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CHAPTER VII.: THEORIES OF PRIMITIVE SOCIETY. - Sir Henry Sumner Maine, Dissertations on Early Law and Custom 
Dissertations on Early Law and Custom, chiefly selected from Lectures delivered at Oxford (London: John Murray, 1883).
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THEORIES OF PRIMITIVE SOCIETY.
Some years ago (in 1861) I published a work (on ‘Ancient Law’) which I described in the preface as having for its chief object to ‘indicate some of the earliest ideas of mankind as they are reflected in Ancient Law, and to point out the relation of these ideas to modern thought.’ It was not part of my object to determine the absolute origin of human society. I have written very few pages which have any bearing on the subject, and I must confess a certain distaste for inquiries which, when I have attempted to push them far, have always landed me in mudbanks and fog. The undertaking which I have followed in the work just mentioned, and in others, has been to trace the real, as opposed to the imaginary, or the arbitrarily assumed, history of the institutions of civilised men. When I began it, several years before 1861, the background was obscured and the route beyond a certain point obstructed by à priori theories based on the hypothesis of a law and state of Nature. In endeavouring to get past this barrier, I had occasion to point out the claims of the so-called Patriarchal theory of society to be considered a real historical theory; that is, as a theory giving an account upon rational evidence of primitive or very ancient social order. The Patriarchal theory is the theory of the origin of society in separate families, held together by the authority and protection of the eldest valid male ascendant; and, having dwelt on the peculiar importance of Roman law in investigations such as I was prosecuting, I insisted in a few pages of my book on the testimony to this theory supplied by the earliest records of Roman jurisprudence. We have not indeed knowledge of any working system of institutions in which the Family exactly corresponds to the primitive family assumed by the theory. The Roman law, as a working system, takes a view of Family and Kinship not very different from that accepted in modern societies, but we happen to have unusual facilities for ascertaining a very ancient condition of this law, and it is not possible to doubt that, when the law was in this state, the Family and the Kinship of which it took cognisance had for their basis the authority of the eldest male ascendant. Other bodies of old usage and legal rule, less perfectly known to us than the Roman from the scantiness or the inferior quality of their materials, seemed to me to suggest that a Family organised on the Patriarchal model had been the near or remote antecedent of the Family which they reflected. The Hindu law appeared to me to suggest this very strongly. So did Slavonian law, as far as it was known. Greek law seemed to point to the same conclusion, less distinctly yet not very obscurely; and, more doubtfully, the ancient law of the Teutonic races. The evidence appeared to me very much of the same kind and strength as that which convinces the comparative philologist that a number of words in different Aryan languages had a common ancestral form in a now unknown ancestral mother tongue; but I stated with some caution the opinion that, at that stage of the inquiry, ‘the difficulty was to know where to stop and to say of what races of mankind it was not allowable to lay down that the society in which they were united was originally organised on the patriarchal model’ (‘Ancient Law,’ 123). My book was published in 1861, and delivered as lectures in the four or five previous years, and it is needless to say that, since then, all this evidence has been added to, re-examined, and placed in new lights. We now can discern something of the real relation which the sacerdotal Hindu law bears to the true ancient law of the race. Slavonian law and usage, chiefly known in 1861 from the books of Haxthausen, is becoming a more trustworthy subject of study through the labours of Prof. Bogišić. The earliest monuments of German law have been repeatedly fought over by earnest controversialists, with no very certain result. The Irish Brehon law, once inaccessible, is gradually becoming known to students of archæology. Still, if the inquiry were to be confined to the ancient institutions of the group of societies which I examined more than twenty years ago, I should maintain the conclusions which I reached, subject only to some qualifications which are suggested in the first four chapters of the present work. But much testimony of an altogether new kind has been obtained, since I wrote, from the ideas and usages of societies which live in a condition of barbarism or savagery, and the two zealous inquirers, now lost to us, J. F. McLennan and L. H. Morgan, who have put this testimony into order, have been led by it to form opinions on the primitive or very early condition of human society which they themselves at all events consider to be quite inconsistent with the Patriarchal theory. I am desirous of stating in what light I see these new facts and theories, and of showing at the same time that I have not neglected the friendly challenge to examine them which Mr. J. F. McLennan addressed to me in the preface to his ‘Studies in Ancient History.’ I trust that the general considerations to which I have been conducted may obtain some attention from persons more versed than I am in this special line of study; but I do not print them without some reluctance, since, as will appear from remarks in the following pages, I am not satisfied that the investigation has advanced far enough to admit of a very confident opinion.
The Patriarchal theory of society is, as I have said, the theory of its origin in separate families, held together by the authority and protection of the eldest valid male ascendant. It is unnecessary to add that this theory is of considerable antiquity. So far as we can judge, it first occurred to the great Greek observers and philosophical thinkers of the fourth century before Christ. Plato (‘Laws,’ iii. 680) and Aristotle (‘Politics,’ i. 2) both enunciate it, the first briefly, the last with so much detail that little has been added in more recent times to his statement of it. It may be proper here to remark that the theory was not founded by them on mere conjecture. They both profess to base it on actual observation. Plato expressly says that forms of society, answering to the assumed original groups, survived in his day; he calls them by the obscure name δυναστει̑αι (‘chieftainships;’ Jowett, ‘lordships’). Aristotle expressly appeals to the actual social state of ‘barbarians.’ It should be noted that the opportunities of these observers were such as can never again recur. Living more than 2,000 years ago, they were so much nearer the barbarism of the greater races; the societies open to their observation were not the mere waifs and strays of humanity, but people of the same ethnical stock with themselves and ourselves, lagging, however, far behind the Greeks in civilisation. Aristotle, whom nobody I suppose will deny to have been a good observer, had abundant material for his conclusions. He was born in the scarcely Hellenic city of Stageira. He passed much of his life at the semi-barbarous Court of Pella, where his father was physician to the Macedonian King. And he left a special treatise on ‘Barbarian Customs’ (νόμιμα βαρβαρικὰ), now unfortunately lost.
The Patriarchal theory, during the dark ages, would have shared the fate of much else in Greek speculation if it had not been kept alive by its correspondence with the Scriptural account of the Hebrew Patriarchs. But, in the 17th and 18th centuries, its place was taken by à priori theories of the State of Nature which long satisfied curiosity as to the original condition of mankind. Its revival may be said to be owing to Niebuhr’s discovery of the ‘Commentaries of Gaius,’ which, though not directly treating of ancient Roman law, enabled us to divide it into successive stages or strata, and gave us a singularly complete view of the earliest among them. I am not sure, however, that the appeal to Roman law has not done disservice with some minds to the Patriarchal theory. It has encouraged the belief that it referred to a relatively advanced social order. Now Plato and Aristotle clearly intended to describe a highly barbarous condition of the race. They both illustrate it by the Homeric story of the ‘Cyclops,’ ‘who had neither assemblies for consultation nor dooms, but each exercised jurisdiction over (issued dooms to) his wives and children, and they paid no regard to one another.’ But the family groups contemplated by the theory are more than barbarous; they are extremely savage, if the test be applied of analogy to the life of animals. The strongest and wisest male rules. He jealously guards his wife or wives. All under his protection are on an equality. The strange child who is taken under it, the stranger who is brought under it to serve, are not distinguished from the child born under the shelter. But when wife, child, or slave escapes, there is an end to all relations with the group, and the kinship which means submission to power or participation in protection is at an end. This is the family (to borrow Sir George Cox’s energetic expression) of the wild beast in his den. But when these several relations are decorated with the Roman technical names of Patria Potestas, Manus, Dominion, Adoption, Divorce, Agnation, Emancipation (which mean precisely the same things), an impression of recency is given which some minds are clearly unable to shake off.
The other theory which is now opposed to that long called Patriarchal is the theory of the origin of society, not in the Family but in the Horde. Aristotle and the writers who have followed him suppose that the larger groups of men discernible in the twilight of history have somehow grown out of isolated families like that of the Homeric Cyclops. As these larger groups first show themselves, it is impossible to believe that they are composed throughout of blood-relations, but the Patriarchal theory according to recent interpreters assumes that there is a real core of consanguinity in some or most of them, to which artificial additions have been made by a number of fictions of which Adoption is the type; and that others have been created by a process, not wholly extinct,1 of imitating a dominant or fashionable model. My own conclusion in my ‘Ancient Law’ was thus stated: ‘The conclusion which is suggested by the evidence is not that all early societies were formed by descent from the same ancestor, but that all of them which had any permanence or solidity either were so descended or assumed that they were. An indefinite number of causes may have shattered the primitive groups, but where-ever their ingredients recombined, it was on the model or principle of an association of kindred. Whatever were the fact, all thought, language, and law adjusted themselves to the assumption.’ The theory, which deserves to be associated with the names of McLennan and Morgan, may be said in some sense to invert this account of the matter. It derives the smaller from the larger group, not the larger from the smaller. Founded, as was the Patriarchal theory, on observation, but on observation of the ideas and practices of the now savage races, it deduces all later social order from the miscellaneous, unorganised Horde. I must confess that I do not find it easy to bring home to myself the nature of the original groups as conceived either by McLennan or by Morgan. But I think I may lay down that these assemblages are regarded as companies of men and women, in which the relations of the sexes were wholly unregulated at first, but passed through various stages of limitation or restriction until the Family, Patriarchal or other, was reached. The modern social order is thus the result of a modified promiscuity. These two most original inquirers differ widely in their determination of the stages through which this course of development passed. Totemism (or the origin of the conception of kinship in the mark placed by savages on their bodies), the slaughter of female children, woman-stealing, polyandry (or a plurality of recognised husbands), and the well-known Levirate, play a great part in the system of Mr. McLennan. Consanguine Marriage, Punaluan Marriage (or the intermarriage of brothers as a group with sisters as a group), and Classificatory Relationship (or the confusion under the same general view and name of all members of the tribe belonging to the same generation) are all-important to Mr. Morgan’s theory. But both agree in considering human society as beginning in promiscuity, and as continually modified by its progressive regulation, as beginning in the Horde and as gradually lifting itself till the Family was reached. Both writers seem to me to hold that human society went everywhere through the same series of changes, and Mr. McLennan at any rate expresses himself as if all these stages could be clearly discriminated from one another, and the close of one and the commencement of another announced with the distinctness of the clock-bell, telling the end of the hour.
Before I go further, I think it useful to remark that the point at issue seems to me capable of being more simply stated than it usually is by these writers and their followers. The chief or the one piece of evidence obtained from now savage societies, which points to an original promiscuity, is their habit of tracing relationship for some purposes through females only. When, however, the inference from this characteristic is stated to be that ‘the exogamous totemkin’ of McLennan, or the group which Morgan by an unhappy petitio principii has called the ‘gens,’ is necessarily older than the Family, which in all its forms assumes some certainty of male parentage, such language may lead to confusion of thought. The physiological elements of the Family must always have been present, and must always have been the source of the larger groups. A human being can no more, physiologically, be the child of two fathers than of two mothers, and the children of the same man, no less than of the same woman, must always have had something in their nature which distinguished them from every other group of human beings. What therefore is meant is, that though the Family must always have existed, it could not be recognised through prevalent habits, and through the consequent uncertainty of paternity. I think it important to call to notice that the fact alleged is not a fact of human nature but a fact of human knowledge. It is merely intended to be asserted that circumstances long prevented savage men from discovering and recognising paternity, which is matter of inference, as opposed to maternity, which is matter of observation. It is certainly remarkable that, as soon as intelligent curiosity was directed to the question, it seems to have exaggerated the share of paternity in parentage. Probably it was so directed very early; there is a striking remark of M. Fustel de Coulanges, that to the ancient societies based on kinship, the problem of generation was very much what the problem of creation is to the moderns. Euripides2 distinctly states that in his day the universal physiological doctrine was that the child descended exclusively from the male parent, and Hippocrates (περὶ παιδίου), in energetically combating this opinion, and contending that the child descended from both parents, seems to admit that it was a prevalent heresy. For the purpose of agreeing with McLennan and Morgan, we must assume that the not very difficult observation on which the opinion rested could not be made, so brief and so little exclusive was the union of the sexes.
It appears to me that, while the Patriarchal theory and the counter-theory of which I have been speaking each explain reasonably well a certain number of ancient social phenomena, both are open to considerable objection as universal theories of the genesis of society. There are unquestionably many assemblages of savage men so devoid of some of the characteristic features of Patriarchalism that it seems a gratuitous hypothesis to assume that they had passed through it. It ought further to be admitted that much of the archæological evidence for the Patriarchal theory is capable of being so put as to suggest the conclusion that the societies, seen to be almost but not quite in the condition from which the theory supposes them to have started, are approaching that condition or tending towards it, rather than declining from it as an older state. But on the other hand, apart from all disputes as to the value of the evidence in detail, the newer theory is surrounded by difficulties quite as grave or graver. Mr. McLennan compared the state of relations out of which he conceived human society to have lifted itself to that exhibited by the unfortunate class now found in great European cities. But the comparison suggests the reflection that this class is almost wholly infertile; and though doubtless explanations of the phenomenon may be offered, a good deal of evidence3 (which at the same time I do not represent as conclusive) tends to show that such a state of original promiscuity as that which McLennan and Morgan postulate tends nowadays to a pathological condition very unfavourable to fecundity; and infecundity, amid perpetually belligerent savages, implies weakness and ultimate destruction. A far greater objection is that the theory takes for granted the abeyance, through long ages, of the mightiest of all passions, a passion which man shares with all the higher animals, sexual jealousy. It is thus strongly contrasted with the Patriarchal theory, which virtually assumes this jealousy to be the force binding together and propelling the ancient social order. I will presently deal with this difficulty at greater length.
I have never myself imagined that any amount of evidence of law or usage, written or observed, would by itself solve the problems which cluster round the beginnings of human society. ‘The imperfection of the geological record’ is a mere trifle to the imperfection of the archæological record. ‘What were the motives,’ I asked in my ‘Ancient Law’ (p. 270), ‘which originally prompted men to hold together in the family union?’ ‘To such a question,’ I answered, ‘Jurisprudence unassisted by other sciences is not competent to give a reply.’ This anticipation of aid to be expected from biological science has been fulfilled, and it is remarkable that, while the greatest luminary of ancient science invented or adopted the Patriarchal theory, the greatest name in the science of our day is associated with it. Mr. Darwin appears to me to have been conducted by his own observations and studies to a view of the primitive condition of mankind, which cannot be distinguished from this theory. ‘We may conclude (‘Descent of Man,’ ii. 362) from what we know of the passions of all male quadrupeds that promiscuous intercourse in a state of nature is extremely improbable. . . . If we look far enough back in the stream of time, it is exceedingly improbable that primeval men and women lived promiscuously together. Judging from the social habits of man as he now exists and from most savages being polygamists, the most probable view is that primeval men aboriginally lived in small communities, each with as many wives as he could support or obtain, whom he would have jealously guarded against all other men. . . . In primeval times men . . . would probably have lived as polygamists or temporarily as monogamists. . . . They would not at that period have lost one of the strongest of all instincts, common to all the lower animals, the love of their young offspring’ (p. 367). With his usual candour Mr. Darwin admits, though with some hesitation, the conclusions of writers who have followed a different path of inquiry from his, but he thinks that the licentiousness attributed to savages belonged to a ‘later period when man had advanced in his intellectual powers but retrograded in his instincts.’
It must be remembered that a difference in the nature of the sexual union, answering to the difference of view separating the Patriarchal theory from its opposite, runs through the whole animal world; and, under such circumstances, considering the extreme scantiness of the archæological evidence, it would seem reasonable to call in the testimony of those who have made the animal world their study. When man had most of the animal in him, he belonged to the highest animals; and this is the consideration which gives such importance to Mr. Darwin’s opinion. It would be possible to deny, or to shrink from, the absolute conclusion reached in the book (the ‘Descent of Man’) in which this opinion is stated; and yet it would remain a most wonderful magazine of facts, pointing to the prodigious influence of sexual jealousy in the animal world, a force increasing in intensity as the animal ascends in the scale, and compelling the sexes to associate in groups closely analogous to those in which Plato and Aristotle conceived primitive men to be united. The foreign labourers in the field which McLennan and Morgan have occupied with us, have mostly had the advantage of biological training; and they seem all to have formed the same conclusion as Mr. Darwin. Dr. Letourneau, whose very full and very valuable compendium of the facts of savage life contains a protest against the modern English theories as premature,4 is quite clear as to the nature of the primitive family. ‘Nos primitifs ancêtres errèrent alors dans les forêts, par petits groupes, composés chacun du père (du mâle plutôt), de sa ou de ses femmes, des jeunes; le tout formant une association temporaire sous l’autorité paternelle’ (Letourneau, ‘La Sociologie,’ p. 379). Dr. Le Bon (‘L’Homme et les Sociétés,’ ii. 284) strongly denies that the state of promiscuity could be the earliest state of mankind. ‘Dans les sociétés des animaux qui se rapprochent le plus de notre espèce, nous voyons l’animal, monogame ou polygame, toujours jaloux de ses prérogatives sexuelles, les défendre avec l’énergie pendant le temps plus ou moins long que dure son union, c’est-à-dire au moins pendant la période nécessaire pour élever ses petits.’ There can be no question that this is the result arrived at whenever the higher animals are strong enough to give full rein to sexual jealousy. But sexual jealousy, indulged through Power, might serve as a definition of the Patriarchal Family.
If, however, the human race may still be believed to have started with the Patriarchal Family, how are we to explain the many remarkable phenomena of savagery and infant civilisation for the first time noticed by McLennan and Morgan, and woven by them into rival theories of the original condition of mankind? The inference that they point to an absolute promiscuity must be received with the greatest hesitation, both for Mr. Darwin’s reasons and because the evils which such a condition would draw with it would possibly lead to the extinction or the dangerous weakening of the societies which practised it. But it cannot be doubted that these phenomena do suggest such a relation of the sexes as may be supposed to leave the paternity of children in much uncertainty. The explanation appears to me to lie partly in Mr. Darwin’s conjecture that these phenomena belong to a ‘later period when man had advanced in his intellectual power but retrograded in his instincts,’ and partly in McLennan’s hypothesis of a great (and, he appears to think, an universal) deficiency of women in the primitive groups of men. It is not hard to see that the cause assigned by McLennan for the phenomena is a vera causa—it is capable of producing the effects. We must remember that the monogamy now practised by the greatest part of mankind (and even by the so-called polygamous races) is closely connected with a primary natural fact, the near equality of the two sexes in numbers. The idle conjectures which were once common as to the preponderance of male and female births have been set aside by observation, which shows that these births are as nearly as possible equal in number. At the same time, in settled modern communities, the number of grown women is, on the whole, in excess of the number of grown men, because of the more rapid exhaustion of the males through war or dangerous adventure. Let us, however, for a moment, and for the sake of argument, assume that balance to be very seriously disturbed. Let us suppose a community in which for long periods together there is a large excess of females over males. There is no question that monogamy might be substantially maintained in such a community, by the precepts of some widely diffused religion, or by a morality derived from some former age or from some external source; but on the whole we should expect that such a community would, in some of its parts, be polygamous. Again, let us make the counter-hypothesis and suppose a population in which there is an excess of males over females. Here again the Family, as we understand it, the Family founded on monogamy, might be long preserved by the powerful sanctions of religion, morality, or law; but nobody would be surprised that the practices witnessed to as prevailing among savages, had here established themselves now or at some former time, that morality and law had adjusted themselves to social habits, and that explanations of them or justifications of them were even to be found in religion. Institutions savouring of such a social condition might still be in existence, though they had lost all reality, and though the natural balance of the sexes had been restored, since the mere survival of an institution proves nothing as to the length of time which may have elapsed since it was produced by circumstances.
Now that, during a large part of human history, portions of the human race have suffered from a disproportion of females as compared with males, is in a high degree probable. McLennan, as is well known, explained it by the virtually universal prevalence of infanticide, confined to female children. This position was not accepted by Morgan, and, if asserted of the whole human race, has generally been considered as not credible. Nevertheless it may well be believed that under unfavourable circumstances savage men have constantly prevented their weaker offspring from living. But there are many other causes of the disproportion of the sexes which disclose themselves in the twilight of history. A great part of the race, when we first obtain a glimpse of it, is in a state of movement. Portions have been torn away from larger aggregates and are wandering far and wide, either pressed by enemies or searching for more abundant food. No community, when first seen by the historian, can be certainly said to occupy its original seat. It is in a high degree likely that these wandering bodies included more men than women. There is evidence that some of the islands of the Pacific were populated by boat-loads of men and a few women, and it would be no very violent conjecture that the aborigines of Australia and America originally reached their present homes with the sexes in this proportion.
It is needless to say what would be the character of the institutions which would establish themselves under such circumstances. In fact, it may be said to have been the usages of the Australians and American Indians which respectively suggested the theories of McLennan and Morgan, and it is singular how often, wherever a dim glimpse of similar institutions is caught elsewhere, it is amid societies originally settled, like the Irish, by wanderers over the sea. An even more active cause of inequality between the sexes must have been war; and we may freely admit the importance and significance of those practices of woman-stealing on which McLennan dwells so emphatically, if only we remember that, if some communities lost their women through defeat, others must have gained through victory. I will call attention to one striking monument of the scale on which this loss and gain occurred, which has not been much noticed. It is an Egyptian inscription, on the reverse of a stele in the Berlin Museum, commemorating the results of a conquering expedition.
Line 20. I sent my bowmen against the foes in the town of Makhenunem. They smote it and made a great slaughter, taking all the women prisoners and all the beasts of burden—505,349 Bulls, and Women 2,236.
Line 25. I made a slaughter among all that were the chief of the Land of Lobardu. All the gold he had, Bulls 203,346, Horned Cattle 603,108. All the women who were spared, the chief gave us.
Line 27. I sent my soldiers against Arrosa. I made a great slaughter, taking all the women prisoners. Bulls 22,110. All the women.
Line 29. From Makhisherkert, I took all the... men? All the women.
Line 32. I made a great slaughter against those with the chief of Tamakliv. I took all their wives, all their horses. Bulls 35,330.
In all this inscription, which is a long one, there is only one line which may be thought to speak of taking the men alive, and there the reading is doubtful. With other records of ancient warfare, it leaves on my mind no doubt that the common rule of tribal victory was to take only the women. The men escaped or were slain; but the women and perhaps the children were spared for servitude, and this seems to be the point of the well-known exhortation of Greek generals to Greek soldiers on the eve of battle.
I think then that it must be allowed to be more than probable that, since the appearance of mankind on the earth, an indefinite portion of the race has suffered at different times from a serious inferiority in numbers of women to men. It must further be acknowledged that the advance in intelligence of which Darwin speaks would lead men to establish institutions in conformity with this proportion between the sexes, if only for the purpose of keeping within bounds that sexual jealousy which could not fail under such circumstances to produce, if unrestrained, a perpetuity of violence and bloodshed. It must be admitted that the tendency of such institutions would be to arrange men and women in groups very unlike those in which, according to the biologists and according to the Patriarchal theory, they were originally combined. If however it be impossible to say what portion of the human race has suffered from this disproportion between the sexes—if we are unable to deny that some fragments of the vast aggregates of men speaking languages of the Aryan and Semitic stocks may conceivably at some time or other have had this experience—what use, it may be asked, is there in insisting on the Patriarchal theory as expressing the primitive grouping of mankind? I answer that there is the greatest use; and that, unless we bring home to ourselves all that is implied in the Patriarchal theory, it is impossible to understand a number of phenomena which McLennan and Morgan leave unexplained or explain unsatisfactorily.
The Patriarchal theory in the first place fixes on Power, the Power of the strong man, as the principal formative cause of the groups within which the conception of kinship first grew up. The counter-theories assume the abeyance, during long ages, of Power. On this, beyond noting the improbability of the assumption, I will merely now remark that the only source known to us of new forms of kinship is Power. It is a special form of Power, that called by jurists Sovereignty, which has created the modern Kinship known as Nationality, which enables us to speak of Englishmen, Frenchmen, Australians, Americans. In the next place the Patriarchal theory supposes that the motive which led to the exertion of power was sexual jealousy. The counter-theories assume the abeyance during long ages of sexual jealousy. Now it is of course possible to believe, upon sufficient evidence, that the passion which caused the wrath of Achilles and the agony of Othello was unknown to men originally, or was neutralised by the countervailing pressure of circumstances; but if it be once believed that this passion, which is one of the mightiest of the forces acting on man in the height of his moral strength and the plenitude of his intellectual vigour, was also one of the most uncontrollable of his instincts when he had most of the animal in him, the whole of the recently observed phenomena appear to me to show themselves in a light materially different from that in which the observers have seen them.
The student, then, of social archæology who is called upon to believe that the Family constituted by sexual jealousy indulging itself through Power is of modern origin or of rare occurrence, will be very rigorous in his scrutiny of the evidence presented to him.5 He will be cautious in accepting a statement about savages, or an interpretation of a ‘survival’ in a system of institutions, which is primâ facie at variance with observed facts of human nature.
Admitting it to be probable, as he is bound to do, that some portions of mankind have at some time been united in groups, which included considerably fewer women than men, and allowing that this scarcity of women would probably result in such institutions as the tracing kinship through descent from females, he will see reasons for thinking that the condition out of which these institutions arose could not, as a general rule, be more than temporary. A tribe in which the women were for a very long period inferior in number to the men would be at a great disadvantage compared with tribes in which the sexes were on a near equality. It would be liable to infecundity, possibly from disease, certainly from the relative fewness of births from a small number of mothers.
Again, he will understand better than the recent inquirers how it was that all the societies which, if I may use the expression, attained to any degree of respectability, recovered at last what he will believe to have been the original condition of the Family. Nothing is more unsatisfactory in the writings of McLennan and Morgan than their account of the recognition of Paternity. Morgan seems almost to suppose that it was introduced by popular vote. McLennan expressly suggests that it arose from a custom of putative fathers giving presents to putative children. But the truth is that a great natural force must always have acted, and must be still acting, on these aberrant forms of society, tending always to make the most powerful portion of each community arrange itself in groups, which admit of the recognition of fatherhood, and the indulgence of the parental instincts. And thus reasons appear why it is that, when the Family does reappear, it reappears not as the modern Family, but as the Family in which Kinship is blended with Power, and why it is that the Family so often discloses itself as an institution of aristocracies, not of slaves, nor even of dependents.
He too who is alive to the nature of this great emotional force, ever acting upon the class of societies of which I have been speaking, will be slow to believe that they recovered all or much of their original condition by a series of changes identically the same. He will rather suspect that the stages of recovery were infinitely various. Thus he will be indifferent to many or most of the points of controversy between the school of McLennan and the school of Morgan, and will be inclined to think that there has been room, not only for two, but for many courses of modification and development, each proceeding within its own area. So far as I am aware, there is nothing in the recorded history of society to justify the belief that, during that vast chapter of its growth which is wholly unwritten, the same transformations of social constitution succeeded one another everywhere, uniformly if not simultaneously. A strong force lying deep in human nature, and never at rest, might no doubt in the long run produce an uniform result, in spite of the vast varieties of circumstance accompanying the stern struggle for existence; but it is in the highest degree incredible that the action of this force would be uniform from beginning to end.
Lastly, if we consider the weight of argument and evidence to be in favour of the commencement of human society in Patriarchal (or Cyclopean) families, we shall think it not only not incredible but highly probable that certain communities which have survived to historical times have grown without interruption out of their original condition. ‘In most of the Greek States and in Rome,’ I wrote in ‘Ancient Law’ (p. 128), ‘there long remained the vestiges of an ascending series of groups out of which the State was at first constituted. The Family, House, and Tribe of the Romans may be taken as the type of them, and they are so described to us that we can scarcely help conceiving them as a series of concentric circles which have expanded from the same point. The elementary group is the Family, connected by common subjection to the highest male ascendant. The aggregation of Families forms the Gens or House. The aggregation of Houses makes the Tribe. The aggregation of Tribes constitutes the Commonwealth. Are we at liberty to follow these indications and to lay down that the commonwealth is a collection of persons united by common descent from the progenitor of an original family? Of this we may at least be certain, that all ancient societies regarded themselves as having proceeded from one original stock.’ Antecedently, is it necessary to assume that such societies passed through a stage of promiscuity, more or less modified? That would depend on the circumstances in which they were placed. If they suffered from a scarcity of women, such phenomena as polyandry and a tracing of kinship through women would probably show themselves, and at any stage of social growth. But some communities of men must always have been stronger, cleverer, more fortunately placed than others—must have had fewer motives than others for killing their female children, and more success in carrying away the women of other tribes. The great reason for antecedently doubting the alleged evidence of promiscuity in the branches of the Aryan race is that, as it has been the most successful, so it must have been one of the strongest of races. Of course the significance of some pieces of this evidence cannot fairly be denied, nor can it be thought very unlikely that some of the divisions of this race which wandered furthest, or some of the more savage communities which adopted its tongue, fell for a while into a more or less modified promiscuity. But the whole question must be decided by the preponderance one way or the other of the not very plentiful evidence. Only let it be clearly understood what the problem is. I have recently stated it in the following words:6 ‘The greatest races of mankind when they first appear to us show themselves at or near a stage of development in which relationship or kinship is reckoned exclusively through males. They are in this stage; or they are tending to reach it; or they are retreating from it. Many of them, in certain contingencies, generally rare or remote, give women and the descendants of women a place in succession; and the question with modern inquirers is whether the place thus assigned to them is the survival of an older barbarism, now exemplified in savage races, which traced kinship exclusively through females, or whether it results from the dissolution, under various influences, of “agnatic” relationship, that is, of relationship through males only.’ The ‘influences’ in question (I have elsewhere shown) were in the case of the Roman law, that of the Prætorian equity, and in the case of the sacerdotal Hindu law, the influence of Religion.
I have yet a few words to say on a topic which owes the importance and interest now commanded by it almost entirely to the labours of Mr. J. F. McLennan. He is the author of the terms ‘Exogamy’ and ‘Endogamy’; the first signifying the practice of taking wives exclusively beyond the limits of a particular tribal circle; the last indicating the custom of marrying within that circle. The fact that certain ancient races extended their prohibitions of intermarriage far beyond the narrow boundaries of our Table of Prohibited Degrees—that, theoretically at all events, they forbade a man’s marrying any woman whose descent from the same ancestor with himself was ascertainable—was not unknown to students of Hindu law; but Mr. McLennan was the first to point out the wide prevalence of these prohibitions among barbarous societies and their connection, among savage races, with the system of reckoning kinship through women. The first remark which I have to make on these discoveries, which are closely interwoven with Mr. McLennan’s theory of social advance, is, that it does not seem to me certain that the terms ‘exogamy’ and ‘endogamy’ can be directly opposed to one another. Is there any society which is not at the same time ‘exogamous’ and ‘endogamous’? Let us fix our ideas, as it is always desirable to do, by looking at the ancient Roman law. Any marriage of a Roman citizen within a circle not widely different from that traced by our own Table of Prohibited Degrees was invalid; and the children of such a marriage would be illegitimate. But again, any marriage of a Roman citizen with a woman who was not herself a Roman citizen, or who did not belong to a community having the much-valued and always expressly conferred privilege of connubium with Rome, was also invalid; and no legitimate children could be born of such a marriage. Thus Roman society was both exogamous and endogamous; there was both an outer and an inner limit. The double rule is found in the Hindu law. A Hindu may not marry a woman belonging to the same gotra, all members of the gotra being theoretically supposed to have descended from the same ancestor; but then he must marry within his own caste. Here again, therefore, there is the outer and the inner limit. I do not pretend that the point is proved by the evidence respecting the great number of savage or barbarous tribes which have been shown to have an extended ‘exogamy.’ My suggestion in fact is that the outer limit within which a man must marry has been overlooked through the interest excited by the long unnoticed exogamous prohibition; and I wish to urge that the subject requires re-investigation. I myself, though not a professed inquirer in this field, have repeatedly found indications of the outer or endogamous limit. Thus there are in China large bodies of related clansmen, each generally bearing the same clan-name. They are ‘exogamous’; no man will marry a woman having the same clan-name with himself; and much has been made of this fact. But one of a group of earnest inquirers, who are investigating Chinese social phenomena on the spot, Mr. Jamieson, has found that they are endogamous also. ‘Externally they are endogamous—they refuse marriage with any surrounding tribe; internally they are exogamous; they refuse marriage with anyone whose surname shows him to be of the same stock’ (‘China Review,’ vol. x. No. 2).
These limits, outer and inner, may still be discerned in the most civilised Western societies. On the one hand, ‘exogamy’ is enforced by law. There are always some of his near kin whom a man may not marry. The law rests partly on considerations of physiology and partly on considerations of religion, religion and physiology not being, however, quite agreed as to what should be the proper Table of Prohibited Degrees. On the other, the outer or endogamous limit, within which a man or woman must marry, has been mostly taken under the shelter of fashion or prejudice. It is but faintly traced in England, though not wholly obscured. It is (or perhaps was) rather more distinctly marked in the United States, through prejudices against the blending of white and coloured blood. But in Germany certain hereditary dignities are still forfeited by a marriage beyond the forbidden limits; and in France, in spite of all formal institutions, marriages between a person belonging to the noblesse and a person belonging to the bourgeoisie (distinguished roughly from one another by the particle ‘de’) are wonderfully rare, though they are not unknown. The Church, it may be added, has repeatedly relaxed the ‘exogamous’ rule which forbids the intermarriage of near kin in order to save a member of a great Continental House from having to transgress the outer limit within which he is bound to marry.
I have a special reason for dwelling on the point. Exogamy plays a great part in the system of McLennan, and (though not under the same name) in the system of Morgan. Both hold that a definite stage of human development is marked by the appearance of a group which Morgan calls the ‘Gens’ and McLennan the ‘exogamous totem-kin,’ a body of kinsmen and kinswomen never intermarrying and witnessing to their kinship by a common mark on their persons. In so far as this group has fallen under actual observation, in America and Australia, it is more like a Sex than any other assemblage of human beings; it cannot reproduce itself unless it combines with some similar body, for the men cannot find wives nor the women husbands. Consequently it is always nowadays a part of some larger social aggregate. But, although I may not have clearly realised McLennan’s conception, I understand him to consider that this group is the developed form of the independent primitive group, which he believes to have been an assemblage of men and much fewer women, living together in promiscuity, and therefore very unlike the Patriarchal or Cyclopean family assumed by the older theory. The fewness of women was produced by infanticide, and had for its consequence the habit of stealing women from other groups, still supposed to be witnessed to by the form of capture widely characterising the marriages of barbarians. Under the influence of this habit the practice of ‘exogamy’ was gradually created. On the other hand, Morgan, though he too believes the sexes to have originally lived together in promiscuity, does not seem to consider that their numbers were very unequal. He supposes that primitive men very early discovered the evils of close interbreeding, and that all the early transformations of human society were the results of a constant struggle to prevent these evils. In his view, therefore (as I understand it), the ‘Gens,’ as he rather unfortunately calls it (the ‘exogamous totem-kin’ of McLennan), is not a primitive group, but a mere subdivision of larger tribal societies originally promiscuous, formed for the purpose of limiting interbreeding.
For reasons which I have already given, I have no wish to take sides with Morgan or with McLennan, but it does seem to me that, if further inquiry should disclose the prevalence of an outer ‘endogamous’ as well as an inner ‘exogamous’ circle of consanguinity, it lends some strength to Morgan’s theory of development, which is certainly easier to understand than McLennan’s. I merely accept Morgan’s theory so far as it is an explanation of the original formation of exogamous groups, and in so far as it considers them to have been subdivisions of larger communities, and formed for the purpose of limiting interbreeding. The difficulty which seems to be felt by candid opponents of this hypothesis is that primitive men are unlikely to have made any such physiological discovery. If it be true that interbreeding is an evil, its very truth, in their view, militates against the antiquity of human knowledge about it. Indeed it is not certain that it is true. Physiologists are not agreed as to Tables of Prohibited Degrees. Some no doubt would considerably extend them, but others deny that the evil which they prevent is of serious proportions. I think, however, it is forgotten that the assertion made by Morgan is made of a time when neither Surgery nor Medicine existed, of a time before that at which, according to the Greek tradition, Prometheus discovered the chopped herbs which were to be the remedy for human ailments. With the vast resources of modern medicine at hand, the evils of the intermarriage of near kin may have been reduced to a minimum or may have come to be doubted. But what is invaluable to a savage is, I take it, what we should call a good constitution; such a constitution received at birth as will not easily admit disease, or will easily overcome it by its own native soundness. For among such men disease once contracted cannot be artificially cured. Even therefore if the advantage given by exogamous marriage to the children be now a slight one, it might be beyond price to primitive mankind. I cannot see why the men who discovered the use of fire and selected the wild forms of certain animals for domestication and of vegetables for cultivation should not find out that children of unsound constitutions were born of nearly related parents. If such children, left to themselves, are really weakly, the fact would be forced on notice by the stern process of natural selection, affecting either the individual or the tribe. It is this process which has produced those wonderful contrivances for the intercrossing of plants and the generation of a healthier vegetable offspring which have recently been observed by men of science; but if the process ever acted without check on mankind I should imagine that their earliest intelligence would enable them to note its operation. It should be added that the earliest serious attempts to combat disease appear to have taken the form of precautions, of training and of the formation of habits, rather than of remedies as now understood.
NOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE ANDAMAN ISLANDERS.
I am afraid that I incurred some reproach by remarking in an earlier work (‘Village Communities in the East and West’) on the unconvincing character of much of the evidence for savage customs to which the utmost significance had been attributed, and by speaking of some of it as ‘travellers’ tales.’ My observations on this evidence (which has since then considerably improved) were coupled with a statement that I expected much from the critical examination which was being given to savage or barbarous usage by officers of the Indian Government engaged in the administration of the so-called aboriginal races still numerous in India. The expectation has been abundantly fulfilled already, and I will instance one set of results.
I suppose that if there was one community which, looked at from a distance, or at occasional intervals, seemed more than others to constitute the ‘missing link’ between the brute and the man, it was the population of the Andaman Islands. In the Preface to ‘Selections from Records of the Government of India (Home Department),’ No. XXV., written before these islands were finally made the seat of a convict station, it is said that ‘it is impossible to imagine any human beings to be lower in the scale of civilisation than are the Andaman savages. The little that is known of their manners and customs proves them to be without religion or government, and that they live in perpetual dread of the contact of any other race. . . . The traditions of so absolutely barbarous a race are not likely to throw any light on their origin.’ The little evidence that existed seemed fully to bear out this unfavourable judgment. The older Oriental accounts had represented the islanders as cannibals (a charge which now appears to have been without any foundation), and in the ‘Asiatic Researches’ of 1795, Lieutenant Colebrooke wrote of them: ‘The Andaman Islands are inhabited by a race of men the least civilised perhaps in the world, being nearest a state of nature than any people we read of. They go quite naked; the women wearing at times a kind of tassel or fringe round the middle, which is intended merely for ornament, as they do not betray any signs of bashfulness when seen without it. . . . The men are cunning, crafty, and revengeful.’ Other authorities to the same effect are quoted by Lubbock (‘Prehistoric Times,’ 4th ed. p. 451). ‘The Andaman Islanders appear to be entirely without any sense of shame, and many of their habits are like those of beasts. . . . Marriage only lasts till the child is born and weaned, when, according to Lieutenant St. John, as quoted by Sir E. Belcher, the man and woman generally separate, each seeking a new partner.’
The Andaman Islands are now the principal convict station of the Government of India, and the islanders have been brought under British administration. A most interesting account of them, founded on actual observation, has been published by a British Indian public officer, Mr. E. H. Man (‘Journal of the Anthropological Institute,’ XII. i. 69, and ii. 13). One of the points most dwelt on in this account is the modesty of the women. They will not renew their leaf aprons even in one another’s presence. Another is the married women’s chastity. ‘In the esteem in which they (the islanders) hold their virtues (modesty and morality) they compare favourably with that existing in certain ranks among civilised races.’ Marriage is a well-defined institution. ‘Marriages never take place till both parties have attained maturity, the bridegroom from eighteen to twenty-two, the bride from sixteen to twenty.’ Bachelors and spinsters are placed at the opposite ends of the large common dwelling-house and the married couples in the middle. Paternity is thoroughly recognised; the father is generally present at the child’s birth. There is no example of a cross-breed in the islands.
There is a government by chiefs whose authority is reflected on their wives. ‘A chief’s wife enjoys many privileges, especially if she be a mother, and, in virtue of her husband’s rank, she rules over all the young unmarried women, and the married ones not senior to herself.’ ‘There is much mutual affection in social relations,’ says Mr. Man. ‘Children are taught to be generous and self-denying. The duty of showing respect and hospitality to friends and visitors is impressed on them from their earliest years. Every care and consideration is paid to all classes, to the very young, the weak, the aged, and the helpless.’
My impression is that there is no subject on which it is harder to obtain trustworthy information than the relations of the sexes in communities very unlike that to which the inquirer belongs. The statements made to him are apt to be affected by two very powerful feelings—the sense of shame and the sense of the ludicrous—and he himself nearly always sees the facts stated in a wrong perspective. Almost innumerable delusions are current in England as to the social condition, in regard to this subject, of a country so near to us in situation and civilisation as France.
[1 ]See Sir A. Lyall’s paper on the ‘Formation of Clans and Castes,’ now forming Chapter IV. of his Asiatic Studies; and see Note A, on ‘The Gens,’ to Chapter VIII. of the present work.
[2 ]Euripides, Frag. Stobæus, 77, p. 455—
This passage is parallel to a better known passage in the Eumenides of Æschylus, in which Apollo, as advocate for Orestes, argues that he was not of kin to his mother, Clytemnestra, whom he had killed. The argument seems to me wholly physiological, and not in any way archæological. Apollo, like an advocate of the present day with a doubtful case, appeals to the newest physiology. The ‘ancient rules’ which the Eumenides on the other side declare to be trampled under foot, are those of accepted morality, as may be seen from the first lines of the above fragment.
[3 ]An eminent living physiologist (Dr. Carpenter) who visited the West Indies before the abolition of slavery, well remembers the efforts of the Planters to form the negroes into families, as the promiscuity into which they were liable to fall produced infertility, and fertility had become important to the slave-owner through the prohibition of the slave-trade. It should be added that, independently of pathological evils, the same infecundity would follow if the promiscuity arose from a considerable inferiority in number of women to men. It is only under very unusual circumstances that a small number of women would give birth to offspring equalling numerically the whole parent generation, male and female.
[4 ]Ces faits et bien d’autres prouvent combien il est prématuré aujourd’hui de prétendre formuler des lois sociologiques, précises et rigoureuses, comme des lois scientifiques. Rassembler des faits, les grouper, et hasarder prudemment quelques théories générales, sujettes à révision: voilà à peu près tout ce que nous pouvons nous permettre dans nos essais de sociologie (Letourneau, p. 320). La prudence du serpent est la vertu qu’il ne faut pas se lasser de recommander aux sociologistes de nos jours (p. 332).
[5 ]See Note A to this Chapter, on the ‘Andaman Islanders.’
[6 ]Vide Chapter V. above, p. 149.