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Modes Of Salutation, And Amicable Ceremonies, Observed In Various Nations
by [?]

When men, writes the philosophical compiler of “L’Esprit des Usages et des Coutumes,” salute each other in an amicable manner, it signifies little whether they move a particular part of the body, or practise a particular ceremony. In these actions there must exist different customs. Every nation imagines it employs the most reasonable ones; but all are equally simple, and none are to be treated as ridiculous.

This infinite number of ceremonies may be reduced to two kinds; to reverences or salutations, and to the touch of some part of the human body. To bend and prostrate oneself to express sentiments of respect, appears to be a natural motion; for terrified persons throw themselves on the earth when they adore invisible beings; and the affectionate touch of the person they salute is an expression of tenderness.

As nations decline from their ancient simplicity, much farce and grimace are introduced. Superstition, the manners of a people, and their situation, influence the modes of salutation; as may be observed from the instances we collect.

Modes of salutation have sometimes very different characters, and it is no uninteresting speculation to examine their shades. Many display a refinement of delicacy, while others are remarkable for their simplicity, or for their sensibility. In general, however, they are frequently the same in the infancy of nations, and in more polished societies. Respect, humility, fear, and esteem, are expressed much in a similar manner, for these are the natural consequence of the organisation of the body.

These demonstrations become in time only empty civilities, which signify nothing; we shall notice what they were originally, without reflecting on what they are.

Primitive nations have no peculiar modes of salutation; they know no reverences or other compliments, or they despise and disdain them. The Greenlanders laugh when they see an European uncover his head, and bend his body before him whom he calls his superior.

The Islanders, near the Philippines, take the hand or foot of him they salute, and with it they gently rub their face. The Laplanders apply their nose strongly against that of the person they salute. Dampier says, that at New Guinea they are satisfied to put on their heads the leaves of trees, which have ever passed for symbols of friendship and peace. This is at least a picturesque salute.

Other salutations are very incommodious and painful; it requires great practice to enable a man to be polite in an island situated in the straits of the Sound. Houtman tells us they saluted him in this grotesque manner: “They raised his left foot, which they passed gently over the right leg, and from thence over his face.” The inhabitants of the Philippines use a most complex attitude; they bend their body very low, place their hands on their cheeks, and raise at the same time one foot in the air with their knee bent.

An Ethiopian takes the robe of another, and ties it about his own waist, so that he leaves his friend half naked. This custom of undressing on these occasions takes other forms; sometimes men place themselves naked before the person whom they salute; it is to show their humility, and that they are unworthy of appearing in his presence. This was practised before Sir Joseph Banks, when he received the visits of two female Otaheitans. Their innocent simplicity, no doubt, did not appear immodest in the eyes of the virtuoso.

Sometimes they only undress partially. The Japanese only take off a slipper; the people of Arracan their sandals in the street, and their stockings in the house.

In the progress of time it appears servile to uncover oneself. The grandees of Spain claim the right of appearing covered before the king, to show that they are not so much subjected to him as the rest of the nation: and (this writer truly observes) we may remark that the English do not uncover their heads so much as the other nations of Europe. Mr. Hobhouse observes that uncovering the head, with the Turks, is a mark of indecent familiarity; in their mosques the Franks must keep their hats on. The Jewish custom of wearing their hats in their synagogues is, doubtless, the same oriental custom.