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Darwin Correspondence Project

From A. B. Meyer   25 April 1872

Manila   Philippin Islands

April 25th 1872

Dear Sir

The following notice will perhaps be of some interest to you:

1) The inhabitants of Luzon, the Tagals, when saying “yes” do not, like we do, bend the head forward, but throw it backwards, while saying oö (yes) or opo (yes sir) I do not know whether this is confined to the Tagals (Tagalocs) or is to be found also with other Malay races.1 I myself did not observe it on Celebes or other parts of the Phil. Islds, but nevertheless am not quite sure of it, as I, before I saw it on Luzon, did not pay special attention to it.

2) All these eastern people of the Malay and Phil. Archipelago, make another movement with the hand, as we do, when they are calling someone and make a sign to him that he shall come. They stretch the arm and bend the hand, and move the fingers or the whole hand towards their body, the outer side of the hand always remaining above.

As I fear I have expressed myself bad in Englisch, I describe the same with other words in German on the following page, knowing you understand German quite well.

Hoping that you enjoy a good health and hoping that I once shall have the honour of speaking to you again

I remain, dear Sir, | as always | Yours sincerely | Adolf Bernhard Meyer

P.S. Letters always reach me care of Messrs Behn Meyer & Co Singapore.

When dissecting an Orang-utan from Borneo, I perceived that the smell of the flesh was not like that of other monkeys, but like that of human flesh.


1) Die Tagalen auf Luzon nicken nicht, wie wir, beim “Ja” sagen mit dem Kopfe, sondern werfen ihn zurück, das Kinn nach vorn.

2) Alle Völker des indischen Archipels machen wenn sie Jemandem winken eine andere Handbewegung als wir. Sie strecken den Arm horizontal nach vorn, steif, u beugen die Hand nach unten. Dann bewegen sie entweder die Finger nur, oder die ganze Hand wiederholt gegen ihren Körper, u bewegen den Arm selbst nur dann, wenn sie ihrer Pantomine einen besonderen Nachdruck geben wollen. Wenn wir winken wie es bei uns üblich ist, so verstehen sie es nicht.2

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘Expression | Attentionblue crayon


Meyer refers to the people native to Luzon, one of the Philippine Islands, and the Austronesian language spoken by them (more usually now referred to as Tagalog (OED)). CD cited Meyer for this information in Expression, p. 275.
Translation: 1) The Tagals of Luzon do not nod their head as we do when saying ‘Yes’ but throw it back, with the chin to the front. 2) All the peoples of the Indian archipelago make a different movement of the hand when waving at someone than we do. They stretch out their arm horizontally in front of them, stiff, and bend the hand downwards. Then they move either their fingers only, or their whole hand, repeatedly towards their body, and move the arm itself only if they want to give special emphasis to their mime. Whenever we wave in our accustomed manner, they do not understand it.


Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.


Sends information on expression: head and hand movements of the Tagals of the Philippines, and of Malaysians.

Letter details

Letter no.
Adolf Bernhard Meyer
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 168
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8300,” accessed on 11 April 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20