The Euahlayi Tribe; a study of aboriginal life in Australia - K. Langloh Parker - ebook

The Euahlayi Tribe; a study of aboriginal life in Australia ebook

K. Langloh Parker



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Titel: The Euahlayi Tribe; a study of aboriginal life in Australia

von Augustus J. Thebaud, Charles Kingsley, Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, Joseph Butler, John D. Barry, William Allan Neilson, Henry Rider Haggard, Rudolf Erich Raspe, Paul Heyse, Carl Russell Fish, Tom Taylor, Margaret Pedler, Homer, John Kendrick Bangs, John Burroughs, Juanita Helm Floyd, Maurice Liber, Anthony Trollope, William Morris, Mark Twain, Charles Dudley Warner, Thomas Hobbes, Winfried Honig, Albrecht Dürer, Militia of Mercy . Gift Book Committee, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Andrew Lang, Katharine Pyle, Sir Samuel White Baker, Frederic William Moorman, the Younger Pliny, Samuel Butler, William Dean Howells, Harold MacGrath, Joseph Crosby Lincoln, Ralph Connor, Various, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Abraham Lincoln, John Galsworthy, Ian Maclaren, Charlotte Mary Yonge, Sir Owen Morgan Edwards, Robert J. C. Stead, Harold Bell Wright, Eleanor H. 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Edward Hayes, Eugène Sue, Earl of Philip Dormer Stanhope Chesterfield, Robert Smythe Hichens, Bliss Perry, Isabella L. Bird, Stewart Edward White, Roald Amundsen, Viscount James Bryce Bryce, Francis Hopkinson Smith, Annie Hamilton Donnell, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jean-Henri Fabre, Marcus Andrew Hislop Clarke, Marietta Holley, W. E. Gladstone, Ellis Parker Butler, Booth Tarkington, G. A. Henty, E. L. Voynich, Anonymous, Francis Leggett, Charles Alfred Tyrrell, Josef Cohen, Jules Verne, Zane Grey, Mary Baker Eddy, Albert Bigelow Paine, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Ouida, Joseph Furphy, Harry Leon Wilson, Sir Hugh Walpole, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Fay Inchfawn, E. Pauline Johnson, Abraham Merritt, James Sheridan Knowles, Herbert George Jenkins, Richard Hakluyt, Georges Victor Legros, J. M. Barrie, Dana Gatlin, Padraic Colum, Lucy Fitch Perkins, Heinrich Heine, Louisa May Alcott, John Ceiriog Hughes, Henry Van Dyke, Laurence Housman, Ludwig van Beethoven, Stephen Leacock, Watkin Tench, E. Nesbit, Edward William Bok, graf Leo Tolstoy, Giacomo Casanova, Oliver Goldsmith, Raffaello Carboni, Orville O. Hiestand, Abraham Cowley, Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, Louis Constant Wairy, Michel de Montaigne, Edward Salisbury Field, Guy de Maupassant, Doris Stevens, Hamilton Brock Fuller, Anna Chapin Ray, Wilkie Collins, Robert Tressell, Victoria Cross, William Guthrie, Alexandre Dumas père, Mary Jane Holmes, Charles Darwin, J. Hartley Manners, Sir James George Frazer, Sir Adolphus William Ward, James Hamilton, Theodore Dreiser, Kathleen Thompson Norris, William Henry Knight, Arnold Bennett, Cosmo Hamilton, Voltaire, Molière, Winston Churchill, Alexander Mackenzie, Joseph A. Altsheler, Maria Edgeworth, Florence L. Barclay, Mary E. Bamford, Frank Harris, Harold Bindloss, Alfred Henry Lewis, Charles Reade, United States. Central Intelligence Agency, Charles Ives, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, Marion Polk Angellotti, Steele Rudd, Louis Stone, J. C. F. 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James, Bram Stoker, John Buchan, Maksim Gorky, Mabel Thorne, Paul Thorne, Henry Kingsley, Mrs. Inchbald, J. Cuthbert Hadden, James Lane Allen, Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, L. M. Montgomery, R. H. Gronow, of Youghal the younger Joseph Fisher, Benedictus de Spinoza, Henry Seton Merriman, J. H. Patterson, Clinton W. Gilbert, Evelyn Blantyre Simpson, F. Marion Crawford, Louis Becke, K. Langloh Parker

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The Euahlayi Tribe

A Study of Aboriginal Life in Australia


K. Langloh Parker




































By one of the Euahlayi Tribe (Omitted from etext)



No introduction to Mrs. Langloh Parker's book can be more than that superfluous 'bush' which, according to the proverb, good wine does not need. Our knowledge of the life, manners, and customary laws of many Australian tribes has, in recent years, been vastly increased by the admirable works of Mr. Howitt, and of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen. But Mrs. Parker treats of a tribe which, hitherto, has hardly been mentioned by anthropologists, and she has had unexampled opportunities of study. It is hardly possible for a scientific male observer to be intimately familiar with the women and children of a savage tribe. Mrs. Parker, on the other hand, has had, as regards the women and children of the Euahlayi, all the advantages of the squire's wife in a rural neighbourhood, supposing the squire's wife to be an intelligent and sympathetic lady, with a strong taste for the study of folklore and rustic custom. Among the Zulus, we know, it is the elder women who tell the popular tales, so carefully translated and edited by Bishop Colenso. Mrs. Parker has already published two volumes of Euahlayi tales, though I do not know that I have ever seen them cited, except by myself, in anthropological discussion. As they contain many beautiful and romantic touches, and references to the Euahlayi 'All Father,' or paternal 'super man,' Byamee, they may possibly have been regarded as dubious materials, dressed up for the European market. Mrs. Parker's new volume, I hope, will prove that she is a close scientific observer, who must be reckoned with by students. She has not scurried through the region occupied by her tribe, but has had them constantly under her eyes for a number of years.

My own slight share in the book as it stands ought to be mentioned. After reading the original MS., I catechised Mrs. Parker as to her amount of knowledge of the native language; her methods of obtaining information; and the chances that missionary influence had affected the Euahlayi legends and beliefs. I wrote out her answers, and she read and revised what I had written. I also collected many scattered notices of Byamee into the chapter on that being, which Mrs. Parker has read and approved. I introduced a reference to Mr. Howitt's theory of the 'All Father,' and I added some references to other authorities on the Australian tribes. Except for this, and for a very few purely verbal changes in matter of style, Mrs. Parker's original manuscript is untouched by me. It seems necessary to mention these details, as I have, in other works, expressed my own opinions on Australian religion and customary law. [MAKING OF RELIGION, second edition; MYTH, RITUAL, AND RELIGION, second edition.] These opinions I have not, so to speak, edited into the work of Mrs. Parker. The author herself has remarked that, beginning as a disciple of Mr. Herbert Spencer in regard to the religious ideas of the Australians—according to that writer, mere dread of casual 'spirits'—she was obliged to alter her attitude, in consequence of all that she learned at first hand. She also explains that her tribe are not 'wild blacks,' though, in the absence of missionary influences, they retain their ancient beliefs, at least the old people do; and, in a decadent form, preserve their tribal initiations, or Boorah. How she tested and controlled the evidence of her informants she has herself stated, and I venture to think that she could hardly have made a better use of her opportunities.

In one point there is perhaps, almost unavoidably, a lacuna or gap in her information. The Euahlayi, she says, certainly do not possess the Dieri and Urabunna custom of Pirrauru or Piraungaru, by which married, and unmarried men, of the classes men and women which may intermarry, are solemnly allotted to each other as more or less permanent paramours. [See Mr. Howitt's NATIVE TRIBES OF SOUTH-EAST AUSTRALIA, and my SECRET OF THE TOTEM, chapter iii.] That custom, for some unknown reason, is confined to certain tribes possessing the two social divisions with the untranslated names MATTERI and KIRARU. These tribes range from Lake Eyre southward, perhaps, as far as the sea. Their peculiar custom is unknown to the Euahlayi, but Mrs. Parker does not inform us concerning any recognised licence which may, as is usual, accompany their Boorah assemblies, or their 'harvest home' of gathered grass seed, which she describes.

Any reader of Mrs. Parker's book who has not followed recent anthropological discussions, may need to be apprised of the nature of these controversies, and of the probable light thrown on them by the full description of the Euahlayi tribe. The two chief points in dispute are (1) the nature and origin of the marriage laws of the Australians; and (2) the nature and origin of such among their ideas and practices as may be styled 'religious.' As far as what we commonly call material civilisation is concerned, the natives of the Australian continent are probably the most backward of mankind, having no agriculture, no domestic animals, and no knowledge of metal-working. Their weapons and implements are of wood, stone, and bone, and they have not even the rudest kind of pottery. But though the natives are all, in their natural state, on or about this common low level, their customary laws, ceremonials, and beliefs are rich in variety.

As regards marriage rules they are in several apparently ascending grades of progress. First we have tribes in which each person is born into one or other of two social divisions usually called 'phratries.' Say that the names of the phratries mean Eagle Hawk and Crow. Each born Crow must marry an Eagle Hawk; each born Eagle Hawk must marry a Crow. The names are derived through the mothers. One obvious result is that no two persons, brother and sister maternal, can intermarry; but the rule also excludes from intermarriage great numbers of persons in no way akin to each other by blood, who merely share the common phratry name, Crow or Eagle Hawk.

In each phratry are smaller sets of persons, each set distinguished by the name of some animal or other natural object, their 'totem.' The same totem is never found in both phratries. Thus a person marrying out of his or her phratry, as all must do, necessarily marries out of his or her totem.

The same arrangements exist among tribes which derive phratry and totem names through the father.

This derivation of names and descent through the father is regarded by almost all students, and by Mr. J. G. Frazer, in one passage of his latest study of the subject, as a great step in progress. ['The Beginnings of Religion and Totemism among the Australian Aborigines,' FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW, September 1905, p. 452.] The obvious result of paternal descent is to make totem communities or kins local. In any district most of the people will be of the same paternal totem name—say, Grub, Iguana, Emu, or what not. Just so, in Glencoe of old, most of the people were MacIans; in Appin most were Stewarts; in South Argyll Campbells, and so on.

The totem kins are thus, with paternal descent, united both by supposed blood ties in the totem kin, and by associations of locality. This is certainly a step in social progress.

But while Mr. Frazer, with almost all inquirers, acknowledges this, ten pages later in his essay he no longer considers the descent of the totem in the paternal line as necessarily 'a step in progress' from descent in the maternal line. 'The common assumption that inheritance of the totem through the mother always preceded inheritance of it through the father need not hold good,'[IBID. p. 462.] he remarks.

Thus it appears that a tribe has not necessarily made 'a great step in progress,' because it reckons descent of the totem on the male side. If this be so, we cannot so easily decide as to which tribe is socially advanced and which is not.

In any case, however, there is a test of social advance. There is an acknowledged advance when a tribe is divided into, not two, but four or eight divisions, which may not intermarry. [IBID. p. 454] The Euahlayi have four such divisions. In each of their intermarrying phratries are two 'Matrimonial Classes,' each with its name, and these are so constituted that a member of the elder generation can never marry a member of the succeeding generation. This rule prevents, of course, marriage between parent and child, but such marriages never do occur in the pristine tribes of the Darling river which have no such classes. The four-class arrangement excludes from intermarriage all persons, whether parents and children or not, who bear the same class name, say Hippai.

Among the central and northern tribes, from the Arunta of the Macdonnell hills to the Gulf of Carpentaria, the eight-class rule exists, and it is, confessedly, the most advanced of all.

In this respect, then, the Arunta of the centre of Australia are certainly more advanced than the Euahlayi. The Arunta have eight, not four, intermarrying classes. In the matter of rites and ceremonies, too, they are, in the opinion of Messrs. Spencer and Gillen, more advanced than, say, the Euahlayi. They practise universal 'subincision' of the males, and circumcision, in place of the more primitive knocking out of the front teeth. Their ceremonies are very prolonged: in Messrs. Spencer and Gillen's experience, rites lasted for four months during a great tribal gathering. That the Arunta could provide supplies for so prolonged and large an assembly, argues high organisation, or a region well found in natural edible objects. Yet the region is arid and barren, so the organisation is very high. For all these reasons, even if we do not regard paternal descent of the totem as a step in progress from maternal descent, the Arunta seem greatly advanced in social conditions.

Yet they are said to lack entirely that belief in a moral and kindly 'All Father,' such as Byamee, which Mrs. Parker describes as potent among the less advanced Euahlayi, and which Mr. Howitt has found among non-coastal tribes of the south-east, with female descent of the totem, but without matrimonial classes—that is, among the most primitive tribes of all.

Here occurs a remarkable difficulty. Mr. Howitt asserts, with Mr. Frazer's concurrence, that (in Mr. Frazer's words) 'the same regions in which the germs of religion begin to appear have also made some progress towards a higher form of social and family life.'['The Beginnings of Religion and Totemism among the Australian Aborigines,' Fortnightly Review, September 1905, p. 452.] But the social advance from maternal to paternal descent of the totem, we have seen, is not necessarily an advance at all, in Mr. Frazer's opinion. [IBID. p. 462.] The Arunta, for example, he thinks, never recognised female descent of the totem. They have never recognised, indeed, he thinks, any hereditary descent of the totem, though in all other respects, as in hereditary magistracies, and inheritance of the right to practise the father's totemic ritual, they do reckon in the male line. By such advantage, however it was acquired, they are more progressive than, say, the Euahlayi. But, progressive as they are, they have not, like the more pristine tribes of the south-east, developed 'the germs of religion,' the belief in a benevolent or ruling 'All Father.' Unlike the tribes of the south-east, they have co-operative totemic magic. Each totem community does magic for its totem, as part of the food supply of the united tribe. But the tribe, though so SOLIDAIRE, and with its eight classes and hereditary magistracies so advanced, has developed no germs of religion at all. Arunta progress has thus been singularly unequal.

The germs of religion are spoken of as the results of social advance, but, while so prominent in social advance, the Arunta have no trace of religion. The tribes northward from them to the sea are also very advanced socially, but (with one known exception not alluded to by Mr. Frazer) have no 'All Father,' no germ of religion.

From this fact, if correctly reported, it is obvious that social progress is not the cause, nor the necessary concomitant, of advance in religious ideas.

Again, the influence of the sea, in causing a 'heavier rainfall, a more abundant vegetation, and a more plentiful supply of food,' with an easier and more reflective life than that of 'the arid wilderness of the interior,' cannot be, as is alleged, the cause of the germs of religion. [IBID. p. 463.] If this were the case, the coastal tribes of the Gulf of Carpentaria and of the north generally would have developed the All Father belief. Yet, in spite of their coastal environment, and richer existence, and social advance, the northern coastal tribes are not credited with the belief in the All Father. Meanwhile tribes with no matrimonial classes, and with female descent of the totem—tribes dwelling from five to seven hundred miles away from the southern sea—do possess the All Father belief as far north as Central Queensland, no less than did the almost or quite extinct tribes of the south coast, who had made what is (or is not) 'the great step in progress' of paternal descent of the totem.

Again, arid and barren as is the central region tenanted by the Arunta, it seems to permit or encourage philosophic reflection, for their theory of evolution is remarkably coherent and ingenious. The theory of evolution implies as much reflection as that of creation! Their magic for the behoof of edible objects is attributed to the suddenness of their first rains,[IBID. p. 465.] and the consequent outburst of life, which the natives attribute to their own magical success. But rainmaking magic, as Mrs. Langloh Parker shows, is practised with sometimes amazing success among the Euahlayi, who work no magic at all for their totems. Their magic, if it brings rain, benefits their totems at large, but for each totem in particular, no Euahlayi totem kin does magic.

Again, agricultural magic has been, and indeed is, practised in Europe, in conditions of climate unlike those of the Arunta; and totemic magic is freely practised in North America, in climatic conditions dissimilar from those of Central Australia.

For all these reasons I must confess that I do not follow the logic of the philosophy which makes social advance the cause of the belief in the All Father, and coastal rains the cause of social advance. The Arunta have the social advance, the eight classes, the relatively high organisation; but they have neither the climatic conditions supposed to produce the advance, nor the religion which the advance is supposed to produce. The northern coastal tribes, again, have the desired climatic conditions, and the social advance, but they have not the germs of religion found in many far inland southern tribes, like the Euahlayi, whose social progress is extremely moderate. We thus find, from the northern coast to the centre, one supposed result of coastal conditions, namely, social progress, but not the other supposed result of coastal conditions, namely, the All Father belief. I do not say that it does not exist, for it is a secret belief, but it is not reported by Messrs. Spencer and Gillen. On the other hand, among tribes of the south-east very far from the coast, we find the lowest grades of social progress, but we also find the All Father belief. I am ready, of course, to believe that good conditions of life beget progress, social and religious, as a general rule. But other causes exist; speculation anywhere may take crudely scientific rather than crudely religious lines. Especially the belief in ancestral spirits may check or nullify the belief in a remote All Father. We see this among the Zulus, where spirits entirely dominate religion, and the All Father is, at most, the shadow of a name, Unkulunkulu. We may detect the same influence among the northern tribes of Australia, where ancestral spirits dominate thought and society, though they receive no sacrifice or prayer. Meanwhile, if we accept Mrs. Parker's evidence, among the Euahlayi ancestral spirits are of no account in religion, while the All Father is obeyed, and, on some occasions, is addressed in prayer; and may even cause rain, if property approached by a human spirit which has just entered his mansions. Clearly, climatic causes and natural environment are not the only factors in producing and directing the speculative ideas of men in early society.

We must also remember that the neighbours of the Arunta, northwards, who share certain peculiar Arunta ideas, possess, beyond all doubt, either the earliest germs of belief in the All Father, or that belief in a decadent condition of survival. This is quite certain; for, whereas the Arunta laugh at all inquiries as to what went before the 'Alcheringa,' or mythic age of evolution, the Kaitish, according to Messrs. Spencer and Gillen, aver that an anthropomorphic being, who dwells above the sky, and is named Atnatu, first created himself, and then 'made the Alcheringa,'—the mythic age of primal evolution. Of mankind, some, in Kaitish opinion, were evolved; of others Atnatu is the father. He expelled men to earth from his heaven for neglect of his ceremonies, but he provided them with weapons and all that they possess. He is not TROS FERRO SUR LA MORALE: he has made no MORAL laws, but his ritual laws, as to circumcision and the whirling of the bull-roarer, must be observed as strictly as the ritual laws of Byamee of the Euahlayi. In this sense of obedience due to a heavenly father who begat men, or some of them, punished them, and started them on their terrene career, laying down ceremonial rules, we have certainly 'the germs of religion' in a central tribe cognate to the Arunta.

Mr. Frazer detects only two traces of religion in the centre, omitting the Kaitish Atnatu, ['The Beginnings of Religion and Totemism among the Australian Aborigines,' FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW, September 1905, p. 452, Note 1.] but I am unable to see how the religious aspect of Atnatu, non-moral as it is, can be overlooked. He is the father of part of the tribe, and all are bound to, observe his ceremonial rules. He accounts for the beginning of the beginning; he is the cause of the Alcheringa; men owe duties to him. We do not know whether he was once as potent in their hearts, and as moral as Byamee, but has DOGRINGOLO under Arunta philosophic influences; or whether Byamee is a more highly evolved form of Atnatu. But it is quite certain that the Kaitish, in a region as far almost from the north sea as that of the Arunta, and further from southern coastal influences than the Arunta, have a modified belief in the All Father. How are we to account for this on the philosophic hypothesis of Oceanus as the father of all the gods; of coastal influences producing a richer life, and causing both social and religious progress?

Another difficulty is that while the Arunta, with no religion, and the Kaitish, with the Atnatu belief, are socially advanced in organisation (whether we reckon male descent of the totem 'a great step in progress,' or an accident), they are yet supposed by Mr. Frazer to be, in one respect, the least advanced, the most primitive, of known human beings. The reason is this: the Arunta do not recognise the processes of sexual union as the cause of the production of children. Sexual acts, they say, merely prepare women for the reception of original ancestral spirits, which enter into them, and are reincarnated and brought to the birth.

If the women cannot accept the spirits without being 'prepared' by sexual union, then sexual union plays a physical part in the generation of a spirit incarnated, a fact which all believers in the human soul are as ready as the Arunta to admit. If the Arunta recognise the prior necessity of 'preparation,' then they are not so ignorant as they are thought to be; and their view is produced, not so much by stark ignorance, as by their philosophy of the eternal reincarnation of primal human spirits. The Arunta philosophers, in fact, seem to concentrate their speculation on a point which puzzled Mr. Shandy. How does the animating principle, or soul, regarded as immaterial, clothe itself in flesh? Material acts cannot effect the incarnation of a spirit. Therefore, the spirit enters women from without, and is not the direct result of human action.

The south-eastern tribes, with female descent of the totem, and with no belief in the universal and constant reincarnation of ancestral spirits, take the 'schylean view, according to Mr. Howitt, that the male is the sole originating cause of children, while the female is only the recipient and 'nurse.' These tribes, socially less advanced than the Arunta, have not the Arunta nescience of the facts of procreation, a nescience which I regard as merely the consequence and corollary of the Arunta philosophy of reincarnation. Each Arunta child, by that philosophy, has been in being since the Alcheringa: his mother of the moment only reproduces him, after 'preparation.' He is not a new thing; he is as old as the development of organic forms. This is the Arunta belief, and I must reckon it as not more primitive than the peculiar philosophy of reincarnation of ancestral spirits. Certainly such an elaborate philosophy manifestly cannot be primitive. It is, however, the philosophy of the tribes from the Urabunna, on Lake Eyre (with female descent of the totem), to the most northerly tribes, with male descent.

But among none of these tribes has the philosophy that extraordinary effect on totemic institutions which, by a peculiar and isolated addition, it possesses among the septs of the Arunta nation, and in a limited way among the Kaitish.

Among all tribes except these the child inherits its totem: from the mother, among the Urabunna; from the father in the northern peoples. But, among the Arunta and Kaitish, the totem is not inherited from either parent. According to the belief of these tribes, in every district there is a place where the first human ancestors—in each case all of one totem, whichsoever that totem, in each case, might happen to be—died, 'went under the earth.' Rocks or trees arose to mark such spots. These places are haunted by the spirits of the dead ancestors; here they are all Grubs, there all Eagle Hawks, or all Iguanas, or all Emus, or all Cats. Or as in these sites the ancestors left each his own sacred stone, CHURINGA NANJA, with archaic patterns inscribed on it, patterns now fancifully interpreted as totemic inscriptions. Such stones are especially haunted by the ancestral souls, all desiring reincarnation.

When a woman becomes aware of the life of the child she bears, among the Arunta and Kaitish, she supposes that a local spirit of the local totem has entered her, and her child's totem is therefore the totem of that locality, whatever other totems she and her husbands may own. The stone amulet of the ancestral spirit, WHO IS THE CHILD, is sought; if it cannot be found at the spot, a wooden CHURINGA is made to represent it, and it is kept carefully in a sacred storehouse.

Even in the centre and north, where the belief in reincarnation prevails, this odd manner of acquiring totems is only practised by the Arunta tribes and the Kaitish, and only among them are the inscribed stones known to exist as favoured haunts of ancestral spirits desiring incarnation. The other northern tribes believe in reincarnation, but not in the haunted sacred stones, which they do not, north of the Worgaia, possess; nor do they derive totems from locality, but, as usual, by inheritance.

It thus appears that these Arunta sacred stones are an inseparable accident of the Arunta method of acquiring the totem. How they and the faith in them cause that method is not obvious, but the two things—the haunted sacred stone, and the local source of totems—are inseparable—that is, the former never is found apart from the latter. Now such stones, with the sense and usage attached to them, cannot well be primitive. They are the result of the peculiar and strictly isolated Arunta custom and belief, which gives to each man and woman one of these stones, the property of himself or herself, since the mythical age, through all reincarnations.

One cannot see how such an unique custom and belief, associated with objects of art, can be reckoned primitive. Yet, where such stones do not exist, the usage of acquiring totems by locality does not exist; even where the belief in reincarnation and in local centres haunted by totemic spirits is found in North Australia. [For an hypothesis of the origin of the CHURINGA NANJA belief, see my SECRET OF THE TOTEM, chapter iv.]