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CHAPTER VII. MARRIAGE AMONG PRIMITIVE PEOPLES.
The usual idea associated with the term “marriage” is the union in domestic life of a single pair of individuals, and with few exceptions this is the only marriage recognised by Christian peoples. We learn from the Old Testament Scriptures that the Hebrews had different ideas on that subject. They not only considered it allowable for a man to have more than one wife, but apparently they thought he might have as many wives as he chose. This system of marriage, to which the term polygamy has been usually applied, is still prevalent in most countries outside of the European area. The monogamous and polygamous forms of marriage are, however, by no means the only possible ones. Instead of a man and a woman living together, a number of individuals may thus associate, and in lieu of a man having several wives a woman may conceivably have more than one husband. Moreover, marriage may be subject to varying regulations or restrictions, causing the same system to present dissimilar features in different localities. That which is possible in social life may reasonably be expected to occur somewhere or other on the earth’s surface; and, as a fact, all the types of marriage referred to are to be found among peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere.

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It can hardly be doubted that the most civilised races, of which we may call the modern world, have, with the exception of the Chinese, belonged to the two great branches of the Caucasian stock, the Aryan and the Semitic-speaking peoples. Those races, and especially such of them as inhabit the Western part of the Old Continent, have shown a preference for monogamy or polygamy, the former being almost restricted to Europeans, the latter being nearly universal among the Asiatic portion of the Caucasian stock. The inferior races, however, possess the least advanced systems of marriage. The natives of the Australian Continent are usually regarded as the most uncivilised of mankind, and among them there has been developed a system which some persons would probably consider not entitled to the name of marriage. In it individuals give place theoretically to groups, between whom the marriage relation is supposed to be formed, the individuals being treated only as members of a group. The existence of this peculiar system has been established by the inquiries of the Rev. Lorimer Fison, who has shown, moreover, that Australian marriage167 “is something more than the marriage of group to group, within a tribe. It is an arrangement, extending across a Continent, which divides many widely-scattered tribes into intermarrying classes, and gives a man of one class marital rites over women of another class in a tribe a thousand miles away, and speaking a language other than his own. It seems to be strong evidence of the common origin of all the Australian tribes among whom it prevails; and it is a striking illustration of how custom remains fixed while language changes.”238 An American writer, Mr. Lewis Morgan, who was the first to point out the prevalence among the less cultured races of mankind of relationship which he terms “classificatory,” in opposition to the descriptive relationships of the superior races, states that, according to Australian marriage, “a group of males distinguished by the same class name are the born husbands of a group of females bearing another class name; and whenever a male of this class meets a female of the other class, they recognise each other as husband and wife, and their right to live in this relation is regarded by the tribe to which they belong.” The peculiarity of this system is, not that each individual is entitled to take a wife or husband out of a particular group, but that, in theory, every individual is from birth the husband or wife of all the members of a special group. Mr. Fison remarks further that the idea of marriage under that system is founded on the rights neither of the woman nor of the man. It is based “on the rights of the tribe, or rather of the classes into which the tribe is divided. Class marriage is not a contract entered into by two parties. It is a natural state into which both parties are born, and they have to be content with that state whereunto they are called.” But what is the nature of the social organisation to which the system of group marriage belongs? At the present time nearly all the existing Australian tribes are divided into four classes, into one of which every individual is born. The members of each class are supposed to trace their descent to the168 same common female ancestor, they are treated as of the same degrees of kinship to each other, and they are not allowed to intermarry. There is reason to believe that originally, perhaps when the ancestors of all the existing tribes resided in the same neighbourhood, each tribe consisted of only two classes. In this case, the law of group marriage, under the regulations as to marriage and descent just mentioned, would require that all the members of each class should be real or tribal brothers and sisters of each other, and the husbands and wives of all the members of the other class. The theoretical result would be, that all the men of each class would have their wives in common, and all the women of each class their husbands in common. Whether the number of individuals in each group was large or small, the result would be the same. In practice, the exercise of the extended marriage right would be restricted to a few individuals, but that its existence is generally understood is shown by the statement of a native servant, who had travelled far and wide in Australia, that “he was furnished with temporary wives by the various tribes with whom he sojourned in his travels; that his right to those women was recognised as a matter of course; and that he could always ascertain whether they belonged to the division into which he could legally marry, though the places were a thousand miles apart, and the languages quite different.” This particular case might, perhaps, be explained as an extreme example of the granting of sexual hospitality; but Mr. Fison refers to several facts which prove the reality of the relationships arising out of group marriage, and there169fore of this system itself. He states that an Australian “has the rights of a brother, and he acknowledges the duties of a brother, towards every man of his own group; and he can no more marry a woman of a group which is ‘sister’ to his own than we can marry our own sister.” Among the Australians, as among some other races who are supposed to have had at one time a similar marriage system, a mother-in-law and a son-in-law mutually avoid each other. This conduct is based on the fact that the mother-in-law belongs to the class of women over whom the son-in-law has a marital right, but as she is specially forbidden to him they must keep out of each other’s way. Again, the incidents attendant on adoption are in accordance with the reality of group relationships. A person who is adopted into a gens or family “forthwith abandons all the relationships of his own gens, and takes those of the gens into which he is adopted,” a result which is due to the fact that relationship is conceived, not between individual and individual, but between group and group. Extraordinary as is the Australian system at the present time, when each class, or intermarrying group, embraces so many individuals, it would not appear so strange if, as was originally the case, each group consisted only of the immediate descendants of the common female ancestor. In this case all the males in any particular generation of each family group would be the husbands of all the females in the same generation of the other family; in other words, all the men of each group would have their wives in common and all the women their husbands in common. Moreover, the actual practice of the Australian tribes170 differs from the theory. Every man and every woman is permanently married to an individual of the opposite sex, and often this connection is formed at an early age by arrangement between the parents of the persons concerned. In addition, however, each of these persons may be allotted by the great council of the tribe as an “accessory spouse,” or pirauru, to some other individual. The Australian system, therefore, presents a mixture of individual marriage and group marriage, the latter of which is evidently closely connected with the right of sexual hospitality, which is considered by the savage mind as natural and of great importance.

Australian marriage is thus based on what may be theoretically termed the natural marriage between two groups of individuals whose wishes are never consulted in the matter. The same arrangement might, of course, be made among the individuals themselves, and, curiously enough, a form of group marriage, much restricted in its operation, was at one time fully recognised among the Polynesian Islands of the Pacific. This system was known as punalua, and it consisted in two or more brothers having their wives, or two or more sisters having their husbands, in common. Here, brothers and sisters form one group, and the wives of the one with the husbands of the other, themselves being brothers and sisters (actual or tribal), form another group answering to the intermarrying classes of the Australians. The Polynesian punalua and the Australian group marriage are, therefore, fundamentally the same.239 The Australian system is171 much the more comprehensive, however, as it affects all the members of a class, while the Polynesian affects only the persons immediately concerned. Each punaluan group appears to be formed independently, with the consent of all the parties to the arrangement, and without conferring any sexual right on the children belonging to it. This is totally unlike the Australian practice, which recognises individuals only as members of particular groups, standing to each other in a certain marital relation and perpetuated by descent through their female members. The latter may be described as hereditary punalua, as distinguished from the Polynesian system, which is purely personal.

Mr. Morgan points out that punalua may be of two forms, one founded on the brotherhood of the husbands, and the other on the sisterhood of the wives, the men of each group being polygamous and the women polyandrous. Both forms of that marriage arrangement are said to have existed among the natives of America, although, when discovered by Europeans, the family with them was founded on marriage between single pairs, but without exclusive cohabitation. Thus, it was not uncommon for a man who married an eldest daughter to claim all his wife’s sisters, and he appears to have occasionally allowed his brothers to participate in the matrimonial privileges. In other cases, a man married the sister of his deceased wife as a matter of course, but he did not take her in his wife’s lifetime. Similar customs exist in some parts of Australia, where the old system of marriage172 has been almost forgotten. The polyandrous form of punalua was known to the Australians either as a feature of the group right, or in the course of its decadence. Thus, every woman had accessory husbands or paramours who associated with her temporarily, notwithstanding that she had a recognised husband with whom she habitually cohabited. Mr. T. E. Lance mentions a tribe in which most of the women are nominally the wives of elderly men, who are, however, obliged to lend them on stated occasions to the younger men of the allowed classes.

It is evident that circumstances may favour the development of either the polyandrous or the polygamous form of punalua to the exclusion of the other. A scarcity of women would tend to the establishment of the former system, as we see in the case of the Todas of Southern India. This fine race of hillmen were inveterate practisers of female infanticide down to a recent date, and it was almost the universal practice for a family of near relations to live together in one hut, having wife, children, and cattle in common.240 The continued formation of such alliances appears to have led to a result much resembling the group marriage of the Australians. As Colonel Marshall states, “the family come to be represented mainly by a knot of brothers, half-brothers, and cousins, married to closely related kinswomen in nearly equal numbers; the men being the common fathers of all the progeny; each woman, however, the mother of her own children only.”241 The Todas173 have, under British influence, given up the practice of infanticide, but they have fewer female than male children, owing to a preponderance of male births, and polyandry is still customary among them. A woman is at first married with her own consent to one man, who pays the dowry. Afterwards, however, “if the husband has brothers, or very near relatives, all living together, they may each, if both she and he consent, participate in the right to be considered her husband also, on making up a share of the dowry that has been paid.”242 Notwithstanding the example of the Todas, it must not be thought that a scarcity of women is essential to the existence of polyandry. In Tibet this system of marriage is universal, and it has been so from time immemorial. Nevertheless, unmarried women are numerous, and infanticide is not practised. Mr. Andrew Wilson defined Tibetan polyandry as the marriage of one woman to two or more brothers, and these are actual brothers, although at one time probably they may also have been tribal. The choice of a wife is the right of the elder brother, and Mr. Wilson states243 that “among the Tibetan-speaking people it universally prevails that the contract he makes is understood to involve a marital contract with all the brothers, if they choose to avail themselves of it.” Moreover, all the children of the marriage belong to the eldest brother, as the head of the family group. In Ladak,244 however, the consent of174 the younger brothers is required to the marital partnership, although on the death of the eldest brother his authority, with his property and his widow, devolve upon his next brother, whether or not there has been a polyandrous arrangement. Mr. Wilson observes245 that Tibetan polyandry had the effect “of checking the increase of population in regions from which emigration is difficult, and where it is also difficult to increase the means of subsistence.” It is due to an artificial scarcity of wives, rather than of women, in which it differs from the polyandry of the Todas, which is the consequence of an actual scarcity of females, caused originally by the practice of infanticide, and afterwards by a preponderance of male births. Both the Tibetans and the Todas trace descent through the male line—that is, take the family or gentile name of the father; but some peoples of Southern India, who practice polyandry, prefer the female line. This is not surprising, when we find, as among the Nairs of Malabar, that not only has a woman several husbands, but a man “may be one in several combinations of husbands.” Such unions, which are governed by certain restrictions as to tribe and caste, closely resemble the Australian group marriage. In Ceylon, where polyandry is very prevalent among the Kandyans, marriage is of two forms, one termed deega, in which the wife goes to live in the house and village of her husband or husbands, the other, termed beena, in which the husband or husbands come to reside with her in the house of her175 birth. The Tibetan polyandry may be a form of the deega marriage, and the Nair polyandry a form of the beena marriage, although it is possible that the latter may be a “mere freak,” if it be true (as Mr. Wilson affirms) that the Nairs are nominally married to girls of their own caste, but never have any intercourse with their wives, who may have as many lovers as they please, provided they are Brahmins or Nairs, other than the husband. These lovers answer to the paramours of the Australian system, but, whereas the latter occupy a secondary place, among the Nairs it is the husband who is in that position. This custom may not improbably be explained by the remarks of a Mohammedan writer, who says,246 with regard to the marriages of the Brahmins of Malabar, “when there are several brothers in one family, the eldest of them alone enters into the conjugal state (except in cases where it is evident that he will have no issue), the remainder refraining from marriage, in order that heirs may not multiply to the confusion of inheritance. The younger brothers, however, intermarry with women of the Nair caste without entering into any compact with them, thus following the custom of the Nairs, who have themselves no conjugal contract. In the event of any children being born from these connections, they are excluded from the inheritance; but should it appear evident that the elder brother will not have issue, then another brother, the next to him in age, will marry.” The irregular marriages with the Nair women were, perhaps, intro176duced by the Brahmins to provide wives for the brothers of their caste who were not allowed to marry. The original Nair polyandry may have been similar to that of the carpenters, ironsmiths, painters, and other Malabar castes, who (says the same writer) “cohabit, two or more together, with one woman, but not unless they are brothers, or in some way related, lest confusion should ensue in the inheritance of property.”

It is thought, from certain facts mentioned in the Mahá Bhárata, that polyandry was a recognised institution among the early Hindus, and that the eldest brother had the right, as now among the Tibetans, to choose a wife for the family. Some writers have gone so far even as to assert that all the peoples of the primitive Aryan stock, and our own British ancestors amongst them, practised the same custom or some form of group marriage. Mr. J. F. M’Lennan regarded the Hebrew law of the Levirate, which required a younger son to take his elder brother’s widow if he had died childless, as having been derived from the practice of polyandry. Whether this was so, or whether it was merely a regulation to prevent the elder branch of a stock from becoming extinct, traces of polyandry have undoubtedly been met with among peoples of the Semitic stock. It would seem, however, to have been most prevalent among the tribes of Southern Arabia, and it was probably due, chiefly to the poverty of the people,247 as among the Tibetans, who may have directly influenced the development of polyandry in Arabia. The true marriage system of177 the Semitic peoples was punalua of the polygamous form, in which several sisters had a husband in common. We have an instance of it in the marriage of Jacob with the sisters Leah and Rachel. At a later period, however, when blood or even tribal relationship between the wives was not required, the practice of polygamy became fully established. This system has attained its chief development among the Semitic races and those African peoples who are allied to them by blood. The most widely-spread forms of marriage now existing are polygamy and monogamy, and while the former may be traced to the polygamous phase of punalua or group marriage, it is not improbable that the latter is traceable to the polyandrous phase. At all events, monogamy has been established chiefly among those races who are supposed, formerly, to have been polyandrous. The Australians, among whom group marriage has reached so full a development, are said to show a tendency to the introduction of individual marriage. Descent through the female line, which was, at one time, universal among them, is giving place to descent through males, where residence has become fixed and property accumulated. The change is accompanied by a weakening of the group right, and the gradual introduction of marriage “by gifts, by exchange, by capture, and by elopement, one or other of these predominating.” The rights of the individual are thus substituted for those of the group, and individual marriage is recognised.

Strange as are the various marriage systems we have referred to, they are based on the very simple principle that every individual has a sexual right.178 The conditions under which this right may be exercised vary among different peoples, their operation giving rise to the peculiar married arrangements in question. Among the Australians, almost the only restriction on sexual unions appears to be that arising from consanguinity. Their marriage regulations have evidently been formed with the intention of absolutely prohibiting unions between persons near of kin. Although marriage with a sister of the half-blood is often permitted, and for special reasons marriage with a full sister may be allowed, the objection to consanguineous unions may be declared to be universal among peoples of a low degree of culture. Their marriage regulations, however, are generally intended to have certain positive results. The chief result aimed at would seem to be the prevention of over-population. This fact, combined with the recognition of the sexual rights of man, accounts for the polyandry of the Tibetans and the Hindus, and the attainment of it is in many cases aided by the practice of infanticide. Polygamy, on the other hand, has no apparent relation to the question of population. It is connected rather with the rights of the gens or family to which the women belong, the man having, in many cases, certain duties to perform before he can obtain his wife or wives. The development of polygamy is, moreover, attended with an invasion of the sexual rights of individuals; as the appropriation of the women by the rich or powerful often renders the obtaining of wives by the poor or weak difficult, if not impossible.

The objection entertained by peoples of a low179 degree of culture to the marriage of persons near of kin is a strong ground of objection to Mr. Morgan’s theory that consanguineous unions were the earliest to be formed; in other words, that “promiscuous intermarriage between brothers and sisters and others of the closest kin” was, at one time, customary. Mr. Fison refers to various practices which he thinks point to the former existence of such a state of things among the Australians. In reality, however, they are merely incidents of the group marriage which has been developed by that race, or at most, the result of temporary suspension under special circumstances of the restrictions which that system enforces. They are, indeed, cases of licentiousness similar to what is often met with among many peoples during religious and other festivals. The occurrence of a temporary condition of lawlessness on various occasions, such as the death of a chief or the celebration of an important event, is not unknown even to civilised nations. Mr. Morgan’s opinion as to the former prevalence of consanguineous marriages derives no real support from the fact mentioned by Mr. Fison, and as I have elsewhere248 shown, marriages of that character are not required to account for the phenomena exhibited in the classificatory system of relationship which exists among the primitive races of mankind.



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