Source Book For Social Origins

Comment on Part IV: Sex and Marriage

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Westermarck's volume on marriage is among the works which should be read entire. I have made several selections from this work, but they may be taken as indicating its importance without adequately representing it.

For some years following the appearance of Westermarck's views it was rather generally admitted by students of early marriage that he had finally disposed of the older theory of Lubbock that the original form of marriage was communistic. Lubbock held that exogamy, or the practice of marrying outside the clan, originated in the fact that no man had any particular claim on any woman in his group, she being a common possession, and that in order to get a particular wife a man was obliged to capture her outside the clan. But more recently Spencer and Gillen have found in central Australia something which looks very much like what Lubbock assumed, and their argument for an early state of promiscuity is quoted in part above.

This whole question is still very obscure. Westermarck's view that "marriage was transmitted to man from some ape-like ancestor and there never was a time when it did not occur in the human race," and that "there is not a shred of evidence that promiscuity ever formed a general stage in the social history of mankind," is probably substantially sound. Man is fundamentally a jealous animal. The strange lack of sexual jealousy among the Australians and Todas is not a natural trait but a socially induced condition, similar in

( 531) its psychology to the food inhibitions of the Australians and the buffalo ceremonial of the Todas, so minutely described by Rivers. We may, therefore, agree with Westermarck that man had already a monogamous, or at least a polygynous, tendency when emerging from the instinctive and brute condition. But as he came into possession of a characteristic human mind, with reflection and imagination, as modesty, clothing, and social inhibitions were developed, he began to make the sexual interest a play interest, and this the animals have never done. They have a pairing season, and man has not. And as the regulation of sexual life became less instinctive and more reflective and social very contradictory practices arose, and by the operation of the law of habit, these became very rigid in particular groups. Among these conditions is the one of approximate communism in marriage described by Spencer and Gillen, but I think they are wrong in regarding this as vestigial ---a remnant of an antecedent condition of promiscuity. The best comment, indeed, which can be made on their position is the passage on food regulations among the Australians, printed in Part II above. These food practices represent a highly and particularly elaborated code, worked out in a particular environment, in connection with the particular experiences and acts of attention of a particular people. They do indicate that communistic rather than individualistic food practices are more favorable to life in an early stage of society, but they are to be regarded as peculiar adaptations, not as vestiges.

The passage from Rivers on the Todas is also significant in this connection. If Rivers had been inclined to do so he could have made out a very good case for

( 532) polyandry as the original and once universal form of marriage. Woman is more stationary than man, more confined to one spot by the child, and less actively interested than man in marriage. It is also well known that in early times she refused to follow the man to his home, and he was obliged to settle in hers. In ancient Arabia and elsewhere the woman sometimes remained at home and entertained a succession of husbands; and the women of the Jahiliya Arabs had the habit of dismissing their husbands by turning the tent around, "so that if it had faced east it now faced west, and when the man saw this he knew that he was dismissed, and (lid not enter." But to argue from this and similar evidence that polyandry was at one time universal and that its present forms are vestigial, would be quite wrong. The group-marriage of the Arunta and the even stranger polyandry of the Todas are particular expressions of the "mores," not signs of universal stages. In this respect they resemble our "table manners."

With regard to the singular practice on which Spencer and Gillen have put so much stress-the accessibility at certain times of women to men whom they are not permitted by the tribal rules to marry, I have elsewhere expressed a view ("Der Ursprung der Exogamie," Zeits. fur Socialw-issenzschaft, 5: 1-18) that this is connected with a transition to exogamy, and with the interest of man in the unfamiliar. An abridged translation of this paper, entitled "The Psychology of Exogamy," is indicated in the bibliography below.

Since I have drawn particular attention to the merit of Westermarck's work I may add that the reader will f rid his great defect in his method of regarding certain

( 533) practices as vestiges of assumed antecedent conditions of whose existence these so-called vestiges are the guarantee. This is, in fact, the same defect as that to which I have alluded in the argument of Spencer and Gillen. To note only a single instance, Westermarck has collected many pages of what he calls survivals from a period of marriage by capture. But there is good reason to think that marriage by capture was never a general practice. See the remarks on this point by Spencer and Gillen above. And the alleged survivals of capture in historical times, of which Westermarck makes so much, are probably to be regarded merely as systematized expressions of the coyness of the female, differing in no essential respect from the coyness of the female bird at the pairing season. It became "good form" and a trait of modesty in a girl not to yield without a show of avoidance, and under these conditions ceremonial avoidance became elaborate. But it does not lead us back to a condition of actual capture. The theory of Koenigswarter and Spencer, adopted by Westermarck, that marriage by purchase was developed from marriage by capture (the purchase price being originally a fine paid by the captor to the outraged father) is far-fetched. If the lowest savages have not the idea of regular barter, they have, as shown in Part I by Bücher and by Westermarck here, the idea of giving and receiving presents. Now one of the earliest means of securing a wife was by exchange. Curr (The Australian Race, 1 : 107) says : "The Australian male almost invariably obtains his wife or wives either as the survivor of a married brother, or in exchange for his sisters, or later in life for his daughters." Gifts in general develop into barter, and exchange of women de-

(534) -velops into purchase, without any assumption of capture. But I do not even think that exchange of wives always preceded purchase. Food and service were other original means of compensation.

In Crawley's Mystic Rose and also in van Gennep's Rites de passage (listed in the bibliography of Part VI) there is also evidence that this natural tendency to avoidance was complicated by the idea that ill-luck connected with crises, especially with contact of the sexes, could be transferred or avoided by magical practice, and rites originating in this connection resemble capture.

The selection from Crawley printed here elaborates one of the fundamental causes of the present great disparity in the interests of men and women. His whole book is instructive, but he is possessed with the idea that magic is at the root of many if not the most of marriage practices, and he often slips in the magical, secondary, and particularistic explanation where it does not belong.

In the passage from Spencer there are several fanciful inferences. There is no reason to conclude that the fertility of women is more closely connected with monogamy than with polygyny. That primitive women received such brutal treatment from men as to interfere with child-bearing is more than doubtful. Primitive women were not greatly abused, and they were more prolific than the more artificially protected woman of the present. The statement also that "the monogamic relation in a high degree favors preservation of life after the reproductive period is passed," has nothing in its favor. Nowhere in the white world are aged parents in general treated with so great consideration as in China, and China is not distinguished for its monogamy.


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