Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/219

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
207
SURVIVALS FROM MARRIAGE BY CAPTURE.
SURVIVALS FROM MARRIAGE BY CAPTURE.

By Lieutenant-Colonel A. B. ELLIS.

AMONG those races of man which have made the least progress in civilization we find that the men of a group or community are in the habit of procuring wives by seizing and carrying off the women of other groups or communities. It is the practice, for instance, among the Fuegians, the Australians, the tribes of the Amazon, some of the aborigines of the Deccan, several of the Malay peoples of the Indian Archipelago, many African tribes, and other peoples too numerous to be here given in detail. Shortly summarized, it may be said that the practice is caused by the scarcity of women, which results from female infanticide, which in its turn is due to the struggle for existence, necessarily hard among savage races who trust wholly to the chase and the spontaneous fruits of the earth for their supply of food. Wherever man lives under such precarious conditions each extra mouth to fill becomes a matter for serious consideration, and as male infants, future hunters and braves, are of more value to the group than female, the latter are slain in a larger proportion. As man emerges from these conditions and cultivates the soil or domesticates animals, the struggle for existence becomes less hard, infanticide diminishes, and the sexes become more equally balanced. But the former condition lasts long. It is probably within the mark to say that several centuries passed away before man commenced to till the soil, and many more before he began to domesticate animals; and during the whole of this time, to judge the past by the present, he probably obtained wives by capture from his neighbors.

Now, after man had for a great number of generations been in the habit of associating marriage with a violent abduction of women, he would inevitably come to regard the two as necessary complements of each other. Man is a creature of habit, and continually perseveres in old customs when their necessity has long passed away, and when even their meaning and intention have been forgotten. Hence, as he has been in the habit of seizing women for wives, he would, even when the necessity for violence no longer existed, still continue to preserve at least the form of it; regarding the acquisition of a wife without some semblance of force as improper, because unusual, and at variance with old custom. As time passed on, this form, or rite, of capture would necessarily become disintegrated, passing from an actual capture to a symbolic capture, and finally dwindling away into a variety of minor ceremonies. These, which we may call forms of survival