Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/January 1877/Theories of Primitive Marriage

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IN his ingenious and interesting work on "Primitive Marriage," the words "exogamy" and "endogamy" are used by Mr. McLennan to distinguish the two practices of taking to wife women belonging to other tribes, and taking to wife women belonging to the same tribe. As explained in his preface, his attention was drawn to these diverse customs by an inquiry into "the meaning and origin of the form of capture in marriage ceremonies;" an inquiry which led him to a general theory of early sexual relations. The following outline of his theory I disentangle, as well as I can, from statements that are not altogether consistent.

Scarcity of food led groups of primitive men to destroy female infants; because, "as braves and hunters were required and valued, it would be the interest of every horde to rear, when possible, its healthy male children. It would be less its interest to rear females, as they would be less capable of self-support, and of contributing, by their exertions, to the common good" (p. 165).

Mr. McLennan next alleges that "the practice in early times of female infanticide," "rendering women scarce, led at once to polyandry within the tribe, and the capturing of women from without" (p. 138).

Joined with a restatement of the causes we come upon an inferred result, as follows: "The scarcity of women within the group led to a practice of stealing the women of other groups, and in time it came to be considered improper, because it was unusual, for a man to marry a woman of his own group" (p. 289). Or, as he says on p. 140, "usage, induced by necessity, would in time establish a prejudice among the tribes observing it (exogamy)—a prejudice, strong as a principle of religion, as every prejudice relating to marriage is apt to be against marrying women of their own stock."

To this habitual stealing of wives, and restealing of them, as among the Australians (p. 16), he ascribes that doubtful paternity which led to the recognition of kinship through females only. Though elsewhere admitting a more general cause for this primitive form of kinship (p. 159), he regards wife-stealing as its most certain cause, saying that "it must have prevailed wherever exogamy prevailed—exogamy and the consequent practice of capturing wives. Certainty as to fathers is impossible where mothers are stolen from their first lords, and liable to be restolen before the birth of children." (p. 226).

Assuming the tribes which thus grew into the practice of wife-stealing to have been originally homogeneous in blood, or at least to have supposed themselves so, Mr. McLennan argues that the introduction of wives who were foreigners in blood, joined with the rise of the first definite conception of relationship (that between mother and child) and consequent system of kinship exclusively in the female line, led to recognized heterogeneity within the tribe: there came to exist, within the tribe, children regarded as belonging by blood to the tribes of their mothers. Hence arose another form of exogamy. The primitive requirement that a wife should be stolen from another tribe, naturally became confounded with the requirement that a wife should be of the blood of another tribe; and hence girls born within the tribe, from mothers belonging to other tribes, became eligible as wives. The original exogamy, carried out only by robbing other tribes of their women, gave place, in part, or wholly, to the modified exogamy carried out by marrying, from within the tribe, women bearing family names which implied that they were foreign in blood.

In tracing the development of higher forms of the domestic relations, Mr. McLennan postulates, as we have seen, that the scarcity of women "led at once to polyandry within the tribe, and the capturing of women from without." Describing and illustrating the different forms of polyandry, ending in that highest form in which the husbands are brothers, he points out that at this stage there arose recognition not only of descent in the female line, but also of descent in the male line; since the father's blood was known, if not the father.

Then through gradually-established priority of the elder brother, as being the first of the group to marry, and the first likely to have children, it became an accepted fiction that all the children were his: "the elder brother was a sort of paterfamilias;" and "the idea of fatherhood " thus caused was a step toward kinship through males, and "a step away from kinship through females " (pp. 243, 244).

Pointing out that among some polyandrous peoples, as the Kandians, the chiefs have become monogamists, Mr. McLennan argues (p. 245) that their example would be followed, and "thus would arise a practice of monogamy or of polygamy." And he thence traces the genesis of the patriarchal form, the system of agnation, the institution of caste.

Though this outline of Mr. McLennan's theory is expressed, whereever regard for brevity permits, in his own words, yet possibly he may take exception to it, for, as already hinted, there are incongruities in his statements, and the order in which they are placed is involved. That many of the phenomena he describes exist, is beyond question. It is undeniable that the stealing of women, still habitual with sundry low races, was practised in the past by races now higher; and that the form of capture in marriage ceremonies prevails in societies where no real capture occurs at present. It is undeniable that kinship through females is, among various primitive peoples, the only kinship avowedly recognized; and that it leads to the descent of name, rank, and property, in the female line. It is undeniable that in many places where wife-stealing is, or has been, the practice, marriage is forbidden between those of the same family name, who are assumed to be of the same stock. But while admitting much of the evidence, and while accepting some of the inferences, we shall find reason for doubting Mr. McLennan's theory taken as a whole. Let us consider, first, the minor objections.


Sundry facts inconsistent with his conclusion, though referred to by Mr. McLennan, he passes over as of no weight. He thinks there is warrant for the belief that exogamy and wife-capture have "been practised at a certain stage among every race of mankind" (p. 138): this stage being the one now exemplified by sundry low races. Nevertheless, he admits that "the separate endogamous tribes are nearly as numerous, and they are in some respects as rude, as the separate exogamous tribes" (p. 145). Now, if, as he believes, exogamy and wife-stealing have "been practised at a certain stage among every race of mankind"—that stage being the primitive one—and if, as he seeks to prove, endogamy is a form reached through a long series of social developments, it is difficult to understand how the endogamous tribes can be as rude as the exogamous ones.

Again, he names the fact that "in some districts—as in the hills on the northeastern frontier of India, in the Caucasus, and the hill-ranges of Syria—we find a variety of tribes, proved, by physical characteristics and the affinities of language, of one and the same original stock, yet in this particular differing toto cælo from one another—some forbidding marriage within the tribe, and some prescribing marriage without it" (pp. 147, 148): a fact by no means congruous with his hypothesis.

Should Mr. McLennan reply that on pp. 47, 48, he has recognized the possibility, or probability, that there were tribes primordially endogamous—should he say that on pp. 144, 145, will be found the admission that, perhaps, exogamy and endogamy "may be equally archaic," the rejoinder is that, besides being inconsistent with his belief that exogamy has "been practised at a certain stage among every race of mankind," this possibility is one which he practically rejects. On pp. 148-150, he sketches out a series of changes by which exogamous tribes may eventually become endogamous; and in subsequent sections on the "Growth of Agnation," and "The Rise of Endogamy," he tacitly asserts that endogamy has thus developed: if not without exception, still, generally. Indeed, the title of one of his chapters—"The Decay of Exogamy in Advancing Communities"—clearly implies the belief that exogamy was general, if not universal, with the uncivilized; and that endogamy grew up along with civilization. Thus the incongruity between the propositions quoted in the last paragraph cannot be escaped.

Sundry other of Mr. McLennan's statements and inferences conflict with one another. Assuming that, in the earliest state, tribes were stock-groups "organized on the principle of exogamy," he speaks of them as having "the primitive instinct of the race against marriage between members of the same stock" (p. 118). Yet, as we have seen above, he elsewhere speaks of wife-capture as caused by scarcity of women within the tribe; and attributes to this "usage, induced by necessity," the prejudice against "marrying women of their own stock." Moreover, if, as he says (and I believe rightly says) on p. 145, "men must originally have been free of any prejudice against marriage between relations," it seems inconsistent to allege that there was a "primitive instinct" "against marriage between members of the same stock."

Again, while in some places the establishment of the exogamous prejudice is ascribed to the practice of wife-stealing (pp. 53, 54, and 136), it is elsewhere made the antecedent of wife-stealing: interdict against marriage within the tribe was primordial. Now if this last is Mr. McLennan's view, I agree with Sir J. Lubbock in thinking that it is untenable. It cannot be assumed that in these earliest groups of men, with which Mr. McLennan commences, there were any established rules of marriage. Unions of the sexes must have preceded all social laws. The rise of a social law implies a certain preceding continuity of social existence; and this preceding continuity of social existence implies the reproduction of successive generations. Hence reproduction, entirely unregulated by interdicts, must be taken as initial.

Assuming, however, that of his two views Mr. McLennan will abide by the more tenable one, that wife-stealing led to exogamy, let us ask how far he is justified in alleging that female infanticide, and consequent scarcity of women, led to wife-stealing. At first sight it appears undeniable that destruction of infant girls, if frequent, must have been accompanied by a deficiency of adult females; and it seems strange to call in question the legitimacy of this inference. But Mr. McLennan has overlooked a concomitant. Tribes in a state of chronic hostility are constantly losing their adult males, and the male mortality so caused is usually considerable. Hence the killing many female infants does not necessitate paucity of women: it may merely prevent excess. Excess must, indeed, be inevitable if, equal numbers of males and females being reared, some of the males are from time to time slain. The assumption from which Mr. McLennan's argument sets out is, therefore, inadmissible.

How inadmissible it is, becomes conspicuous on finding that, where wife-stealing is now practised, it is commonly associated with polygyny. The Fuegians, named by Mr. McLennan among wife-stealing peoples, are polygynists. According to Dove, the Tasmanians were polygynists, and Lloyd says that polygyny was universal among them; yet the Tasmanians were wife-stealers. The Australians furnish Mr. McLennan with a typical instance of wife-stealing and exogamy; and though Mr. Oldfield alleges scarcity of women among them, yet other testimony is quite at variance with his. Mitchell says: "Most of the men appeared to possess two [females], the pair in general consisting of a fat plump gin, and one much younger;" and, according to the Frenchman Peltier, named in the last chapter as having lived seventeen years with the Macadama tribe in Queensland, the women were "more numerous than the men, every man having from two to five women in his suite." In North America the Dakotas are at once wife-stealers and polygynists, Burton tells us. In South America the Brazilians similarly unite these two traits; and among the Caribs they are especially associated. Writing of polygyny as practised on the Orinoco, Humboldt says: "It is most considerable among the Caribs, and all the nations that have preserved the custom of carrying off young girls from the neighboring tribes." How, then, can wife-stealing be ascribed to scarcity of women?

A converse incongruity also militates against Mr. McLennan's theory. His position is that female infanticide, "rendering women scarce, led at once to polyandry within the tribe, and the capturing of women from without." But polyandry does not, so far as I see, distinguish wife-stealing tribes. We do not find it among the above-named Tasmanians, Australians, Dakotas, Brazilians; and although it is said to occur among the Fuegians, and characterizes some of the Caribs, it is much less marked than their polygyny. Contrariwise, though it is not a trait of peoples who rob one another of their women it is a trait of certain rude peoples who are habitually peaceful. There is polyandry among the Esquimaux, who do not even know what war is; there is polyandry among the Todas, who in no way aggress upon their neighbors

Other minor difficulties might be dwelt upon. There is the fact that in many cases exogamy and endogamy coexist, as among the Comanches, the New-Zealanders, the Lepchas, the Californians. There is the fact that in sundry cases polygyny and polyandry coexist, as among the Fuegians, the Caribs, the Esquimaux, the Warans, the Hottentots, the ancient Britons. There is the fact that there are some exogamous tribes who have not the form of capture in marriage, as the Iroquois and the Chippewas. But, not dwelling on these, I turn to certain cardinal difficulties, obvious a priori, which appear to me insuperable.
Setting out with primitive homogeneous groups, Mr. McLennan contends that the scarcity of women caused by destruction of female infants compelled wife-stealing; and he thinks that this happened "at a certain stage among every race of mankind" (p. 138). The implication is, therefore, that a number of adjacent tribes, usually belonging to the same variety of man in the same stage of progress, were simultaneously thus led to rob one another. But immediately we think of wife-stealing as a practice not of one tribe only, but of many tribes forming a cluster, there presents itself the question, How was the scarcity of women thus remedied? If each tribe had fewer women than men, how could the tribes get wived by robbing one another? The scarcity remained the same: what one tribe got another lost. Bearing in mind the low fertility and great infant mortality among savages, if there is a chronic deficiency of women and the tribes rob one another equally, the result must be diminished population in all the tribes. If some, robbing others in excess, get enough wives, and leave certain of the rest with very few, these must tend toward extinction. And if the surviving tribes carry on the process, there appears no limit until the strongest tribe, continuing to supply itself with women from the less strong, finally alone survives and has no tribes to rob.

Should it be replied that female infanticide is, on the average of cases, not carried so far as to make the number of wives insufficient to maintain the aggregate population—should it be said that only exceptional tribes rear so few women as not to have mothers enough to produce the next generation—then we are met by a still greater difficulty. If in each of the exogamous tribes forming the supposed cluster the men are forbidden to marry women of their own tribe, and must steal women from other tribes, the implication is that each tribe knowingly rears wives for neighboring tribes, but not for itself. Though each tribe kills many of its female infants that it may not be at the cost of rearing them for its own benefit, yet it deliberately rears the remainder for the benefit of its enemies. Surely this is an inadmissible supposition. In proportion as the interdict against marrying women within the tribe is peremptory, the preservation of girls will be useless—worse than useless, indeed, since adjacent hostile tribes, to whom they must go as wives, will be thereby strengthened. And as all the tribes, living under like interdicts, will have like motives, they will all of them cease to rear female infants.

Manifestly, then, exogamy in its original form can never have been anything like absolute among the tribes forming a cluster, but can have been the law among some of them only.
In his concluding chapter Mr. McLennan says that, "on the whole, the account which we have given of, the origin of exogamy appears the only one which will bear examination" (p. 289). It seems to me, however, that setting out with the postulate laid down by him, that primitive groups of men are habitually hostile, we may, on asking what are the concomitants of war, be led to a different theory, open to none of the objections above raised.

In all times and places, among savage and civilized, victory is followed by pillage. Whatever portable things of worth the conquerors find, they take. The enemies of the Fuegians plunder them of their dogs and arms; pastoral tribes in Africa have their cattle driven away by conquering marauders; and peoples more advanced are robbed of their money, ornaments, and all valuable things that are not too heavy. The taking of women is manifestly but a part of this process of spoiling the vanquished. Women are prized as wives, as concubines, as drudges; and, the men having been killed, the women are carried off along with the other movables. Everywhere among the uncivilized we find this. Turner tells us that "in Samoa, in dividing the spoil of a conquered people, the women were not killed, but taken as wives." We learn from Mitchell that in Australia, upon some whites telling a native that they had shot a man of another tribe, his only remark was: 'Stupid white fellows! why did you not bring away the girls?'" And P. Martyr says that among the cannibal Caribs in his day "to eat women was considered unlawful. . . Those who were captured young were kept for breeding, as we keep fowl, etc." Early legends of the semi-civilized show us the same thing; as when in the "Iliad" we read that the Greeks plundered "the sacred city of Eëtion," and that part of the spoils "they divided among themselves" were the women. And there need no examples to recall the fact that in later and more civilized times successes in battle have been followed by transactions allied in character, if not the same in form. Hence it is obvious that, from the beginning down to comparatively late stages, women-stealing has been an incident of successful war.

Observe, next, that the spoils' of conquest, some of them prized for themselves, are some of them prized as trophies. Proofs of prowess are above all things treasured by the savage. He brings back his enemy's scalp, like the North American Indian. He dries and preserves his enemy's head, like the New-Zealander. He fringes his robe with locks of hair cut from his slain foe. Among other signs of success in battle is return with a woman of the vanquished tribe. Beyond her intrinsic value she has an extrinsic value. Like a native wife, she serves as a slave; but, unlike a native wife, she serves also as a trophy. As, then, among savages, warriors are the honored members of the tribe—as among warriors the most honored are those whose bravery is best shown by achievements—the possession of a wife taken in war becomes a badge of social distinction. Hence members of the tribe thus married to foreign women are held to be more honorably married than those married to native women. What must result?

In a tribe not habitually at war, or not habitually successful in war, no decided effect is likely to be produced on the marriage customs. If the great majority of the men have native wives, the presence of a few whose superiority is shown by having foreign wives will fail to change the practice of taking native wives: the majority will keep one another in countenance. But if the tribe, becoming more successful in war, robs adjacent tribes of their women more frequently, there will grow up the idea that the now-considerable class having foreign wives form the honorable class, and that those who have not proved their bravery by bringing back these living trophies are dishonorable: non-possession of a foreign wife will come to be regarded as a proof of cowardice. An increasing ambition to get foreign wives will therefore arise; and as the number of those who are without them decreases, the brand of disgrace attaching to them will grow more decided; until, in the most warlike tribes, it becomes an imperative requirement that a wife shall be obtained from another tribe if not in open war, then by private abduction.

A few facts showing that by savages proofs of courage are often required as qualifications for marriage, will carry home this conclusion. Herndon tells us that among the Mahués a man cannot take a wife until he has submitted to severe torture. Bates, speaking of the Passes on the Upper Amazons, says that formerly "the young men earned their brides by valiant deeds in war." Before he is allowed to marry, a young Dyak must prove his bravery by bringing back the head of an enemy. Bancroft quotes Colonel Cremony as saying that when the Apache warriors return unsuccessful, "the women turn away from them with assured indifference and contempt. They are upbraided as cowards, or for want of skill and tact, and are told that such men should not have wives." That, among other results of sentiments thus exemplified, abduction of women will be one, is obvious; for a man who, denied a wife till he has proved his courage, steals one, satisfies his want and achieves reputation at the same time. If, as we see, the test of deserving a wife is in some cases obtainment of a trophy, what more natural than that the trophy should often be the stolen wife herself? What more natural than that where many warriors of the tribe are distinguished by stolen wives, the stealing of a wife should become the required proof of fitness to have one? Hence would follow a peremptory law of exogamy.

In so far as it implies that usage grows into law, this interpretation agrees with that of Mr. McLennan. It does not, however, like his, assume either that this usage originated in a primordial instinct, or that it resulted from scarcity of women caused by infanticide. Moreover, unlike Mr. McLennan's, the explanation so reached is consistent with the fact that exogamy and endogamy in many cases exist; and with the fact that exogamy often coexists with polygyny. Further, it does not involve us in the difficulty raised by supposing a peremptory law of exogamy to be obeyed throughout a cluster of tribes.
But can the great prevalence of the form of capture in marriage ceremonies be thus accounted for? Mr. McLennan believes that, wherever this form is now found, complete exogamy once prevailed. Examination will, I think, show that the implication is not necessary. There are several ways in which the form of capture naturally arises; or rather, let us say, it has several conspiring causes.

If, as we have seen, there still exist rude tribes in which men fight for possession of women, the taking possession of a woman naturally comes as a sequence to an act of capture. That monopoly which constitutes her a wife in the only sense known by the primitive man is a result of successful violence. Thus the form may originate from actual capture within the tribe instead of originating from actual capture without it.

Beyond that resistance to a man's seizure of a woman apt to be made by other men within the tribe, there is the resistance of the woman herself. Sir John Lubbock expresses the opinion that female coyness is not an adequate cause for the establishment of the form of capture; and it may be that, taken alone, it does not suffice to account for everything. But there are reasons for thinking it an important factor. Here are some of them. Crantz tells us concerning: the Esquimaux that, when a damsel is asked in marriage, she—

"directly falls into the greatest apparent consternation, and runs out-of-doors tearing her hunch of hair; for single women always affect the utmost bashfulness and aversion to any proposal of marriage, lest they should lose their reputation for modesty."

Like behavior is shown by Bushmen girls. When—

"a girl has grown up to womanhood without having previously been betrothed, her lover must gain her own approbation, as well as that of the parents; and on this occasion his attentions are received with an affectation of great alarm and disinclination on her part, and with some squabbling on the part of her friends."

Again, among the Sinai Arabs, says Burckhardt, a bride—

"defends herself with stones, and often inflicts wounds on the young men, even though she does not dislike the lover; for, according to custom, the more she struggles, bites, kicks, cries, and strikes, the more she is applauded ever after by her own companions." During the procession to the husband's camp, "decency obliges her to cry and sob most bitterly."

Of the Muzos, Piedrahita narrates that after agreement with the parents was made—

"the bridegroom came to see the bride, and staid three days caressing her, while she replied by beating him with her fists and with sticks. After these three days she got tamer, and cooked his meals."

In these cases, then, coyness, either real or affected for reputation's sake, causes resistance of the woman herself. In other cases there is joined with this the resistance of her female friends. We read of the Sumatran women that "both the bride and her female relatives make it a point of honor to prevent (or appear to prevent) the bridegroom from obtaining his bride." On the occasion of a marriage among the Araucanians, Smith tells us that "the women spring up en masse, and arming themselves with clubs, stones, and missiles of all kinds, rush to the defense of the distressed maiden.... It is a point of honor with the bride to resist and struggle, however willing she may be." And once more we learn from Grieve that when a Kamtchatkan "bridegroom obtains the liberty of seizing his bride, he seeks every opportunity of finding her alone, or in company of a few people, for during this time all the women in the village are obliged to protect her."

Here we have, I think, proof that one origin of the form of capture is feminine opposition primarily of the woman herself, and secondarily of female friends who naturally sympathize with her. Though the manners of the inferior races do not imply much coyness, yet we cannot suppose coyness to be wholly absent. Hence that amount of it which really exists, joined with that further amount simulated for reputation's sake, will make resistance, and consequently capture, natural phenomena. Moreover, since a savage makes his wife a slave, and usually treats her brutally, she has an additional motive for resistance.

Nor does forcible opposition proceed only from the girl and her female friends: the male members of her family also are likely to be opponents. A woman is of value not only as a wife, but also as a daughter; and all through, from the lowest to the highest stages of social progress, we find a tacit or avowed claim to her services by her father. It is so even with the degraded Fuegians: an equivalent in the shape of service rendered has to be given for her by the youth, "such as helping to make a canoe." It is so with numerous more advanced savages all over the world: there is either the like giving of stipulated work, or the giving of a price. And we have evidence that it was originally so among ourselves: in an action for seduction the deprivation of a daughter's services is the injury alleged. Hence it is inferable that in the rudest states, where claims, parental or other, are but little regarded, the taking away of a daughter is likely to become the occasion of a fight. Facts support this conclusion. Of the Araucanians Smith tells us that, when there is opposition of the parents, "the neighbors are immediately summoned by blowing the horn, and chase is given." "Among the Gándors, a tribe on the southern shores of the Caspian Sea, the bridegroom must run away with his bride, although he thereby exposes himself to the vengeance of her parents, who, if they find him within three days, can lawfully put him to death." And we read concerning the Gonds that "a suitor usually carries off the girl that is refused to him by the parents." Thus we find a further natural cause for the practice of capture—a cause which must have been common before social usages were well established. Indeed, on reading that among the Mapuchés the man sometimes "lays violent hands upon the damsel, and carries her off," and that "in all such cases the, visual equivalent is afterward paid to the girl's father," we may suspect that abduction, spite of parents, was the primary form; that there came next the making of compensation to escape vengeance; that this grew into the making of presents beforehand; and that so resulted eventually the system of purchase.

If, then, within a tribe there are three sources of opposition to the appropriation of a woman by a man, it does not seem that the form of capture is inexplicable unless we assume the abduction of women from other tribes.

But even supposing it to have originated in the capture of foreign women, its survival as a form of marriage would not prove exogamy to have been the law. In a tribe whose warriors had many of them wives taken from enemies, and who, as having captured their wives, were regarded as more honorably married than the rest, there would result an ambition, if not to capture a wife, still to seem to capture a wife. In every society the inferior ape the superior; and customs thus spread among classes, the ancestors of which did not observe them. The antique-looking portraits that decorate many a modern, large house, by no means demonstrate the distinguished ancestry of the owner; but may merely simulate a distinguished ancestry. The coat of arms a wealthy man bears does not necessarily imply descent from men who once had their shields and flags covered by such marks of identity. The plumes borne on a hearse do not prove that the dead occupant had forefathers who wore knightly decorations. And, similarly, it does not follow that all the members of tribes who go through the form of capturing their wives at marriage are descendants of men who in earlier days actually captured their wives. Mr. McLennan himself points out that, among sundry ancient peoples, captured wives were permitted to the military class, though not to other classes. If we suppose a society formed of a dominant military class, originally the conquerors, who practised wife-capture, and a subject class who could not practise it—and if we ask what would happen when such a society fell into more peaceful relations with adjacent like societies, and obtained wives from them no longer by force, but by purchase or other friendly arrangement—we may see that, in the first place, the form of capture would replace the actuality of capture in the marriages of this dominant class; for, as Mr. McLennan contends, conformity to ancestral usage would necessitate the simulation of capture after actual capture has ceased. And when, in the dominant class, wife-capture had thus passed into a form, it would be imitated by the subject class as being the most honorable form. Such among the inferior as had risen to superior social positions would first adopt it; and they would gradually be followed by those below them. So that, even were there none of the other probable origins named above, a surviving form of capture in any society would not necessarily show that society to have been exogamous, but would merely show that wife-capture was in early times practised by its leading men.


And now, pursuing the argument, let us see whether exogamy and endogamy are not simultaneously accounted for as correlative results of the same differentiating process. Setting out with a state in which the relations of the sexes were indefinite, variable, and determined by the passions and circumstances of the occasion, we have to explain how exogamy and endogamy became established, the one here, the other there, as consequences of surrounding conditions. The efficient conditions were the relations to other tribes, now peaceful but mostly hostile, some of them strong, and some of them weak.

Necessarily, a primitive group not commonly at war with neighboring groups must be endogamous; for the taking of women from other tribes is either a sequence of open war, or is an act of private war which brings on open war. Pure endogamy, however, resulting in this manner, is probably rare, since the hostility of tribes is almost universal. But endogamy is likely to characterize not peaceful groups alone, but also groups habitually worsted in war. An occasional abducted woman taken in reprisal will not suffice to establish in a weak tribe any precedent for wife-capture; but, contrariwise, a member of such a tribe who carries off a woman, and so provokes vengeance by the stronger tribe robbed, is likely to meet with general reprobation.[2]

Hence marrying in the tribe will not only be habitual, but there will arise a prejudice, and eventually a law, against taking wives from other tribes; the needs of self-preservation will make the tribe endogamous. This interpretation harmonizes with the fact, admitted by Mr. McLennan, that the endogamous tribes are as numerous as the exogamous; and also with the fact he admits, that in sundry cases clusters of tribes allied by blood and language are some of them exogamous and some endogamous.

It is to be inferred that, among tribes not differing much from one another in strength, there will be continual aggressions and reprisals, accompanied by mutual robberies of women. No one of them will be able to supply itself with wives entirely at the expense of adjacent tribes, and hence, in each of them, there will be both native wives, and wives taken from other tribes—there will be both exogamy and endogamy. Stealing of wives will not be reprobated, because the tribes robbed are not too strong to be defied; and it will not be insisted on, because the men who have stolen wives will not be numerous enough to determine the average opinion.

If, however, in a cluster of tribes, one gains predominance by frequent successes in war if the men in it who have stolen wives come to form the larger number—if the possession of a stolen wife becomes a mark of that bravery without which a man is not worthy of a wife—then the discreditableness of marrying within the tribe, growing into disgracefulness, will end in a peremptory requirement to get a wife from another tribe—if not in open war, then by private theft: the tribe will become exogamous. A sequence may be traced. The exogamous tribe thus arising, and growing while it causes adjacent tribes to dwindle by robbing them, will presently divide; and its sections, usurping the habitats of adjacent tribes, will carry with them the established exogamous habit. When, presently becoming hostile, these diverging sub-tribes begin to rob one another of women, there will arise conditions conducive to that internal exogamy which Mr. McLennan supposes, rightly I think, to replace external exogamy. For, unless we assume that, in a cluster of tribes, each will undertake to rear women for adjacent tribes to steal, we must conclude that the exogamous requirement will be met in a qualified manner. Wives born within the tribe, but foreign by blood, will, under pressure of the difficulty, be considered allowable, instead of actually stolen wives. And thus, indeed, that kinship in the female line, which primitive irregularity in the relations of the sexes originates, will become established, even though male parenthood is known; since this interpretation of kinship will make possible conformity to a law of connubium that could not otherwise be obeyed.


Nothing of much importance is to be said respecting exogamy and endogamy in their general bearings on social life.

Exogamy in its primitive form is clearly an accompaniment of the lowest barbarism; and it decreases as the hostility of societies becomes less constant, and the usages of war mitigated. That the implied crossing of tribal stocks, where these tribal stocks are very small, may be advantageous, physiologically, is true; and exogamy may so secure a benefit which at a later stage is secured by the mingling of conquering and conquered tribes; though none who bear in mind the thoughtlessness of savages will suppose such a benefit to have been contemplated. But the exogamous custom, as at first established, implies an extremely abject condition of women; a brutal treatment of them; an entire absence of the higher sentiments that accompany the relation of the sexes. Associated with the lowest type of political life, it is also associated with the lowest type of domestic life.

Evidently endogamy, which at the outset must have characterized the more peaceful groups, and which has prevailed as societies have become less hostile, is a concomitant of the higher forms of the family.

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  1. From advance-sheets of Spencer's "Principles of Sociology," Part "The Domestic Relations," chap, iv., "Exogamy and Endogamy."
  2. Since the above sentence was written, I have, by a happy coincidence, come upon a verifying fact, in the just-published "Life in the Southern Isles," by the Rev. Mr. Gill (p. 47). A man, belonging to one of the tribes in Mangaia, stole food from an adjacent tribe. This adjacent tribe avenged itself by destroying the houses, etc., of the thief's tribe. Thereupon the thief's tribe, angry because of the mischief thus brought upon them, killed the thief. If this happened with a stealer of food, still more would it be likely to happen with a stealer of women, when the tribe robbed was the more powerful.