponding Australian facts, & have written to him urging him to write to you at once. I will also send you a copy of an account given me by Mr. Heffernan--once of H.E.'s Commissioners for Naviti Levu. [2] This must be for next week. I don't think I have copies of all my letters to you, but if I give anything you have had before it will not matter much. If I could only get myself adopted into a Fijian class. I know I could get at much more, but I have not succeeded yet.

Very many thanks for what you propose to do with Codrington's papers. He has not seen von Gabelentz's work. [3] I feel sure of this, for if he knew of it he would have told me for my own benefit. Hence the agreement between his views & those of the learned German is all the more valuable. As a help to abridgement please strike out all my notes.  That will help to some extent, & it is better to exterminate Fison on language questions than to cut out from Codrington. But doubtless more than this abridgement will be necessary. I will write to Codrington at once.  His address is Norfolk Is. via Sydney. Sydney postage from England suffices. The P.O. authorities forward the letters without further charge, for which may they be remembered for good.

I drop the "brainless savage". I got him out of Morgan's letters. Perhaps the mistake is mine. Poor Morgan is completely broken down. His wife writes his letters now, & he signs his name with difficulty. He cannot go beyond his house excepting in his carriage. I am deeply grieved. None but those who have worked with him can understand the personal affection he inspires. Please remember this when you think of my passages of arms with your own friend. Once more with many thanks I remain Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

E.B. Tylor Esq LLD.


[1] I can find no record of these extracts being published by the Anthropological Institute.

[2] Edward O'Brien Heffernan [full name given in letter Fison 18]. According to 'The Kaunitoni Migration: Notes on the Genesis of a Fijian Tradition', by Peter France, Journal of Pacific History vol 1 (1966) pp. 107-113, Heffernan travelled all over Fiji as a planter, private secretary to a Bauan chief, and native advocate to the Land Claims Commission. His collection is preserved among the Stanmore papers at Cambridge University Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. 

[3] Hans Georg Conon von der Gabelentz (1840-1893) was a German general linguist and sinologist

See here for transcriptions of letters from Fison and Tylor's correspondence from Fison 17, Tylor papers PRM ms collections

Transcribed by AP January / August 2013.

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