Social Origins and Primal Law - Andrew Lang - E-Book

Social Origins and Primal Law E-Book

Andrew Lang

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Social Origins and Primal Law is a book by J. J. Atkinson. It depicts the anthropology of the Arunta aboriginals of Australia and provides a broad look at their traditions and way of life.

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J. J. Atkinson, Andrew Lang

Social Origins and Primal Law

EAN 8596547013129
DigiCat, 2022 Contact: [email protected]

Table of Contents



The portion of this book called 'Primal Law' is the work of the late Mr. James Jasper Atkinson. Born in India, of Scottish parents (his mother being the paternal aunt of the present editor), Mr. Atkinson was educated (1857–1861) at Loretto School, then managed by Messrs. Langhome. While still young he settled on certain stations in New Caledonia bequeathed to him by his father, and, except for visits to Australia and a visit to England, he lived and died in the French colony. His ingenious mind was much exercised by the singular laws and customs of the natives of the New Caledonian Archipelago and the adjacent isles. These peoples have been little studied by competent European observers—that is, in New Caledonia. Mr. Atkinson wrote an account of native manners before he had any acquaintance with the works of modern anthropologists, such as Mr. Tylor, Mr. McLennan, Lord Avebury, and others. To these he later turned his attention; he joined the Anthropological Institute, and, in the course of study and observation, he discovered what he conceived to be the 'Primal Law' and origin of morality, as regards the family. In his last illness, in 1899, he was most kindly attended by Commander John Haggard, R.N., then Her Majesty's Consul in New Caledonia. Mr. Atkinson's mind, in his latest moments, was occupied by his anthropological speculations, and, through Mr. Haggard, he sent his MS. to his cousin and present editor. I have given to it the last cares which the author himself would have given had he lived. But I have also taken the opportunity to review, in the following pages, introductory to 'Primal Law,' the present state of the discussion as to the beginnings of the rules regulating marriage among savages.

The discussion is now nearly forty years old, if we date it from the appearance of Mr. J. F. McLennan's Primitive Marriage in 1865. Yet, in spite of the speculations of some and the explorations of other distinguished students, the main problems are still in dispute. Was marriage originally non-existent? Was promiscuity at first the rule, and, if so, what were the origins, motives, and methods of the most archaic prohibitions on primitive license? Did man live in 'hordes,' and did he bisect each 'horde' into exogamous and intermarrying moieties, and, if he did, what was his motive? Are the groups and kindreds commonly styled 'totemic' earlier or later than the division into a pair of moieties or 'phratries'? Do the totem-kins represent the results of an early form of exogamous custom, or are they additions to or consciously arranged subdivisions of the two exogamous moieties? Is a past of 'group marriage' or 'communal marriage' proved by the terms for human relationships employed by many backward races, and by survivals in manner and custom?

These are among the questions examined in the introductory chapters that may be read either before or after Mr. Atkinson's Primal Law. To him I am indebted for the conception of sexual jealousy as a powerful element in the evolution of exogamy.

Since my attention was first directed to these topics, I have felt that a clear and consistent working hypothesis of the origin of totemism was indispensable, and such an hypothesis, with a criticism of other extant theories, is here offered. Throughout I have attempted to elucidate and bring into uniformity the perplexing and confused special terms employed in the discussion. Here it should be explained that by 'marriage' in this work I mean permanent cohabitation of man and woman, sanctioned by tribal custom, and usually preceded by some rite or initiation which does not prelude to casual amours. By family or fire circle I mean the partners to this permanent cohabitation, their offspring, and such kinsfolk by blood or affinity as may be members of their camp. In the first sentence of the book I speak of the family as 'most ancient and most sacred,' and I do so deliberately. The primitive association described I take, with Mr. Darwin and Mr. Atkinson, to be 'most ancient,' and to be the germ of the historic family, which is 'most sacred.' But to 'sacred' when I apply the word to the primitive fire-circle I give no religious sense, such as the Greek hearth enjoyed under Hestia, youngest and oldest daughter of Zeus. I mean that the rules given to the primitive fire-circle by the sire were probably the earliest and the most stringent, though not yet sanctioned by a tabu or a goddess.

Such a small circle, and not a promiscuous horde or commune, I conceive, with Mr. Darwin and Mr. Atkinson, to have been the earliest form of human society.

The book deals only with the institutions of races certainly totemistic, and mainly with the Australian and North American tribes, which present totemism in the most archaic of its surviving forms. But little is said, and that tentatively, on the question as to whether or not the ancestors of the great civilised peoples, ancient and modern, have passed through the stage of totemic exogamy, as our evidence is weak and disputable. Too late for citation in the body of the book I read Mr. A. H. Keane's theory of the origin of totemism.[1]

Mr. Keane's theory is much akin to my own as it stood in Custom and Myth (1884) and to that of Garcilasso de la Vega, the oldest of all. Garcilasso (1540–1616), an Inca on the mother's side, describing the animal and plant worship of the low races in the Inca Empire, says 'they only thought of making one differ from another and each from all.'[2] But it may be that he had not totemism in his mind; the passage is not too explicit.

Mr. Keane says: 'And thus the family, the initial unit, segments into a number of clans, each distinguished by its totem, its name, its heraldic badge—which badge, becoming more and more venerated from age to age, acquires inherited privileges, becomes the object of endless superstitious practices, and is ultimately almost deified. … Its origin lies behind all strictly religious notions, and it was at first a mere device for distinguishing one individual from another, one family or clan group from another.[3] Thus among the Piaroas of the Orinoco below San Fernando de Atabapo the belief holds that the tapir, originally the totem of the clan, has become their ancestor, and that after death the spirit of every Piaroa passes into a tapir; hence they never hunt or eat this animal, and they also think all the surrounding tribes are in the same way each provided with their special animal fore-father. It is easy to see how such ideas tend to cluster round the clan[4] or family totem, at first a distinguishing badge, later a protecting or tutelar deity of Protean form. It should be remembered that the personal or family name precedes the totem, which grows out of it, as seen by the conditions still prevailing amongst the very lowest peoples (Fuegians, Papuans of Torres Strait[5]).'

I am indebted in various ways to assistance, chiefly in the interchange of ideas, from Mr. A. C. Haddon, Mr. G. L. Gomme, Miss Burne, and Mr. A. E. Crawley, author of The Mystic Rose. Mr. Crawley kindly read the book, or most of it, before publication, and collaborated most efficiently in the way of suggesting objections. It is not implied that any of these students accept the ideas of the two authors. I regret that it has been found impossible to wait for the publication of a new book by Mr. A. W. Howitt, from which we may expect much new information.

The question of the relations of religion and totemism is scarcely touched on in this work. A certain amount of regard is given to their totem animals and plants by some of the Australian tribes, to the extent of not killing, plucking, or eating them, except under stress of need, but even this is not universal. There also exists, in some cases, a sense of kinship with them. They are not worshipped. That magic is worked for their preservation and propagation, as by the Arunta, proves nothing in the nature of a religious attitude towards them. In my opinion this religious regard for the totem does not appear till ancestor worship, which does not occur in Australia, has made considerable advance and a myth arises that an ancestral spirit or family god is incarnate in the animal which originally was only a totem. If so, totemism is not an element in the origins of religion, but a field later invaded by religion.

On the other hand, Dr. Achelis, of Bremen, writes that to savage man 'animals are his equals. To the ancient worship of animals is added, under the influence of sympathetic emotion, the worship of ancestors and totemism, which sees in a beast worshipped as a god the ancestor of the whole tribe.'[6] Clearly this sentence is replete with errors and confusions. The whole tribe, in Australia, does not regard any animal as its ancestor. No beast is worshipped as a god. No ancestors are worshipped. If the animals are 'his equals,' why did man worship them, and that apparently before the worship of ancestors and totemism arose? In an essay like that of Dr. Achelis on Ethnology and Religion the facts ought to be correctly ascertained.

I have been obliged to place in Appendix A certain facts about group names derived from animals which came late to hand, among them Mr. Robertson's interesting letter on many such names in the Orkneys, and some remarks on village names derived from animals among the ancient Hebrews.

[1]Man, Past and Present, Cambridge, 1899, pp. 396, 397.

[2]Royal Commentaries, i. 47.

[3]The Import of the Totem, Amer. Ass., Detroit, 1897.

[4] M. Chaffanjon, Tour du Monde, 1888, lvi. 348.

[5]Ethnology, pp. 9, 11.

[6]The International Quarterly, Dec.-March, 1902–1903, p. 321.


Table of Contents



Table of Contents



Table of Contents

The Family is the most ancient and the most sacred of human institutions; the least likely to be overthrown by revolutionary attacks. In epochs of change the Family naturally invites the attentions of impetuous reformers, like Shelley (who advocated a scheme more than any other apt to shock the conscience of a savage), and like the friends of 'Free Love,' who would introduce a license beyond the Urabunna model. The horror aroused by certain relations, such as that of brother-and-sister marriage, is perhaps the oldest of moral sentiments, yet it has lost its hold of some barbaric races, and has been overcome by dynastic pride, as in the Royal House of the Incas of Peru, and in that of Egypt. While the Family, everywhere almost, has been secured by a religious and all but instinctive dread of certain aberrations, the laws or customs which may not be broken have varied in different lands, and in different stages of civilisation. What is incest in one age or country is innocent in another; still certain unions, varying in various regions, have always been regarded with loathing. No such emotion is known to be felt among the lower animals, and scientific curiosity has long been busy with the question, why should the least civilised of human races possess the widest list of prohibited degrees? What is the origin of the stringent laws that, among naked and far from dainty nomads, compel men and women to seek their mates outside of certain large groups of real or imagined kindred? The answers given to this question have varied with the facts of savage law which chanced to be at each moment accessible to inquirers, and all attempts to solve the problem must be provisional. New knowledge may upset even the most recent theory, and, indeed, new knowledge of the rules of certain Australian tribes has already produced fresh hypotheses, as regards certain aspects of the problem.

The whole subject is thorny, and I must crave pardon for venturing to differ, provisionally, on several important points, from authorities whose learning, research, and experience far exceed my own. The facts which they have collected from personal knowledge of savages, and from reading, often group themselves otherwise in my eyes than in theirs—the perspective is different. My observations, therefore, are submitted to criticism with all diffidence. Only the main lines of a complex discussion are here traversed, and the works cited are, as a rule, either by English-speaking authors, or, at least, are sometimes accessible in English translations. It will be seen that students have differed greatly, not only from each other, but, at different times, from themselves, under the influence of new facts brought in from the most remote and isolated of savage races. One author is most interested in this, another in that, factor of the problem. The difficulty of the subject cannot be exaggerated; for the origins of our human society cannot be historically traced behind the institutions of the races now lowest in the scale of culture. We are driven to risk hypotheses. Again, it is by no means certain that some of these lowest peoples of to-day (say the Arunta of Central Australia) represent a moment in the main current of the stream of tendency, a point through which all progress has passed. The ideas and institutions of such tribes may be mere local 'sports,' other divergencies may have arisen in other quarters, and it would be an error (repudiated by Mr. McLennan, the founder of the study in England) to suppose that, everywhere, exactly the same series of changes evolved itself in due sequence. 'In one place or another everything may have been going on,' I have heard Mr. McLennan observe.

Once more, the subject is obscure because the races apparently 'nearest the beginning,' the naked Australians, houseless hunters, just emerging from the palæolithic condition as regards implements, are, as to society and system of thought, very far from being 'primitive;' very remote from 'the beginning.' Their social rules are various and extremely complex, especially as regards marriage: some of their social customs are perhaps inexplicable—a field for modern guesswork—their speculative philosophy is, in one instance, ingenious, elaborate, and highly peculiar. The 'beginning' lies far behind them, yet their society and institutions may have their germs (on the Darwinian theory) in a state of all but complete brutality.

To trace human institutions back to that hypothetical stage of first emergence from the brute is the purpose of the following treatise, 'Primal Law,' by Mr. Atkinson. It were superfluous for me to dwell on the audacity of his enterprise. Of thoroughly human man we know a good deal: of the brutes we know something. Of a hypothetical creature, not wholly brute, but not yet 'articulate-speaking man,' we know nothing, and as to the ways of his supposed next of kin, 'the great extant anthropoid apes,' our knowledge is vague, resting on the accounts of native observers. Such a creature, however, half ape, half human, is in part the theme of Mr. Atkinson's speculations, on which I venture to express no opinion: as not being persuaded that man ever had such a direct ancestor.


As to men really primitive, and their social arrangements, I only venture to conjecture that, in the nature of the case, they probably lived a nomadic life, 'selecting a temporary place of abode, whether a cave, rock, shelter, or hut, influenced chiefly by the amount of edible materials to be found in the neighbourhood.'[1] The area of the wandering of each group of hearth-mates would be limited, probably, by the existence of other groups, which would resent poaching. A large trout may often be seen to turn angrily and drive away a little trout that has ventured too near the bend of the brook which the large trout finds a good station for flies; and human groups would also, as in cases to be cited they do, mortally resent intrusions. I conceive that the males would be polygamous (like the gorilla) and jealous, killing or expelling the young males, as in the theories of Mr. Darwin and Mr. Atkinson. Thus groups would, on the whole, be hostile,[2] 'wandering from one locality to another, now gathering fruits and seeds, now hunting wild animals, or, as a last resource, feeding on shell-fish and other produce of the shore.'[3] The implements now used by backward savages for fish-catching, nets, spears, and barbed hooks, cannot be precisely primitive. Primitiveness, we must remember, does not depend on antiquity of date.

The Australians, though now their groups have coalesced into local tribes in defined areas, and though their customary law is extremely complex, are least remote from the primitive, least remote, but very far removed. They are, though our contemporaries, infinitely beneath the status in culture of palæolithic man of the mammoth and reindeer period. It is not improbable that he had domesticated the ox, goat, pig, horse, and dog. 'They manufactured fine needles of bone, with which they sewed their skin garments. They adorned their persons with a variety of beads. … ' Their art was of notorious and amazing excellence. Dr. Munro says that they were 'ignorant of the rearing of domestic animals,'[4] but also that 'there seems to be no inherent improbability in the idea that some of them' (ox, goat, horse, pig, and dog) 'had been domesticated by the indigenous inhabitants prior to the coming of the neolithic brachycephals into France.'[5] A palæolithic sketch of a horse 'with a supposed cover,' and another of a horse with a bridle,[6] may be misinterpreted: Dr. Munro thinks that the horse-cloth 'may be no more than the hunter's skin coat thrown over the back of the animal when led home by means of a halter made of thongs or withes to be there slaughtered.' If palæolithic man had advanced as far as Dr. Munro supposes, it was a short step to the domestication of the horse. It is hardly conclusive to say that, if he had tamed the horse, 'we would undoubtedly ere now have had an equestrian representation of the fact,' though it is also said that 'we have only as yet a preliminary instalment of these most interesting art productions.'[7] The representation may later be discovered. That palæolithic man, so far advanced as he was, was 'ignorant of the principles of religion,'[8] seems a hasty conclusion. If he had the beliefs of our Australians in such potent beings as Baiame, Nooreli, Daramulun, Mungun-ngaur, Pirmaheal, and Pundjel, that belief would leave no material traces, except, perhaps, the Bull-roarer, whose noise represents the voice of one or other of these beings. Now a small but unmistakeable pair of palæolithic bull-roarers in bone, or of amulets which are bull-roarers in miniature, one of them decorated with the sacred Australian pattern of herring-bone and concentric circles, have been found in a quaternary station in France.[9]

Palæolithic man in France, countless ages ago, was thus, especially if he had domesticated animals, immensely more remote from 'the beginning' than contemporary wild Australian tribes. They, again, with their copious languages, ingenious implements, complex institutions, and prolonged tribal assemblies, are infinitely in advance of those really primitive men among whom we must tentatively seek the origins of customary law regulating the family and marital arrangements. A society almost incalculably ancient may have been much more advanced than a society of to-day, and the society of the lowest known modern savages must be equally advanced from the status of 'primitive man'.

The best proof of all that no Australians are now in or near 'the chrysalis state' of humanity, is to be found in their combinations into large friendly tribes, each covering a wide extent of country, and holding stated meetings, for social, political, religious, and commercial purposes. Mr. Matthews remarks on 'articles of barter,' exchanged 'at the great meetings which were held for the initiation of the youths of the tribes.' Among these articles were stone hatchets, first chipped, then ground, the tribes having passed out of the stage in which mere rude flaking sufficed. 'At the conclusion of the ceremonies, before the people dispersed, a kind of fair was held, when natives in whose country stone was plentiful, would barter their things with other people for reeds for making spears, rich plumage of birds, &c … or for any other articles brought by the various tribes for the purpose of exchange.'[10] We can scarcely conceive that this amount of tribal or inter-tribal unity was possible to man really primitive. Backward and conservative as the Australians are, we must not expect to find among them, with their highly complex customary laws, anything like the first beginnings of social regulations. To look for these, even among the naked and houseless hunters of Australia, is to organise failure in this research as to origins.


From the age of Aristotle onwards, inquirers naturally began with a belief in the Patriarchal Family as the original social unit. To this opinion, in a peculiar form, Mr. Atkinson returns, as will be seen. The idea was natural. Aristotle, like Hesiod, starts from 'the Man, the Woman, and the labouring ox,' though men and women were wedded long before oxen and other animals were domesticated. The Biblical account in Genesis opens with the same theory of the primal pair, whose children, brother and sister, must have married each other, as in the late Mr. Morgan's hypothesis of the 'Consanguine Family;' but, contrary to almost universal savage custom, and to Mr. Atkinson's 'Primal Law.'

In 1861, Sir Henry Maine's celebrated book, 'Ancient Law,' appeared. Herein he wrote that it was difficult to say 'what society of men had not been originally based on the Patriarchal Family.[11] His studies had lain chiefly in the law of civilised peoples, Romans, Hebrews, Greeks, Irish, and Hindoos; not in the customary law of the lowest races. He, like Mr. Freeman, concluded that the patriarchal family, by aggregation of descendants (and aided by adoption of outsiders, and by the ownership of the family by its Head), formed the gens, while the aggregation of gentes formed the tribe, and the aggregation of tribes made the State. But, as the gentes had traditions contrary to this theory, traditions of separate origins, he supposed that 'the incoming populace should feign themselves to be deduced from the same stock as the people on whom they were engrafted.' Thus we know that McUlrigs (Kennedys) of Galloway joined the remote Macdonnells of Moidart and Glengarry, and wore the Macdonnell tartan[12] (1745–1760), and so might come to pass as Macdonnells, though they still regard the Marquis of Ailsa, a Kennedy, as their chief, at least in Eilean Shona (Loch Moidart). In the same way the Camerons of Glen Nevis, though called 'Camerons,' were really MacSorlies, a branch of the Macdonnells, and from the sixteenth century to 1754 were always on ill terms with the chief of the clan Cameron, Lochiel. These are very modern instances, but illustrate Sir Henry's theory of incomers.

The members of the Roman tribes had traditions that they were not, really, of the same original blood with each other. Only by a fiction were they of the same blood. They did not all descend by natural increase from one patriarchal ancestor. There really did exist 'a variety of alien groups in a local tribe,' however they might all adopt the same name, and assert descent, in West Scotland from Somerled, let us say. This fact, of heterogeneousness within the 'tribe' among others, was so obvious and so imperfectly explained, by friends of the Patriarchal theory, that it occupied 'writers belonging to the school of so-called prehistoric inquiry,' as Sir Henry styled it.[13] They were not satisfied with the theory that Society arose in the Patriarchal Family, based on direct descent from, and ownership by, a single male ancestor. To be sure a Cameron will 'cross the hill,' and call himself Stewart, and a Chinese immigrant into Australia has discreetly entitled himself Alexander Mac-gillivray. But such accretions, and such legal fictions, do not explain the heterogeneousness of the local tribe, which, by the theory of some historians, is of common descent. 'Prehistoric inquirers' could not but notice that, among ruder 'non-Aryan' races of various degrees of culture, 'the family is radically different from the Patriarchal Family,' and suggests a different origin.

Roughly speaking, the groups of real or fancied kindred among various low races exhibit the peculiarity that the kin-name is often inherited from the mother, not from the father; that the maternal blood is stronger in determining such cases of inheritance as arise; and that marriage is forbidden within the recognised limits of the maternal kinship. It was natural for inquirers to derive this condition of affairs, this reckoning in the female line, from a state of society in which fatherhood (owing to promiscuity, or to polyandry—several husbands to one wife) was notably uncertain. Bachofen, who first examined the problem, attributed the system to a supposed period of the Supremacy of Women: McLennan to dubious fatherhood, and possible early promiscuity. The recovery of supremacy by men, or the gradual advance in civilisation, especially in accumulation of property, would finally cause descent to be reckoned through the male line, as among ourselves.

As to the question of early promiscuity—sexual relations absolutely unregulated—Dr. Westermarck, Mr. Crawley, and others have argued, and Mr. Atkinson argues, that it never existed, at least to any wide extent, and with any potent influence. We hear rumours of savages utterly promiscuous, say the Mincopies of the Andaman Islands, just as we hear of savages utterly without religion. But later and better evidence proves that the Andamanese have both wives and a God.[14]

Again, the lowest savages known are so far not 'promiscuous,' that they recognise certain sets of women as persons with whom (as a general rule, subject to occasional exceptions) certain sets of men must have no marital relations. It was the opinion of Mr. Darwin, as of Mr. Atkinson, that sexual jealousy, from the first, must probably have been a bar to absolute promiscuity, even among the hypothetical anthropoid ancestors of human race. To tell the truth, our evidence on these points, as to existing savages, is, as usual, contradictory.[15]


In these inquiries a great source of confusion arises (as all students must be aware) from the absence of exact terminology, of technical terms with a definite and recognised meaning. Thus when my friend, the late Mr. John Fergus McLennan, introduced the word 'Exogamy,' in 'Primitive Marriage' (1865), he probably knew perfectly well what he meant. But he did not then, from lack of practice in an inquiry practically novel, and originated by himself, express his meaning with exactness. He at first spoke of exogamy as the rule 'which prohibited marriage within the tribe.'[16] But the word 'tribe' was later taken by Mr. McLennan to mean, and is now used as meaning, what cannot be a primitive community, a local aggregate of groups amicably occupying a considerable area of country; say the Urabunna tribe of Central Australia. Mr. McLennan did not wish to say that exogamy forbids an Urabunna tribesman to marry an Urabunna tribeswoman; he meant that exogamy prohibited marriage within the recognised kindred—that is, in this case, between members of totem kindreds of the same name, say Emu or Kangaroo. This fact he later made perfectly clear. But meanwhile such terms as 'horde,' 'tribe,' 'sub-tribe,' 'family,' 'gens,' 'section,' 'phratria,' 'clan,' many of them derived from civilised classical or Celtic usage, have been tossed up and down, in company with 'class,' 'division,' 'section,' and so on, in a way most confusing.[17] Odd new terms come from America, such as 'socialry,' 'tutelaries,' 'ocular consanguinity,' 'ethnogamy,' 'conjugal conation,' and so forth.[18] Most perplexing it is to find words like clan, family, tribe, gens, phratry, words peculiar to civilised peoples, Greek, Roman, or Celtic, applied to the society of savages. 'The term "clan" implies descent in the female line,' says the late Mr. Dorsey, following Major Powell; but why take the Celtic term 'clan,' which has no such signification, and confer it on what is really a totem kindred with descent in the female line?[19] Next, 'several of the Siouan tribes are divided into two, and one into three sub-tribes. Other tribes are composed of phratries, and each sub-tribe or, phratry comprises a number of gentes.' Is there a distinction between the 'sub-tribes' of some tribes, and the 'phratries' of others, or not? Apparently there is not, but the method of nomenclature is most confusing.

I shall understand the terms which I employ, as follows:

The tribe, speaking of the Australians, for instance, is a large aggregate of friendly or not hostile human groups, occupying a territory of perhaps a hundred square miles, and holding councils and meetings for social and religious purposes. It is so far 'endogamous' that its members may marry within it—that is to say, it is no more endogamous than the parish of Marylebone. An Urabunna man, a man of the Urabunna tribe, may marry an Urabunna woman—if no special native law interferes. He may also at pleasure marry, out of his tribe, say a woman of the neighbouring Arunta tribe, again, if no special law bars the arrangement. So far the tribe, the large local aggregate of groups, stands indifferent. But, within the tribe, there are laws barring marital intercourse. First, each tribe is usually composed of two 'primary exogamous divisions,' or 'phratries,' so called; in the case of some tribes the phratries are named; for example, Matthurie and Kirarawa. Every man and woman, in such tribes, is either a Matthurie or a Kirarawa, and can only marry into the opposite division, and the children follow the name of the mother. These two divisions are called 'primary classes' by some students; 'phratrias' (from the Greek: Φρατρία) by others; 'sub-tribes' by others; or, again, 'moieties,' or 'groups.' I shall, in each instance, use the term ('class,' 'phratria,' 'moiety,' 'primary exogamous division,' 'group,' and the like) employed by the author whose opinion I am discussing, though I prefer 'phratry,' as 'class' has another significance; so has 'group,' &c.

Again, the tribe contains a number of totem kindreds (often called 'clans' or gentes, rather at random), that is, of sets of kin deriving their names from totems, plants, animals, or other objects in nature. To the possible origin of Totemism we return in a separate section. No Urabunna man may marry a woman of his own 'phratry,' nor of his own totem, and the children inherit the phratry and totem names from the mother. Finally, there are sets of relationships, roughly indicating, it would seem, seniority by generations, and degrees of actual or supposed kindred. Within many of these, which I shall style 'classes' (they have other terms applied to them), marriage is forbidden. Thus there are bars of three several sorts on the intermarrying of an Urabunna man with an Urabunna woman. In a way, there are three grades of exogamous prohibitions.

Mr. McLennan, who introduced the word 'exogamy,' defined it thus: 'an exogamous marriage is a marriage between persons of different clans of kinship, not entered into fortuitously, but because of law declaring it to be incest for a man to marry a woman of his own clan.'[20] The same community cannot be 'both exogamous and endogamous,' as some suppose. Thus Lord Avebury writes, 'some races which are endogamous as regards the tribe, are yet exogamous as regards the gens.' But really 'exogamy is the law prohibiting marriage between persons of the same blood or stock as incest—often under pain of death—and endogamy is the law prohibiting marriage except between persons of the same blood or stock.'[21] In Mr. McLennan's sense I shall take the word 'exogamy,' while dealing with peoples apparently nearest the beginning.

Later, when descent in the male line is established, the prohibition on marriage within the totem name comes to apply, sometimes, to marriage within the local district held by the men of the name. The old prohibition, we see, is to many within the recognised limit of the blood kinship, or stock, designated by the totem name. But, as tribes advance to kinship through males, and as, thereby, groups of one totem name come to possess one region of country, it often happens that exogamy prohibits marriage between persons dwelling in that region. Whereas Grouse was forbidden to marry Grouse; later, the Grouse living together, say in Corradale, the exogamous prohibition takes the shape 'persons dwelling in Corradale must marry out of Corradale.' The name marking the exogamous limit is now, in such cases, local, but the prohibition is derived from the older tabu on marriage between 'persons of the same blood or stock'—all those in Corradale being conceived to share the same blood or stock. This origin of 'local exogamy' must be kept in mind, otherwise confusion will arise. There are a few cases, even in Australia, where even local exogamy has become obsolete, and marriage, as with ourselves, is prohibited between persons of near kindred simply.

Now, if I may venture to interpret the mind of Mr. John Fergus McLennan, I conceive that he regarded the totemic division as older than the 'phratry' or the 'class' bar, and he thought it the oldest traceable exogamous limit. Not to marry within the totem name (no male Emu to marry a female Emu) was, in Mr. McLennan's opinion, the most archaic marriage law.[22] This appears from the words of Mr. McLennan's brother, Mr. Donald McLennan.[23] He writes: 'As the theory of the Origin of Exogamy took shape, and the facts connected reduced themselves to form in his mind, the conclusion was reached that the system conveniently called "Totemism" … must have existed in rude societies, prior to the origin of Exogamy.[24] This carried back the origin of Totemism to a state of mind in which no idea of incest existed. From that condition my brother hoped to trace the progress of Totemism—necessarily a progress upwards—in connection with kinship and Exogamy. It may here be said that he had for a time a hypothesis of the origin of Totemism, but that he afterwards came to see that there were conclusive reasons against it.'

Meanwhile may we not, then, assume that, in Mr. McLennan's opinion, the earliest traceable human aggregate within which matrimony was legally forbidden was the totem kin, indicated by the totem name, the totem tabu, and the totem badge, or symbol—where it existed?

We now see how heterogeneous elements came to exist in the tribe of locality, a puzzle to the friends of the theory of the Patriarchal Family. For the nature of totemism, plus exogamy and female descent, is obviously such that under totemism, each family group even (each 'fire circle' of men, wives, and children), must contain persons of different totems. The father and mother must be of different totems (persons of the same totem not intermarrying), and the children must inherit the totem either of the father or of the mother.[25] When paternal kinship is not only recognised (as, in practical life, it always is), but becomes exclusive in its influence on customary law, and when an approach to the Patriarchal Family, with the power of the patriarch, is evolved, all the members of the family in all its branches will (if Totemism persists) have the same totem; derived from the father. Thus there will now be a local totem group, a group mainly of the same totem name, as is practically the case in parts of Central Australia.[26]

It is necessary to understand this clearly. Take a very early group, in a given district; suppose it, at first, to be anonymous, and let it later be called the Emu group. So far, all members of the group will be Emus, they will form an Emu local group. But, next, suppose that there are many neighbouring groups, also at first anonymous; let them later be styled Rat, Cat, Bat, Sprat. Suppose that each such group now (for reasons to be indicated later) takes its wives not from within itself, but from all the other groups; that these women bring into the Emu group their group names; and that their children inherit their names from their mothers. Then the name, 'Emu group,' will cling to that local aggregate, as such; but, in time, the members of the Emu group will all be, say, Rats, Cats, Bats, and Sprats, so called from the group-names of their alien mothers. Suppose that, for one reason or another, children at last come to inherit their names and totems from their fathers. Then a Cat father will have Cat children, though his wives may still be of different totems, and his sons' children will also be Cats, and so the local group will become mainly, if not wholly, a group of one totem, the Cat. The Arunta of Central Australia do trace kinship in the male line, and thus there is 'one area which belongs to the Kangaroo men, another to Emu men, another to Hakea flower men,' and so on. This has reached such a pitch that 'in speaking of themselves the natives will refer to these local groups,' not by the prevalent totem names in each, but 'by the name of the locality which each of them inhabits,' namely, as men of the Iturkawura camp, and so on.[27] Thus we might say 'the Glen Nevis men,' 'the Corradale men,' and so on.

Thus we begin with an anonymous group, or group of unknown name, a local group. We introduce Totemism, and that group becomes a local group with a totem name. Granting exogamy (prohibition of marriage within the group), and reckoning in the female line, it soon developes into a local group made up of various totems, but, at first, as a local group, it probably retains its original totem name among its neighbours. Reckoning, still later, through the male line, we again meet, as at first, a local totem group, but already Totemism is on the wane, and the groups are soon to be called by the territorial names of their lands. At this stage totem names are tending to decay, and the next step will probably be to style the group by the name of some remembered, or mythical, male ancestor, such as 'children of Donald'—Macdonalds.

Thus if, at a given time, the name of a certain male ancestor is substituted, as 'eponymous,' for the totem name, or the district name, we shall find a local group of, say, Sons of Donald, into which other groups, Sons of Sorlie, or Ulrig, will enter, as occasion serves, and be more or less absorbed. A State may at last arise, say, 'Softs of Israel.'

We are not assuming, however, that all human societies have passed through the totemistic and exogamous stages.


But what was the original unit, the totem group, or other division outside of which alone could marriages be arranged? And why was the totem name the limit? Returning to Mr. Donald McLennan's account of the opinions which his brother did not live to set forth, Totemism arose 'in a state of man in which no idea of incest existed.' On this theory, I presume, there would be totem groups before exogamy arose; before it was reckoned 'incest' to many within the totem name. This, as we shall see, appears to be sometimes the opinion of the best Australian authorities, Messrs. Fison and Howitt, and Messrs. Spencer and Gillen. It is also the theory of Arunta tradition. The totem belief, as it now exists, imposes many tabus: you may not (as a rule) kill, eat, or use the plant or animal which is your totem; still less perhaps, in the long run, may you 'use,' sexually, a woman of your totem. If this, or a kindred totem tabu, is the origin of exogamy, then to exogamy (as a law, though not necessarily as a tendency) the totem is prior in time. But I have no reason to suppose that Mr. McLennan ever regarded the totem tabu as the origin of exogamy. In his published works he offers another theory, not commonly accepted.

But the important thing to note is that exogamy may conceivably (contrary to Mr. McLennan's opinion, but in accordance with that of Mr. Atkinson) have existed, or rather tended to exist, before totems arose; much more, then, previous to the evolution of totem names, of totem tabu, and of the idea of incest, as a sin, or mystic misdeed, and as an offence to the totem—a religious offence to God, or to ancestral spirits. Persons may have been forbidden to marry within their local group, their 'fire circle' before that group had a totem, or a totem name, and they may have been forbidden for reasons purely secular, to which the totem later lent a sanction, and a definite limit. Thus Mr. Tylor, our most sagacious guide in all such problems, writes 'Exogamy can and does exist without Totemism, and for all we know was originally independent of it.'[28]

It is part of my argument that exogamous tendencies, at least—that is, a habit of seeking female mates outside of the fire-circle—may very well have prevailed before any human group had even a totemic name. But exogamous tendencies are not, of course, the same thing as exogamy strictly defined, and sanctioned by religious or superstitious fear, and by secular penalties inflicted by the tribe. Against the notion that exogamy may have been prior to Totemism, Mr. Robertson Smith argued that very early man would not be restrained from marriages by such an abstract idea as that of kindred—'not to marry your near kin'—while the idea of kindred was still fluid, and not yet crystallised around the totem name.[29] But, without thinking of kindred by blood, perhaps without recognising consanguinity (though it must have been recognised very soon), early man may have decided that 'thou shalt not marry within this local group or crowd, of which I am head.' Nothing abstract in that! There was no tribal law—there were as yet (I suppose) no tribes—only the will of the head of each small set of people practically enforced exogamy.

We can have no certainty on this point, for we know of no pre-totemic race, no people who certainly have not yet entered into the totemic stage. Any such people, probably, in the remote past, had no idea of incest as a sin, or of exogamy as a law sanctioned by a tabu. But they may have, at least, had a strong tendency to marry outside of the circle of the hearth, the wandering hearth of homeless nomads ranging after food.

The reader of Mr. Atkinson's treatise will find that this kind of exogamy—marriage outside the local group—would, on his theory, be the rule, even when no idea of blood kindred, or of incest as a sin, need have arisen; and no totem, or anything else, had yet been named. The cause of the prohibition would, in Mr. Atkinson's opinion, be the sexual jealousy of the hypothetical patriarchal anthropoid male animal; and, later, the sexual jealousy of his adult male offspring, and of the females. Still later the group, already in practice exogamous, would accept the totem name, marking off the group from others, and the totem name, snipe, wolf, or what not, would become, for the time, the exogamous limit. No man and woman of the same totem name could intermarry. Still later, a myth of kinship with the totem would arise, and would add the religious sanction of a tabu.

A prohibition may perhaps have arisen very early, even if Mr. Atkinson's hypothesis (that the rule of marriage outside the group arose in a state of brutality) be rejected. 'The origin of bars to marry is, in fact, complex,' writes Mr. Crawley. A dislike of marriage with a group-mate, familiar, through contiguity, from infancy, may have been developed among early men;[30] and may have been reinforced by the probably later superstitions which create 'sexual tabu,' and mutual avoidance, among many existing peoples. Men and women are, by savages, conceived to be mysteriously perilous to each other, especially when they live in close contiguity. Mr. Crawley also allows for Mr. Atkinson's main factor, jealousy, 'proprietary feeling, which is one crude means by which the family has been regulated and maintained.'[31] If these things were so (whether we go back to Mr. Atkinson's semi-brutal ancestors, or not), then, contrary to Mr. Donald McLennan's opinion, and to general opinion, it would not 'appear to be possible to demonstrate that Totemism preceded exogamy,' or at least preceded the exogamous tendency. For, in the first place, exogamy might conceivably tend to arise before the explicit idea of kinship—whether male or female—arose. Mr. Atkinson's 'primal law' would be unuttered in speech (speech, by his theory, there was none), but would amount to this: 'I, the patriarchal bull of this herd, will do my best to kill you, the adult young bulls, if you make any approaches to any of the cows in this crowd.' There is no notion of 'incest,' but there is jealousy producing the germ exogamy. The young bulls must find mates outside of the local herd—or do without. This rule persisted, on Mr. Atkinson's theory, till the hypothetical anthropoid became a man, and named his group (or had it named for him, as I later suggest) by a totem name.

But real human and speaking beings might enforce marriage outside of the group, though they did not perhaps think explicitly of kindred (or, at least, did not think the idea fully out), still less of 'incest,' as sin. Mr. McLennan's theory, as given in his works, was partly identical with that of Mr. Atkinson. 'The earliest human groups can have had no idea of kinship'—they must, therefore, have been rather low savages. 'But,' he said, 'they were held together by a feeling of kinship,' not yet risen into explicit consciousness. Cat and kitten have, probably, feeling of kinship, and that feeling is very strong, while it lasts, in the maternal cat, while between semi-human mothers and children, arriving so very slowly at maturity, mother-kin must have been consciously realised very early. Mr. McLennan then showed the stages by which the savage would gradually, by reflection, reach explicit consciousness of female kinship, of mother-relationship, sister and brother relationship, and all the degrees of female kin.

But Mr. Fison and others have argued powerfully against this theory.[32] Moreover, we find male relationships, as we saw—'descent counted in the male line'—among the Arunta of Central Australia, whom Mr. J. G. Frazer regarded, in 1899, as actually 'primitive;' while the neighbours of the Arunta, the Urabunna, reckon through the female line.[33] Mr. Crawley, for various reasons, says, 'the famous Matriarchal theory' (the prepotency and dominion of women) 'was as exaggerated in its early forms as was the Patriarchal. … It is a method of tracing genealogy, more convenient in polygamous societies and more natural in primitive times when the close connection of mother and child during the early days of infancy emphasises the relation.'[34] Dr. Westermarck argues to a similar effect.[35] His motive is to discredit the theory of promiscuity, and consequent uncertainty of fatherhood, as the cause of reckoning on the spindle side. But the Arunta, who reckon on the sword side, actually do not even know that children are the result of sexual intercourse, according to Messrs. Spencer and Gillen. How they can have any idea of blood-kinship at all is, therefore, the mystery. It may perhaps be argued that they have none. But these ignorant Arunta reckon descent through the male line—while the Royal Picts, in early Scotland, infinitely more civilised, reckoned by the female line.

For myself, I still incline to the opinion[36] that the reckoning of descent through the woman is the more archaic method, and the method that, certainly, tends to dwindle and disappear, as at last it did among the Picts. This applies to human society, not to that of Mr. Atkinson's hypothesis, in which the question is not of kin, but of property. 'Every female in my crowd is my sole property,' says—or feels—Mr. Atkinson's patriarchal anthropoid, and the patriarch gives expression to his sentiment with teeth and claws, if he has not yet learned to double up his fist, with a stone in it. 'These were early days.'


In any case, Mr. McLennan's hypothetical first groups, like Mr. Atkinson's, were very low indeed. They developed exogamy, not (as in Mr. Atkinson's theory) through sexual jealousy on the part of the sires, but, first, through regular female infanticide. This practice, being reasonable, could not prevail among Mr. Atkinson's anthropoids.[37] Girl babies being mostly killed out, women became scarce. Neighbouring groups being hostile, brides could only be procured by hostile capture. Each group thus stole all its brides and became exogamous, and marriage inside the group became a sin, by dint of 'a prejudice strong as a principle of religion.'

This theory of Mr. McLennan's is, I think, quite untenable. The prevalence of female infanticide, at the supposed very early stage of society, is not demonstrated, and did not seem probable to Mr. Darwin. Even if it existed, it could not create a prejudice against marrying the few women left within the group. Mr. McLennan, unhappily, was prevented by bad health, and death, from working out his hypothesis completely. His most recent statement involves the theory that the method of the Nairs of Malabar, living in polyandrous households (many men to each woman) was the earliest form of 'marriage.' But people who, like the Nairs, dwell in large households, are far indeed from being 'primitive.' 'A want of balance between the sexes' led, Mr. McLennan held, to 'a practice of capturing women for wives,' and was followed by 'the rise of the law of exogamy.' The first prohibition would be against capturing women of the kindred (marked by the totem), for such capture, if resisted, might involve the shedding of kindred blood. Women being scarce, through female infanticide, kindred groups would not give up or sell their women to each other (though to the males of the groups, such women could not be wives), nor could women be raided from kindred groups, as we saw. So they would be stolen from alien groups, 'and so marriages with kindred women would tend to go into desuetude.' The introduction of captured alien wives would change the nature of matrimonial relations. Under the Nair system 'a woman would live in the house of her mother, and under the special guardianship and protection of her brothers and her mother's brothers. She would be in a position of almost absolute independence of her husbands. … '

But really pristine man and woman can have had no houses, no matriarchal rule of women. The Nairs, not being primitive, have houses, and their women have authority: pristine man was not in their condition. However, captured alien wives would, Mr. McLennan argues, be property, be slaves; and men would find this arrangement (now obsolete) so charming that polyandry and the reign of woman would go out. The only real legal marriage would be wedlock with an alien, a captive, a slave woman. Marriage with a woman of the same stock would be a crime and a sin. It would be incest.[38] Really it would be, at worst, concubinage.

This theory seems untenable at every point, community of wives, female infanticide, household life, supremacy of women in the household, living with a non-captive wife reckoning as incest, and, in short, all along the line. Even if the prejudice against marrying native women did exist, it could not be developed into the idea of sin—granting that the idea of sin already existed. To be sinful, endogamy within the group must have offended some superstitious belief, perhaps the belief in the totem, with its tabu.[39]


To disengage from his learned book, The Mystic Rose (1902), Mr. Crawley's theory of the origin of exogamy is no easy task. He strongly insists on the 'religious' element in all early human thought, and as in 'religion' he includes the vague fears, misgivings, and ideas of 'luck,' which haunt even the least religious of modern men, we may say that 'religion,' in this sense, mingles with the thought of all ages. The present writer, like Dr. Johnson, is an example of the 'religious' character, and of Mr. Crawley's remark that 'human nature remains potentially primitive.' To the 'religious' man or woman (using 'religious' in this sense) the universe is indeed a thing of delicate poise, and may 'break, and bring down death,' if we walk under a ladder, or spill the salt, or enter a doorway with the wrong foot foremost, or fail to salute a magpie, or the new moon. The superstitious anthropologist, of course, knows that all these apprehensions of his are utterly absurd, but the savage is careful and troubled about them. The Philistine, on the other hand, is proud of his conquest of these airy terrors: he 'cannot imagine what people mean by such nonsense,' and, exactly so far as he is sincere, he cannot comprehend early mankind.

Now, as to exogamy, our difficulty is to understand why breach of the rule against certain marriages is, everywhere, so deadly a sin: so black an offence against 'religion.' Mr. Crawley's explanation is not, perhaps, easily to be disengaged from the mass of his work, but it begins in his appreciation of the δεισιδαιμονία of early men, their ever-present sense of 'religious' terrors. 'Thus all persons are potentially dangerous to others, as well as potentially in danger. … '[40] This sense of peril arises 'in virtue simply of the distinction between a man and his fellows.' Much more, then, are women dangerous to men, and men to women, the sexes being so distinct from each other. We know that the most extraordinary precautions are taken to avoid contact with women in certain circumstances, and a well-known story of Sir John Mandeville's is only one case of the fact that the bridegrooms of some races, from a superstitious terror, insist on being made cocus en herbe. Messrs. Spencer and Gillen give the instance of 'the marriage ceremony' (an odious brutality) among the Arunta of Central Australia.[41] It is perhaps intended to deliver the bridegroom from a peril imagined by superstition (as in Mandeville's tale);[42] and, without it, the Australian would resemble the man derided in the old Scottish song:

The Bridegroom grat when the sun gaed doon.

Thus a 'religious' dread attaches among savages (the theory holds) to all marriages; all are novelties, new steps in life, and therefore are so far 'sinful' that they involve a peril, vague but awful, the creation of superstition. Marriages contrary to the exogamous rule, are only especially and inexplicably bad cases of the 'sin'—that is, mystic danger—of marital relations in general, as I understand Mr. Crawley. Marriage ceremonies of every kind are devised to avoid 'sin,' as our Marriage Service candidly states, using 'sin' in the Christian sense of the word. But there are savage marriages, those forbidden by the law of exogamy, which, as a general rule, no ceremony can render other than sinful. So great and terrible is the danger of such marriages—namely, among many savages, between persons of the same totem, that it threatens the whole community, just as the marriage of Charles I. with a Catholic bride caused the Plague, according to the Rev. Mr. Row, and therefore such unions are punished by the death penalty, and are but seldom left to the automatic vengeance of the tabu. Foremost in this black list of sins are the unions of brothers and sisters of the full blood, though, we must remember, these are not more heavily punished than marriage between a man and woman of the same totem, even if the pair come together from opposite ends of the continent, and are not blood relations at all. Why is this?

As I understand Mr. Crawley, the sexes, in savagery, avoid each other's society in everyday life, partly from 'sexual tabu'—the result of the superstitions already indicated; partly because of 'sexual solidarity,' perhaps even of 'sexual antipathy.' In fact, men and women are often very much in each other's way. We do not want women in our clubs and smoking-rooms—nor do savages—and we despise a man who lurks in drawing-rooms when his fellows are out of doors; a man who is a pillar of luncheon parties and of afternoon tea. But this separation of the sexes is especially rigid between the children of the same hearth, even among nomads. The boys go with the father, the girls with the mother. The manlike apes have the same ideas. 'Diard was told by the Malays, and he found it afterwards to be true, that the young Siamangs, when in their helpless state, are carried about by their parents, the males by the father, the females by the mother.' 'The nests … are only occupied by the female and young, the male passing the night in a fork of the same tree or another tree in the vicinity.'[43]

These facts of ape etiquette would, to use an Elizabethan phrase, have been 'nuts' to Mr. Atkinson, and prove that sexual separation of the children is a very early institution. In Australia, New Caledonia, and other countries, brothers and sisters must not even speak to each other, and must avoid each other utterly. Thus the danger and 'sin' of the most innocent intercourse between brothers and sisters is emphasised; much more awful, then, are matrimonial unions of brother and sister. 'The extension' (of this idea) 'by the use of relationships produces the various forms of exogamy,' says Mr. Crawley.[44] There are difficulties here; for example, Mr. Crawley tells us that incest did not 'need prevention,' though the rules of brother-and-sister avoidance seem really to mean that it did, or was thought to do so (but perhaps only superstitious dread of ordinary intercourse caused the rule?), and though we know of regions where such incest, in early youth, is said to be universal.[45] 'Such incest,' says Mr. Crawley, 'is prevented by the psychological difficulty with which love comes into play between persons either closely associated, or strictly separated before the age of puberty. … '[46] Now we know that lust does come into play—for example, among the Annamese—between brothers and sisters not closely separated; and we also know that, the more persons are 'strictly separated,' the more does the novelty and romance, when they do meet, produce natural attraction, as between Romeo and Juliet. Incest among the young is really prevented by the religious horror with which, by most peoples, it is regarded; as well as, among the civilised, by the constant and sacred familiarity of family life. The bare idea of it can only occur, as a desirable notion, to a boyish revolutionary, like Shelley, or to minds congenitally depraved.

Again, men and women of the same totem have no 'avoidances' forced upon them, as far as I know (and, as they may not marry, this is an oversight); yet their marriages are as terribly sinful as marriages between brother and sister of the full blood. Mr. Crawley writes, 'Obviously the one invariable antecedent in all exogamous systems, indeed in all marriage systems, is the prohibition of marriage "within the