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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 2

Also see here for Part 1 of the Fison correspondence (letters 1-16) 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 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 drove the correspondence, 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. 

Letter from Augustus Lane Fox (Pitt-Rivers) to Tylor [which has been ascribed the number Fison 1] is transcribed here.

This part covers Fison Letters 17 to 30

Fison 17

Fison 17 1st page smallTylor papers PRM ms collections, Fison letter 17 first pageNavuloa, Fiji, 26 Sep. 81

P.S. Can you tell me if Mr. Whitmee is going on with his Comp. Dictionary? I sent him three dialects down to letter H, but c'd [could] hear nothing from him, & many months ago wrote saying I sh'd [should] send no more until I had heard the work was really going on I have had no reply. [1]

Dear Sir

I sent a short note to Levuka the day before yesterday, hoping I would be in time for the Melbourne steamer, which was advertised to leave on that day, so that you might receive as soon as possible my acknowledgement of the arrival of the Land Tenure papers, & my thanks for your very kind attention to them. I could not write more than a few lines, & even now that I am writing more at leisure I do not know how to express my sense of obligation. You must have taken great pains with the paper on its way through the press. I have never been able to get out anything under my own supervision with so few printers errors. I have also to thank you for making the alterations & omissions.

With reference to the extracts from my letters which you kindly propose to put together for record in the Journal of the A.I. I have written to Howitt asking him to give you the Australian facts bearing on the points in a letter, & I have also written to Mr. Harding asking him to write down & send to me the account of the practice he witnessed at Tana, or still better to send the account to you direct. I have given him your address. If these Communications do not arrive in time, & you think it advisable to get the extracts from my letters placed on record at once, I shall be glad if you will do as you think best about waiting for those [insert] others [end insert] In the meanwhile I send you the following copies:--

Having heard of certain practices at Nandi, on the N.W. coast of Navitilevu, I asked Mr. Heffernan one of His Excellency's commissioners to investigate them for me, carefully abstaining from giving him the particulars which I had heard from my native informants. [2] This presentation I took in order to avoid the danger of his making special inquiry as to anything he might hear from me, & which the natives might not tell him of their own accord. You are aware that caution is necessary in questioning savages. If one puts the question in a form which seems to seek an affirmative answer, the polite savage is too apt to return the answer which he thinks his questioner wants. Mr. Heffernan kindly made the inquiry for me, & gave me an account in writing of which the following is an exact copy -- a few translations only being added. I give you Mr. H's ipsimma verba [3] & leave you to deal with them as you think decency requires.


A chief is very ill. His son (uncircumcised lad) goes an [sic] offers himself as a soro (offering of atonement) at the Godshouse (Mbure-Kalou) door on behalf of his father that he may live. This is done with great ceremony, the young man being accompanied by his male relatives, all bearing yau (property).

The soro is accepted, & a day appointed by the priest on which the lad is to consummate the sacrifice, by having his foreskin cut off, & given to the god.

Food is then tabu until the day appointed [insert] *1 [end insert] -- & other lads take advantage of the time, & have their foreskins cut off at the same time.

On the fourth day food is tara (permitted -- the opp. to tabu) & the feast prepared. On that day there are no taukei ni vuaka se alewa (no owners of pigs or women) Whoever wishes to take a  woman does so, & the owner of the pig or woman is not angry -- sa ka ni las-a me ra ndre ndre kina -- lit. "it is a thing of contentment for them to laugh at".

On the evening of the 4th day men & women dress themselves in all sorts of ridiculous ways, & come to the rara (public square open space in the midst of the koro, or village). The women sit down & call to the men. Sometimes a woman comes out from the singers, & sits down facing the men, with her legs spread open & a bamboo about 10 inches long (open at one end) held against her privates, the open end pointing outwards. She calls to a young man by name, challenging him to come, & by breaking the bamboo [insert] *2 [end insert] with his penis have connection with her. Sometimes the man called is ashamed, but she keeps on until some on mbole's (= accepts the challenge) & it is done before all hands, but no one is angry, not even the woman's husband. The maids don't seem to take any part in this game in the square, although they are common, & are had more privately. It is sometimes kept up for 3 or 4 days: but, as soon as the feast [insert] (i.e. the solevu = the ceremonial occasion) [end insert] is over, individuals reserve their rights over the pigs & women.

Taken down from Nemani Ndreu, in the presence of Nemani, & the Mbulis (chiefs) of Vunda, Sambeto, & Nandi. (From Mr H's phraseology here & there it is evident that he had in his mind the very words of his informants, & translated them as he went on.)

Notes *1. By the food tabu it is not meant that all consumption of food is forbidden, but that only just enough for the everyday wants is to be used -- no feasts &c.

*2 "Breaking the bamboo". This seems incredible but the natives tell me it is all a trick. The bamboo is previously cracked well through, & holds together only while the woman grasps it in her hands.

The natives assure me that the communism is absolute, not excluding own brothers & sisters, though these natives may not even look at one another at other times. One old man used this expression, "Sa ia tiko keimami sa vaka sara na vuaka = while it is going on we do exactly as the pigs do."

- - - - - - - -

Translation of an account of a similar ceremony practised by the Wainimala tribe (Navitilevu Hill Country) From the ms of Ilaisa Tumbuna, a native minister of the Wesleyan Mission, who made the inquiry at my request.

A great soro (atonement offering) of theirs they make in the forest. Its name is the NBaki, it is also called The People of the Woods. (At Nandi it is called the Maka)

They clear out a space in the forest, & fence it in with a stone fence [insert] wall [end insert] 6 feet high & 3 feet thick. A gateway is made into it, & before this gateway, shutting it in, stands another stone wall. The old people when they are very sick are carried within this enclosure. And then a great feast is prepared -- yams, taro, pigs, eels, prawns, fish, grubs, & snakes. Whales' teeth also, & bark-cloth are prepared.

In the early morning the elders enter the enclosure, & when it is well light all the people follow -- grown people, youths, women, & all the children. They make their offering to the elders & to the enclosure, & then they eat the food which has been offered. After they have eaten they sit perfectly still & silent. When night comes they return to the town & sleep. But after the feast has been eaten & the property presented the women smear their heads with ashes, & go crawling towards the elders with roots of Kava which they present as their offering that their children may live. [insert] Any leavings of the feast, the people may not eat them. They must be eaten by strangers (i.e. men beyond the community) [end insert]

This ceremony is practised in offerings for the sick, or when there is war in the land, also at the presentation of the first fruits. And its meke (dance & song) is an evil meke. Thus it is. The men & the women go alternately, stooping as they go, & the constant [insert] zealous [end insert] attempts of each man is to tonoka na mudra na alewa (tonoka is to thrust forward) the finger, mu = backside [several illegible words crossed out] while the women hold their hands behind them that they may brush away the men's fingers. This is the song "Let us stoop, & let us break wind", thus they go all the way to the village. Then there is a great presentation of property -- large quantities of bark cloth & other things, & then there is all manner of indecent talk, the men on one side & the women on the other. The men say to the women "Manga levu?" (manga = pudendum muliebre, levu = great) & the women answer "Uti levu?" (uti = penis)

If own brother & sister meet they do this, they are not ashamed. The dance they dance is called the Mbithi; it is danced in the path, or in the rara, the men & the women standing opposite in two rows, & holding each others' shoulders. And when This is its song "Seminis pleni, * your fathers lay commingling at the foot of the house=post." And when they have danced till far into the night, then a couple breaks off, and goes into the forest, & have connexion there. Another follows, & another, till all are gone. Then [insert] In the morning at daybreak [end insert] the couples go back into the village, & sleep together. If a man comes to his house & finds another man sleeping with his wife, he shows no anger, but goes softly away. And if a woman finds her husband sleeping with another woman, she puts on the fire & pot of food for them to eat & when it is cooked she goes away.

- - - - - - 

Note * Mbitu ni si wh. I have translated "Seminis pleni" is a queer phrase. Mbitu here means the large bamboos used as water pots, si = semen -- "Your fathers were just s--pots."

The foregoing seem to be two clear instances of a temporary return to communism as an expiatory measure. At both Nandi & Wainimala individual rights are respected at other times. The Wainimala folks consider it indecent for man & wife to come together in the house. At all times [insert] excepting during the Mbaki [end insert] they go secretly into the forest. Marriage is by betrothal when the girl is very young -- a child. There is no further marriage ceremony. When the bridegroom thinks his bride is old enough, he watches for an opportunity; & with the help of his tribal brothers, catches the girl in the woods, & consummates the marriage. I have not been able to ascertain whether they share his privilege on the occasion, as is the case in certain Australian tribes. She returns with him to the village, & he hangs his "breech-clout" over the doorway of his house, by which sign the townsfolk know that the marriage has been consummated. Nowadays girls who do not like their betrothed husbands have prosecuted them for rape under our new laws, & have obtained convictions.

As to the operation of thoka losi, slitting the urethra along its length, I gave you a full description of it, I think. If not, my brother in law, Mr. Robert Potts [insert] Cambridge [end insert] to whom I sent an account of the operation, could furnish you with it. But there is no direct evidence to connect the operation with expiation for restricted marriage. [5]

I was talking about it to Fleet Surgeon Turnbull -- (I think that is the gentleman's name) on board the "Bacchante" during the late visit of the Detached Squadron, [4] & he gave me a pamphlet by Dr. Cox of Sydney on a similar practice among the Australians. They however slit the organ on the lower side. It is strange I should not have got intelligence of this before. I knew they slit the urethra, but thought it was only partial - near the end - & that it was a form of circumcision. I sent Cox's pamphlet to Howitt for further investigation, & have written to the Doctor telling him of our Fijian practice. [6]

The foregoing account can be depended upon. They are special investigations undertaken at my special request by competent men to ascertain whether what I had heard from other informants were correct. This is my rule of working. I never accept an account of any custom, even from a native, without further investigation made either by myself or by some trustworthy person. Mr. Harding's account of the Tana custom, for instance -- I should not adopt it without further inquiry, though I do not doubt Mr. H's veracity for a moment. If you give it, please give it on his authority. I have not been able to verify it yet. Of course you will understand that I do not express any doubts concerning it. On the contrary I fully believe that Mr. Harding saw the thing he describes, & that he got the right explanation of it. He is a very intelligent man -- just the man whom if I could afford it, I should choose to make investigations for me in the various Melanesian groups. I have not written to the Presbyterian Missionaries about it, partly because I have never been able to get any one of them to take the trouble to answer my former letters of inquiry, & relationship-circulars, but chiefly because a missionary is, as a rule, the worst man of all men to go to for such information. There are many things the native won't tell to any white man, but there are still more he won't tell to his missionary.

I observe that my friend of the Saturday Review has been at me again -- indirectly this time -- in reviewing Mr. Dawson's book on the Western part [?] tribes (Victoria). [7] Mr. Dawson's account of those tribes I believe to be an entirely trustworthy, save in one or two particulars as to which he has mistaken the natives' meaning -- e.g. the parcelling out of lands to individuals. He has applied to all the common hunting grounds words which apply [insert] only [end insert] to wild fowl's breeding places in swamps, haunts of eels &c -- places where property [insert] game [end insert] is localised. You will [insert] have [end insert] doubtless -- if you have seen the book -- have noted the classes. I believe them to be my old friends Kroke, & Kumite, subdivided, & supplemented with [insert] by [end insert] a 5th class Kunamit -- almost certainly a subsequent addition to the community, like the 5th class of one of the Wide Bay tribes. Mr. Dawson has no general knowledge of the Australians. Howitt & I have put together an article on the Change of Descent from females to males, which takes into view a number of tribes forming a series with modified communal marriage at one end & a condition like that of Dawson's tribes at the other.

Can you tell me what the gentleman who prods me in the Saturday means by talking about the "Murri" of Australia? He seems to look upon it as a term applicable to all the aborigines, like the Maori of New Zealand. One might as well say "the Smiths of England" to express the English people, or "the McPhersons" to indicate [insert] all [end insert] the Scotch, [insert] Lowlanders as well as Highlanders. [end insert] He seems to read local accounts, & to take them as applicable to all the Australians. By the way -- (& here I quote a far better authority than myself [insert] -- Codrington [end insert] Maori is only conventionally correct of the New Zealanders. Maori means "native" -- the adjective -- & no N.Z. native ever speaks of himself as "a Maori". He calls himself "a Maori man" -- he tangta Maori. So also Kanak, Canaque, Kanaka are incorrect They only mean "Men", & our islanders do not use "Men" as a national designation like the Australians.

Our paper on Change of Descent is either in England by this time, or on its way. At least I suppose so. It was agreed that Howitt should send it to his friends at Chelsea, whom I believe you know.

A curious tale has lately come to my ears. A man wrote to me saying that one of the Catholic Priests had told him he had seen a book -- or a chart or something -- about Central Africa, which gave in the neighbourhood of Lake Tanganiika [sic] the following places, Mbatiki, Verata, Kambani & another which I forget, all of which are names of places in Fiji. Moreover that there was a legend of a chief called Ndengei who left that neighbourhood with his 5 sons, & their following, & were never more heard of. Ndengei is our great Serpent God, the Kalou Vu (God ancestor) of numerous tribes. Panganiika itself is pure Fijian = a bag or sack for holding fish. When I first saw the name I could but be struck by its Fijian look. But it seemed too Fijian, & I cannot believe that it & the other names could come all the way to Fiji without wear & tear. I can't get at the priest, as I don't know who he is & I can't get at my correspondent for he has "left for parts unknown". I tell you the tale [insert] in order that [end insert] you may ask any African authority you may chance to meet whether there is anything more than moonshine in it. Though after all, the [illegible] in Africa & Australia both ought to harden us against surprise at anything. With many thanks for all your good offices

Yours most truly

Lorimer Fison


[1] Samuel James Whitmee (1838-1925), London Missionary Society missionary in Samoa until 1877 when he moved to Dublin and later Bristol. In 1891 he returned to Samoa until 1894 when he returned to UK. In 1878 he published a grammar and dictionary of the Samoan language. 

[2] It is not clear which Heffernan is referred to here but in the next letter (see Fison 18) it is clearly Edward O'Brien Heffernan.

[3] See here, 'legal term referring to material, usually established authority, that a writer or speaker is quoting or referring to'

[4] Alexander Turnbull, see here. Some of his medical journals are held in the National Archives.

[5] Robert Potts, Fison's brother in law, see Fison part 1 for a full footnote about him.

[6] This pamphlet cannot be identified

[7] James Dawson (1806-1900) Pastoralist, author of Australian Aborigines. The Languages and Customs of Several Tribes of Aborigines in the Western District of Victoria, Australia published in 1881.


Fison 18

Navuloa, Fiji, 27 Sep. 81

Edward B. Tylor Esq:

Dear Sir,

I sent yesterday a special messenger to "Suva" our new capital in the hope of catching the Melbourne steamer, [1] which I hear has been delayed. She takes her final departure from that place after leaving Levuka. My messenger took a long letter of 7 closely written pages for posting to your address, also the letter to Mr. Harding mentioned therein. I had previously availed myself of an opportunity of sending a short hurried note to Levuka which would probably be in time for the steamer. The A.S.N. Co's boat [2] is due in a few days, & I now write a little more in readiness for her. She goes to Sydney, & connects with the English Mail steamer via Suez.

I have been looking over the copies of my letters to you, & am sure I have written you a great deal of which I have no copy. When I meet the Mail steamer at Levuka, I may be detained by head winds, or business, for a day or two; & on those occasions I sometimes answer my letters at Levuka -- that is to say --- 25 miles away from my copying press, & of those letters I have no copy. [3] Doubtless some addressed to you have been thus written. If, however, I tell you anything which I have told you before, the sin of excess will do no mischief. [NB all of the above 2 paragraphs are crossed out]

In my letter of yesterday I gave you a copy of an account written for me by Mr. Edward O'Brien Heffernan. He is a good authority. He is one of the "old hands" in Fiji, whom Sir Arthur Gordon utilised, & a very useful man he has been. He married a Fijian woman, & thereby took the position of a Kai tani who is admitted to a connection with the tribe by marriage. For many years he lived as a Fijian among the Fijians, & now that he has attained a respectable position as a Govt official of some consideration, he finds his old ties somewhat inconvenient. I told him for his comfort that they were extremely convenient to me, inasmuch as without them he would not have been qualified to help me, but he did not seem to take much comfort in that view.

I have no direct evidence of communism before marriage in Fiji, though I have had many hints of it, & there are things which I feel sure would bear upon the subject, if I could only get at them. It is an exasperating fact that the Fijians, at least in my neighbourhood, have not, or will not allow that they have the custom either of adoption or of "blood-tie" -- the Malagasy Fato-dra (note by the way dra, blood, the word common to both Polynesia and Melanesia). If they had either of these customs I know I could get at many things which are now hidden from me. But perhaps they have the customs, & won't acknowledge them, knowing that I want to utilise them, & being afraid to admit a missionary. I shall persevere, however, &, if the thing is to be done, I will do it. Some time ago I thought I had succeeded, but I was disappointed. Nevertheless some of the old people whom I have known for many years, are confidential to some extent, & tell me things which other natives when questioned stoutly deny. One custom which may be a survival of the jus primae noctis, I have ascertained in this neighbourhood -- at Mburetu, & at Taviumi also some 80 miles away. When [insert] a [end insert] woman is taken to wife by a chief, he appoints a time for the consummation of the marriage -- "When I come back from my sailing to such a place, then let it be" -- At the time appointed the kinsfolk of the parties assemble -- none but they --- & the marriage is consummated in their presence. They take part in the ceremony by uttering encouraging shouts when the act is going on -- "Sa utu! Utu tabua! Utu kamunanga! Ia, [insert in pencil] presto [end insert] ia, ia, ie-e-e &c." (utu = to touch as the bow of a canoe touches, & more than touches, the shore when it arrives. tambua = whales's tooth kamunanga = wealth, tribute, dowry.)

Though Ostensibly, individual rights are secured at an early period of a girl's life by the custom of infant betrothal, which brings the tapu of a husband upon the girl, & makes taking her an offence against property, which all the man's kin are eager to revenge, & the woman's kin may offer no resistance to their vengeance, which is often very severe. But secretly, & with the tacit consent -- at least with the connivance -- of both sides, there are fine goings on. It is when the young Lothario & the girl ignore the kin that anger is hot. The anger is excited not by the immorality of the act -- it would not be immoral unless the families were of [insert] within [end insert] the prohibited degrees -- but by the invasion of the rights of the kin without their knowledge & consent. So also among the old Irish a child begotten by a stranger was a bastard, unless it were begotten with the consent of the girls clan.

A curious circumstance first set me on this track. I found out that one of our office bearers had consented to an illicit connection between his daughter & a certain young fellow -- that is to say, illicit according to our rules. A man who had a grudge against him told me about it, & I had the offender up before our local ecclesiastical court at its next meeting. This meeting is composed of all the ordained native ministers, the teachers, lay preachers, & stewards of my "circuit", or parish. I soon saw there was something queer about the affair. In cases of immorality there is never any hesitation among our agents, but in this case I could not get them to express an opinion. At last one of my most valued teachers rose -- a thoroughly trustworthy sterling fellow, who to my knowledge has faced death & the cannibal oven scores of times in doing his work as a teacher. In an apologetic tone he said "It is true, sir, that he gave his daughter. But he gave her to save the young man's life". Thereupon began a long continued process of screwing, by dint of which I got out of them the following facts. 

The young folks, they said, would be young folks, & they could not help it. At the beginning of their course lay a great danger. The first sexual connexion of either male or female subjected the neophyte to a disease, called Ndongai, which could only be averted by a repetition of the act. I cannot find out that Ndongai is any particular disease. It [insert] the word [end insert] looks like the passive form of an obsolete verb -- at least what serves as a passive form -- but it may be something else. Any sickness which may happen to follow the first connection is attributed to the fact that the patient is ndongai. Thus, I have known the friends of a [insert] sick [end insert] lad or girl to ask -- "Have you sinned? -- (the phrase used nowadays). Tell us. Speak the truth, for why should you die?" Wasting sickness, without any special known cause is especially attributed to the dogai. And, the belief being strong in the people's minds, there is no wonder if such a sickness should really follow the act. In the case in question the girl had gone wrong with a lad who thereby gained his first experience. His friends waited on the father, & asked him to allow his daughter to visit the young fellow again [insert] in order [end insert] to avert the danger of the ndongai, & he consented after some trouble. The difficulty lay in his position as a church officer. I had heard the word Ndongai before, but supposed it to be merely the name of a disease which emaciated the patient, & knew nothing of the superstition underlying it. I set about making an inquiry concerning it, & found it everywhere in Fiji where my inquiry was made. The only reason for the belief given me by the natives is "Our fathers said so". The fact that the belief is general throughout Fiji proves that its concomitants are general also.

Among the Narinyiri of S. Australia, who have individual marriage, descent through males, & infant betrothal, the young men during initiation -- i.e. while they are narumbar -- are allowed promiscuous intercourse with the girls. They cannot take a wife until the narumbe period expires, & then their extended privilege ceases. This period lasts (so Rev. G. Taplin informed me) [4] until their beards had been pulled out three times after growing each time to a length of about two inches.

Old men in Fiji, whose confidence I have secured by long friendship, have assured me that in the old times a man's wife was visited by his brothers with his connivance. An old Rewa man informed me that this practice was common, but that it had to be [insert] kept [end insert] secretly, that is to say, within the knowledge of the kin. If it got noised abroad it became a scandal. Its offence lay in its being found out. [Added] In some parts of Fiji the people deny that they ever allowed this. [End addition]

Even the high chiefs had no exclusive possession of their numerous wives. The watina-mbasi [insert] of whom there were [end insert] rarely more than two [insert] or three [end insert] frequently only one, were supposed to be theirs exclusively, but the "little wives" were lent by them, or given away, or even kept as regular prostitutes for their lord's advantage. A man who took one of these without the chief's consent was punished, but this was because he had infringed a property right. In like manner the monopoly of the women by the elders, in some of the Aust. tribes, is not an assertion [insert] not [end insert] of exclusive marital rights over the women, but of the right of regulating their intercourse with the younger men who are their "husbands: by hereditary status. In fact wherever there is polygamy of in any form there must be either modified communism connected with it, or a disparity between the numbers of the sexes such as exists nowhere on the face of the earth. This of course does not take into consideration the polygamy of the rich in Turkey & elsewhere where women are bought from without, & guarded by armed force against intrusion. I speak custom, not of exceptional usage. And the polygamy of the chiefs, & the rich, must be always exceptional, regarding the entire community.

Howitt has "struck a patch" as we Australian diggers say. He fell in with a young native, belonging to a distant tribe, who speaks English well & came to Gippsland on a visit. His tribe knocks out a front tooth during initiation. Howitt has a tooth out exactly in the right spot. This he pointed out to the youth, & when he showed him, with an air of infinite secrecy, his turndun, the young fellow was filled with awe, & acknowledged him not only as a partaker of the mysteries but as a great Master of the Mysteries [insert] Gomera [end insert] He told him everything, & actually started off on a journey of 300 miles a post to bring back with him over the same track an old Gomera of his tribe. The account of the ceremony of initiation is something wonderful. The accounts we have had from whites, so the young fellow says, describe only certain things which are done in public. The rites are quite different from those of the Kurnai. I remember once at a Cambridge boat race a man who came among us as we stood on the river bank, & began certain common conjuring tricks, after which he took round the hat. Among other things he seemed to eat a lot of colored paper clippings, & then he evolved from his mouth a wonderously long "spill" of coloured pa many colours, the end of which I remember got entangled in the branches of an apple tree which grew thereby. That man would have made a Gomerah of the first class. I hope we shall before very long have enough material collected for another volume. But we are working under great disadvantages. Both of us have everyday duties which fill our hands. As for myself I have had to steal hours from the night for my outside work & now I fear my eyes are giving way under the strain.

Anthropologists all the world over ought to combine & move heaven & earth to get Howitt released from his official duties and turned loose among the Australian Aborigines. He is the man of all men to do the work if he would only get at it.

I am compiling a vocabulary of the Rotuma language from materials furnished by Mr. W.L. Allardyce, a young man of very great promise, & one of Sir Arthur Gordon's staff. [5] He was not long enough in Rotuma to learn the language thoroughly or anything like thoroughly, but his word list is likely to be fairly correct as far as it goes. Rotuma is an exceptional island, & the language has the usual Polynesian element combined with something else wh. is neither Melanesian nor Malay. I propose to send you a copy, asking you to give it to someone who has made these languages a special study. You will know best where best to bestow it.

Yours ever truly

Lorimer Fison


[1] Suva was made the capital in 1877 'when the geography of former main European settlement at Levuka on the island of Ovalau proved too restrictive' [wikipedia entry for Suva]

[2] The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand entry for the Union Steam Ship Company says, '...Impressed by the probability of developing a remunerative trade with the South Sea Islands, the Directors purchased, in 1881, from the Auckland Steam Ship Company, the steamer “Southern Cross” engaged in the Auckland-Fiji trade, and speedily replaced her by a larger and better style of boat. Early in 1883 they embarked in the Melbourne-Fiji trade, taking over the steamer “Suva,” which had opened up the line and carried it on till then'. The third initial in Fison's letter is definitely an "N" but possibly he is referring to the Auckland Steam Ship Company, I cannot find which company ran the Sydney steamer.

[3] It is not known what kind of copying press Fison had but here is a description of one sort from the wikipedia entry for duplicating machines

Using letter copying presses, copies could be made up to twenty-four hours after a letter was written, though copies made within a few hours were best. A copying clerk would begin by counting the number of master letters to be written during the next few hours and by preparing the copying book. Suppose the clerk wanted to copy 20 one-page letters. In that case, he would insert a sheet of oiled paper into the copying book in front of the first tissue on which he wanted to make a copy of a letter. He would then turn 20 sheets of tissue paper and insert a second oiled paper. To dampen the tissue paper, the clerk used a brush or copying paper damper. The damper had a reservoir for water that wet a cloth, and the clerk wiped the cloth over the tissues on which copies were to be made. As an alternative method of dampening the tissue paper, in 1860 Cutter, Tower & Co., Boston, advertised Lynch's patent paper moistener. Then letters were written with special copying ink which was not blotted. The copying clerk arranged the portion of the letter book to be used in the following sequence starting from the front: a sheet of oiled paper, then a sheet of letter book tissue, then a letter placed face up against the back of the tissue on which the copy was to be made, then another oiled paper, etc. Prior to the introduction of inks made with aniline dyes in 1856, the quality of copies made on letter copying presses was limited by the properties of the available copying inks. Some documents that were to be copied with copying presses were written with copying pencils rather than copying ink. The cores of copying pencils, which appear to have been introduced in the 1870s, were made from a mixture of graphite, clay, and aniline dye. By the late 1870s, an improved method for moistening pages in copying books had been invented, and by the late 1880s it had been widely adopted. Rather than using a brush or damper to wet the tissues, the clerk inserted a thin moist cloth or pad between each oil paper and the following tissue.

[4] George Taplin, (1831-1879) missionary and teacher, author of The Narrinyeri (1874). 

[5] William Lamond Allardyce (1861-1930) career British civil servant who worked for the Colonial Office. He served as governor of Fiji (1901-2). His first posting was Fiji where only two years after arriving there he was named acting Resident Commissioner for the island Rotuma. In Notes on Rotuman Grammar by A.M. Hocart (The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 49, (July-December, 1919), pp. 252-264) he refers to Allardyce's paper 'Rotooma and the Rotoomas" Proceedings of the Queensland Branch of the Geographical Society of Australasia, 1st session, 1885-6.


Fison 19

Levuka Nov 7. 1881

E.B. Tylor Esq LLD

Dear Sir,

I have only time for the rough sketch sent herewith. My present informant has seen the enclosure, & the sketch was made from his description & under his eye. He is connected with the tribe by a runaway marriage, but he tells me there are many secrets connected with the ceremonies which his friends would not tell him. They said they would be stricken with lunacy if they revealed them. There is much yet to ascertain.

Harding sends me a copy of an account sent by him to you at my request of the Tana custom. It gives a turn to the practice somewhat different from that which his oral account gave. But it still shows a "permitted" class, & a "forbidden one", though the practice as he now gives it, seems to be rather dower collection than expiation for marriage.

Howitt will write you an account of facts bearing on the jus primae noctis as soon as may be 

At present he is overwhelmed with work, & so indeed am I.

I hope our paper on Change in the Line of Descent will make its appearance before your new work gets into the printer's hands. You will find some of Howitt's remarks & facts very important.

He is succeeding wonderfully in gathering fresh information. I am full of delight at his success, though, as I tell him, the next work must be his alone, for I can give him no help as to the Australians. He is becoming known far & wide among them as a Great Warden & Grand Master of the mysteries, & wonderful things he is finding out. Among other things, in the Muruya Tribe of N.S. Wales, one stage of initiation into the mysteries is an open grave, & the next, & highest, a covered arch, carefully constructed of boughs. At each stage a Gomerah explains to the novice the mysteries indicated. If you mention this to your friends, & watch their faces, you will probably note an expression of unbounded astonishment, almost amounting to incredulity, on some of them. I do not know whether your own will be thus affected as you read, but if you have had a certain experience, I am sure it will be so.

The mail is on the point of closing, & I must conclude.

Believe me,

Yours most truly

Lorimer Fison.


Plan of the Sacred Enclosure of the Wainmala tribe, Navitilevu Hill Country, Fiji

The enclosure is constructed in a secluded place in the forest. It may be approached for religious purposes only.

The sketch [insert] was [end insert] made from the description of a Nandronga native, akin to a Wainimala family, who has seen it. Much secrecy was observed as to the ceremonies connected with it, & there is a great deal to be learned in addition to what I have already described in former letters. Dimensions given are only approximate

A outer stone wall about 5 ft high, 3 ft thick

B gateways

C stone walls screening gateways

D stone wall 4 ft high by 2 ft thick, separating the outer court from the inner

E Inner Court, none but members of the tribe may enter

F Outer court - "Court of the Gentiles" Children & privileged visitors may enter here, but may not pass the wall D

G enclosure of the priests, or elders. The property presented by the people is heaped upon its wall

H god's -- or ancestral spirits -- enclosure No mortal may enter

In the pathway between these two enclosures opposite to the gateways, is laid the Baki (Mbaggi) pig, a monstrous [it ends here]


Fison 20

Navuloa Fiji

20 Dec '81

Edward B. Tylor Esq. LL.D.

Dear Sir,

I write a short note to let you know that I am about to take a short trip to Australia, & that I shall be absent from Fiji for 3 or 4 months. I give you this notice lest any letter from you should arrive during my absence, & you be surprised  at not receiving an answer in the usual course.

If you have not yet printed the account I sent you of the ceremonies connected with the Wainimala sacred enclosure I shall be obliged to you if you will add a note to the effect that my information on the subject is incomplete.

What I have since ascertained confirms all that Ilaisa Tubima wrote down for me, but I think he has mixed together two different ceremonies. The Mbaki is held regularly in the month of first fruits -- i.e. your harvest -- & apparently at irregular intervals as occasion arises in the sickness of a chief, or other tribal calamity. I have a great dislike to publishing incomplete accounts of these things & if what I have sent you be already printed, perhaps you will be kind enough to mention what I have said at your convenience when you attend a meeting of the Anthropological.

I am taking my wife & family to Melbourne where I shall leave them, & return to Fiji by myself. This is not a very agreeable measure, but it is a necessity. At all events it will give me more leisure to pursue my inquiries. Hitherto I  have had to act as schoolmaster to my children; & my wife's long continued ill health, produced by her inability to bear this climate, has kept me much at home. We have no medical help near at hand, & her disease called for constant watchfulness & readiness to apply certain remedial measures which none of our household but myself could undertake. 

On my return I shall have more leisure, & shall also be enabled to make frequent journeys to various places which I have long wished to visit that I might make personal research into matters concerning which I have imperfect information.

The only new fact of importance I have lately ascertained is that the Navitilevu Hill tribes have the "two primary classes", as I called them in K. & K. I have not found them anywhere else in Fiji, excepting in Vanua Levu where descent is still reckoned through the mother.

Believe me

Yours very sincerely

Lorimer Fison


Fison 21

Melbourne Victoria

3 March 1882

My dear Sir,

I have only time to write a hasty scrawl acknowledging the receipt of your very encouraging letter of Nov. 13, which reached me in Fiji when I was engaged in packing up our household stuff preparatory to the removal of my family to this colony. My wife's illhealth, & the necessity of securing educational advantages for our children, made this change necessary. We have been here some four weeks, & as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements I shall return to Fiji alone in the hope of being able to remain there for some time longer. During that time I will do all I can to increase my stock of materials as to savage life, thought, & speech; but it is a grievous thought to me that thereafter I shall probably be shut out from the pursuit in which I have taken so keen a pleasure. A chronic bronchial complaint [insert] of which I am subject [end insert] puts ministerial work in the colonies out of the question; & since, during my missionary career I have kept clear of land buying & other money-making speculations, I shall have to make a fresh start in life in order to provide for my family as best I may. Clean hands are very good things, especially for missionaries, but they are not always the best for other purposes, especially when they have begun to get somewhat shaky, & they are not likely to find much time for scientific work under the altered circumstances.

I do not think Fiji will afford many nature-myths. These appears to belong to Polynesia rather than to Melanesia in these seas. The Mani-legend for instance stops at Tonga, though it is known in Eastern Fiji through Tongan channels. I do not remember any of the Fijian indecent riddles as being specially worth while. The dirtier the dirt the wittier is it in Fijian ears.

Mr. Howitt is the man for Australian "message sticks". I shall probably visit him in a day or two, & will take your letter with me. I remember that two or three years ago he casually mentioned having written some notes on them for a German correspondent of his whose name I forget. It is strange that neither Howitt nor myself noticed the differences of initials between D. & J.F. when the hostile review came out. We both replied under the impression that our castigator was Mr. J.F. McLennan & we suppressed our replies when we heard of his death. For this I am sorry now, as we lost a good chance of a profitable controversy. I will talk the matter over with Howitt in a few days.

Mr. Dawson has taken great pains in the compilation of his work, but Howitt finds some of his statements contradicted by native informants. Dawson, I believe, worked with the help of his daughter, an admirable young lady, who speaks the dialect of the natives in their neighbourhood. There were many things which the blacks would not tell a young woman & other things concerning which they would probably mislead her. Moreover Dawson's tribes are broken remnants. [1]

I searched high & low for a splendid nose flute which I am sure I had in my possession, but could not find it. Subsequently I discovered it in the house of a person who declares I gave it to him, but of the gift I have no recollection whatever. When I return to Fiji I will get you one - or perhaps I can procure one here from Melbourne friends to whom I sent specimens long ago. At any rate you may count upon getting one sooner or later. [2] The flute is still used. I frequently hear my own students playing on it at night. The sound is produced thus. The "blowhole" is close to the closed end of the flute, so close that by holding the end under the nose the hole is brought under the right nostril. The left nostril is closed by pressing with the thumb of the left hand, the fingers of which are at liberty to stop some of the holes pierced in the body of the flute. But when I go back I will watch the performer closely, & send you an exact description of their movements.

The message sticks were, & are still, sent in Fiji but I do not know of any writing upon them. They are simply aids to memory - one stick for one message, & another for another, as far as I know. But I will make further inquiry. So many things which I have supposed to be non-existent have turned out to be flourishing in full vigour under my very nose that I hesitate to say positively that such & such a thing is not. In fact the one great result of all my study of savage life is a humiliating conviction that I know nothing about it. One wants to be an adopted member of a clan & to take unto himself a native wife, in order [missing word? to] get really into the people's confidence, & a considerable amount of anthropological fervour is necessary to impel a man as far as that. I am somewhat sceptical as to accounts I have heard about the Australian message sticks. One can readily understand that scratches like this [drawing] may be the mark -- say of the Lizards --- & that a number of horizontal or vertical scratches under or over them may mean so many lizards or so many days as helps to memory; but I have never been able to take in the tales about actual messages in hieroglyphic writing which one hears occasionally from men who have been among the Blacks.

I am much obliged to you for your information as to the Paris Society. [3] Both Howitt & myself -- Codrington too -- agreed that we would answer inquiries if any were made without doing anything more, at least for the present.

I have also to thank you for sending your copy of v. Gabelentz work to Mr. Codrington. [4] I wrote to him fully when I received your former letter, but have not yet heard from him in reply. Though Norfolk Is. is so near to both Sydney & Fiji, our communication with it is very uncertain, & we can reckon on answers from England with greater certainty & at shorter intervals.

As to Primitive Marriage, there is not a word you say which I cannot fully agree with. For my own part I am simply uninterested in the "Consanguine Family". [5] My only object is to collect the available facts & to go as far as they go. The "total promiscuity" as I see it nowadays is only temporary as a sort of "religious ceremony" of expiation. What may have been the past is beyond my ken. I think however the facts show a "right of cohabitation" between certain groups. But as you say the strong probability is that this right was always more or less restricted as it is nowadays among the Australians. I am reminded here of an off repeated expression of one of our critics whom I think you know. He uses Muri or Murri to designate all the Aust. aborigines, apparently under the impression that it corresponds to the N.Z. Maori. It would be a friendly deed to caution him against that use, which is altogether erroneous. In N.Z. Maori is only an adjective meaning "native", as opposed to Pakeha; & the Aust. Murri is simply a class name & nothing more. Numberless tribes have no knowledge of it, & even where it is used it applies only to men of that particular class.

I was struck by your remark about the "pairing of lower animals." When thinking over the different usages among tribes which have come within my ken, I have found myself shrinking from the thought that similar differences are to be found among the lower animals. Thus cattle in the bush here confine themselves to certain localities, & stockmen have told me they resent the intrusion of other herds. So also I have found war arising in drops of water under my microscope when I have filled my bottle out of several pools. And the intersexual arrangements are still more striking.

I am fully persuaded of the accuracy of my view about the "rights of old men in Australia". The elders have vested in them the authority which is held by hereditary chiefs in Polynesia, & they arrogate to themselves all manner of claims by virtue of that authority, just as the chiefs do in Fiji. And this leads me to say that our strongly marked hereditary chieftainship in Fiji is probably a Polynesian "streak" among a Melanesian people. But then chieftainship seems to grow out of various causes & shows itself unexpectedly here & there in places which would seem to be unfavourable to its growth. Where I said in my Land Tenure paper [6] that chiefs were probably in the first instance only heads of families, it had in my mind only the orderly development which takes place without disturbing causes. But, since I wrote those words, what seems to be good evidence of hereditary chieftainship among broken clans in Australia has come in. The whole subject needs investigation.

I was much interested by your account of your conversation with Mr. Goldwin Smith. [7] He was a great friend of my brother in law the late George Waring of Oxford & it was he who first set Dr. Morgan at me. I owe him a debt of gratitude for that good deed.

In reply to your good wishes as to our relations with our new Governor, I am glad to say that those relations are cordial in the extreme. [8] And here I am very glad to thank you once more for expunging those words which would have caused so much m... [illegible because very faint]

Believe me, yours most truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D &c

Notes by transcriber:

[1] James 'Jimmy' Dawson, (1806-1900), author of Australian Aborigines: The Languages and Customs of Several Tribes of Aborigines in the Western District of Victoria, Australia published in Melbourne in 1881. See here for his Australian Dictionary of Biography biography. His daughter was Isabella Park Taylor (1843-1929), as given in this wikipedia article.

[2] See Fison letter 30 below, Fison sent at least three Fijian flutes and a New Hebrides flute to Tylor, 2 were damaged en route (as reported in correspondence from Fison to Tylor), one appears to have survived [1884.111.35] and the flute from the New Hebrides appears never to have been accessioned at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

[3] Fison had asked Tylor about the Société d'Ethnographie de Paris in a previous letter in the PRM ms collections Tylor-Fison correspondence.

[4] Robert Henry Codrington was very interested in Melanesian (and other) languages. Hans Georg Conon von der Gabelentz (1840-1893), German linguist and sinologist. His Chinesische Grammatik was published in 1881 and was probably the work sent by Tylor.

[5] Lewis Henry Morgan's term.

[6] 'Land Tenure in Fiji'. The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 10, (1881), pp. 332-352

[7] Goldwin Smith (1823-1910), Academic, historian and journalist. He was University of Oxford regius professor of history until 1866 when he moved to the United States, and then Canada. George Waring appears to have been based at Magdalen Hall, Oxford (which later became Hertford College) [my thanks to Stephanie Jenkins for pointing this out, her biography of George Waring is available here. and to have co-written The Gothic and Anglo-Saxon Gospels in Parallel Columns with the Versions of Wycliffe and Tyndale; Arranged, with preface and notes, by the Rev, Joseph Bosworth, D.D. F.R.S. F.S.A. Professor of Anglo Saxon, Oxford; Assisted by George Waring, Esq. M.A. of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Magdalen Hall, Oxford. London: J.R. Smith, 1865.

[8] Des Voeux, who had been in post as Governor of Fiji for two years, and who had been mentioned in earlier letters, cannot be said to be 'new' two years after his appointment.


Fison 22

P.S. Before your reply can reach me I shall be in my old quarters in Fiji if things go well

Melbourne 8 March 1882

My dear Sir,

By the last outgoing steamer I wrote you a reply to your letter of        [blank]; but a visit from which I  have just returned to my friend Mr Howitt has given me cause to trouble you with a few more lines. I found him hard at work as usual with his geological chemical, and anthropological researches all of which he carries on in a wonderful manner in addition to his everyday magisterial work. He is a most extraordinary man, & one who ought to be utilised in the cause of science. How he manages to do what he does is beyond my comprehension, & everything he does is well & accurately done. I have brought back with me a huge portfolio filled with his prêcis of facts gathered from numerous correspondents bearing upon the customs of the Australian blacks. These are of the greatest value & present a mass of information such as will I am sure be highly appreciated by you when Howitt completes his book. He showed me several "message sticks"; & everything connected with them confirms me in the opinion which I stated in my last letter. I have asked him to write a paper on them for you, & he has promised to do so. It will contain exact drawings & descriptions.

But what I wanted specially to write about is this. At Howitt's house I saw for the first time your presidential address to the Anthropological Institute. I feel highly honoured & much encouraged by the notice you took of our work. [1] This alone is sufficient to assure me that we have been even more successful than we had dared to hope. Whether our views be adopted or not, it is enough for us to be assured that what we have done has not been unserviceable. There is one point on which I wish to say a few words by way of explanation. You are evidently under the impression that I believe in a former state of utter promiscuity such as is indicated by the Dieri legend of the Murdu, & in a Divine interposition lifting men out of that state & giving them an onward impulse. As Howitt himself thus read my words in K. & K. I can only set down this misunderstanding to my own account, & blame my own careless diction for it. But most certainly such was not my meaning. I meant to say as follows -- The evidence seems to point to a former state of promiscuity, but it is not strong enough to assure us of it. Therefore I do not go so far as Morgan goes. I stop short of his consanguine family -- or, as I call it, the Undivided Commune. It may have existed for ought I know, or it may not. But, if it ever did exist, "the reformatory movement" seems to me to be the likeliest way out of it; & I have no difficulty in supposing that movement possible, because I have no difficulty in believing that Divine help is given whenever man cannot get along without it. As it seems to me, there is a point in ever line of scientific research beyond which the "natural cause" fails, & that the farther back we trace that point the greater is the necessity of our believing God to be behind it. Thus if I could trace back the Universe to one primaeval atom, that atom with the certainty of a Universe in it would be the strongest conceivable argument to my mind that it must have come from the hand of God. I have written all this simply to explain the position I took up. I did not mean to say that our researches had taken us to the "Vanishing point" of the natural cause, but that, if the Undivided Commune even existed, it must have been that point, & that an impulse from without would be necessary. Of course this is only a statement of my own opinion; & if a man does not believe that there is any vanishing point at all I do not quarrel with him on that account. I acknowledge his right to his own opinion, & claim my own right to mine. Hence I venture to dispute your assertion that to suppose a Divine impulse where natural causes fail is degrading. This is not put quite a you put it, but I think it fairly represents the case. If I were to say that all beyond my own ken is necessarily supernatural, I should indeed deserve rebuke. But this is not what I said, or at any rate it is certainly not what I meant to say. Pray understand that all this is explanation, not complaint. I have nothing to complain of excepting my own carelessness, though I thought the "If" would be a sufficient guard against misunderstanding--"If such a community ever existed &c". 

With regard to the father in law being shunned as well as the mother in law, the prohibition extends more or less to all the relatives by marriage -- brother in law -- but I do not find there is any argument against my theory. However, I am not "pertikler sot upon it" as Haley says, & if I have to surrender it, it will not be the first theory of mine which I have been compelled to set aside. Nevertheless I comfort myself with the assurance that Marriage by Capture cannot account for the avoidance because it must account for the tapu between brother & sister as well as for that between son in law & mother in law. It must be noted also that the avoidance of the father in law is nothing like that of the mother in law. Between father in law & son in law the intercourse is guarded & ceremonious, but I have not met with any instance, [insert] therein [end insert] of the ludicrous shame, & even terror, which the motehr in law inspires among some of our tribes.

I had a long talk with Howitt about the authority exercised by the older men over the young women, & I am confirmed in my opinion that it does not amount to exclusive marital right. It seems to take its rise from infant betrothal. Thus a man has a daughter born to him. He promises her to one of his contemporaries. By the time the girl is 11 or 12 years old -- that is marriageable -- her betrothed is an elderly man with probably other wives if he be a great man of [insert] any standing [end insert] In fact the old men get into their hands all the power they can, & secure to themselves the best of everything under terrible sanctions. If we could persuade our children that the undercut of a sirloin [insert] for instance [end insert] would cause them to break out in painful boils from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet, I daresay we might get all those tender cuts for our own eating. The monopoly of women, however, does not prevail in all the tribes. In some of them a young man who has "passed to the proper degree" can claim a woman of the proper class, & he may not be denied unless he has the blood of her kindred on his hands, & even of this he can purge himself by standing the ordeal of battle, if one may so call a fight in which the fighting is all on one side.

I suppose you have heard of the nictograph invented by Mr. Roe. That invention was a great disaster to us, for Mr. Roe was one of our most intelligent informants, & we reasonably expected great things from him. If you meet him in England, whither he has taken his invention, I am sure you would be greatly interested by a conversation with him; I have no doubt he could tell you something about the message sticks, & much on other matters connected with the blacks.

[insert] May I ask for a copy of your address to the Anthrop. Inst.? [1 presumably]

Believe me,

Yours very truly,

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq. LL.D

&c &c &c

Though infant betrothal [illegible] gives the young women to the elderly men the evidence is conclusive that they cannot & do not keep them exclusively to themselves. They permit the young men to approach them under certain restrictions.


[1] President's Address, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 10, (1881), pp. 440-458, pp. 451-3:

'Among recent works of importance in the problem of primitive society is the volume by Fison and Howitt on the Kamilaroi and Kurnai tribes of Australia, with special reference to their laws of marriage and descent. Though this is Mr. Fison's first systematic work on the subject, he has long been engaged in its study. Indeed, it was he who obtained, years ago, the curious statement of Mr. Lance that the intermarrying groups of Australia were actually united in a kind of limited communal marriage. This statement became one of the foundations of Mr. Morgan's ideal scheme of the development of marriage, in his "Ancient Society." Mr. Howitt is the well-known Australian explorer. Both Fison and Howitt, brought up, so to speak, in Morgan's school, remain, in most respects, disciples of his. For my own part, I may express an opinion, which I fancy will be shared by many students, that while M'Lellan, Lubbock, and Morgan have contributed much to the solution of the obscure problem how primitive society was organised, they neither singly nor jointly have yet untied all the turns of this complex knot. They have all come by different methods to look to an original system of what has been called communal marriage. But as to the steps by which the transition was made to more developed institutions, there is great difference of theory. In some respects it seems to me that the new evidence in this book tends to modify the previous conclusions. The alleged effect of female infanticide in bringing on capture of wives is not supported by the evidence from Australia, where the children abandoned are as often boys as girls, for girls as food-gatherers are as valuable to the tribe as lads. The view that communal marriage was broken up and exogamy brought on by capture, which for the first time gave the warrior an individual property in a wife, may, perhaps, be squared, but not quite easily, with the Australian rule in some tribes that a man may not have a wife when he has captured her, unless she is of the class he is bound to marry into. On the other hand, Fison's ingenious arguments seem often too ingenious. He attempts to account for the widespread custom of avoiding the mother-in-law by the fact that she, being of the same class with her daughter, would be theoretically her own son-in-law's wife, which awkward combination is prevented by the two utterly avoiding one another. It is not easy to see, however, why this should cause the man to avoid his father-in-law also, which he does in Australia and all over the world. The great fundamental difficulty of the whole matter lies in the explanation how men, beginning with what Morgan calls the consanguine family, where marriage was unrestricted, moved into a more advanced stage. Morgan treats the changes as an early but most important reform in society to restrict this state of things to more limited marriage, excluding the nearest blood-relatives: and Howitt takes much the same view. But the question is, how could man in a state of extreme rudeness be considerate and politic enough to become conscious of the evil and the remedy? We must ask for more perfect explanation before receiving such a theory as proved. No man knows a savage's mind better than Fison does, and he is so impressed with the difficulty savages would find in taking such a step, that he calls in supernatural aid to help them. In fact he falls in with the ideas of the Dieri natives, who have a myth that the tribe becoming sensible of the evils of breeding-in, the old men called on the Great Spirit, who told them to divide the tribe into branches, each with a different clan or murdu, and to cause a man not to take a wife of his own murdu. Mr. Fison will not, perhaps, gain many adherents in explaining savage institutions by ordinary natural processes as far as possible, and then, because he finds a problem too hard, bringing in a supernatural cause, which thus is degraded into a result of the enquirer's ignorance. But one cannot more strongly put the difficulty of the problem than by seeing that it has driven a writer so ingenious in devising natural explanations, to abandon the attempt. I have spoken at some length of this volume, regarding it as a new move in a discussion of early society which will lead us far before we have done with it. But it is abstruse and difficult in the extreme, and I hope to deal with it fully and with the necessary care and reservation at some future time and would ask that the present remarks, made to call attention to it, may not be themselves criticised as a deliberate move in the controversy.


Fison 23

Melbourne 18 April 1882

My dear Sir,

I wrote to you by last mail, & since its departure I have received from Fiji your letter of January 15th. I shall return next month, or perhaps in June, so no change of address is necessary.

I sent directions for playing the nose flute in my last letter, together with a promise o get you an instrument when I go back to Fiji. I now remember that a friend of mine here has a very good specimen which I sent up some years ago. I will beg it from its present possessor & send it to you by post [insert] if I can [end insert] My time during my visit to Australia is so fully occupied, & I am kept travelling about so continually, that I have no time for writing anything better than hurried disjointed scrawls. My mind is kept in such a whirl that it has not time to settle down into a calm before it is set off into another whirl.

I note what you say about the genos. [1] Howitt & I have agreed to drop gens, as objectionable. [2] Becker's definition precisely suits the Fijian "Yavusa", wh. is made up of male ascendants & descendants (the marriages being supposed to have been completed) But among these ascendants & descendants are the tribal brothers of each ancestor, & descendant -- i.e. each grade is not an individual but a group. The line may be traced through individuals; but if you ask as to anyone of them you find others connected with him. Still what you say "gives me pause." I do not feel compelled to set my foot firmly down on classic ground. Nevertheless that the savage "division" is the antecedent of the gens I feel sure. Our theories must shift for themselves. For my own part I am quite ready to abandon any one of mine as soon as I can see good cause for so doing. It will be enough for me to have done some little service by drawing attention to facts which may be made use of by others to better purpose than my own.

What you say about Freemasonry in connexion with savage rites precisely expresses my own view. I never meant to say that our Freemasonry  is the savage brotherhood, but it seems to me probable that in Freemasonry there might be found survivals of very ancient rites. In further inquiry the Grave & the Arch do not come in quite so neatly as they appeared at first to do; but Howitt is now attending a great "gathering of the clans" summoned by him in his character of "The Great Gomera," & we shall soon learn something more about those & other matters. There is no man in Australia who has his power & influence, or anything like it.

As for Dawson's book. Supposing this scrawl to represent our continent [rough drawing of outline of Australia with Melbourne marked out] this little is infinitely too big for the locale of the fragmentary tribe with whom he was acquainted. And yet his book is called 'The Aborigines of Australia', and is quoted as conclusive against K. & K. One might as well write an account of the people of Great Britain & Ireland from observation of manners & customs in a Cornish fishing village. [3]

By the same post with your letter I received a copy of your Introduction Address to the Anth. Inst. I noted your remarks in my last, but it may be well to say something more. I have evidently been unfortunate in my phraseology, producing the impression that I suppose an early stage of promiscuity to have been improved upon by the community breaking up into two exogamous divisions under divine influence. The fact is simply this. I do not accept absolute promiscuity as proved. I begin with the two divisions, & do not attempt to account for them. But if man ever lived in utter promiscuity,  then I see no way out of it without outer help; &, as there could have been no lower stage, that must have been the end of the line. In other words, I do not say that man began with promiscuity, & proceeded to exogamy. Morgan says something like it, & I went as far as I could with him; & even where I could not follow him, I tried to show something on his side. But I repeat that I begin with the "Divided commune". From that point natural causes seem to me to be sufficient. If the undivided commune ever existed, natural causes appear to me to be insufficient to account for its division. But I nowhere say that it ever did exist. The temporary allowance of its license in Fiji & Australia staggers me, & suggests that it is a temporary return to a formerly prevalent custom, but it does not convince me. I shall not be glad if I be convinced.

I have just read a hostile critique of K. & K. in the Spectator of Feb 11. There is nothing new in it. My suppressed reply to McLennan's critique in Nature would fit it well enough. But, unless Howitt thinks it advisable I do not think we shall reply. Both McL & the Spectator castigate both about the repugnance of the savage to the mention of his name as accounting for the "system of addresses". Men who know so little about savages ought not to be so exceedingly high & mighty in their manner of chastisement. The savage objects to mention his own name but he has no objection to its mention by others; & therefore that method of accounting for the terms of kinship is not worth much. My theory is said to be "too much for human patience". It has certainly been too much for the patience of that particular "human" who writes in the Spectator, for he has not taken the trouble to understand what it is 

However it is gratifying to note that K. & K. has not fallen altogether flat, & especially that our opponents find nothing new to say, & seem to be angry with us. I suppose a man must be angry before he can be discourteous. It is a strange thing that men cannot fight peaceably on purely scientific questions.

I have heard from Codrington. He is full of gratitude for your promise to send v-Gabelentz's book. [4] That learned German used to correspond with Bp [Bishop] Patteson, who used to laugh at his conclusions [insert] the meagerness of his information as to Melanesian languages. [end insert] Codrington is sure to do the work; but perhaps as he says, "more from an anthropological point of view."  [5]

I have heard from Mrs Morgan, who give me an account of her husband's illness & death. Long before his death his mental condition was "pitiably weak". Some half dozen of my later letters to him could not be read to him. They were merely shown to him with a promise of reading "when he grew stronger". I always used to hope to see him at some indefinite time, but it was not to be. His death is a real bereavement to me. Let his theory be good or bad, there was a something about him which made it a pleasure to work for him. I cannot define that something, but it was a good thing for a man to have. 

As to the Hervey Is. & French Annexation, I have no more influence in that group than I have in one of the lunar craters. I have not even been able to get a correspondent there. [6]

During my late visit to Sydney I had much talk with George Brown. In one of our talks he mentioned incidentally a fact which I am sure you will look upon as a very valuable bit of evidence. In New Britain, as I have stated in K. & K. there are two exogamous divisions Muramara & Pikalaba. Marriage within a division is strictly prohibited. In fact it is incestuous. Here comes the valuable bit of evidence. When twins are born, if they be of the same sex, it is all right. But, if one be a boy & the other a girl, they are both killed because "they have lain together in the womb". If this, together with the fact that sexual intercourse within the divisions, does not convince our opponents I do not known what will. At any rate it is conclusive in proof that the divisions have something to do with marriage, in spike of Dr. McLennan's assertion to the contrary. By the way, the Spectator critique is so extremely like that in Nature that I strongly suspect that gentleman to be the author of both. There is a splendour of virulence & a sublimity of insult in both of them, such as are not likely to have emanated from any one less gifted in that way. I permit myself thus to blow off the steam in a private letter, but I should not write so for publication unless under very great provocation.

I have in my possession some Fijian legends which I think are worth something. Many years ago I sent two or three of them home to my sister Mrs Waring, expanded into what I thought in my innocence would be suitable for a magazine. I am told they want "boiling down". If I could get them into any paying periodical I should be glad to do the boiling; for I have had to remove my family to Australia, where I must have them, while I myself return to Fiji. Can you give me any information as to a likely quarter to which they might (the legends) be sent? My expenses have undergone a sudden expansion, while my income remains in status quo.

Believe me,

Yours most truly,

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq. LL.D

&c &c &c


[1] Genos - in ancient Greek a social group claiming common descent, see here.

[2] In Ancient Rome 'gens' referred to a family, consisting of all those individuals who shared the same nomen and descent from a common ancester, see here.

[3] James Dawson (1806-1900) Pastoralist, author of Australian Aborigines. The Languages and Customs of Several Tribes of Aborigines in the Western District of Victoria, Australia published in 1881.

[4] Georg von der Gabelentz (1840-1893) German linguist, presumably the book was Chinesische Grammatik (1881).

[5] John Coleridge Patteson (1827-1871), Anglican bishop who was murdered on Nukapu in the Solomons. 

[6] The Cook Islands (as the Hervey Islands were known after around 1820s?) became a British protectorate in 1888, it is not clear if Tylor and Fison are referring to a specific incident, but in 1881 there were rumours of French intervention in the islands and a British honorary consul, Goodman, was appointed. [see The Cook Islands, 1820-1950 R.P. Gilson, p. 49.]


Fison 24 

Navuloa 23 Aug. 1882

Edward B. Tylor Esq: LL.D

My dear Sir,

Your letter of June 11 came in by the last mail & gave me much pleasure.

I am sorry to say that the noseflute, which I hoped to get for you in Melbourne, disappointed me. My friend was perfectly willing to give it up, but, when I got it once more into my hands, I found that somebody had been treading on it, or sitting down upon it, or otherwise maltreating it so as to establish a crack along nearly all of its length. It was consequently as dumb as the ancient oracles are, & quite useless for your purposes. But I am getting one made for you, & hope to send it by next mail, or by some passenger homeward bound.

I think Howitt had a message stick for you when I was at Sale.

I have seen no reason to believe that there are any "relics of a higher culture" among the Australians, in the same of  that is of a higher culture once possessed by them, & from which they have fallen. Gason & Taplin both asserted this, but they gave no reasons for their assertions, which seemed to me to have any weight. [sic] Whatever they have in common with the old civilization I suppose to have been survivals of savagery in that civilization. I am delighted with your passage about the ρυμβοζ. It is the turndun & none other -- if we may take that passage as correctly describing the instrument. But what instrument more likely than it to be generally found? Its presence & its use among widely separated tries, though extremely interesting, do not seem to be astonishing.

I fully agree with the conclusion to which yourself and Sir Henry Maine arrived as to the actual usage with regard to cohabitation. That absolute promiscuity is practised occasionally even now I am certain. It is also established that, among the Australians at least, & doubtless among other tribes, communism governed by class-rule is practised during the gathering of the class, & especially at that gathering which is the analogue of the Attic Apaturia: but in actual everyday usage this is not the case. The hunters split up into small parties, & wander away from one another with the women specially belonging to them. And agricultural tribes, after the due performance of the queer rites of which I have already told you, reassert individual rights of possession. I never meant to say that the class rules actually give every woman of one group to every man of the "husband" group in everyday usage. I don't know how I can express my views more clearly that in the words of the letter I wrote to you on Feb'y 4 1880 -- "Among these tribes it is certain that 'all the Donalds are the husbands of all the Janets" -- but it must be remembered that husband means no more than 'a man belonging to a group which has the right of cohabitation with my own group', ego being female . x x x x In order to avoid possibly misconception I may explain that I carefully guard against mistake with regard to that statement. I do not mean to say that promiscuous intercourse among permitted division is the usage. It is not. If the matrimonial license was ever exercised to that extent, I know of no tribe in which it is so now. [insert] (that is as a matter of everyday usage.) The marriage of the groups regulates every individual marriage even now; & the full extent of the privilege is theoretically acknowledged skill though not carried out in practice save when large numbers from stranger tribes meet together. It is not the everyday practice of home life; nor is it at all likely that it would continue to be so, even if it ever were so."

The term "stranger tribes" here is misleading. "Stranger" does not mean alien. I suppose I had the Fiji word "vulangi" in my mind when I wrote "stranger". The only thing that puzzles me is the resort to communising as expiation. Some Australians do this when the Aurora Australis appears. [1] If we deny that communism was ever the absolute rule for everyday life, we must find some explanation of that well established practice. For my own part I neither deny it, nor affirm it. I don't think it safe to do either, & I am not in any way concerned to prove the probability of absolute or even modified communism as the usage of everyday life.

Codrington writes "I have made a discovery as regards Mota which will surely be very agreeable to you. I don't know whether I ever mentioned the fact that they speak of a person's mother as ravevena, not na-vevena -- i.e. as his mothers, not his mother. This has become so habitual that the common mind has quite lost all sense of the plural character of the ra, & a hen is spoken of as ra veve. It is plain enough to the reader of K. & K. that they did not call any particular woman 'mother', nor regard any individual as the parent of the an individual child -- all the women were veve to all the children of the veve -- The word veve, as you know, means the division.

I used to suppose before I was enlightened the ra to be a plural of dignity, for it is no new observation of mine that a plural is used. It could not fail to be observed because of the vocative veve -- or often enough o veve is used for the mother. It is however a comparatively new thing for me to observe that the word for husband or wife has a plural form, & that it is always used in that form. A man's husband or wife, or a woman's husband, is rasva-na (na is the possessive suffix) & one never hears them spoken of, or to, without the ra, & I suppose every one took the rasvana as one word. However, after reading K. & K. it occurred to me to enquire because soai is a member, and rasoai makes just as good sense as raveve. The members of the body are soasoai, evesoa turiai, the parts of the canoe are soesoe aka, of a house, a tree & so on. Having an opportunity I enquired of Wogali our Deacon who happens to be here was it rasoai one word, or ra soai? He said he had never thought it other than one word, [insert] had [end insert] never supposed ra plural. Then I pointed him to raveve, which he agreed to. he took time to consider, & next day came to me with some secrecy, & said it ws quite correct: that in former times a woman was the wife of the sogois (members of the group -- tribal brothers) & that the old people still had that notion. It is not by any means remarkable, I think that the notion of the community of children, or of wives, should continue to ensure, the remarkable thing is that in Mota the words used should signify it -- that mother should be those of my division, & that wife should be those of the other division, or rather those whom I have in community. If this is not acceptable to you to learn, I shall be disappointed. I have no doubt that the individualising of wives & children has been generally brought about long before this time: but I also quite believe that the lingering sense of the real ancient relations of the two sides of the house is retained; not only in memory, but in occasional practice. What is the same thing, adultery with a wife of a member of the same sogai -- that is to say, with a woman whom it is not incest to approach -- is adultery & wrong, as fornication with an unmarried girl of the other side of the house was no doubt thought wrong, though not so very wrong: & yet adultery with the wife of a sogai was sometimes (& still is) connived at & excused on the grounds that the woman is rasoana the adulterer as well as the husband. Intercourse with a woman of the same side of the house is a different affair altogether."

This is all the more valuable because Codrington throughout all our correspondence, has been a doubter if not a positive unbeliever.

I want to write a short paper explaining more clearly my views -- the views I meant to convey in K. & K. & indeed I promised Howitt that I would write it, & another paper as well, before I left Melbourne, but I never had time for the work. And, now that I am all alone in this big empty echoing house, my wife & children being left behind in Melbourne, I find myself utterly incapable of working late at night as I used to do. I can't stand the utter silence & loneliness, & have to take myself to bed. This is doubtless a physical benefit, but it means very little work beyond the routine duty of each day as it comes. I have done very little since I came back, & do not see much chance for some time to come.

As to the legends, they were sent to England 15 or 16 years ago. They were too prolix I have been going to cut them down -- but this has been one of those pieces of work which, always going to be done, never get themselves accomplished.

Codrington cannot see his way to do anything more about the languages until he sees clearly what is wanted from him. There is nothing in the Anthrop Journal to indicate this, & one cannot tell what the objection is. As far as I can see, it appears to be based on a notion that what is common to these languages & Malay must have come to us from the Malay; but I venture to assert that there is no reason for this supposition. However, I am no authority on this line, & know too little of it to be a competent expounder of all the Codrington doctrine. The main fact, however, above stated seems clear enough to one who has lived long among these people, & has become aware of the impossibility of the supposed commercial intercourse with the Malays.

A long while ago Codrington sent me Sibree's Great African Island, [2] which I returned to him with notes suggested by Fijian resemblances. The parcel was long delayed on the way, & only in C's last letter is its receipt acknowledged. You remember my digression in the Introduction to the Riddles. I had a note on that point inscribed in Sibree's book. C remarks "Is it possible that the heap mound is originally the heap of ashes, shells & other accumulations which always forms in & about the house, & which Australian grave mounds are found to be? The more ancient the family & homestead the higher the mound, the more direct representation of the ancestors, & the higher dignity. The people of Elis were very proud of the huge heaps of ashes from the sacrifices to Olympian Zeus, which were never removed." This is an ingenious suggestion. May not the "high places" of Scripture have been mounds such as these? Only yesterday I saw one of the bamboo jew's harps mentioned in your paper on the Asiatic Relations of Polynesian Culture. [3] It is not Fijian. Its owner told me it came from the Solomons.

I owe you many thanks for getting my Riddles into the Journal. [4] I certainly did not expect so good a fortune for them. I thought you would be interested in them & might perhaps show them to others who would care to see them.

Believe me

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison


[1] Southern lights, equivalent of the aurora borealis

[2] James Sibree, 'The Great African island: chapters on Madagascar' London 1880 

[3] 'Notes on the Asiatic Relations of Polynesian Culture', Edward B. Tylor The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland;, Vol. 11, (1882), pp. 401-405.

[4] 1882. 'On Fijian Riddles', Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 11, (1882), pp. 405-410


Fison 25

Navuloa Fiji

3 Oct. 1882

E.B. Tylor Esq LL.D

Dear Sir,

By this outgoing mail I send you a Fijian nose flute. I got one of my men to play upon it, & he made it discourse eloquent music. But I have to acknowledge that, when I tried my hand, or rather my nostril, upon it, I could extract nothing from it beyond a hollow murmur.

The manner in which the performer held it differed, I think, from that formerly described by me to you. He grasped the lower end of the flute with his left hand, stopping the hole with his middle finger. The upper part he held with his right hand, the middle finger of which was placed upon the second hole from the top, while the right thumb stopped the right nostril by pressing it sideways. The blowhole was brought under the left nostril, & forthwith a low sweet note was emitted, varied by stopping & unstopping the holes on which the  two middle fingers -- (of the right hand above, & of the left hand below) -- were placed.

I trust the flute will reach you uncracked. If not, I have three others in store, & we will make successive trials until the deed is done.

I received the copies of Riddles which you were kind enough to send me, & for which I return many thanks.

Codrington makes a valuable [insert] or at least an ingenious [end insert] suggestion as to the house mound, the height of which is the measure of the respectability of the house owner. All round our houses here shells accumulate, the former contents of which have been devoured. And as the house site is a sacred & inviolate possession, the house upon it being renewed over & over again through successive generations, it follows that the mound will grow higher & higher as the shells accumulate. Hence the height of the mound may have been originally the mark of an "old family" -- one of the true blood -- & in migrations the new mound on the new site may have been raised to the height of the old one. Codrington reminds me of the big heap of sacrificial ashes of which the folks at Elis were so proud.

With reference to your remark about the New Britain twins, that the rule of exogamy may have suggested the killing of those of opposite sexes -- that is so, as the Americans say. But what I noted was that the practice shows the divisions had really something to do with marriage, wh. Mr. D. McLennan denies. And if the rule of exogamy applied to each division -- that is to say, if the division by exogamous, it certainly has something to do with marriage. In his last letter to me George Brown says that it is tabu for a man to eat another of his own division, & that the offence against this rule is designated by the same word which expresses the sense of reprobation against intercourse between the sexes within a division. In either case it is an unlawful mingling of "the same flesh". The parties are ομ?μοvεs [?] under the ancient rule. As the S. Australian wd [would] say they are "of the same tuman". 

Believe me yours very truly

Lorimer Fison


Fison 26

I sent you two Nose flutes -- one by post, & the other by the hand of the Rev. F.C. Hutton of New College, Oxford, a traveller, who stayed with me for a time.

Navuloa, Fiji

27 Dec 1882

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D

&c &c &c

My dear Sir,

I am extremely obliged to you for the copy of the Journal of Anthrop. Inst. containing our paper "From Motherright to Fatherright". [1] I like the look of it in print, & consider Howitt's part to be valuable. He certainly clears up the question as to the Nair polyandry, & shows how certain Australian tribes, at any rate, have advanced to the higher regulation. It does not follow as a matter of course that the same line has been followed elsewhere; but I think it will be allowed that Howitt has succeeded in tracing one of the lines. He is still working away with his accustomed indomitable perseverance, boiling his geological pots for his analyses of rocks at every moment which he can snatch from his magisterial duties, & writing to his correspondents on the aborigines while the pots are boiling. He has persuaded the Gov't to help him by sending him natives from far off tribes with free passes on the Victorian & N.S. Wales Railways -- savage lore collected by steam! He feeds his heralds up with beef & good things in general, pumps them dry, & sends them away happy with presents. Being now the acknowledged Great Medicine Man, he finds no reticence on the part of the natives, & is collecting valuable information.

By this mail I return to him two exhaustive memoirs which he sent me for annotation. As for myself, I am to all intents & purposes laid on the shelf, & I fear I shall be able to do very little more. I am here alone, my wife & family having removed to Melbourne. I promised myself a great treat of inquiry work among the natives during my two years of solitude, but my health has been such as to compel me to stay at home & nurse myself carefully, & our folks have resolved to make the most of my remaining term by giving me work in the shape of Fijian book compilation which will fill my hands. And when I rejoin my family after 20 years of mission work, I shall have to go into some business or other in order to earn their bread. The theory usually received is that Missionaries make themselves right out of their converts. My case is an instance of the reality. But the theory will still be believed in spite of the fact. For the past month or more, I have been absent from home attending our Annual Meeting, & seeing to the dispatch of our Mission Schooner which we have sent to New Britain. For a month previously I was over head & ears in work connected with our annual examination, missionary meetings &c, I sent some of my students' papers to Cambridge. If you ever visit that University, you would be interested by a look at them. They are in the hands of my brother in law, Potts of Trinity. 

What I want specially to write about now is the Tanganyika chart in the journal. The names of places there made my hair stand on end. Kamba is the name of the peninsula on which I live. Kalamba is a Fijian village near our new capital, Suva. Muikamba also is noteworthy. I observe that the prefix Mu seems to be applied to capes jutting out into the lake. In Fijian Mua is an "end", & Muaikamba is the point of my peninsula. Of the other names Ruvenga, Kasangana, Nemba, Kibamba, Bemba, Kalomba, Musama, Kawasindi, Kavala, Lutuka, Mulango, Musi, Kanena, Ulubola, Bikari [insert] &c -- 28 in all -- [end insert] are all pure Fijian words, either simple or compound & lots of the other names are possible Fijian. Tanga ni-ika is pure Fijian as I mentioned in a former letter. It seemed too pure to me; but these numerous other names stagger me, & it must be remembered that the names of places do not change as do the words which are the current coin of conversation. I have noted this in Fiji. Districts whose dialects differ widely have the same place names, & obsolete words are frequently retained in those names -- words which have dropped out of the current talk, but which turn up elsewhere, showing that they once had a place in the language. Can you get Captain Hore to send me a vocabulary? [2] I should esteem it a very great favour if he would send me one. It is certainly very remarkable that there should be so many Fijian words among those names, & though it would be rash to form any theory on the fact, yet it certainly is worth investigation. The prefix Wa to the name of a place, [insert] which seems to [end insert] indicate its people collectively, is found in some of our languages, though not in the Fijian, which however has a trace of it. In these languages it is applied, not to human beings, but to anything else which is a thing of any substance. I observe that it is not used in the Tanganyika dialects to denote a single individual e.g. Wajiji = the people of Jiji (or Ujiji) Mjiji = a man of Jiji. With us the U is O or Ko, & the Wa is Ka. O Bau - Mbau, Kai Bau = the people of Bau. I wonder whether the M in Mjiji has anything to do with the numeral One. Jiji in Tongan, & in at least one Fijian dialect, means "Little". But these may be [insert] probably are -- [end insert] mere accidental coincidences. I should have said that Wa with us means primarilty "fruit", as bread fruit &c. [insert] I forgot to say that in Fijian Tanga ni ika means the small net used by women when they fish singlehanded [end insert]

We are looking out anxiously for the appearance of McLennan's posthumous work, also for another book from yourself. We have, in accordance with your request, abstained from further controversy, waiting for the later developments; & we have done so very willingly possessing our souls in patience. From the little that has been written against us it is plain that on many points our meaning has been misunderstood, arising perhaps chiefly from the difficulty of keeping our own system out of one's mind in dealing with the subject. There is my own part of K. & K. whenever I used a term of relationship I had a group of individuals in my mind -- but our critics seem to read my words as if they dealt with units. Thus, when I say, my son marries my sister's daughter, I mean the group to which my son belongs intermarries with the group to which my sister's daughter belongs. If I had been speaking of individuals only my statement would be incorrect as to many Aust. tribes, for in point of fact my own son is considered too near in blood to my own sister's daughter. This is an inner regulation within the general marriage law. Again, it has been supposed that I meant to say the community was locally provided with by the classes -- men of the same group living together &c. One gets discouraged by these misconceptions.

On one important point noted by you, the our subsequent investigations are clear in evidence. The taboo between father in law & son in law differs altogether from that between mother in law & son in law. The one is a simple no more than respectful behaviour not even amounting to avoidance, the other is a horror of pollution. That is not well phrased, but it expresses my meaning. I am 'free to confess' as the Americans say that our work does not explain the origin of exogamy. I do not take the Murdu legend as of any weight, & am quite content to begin with the two primary classes having exogamy ready made when they first come into my ken. They who delight in such skirmishes may fight about how they came to be divided with that law. It is enough for me to take them as I first see them, & to follow these onward. I do not go behind the first two classes, & never meant to do so. The misunderstanding has arise from my words about Morgan's theory; & those words have an "If" before them. 

Believe me yours very truly

Lorimer Fison


[1] A.W. Howitt and Lorimer Fison. 1883. 'From Mother-Right to Father-Right' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 12, (1883), pp. 30-46

[2] Edward Coode Hore (1848-1912) FRGS seaman and scientist, see here.


Fison 27

Navulao, Fiji. Jan. 26. 1883

My dear Sir,

I was very glad to receive your letter of Nov. 5, which reached me by last mail.

As far as I know, everywhere in the S. Seas there is avoidance of the father in law as well as of the mother in law -- not indeed actual avoidance, but some distinction of address &c between him & other mortals. Where the avoidance of the mother in law does not arise from a notion that contact brings pollution, there does not seem to be any perceptible difference between it & that of the father in law. But I am not acquainted with the American evidence, but I think it very likely that from what you say that the tribes there have not that notion, & therefore no difference may be perceptible there, just as none is perceptible in Fiji. But where that notion prevails the distinction is unmistakable. It may have prevailed in former days among the tribes who are without it now. They may have lost it.

There is another point which I am anxious to clear up, & in which you misunderstood me. You have said in complimentary words, which are very pleasing & encouraging to me, that the difficulty of accounting for the first step towards exogamy is clearly shown by the fact that I have to call in supernatural interference in order to account for it. I have referred to this once or twice before, but there is a point connected with it which I don't think I have mentioned. It is this. I said that if men were ever in that "utter depth of savagery" &c & you seem to have taken this as referring to mere intersexual promiscuity. But it meant a lower depth than that. I was thinking of what Mr. McLennan's words point to -- not a horde of savages living it [sic] utter communism, but a herd of semi-human beasts [insert] creatures [end insert] "joint companions of the same cave or grove." If they were ever in that state, then &c [sic]

But I never for a moment believed that they ever were in that sate, nor did I believe that they ever habitually practised utter communism. My part of K. & K. has to do with the underlying organization, not with the practise of its rules & its license. The rules prohibitive are still effective, the permissive license could never have been the everyday practice. And a thousand things would lend to restrict it more & more as time went on. But I think the evidence is showing that it underlies present practice, & that occasional assertions & exercise of it take place by common consent.

The turndun, as you remark, is a difficulty. But one is perpetually being "brought up all standing" in these studies. I should say the alternative of former propinquity is the easier of the two. There is no difficulty in the way of supposing that the Australians originally came from Asia along the Malay peninsula, or by an easier route where the geographical features of this part of the world were different from what they are now. And Central Africa is going to tell us some very extraordinary stories, which may account for some puzzling things, and furnish us with a fine stock of new puzzles.

You will be glad to hear that I have got at length to the very bottom of that stone-enclosure affair. To my intense delight it turned out to be the Great Mystery of Initiation -- the Australian "making young men". And I believe Codrington's Melanesian Secret Societies will turn out to be the very same thing, modified by the presence of a real money currency. This great mystery is simply the admission of young men into [insert] full membership in [end insert] the community with all sorts of mysterious ceremonies, & in some case most painful ordeals of torture. The promiscuity indulged during the continuance of the ceremony is confirmed. I have had an immense deal of trouble with it, owing to the difficulty of getting the natives to reveal such awful mysteries, & have had to conduct the inquiry at second hand. I found that young men could not get at the best particulars for me. They got many things, but the old folks would not tell them about the matters concerning which I was most anxious to get information. So I set a grave & reverend native minister to work, instructing him to employ some old trustworthy friend of his from a tribe akin to that in which the secret lay. And, what with one & another, a bit here & a bit there, I have been able to piece the whole thing tolerably well together. Certain points still require looking up. When that is done, I will send you a carefully drawn up statement of the whole affair, together with an original drawing of the Enclosure made by one of my old students which will interest you. The form & arrangement differ from those of the sketch I sent you, which was roughly made from verbal descriptions of a native. But it seems the place of the Enclosure differs in different tribes.

I gave you Codrington's statement in his own words -- that about "mothers in the plural". Your interpretation of it is perfectly correct, & you may be sure the statement is thoroughly to be relied on. That is to say that there is no mistake about the native's information. The native was one of their deacons, who had been trained as a boy in the mission school at Auckland or Norfolk Is. & then sent out to the work. Naturally he knew nothing about the things & therefore had no predisposition towards mistake. He made the inquiry at Codrington's request from certain old natives. Codrington himself was an unbeliever previously, but I think his scepticism is removed. Several years ago I told him he would be sure to come across evidence some day which would convert him to my theory -- though perhaps that is indicating rather too wide a conclusion. However, I am quite content to go on hammering away at the facts. They will bring the truth out much more effectively than controversy. We shall have some new ones to present before long.

I wrote to Codrington a preposterously long letter -- some 18 pp. -- to await his arrival in England at his cottage, Wadham, Oxford. It was all about a new memoir of Howitt's & mine entitled "Attic Demes & Australian Hordes" -- a title which is simply a peg whereon to hang a number of things. I have just finished my part -- 38 pages. It goes next mail to Howitt for the insertion of his facts. [1]

I told you, I think, of the discovery of the two Kamilaroi primary divisions -- Dilbi = Ipai-Kumbu, & Kupathin = Muri-Kubi. The probability that all these class names are "Major Totems" is getting stronger & stronger. At all events that each class has a major totem which includes the minor totems in its subdivisions. The New Britain divisions Pikalaba, & Maramara, have two kinds of grasshoppers, or locusts, as their badges.

As to Julius Pollux or γενος [2] as bearing upon the passage in Becker's Charitiles [?], I waded through a heap of Greek at the Melb'n Public Library, where I went up with my wife & family, in order to satisfy my mind on the matter, & came away with a feeling of personal hostility against the grammarians & the orators. But it is clear to me that great confusion has arisen from the fact that γενος is used with two meanings -- one being the gens, & the other, a particular kind of relationship which J.P. fortunately defines quite clearly. His definition of γεννητπ which seems to me have done all the mischief, owing to Niebuhr's having translated γενει μεν ου ποο?ηκοντες by "noway akin", [3] evidently means no more than the following, according to his own definition of γενος "Gennetes did indeed belong to a certain division of the community called a γενος, but they had not to one another the relationship which are now understood by the word γενος. & by this I mean to say that they were not brothers to one another, nor brothers' sons, nor fathers & sons, nor grandfathers & grandsons". This means that they were not connected by the very closest bloodtie in a single line -- not that they were "noway akin", & still less can it be taken as an "express denial of common descent", as Niebuhr elsewhere says. This double meaning of the word γενος seems to solve a good many difficulties. But is it not strange that the notions of relationship held by a [insert] Greek [end insert] writer near the end of the 2nd century of the Xtian [Christian] era, should be taken as definitely determining those of men who lived [insert] many [end insert] centuries before when the Kin was the basis of society? All this comes out of "Attic Denes &c". I am convinced of two things. First that the genos was a true genealogical clan, & second that there is no evidence that it was exogamous in any historic time. The passage from Charikles means only that marriage was not permitted among those (male & female) who were related as above.

The conviction grows upon me that we shall have to reconsider some of our notions about savages which seem to be accepted as axioms. That they "have no idea of morality", I suppose nobody will assert nowadays. And I think we shall be compelled to allow that we have underrated their intellect as well as their moral sense. The more I understand of their minds the greater respect I have for them. Their stock of ideas is not large, but they make a very respectable use of what they have, & I have seen nothing in the lowest savage who has ever come under my view which could justify the assertions of low intelligence which I so frequently see in books. They are as groundless as was that of a Presbyterian minister during a discussion in the Melbourne Presbyterian Assembly a few months ago, that the heathen could not be saved because "they have not an atom of morality".

What has surprised me, & led me to further inquiry along this line, is the indisputable fact that Australians, of no very high type qua Australians, do actually discuss reformatory measures", and the conclusion I am coming to is this. They do not start new theories spontaneously; but, when their circumstances cease to fit in with the old theory, they begin to discuss, & to reason after their own fashion, as to the propriety of new lies of action into which they have [insert] are [end insert] being forced. That is to say, it is the circumstances which start the discussion, not the discussion which results in a change of circumstances. But the reasoning is beyond dispute, & in one most amusing case an old black fellow used precisely & exactly the very argument about the child belonging to the father, not to the mother, which Euripides puts into the mouth of Orestes. And the women said "Just so!" with full assent. It may be that our minds are too "logically constituted" for us to understand savages easily, though really a good many people of my acquaintance are not very grievously afflicted with that complaint. But what I mean is this -- we see a certain fact in savagery, & its apparent consequence depends upon the medium through which we look at the fact, & as long as that medium is our own experience & inherited notions, we may be quite sure that we shall see something quite different from what the savage does. But I am drifting into a disquisition. I am quite alone here now, my wife & children being in Melbourne, & when I get the pen in hand, & quiet around me, I am apt to go off in a canter, as a sort of makeweight for the lack of conversation. It is terribly lonely. Almost every day boats pass & repass my place some 300 or 400 yards away, but very rarely does any one call, & I don't see a white face, or hear an English word, for weeks together.

How I wish somebody would coin a word for the totemic division, with descent through females! Guard "class" as you will, the notion of agnative comes in, & of a localised body of people. Would "folks laugh too consumedly" altogether if we took "Totemy" with its convenient plural Totemies. I have been hankering after it for years, but was too big a coward to use it. I really believe, though people would laugh at first, the term would soon be adopted; & it would be so clear & unmistakable, if it were kept strictly to the division with maternal descent, while "clan" would be well enough for the other. Where the clan has a totem or totems, it might be called a "totemic clan", but never a totem. The adjective totemic has seemingly been swallowed without so much as a wry face, & why not the noun also? Howitt wants to use Totem simply, but there we have confusion, the same word, signifying the badge, & the [insert] group of [end insert] people who bear it. It is γενος and γενος over again -- & some grammarian of future centuries may write a misleading note upon it -- & then, some seventeen [insert] sixteen [end insert] centuries after he has written some Niebuhr of the future may be shunted off the track, & drag after him a train two generations long. I really think I will try Totemy in the very next paper. I would do it without a moment's hesitation if I were sure you would give it your support or at least your sufferance. I feel sure it would go down. People would be obliged to swallow it, though perhaps at first with as bad grace as Pistol his leek -- "I eat, & eat I swear." But if it go fairly down, what does the swearing matter? You will doubtless see Mr. Codrington in England, & he will have the benefit of your advice as to his Melanesian languages paper. 

Believe me, my dear Sir,

Yours most sincerely

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D


[1] A.W. Howitt and Lorimer Fison. 1885. 'On the Deme and the Horde' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 14, (1885), pp. 141-169

[2] Julius Pollux '(Ἰούλιος Πολυδεύκης, Ioulios Poludeukes) (2nd century) was a Greek grammarian and sophist'.

[3] Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776-1831) Danish-German statesman and historian, Germany's leading historian of Ancient Room and founding father of modern scholarly historiography according to wikipedia


Fison 28

Navuloa, Fiji, 14 April '83

My dear Sir,

I was glad to receive your letter of Jan 22, though sorry to hear that the nose flute met with such barbarous treatment. I console myself with the hope that the duplicate I sent by the Rev. Hutton will reach you totus teres atque rotundus [1] if not I will ask Mr. Des Voeux to send you a third in the sacred Govt. Despatch bag, which not even the most sacrilegiously inclined P.O. [2] official dare violate. Anyhow, I will get one safe to you, or "bust", as the Yankees say. Will not an address in London be safer?

I did not give you the suggestion about the mound as the reason, but only as one of the possible reasons, of the meaning attached to its height. All sorts of such things occur to one's mind in connection with these matters, & it is well to note them all, & see if they will fit in elsewhere. Btu after all, the question here is not "Why one should build one's house on a mound", but why the high mound should be indicative of rank, the god's mound being highest of all. I observe that the "high places" of the old Test. are taken as if they must of necessity be hilltops. Josiah & other iconoclastic kings must have found a considerable difficulty in destroying, & breaking down, & burning, & stamping to powder, such heights. Surely they were teocalli = our Fijian yavu the there (high house mound) e.g. "the high places of the gates that were in the entering of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man's left hand at the gate of the city". (8 Kings XXIII 8.) These were evidently two yavu of one Burekalon (spirt house) just within the city. Doubtless hilltops also were used, but my notion is that in general the high places were our high yavu, sometimes several "storeys" high, like the great grave of Bel.

That reminds me of a pamphlet on the Australian Aborigines written by a Mr. Fraser, the Head ..tre of the Inst. Ethographique in these regions. [3] It gained the prize offered by the Royal So. [Society] of N.S. [New South] Wales. I received a copy by last mail from Fraser, & read it with an amazement amounting almost to awe. He connects the Australians with Ham in the queerest manner. Wherever he can find the most distant similarity of mere sound in two far distant words, he sees proof positive of intimate connection. Thus he connects the Gippsland turndun with the Sanskrit Dri. Turndun, he "thinks", shd [should] by written durum-dur. (There is not the slightest foundation for this beyond his mere conjecture). Then there is a sort of good spirit called Darumulun. The root of both Durrumdun & Darumulun is Dar, & this is evidently the Sanskrit Dri. Again, he finds our old friends Kumbo & Kubi on the banks of the Nile in Kam, "the inscriptional word for Egypt", in the "gip" of Aiguptos. He might as we'll connect Bellows with Bel and Osiris. The pamphlet is the most extraordinary production I ever read. Howitt has become the residuary legatee of one or two of the rejected memoirs. One of them is going, or has gone, to you with his notes &c. He sent me a rough copy. The facts are very interesting & valuable. I wanted him to go in for the prize, but he said several of his correspondents were trying for it, so he would stand aside. I am glad now that he did not yield to my urging, for judging from the wonderful memoir which gained it, he would have stood no chance of success.

I did not suppose that you "denied a connection between the class system & divisions & the marriage system." My remarks referred to [insert] d. [end insert] McLennan, & to our Spectator Reviewer, who is said to be Dr. Laing.

I went 20 miles the week before last to meet some of the mountaineers in order to complete my enquiries about the Initiation ceremony. But to my great disappointment there was only one young man among them belonging to the tribe I wanted. he had been only twice into the stone enclosure & could not give me any further information. I must either send you the thing incomplete, or wait until I can catch an old man.

Mr Wake has sent me a copy of his paper on Papuans & Polynesians. [4] I confess I am not deeply interested in it. Colour, hair, & skull seem to me, from my limited knowledge to be deceptive. Many of the Australians are quite bright copper coloured & have reddish hair & beards. I should certainly not say that they are smooth-haired (p. 2) [insert] unless smooth here apply to any hair which is not "frizzly" [end insert] The Fijian hair, as I think I told you before is not frizzly naturally, but purplish black & with a wave or ripple in it. It is the lime they put on it which burns it to a reddish brown. And the shape of the skull is almost everywhere in these seas altered during infancy by pressure, sometimes lateral, & sometimes applied to the back of the head so as to make it straighter [insert] [drawing] The entire shape of the skull must be altered by this [end insert] I observe "the extremely dolichocephalous mountaineers of Fiji" referred to on p. 4. Did you ever tell Prof. Flower of the way in which that peculiarity is produced? However I daresay important results may be obtained from these inquiries, if care be taken to ascertain [insert] all [end insert] the facts. Of one thing I am quite sure, & that is the artificial character of skull shape in these seas, & therefore I do not see much force or arguments proceeding upon it.

Howitt sent me a copy of Nature with his reply to D. McLennan's attack. I am very glad now of the mistake which led me to withhold my own. It is better to go on collecting facts as Darwin did. Howitt is still working away at the Australian & I get from him every now & then most interesting pieces of information obtained. He is a wonderful man. His industry & perseverance are positively astounding. He prods his correspondents unceasingly till he gets out of them all there is to be extracted. The information as to the "accessory wives" is especially valuable & I think will make many things clear -- among them polyandry.

My last letter was a long one about "Attic Demes & Australian Hordes". I am curious to know what you think about it. Howitt has the ms, & is putting in his facts. I don't know what we shall do with it when it is finished, as I fear it will be 45 or 50 4to pp of ms.

Our people are making the most of my few remaining months here; & have set me Fijian book writing. This keeps me very hard at work, & I have little time for anything else. They promised me a year's rest at the end of this year -- my 20th in their service -- & I now find that a plot is being hatched to give me a big book, & a lot of Revision to do in the year of rest! What I shall do after that year, I cannot tell. But, I fear, little or no anthropological work.

Yours very truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D

[1] 'totus teres atque rotundus' = 'finished and completely rounded off'.

[2] Post Office

[3] John Fraser of Maitland, NSW, who published An Australian Language in Sydney 1892, it is described here as 'His crowning achievement was a comprehensive and authoritative edition of Reverend L.E. Threlkeld's language studies, An Australian Language, published in 1892 (Fraser 1892), a monumental work "hampered by his peculiar theories of racial and linguistic origin" (Gunson 1974, I: 1).'

[4] 'The Papuans and the Polynesians', C. Staniland Wake, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland , Vol. 12, (1883), pp. 197-222


Fison 29

Navuloa 13 June 1883

My dear Sir,

I send you herewith [insert] in a separate package registered [end insert] a watercolour sketch of the Wainimala Stone Enclosure, together with an exact tracing of the drawing made by one of my Fijian students. [1] I asked him why he did not round off the corners, & he said he tried to do so, but the ruler would not make a curved line. The watercolour drawing is by Mr. Leslie J. Walker, a Government official, & is made partly from the ground plan drawn by my native & partly from my description. It can therefore be considered only so approximately correct, but my inquiries have been long continued & very exact, & I have no doubt that the sketch is a fair representation of the reality.

I have sent a pen & ink copy into the mountains for actual inspection by old men who remember the Nanga in all its glory, & I will write out my memoir upon it when I get the reply. I send the sketch now to get it safely out of the way of possible damage by hurricanes, or the abominable insect marauders which drive literary men wild with despair in these regions. The memoir is deferred for further inquiry on about a dozen points on which I am not yet quite satisfied, & it is desirable to secure as full accuracy as possible; for the Nanga is a thing of the past, & if this opportunity be not improved there will never be another in the coming years. Even now the young men are ignorant of many details, & it is very hard to get the old men to disclose them. The old superstitious terror of the wrath of the dead at the betrayal of the secret ceremonies is upon them still. If I could fit myself with a pair of wings, or secure a balloon passage, so as to visit them in person, I could wheedle the secrets out of them, but my wheezy lungs keep me in the lowlands.

It is most lamentable to think of the treasures which will certainly be lost for want of inquiry here. My 20 years' experience has taught me that I know very little of the people; & now that I am by that teaching mystified to learn, I have to go away & leave the field for ever. The next generation will be behind the time. It is only the old natives who are trustworthy informants & in a very few years they will be gone.

The main point connected with the Nanga however is satisfactorily ascertained. Its first object is the performance of the initiatory ceremonies accompanying the admission of youths into membership of the tribe. 

The young man is a born member of the Kin, but he has to be formally admitted as a member of the State, if one may so use the word. I have no doubt in my own mind that your suggestion that the Greek mysteries have their origin in the usage of savage society is correct. Everything connected with them points to that, And the Greek civilization was nearer to the old savagery than our own. Perhaps most people overestimate that civilization as to its depth as regards the community, forgetting that it scarcely penetrated below the upper educated class, & had [insert] much of [end insert] the old savagery beneath it within the community. Is there not much of the same thing even among ourselves?

I had a letter from Mr. Codrington on his way to England. I trust you will be able to get him before the Anth. Inst. & extract many things out of him. What a fine fellow he is! I have asked him to confirm the statement about the "mother," The fact is too valuable to be delayed in circulation.

Howitt is busy with a great Bora, which he has summoned in his capacity as the Great Mysterious Elder. The blacks responded to his summons in large numbers, & came from east & west & south & north like the array in response to the summons of "Lars Porsenna of Clusium". [2] We expect great things from the assembly. One thing I may justly pride myself upon. Though I have done but little anthropological work myself, I have stirred up those two men Howitt & Codrington, & got them to work in their respective fields. Their light sheds some of its radiance upon me, & I rejoice in it beyond measure. It is most delightful to note the success which attends their labours.

Codrington tells me he has written a long paper on S. Sea numerals for transmission to the Institut through Fraser, at that gentleman's urging. Fraser has asked me to send a paper on the Fijians, but his Essay on the Australians has put me out of conceit with the Society. When a man finds in Ipai, Kumbo &c the four nations of Chedorlaomer's kingdom, & supports his theory by asserting Kumbo to be the inscriptional Kam, & Kubi to be the second syllable of Aiguptos, I feel personally humiliated by my connection with him. I have told him he might as well connect Bellows with Bel & Osiris, & he thinks I am envious of his success with the N.S.W. Royal Society!

I have read with great interest the memoir fathered by Howitt & sent it to you. There are many valuable facts in it. Especially the fact of the young men crouching down, & covering their heads, when addressing an Elder. I halted between two opinions as to the origins of the similar practice in Fiji. But the Australian custom seems to settle the question in favour of respect to the elders, of which the chiefs become the objects when chieftainship becomes hereditary.

A new fact -- new to me -- came under my notice the other day. I found an old spear with a human thumb-nail attached to one of the barbs, & the natives told me it used to be the custom for a son to thus honour the memory of his dead father. The nail also gave force, speed, & accuracy of flight to the weapon. It was a connecting link between it [insert] the spear [end insert] & the departed spirit.

Two or three days ago I received a formal notice that I had been elected an Honorary Member of the Anthropological Society of Washington. This unexpected honour was all the more agreeable in that no fees are extracted from the elect. I have to pay 31/6 for my French distinction, which I would gladly dispose of at a considerable discount, such is the effect upon me of our Deligué Générale essay. 

The English distinction seems (& very properly so) to be more difficult of attainment. I prize the American one because I take it to be a grateful recognition of my battlings on behalf of their Morgan. I hope before long to send you the Nanga memoir. The delay is annoying to me, but it will secure accuracy, & no pains are lost where are spent in that end.

Yours very truly Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D


[1] This watercolour sketch and tracing do not appear to have survived in the Tylor papers

[2] Lars Porsena


Fison 30

I have posted the N.H. flute to you addressed University Museum, Oxford [1]

Navuloa, Fiji, 26 July '83

My dear Sir,

Your letter of April 6 came in yesterday, & gives me much pleasure. It never occurred to me to give passing vessels my blessing after the fashion of your Cape Malea caloyers, [2] & I fear our seamen here would not value the benediction if I were to bestow it. There is something queer in the caloyer country out at the summons of the steam whistle--much as if we were to get [insert] see [end insert] the Nanga ceremonies performed under the electric light. But the queerest old superstitions exist side by side with the newest discoveries.

I am glad to hear of your appointment to Oxford, [3] & congratulate the University upon it. If you had gone there a few years ago you would have found there a brother-n-law of mine, George Waring, who would have taken great interest in your work, though he was a linguist rather than an anthropologist. But he thoroughly appreciated, & delighted in, all good work in every line of science. I think my sister still retains the house in which they lived, & [insert] she [end insert] may perhaps return to Oxford, & have the pleasure of making your acquaintance.

Ere now I daresay you have fallen in with Mr. Codrington, & I am sure you will be pleased with him.

As to the Tanganyika words, all I have done is simply to note the fact of their identity with the Fijian. I draw no conclusion excepting that the fact is a singular one. The resemblances seem to be too complete. And yet it is in place-names that we find the oldest words. They do not change with the changes in the current languages. Many such names in these islands are found among tribes whose spoken languages differ very widely indeed. In fact there are comparatively few Fijian names whose etymology can be traced from the language now spoken by the people. In addition to the positive identity of some of the Tanganyika words there is one fact which startled me, & that is the presence of Mu as a prefix to the names of capes. Mua in Fiji is an end, a point, & is applied to a point of land projecting into the water. The chances of possible combination would hardly be so great as to give one fourth of the whole number. Still, all this only produces on my mind the impression of something very singular for which I cannot account, & which seems to me unaccountable. I may say further that even if o no similarity at all between the spoken languages of the two places can be found, this would not seem to me conclusive proof against a possible connection between them in some faraway past when those proper names were current words in the spoken language. Nevertheless I hope you will not suppose I am maintaining that there is some connection between the Central African & the Fijian. I do nothing more than note the similarity, & say that I cannot see how it is to be accounted for. It is to me like one of the curious facts connected with the early Bible history which I have to lay aside in my mind as topics of conversation with Moses when I meet him. There is an explanation of everything somewhere or other in the Universe, & people would save themselves a great deal of trouble if they were but intent to wait until they got within view of it.

Together with your letter came one from Hutton, telling me that the noseflute I sent by him got cracked during the voyage. There seems to be a fatality about it. However Hutton says he has one of his own which he will send to you in exchange. I daresay it is one I gave him, which I considered inferior to yours, & spoilt by the artists having written his name upon it--FILIMONE TAGIVEITAUA--. If you will let me know whether this be the "werry identikle flute", I will send you another without the makers mark. [4]

I send by this -- or next -- mail another kind of flute which I saw a New Hebrides man blowing at Suva. It may be familiar to you; but it is new to me, & [insert] it [end insert] seemed interesting as a sort of link between the flute & the pipe or flageolet. One of the imported labourers sitting [insert] on a log [end insert] by the wayside at Suva was drawing from it shriller tones than those extracted from the noseflute, but with similar modulations. I asked him if he would sell it, whereunto he responded "Sikapene", & I joyfully forked out the sixpence. He dug his elbow into his companion's ribs as he handed me the flute, & they both rolled off the log in yelling agonies of laughter. They were wonderfully tickled at the simplicity of the white man who gave so readily so extravagant a price. That at least, was my theory. But, about an hour afterwards, as I was going back to my hotel, flute in hand, a compatriot of theirs came up to me, & said in English, "I say Mister, you got moosic belonging to me." "No," sd [said] I, "I bought it from a man. I gave him sixpence for it." "Sixpence ----." Suffice it to say that he devoted the coin to the infernal gods with great energy & fluency. "That fellow -- rogue. He no mossic, that moosic belongin to me. You give one sillin, all right." So I handed over the coin, & went on my way with Bret Harte's description of the childlike & bland Ah Sin with his ways that are dark & his tricks that are vain running through my mind. [5] Subsequently I met the three comrades in the road, & as soon as they caught sight of me they broke out into a yell of laughter, & went doubled up & staggering along the road. The man who spoke English had been in Queensland, & according to the usual fashion had got hold of our language at the dirty end of it. It is really astonishing to hear the imported labourers pour out their acquired stock of blasphemy & filth. 

I sent you a mail or two ago a water color sketch of the Nanga. I had an opportunity of showing a copy of it to an old mountaineer, from whom I subsequently got valuable particulars, & found that it will not do at all. The outer walls are not walls at all, but single stones stuck edgewise in the ground, & the two stone screens before [insert] by [end insert] the gateways in the middle walls have dwindled down to mere breaks in the walls themselves. [Drawing] I got my friend Mr Walker to send me draw me another sketch, which I will send to you together with the Nanga paper, the rough copy of which is nearly completed. I am glad to say that I have been able to trace the habitat of the custom, & find it to extend along a well defined track from the W coast of Navitilevu to the interior, & thence in a thin streak to the S coast. The neighbouring tribes are ignorant of it. It seems to mark a later Melanesian immigration. I have little doubt that it connects with the so called Clubs, or Secret Societies, of Melanesia, & the Dukduk of New Britain -- a fine line of research for anyone who has money & time enough. I will send the sketch of flute to the Oxford University Museum addressed to you. If, when you receive this letter, you find that they are likely to be there before you, it will be easy for you to arrange for having them sent on. Also I hope to send a specimen of the Sacred Bamboo trumpet used in the Nanga ceremony [6] much as the turndun is used in Australia. By the way they make a bullroarer here out of a strip of bamboo, but is a mere child's toy. The bamboo trumpet either has water in it, or its mouth is partially immersed in water when it is blown - I could not make out which was the actual fact. I got a man to blow a landcrab trap which is made like the trumpet, & it produced a hollow blare. This was without water. I could get nothing out of it myself excepting a hoarse sigh, though I put wind enough into it to turn a mill. The N. Heb. flute also was silent in my hands; &, what is more curious still, my Fijian lads cannot extract its tone out of it. While [insert] I was [end insert] writing there [insert] foregoing [end insert] my assistant tutor, a Fijian native, came in. He is an accomplished performer on the nose flute, & I tested by him the flutes I sent you. For the past ten minutes he has been sitting on the floor at my side vainly endeavouring to get a squeak out of the N.H. instrument. This I take as proof positive that the Fijians are as incapable of playing it as we are. 

I forgot to say that I am having a sketch map of Naviti-levu drawn by one of the Gov't surveyors, showing the country of the Nanga.

The paper you were printing in the Anthrop. Journal is Howitt's solely. [7] He has the Australian work now in his own hand, & he is doing it splendidly. I have just returned to him his account of the Initiatory ceremony at which he was present during the great Kuringal summoned by himself, and lately held at Bega N.S.W. Another, further on, is arranged for which will take in the Kamilaroi country. If he had leisure, & a little money, he would be able to work his way round the continent from Kurinjal (Bora) to Kuringal. He is the acknowledged Biambau = Rabbi, or Master, & is held in the greatest reverence. I tell him he ought to have a revelation that, owing to the introduction of white man's biscuit, the ancestors no longer require the novices' teeth to be knocked out. You will be delighted with his account of the Kuringal, & especially with the discovery that the lewd dances are actually moral lectures delivered in pantomime. The more I learn of savages they more I respect them.

As to the Attic Demes &c, your advice is precisely in accord with my own judgment. It was only at Howitt's strong urgings that I went into the subject. He has an opinion of my classical knowledge which is not by any means supported by my own consciousness. But I don't think you will find that we have been very venturesome. I don't know when Howitt will finish his part; but I have arranged that when the thing is complete, it shall be submitted to Dr. Hearn of the Melb'ne University author of the "Aryan Household" who will put his finger on any fault in my part of the work. I have been very careful, & have taken a world of trouble with it. However it will go to you when it is done, & the kindest thing you can do for us will be to suppress it, if it deserves suppressing. You need never be afraid of giving me wholesome advice such as that of your last letter on this point. I am most heartily & sincerely thankful for it. Sir H. Maine [8] did not send me his pamphlet, at least I have not received it. His "new volume" so kindly sent by you has not reached me yet. I thank you for it by anticipation. [9]

Mikluko Maklay's "cannibal experiences" may perhaps require a grain or two of salt. [10] His statement sounds to me like one of a similar kind made by a traveller here who described the condition of a hardset tribe which was closely pressed in its last stronghold as the normal condition of the Fijians. I have not been able to find out what the Baron has done beyond measuring natives' heads. He stayed some days with Howitt, but my friend could get nothing out of him.

Yours most truly

Lorimer Fison

Edward B. Tylor Esq LL.D


[1] In this postscript Fison confirms that he has sent the N.H. [New Hebrides] flute to Tylor at the University Museum. This flute does not appear to have been donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum either marked as being from Fison, or from Tylor.]

[2] 'Caloyer' according to the OED is a Greek monk. Cape Malea is in the Peloponnese. 

[3] Tylor's appointment as Keeper of the University Museum (Tylor had, in the interim, obviously written to tell Fison of his appointment as Keeper of the University Museum)

[4] The Fijian flute from Rev. Hutton appears to be 1884.111.35 as this has this maker's mark, it had previously been attributed to Henry Nottidge Moseley or to the founding collection but clearly was field collected by Fison, sent to Hutton, who then sent it to Tylor from whom the museum, at some point, received it.

[5] Bret Harte (1836-1902) was an American poet, the poem referred to was first published as 'Plain language from truthful James' and later 'The Heathen Chinee', Fison's quote comes from the first verse, see here

[6] See 'The Nanga, or Sacred Stone Enclosure, of Wainimala, Fiji.' by Fison, read by Tylor at a meeting of the Anthropological Institute (in which Tylor was in the chair) on February 26, 1884, published in Journal of the Anthropological Institute... vol 14 (1885) pp. 14-31

[7] Possibly A.W. Howitt and Lorimer Fison. 1883. 'Notes on the Australian Class Systems' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 12, (1883), pp. 496-512

[8] Henry James Summer Maine (1822-1888) English comparative jurist and historian

[9] Presumably Dissertations on Early Law and Custom: Chiefly Selected from Lectures Delivered at Oxford, John Murray, 1883.

[10] Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888) 


See here for part 3 of the Fison letters in the PRM ms collections.

Transcribed by AP January / August 2013.

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