Catholic Dictionary




The religion of the early peoples. Strictly speaking, there are no genuine primitives anywhere on earth today. More accurately, the religion of the ancients was archaic, and of this there is extensive evidence in the artifacts, paintings, and symbolic writings they have left. Primitive religion, properly so-called, is that of present-day peoples whose relative isolation from the major streams of culture suggests their lineage from the chronological ancestors of the human race. Their religious condition, therefore, is on a par with other phases of conduct and knowledge, ranging from the very undeveloped, or decadent, to a fairly advanced type of civilization. Two levels of primitive religions should be distinguished. The lower type either has been less directly affected by one of the major religions or shows less speculative development. It corresponds to animism or fetishism, that is, more emphasis is given to attributing souls to every object and to believing in magic or sorcery. Allowing for exceptions, the following are generally held to profess a lower preliterate religion: the Negritos of the Philippine Islands, various tribes of Micronesia and Polynesia, the Papuans of New Guinea, the black Aruntas of Australia, the Andaman Islanders in the Bay of Bengal, the Kols and Pariahs of Central and Southern India, the Pygmies and Bushmen of the Central Congo Basin, the Caribs of the West Indies, and the Yahgans of the extreme south of South America. On a higher plane are the Samoans and Hawaiians, the Mongols in the Soviet Union, the Veddas of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Bantu of south central and southern Africa, and the Eskimos and Amerinds, or American Indians, in North and South America.