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The Origin of the Family, Private
Property and the State — The Family
Exported from Wikisource on May 3, 2021
Morgan, who spent the greater part of his life among the Iroquois in the State of New York and who had been adopted into one of their tribes, the Senecas, found among them a system of relationship that was in contradiction with their actual family relations. Among them existed what Morgan terms the syndyasmian or pairing family, a monogamous state easily dissolved by either side. The offspring of such a couple was identified and acknowledged by all the world. There could be no doubt to whom to apply the terms father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister. But the actual use of these words was not in keeping with their fundamental meaning. For the Iroquois addresses as sons and daughters not only his own children, but also those of his brothers; and he is called father by all of them. But the children of his sisters he calls nephews and nieces, and they call him uncle. Vice versa, an Iroquois woman calls her own children as well as those of her sisters sons and daughters and is addressed as mother by them. But the children of her brothers are called nephews and nieces, and they call her aunt. In the same way, the children of brothers call one another brothers and sisters, and so do the children of sisters. But the children of a sister call those of her
brother cousins, and vice versa. And these are not simply meaningless terms, but the expressions of actually existing conceptions of proximity and remoteness, equality or inequality of consanguinity.
These conceptions serve as the fundament of a perfectly elaborated system of relationship, capable of expressing several hundred different relations of a single individual. More still, this system is not only fully accepted by all American Indians—no exception has been found so far— but it is also in use with hardly any modifications among the original inhabitants of India, among the Dravidian tribes of the Dekan and the Gaura tribes of Hindostan.
The terms of relationship used by the Tamils of Southern India and by the Seneca-Iroquois of New York State are to this day identical for more than two hundred different family relations. And among these East Indian tribes also, as among all American Indians, the relations arising out of the prevailing form of the family are not in keeping with the system of kinship.
How can this be explained? In view of the important role played by kinship in the social order of all the savage and barbarian races, the significance of such a widespread system cannot be obliterated by phrases.
A system that is generally accepted in America, that also exists in Asia among people of entirely different races, that
is frequently found in a more or less modified form all over Africa and Australia, such a system requires a historical explanation and cannot be talked down, as was attempted, e.g., by McLennan. The terms father, child, brother, sister are more than mere honorary titles; they carry in their wake certain well defined and very serious obligations, the aggregate of which comprises a very essential part of the social constitution of those nations. And the explanation was found. In the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) there existed up to the first half of the nineteenth century a family form producing just such fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, as the old Indo-American system of kinship. But how remarkable! The Hawaiian system of kinship again did not agree with the family form actually prevailing there. For there all the children of brothers and sisters, without any exception, are considered brothers and sisters, and regarded as the common children not only of their mother or her sisters, or their father and his brothers, but of all the brothers and sisters of their parents without distinction. While thus the American system of kinship presupposes an obsolete primitive form of the family, which is still actually existing in Hawaii, the Hawaiian system on the other hand points to a still more primitive form of the family, the actual existence of which cannot be proved any more, but which must have existed, because otherwise such a system of kinship could not have arisen. According to Morgan, the family is the active element; it is never stationary, but in progression from a lower to a higher form in the same
measure in which society develops from a lower to a higher stage. But the systems of kinship are passive. Only in long intervals they register the progress made by the family in course of time, and only then are they radically changed, when the family has done so. “And,” adds Marx, “it is the same with political, juridical, religious and philosophical systems in general.” While the family keeps on growing, the system of kinship becomes ossified. The latter continues in this state and the family grows beyond it. With the same certainty which enabled Cuvier to conclude from some bones of Marsupialia found near Paris that extinct marsupialia had lived there, with this same certainty may we conclude from a system of kinship transmitted by history that the extinct form of the family corresponding to this system was once in existence.
The systems of kinship and forms of the family just mentioned differ from the present systems in that every child has several fathers and mothers. Under the American system to which the Hawaiian system corresponds, brother and sister cannot be father and mother of the same child; but the Hawaiian system presupposes a family, in which, on the contrary, this was the rule. We are here confronted by a series of family forms that are in direct contradiction with those that were currently regarded as alone prevailing. The conventional conception knows only monogamy, furthermore polygamy of one man, eventually also polyandry of one woman. But it passes in silence, as is meet for a moralizing philistine, that the practice silently but
without compunction supersedes these barriers sanctioned officially by society. The study of primeval history, however, shows us conditions, where men practiced polygamy and women at the same time polyandry, so that their children were considered common to all; conditions that up to their final transition into monogamy underwent a whole series of modifications. These modifications slowly and gradually contract the circle comprised by the common tie of marriage until only the single couple remains which prevails to-day.
In thus constructing backward the history of the family, Morgan, in harmony with the majority of his colleagues, arrives at a primeval condition, where unrestricted sexual intercourse existed within a tribe, so that every woman belonged to every man, and vice versa.
Much has been said about this primeval state of affairs since the eighteenth century, but only in general commonplaces. It is one of Bachofen’s great merits to have taken the subject seriously and to have searched for traces of this state in historical and religious traditions. To-day we know that these traces, found by him, do not lead back to a stage of unlimited sexual intercourse, but to a much later form, the group marriage. The primeval stage, if it really ever existed, belongs to so remote a period, that we can hardly expect to find direct proofs of its former existence among these social fossils, backward savages. Bachofen’s merit consists in having brought this question to the fore.
It has lately become a fashion to deny the existence of this early stage of human sex life, in order to spare us this “shame.” Apart from the absence of all direct proof, the example of the rest of animal life is involved. From the latter, Letourneau (Evolution du mariage et de la famille, 1888) quoted numerous facts, alleged to prove that among animals also an absolutely unlimited sexual intercourse belongs to a lower stage. But I can only conclude from all these facts that they prove absolutely nothing for man and the primeval conditions of his life. The mating of vertebrates for a lengthy term is sufficiently explained by physiological causes, e.g., among birds by the helplessness of the female during brooding time. Examples of faithful monogamy among birds do not furnish any proofs for men, for we are not descended from birds.
And if strict monogamy is the height of virtue, then the palm belongs to the tapeworm that carries a complete male and female sexual apparatus in each of its 50 to 200 sections and passes its whole lifetime in fertilizing itself in every one of its sections. But if we confine ourselves to mammals, we find all forms of sexual intercourse, license, suggestions of group marriage, polygamy and monogamy. Only polyandry is missing;[Translator’s note 1] that could be accomplished by men only. Even our next relations, the quadrumana, exhibit all possible differences in the grouping of males and females. And if we draw the line still closer and consider only the four anthropoid apes, Letourneau can only tell us, that they are now monogamous, now
polygamous; while Saussure contends according to Giraud- Teulon that they are monogamous. The recent contentions of Westermarck[Translator’s note 2] in regard to monogamy among anthropoid apes are far from proving anything. In short, the information is such that honest Letourneau admits: “There exists no strict relation at all between the degree of intellectual development and the form of sexual intercourse among mammals.” and Espinas says frankly: [Translator’s note 3] “The herd is the highest social group found among animals. It seems to be composed of families, but from the outset the family and the herd are antagonistic; they develop in directly opposite ratio.”
It is evident from the above that we know next to nothing of the family and other social groups of anthropoid apes; the reports are directly contradictory. How full of contradiction, how much in need of critical scrutiny and research are the reports even on savage human tribes! But monkey tribes are far more difficult to observe than human tribes. For the present, therefore, we must decline all final conclusions from such absolutely unreliable reports.
The quotation from Espinas, however, offers a better clue. Among higher animals, the herd and family are not supplements of one another, but antitheses. Espinas demonstrates very nicely, how the jealousy of the males loosens or temporarily dissolves every herd during mating time. “Where the family is closely organized, herds are formed only in exceptional cases. But wherever free sexual
intercourse or polygamy are existing, the herd appears almost spontaneously.… In order that a herd may form, family ties must be loosened and the individual be free. For this reason we so rarely find organized herds among birds. … Among mammals, however, we find groups organized after a fashion, just because here the individual is not merged in the family.… The rising sense of cohesion in a herd cannot, therefore, have a greater enemy than the consciousness of family ties. Let us not shrink from pronouncing it: the development of a higher form of society than the family can be due only to the fact that it admitted families which had undergone a thorough change. This does not exclude the possibility that these same families were thus enabled to reorganize later on under infinitely more favorable circumstances.”
It becomes apparent from this, that animal societies may indeed have a certain value in drawing conclusions in regard to human life—but only negatively. The higher vertebrate knows, so far as we may ascertain, only two forms of the family: polygamy or pairs. In both of them there is only one grown male, only one husband. The jealousy of the male, at the same time tie and limit of the family, creates an opposition between the animal family and the herd. The latter, a higher social form, is here rendered impossible, there loosened or dissolved during mating time, and at best hindered in its development by the jealousy or the male. This in itself is sufficient proof that the animal family and primeval human society are irreconcilable; that
ancient man, struggling upward from the animal stage, either had no family at all or at the most one that does not exist among animals. A being so defenceless as evolving man might well survive in small numbers though living in an isolated state, the highest social form of which is that of pairs such as Westermarck, relying on hunter’s reports, attributes to the gorilla and the chimpanzee. Another element is necessary for the elevation out of the animal stage, for the realization of the highest progress found in nature: the replacing of the defencelessness of the single individual by the united strength and co-operation of the whole herd. The transition from beast to man out of conditions of the sort under which the anthropoid apes are living to-day would be absolutely unexplainable. These apes rather give the impression of stray sidelines gradually approaching extinction, and at all events in process of decline. This alone is sufficient to reject all parallels between their family forms and those of primeval man. But mutual tolerance of the grown males, freedom from jealousy, was the first condition for the formation of such large and permanent groups, within which alone the transformation from beast to man could be accomplished. And indeed, what do we find to be the most ancient and original form of the family, undeniably traceable by history and even found to-day here and there? The group marriage, that form in which whole groups of men and whole groups of women mutually belong to one another, leaving only small scope for jealousy. And furthermore we find at a later stage the exceptional form of polyandry which still more
supersedes all sentiments of jealousy and hence is unknown to animals.
But all the forms of the group marriage known to us are accompanied by such peculiarly complicated circumstances that they of necessity point to a preceding simpler form of sexual intercourse and, hence, in the last instance to a period of unrestricted sexual intercourse corresponding to a transition from the animal to man. Therefore the references to animal marriages lead us back to precisely that point, from which they were intended to remove us forever.
What does the term “unrestricted sexual intercourse” mean? Simply, that the restrictions in force now were not observed formerly. We have already seen the barrier of jealousy falling, if anything is certain, it is that jealousy is developed at a comparatively late stage. The same is true of incest. Not only brother and sister were originally man and wife, but also the sexual intercourse between parents and children is permitted to this day among many nations. Bancroft testifies to the truth of this among the Kaviats of the Behring Strait, the Kadiaks of Alaska, the Tinnehs in the interior of British North America; Letourneau compiled reports of the same fact in regard to the Chippeway Indians, the Coocoos in Chile, the Caribeans, the Carens in Indo- China, not to mention the tales of ancient Greeks and Romans about the Parthians, Persians, Scythians, Huns and so forth. Before incest was invented (and it is an invention, a really valuable one indeed), sexual intercourse between
parents and children could not be any more repulsive than between other persons belonging to different generations, which takes place even in our day among the most narrow- minded nations without causing any horror. Even old “maids” of more than sixty years sometimes, if they are rich enough, marry young men of about thirty. Eliminating from the primeval forms of the family known to us those conceptions of incest—conceptions totally different from ours and often enough in direct contradiction with them— we arrive at a form of sexual intercourse that can only be designated as unrestricted. Unrestricted in the sense that the barriers drawn later on by custom did not yet exist. This in no way necessarily implies for practical purposes an injudicious pell-mell intercourse. The separate existence of pairs for a limited time is not out of the question, and even comprises the majority of cases in the group marriage of our days. And if the latest repudiator of such a primeval state, Westermarck, designates as marriage every case, where both sexes remain mated until the birth of the offspring, then this is equivalent to saying that this kind of marriage may well exist during a stage of unrestricted intercourse without contradicting license, i. e., absence of barriers drawn by custom for sexual intercourse, Westermarck bases himself on the opinion that “license includes the suppression of individual affections” so that “prostitution is its most genuine form.” To me it rather seems that any understanding of primeval conditions is impossible as long as we look at them through brothel
spectacles. We shall return to this point in the group marriage.
According to Morgan, the following forms developed from this primeval state at an apparently early stage:
1. THE CONSANGUINE FAMILY.
The Consanguine Family is the first step toward the family. Here the marriage groups are arranged by generations: all the grand-fathers and grand-mothers within a certain family are mutually husbands and wives; and equally their children, the fathers and mothers, whose children form a third cycle of mutual mates. The children of these again, the great-grandchildren of the first cycle, will form a fourth. In this form of the family, then, only ancestors and descendants are excluded from what we would call the rights and duties of marriage. Brothers and sisters, male and female cousins of the first, second and more remote grades, are all mutually brothers and sisters and for this reason mutual husbands and wives. The relation of brother and sister quite naturally includes at this stage the practice of sexual intercourse.
The typical form of such a family would consist of the offspring of one pair, representing again the descendants of each grade as mutual brothers and sisters and, therefore, mutual husbands and wives. The consanguine family is extinct. Even the crudest nations of history do not furnish
any proofs of it. But the Hawaiian system of kinship, in force to this day in all Polynesia, compels us to acknowledge its former existence, for it exhibits grades of kinship that could only originate in this form of the family. And the whole subsequent development of the family compels us to admit this form as a necessary step.
2. THE PUNALUAN FAMILY.
While the first step of organization consisted in excluding parents and children from mutual sexual intercourse, the second was the erection of a barrier between brother and sister. This progress was much more important on account of the greater equality in the ages of the parties concerned, but also far more difficult. It was accomplished gradually, probably beginning with the exclusion of the natural sister (i.e., on the mother’s side) from sexual intercourse, first in single cases, then becoming more and more the rule (in Hawaii exceptions were still noted during the nineteenth century), and finally ending with the prohibition of marriage even among collateral brothers and sisters, i.e., what we now term brother’s and sister’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. This progress offers, according to Morgan, an excellent illustration how the principle of natural selection works. Without question, the tribes limiting inbreeding by this progress developed faster and more completely than those retaining the marriage between brothers and sisters as a rule and law. And how powerfully the influence of this progress was felt,
is shown by the institution of the gens, directly attributable to it and passing far beyond the goal. The gens is the foundation of the social order of most, if not all, barbarian nations, and in Greece and Rome we step immediately from it to civilization.
Every primeval family necessarily had to divide after a few generations. The originally communistic and collective household existing far into the middle stage of barbarism, involved a certain maximum size of the family, variable according to conditions, but still limited in a degree. As soon as the conception of the impropriety of sexual intercourse between children of the same mother arose, it naturally became effective on such occasions as the division of old and the foundation of new household communities (which, however, did not necessarily coincide with the family group). One or more series of sisters became the center of one group, their natural brothers that of another. In this or a similar manner that form which Morgan styles the Punaluan family developed from the consanguine family. According to Hawaiian custom, a number of sisters, natural or more remote (i.e., cousins of the first, second and more remote degrees) were the mutual wives of their mutual husbands, their natural brothers excepted. These men now no longer addressed one another as “brother”—which they no longer had to be—but as “Punalua,” i.e., intimate companion, associate as it were. Likewise a series of natural or more remote brothers lived in mutual marriage with a number of women, not their natural sisters, and these
women referred to each other as “Punalua.” This is the classical form of a family, which later admitted of certain variations. Its fundamental characteristic was mutual community of husbands and wives within a given family with the exclusion of the natural brothers (or sisters) first, and of the more remote grades later.
This form of the family, now, furnishes with complete accuracy the degrees of kinship expressed by American system: The children of the sisters of my mother still are her children; likewise the children of the brothers of my father still his children; and all of them are my brothers and sisters. But the children of the brothers of my mother are now her nephews and nieces, the children of the sisters of my father his nephew and nieces, and they are all my cousins. For while the husbands of the sisters of my mother are still her husbands, and likewise the wives of the brothers of my father still his wives—legally, if not always in fact— the social proscription of sexual intercourse between brothers and sisters has now divided those relatives who were formerly regarded without distinction as brothers and sisters, into two classes. In one category are those who remain (more remote) brothers and sisters as before; in the other the children of the brother on one hand or the sister on the opposite, who can be brothers and sisters no longer. The latter have mutual parents no more, neither father nor mother nor both together. And for this reason the class of nephews and nieces, male and female cousins, here becomes necessary for the first time. Under the former
family order this would have been absurd. The American system of kinship, which appears absolutely paradoxical in any family form founded on monogamy, is rationally explained and naturally confirmed in its most minute details by the Punaluan family. Wherever this system of kinship was in force, there the Punaluan family or at least a form akin to it must also have existed.
This family form, the existence of which in Hawaii was actually demonstrated, would have been transmitted probably by all Polynesia, if the pious missionaries, similar to the Spanish monks in America, could have looked upon such anti-Christian relations as being something more than simply a “horror.”Cesar’s report to the effect that the Britons, who then were in the middle stage of barbarism, “have ten or twelve women in common, mostly brothers with brothers and parents with children,” is best explained by group marriage. Barbarian mothers have not ten or twelve sons old enough to keep women in common, but the American system of kinship corresponding to the Punaluan family furnishes many brothers, because all near and remote cousins of a certain man are his brothers. The term “parents with children” may arise from a wrong conception of Cesar, but this system does not absolutely exclude the existence of father and son, mother or daughter in the same group. It does exclude, however, father and daughter or mother and son. This or a similar form of group marriage also furnishes the easiest explanation of the reports of Herodotus and other ancient writers concerning community of women among
savage and barbarian nations. This is true, furthermore, of Watson’s and Kaye’s tale about the Tikurs of Audh (north of the Ganges): “They live together (i.e., sexually) almost indiscriminately in large communities, and though two persons may be considered as being married, still the tie is only nominal.”
The institution of the gens seems to have its origin in the majority of cases in the Punaluan family. True, the Australian class system also offers a starting point for it; the Austrialians have gentes, but not yet a Punaluan family, only a cruder form of group marriage.
In all forms of the group family it is uncertain who is the father of a child, but certain, who is its mother. Although she calls all the children of the aggregate family her children and has the duties of a mother toward them, still she knows her natural children from others. It is also obvious that, as far as group marriage exists, descent can only be traced on the mother’s side and, hence, only female lineage be acknowledged. This is actually the case among all savage tribes and those in the lower stage of barbarism. To have discovered this first is the second great merit of Bachofen. He designates this exclusive recognition of descent from the female line and the hereditary relations resulting therefrom in course of time as “maternal law.” I retain this term for the sake of brevity, although it is distorted; for at this social stage there is no sign yet of any law in the juridic sense.
If we now take one of the two standard groups of a Punaluan family, namely that of a series of natural and remote sisters (i.e., first, second and more remote descendants of natural sisters), their children and their natural or remote brothers on the mother’s side (who according to our supposition are not their husbands), we have exactly that circle of persons who later appear as members of a gens, in the original form of this institution. They all have a common ancestress, by virtue of the descent that makes the different female generations sisters. But the husbands of these sisters cannot be chosen among their brothers any more, can no longer come from the same ancestress, and do not therefore, belong to the consanguineous group of relatives, the gens of a later time. The children of these same sisters, however, do belong to this group, because descent from the female line alone is conclusive, alone is positive. As soon as the proscription of sexual intercourse between all relatives on the mother’s side, even the most remote of them, is an accomplished fact, the above named group has become a gens, i.e., constitutes a definite circle of consanguineous relatives of female lineage who are not permitted to marry one another. Henceforth this circle is more and more fortified by other mutual institutions of a social or religious character and thus distinguished from other gentes of the same tribe. Of this more anon.
Finding, as we do, that the gens not only necessarily, but also as a matter of course, develops from the Punaluan
family, it becomes obvious to us to assume as almost practically demonstrated the prior existence of this family form among all those nations where such gentes are traceable, i.e., nearly all barbarian and civilized nations.
When Morgan wrote his book, our knowledge of group marriage was very limited. We knew very little about the group marriages of the Australians organized in classes, and furthermore Morgan had published as early as 1871 the information he had received about the Punaluan family of Hawaii. This family on one hand furnished a complete explanation of the system of kinship in force among the American Indians, which had been the point of departure for all the studies of Morgan. On the other hand it formed a ready means for the deduction of the maternal law gens. And finally it represented a far higher stage of development than the Australian classes.
It is, therefore, easy to understand how Morgan could regard this form as the stage necessarily preceding the pairing family and attribute general extension in former times to it. Since then we have learned of several other forms of the group marriage, and we know that Morgan went too far in this respect. But it was nevertheless his good fortune to encounter in his Punaluan family the highest, the classical, form of group marriage, that form which gave the simplest clue for the transition to a higher stage.
The most essential contribution to our knowledge of the group matiage we owe to the English missionary, Lorimer Fison, who studied this form of the family for years on its classical ground, Australia. He found the lowest stage of development among the Papuans near Mount Gambler in South Australia. Here the whole tribe is divided into two great classes, Krokl and Kumite.[