Illustrations From Other Cultures
1. PRIMITIVE SOCIOLOGY
As an illustration of the sociological sophistication of a primitive people we may quote the conclusions of Claude Levi-Strauss writing in one of the UNESCO publications: (7)
In all matters touching on the organization of the family and the achievement of harmonious relations between the family groups and the social group, the Australian aborigines, though backward in the economic sphere, are so far ahead of the rest of mankind that, to understand the careful and deliberate system of rules they have elaborated, we have to use all the refinements of modern mathematics. It was they in fact who discovered that the ties of marriage represent the very warp and woof of society, while other social institutions are simply embroideries on the background. . . .
The Australians, with an admirable grasp of the facts, have converted this machinery into terms of theory, and listed the main methods by which it may be produced, with the advantages and drawbacks attaching to each. They have gone further than empirical observations to discover the mathematical laws governing the systems, so that it is no exaggeration to say that they are not merely the founders of general sociology as a whole, but are the real innovators of measurement in the social sciences.
2. GROOM TO LEAVE HOME
Among the Iroquois there existed eight separate tribes, and no member of any one tribe could marry within his or her own tribe. The husband joined the tribe of his wife and the children were all named after her, not after him. As a result all the women of any one tribe remained together and all the children were relatives in a special way, and would receive an inheritance in the same tribal territory. By this means, by requiring that the husband be from another tribe but take up residence with his wife and not the reverse, tribal territories and
7. Levi-Strauss, Claude, Race and History, UNESCO publication, 1952, p.28.
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wealth were preserved intact but the tribal stock itself was constantly regenerated by the introduction of new genes. (8)
It will be remembered that Laban insisted that Jacob ought to remain with him in his territory after marrying his two daughters.
Since there is apt to be a closer emotional attachment between a mother and her son, it naturally leads to more acute jealousy if the son brings a woman into the mother’s house. Hence patrilocal marriage, i.e., marriage in which the woman forsakes her own home and goes to live with her husband’s household, is more rare, particularly where romance enters marriage — which it does in a few cases, though this, too, is rare. As an illustration, we may note that the Reddi, a tribe living in India in the Bison Hills, according to Haimendorf, have adopted the practice of requiring the bride to live in the bridegroom’s house until they can set up house for themselves. Haimendorf comments, (9) “there is usually pretty hard feeling between the mother-in-law and the bride.”
It is not always true that the man leaves his father and mother while the woman stays at home, for very often both leave home and set up house together. The principle is rather that if the couple due to circumstances (lack of house or money) have to live with one of the parents, it is usually with the wife’s family, and where it is not, there are apt to be emotional conflicts. In a few cases the husband goes to live with the wife’s family only until she has borne her first child, after which he takes her away and they set up house independently. According to Driberg, (10) the Lango (Africa) do not require the man to provide a house for his wife until a child is actually born. This is to validate “the contract” which requires that the woman shall give children to her husband. A few cultures, the Hopi of Arizona (11) for example, turn the tables on the husband somewhat by requiring him to stay with the wife’s family until he has proved himself a good provider by fulfilling certain household tasks to their satisfaction, so fulfilling his part of the contract. All of which reflects the wisdom of obeying the injunction of Genesis 2:24 where independent residence for the newly married couple is not immediately possible.
8. Dawson, J. W., Fossil Men and Their Modern Representatives, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1880, p.317.
9. Haimendorf, Christoph von Furer, The Reddi of the Bison Hills, Macmillan, New York, 1945.
10. Driberg, J. H., The Lango, A Nilotic Tribe of Uganda, London, 1923.
11. Murdock, George Peter, Our Primitive Contemporaries, Macmillan, New York, 1951, p.344.
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The principle of adoption is very widely illustrated throughout the world. For example, Sir John Lubbock said: (12)
The mere tie of blood relationship was of no account among the Romans. The most general expression and comprehensive term indicating relationship in Roman Law was cognatio (meaning, “I recognize”), that is to say, the tie between persons who are united by the same blood or those reputed by law as such. But cognition alone, whether it proceeds from legal marriage or by any other union, does not place the individual within the family nor does it give any right of family. Even at the present day, in some parts of Africa, a man’s property goes not to his children as such but to his slaves.
In speaking of kinship, Robert Lowie had this to say: (13)
In pre-Christian German law, a newborn child did not automatically enter the family of its unquestioned begetter, the latter was obliged formally to recognize the child as his, if such were his wish and was also at liberty to disown it.
By African custom a man who could not possibly be the true father of a child is rated as its parent provided he fulfills certain legal conditions of fatherhood. In Jewish custom these conditions involved naming the child officially and teaching him a trade.
With us the question of physical paternity is decisive if it can be demonstrated according to law, but in a society where the husband may be away from home for great long periods of time as Roman soldiers often were, it was not easy for him to generate his own offspring and yet children were greatly desired. Since marriage was not based on any concept of romantic love (except upon occasion) the returning husband was quite happy to find that his family had increased provided that his wife was the mother. He would therefore by a very simple gesture adopt them and they became his sons in the eyes of the law.
Among the Eskimo adoption, even if he is not a true son, may entitle a man to be heir to all the family possessions if he happens to be older than the other sons. (14) In Central Africa the practice of adopting children is very prevalent indeed, especially among the Feletabs and, though they have sons and daughters of their own, the adopted child generally becomes the favouurite and heir to the whole property. (15) Perhaps our own adopted children might be encouraged if they knew some of these things.
In Africa among the Banyoro it is customary for a male child of
12. Lubbock, Sir John, ref.5, p.100.
13. Lowie, Robert, Social Organization, Rinehart, New York, 1948, p.57.
14. Lubbock, Sir John, ref.5, p.96.
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five or six years, to be adopted by someone traced in the male line as a relative. (16) The adopted child’s true family in the meantime adopts another child from another family which bears an inverse relationship to themselves. Thus the families are not really blood units at all, but there are many bonds of association that tend toward cohesion.
The Lango, another African tribe, treat their captives very handsomely. (17) They are adopted into the village as equals and welcomed as additional hands. The men adopt younger girls who are captured as their own daughters, the older ones being immediately married into the village. In Arabia the Muti Ali capture slaves and promptly adopt them into their own household with all the rights of the children of the house. (18) Some slaves have climbed up to the position of chieftain. In the Northwest, although the Iroquois were almost continually at war from around 1650-1785, they actually had a larger population when they finished than when they started, due entirely to their practice of adopting the majority of their prisoners into the tribe. It is generally held that by about 1700 they had more foreigners in their tribes than actual natives. Even aged people were adopted if some particular family was lacking a grandparent, for example, in order to make the household complete again. Robert Briffault pointed out that among primitive people mother love is not based so much on the fact of actual birth but on a deliberate process of adoption. (19) As he put it, “It is the adoption of the offspring, and not the relationship, intellectually viewed, which constitutes maternity.”
4. PHYSICAL PATERNITY
It is not surprising, perhaps, that in days gone by, or in cultures where a knowledge of what takes place at conception was very hazy, people should naturally attribute the development of a child’s body to the mother but be somewhat less certain about the part played by the father. In some societies it was questioned whether the father had any physical part to play at all. For example, the Trobrianders held that supernatural beings conceived the child, though only after the passage had been opened for them by the male. (20) The Australian aborigines held that the male sperm merely feeds the supernaturally conceived
16. McIlwraith, I., “Lectures in Social Life of Pre-Literates,” at University of Toronto, 1953.
17. Driberg, J. H., ref.10.
18.Tayyeb, Ali, himself a native of Arabia, in a seminar on Cultural Anthropology presented to the Anthropology Department, University of Toronto, 1953.
19. Briffault, Robert, “Group-Marriage and Sexual Communism,” in The Making of Man, edited by V. F. Calverton, Modern Library, New York, 1931, p.497.
20. Herskovits, Melville, Man and His Works, Knopf, New York, 1950, p.297.
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conceived embryo in its initial stages. (21) If it is pointed out to either of these people that the child sometimes bears a remarkable physical likeness to the father, they account for it by pointing out that the father fondles and plays with his children so much that it affects their appearance. The Australian aborigines believe that the supernatural being is a kind of spiritual animal of some particular recognized species. If the animal happens, in a particular tribe to be a kangaroo for example, then the spirit of the child is kangaroo, though the body of course is human. The child grows up to believe he is kin to the kangaroo family and he may not eat kangaroo meat except on one very solemn occasion which is a kind of annual memorial communion service.
Among the Ainu of Northern Japan, (22) it is believed that both the spirit and the intellect of the child are derived from the father and not from the mother; consequently, as in many other tribes, the father feels he is losing spiritual strength of a very vital kind when the child is born. The woman is merely losing part of her body which is much less demanding. So he is the one who endures the suffering of childbirth and gets all the sympathy from his neighbours who look after his pigs and cultivate his yam patch while he enjoys complete rest. When the child is born, the wife is expected to return to work at once and generally does so without any ill effects.
And this brings up another important point. It is only because of our materialistic view of life that such a “spiritual” view of things seems unrealistic — indeed, absurd. The father who by an act of will adopts an unrelated individual as his own son looks upon such an individual as genuinely related in a way that his own children are not. Thus it comes about that in a polygynous society children of different mothers are not looked upon as brothers and sisters in our sense of the terms, even if they share the same father. A man who has two wives, one of whom bears a daughter and the other a son, would not deny the right of those two children to marry since in his view they are in reality unrelated in any physical sense. Granted his premise, that he is not physically their father in the sense that the mother is physically the mother, his conclusion is reasonable enough. The principle sheds an interesting light on one of the tragic stories of the Old Testament.
Reverting once more to the Trobrianders, (23) and they are merely one of many peoples who might be used as an example, it may be
21. Murdock, G. P., ref.11, p.34.
22. Ibid., p.179.
23. Goldenweiser, Alexander, Anthropology, Crofts, New York, 1945, p.419, note 8.
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noted that since the legitimate father is not considered as related in the way that the mother is, he is to some extent treated as a stranger, yet not entirely a stranger but rather a “special friend.” Resemblances are never denied but they are never made the basis for speculation as to the possible role of the father in procreation.
It is difficult to see how the fact of physical paternity would not force itself upon their thinking, these people being intelligent as they actually are. But the facts of life are such that if a man has constant intercourse with his wife the period of gestation might never come to be recognized, especially where children are born to a wife acceptable to the husband even when he has been away for more than nine months at a time. Moreover, ignorance on this whole matter is surprisingly widespread even in our own society. Recently a case was reported in a New York hospital where a woman had eleven children before she and her husband discovered “where they came from,” as she put it. (24)
Herskovits underscores the happy relations which almost always are apparent between the father and the children of his wife. Speaking of the Trobrianders, he said: (25)
He fulfills the role within the family of nurse and playmate. The relations between him and his children are described as wholly delightful. He fondles them, amuses them, spoils them, but never corrects them and never punishes them.
5. MOTHER’S BROTHER
No matter how idyllic the total environment of a culture may be, children still have to be taught. And teaching, if it is to be effective, must involve sanctions of some kind. Since the father has such a delightful relationship with his children, it seems clear that the necessary discipline as a child grows up must be applied by someone else. All corrections and punishments are administered by the mother’s brother, the uncle on the mother’s side. This principle is also very widely observed in cultures all over the world, even — though somewhat vaguely — in our own. With us, as boys, uncles were invariably looked upon as sources of tips and surprise gifts in a way that the father was not. In English society many parents send their children to private school, partly because of their reluctance to risk the loss of warm associations by having to take disciplinary action. It is easier to have a governess discipline the children when they are very young and the school authorities as they grow up.
24. Jackson, Dugauld, C., “Engineering’s Part in the Development of Civilization,” Science, vol.89, 1939, p.234.
25. Herskovits, Melville, ref.20, p.292.
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Speaking once again of the Trobianders, Malinowski (26) says that a child soon comes to look upon his mother’s brother, one particular brother actually, as a very special person whom he calls his kada. This individual lives probably in the same locality, but he may live at some distance in another village. It makes no difference. Malinowski says, “The child (also) learns that the place where his kada resides is also his, the child’s own village; that there, he has property and his other rights of citizenship; and that there his future career awaits him.” The reason why the maternal uncle is so important will become apparent in the next section.
6. BROTHER-SISTER AND BRIDE PRICE
In the previous section we qualified the word “uncle” as being a maternal uncle; that is, a mother’s brother rather than a father’s brother. But we also qualified the statement by saying that it is one particular brother who acts in this special relationship.
In almost all societies in which the groom must acquire the guardianship, or proprietary right to the “service” of his wife, a special relationship arises between one brother in the family and the sister who is nearest to him in age and is given public recognition as a result of the fact that the brother, in order to get married must himself be able to raise the bride price required by custom in order to obtain his wife. The man who seeks this particular sister’s hand in marriage will bring to her a comparable “bride price” which will make it possible for him in turn to achieve his status as a married man. He thus has a special interest in this particular sister and in the kind of husband she gets, and in the course of time this concern and interest is extended to her children. And thus it comes about not only that he becomes their disciplinarian, but he also looks upon his own children after he is married as the most suitable marriage partners for them. So has arisen a practice which is very widespread indeed, namely, the marriage of a man to his mother’s brother’s daughter or of a woman to her father’s sister’s son.
It has always appeared superficially to the European that the concept of “bride price,” or as it is referred to widely in Africa, the lobolo, reduces the wife to a purchased article, a kind of chattel. Generally speaking, this interpretation is quite erroneous. With a certain amount of social logic, the father of a girl who is to be married will point out to the inquiring White Man that he has kept the girl and brought her up and in return has received her service in
26. Malinowski, Bronislaw, “The Relations Between the Sexes in Tribal Life,” in The Making of Man, ref.19, p.569.
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terms of household duties performed. When she is taken away from the house, her husband will benefit by her past training, whereas the father will be sacrificing a pair of useful hands. Why, then, should he not be “compensated”? The Chukchee argue that the daughter who has served her father, when she is married, will end up by serving her father-in-law and that therefore the father-in-law should be required to contribute towards the bride price which will go to the girl’s father. (27) But this is only one part of the logic.
There is another side to the coin. Unlike our way of arranging these things, other cultures have usually made it a costly business to get married, but comparatively easy to obtain a divorce. We adopt precisely the opposite policy, by making it easier to get married than to get a driver’s license, and a very expensive process to obtain a divorce. We invite two young people to join themselves together with the greatest of ease into a union which is supposedly for life, which, if it does not turn out, we leave them to struggle through years of psychological torture either because they have inadequate resources to obtain the necessary release without an extended process of further anguish, or, which is perhaps even worse, because their moral standards are too high to allow them to take the simplest course for the obtaining of a decree of divorce on the grounds of adultery. In short, one can walk in without the slightest hesitation, but one can only get out through an experience which leaves scars for life.
In other cultures than our own, the situation is such that it often takes almost every near relative to help a man to accumulate the necessary lobolo before he can obtain a wife. It is not a question of making a snap decision and going through a five minute ceremony. Everyone in the neighbourhood has some stake in the undertaking. If a man finds he has made a mistake and that his marriage cannot continue, he cannot lightly consider divorcing his wife since he must marry again to maintain his adult status and this would involve going around to all his former sponsors and asking them once again to invest a considerable amount of wealth in a second try. Needless to say, the certainty that he is going to have to make a second round of entreaty is a quite adequate deterrent against casually deciding to get married in the first place, or casually deciding to terminate a marriage that has once been contracted. So, in point of fact, such societies tend to hold that a man is only going to seek divorce if the situation is so bad that the consequences of having to raise a second bride price are to be preferred. It does make a certain amount of sense.
27. McIlwraith, I., ref.16, quoting from W. Bogoras, The Chukchee, vol. 2, American Museum of Natural History Memoirs, 1904.
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Among the T’honga, (28) a people living on the border between Natal and Portuguese East Africa, the collection of the bride price begins several years before the ceremony. Much haranguing and argument accompanies the discussions as to the proper amount between the in-laws. The man may only be a lad when the process begins, when he obtains a promise from his father of three cows, from his father’s brother of two cows and two goats. He may go to his father’s brother’s son and get the promise of another six cows and an additional seven sheep from his father’s brother’s son’s son. In the meantime, he has to accept gracefully long speeches of instruction, of advice and precaution from the subscribing parties. Everyone seeks to ensure that the lad will not come back to them again; the longer the period of preparation, the greater the opportunity each side has to expound the virtues of their respective offspring. If the wife proves a bad one, he may divorce her and demand a refund. She, then, has to go around and collect back from everyone who shared in her bride price the goods which had been passed on to them — no mean process of recovery. It must, indeed, be a very stabilizing factor.
If the woman proves barren, the husband may ask for the return of the bride price. If there is little chance of success in this, he may decide to ask his wife instead to provide him with another wife as a kind of compensation. In most cases, probably in nearly all, the wife will have her next oldest sister join the household as a second wife.
The bride price is also to some extent an indication and a recognition of the value which the groom and his family attach to the girl and her family. Among the Anglo-Saxons the supposed “sale” of a daughter by the parents or guardian to the husband was not the sale of a woman as a chattel but the transfer of the “right of protectorship” over the woman. (29) Whatever may be said about our interpretation of this exchange of wealth, Diamond notes that where contact with the White Man has led to the abandonment of this practice, (30) marriage has proved to be much less secure and more easily broken up.
Where a man, for one reason or another, cannot call upon an extended family to help him “raise the necessary funds,” he may work for his bride by accepting temporary enslavement. This happens where the suitor is far away from home or is without resources. It may happen in a nomadic society where a woman is necessary to a man’s survival and if the man happens to lose his wife while away
28. McIlwraith, I., ref.16, quoting H. A. Junod, Life of a South African Tribe, 2 vols., Neuchatel, 1912.
29. Cairns, Huntington, “Law and Anthropology,” in The Making of Man, ref.19, p.355.
30. Diamond, A. S., Primitive Law, 1935, p.230.
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from home. Bogoras mentions this of the Chukchee. (31) And it happened to Jacob. According to P. Dobell, the custom is prevalent among the Karaikees (northeastern Asiatics). (32) If a young man should fall in love with a girl and he is not rich enough to obtain her by any other means, he enslaves himself to her father as a servant for three, four, five, or ten years, according to agreement, before he is permitted to marry her. When the term agreed upon expires, he is allowed to marry her and live with the father-in-law as if he were his own son. The same custom prevails among the Kamtchadales where the suitor of a particular maiden asks her parents permission to serve them for a time with a view to obtaining her as a wife.
7. MARRYING SISTERS
The practice of validating a marriage contract only after children have been born with the proviso that if the woman proves barren, the man must be fully compensated by the girl’s family very naturally led to the principle that he might claim as a second wife one of her sisters to bear him children. According to Schapera, (33) at the present time the Tswana in South Africa require the family of a barren bride to substitute or provide in addition the next older sister. There was always the possibility, of course, and it must have happened upon occasion that even the second sister failed to provide him with a child. It was very seldom that the man himself was suspected of being to blame, though in one or two societies this possibility was recognized. On the whole, it was customary to allow for this contingency and to “hold” the other sisters for the husband of the eldest one. Even if children were born to the first wife, it was often felt quite proper for all the other sisters to join his household, since in the event of her death prematurely he could still claim one of the sisters. According to Briffault, (34) in some Indian tribes a widower could demand as a “replacement” wife her next oldest sister even if she was already married to someone else! According to the same authority, in the Central Celebes Islands, a man cannot marry a younger sister unless he has first married the elder. In the Philippines, generally, a man usually took as wives all the sisters of the family. In the Marshall Islands when a man marries a woman, he is automatically regarded as married to all her sisters. In fact, if the husband
31. Bogoras, W., ref.27, p.579.
32. Dobell, P., quoted by A. G. Morice, “Northwestern Denes and Northeastern Asiatics,” Transactions of the Royal Canadian Institute, University of Toronto Press, vol.10, 1915, p.177.
33. Schapera, I., A Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom, London, 1938.
34. Briffault, Robert, ref.19, pp.207-210.
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does not find it convenient to take charge of all the sisters, there is no alternative for the latter than to contract casual alliances, they become in fact what we would call prostitutes. In the Marquesas a man had marital rights over all his wife’s sisters, whether these subsequently married other men or not. The substitution of a sister for a wife who has died prematurely is extremely widespread, being found among the Tartars, the Kalmuks, and many other Siberian peoples. Among the Wabemba of the Congo, if a man’s wife dies and all her sisters are married, the husband of one of them must allow his wife to cohabit on specified occasions with the widower. If the sister happens to be an infant she is nevertheless handed over to the widower but a slave girl is sent with her to act as a substitute until she comes of age. Among the Kaikari of Central India, a man may marry his deceased wife’s younger sister but may not marry her older sister. The principle, far from being distasteful, is therefore found all over the world.
That the sisters should be betrothed in the right order according to age is also a principle universally accepted as far as I know. The Hindus always avoid giving a younger daughter in marriage before an older one. (35) The Kurnia of Gippsland in Australia insist that a man’s first wife must always be older than his second wife, hence where sisters follow in marriage they do not allow the taking of a younger sister first. (36)
8. NAMING AFTER THE MOTHER
In cultures other than our own, names are apt to have somewhat wider significance. There are at least three different kinds of names. First, there is the name which is inherited in the sense that it identifies the lineage of the child in terms of blood relationships. It has chiefly social significance and because the identity of the father is not always as clear as the identity of the mother, this kind of name reflects the mother’s rather than the father’s line. The second kind of name is psychological, one might say personal. This kind of name is usually given by the family, who after consultation decide that they wish some ancestor to return to be with them in the household, taking up residence in the child so named. The third kind of name has more a magical connotation. Anyone who can “get hold of it” has, by doing so, a powerful insight into the character of the person to whom it is given. It gives one power over an individual to know
35. Gordon, C. A., “Notes on Philosophy and Medical Knowledge in Ancient India,” Transactions of the Victoria Institute, London, vol.25, 1891-92:, p.236.
36. Coon, C. S., A Reader in General Anthropology, Holt, New York, 1948, p.247.
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what this name is, and consequently it is kept very secret. The Indians of North America were either allotted this name privately by an individual specially appointed as “Keeper of Names,” or they went out and sought it in a kind of private religious ordeal which might involve some self-mutilation and entering into an ecstatic trance. It was only shared thereafter with certain very personal friends. According to McIlwraith, (37) the Bella Coola added names to individuals occasioned by some personal experience, so that men or women might often have ten or even twenty names. And knowing these was like knowing their personal history. In England two or three generations ago, one did not address an individual by his given name until he had established a certain intimacy — except where class distinction so set a gulf between two individuals that they either would not or could not take advantage of it. Looking back on my own public school days, I’m quite sure that I never learned the given name of any one of the many boys with whom I lived and played and studied for eight years or so. It was not considered proper to address a fellow by his Christian name.
The giving of a name may also signify an invitation to the spirit of one departed to return, via the present bearer, to the family circle. If the child becomes seriously ill, it is customary to change the child’s name, as is done by the Chukchee for example. Curiously enough, very sick children, mentally ill, may upon recovery — even in our own society –decide to adopt a new name as though they had become a different person.
In all primitive societies and in some higher ones, the name is identified with the character of the holder, whether animal or human. A logical extension of this identification is that to reveal a person’s name is to reveal his character, a procedure which must be avoided at all costs if one is a friend or a relative, because it allows others to make use of this information. Murdock says that the Ainu wife never mentions her husband’s name, for to do so would rob him of part of himself. (38) Very often the soul has no existence in the individual until he has received his name, and among American Indian tribes a certain woman would be appointed as “Keeper of Names,” to whom application had to be made before a child could receive full personhood. (39) However, once the name was given and the soul was lodged, the name could be safely forgotten. It was like a key to open the way to personality, which once used could be thrown away. But without a name,
37. McIlwraith, I., ref.16.
38. Murdock, G. P., ref.11, p.197.
39. Goldenweiser, Alexander, ref.23, p.337.
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name, nothing had any real existence. Thus the great Sumerian Creation Epic speaks of past eternity as a time when “Heaven was not named, Below to the earth no name was given.” (40)
In some cases although the person’s name is known to everyone, he is not directly addressed by it but is spoken to as the son of whatever his mother’s name was. If a wife and a husband have names like Dorothy and John, for example, the husband will be addressed as Dorothy’s husband and the wife as John’s wife, so that neither is actually addressed by name (41)
Ernst Cassirer says much about the significance of naming things in a child’s growing ability to come to terms with the world. (42) Once he has hold of the name, he has hold of the object itself. This “learning of names” process is far more than merely increasing one’s vocabulary. It is more than the mastery of labels, it is mastery of the things labelled. To know a person’s name is to “know” the person for what he is. This is not so true in our philosophy, but it is almost universally so in other cultures.
9. ROMANTIC LOVE
It is difficult for us to realize that our accumulated social wisdom does not mark the high point in history but may reflect rather a retrograde view. We find it almost impossible to see how a society could operate without “discovering” the excitement of falling in love. Nevertheless, many societies know nothing of this particular form of cultural behaviour. It is certainly not, apparently, one of the so-called “universals.” Some societies recognize it as a possibility and reject it outright as being stupid. Twenty-five years ago, and perhaps even today, in China, a man who falls in love is considered insane. (43) And I learned recently that even today American films with a romantic theme are tremendously popular with Mongolian audiences because they treat them as comedies. The Samoans laugh incredulously at tales involving jealousy due to love. (44) According to Haimendorf, (45) among the Reddi of the Bison Hills the individuals concerned in a proposed marriage not only have no choice in the matter, the selection being entirely a parental affair, but the couple are virtually not even interested. One might suppose that such an indifferent union between the newlyweds might seem likely to poison their feelings
40. Barton, George A., ref.6, p.287.
41. Coon, C. S., ref.36, p.190.
42. Cassirer, Ernst, An Essay on Man, Yale University Press, 1944, p.132.
43. McIlwraith, I., ref.16.
44. Murdock, G. P., ref.11, p.72.
45. Haimendorf, C., ref.9.
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toward their children and thus make them feel unwanted. Contrary to psychological doctrine, this does not appear to be the case at all. The children in such cultures appear to live remarkably happy lives. Frank Speck, (46) speaking of the Naskapi Indians in Canada says that although marriage is based entirely on convenience, “the children are quiet and well behaved, and are well loved. There is no corporal punishment but a spirit of real comradeship.” This is a constant refrain in the literature of anthropology which deals with patterns of culture. It suggests that some of our conclusions that the waywardness of children is due to lack of discipline or the absence of love between the parents may require some revision. Certainly photographs of Naskapi children reflect their sunny dispositions. A notable exception is found among a people whom we have referred to more than once previously, the Trobrianders. Malinowski, who made these people his special interest, says that permanent attachments between boys and girls spring out of passion, genuine affection, and intellectual companionship. As soon as this occurs, the girl is “seen” with the boy during the day and is then considered married. In a sense we reverse this process.
It may truthfully be said that there is an almost universal “horror” of incest, that is to say, the marriage of a brother and sister who are children of the same mother, or of a mother and son. These two are singled out in particular by virtually all societies. But, there are many cultures which do not consider the marriage of a man to his daughter as incest since it is not felt that the daughter received her body from him. Similarly, it is not felt to be incest when a brother and sister who are children of one father but not of one mother, are married — for the same reason. One only has to remember that it is believed that the mother supplies the body and it is the uniting of two bodies from the same source which is viewed with such distaste.
For reasons which geneticists feel they can explain satisfactorily, the marriage of all very close relatives is apt to have undesirable results; and records show that in highly inbred isolated societies, even in Scotland for example, the incidence of deaf-mutism and other congenital deformations is considerably higher than normal. It is quite likely that primitive people who are very keen observers took note of this fact.
It will be perhaps of more interest to refer very briefly to the
46. Speck, Frank G., Naskapi Indians, 1935.
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fact that in many primitive or older high cultures, whenever a brother-sister marriage which was by definition incestuous could be “got away with” without ill effect on the offspring, the family was generally considered to be superior stock just on this account . . . as indeed they may very well have been. Such families gained this advantage over others, namely, that all wealth, privileges, rights, and titles remained undivided within the family. The two circumstances combined, the reputation for being superior stock and the accumulation of wealth, afforded the family aristocratic rank. The Inca chiefs married their sisters, and the Ptolemies of Egypt married their sisters. (47) It will be remembered that Cleopatra was the seventh generation of brother-sister marriages, and there was certainly nothing inferior about her, though her younger brother appears to have been less notable, indeed perhaps even slightly imbecile. It may be that the superior stock was already beginning to lose its genetic excellence.
11. CROSS COUSINS AND PARALLEL COUSINS
It should be underscored that while the concept of a cross cousin as the “ideal” marriage partner is exceedingly common all over the world, it is not the only acceptable cousin marriage relationship. By contrast with the cross cousin relationship, there is what is known as a parallel-cousin, by which is meant the mother’s sister’s daughter or the father’s brother’s daughter as opposed to the mother’s brother’s daughter or the father’s sister’s daughter. To marry one’s mother’s sister’s daughter would be to all intents and purposes by definition incest in some cultures. In fact, it is incest but one generation removed since the couple are then children of two sisters who in turn derived their bodies from the same mother. This incest principle is not, however, applied to the marriage of a father’s brother’s daughter. It applies only to bodily or blood relationships, not to such spiritual relationships as are felt to exist in fatherhood. Female incestual relationships of this kind have never been favoured in any society. What is found among the Hebrew and the Muti-Ali (an Arab people), and not altogether unexpectedly, is the marriage of parallel cousins who are the children of brothers, since this is not considered to involve incest by their definition. (48) In short, I, as a son, would marry my father’s brother’s daughter. This is much more allowable because our two bodies will almost certainly be derived from two different mothers.
47. Murdock, G. P., ref.11, p.417. See also, J. G. Frazer, Adonis, Attis, and Osiris, London, 1906, p.323; and Gordon Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, London, 1910.
48. Tayyeb, Ali, ref.18.
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C. S. Coon (49) notes that as the Israelites became more settled and well-to-do after the conquest of Canaan, they tended to favour a cross-cousin relationship, whereas previously they had favoured the parallel-cousin relationship adopted chiefly by the Arabs. Among the representative people who marry cross-cousins are the Reddi of the Bison Hills in India, the Hopi of Southwestern United States, the Nunivak Eskimo, the Chukchee of Siberia.
12. LEVIRATE MARRIAGE
The principle that marriage is a contract which is broken if the wife dies while the man might still hope for children, in which case the dead wife’s sister substitutes for her, is in some societies paralleled by a reverse agreement. In other words, if it is the husband who dies at a time when the wife is still young enough to have children, then it is her turn to be compensated, and this compensation is not guaranteed by her being given her dead husband’s brother as a “private” husband, but she is allowed to claim her dead husband’s brother as a father not only to the children she already has but as a “substitute” husband to provide her with more children. By this means she can raise a family without her children being illegitimate. This practice, which is not only found in the Bible but found among primitive people occasionally (the Nunivak Eskimo, for instance), is an example of the somewhat rare acknowledgment in other cultures of the equality of the wife with the husband in terms of the marriage contract. Although it is a mistake to suppose that the term bride price signifies that the wife was little more than a chattel, a purchased possession as it were, for quite other reasons women have tended to be treated as such by their husbands in many cultures. The Levirate, wherever it is found, is a recognition of the right of the woman to enjoy the raising of a family for her own protection and provision, just as the provision of a substitute sister recognized the right of the man to raise a family of his own. It provides for the birth of legitimate children to a partner of a contract whose rights are not otherwise protected.
There is a phenomenon which is very widespread in primitive societies and which is referred to as a “joking relationship.” This permits a relationship of excessive familiarity between a man and a woman under certain conditions. The man may raise her dress, exposing her in public; and she may retaliate in kind. This is a rather surprising circumstance. Among the Crow Indians it prevails between a
49. Coon, C. S., “Race Concept and Human Races,” Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, vol.15, 1950, p.251.
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man and his sister-in-law, (50) i.e., between a man and his brother’s wife. Among the Nahma Hottentots, the relationship exists between cross cousins. (51) To my knowledge wherever a joking relationship is recognized in a society, it exists always between two people who may become man and wife. In the case of the cross cousins, it exists primarily between cross cousins who are most likely to end up as man and wife. Not all cross cousins will do so, of course. In the case of the man and his brother’s wife, the same potential exists; namely, in the event of the brother’s death. It is a kind of privileged relationship of familiarity, which may perhaps be not altogether unlike the familiarity which used to exist in England between a boy and a girl in their childhood, who in the normal course of events might be expected to marry when they grew up.
The privilege of “exposure” by uncovering nakedness was strictly limited to those who might be expected to marry, hence it was a severely punishable offense where such an expectation could never be realized.
I suppose that polygyny is most commonly associated in the mind of the White Man with Africa, and perhaps it is here that the phenomenon is most frequently observed. As a matter of fact, when large parts of Africa were under British Colonial administration, every administrator when he visited a village would immediately look for the central house or hut which had the largest number of huts adjoined to it. For this was a sure sign of a man with many wives, who could be pretty safely judged to be, as a consequence, an able administrator like himself. It takes a good man, as one of my professors used to say, to run a women’s college successfully!
I am not suggesting that such a custom is desirable once a society has reached the point that its male members are likely to live out their lives to a reasonable age, and once a society has found ways and means of caring for its older women folk. But in the absence of these two requisites, I do not think that polygyny in itself need involve all the evils which we tend to associate with it. This is particularly so when two other factors are borne in mind: first, that the womenfolk are likely to be of the same family or quite closely related; and secondly, that the emotional tensions which are involved in a marriage
50. Murdock, G. P., ref.11, p.273.
51. Ibid., p.490.
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that is predicated primarily on romantic love are absent, the marriage being essentially a contract agreeable to all parties.
With respect to barrenness, enough has already been said to indicate that since marriage is not for the gratification of sex, but is rather a contract wherein the man undertakes to care for the woman and the woman undertakes to provide the man with children to continue his line and his name, it follows that virtually without exception a childless wife is considered a contract breaker with respect to her husband, a disturber of normal behaviour with respect to her society, and a source of great potential embarrassment to her family. The last stems from the fact that having broken her contract, the husband can claim back her bride price, a circumstance which can be disastrous to a family since the gifts may already have been widely distributed — even slaughtered and eaten in fact. And in terms of the social organization of the community, the groom’s gifts to the bride’s parents may already have been used by her special brother for the “procurement” of his wife. In short, reverberations are likely to occur throughout the whole community. It is therefore no won
To my knowledge only one society other than our own has ever thought to acknowledge the fact that the husband himself and not the wife might be to blame. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to prove except by some form of adulterous action in which the man demonstrates his virility with some other woman than his wife.
15. BIRTH OF TWINS
On the whole, pastoral people, who have many flocks of sheep, can employ their children usefully at an earlier age than those societies which are either hunters or farmers. Hunters clearly would be handicapped by very small children (while engaged in hunting), and farmers who must do hard physical work cannot employ very young children either. But those who herd animals can and do use children at a very young age indeed. Such societies tend to welcome children born under any circumstance whatever.
On the other hand, people whose environment is harsh, such as the Eskimo for example, (52) do not have the means of accommodating too many entirely dependent children at any one time, nor do they
52. Garbar, Clark, “Eskimo Infanticide,” Scientific Monthly, 1947, p.100.
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have foods, apart from the mother’s milk, which are suitable for exceedingly small infants. An Eskimo mother will nurse her child anywhere from four to six years. She cannot nurse two children and infanticide is therefore practiced (or used to be practiced) not only when twins were born but if children appeared in too short an interval. It is important to realize that the Eskimo, like the Chukchee and many other primitive people, do not believe that the infant has a soul until it has received a name. To them a nameless baby is almost, though not quite, a thing. The mother may show no grief when she puts the unnamed baby out in the snow to die. Mother love is not found in all societies.
Almost universally twins have been considered an ill omen in many societies. Sometimes it is explained by a native spokesman that only animals have multiple births and that it is not proper for a human beings to behave like animals. (53) The attitude of other native people is based on a much more profound distrust, namely, that one at least of the children is the offspring of an evil spirit. (54) Since such a child should be destroyed immediately, the problem is to know which one to destroy. And since this cannot be known with certainty, either both babies are killed at once, or the whole family may be ejected from the village. The Peruvians in some cases agreed that it was a bad omen, (55) in others they rejoiced in it as evidence of exceptional fertility.
Livingstone notes that among South African tribes one of the twins is killed. (56) Among the Arunta of Australia, (57) twins are usually killed immediately as being “unnatural,” but there is no ill treatment of the mother. The Arunta chiefs apparently do not know how the custom arose. In Melanesia where brother-sister relationships are so strongly avoided, if a girl and boy are born together, one will be put to death immediately in order to avoid having to raise them in proximity. (58)
16. HONOURING PARENTS
The principle of crediting to the father the goodness of his son or blaming him for his wickedness is found very widely in non-Western cultures. It is a principle of great importance where it is observed, and the Westerner does well to heed it when in their
53. Lubbock, Sir John, ref.5, p.34.
54. Ibid., p.35.
56. Livingstone, David, ref.4, p.577.
57. Coon, C. S., ref.36, p.230.
58. Goldenweiser, Alexander, ref.23, p.302.
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company. Peacekeeping forces in the Middle East have on more than one occasion run into unexpected problems by personally rewarding some young Arab who performed them a kindness. This was taken as an insult to the father who believed that he should have received the reward directly, and it was distasteful to the village because it undermined their system of cultural values by improperly paying attention to one of the younger members of the society. The result has been to alienate the whole village by an act which was supposed to do precisely the opposite. If the father had been rewarded instead, as would have been proper, everyone would have been happy: the father because he would have been richer, the son because he would have maintained a reputation as dutiful, and the village as a whole because the outsider’s behaviour would have been a tacit recognition of the reasonableness of their culture pattern which they themselves took for granted.
The Japanese, at least the older generation, even today take this principle very seriously. Not very long ago a young man who brought disgrace upon his family by some dishonourable act would be quite likely to commit suicide in order to redeem his father’s honour. Some primitive cultures, such as the Samoans, punish a whole family — father, mother, brothers and sisters — if any one member of the family does some particularly disgraceful thing. (59) The individual has never assumed the kind of personal importance in any other culture that we allow to the individual in ours.
Almost all societies except our own have a tendency to adopt a comparatively simple and comparatively stable diet. Some live on maize (American Indians), some live on rice (Chinese), some live on potatoes (Aymara of Peru), others live on the meat of a single species (reindeer: Chukchee), and so forth, and in most cases very little change or embellishment of the diet is either desired or possible. The consequence of this food stabilization is that a characteristic body odour is developed in association with each particular diet. This body odour becomes pleasant by familiarity and is preferred or considered “natural” by all those who happen to share it. All foreigners or strangers who do not share it, or who may happen to have no detectable body odour at all, are considered distasteful in this respect. (60)
One of the first things which the Eskimo hunter does when he returns to his native village is to bury his face in the neck opening of his
59. Murdock, G. P., ref.11, p.61.
60. Coon, C. S., ref.36, p.91.
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children’s clothing in order to breathe deeply the familiar body odour of home. It is just possible that the European habit of touching cheeks as a form of greeting is not a form of the kiss of welcome but a less demonstrative remnant of the habit of “falling upon the neck.”
18. DIVISION OF INHERITANCE
The culture of Western man has attached great importance to the accumulation of wealth by “usury,” the gathering of interest with time without any further expenditure of energy by the possessor. The longer this kind of wealth is kept in the position where it can accumulate interest, the more valuable it becomes when it is finally transferred to a new owner. Since a father not unnaturally desired that his children shall have the maximum benefit of his wealth and at the same time he is likely to be convinced that he is the best judge of how to invest it, he is apt to retain control of it as long as he possibly can. With this kind of system, an inheritance normally is only passed on to the children when the benefactor can have no further interest in it.
Throughout most of the world’s history, the possibility of accumulating interest in this way has been somewhat limited. Where wealth was property, rights, or in the form of otherwise unexchangeable things, the present owner often had no particular reason for maintaining sole ownership until he died. As a consequence, those who were to inherit his wealth often had the right to claim their inheritance at any time.
In his Ancient Law, (61) Maine pointed out that in his time among the Hindus the instant a son is born, he acquires a vested right in his father’s property which could not be sold without recognition of his joint ownership. When he attained full age he could, if he so desired, compel a partition of the estate, even against the consent of the parent. And if the parent acquiesced, one son could always demand a partition even when the other sons were not in favour of it. Maine pointed out that German tribes in ancient law allowed the same proceeding. If it happened that there were only two sons and the first had demanded and taken his inheritance already, all that the father possessed automatically belonged to the other son. Nor was it necessary that the first son to demand his inheritance need be the eldest.
61. Maine: quoted by Sir John Lubbock, ref. 5, p.464. Since this passage was largely responsible for initiating the thread of the argument in the first part of this Paper, we merely refer the reader to Part I and Part II-2 without further comment here.
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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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