Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/June 1880/Views of Primitive Marriage
By LORIMER FISON.
THE theory now to be considered was first advanced by Mr. McLennan, in his work entitled "Primitive Marriage." It will be found stated in the following words in his "Studies in Ancient History," a reprint, with additions, of the former work:
"We believe this restriction on marriage (i. e., exogamy) to be connected with the practice in early times of female infanticide, which, rendering women scarce, led at once to polyandry within the tribe, and to the capturing of women from without."
"If it can be shown, firstly, that exogamous tribes exist or have existed, and, secondly, that in rude times the relations of separate tribes are uniformly or almost uniformly hostile, we have found a set of circumstances in which men could get wives only by capturing them—a social condition in which capture would be the necessary preliminary to marriage."
Further on he remarks, "We now confidently submit that the conditions required for this inference have been amply established. . . ."
After a careful study of Mr. McLennan's work, I am not sure that I have grasped his meaning here. The "tribe" of which he speaks must have been in the first place endogamous, because he supposes it to have become exogamous as the result of the practice of female infanticide. Here, then, we have an endogamous tribe becoming exogamous. But, in the table of contents to Chapter VII. we read, "Conversion of an endogamous tribe into an exogamous tribe inconceivable." Turning to that part of the body of the work here indicated, we find the statement to be that the "reconversion of an endogamous tribe into an exogamous tribe is inconceivable." But this does not help us. For there can be no difficulty in conceiving that which we have before our eyes at the present day in almost all savage peoples on the face of the earth—a tribe endogamous qua tribe—that is, marrying within its own limits, and yet split up into exogamous intermarrying divisions, classes, gentes, septs, clans, thums, keelis, or whatsoever else they may be called; so that the law of marriage is distinctly exogamous. The confusion here evidently arises from want of precision in the use of the terms endogamy, exogamy, and tribe. Let us know the exact boundaries of the group to which they are applied, and then we shall be clear as to their meaning.
Again, turning to the general theory as set forth in Mr. McLennan's words already quoted, we find the following sequence:
1. Female infanticide was the general practice among the "primary hordes," and resulted in a scarcity of women, so causing polyandry and marriage by capture.
2. The tribe having thus taken to capturing women, acquired the habit of so doing, and became exogamous.
3. Exogamy having thus grown into a law, and neighboring tribes being, as a rule, hostile to one another, men could get their wives no otherwise than by capture.
Which may be fairly summed up as follows: Female infanticide causes marriage by capture. Marriage by capture causes exogamy. Exogamy causes marriage by capture.
I can not suppose this to have been Mr. McLennan's meaning, but I have failed to perceive any other. Two things, however, are clear, as forming the basis on which his theory stands:
1. That "female infanticide" was the general practice among the "primary hordes"—in other words, that they killed many more female children than male.
2. That exogamous tribes existed under "circumstances in which men could only get wives by capturing them"—in other words, that these tribes could not marry anywhere within their own boundaries, and were consequently compelled to capture their wives, there being no possibility of friendly intermarriage with other tribes.
Let us now test this basis, and see if it be secure: It is well known that infanticide is a very common practice among savage and barbaric tribes, and the opinion seems to prevail that "female infanticide"—the killing of female children rather than male—is the general rule. This opinion is undoubtedly correct as to many tribes; but I venture to suggest that it needs reconsideration as far as the lower savages are concerned, and it is with them that the theory now under consideration has to do. I think it will be found that the practice is far less common with them than it is among the tribes who are more advanced, and for this opinion I will now endeavor to show cause.
Savages are perfectly logical people in their own way, and do not act without a motive, which, to their minds at least, is a sufficient one. So thoroughly have I been convinced of this by my fifteen years' residence among them, and close observation of their ways, that I do not hesitate to affirm that, whenever their acts appear capricious to us, we may be quite sure we do not understand their motives. The savage has no hesitation in killing his infant children, whether male or female, if they be in his way; but he does not kill any one of them for the mere sake of killing, and he certainly would not kill his daughters rather than his sons without a sufficient motive. Is such a motive to be found among the lower savages?
The reasons usually given for female infanticide are thus stated by Sir John Lubbock and Mr. McLennan:
"Female children became a source of weakness in various ways. They ate and did not hunt. They weakened their mothers when young, and when grown up were a temptation to surrounding tribes."
To the same effect Mr. McLennan observes: "To tribes surrounded by enemies and unaided by art, contending with the difficulties of subsistence, sons were a source of strength, both for defense and in quest of food, daughters a source of weakness."
The motive here advanced is, that females are an incumbrance to savages, and for this four reasons are given:
1. "They weaken their mothers when young."
2. "They eat and do not hunt"—i. e., they are food-consumers, but not food-providers.
3. They are "a source of weakness" as regards defense—i. e., they are in the way in war-time.
4. They are "a temptation to surrounding tribes."
I think it can be shown that not one of these reasons is of any force as regards the lower savages.
1. That children "weaken their mothers when young" may be a reason for infanticide, but it is no reason for killing female infants rather than male.
2. The assertion that women "eat and do not hunt" can not apply to the lower savages. On the contrary, whether among the ruder agricultural tribes, or those who are dependent on supplies gathered "from forest and from flood," the women are food-providers who supply more than they consume, and render most valuable service into the bargain. As a general rule they are the hardest workers and the most useful members of the community in times of peace.
3. And certainly they are not "a source of weakness" as regards defense. They are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves in war-time; and, so far from being an incumbrance upon the warriors, they will fight, if need be, as bravely as the men, and with even greater ferocity. I could give some shocking proofs of this which have come under my own observation.
4. Finally, that they are "a temptation to surrounding tribes" does not appear to be a sufficient reason for killing them. They are far too valuable a possession to be cast away merely because the neighbors covet them. We do not find the Caffres exterminating their cattle because they are "a temptation to the surrounding tribes."
It is among the more advanced tribes that the motives for female infanticide are found, and I believe the practice exists also to a greater extent than among the lower savages. Thus, where a costly dower has to be given with a girl in marriage, female infanticide is known to be very common. A daughter there is a special cause of impoverishment to her parents, whereas a son is a cause of enrichment. Here we have a motive which seems to act with considerable power, but it does not exist among the lower savages. For with them the dower—where one is given—is provided by the bridegroom's kinsmen and presented to the parents of the girl. Here, then, the conditions are reversed. It is the girl who is a cause of enrichment to her parents at her marriage. And this is very far from being all the advantage they derive from her. Her husband has to feed them in peace, and to fight for them in war. Thus an Australian native divides all the game he takes according to certain established rules, and the choicest bits go to his wife's father. That a man has to fight on his father-in-law's side among many tribes who reckon descent through females has been recorded by several observers of savage life; and it is worthy of note that this duty still devolves upon him in some tribes, which, though they have advanced to descent through males, have not yet been able to free themselves from the traditions of the older line. Thus the Rev. R. Taylor says of the Maori who keep records, carefully carved in wood, of long lines of male ancestors reaching up to the Nichts und Alles—that the son-in-law had to go into his father-in-law's hapu (clan) and "in case of war was often obliged to fight against his own relatives. The custom was evidently on the way to extinction among the Maori, though still retaining great strength. This is evident from the fact that there was much rebellion against it on the part of the young men, some of whom, within Mr. Taylor's knowledge, refused to obey, and lost their wives in consequence; and, whenever there is as much opposition as this to an ancient custom among savages, we may be sure that a new custom has gained a footing strong enough to afford a sanction to the malcontents. That this custom is likely to be of general prevalence among the lower savages is evident from the fact that it is the logical result of their group relationships when descent is through the mother. Among them it is not that a man has to leave his own clan and go into his father-in-law's when he marries. He is of his father-in-law's clan by birth. Thus, if Dog and Snake be the totems, or badges, of two intermarrying clans: with descent through females the daughter of Dog is Snake, and the son of Snake is Dog. This Dog, the son of Snake, marries Snake, the daughter of Dog. That is, father-in-law and son-in-law are of the same totem, where there are but two intermarrying gentes; and a strong probability can be shown that this is the earliest form of a tribe with exogamous intermarrying divisions.
Therefore, since women are in no respect an incumbrance to the lower savages, but the reverse, it is evident that we do not find in the reasons given by Sir John Lubbock and Mr. McLennan a preferential motive for female infanticide.
And something more than this can be shown. Another motive for killing female children rather than male is found among agricultural tribes, who have descent through the father, in the fact that a woman can transmit neither the family name nor the family estate. She passes out of the line by marriage. And this with tribes who have that line of descent, and therefore—wherever they accept its consequences—ancestral worship offered to males alone by males alone, this is a very grave—the very gravest—consideration. The dead are dependent upon their male descendants for offerings, without which their shadowy existence would be to the last degree wretched; and therefore, as every man knows he also must die, he is anxious during life to see a good provision made for his future wants—in other words, he is eager to have sons to succeed him. But neither is this motive to be found among the lower savages, for with them descent, and therefore inheritance, is through females. Hence we find in some such tribes the practice of "male infanticide"—that is to say, the practice of killing male children rather than female. Thus the Rev. R. H. Codrington, M. A., of the Church of England Melanesian mission, informed me, with regard to the people of Mota (Banks Island), that infanticide was common among them, and that "male children were killed rather than female, because of the family passing by the female side."
We have seen that the first of the two postulates on which Mr. McLennan's theory depends is not to be readily granted. We have now to examine the second, which is—
That exogamous tribes existed "under circumstances in which men could get wives only by capturing them."
A tribe to satisfy these conditions must be exogamous qua tribe—that is to say, marriage must be forbidden everywhere within its limits. No man of the tribe must be able to take any one of its women to wife; for, if the tribe be so constituted that its men can get their wives anywhere within its boundaries, it is manifest that it is not a tribe such as Mr. McLennan's theory requires.
His list of what he calls "exogamous tribes" is contained in Chapter V. of "Studies in Ancient History," and of all those tribes there is not one which satisfies his own conditions. Without exception, they are all divided into exogamous intermarrying clans; and therefore they can get wives without capturing them from other tribes.
Each one of them is an endogamous tribe or community, made up of exogamous intermarrying clans—that is, it marries within its own boundaries, but it prohibits marriage within any one of its clans. Once more we have to note that a confusion arises from Mr. McLennan's want of precision in using the term "tribe," and his own terms "endogamy" and "exogamy," all of which are equally misleading, unless the area to which they are applied be clearly defined. But, whatever be the meaning which he gives to tribe, the cases cited by him in his fifth chapter are of no avail. For it is evident that in these cases the word "tribe" must mean one of two things: either—
As this statement can be verified by a reference to Mr. McLennan's own account of the tribes which he cites as "exogamous," there is no need to trouble the reader with an examination of more than two or three of them which seem to require special notice. Of these the first are the Calmucks, who are divided into four great tribes or nations, called respectively Khoshot, Dzungar, Torgot, and Derbet (or Tchoro). Their system of marriage seems to have this peculiarity, that the common people can marry within any one of these great divisions, though not within certain prohibited degrees, while the nobles must marry each without his own division. A Derbet noble, for instance, we are told, must marry a Torgot lady, a Torgot noble a Derbet lady, and so on. Each of these great divisions is subdivided into smaller divisions, but we are not told whether these subdivisions are exogamous or not.
I know very little about the Calmucks, and a mission station in Feejee affording no facilities for getting at books of reference, I am not in a position to ascertain more fully the Calmuck system of marriage. We know, however, that the Calmucks call themselves the "Derben Ueirat," which means "The Four Relatives"; and this fact, coupled with the law of marriage among the nobles—who are conservatives almost everywhere, and given to standing in the old paths—seems to point to a time when the four great divisions were simply intermarrying clans, making up one community. But, whether this were so or not, it is evident that the Calmucks will not serve Mr. McLennan's turn, unless we may take it for granted that there was a time in their history when they had no way of marrying save by capturing each other's women.
Let us grant this for the sake of argument, and see what comes of it. Derbet and Torgot, we will say, are two exogamous tribes living in a state of mutual hostility, and so presenting "a set of circumstances in which men can get wives only by capturing them." Now, what is the result? Say that Derbet captures a number of Torgot women sufficient to supply its young men with wives, and Torgot captures Derbet women enough for its wants; we may then ask, "Are all the women on both sides disposed of?" If so, it follows that each tribe has captured all the women of the other.
But, if there be any women left uncaptured, what are they to do for husbands? Say, for instance, that a number of Derbet girls are left uncaptured by the Torgots, who have secured their full complement of wives. What is to be done with them? They can not marry within their own tribe, for the tribe is exogamous. The Derbets must be in this perplexing strait: either they must give these women away to the Torgots—which would be a method of wife-procuring other than capture—or they must capture Torgot young men as husbands for those damsels, and forcibly adopt them into their own tribe.
Mr. McLennan's theory of marriage by capture, therefore, requires either—
1. That all the women of a tribe shall be captured by another tribe; or—
2. That men shall be captured for husbands, as well as women for wives. Surely, when a theory brings us to a conclusion such as this, it were better to lay it aside.
The Kocchs and the Hos, brought forward in evidence by Mr. McLennan in a subsequent chapter, are useless witnesses to him, because, as Sir John Lubbock has pointed out, "they are divided into keelis, or clans, and may not take to wife a girl of their own keeli."
Concerning the Khonds, Major McPherson's statement, quoted by Mr. McLennan, is that "intermarriage between persons of the same tribe" (the italics are mine), "however large or scattered, is considered incestuous and punishable by death." This does not prove that no Khond can marry a Khond—and nothing less than this is required by Mr. McLennan's theory. It simply points to the fact that the Orissa Khonds are divided into exogamous clans, and that men and women of the same clan are tribal brothers and sisters.
Taking the term "exogamous tribe" to mean an exogamous community complete in all its parts, and forbidding marriage everywhere within its limits (the sense in which Mr. McLennan's theory requires it to be used with regard to the cases cited by him in his fifth chapter), I do not hesitate to say that nowhere on the face of the earth has such a tribe been found at the present day; and that we have no trustworthy record of any such tribe having existed in bygone days. All the savage communities with which we have anything like a full acquaintance are made up of exogamous intermarrying divisions, and consequently do not forbid marriage everywhere within their own limits. Such a community may properly be said to be endogamous as regards itself, if it forbids or at least discourages marriage beyond its own boundaries (as is frequently—we may say generally—the case), though its law of marriage can not be said to be endogamous, because its clans are strictly exogamous. There is no instance, as far as I know, of any such endogamous tribe which is not divided into exogamous clans. If we could find such a tribe, we should find what has been diligently sought for in vain for the last thirty years and more. It would be an undivided commune, to the former existence of which significant evidence has long seemed to point.
The case of the Ahts, quoted from Sproat's "Scenes and Studies of Savage Life," by Sir John Lubbock, and apparently brought forward by him as an instance of such a tribe, is far from being a case in point. Sproat's account of the Ahts does not prove that tribe to be endogamous, excepting in the sense that a tribe made up of exogamous clans may be said to be endogamous because it prefers not to go beyond its own clans for its wives. If this be endogamy, then the term endogamy is of little value; for in this sense nearly every nation on the face of the earth may be said to be endogamous, in feeling at least. Even among the English the "foreigner" is not looked upon as an altogether eligible husband excepting for princesses, and for them only because of ancient traditions. It is the Calmuck rule over again. The common people may marry at home, but a Derbet noble must marry one of the Torgot stock. One of the good deeds the Queen has done is her breaking through this rule in the case of one of her daughters. And, even if one of her sons had taken an English or an American lady to wife, there is little doubt that the nation would have applauded his choice, in spite of all the old traditions. But this is going a long way from our subject.
What Sproat tells us of the Ahts is that "the idea of slavery connected with capture is so common that a freeborn Aht would hesitate to marry a woman taken in war, whatever her rank had been in her own tribe." And this feeling is a very common one elsewhere. With reference to this passage in the "Origin of Civilization," Mr. Walter Carew, Commissioner for the Interior of Naviti Levu, Feejee, was good enough to write me the following note: "To call a person 'a child of a captive' is a very great insult, even though the mother were of high rank." Mr. Carew goes on to remind me of a case, with the circumstances of which we are both acquainted, of a Viria chief who was set aside because his mother was a captive, though she was a marama, or lady of rank, belonging to one of the principal tribes in Feejee, a tribe of far greater consequence than that of Viria.
Having examined Mr. McLennan's theory of exogamy and marriage by capture, it now remains for us to notice his statement of polyandry.
If what we have to deal with here were no more than a statement that local cases of polyandry are to be found, or even that such cases are of frequent occurrence, the controversy would be of no very great importance. But Mr. McLennan treats polyandry as a system of marriage of so extensive a prevalence, and draws with singular ability such wide inferences from it as to kinship, succession, and the change of descent from the female line to the male, that all the most important questions connected with the development of social organization in early communities are involved. The evidence, therefore, ought to be of the very strongest, and the witnesses fully competent to deal with the facts they narrate.
In forming our opinions as to the customs of savage tribes, in all cases where the significance of a custom depends upon something underlying the visible facts, the accounts given by travelers must be received with caution. They may state quite correctly each fact they observe, but they are very likely to be wrong in their interpretation of its meaning. No witness here is to be trusted unless he has had very full opportunities of making himself acquainted with that which underlies the custom he describes. This caution has a special application to evidence as to polyandry; for, as Sir John Lubbock justly observes, "When our information is incomplete, it must often be far from easy to distinguish between communal marriage and true polyandry." Thus Mr. Schurmann, who happened to observe two Australian blacks living with one woman in common between them, records this as an instance of polyandry, whereas we know that it was nothing more than an instance of group-marriage. So also the practice of the "imported laborers" in Feejee at the present day might well be set down as polyandry, if we did not know what is beneath the outer fact. There is an exceptional scarcity of women among them, many more males than females being imported; and so a woman may be seen cohabiting with a number of men. But we have had more than one shocking proof that this seeming polyandry is only group-marriage in difficulties, women who admitted men of a forbidden class having been put to death by their countrymen for the offense; and the murderers have declared that they were under obligation to kill them.
Not a few of Mr. McLennan's instances of so-called polyandry admit of a similar explanation; and even those cases on which he seems chiefly to depend—the Nair and the Thibetan—are anything but conclusive in his favor. The Nair polyandry, according to the account of it given by Mr. McLennan himself in quotation from Hamilton, Buchanan, and the "Asiatic Researches," is evidently group-marriage. A Nair woman has "a combination of husbands," but "a Nair may be one in several combinations of husbands—that is, he may have any number of wives." Group-marriage might well be described in these very words. That the Nairs are divided into exogamous clans is certain from the fact that cohabitation is regulated by "certain restrictions as to tribe and caste," the plain meaning of which is that there are certain "tribes or castes" which do not intermarry; and the Nair polyandry resolves itself into cohabitation between permitted groups. Mr. McLennan asserts that "the Nair husbands are usually not brothers—usually not relatives." But in what sense does he use "brothers" and "relatives" here? If by "brothers" he means only "children of the same parents," and by "relatives" only "persons who are related according to our own notions of relationship," then his statement is of little weight, for a group of "tribal" brothers may include many persons other than these.
The Thibetan instance quoted from Turner, where "five brothers were living very happily under the same connubial compact" seems to be a clearer case. But there is no proof that this is an instance of true polyandry, and not of polyandry combined with polygynia, like the Nair custom, the custom of the Britons as described by Cæsar and all the other instances given by Mr. McLennan where tribal brothers hold their wives in common. And, considering how easy it is to mistake instances of group-marriage for polyandry, such proof may be reasonably demanded from one who represents polyandry as an extensive system of marriage.
The law of the Levirate, which Mr. McLennan considers "it is impossible not to regard as. . . derived from the practice of polyandry," does not appear to me to have anything at all to do with polyandry. It was a regulation to prevent the elder branch of a stock from becoming extinct. Its underlying motive is found in the preferential claim to the birthright vested in the elder branch; and this preferential claim is found only in tribes who have descent through males, or at least who, having settled down to agriculture, are well on their way to that line. The lower savages know nothing of that motive. Mr. McLennan lays stress upon the fact that the widow was the Levir's "wife without any form of marriage." But there is no proof that this is a survival of polyandry; for, in the first place there is no need for us to look upon it as a survival of anything at all, and, in the second place, it would serve very well as a survival of group-marriage. In many tribes the brother's widow is the Levir's wife "without any form of marriage." He does not even wait until she becomes a widow. He is of the same group with her husband, and her group is "wife" to his group.
It is not denied that cases of polyandry occur. A few instances of it have come under my own observation. But in every case the men were of a clan which intermarried with that of the woman, the circumstances were exceptional, and the custom was not the general practice—not even the frequent practice—of the tribe. In full accordance with this is the following account of polyandry at Mota, written to me by the Rev. R. H. Codrington before mentioned:
"Polyandry exists, but rarely—never with young people, but mostly as a matter of convenience, as when two widowers live with one widow. She is wife to both, and any child she may have belongs to both. There are cases in which a husband connives at a connection between his wife and another man. This is not counted adultery, for it is an open transaction; and it is not polyandry, for the parties are not counted husband and wife. It is not considered respectable."
The existence of polyandry is not denied, but I venture to hazard the assertion that it is not the system of marriage in any tribe at the present day, and it seems to me impossible that it could have been the rule of marriage anywhere at any time in the past. The mere arithmetical difficulty in the way appears to me to be insurmountable.
Though such statistics as I have been able to get at among the lately heathen tribes in Feejee directly contradict the hypothesis, still I think we may suppose that the number of males generally exceeds that of females among the lower savages. But it does not seem to have occurred to Mr. McLennan to consider how great his theory of polyandry as a system of marriage requires that disparity to be. Under such a system it is evident that, whatever the average number of husbands to a wife maybe, at least so many times more numerous must the men be than the women. If y be the number of women, and x their average allowance of husbands; then, since we can not suppose that under such a system any marriageable girl would be allowed to roam in "maiden meditation fancy free," the number of men in the tribe must be x y, even supposing all the men to be absorbed in the "combinations of husbands."
Nor will marriage by capture help us here; because, for every woman stolen there must have been x husbands left lamenting, unless we suppose that a non-polyandrous tribe was kept in the neighborhood of each polyandrous tribe for its convenience, and that they never retaliated upon their aggressive neighbors.
To sum up: It has been shown that Mr. McLennan's postulate of female infanticide as the rule among the lower savages can not easily be granted; that his exogamous tribes are not exogamous in the sense which his theory requires; and that both marriage by capture and polyandry, as systems of marriage, involve something which has all the appearance of an absurdity. Without claiming too much, then, I think it may be said that the basis of Mr. McLennan's theory has been shown to be insecure. And this being so, it is all the greater pity that he allowed himself to treat with such contemptuous scorn the hypothesis advanced by Mr. Morgan in his work on "Systems of Consanguinity," which hypothesis is opposed to his own.
"This wild dream—not to say nightmare—of early institutions. . . . It seemed worth while to take the trouble to show its utterly unscientific character. Before a writer permits himself to use words such as these, he should be very sure that he has firm ground under his feet; and even then it would be better to leave them unsaid. There is nothing in any line of scientific research to make a man of undoubted learning and ability forget the courtesy which he owes to another.