Rituals preceding wars often take the form of rather elaborate pantomimes, also based upon the idea of sympathetic magic. The dancers pretend to steal upon their foes, to discover and chase them, finally to slaughter them and join in the march of victory. These ceremonies are often like the pictures painted round a vase, merely a succession of incidents that might begin anywhere. Sometimes, however, a more subtle arrangement is contrived, with the outlines of a real plot. From one of the tribes of Sumatra comes a war play with a dramatic situation, though still no words are required. The scene is some distance from the place where a battle has been in progress. A weary warrior sits on the ground, plucking a thorn from his foot. His weapons are lying near, and he keeps a sharp lookout. In spite of his watchfulness, however, one of his enemy (supposedly) creeps up stealthily from behind and attacks him. He makes what defense he is able, but he is soon overcome, receiving the death wound and going through gruesome contortions. At last his head is cut off and the victor holds it up in triumph; but, as now for the first time the assailant has a clear view of the face, he discovers that he has killed not one of the enemy, but his own brother. There follows a lengthy portrayal of grief and remorse.

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This article was originally published in A Short History of the Drama. Martha Fletcher Bellinger. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1927. pp. 3-8.


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