Page:Totem and Taboo (1919).djvu/35

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23
THE SAVAGE'S DREAD OF INCEST

in which this last condition does not remove the prohibition, this explanation is subject to the objection that it does not throw any light on the custom dealing with the relation between mother-in-law and son-in-law, thus overlooking the sexual factor, and that it does not take into account the almost sacred loathing which finds expression in the laws of avoidance.[1]

A Zulu woman who was asked about the basis for this prohibition showed great delicacy of feeling in her answer: “It is not right that he should see the breasts which nursed his wife.”[2]

It is known that also among civilized races the relation of son-in-law and mother-in-law belongs to one of the most difficult sides of family organization. Although laws of avoidance no longer exist in the society of the white races of Europe and America, much quarreling and displeasure would often be avoided if they did exist and did not have to be reestablished by individuals. Many a European will see an act of high wisdom in the laws of avoidance which savage races have established to preclude any understanding between two persons who have become so closely related. There is hardly any doubt that there is something in the psychological situation of

  1. Crawley, 1. c. p. 407.
  2. Crawley, 1. c. p. 401, according to Leslie: “Among the Zulus and Amatongas,” 1875.