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CHAPTER VIII. MARRIAGE BY CAPTURE.
Various attempts have been made to account for the prevalence among peoples of all degrees of culture of what has been called “marriage by capture,” or of rites which furnish evidence of its former existence. Mr. M’Lennan traces it to infanticide, which by “rendering women scarce, led at once to polyandry within the tribe, and the capturing of women from without.” On the other hand, Sir John Lubbock ascribes the origin of “marriage by capture” to a desire on the part of individuals to acquire women for themselves, “without infringing on the general rights of the tribe.” According to this view, communal marriage was replaced by special connections, accompanied by the introduction of a foreign element, giving rise to the practice of exogamy. The reference to this practice (the necessity for which must, if Mr. M’Lennan’s idea is correct, have preceded “marriage by capture,” instead of the latter originating it) unnecessarily complicates the question under discussion.

Although exogamy is often associated with forcible marriage, the two things are perfectly distinct, and they have had totally different origins. Mr. Morgan very justly connects the former with certain ideas entertained by primitive peoples with regard to blood relationship, and it can be explained most simply and181 rationally as marriage out of the clan, it having sprang from the belief that all the members of a clan are related by blood, and therefore incapable of being united in marriage. This view is confirmed by the fact that tribes which are endogamous in relation to other tribes are exogamous in the sense that they comprise several clans, the members of none of which can intermarry among themselves. We have a curious example of this limited exogamy in the Chinese, among whom persons bearing the same family name are not permitted to intermarry. True endogamy would seem to exist among very few peoples, and when it is practised the custom is probably due to special circumstances, which, giving prominence to a particular clan, have enabled them to claim a caste privilege, or it may be owing to a necessity arising from the complete severance of the members of a clan from their fellows. The scarcity of women, whether occasioned by infanticide or polygamy, may have rendered exogamy more requisite, and it may have been complicated by forcible marriage, but none of these have any real bearing on its origin.

It could be shown without difficulty that the opinion entertained by the writers I have referred to, that the primitive condition of man was one of communal marriage, is untenable, and if I am correct in this conclusion, there will be no occasion to consider the argument that “marriage by capture” depended on such a social condition. The idea that “marriage by capture” originated in the necessity for exogamy, arising from infanticide or some other practice, is more plausible, and such an explanation of the custom may be182 accepted where it is not universal in a tribe, but resorted to only in particular cases or under special conditions. The capture of wives among the Australian aborigines is expressly accounted for by Oldfield as being due to the scarcity of women. But where forcible marriage can be traced to the action of individual caprice it must be treated as exceptional, and some other explanation must be sought for the widespread practices which are supposed to prove the former prevalence of that custom. From this standpoint Mr. M’Lennan’s explanation is far from satisfactory, as may be shown by analysis of the incidents attendant on “marriage by capture,” as practised by different peoples.

It is true that sometimes the carrying off of the bride is resisted by her friends, and is attended in some cases, as among the Welsh down to a comparatively recent period, by a sham fight between them and the friends of the bridegroom; although among other peoples, as with the Khonds of India, the protection of the bride is left to her female companions. In the great majority of cases cited by Sir John Lubbock, however, the suitor forcibly removes the bride without any hindrance from her friends. Occasionally, as with the Tunguses, the New Zealanders, and the Mandingos, she strongly resists. Among other peoples, as with the Esquimaux, the resistance is usually only pretended, and is thus analogous to the sham fight already referred to. In all these cases alike, however, it is the girl only who has to be conquered, and if the resistance were real it would depend on herself whether or not she should be captured. There are other incidents of this forcible marriage183 which have more significance than has hitherto been attached to them. Among the New Zealanders, if the girl who is being carried off can break away from her captor and regain her father’s house, the suitor loses all chance of ever obtaining her in marriage. So, also, among the Fijians, if a woman does not approve of the man who has taken her by force to his house, she leaves him for some one who can protect her. Among the Fuegians the girl who is not willing to accept her would-be husband does not wait to be carried off, but hides herself in the woods, and remains concealed until he is tired of looking for her. According to Mongol custom, the bride hides herself with some of her relations, and the bridegroom has to search for and find her. Something like the Fuegian custom is practised by the Aitas, among whom the bride has to conceal herself in a wood, where the suitor must find her before sunset.

In these cases the will of the bride-elect is a very important element, and it is equally so in those cases where she is captured and carried off only after a prolonged chase. Thus, with the Kalmucks, according to Dr. Clarke, the girl gallops away at full speed, pursued by her suitor, and if she does not wish to marry him she always effects her escape. An analogous custom is found among the uncultured tribes of the Malayan Peninsula. Here, however, the chase is on foot, and generally round a circle, although sometimes in the forest, and, as Bourien (quoted by Sir John Lubbock) says, the pursuer is successful only if he “has had the good fortune to please the intended bride.” A similar custom is found among the Koraks of North184Eastern Asia. Here the ceremony takes place within a large tent containing numerous separate compartments (pologs), arranged in a continuous circle around its inner circumference. Mr. Kennan (in his “Tent Life in Siberia”) gives an amusing and instructive description of such a ceremony. The women of the encampment, armed with willow and alder rods, stationed themselves at the entrances of the pologs, the front curtains of which were thrown up. Then, at a given signal, “the bride darted suddenly into the first polog, and began a rapid flight around the tent, raising the curtains between the pologs successively, and passing under. The bridegroom instantly followed in hot pursuit, but the women who were stationed in each compartment threw every possible impediment in his way, tripping up his unwary feet, holding down the curtains to prevent his passage, and applying the willow and alder switches unmercifully to a very susceptible part of his body as he stooped to raise them.... With undismayed perseverance he pressed on, stumbling headlong over the outstretched feet of his female persecutors, and getting constantly entangled in the ample folds of the reindeer-skin curtains, which were thrown with the skill of a matador over his head and eyes. In a moment the bride had entered the last closed polog near the door, while the unfortunate bridegroom was still struggling with his accumulated misfortunes about half way round the tent. I expected,” says the traveller,185 “to see him relax his efforts and give up the contest when the bride disappeared, and was preparing to protest strongly on his behalf against the unfairness of the trial; but, to my surprise, he still struggled on, and with a final plunge, burst through the curtain of the last polog, and rejoined his bride,” who had waited for him there. Mr. Kennan adds that “the intention of the whole ceremony was evidently to give the woman an opportunity to marry the man or not, as she chose, since it was obviously impossible for him to catch her under such circumstances, unless she voluntarily waited for him in one of the pologs.”

Judging only from the element of force observable in what are termed “marriages by capture,” the explanation of them given by Mr. M’Lennan appears reasonable. But, although capture may be an incident of exogamy, the customs under consideration are really connected with endogamy, in the sense that the parties to them belong to a common tribe. Moreover, those customs are wanting in another of the elements which would be necessary to justify their being classed as “survivals” of an earlier practice of forcible exogamy. This pre-supposes the absence of consent on the part of the relatives of the bride, but the so-called marriage by capture is nearly always preceded by an arrangement with them. The only exception among the various examples of such marriages mentioned by Sir John Lubbock is that of the inhabitants of Bali, where the man is said to forcibly carry off his bride to the woods, and to afterwards effect reconciliation with her “enraged” friends. It is not improbable, however, that rage may be simulated in this case as in others, and that the capture is arranged beforehand with them. Sir John Lubbock himself explains an apparent act of lawless violence among the Mandingos186 as an incident of “marriage by capture,” on the ground that the bride’s relatives “only laughed at the farce, and consoled her by saying that she would soon be reconciled to her situation;” and it appears that her mother had previously given her consent to the proceeding. A mere general understanding, if universally recognised, would indeed be as efficacious as a special consent, and whether the consent of the parent has to be obtained previously to overcoming the opposition of the bride, or whether this has to be overcome as a condition precedent to the consent being given, is practically of no importance. We seem to have an example of the latter in the marriage customs of the Afghans as described by Elphinstone. Among this people wives are always purchased, and the necessity for paying the usual price is not done away with, although a man is allowed to make sure of his bride by cutting off a lock of her hair, snatching away her veil, or throwing a sheet over her, if he declares at the same time that she is his affianced wife.

The facts just mentioned lead to the conclusion that the “capture” which forms the most prominent incident in the marriage customs under discussion, has a totally different significance from that which is connected with exogamy in the sense supposed by Mr. M’Lennan and Sir John Lubbock. In the latter case force is resorted to to prevent the possibility of opposition by the tribe to whom the victim of the violence belongs; but in the former, as the consent of the woman’s relatives had already been given, expressly or by implication, the force must be to overcome the possible187 opposition of the woman herself, whether this may arise from bashfulness or from an actual dislike to the suitor. We have here an important distinction, and it points to a state of society where women have acquired a right to exercise a choice in the matter of marriage. Before this right could be fully established the suitor would be allowed to obtain her compliance by force, if necessary, as with the Greenlanders, among whom, according to Crantz, the bride, if, after she has been captured by the old women who negotiated the marriage, she cannot be persuaded by kind and courteous treatment, is “compelled by force, nay, sometimes by blows, to change her state.” But even among the Greenlanders, if a girl had great repugnance to her suitor, she could escape marriage by betaking herself to the mountains. A still more efficacious plan is the cutting off of her hair, which frees her from all importunity, as it is accepted as a sure sign that she has determined never to marry. “Marriage by capture” has thus relation not to the tribe but to the individual immediately concerned, and it is based on her power to withhold her consent to the contract made between her suitor and her relatives. Among some uncultured peoples the opposition of the bride-elect is effectually overcome by force, but it is seldom that she is not allowed the opportunity of escaping a marriage which she dislikes. When once it has become usual for the bride to show a real or simulated opposition to the proposed marriage, as might easily be the case among peoples who, although uncultured, esteem chastity before marriage, it would in course of time be firmly established as a general custom. Thus,188 when a Greenland young woman is asked in marriage she professes great bashfulness, tears her ringlets, and runs away. When the show of opposition had become a matter of etiquette, it would, notwithstanding that the marriage had been previously arranged, be joined in by the friends of the bride, who, by a fiction, is being carried off against her will. Hence the customs of having a sham fight before the bridegroom is allowed to gain possession of his prize, and the placing of impediments in the way of his catching her in the chase, neither of which has any relation to a supposed primitive practice of forcible abduction from a hostile tribe.

It will be said, however, if the relations of the bride have consented to her marriage, why do they oppose the carrying into effect of their agreement? Much light is thrown on this point by the description given by Colonel Dalton of the customs of the hill-tribes of Bengal.249 With many of the aboriginal peoples of India, and with some Sudra castes, one of the most important ceremonies of marriage is the application of the Sindur to the forehead of the bride; this consists in the bridegroom making, usually with vermilion, a red mark between her eyes. In some places, however, particularly in Singhbum, among the Hos, the bridegroom and bride mark each other with blood, signifying that by marriage they become one. Colonel Dalton supposes this to be the origin of the Sindrahan, a custom which is as singular as it is widespread. With the Oraons, a Dravidian tribe, the189 same ceremony is practised, but in secret. A veil is cast over the bridal pair, who are then covered with another piece of stuff held by some of their male relations, while others mount guard, fully armed, as though to kill any one who might approach to interfere with the ceremony. In the Singhbum villages the ceremony is modified, and the engaged couple drink beer from the same vessel. This signifies that they form only one body, belong to the same kili—in other words, that the woman is admitted to the clan of her husband. Dr. Hunter, in his admirable work entitled “Annals of Rural Bengal,” says the great event of the life of a Santal is the union of his “tribe” with another “tribe” in marriage. No individual can marry a member of his own clan, and the woman in marrying abandons the clan of her father, as well as his gods, to adopt the clan and the gods of her husband. The ceremony by which the Santals express this separation is different from that adopted by the Hos. The husband’s clansmen knot together the garments of the bridegroom and the bride, after which the women of the bride’s clan bring lighted charcoal, crush it with a pestle to indicate the breaking of the old family tie, and then extinguish it with water to indicate the definitive separation of the bride from her own clan. As we have seen, this separation is effected among the Oraons in the presence of the members of the two clans, and the sham combat by which the marriage ceremonies commence is evidently intended to show that it is indispensable to obtain the consent, not only of the bride, but also of the family group to which she belongs, before the ties which bind190 her to the clan can be broken. After offering a pretended resistance, the clansmen of the bride express their consent in joining with the relations of the bridegroom to celebrate the formation of the fresh family tie.

At first sight, it might be thought that there is little difference between this explanation of “marriage by capture” and that given by Sir John Lubbock, but in reality they differ completely. Sir John Lubbock supposes a violent capture from another tribe without any reference to the question of clanship. On the other hand, in the explanation above proposed, there is a change in the position of the woman, but it is brought about by arrangement, the pretended combat having relation to the rights of the clan, but having no reference to the wider organisation of the tribe. The sham-fight is simply a phase of the ceremonies, destined to show the objection entertained by a family group to part with one of its members, and, what is of still greater importance, to give up the interest they possess in the future offspring of the woman who is to be cut off from the clan. The essentially pacific character of the sham-fight is shown by the manner in which, as described by Colonel Dalton, it is conducted in Gondwana. Among the Muasi of this district, when the cavalcade of the bridegroom approaches the house of the bride, there issues from it a merry troop of young girls, who are headed by the mother of the bride, bearing on her head a vessel full of water, surmounted by a lighted lamp. When the girls come near the bridegroom’s friends they throw at them balls of boiled rice, after which they beat a retreat. The191 young men pursue them to the door of the house, which, however, they cannot enter until they have made presents to its female defenders. The fact that among nearly all the peoples who have “marriage by combat,” the children belong to the clan of their father, confirms the truth of the conclusion I have sought to establish, that the ceremony in question has relation to the clan, and not to the bride. Among the primitive peoples to whom it would be necessary, on the hypothesis of Sir John Lubbock, to trace the origin of that curious custom, the children usually belong to the family group of their mother. The sham-fight could be introduced when a change has taken place in the condition of women; but this would imply a phase of civilisation much more recent than that of the Australians and other barbarous tribes, to whose practice of stealing women for wives, which is mere forcible marriage, has been wrongly traced the origin of192 “marriage by capture.”


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