The Mystic Rose

Date: 1902

[Sexual Antagonism and Taboo]

"In the beginning, when Twashtri came to the creation of woman, he found that he had exhausted his materials in the making of man, and that no solid elements were left. In this dilemma, after profound meditation, he did as follows. He took the rotundity of the moon, and the curves of creepers, and the clinging of tendrils, and the trembling of grass, and the slenderness of the reed, and the bloom of flowers, and the lightness of leaves, and the tapering of the elephant’s trunk and the glances of deer, and the clustering of rows of bees, and the joyous gaiety of sunbeams, and the weeping of clouds, and the fickleness of the winds, and the timidity of the hare, and the vanity of the peacock, and the softness of the parrot’s bosom, and the hardness of adamant, and the sweetness of honey, and the cruelty of the tiger, and the warm glow of fire, and the coldness of snow, and the chattering of jays, and the cooing of the kókila, and the hypocrisy of the crane, and the fidelity of the chakrawóka, and compounding all these together, he made woman and gave her to man. But after one week, man came to him and said: Lord, this creature that you have given me makes my life miserable. She chatters incessantly and teases me beyond endurance, never leaving me alone; and she requires incessant attention, and takes all my time up, and cries about nothing, and is always idle; and so I have come to give her back again, as I cannot live with her. So Twashtri said: Very well; and he took her back. Then after another week, man came again to him and said: Lord, I find that my life is very lonely, since I gave you back that creature. I remember how she used to dance and sing to me, and look at me out of the corner of her eye, and play with me, and cling to me; and her laughter was music, and she was beautiful to look at, and soft to touch; so give her back to me again. So Twashtri said: Very well; and gave her back again. Then after only three days, man came back to him again and said: Lord, I know not how it is; but after all I have come to the conclusion that she is more of a trouble than a pleasure to me; so please take her back again. But Twashtri said: Out on you! Be off! I will have no more of this. You must manage how you can. Then man said: But I cannot live with her. And Twashtri replied: Neither could you live without her. And he turned his back on man, and went on with his work. Then man said: What is to be done? for I cannot live either with her or without her."

This extract from a beautiful Sanscrit story illustrates a conception of the relations of man and woman, which often recurs in literature. The same conception, due ultimately to that difference of sex and of sexual characters which renders mutual sympathy and understanding more or less difficult, is characteristic of mankind in all periods and stages of culture. Woman is one of the last things to be understood by man; though the complement of man and his partner in health and sickness, poverty and wealth, woman is different from man, and this difference has had the same religious results as have attended other things which man does not understand. The same is true of woman’s attitude to man. In the history of the sexes there have been always at work the two complementary physical forces of attraction and repulsion; man and woman may be regarded, and not fancifully, as the highest sphere in which this law of physics operates; in love the two sexes are drawn to each other by an irresistible sympathy, while in other circumstances there is more or less of segregation, due to and enforced by human ideas of human relations.

The remarkable facts which follow show the primitive theory and practice of this separation of the sexes. Both in origin and results the phenomena are those of Taboo, and hence I have applied to these facts the specific term of Sexual Taboo. At first sight this early stage of the relations of men and women may cause surprise, but when one realises the continuity of human ideas, and analyses one’s own consciousness, one may find there in potentiality, if not actualised by prejudice, the same conception, though perhaps emptied of its religious content.

In Nukahiva if a woman happens to sit upon or even pass near an object which has become tabu by contact with a man, it can never be used again, and she is put to death. In Tahiti a woman had to respect those places frequented by men, their weapons and fishing implements; the head of a husband or father was sacred from the touch of woman, nor might a wife or daughter touch any object that had been in contact with these tabued heads, or step over them when their owners were asleep. In the Solomon Islands a man will never pass under a tree fallen across the path, because a woman may have stepped over it before him. In Siam it is considered unlucky to pass under women’s clothes hung out to dry. It is degrading to a Melanesian chief to go where women may be above his head; boys also are forbidden to go underneath the women’s bed-place. Amongst the Karens of Burmah going under a house when there are females within is avoided; and in Burmah generally it is thought an indignity to have a woman above the head; to prevent which the houses are never built with more than one storey. This explanation of an architectural peculiarity is doubtless ex post facto. Amongst the people of Rajmahal, if a man be detected by a woman sitting on her cot and she complains of the impropriety, he pays her a fowl as fine, which she returns; on the other hand, if a man detects a woman sitting on his cot, he kills the fowl which she produces in answer to his complaint, and sprinkles the blood on the cot to purify it, after which she is pardoned. In Cambodia a wife may never use the pillow or mattress of her husband, because "she would hurt his happiness thereby." In Siam the wife has a lower pillow "to remind her of her inferiority." This reason is possibly late. Amongst the Barea man and wife seldom share the same bed, the reason they give is, that if they sleep together the breath of the wife will render her husband weak. Amongst the Lapps no grown woman may touch the hinder part of the house, which is sacred to the sun. No woman may enter the house of a Maori chief. Amongst the Kaffas of East Africa husband and wife see each other only at night, never meeting during the day. She is secluded in the interior portion of the house while he occupies the remainder. "A public resort is also set apart for the husband, where no woman is permitted to appear. A penalty of three years’ imprisonment attaches to an infringement of this rule." Observers have noted "the haughty contempt" shown by Zulus for their wives. Men and women rarely are seen together; if a man and his wife are going to the same place, they do not walk together. In some Redskin tribes and amongst the Indians of California a man never enters his wife’s wigwam except under cover of the darkness; and the men’s club-house may never be entered by women. The Bedouin tent is divided into two compartments for the men and women respectively. No man of good reputation will enter the women’s part of the tent or even be seen in its shadow. In Nukahiva the houses of important men are not accessible to their own wives, who live in separate huts. Amongst the Samoyeds and Ostyaks a wife may not tread in any part of the tent except her own corner; after pitching the tent she must fumigate it before the men enter. In Fiji husbands are as frequently away from their wives as with them; it is not, in Fijian society, thought well for a man to sleep regularly at home. Another account states that "it is quite against Fijian ideas of delicacy that a man ever remains under the same roof with his wife or wives at night." He may not take his night’s repose anywhere except at one of the public bures of his town or village. The women and girls sleep at home. "Rendezvous between husband and wife are arranged in the depths of the forest, unknown to any but the two." All the male population, married or unmarried, sleep at the bures, or club-houses, of which there are generally two in each village. Boys till of age have a special one. From another account we learn that women are not allowed to enter a bure, which is also used as a lounge by the chiefs. In New Caledonia a peculiarity of conjugal life is that men and women do not sleep under the same roof. The wife lives and sleeps by herself in a shed near the house. "You rarely see the men and women talking or sitting together. The women seem perfectly content with the companionship of their own sex. The men, who loiter about with spears in a most lazy fashion, are seldom seen in the society of the opposite sex." No Hindu female may enter the men’s apartments. In New Guinea the women sleep in houses apart, near those of their male relatives. The men assemble for conversation and meals in the marea, a large reception-house, which women may not enter. Amongst the Nubians each family has two dwelling-houses, one for the males, the other for the females. In the Sandwich Islands there were six houses connected with every great establishment; one for worship, one for the men to eat in, another for the women, a dormitory, a house for kapa-beating, and one where at certain intervals the women might live in seclusion. In the Caroline Islands a chief’s establishment has one house for the women, a second for eating, and a third for sleeping. In the Admiralty Islands there is a house reserved in each village for the use of women, both married and single, while the single men live together in a separate building. The Shastika Indians of California have a town-lodge for men and another for women. Other Californian tribes possess the first institution; the women may not enter the men’s lodges. The centre of Bororo life is the Baitó, the men’s house, where all the men really live; the family huts are nothing more than a residence for the women and children. Amongst the Bakairí and the Schingú tribes generally, women may never enter the men’s club-house, where the men spend most of their time. In the Solomon Islands women may not enter the men’s tambu house, nor even cross the beach in front of it. In Ceram women are forbidden to enter the men’s club-house. In New Britain there are two large houses in each village, one for men, the other for women: neither sex may enter the house of the other. In the Marquesas Islands the ti where the men congregate and spend most of their time is taboo to women, and protected by the penalty of death from the imaginary pollution of a woman’s presence; the chiefs never trouble about any domestic affairs. In the Pelew Islands there is "a remarkable separation of the sexes." Men and women hardly live together, and family life is impossible. The segregation is political as well as social. In the Society and Sandwich Islands the female sex was isolated and humiliated by tabu, and in their domestic life the women lived almost entirely by themselves. In Uripiv (New Hebrides) there is a curious segregation of the sexes, beginning, at least in one respect, soon after a boy is born. In Rapa (Tubuai Islands) all men are tabu to women. In Seoul, the capital of Corea, "they have a curious curfew law called pem-ya. A large bell is tolled at about 8 P. M. and 3 A. M. daily, and between these hours only are women supposed to appear in the streets. In the old days men found in the streets during the hours allotted to women were severely punished, but the rule has been greatly relaxed of late years." "Family life, as we have it, is utterly unknown in Corea." The Ojebway, Peter Jones, thus writes of his own people: "I have scarcely ever seen anything like social intercourse between husband and wife, and it is remarkable that the women say little in the presence of the men." In Senegambia the negro women live by themselves, rarely with their husbands, and their sex is virtually a clique. In Bali to speak tête-à-tête with a woman is absolutely forbidden. In Egypt a man never converses with his wife, and in the tomb they are separated by a wall, though males and females are not usually buried in the same vault.

Some cases of this complementary result, solidarity of sex, have been noticed, and others will occur in various connections It is practically universal in all stages of culture, even the highest Amongst the Bedouins of Libya women associate for the most part with their own sex only. In Morocco women are by no means reserved when by themselves, nor do they seek to cover their faces. Amongst the Gauchos of Uruguay women show a marked tendency to huddle together. Sexual solidarity is well brought out in the following. Amongst the extinct Tasmanians if a wife was struck by her husband, the whole female population would come out and bring the "rattle of their tongues to bear upon the brute." When ill-treated, the Kaffir wife can claim an asylum with her father, till her husband has made atonement. "Nor would many European husbands like to be subjected to the usual discipline on such occasions. The offending husband must go in person to ask for his wife. He is instantly surrounded by the women of the place, who cover him at once with reproaches and blows. Their nails and fists may be used with impunity, for, it is the day of female vengeance, and the belaboured delinquent is not allowed to resist. He is not permitted to see his wife, but is sent home, with an intimation of what cattle are expected from him, which he must send before he can demand his wife again." Amongst the Kunama the wife has an agent who protects her against her husband, and fines him for ill-treatment. She possesses considerable authority in the house, and is on equal terms with her husband. Amongst the Beni-Amer women enjoy considerable independence. To obtain marital privileges, the husband has to make his wife a present of value. He must do the same for every harsh word he uses, and is often kept a whole night out of doors in the rain, until he pays. The women have a strong esprit de corps; when a wife is ill-treated the other women come in to help her; it goes without saying that the husband is always in the wrong. The women express much contempt for the men, and it is considered disgraceful in a woman to show love for her husband.

The first of these examples shows the length to which religious ideas may carry this segregation, the last is one of many cases in which the solidarity of sex is seen. This is well brought out in examples of club-life, and there is here a close parallel to be found, not merely humorous, in the institution and etiquette of the modern club. The same biological tendency is behind both the modern and the primitive institution, though the later one is no longer supported by religious ideas. Again, sexual differentiation often develops into real antagonism. The attempts of the Indians of California to keep their women in check show how the latter were struggling up to equality. An account of the Hottentots represents that the women, though ill-treated and forced to do harder work, can defend themselves and avenge their wrongs. A Poul (Fulah) governs his wives by force, but they recoup themselves when they get the chance. The Indian of Brazil has a wholesome dread of his wives, and "follows the maxim of laissez faire with regard to their intrigues." Amongst the Wataveita fire-making is not revealed to women, "because," say the men, "they would then become our masters." The Miris will not allow their women to eat tiger’s flesh, lest it should make them too strong-minded. The Fuegians celebrate a festival, Kina, in commemoration of their revolt against the women, "who formerly had the authority, and possessed the secrets of sorcery." In the Dieri tribe of South Australia men threaten their wives, should they do anything wrong, with the "bone," the instrument of sorcery, which, when pointed at the victim, causes death; "this produces such dread among the women, that mostly instead of having a salutary effect, it causes them to hate their husbands." The Pomo Indians of California "find it very difficult to maintain authority over their women." A husband often terrifies his wife into submission by personating an ogre; after this she is usually tractable for some days. Amongst the Tatu Indians of California, the men have a secret society, which gives periodic dramatic performances, with the object of keeping the women in order. The chief actor, disguised as a devil, charges about among the assembled squaws. The Gualala and Patwin Indians have similar dances, performed by the assembled men, to show the women the necessity of obedience. In Africa the anxious attempts of the men to keep the women down have been noted. The adult males in South Guinea have a secret association, Nda, whose object is to keep the women, children, and slaves in order. The Mumbo-Jumbo of the Mandingos is well known. The same performer, who represents Mumbo-Jumbo, has also the duty of keeping the sexes apart for the forty days after circumcision. Other instances of associations to keep the women in subjection are the Egbo in Calabar, Oro in Yo ruba, the Purro, Semo, and varieties of Egbo on the west coast, the Bundu amongst the Bullamers. Women in their turn form similar associations amongst themselves, in which they discuss their wrongs and form plans of revenge. Mpongwe women have an institution of this kind, which is really feared by the men. Similarly amongst the Bakalais and other African tribes.

The way in which each sex is self-centered is also illustrated by the natural practice that women worship female, and men male deities. This needs no illustration, but a very instructive case may be quoted, which comes from ancient Roman life. When husband and wife quarrelled, they visited the shrine of the goddess Viriplaca on the Palatine. After opening their hearts in confession, they would return in harmony. This "appeaser of the male sex" was regarded as domesticœ pacis custos. Similarly, Bakalai women have a tutelar spirit, which protects them against their male enemies and avenges their wrongs. According to the Greenlanders, the moon is a male and the sun a female spirit; the former rejoices in the death of women, while the latter has her revenge in the death of men. All males, therefore, keep within doors during an eclipse of the sun, and all females during an eclipse of the moon. In the Pelew Islands the kalids of men are quiet and gentlemanly; it is those of women that make disturbances, and inflict disease and death on members of the family. The same hostility makes use of the system of sex-totems. In the Port Lincoln tribe a small kind of lizard, the male of which is called Ibirri, and the female Waka, is said to have divided the sexes in the human species, "an event which would appear not to be much approved of by the natives, since either sex has a mortal hatred against the opposite sex of these little animals, the men always destroying the Waka and the women the Ibirri." In the Wotjobaluk tribe it is believed that the "life of Ngunungunut (the bat) is the life of a man, and the life of Yartatgurk (the nightjar) is the life of a woman;" when either is killed, a man or woman dies. Should one of these animals be killed, every man or every woman fears that he or she may be the victim; and this gives rise to numerous fights. "In these fights, men on one side, and women on the other, it was not at all certain who would be victorious, for at times the women gave the men’ a severe drubbing with their yam-sticks, while often the women were injured or killed by spears." In some Victorian tribes the bat is the man’s animal, and they "protect it against injury, even to the half-killing of their wives for its sake." The goatsucker belongs to the women, who protect it jealously. "If a man kills one, they are as much enraged as if it was one of their children, and will strike him with their long poles." The mantis also belongs to the men and no woman dares kill it.

Such segregation of the sexes has influenced language. In Madagascar there are terms proper for a woman to use to her own sex, others for women to men, and for men to women. Amongst the Guaycurus the women have many words and phrases peculiar to themselves, and never employed by men; the reason being that the women are "barred" by the men. So in Surinam. The proper Fijian term for a newly circumcised boy is teve, which may not be uttered when women are present, in which case the word kula is used; and there are many words in the language which it is tambu to utter in female society. In Micronesia many words are tabooed for men when conversing with women. In Japan female writing has quite a different syntax and many peculiar idioms; the Japanese alphabet possesses two sets of characters, katakana for the use of men, and hiragana for women. In Fiji, again, women make their salutations in different words from those of men. In the language of the Abipones some words vary according to sex. The island Caribs have two distinct vocabularies, one used by men and by women when speaking to men, the other used by women when speaking to each other, and by men when repeating in oratio obliqua some saying of the women. Their councils of war are held in a secret dialect or jargon, in which the women are never initiated. It has been suggested that this inconvenient custom, according to which a Carib needs to know, like Ennius, three languages, is due to exogamy, husband and wife retaining the languages of their original tribes respectively. This explanation, however, does not account for the martial dialect, and has been refuted by Mr. Im Thurn on other grounds. Even in cases where this explanation may hold, this cause is not the ultimate origin of the custom, but merely carries on an existing practice. Thus in some tribes of Victoria, the marriage-system is organized exogamy, but the inconvenience of sexual taboos has led to the use of an artificial language or "turn-tongue." Similar phenomena occur in all stages of culture, and in modern Europe sexual separation to some extent still influences popular language, women and men respectively using certain terms peculiar to each sex.

In connection with names, sexual taboo has developed a prohibition which has had a peculiar influence upon many languages. A Hindu wife is never allowed to mention the name of her husband. She generally speaks of him, therefore, as "the master" or "man of the house." Amongst the Barea the wife may not utter her husband’s name. Amongst the Kirgiz the women may not utter the names of the male members of the household, to do so being "indecent." A Zulu woman may not call her husband by his name, either when addressing him or when speaking of him to others; she must use the phrase "father of so-and-so." This particularly applies to the i-gama (real name). Further, the women may not use the interdicted words in their ordinary sense. Consequently they are obliged to alter words and phrases which contain the prohibited sounds. This has bad considerable influence upon the language, and the women have a large vocabulary of their own. Any woman transgressing the rule is accused of witchcraft by the "doctor," and punished with death. This prohibition on names belongs to the hlonipa system, and the altered vocabulary of the women, which is unintelligible to the men, is called ukuteta kwabapzi, "women’s language." In the Solomon Islands men show considerable reluctance to give the names of women, and when prevailed upon to do so, pronounce them in a low tone, as if it were not proper to speak of them to others. In the Pelew Islands men are not allowed to speak openly of married women, nor to mention their names. Amongst the Todas there is some delicacy in mentioning the names of women at all; they prefer to use the phrase "wife of so-and-so." A Servian never speaks of his wife or daughter before men. Amongst the Nishinams of California a husband never calls his wife by name on any account; should he do so she has the right to get a divorce. In this tribe no one can be induced to divulge his own name. Dr. Frazer has explained this widespread reluctance; the name is a vital part of a man, and often regarded as a sort of soul. Sexual taboo has used this idea to form a special duty between men and women, especially husbands and wives. In one or two cases feelings of proprietary jealousy have doubtless had some influence, but as a rule the religious fears as to sexual relations have played the chief part in the prohibition.

Evidence drawn from the respective occupations of the two sexes throws further light upon sexual taboo. Sexual differentiation in primary and secondary sexual characters necessitates some difference of occupation, and the religious ideas of primitive man have emphasised the biological separation.

Amongst the Dacotas custom and superstition ordain that the wife must carefully keep away from all that belongs to her husband’s sphere of action. The Bechuanas never allow women to touch their cattle, accordingly the men have to plough themselves. So amongst the Kaffirs, "because of some superstition." Amongst the Todas women may not approach the tiriêri, where the sacred cattle are kept, nor the sacred palâls. In Guiana no woman may go near the hut where ourali is made. In the Marquesas Islands the use of canoes is prohibited to the female sex by tabu; the breaking of the rule is punished with death. Conversely, amongst the same people, tapa-making belongs exclusively to women; when they are making it for their own headdresses it is tabu for men to touch it. In Nicaragua all the marketing was done by women. A man might not enter the market or even see the proceedings, at the risk of a beating. In New Caledonia it is considered infra dig. for the men to perform manual labour, at any rate in the neighbourhood of the settlement; such work is done by women only. In Samoa, where the manufacture of cloth is allotted solely to the women, it is a degradation for a man to engage in any detail of the process. In the Andaman Islands the performance by men of duties supposed to belong to women only, is regarded as infra dig. An Eskimo thinks it an indignity to row in an umiak, the large boat used by women. The different offices of husband and wife are also very clearly distinguished; for example, when he has brought his booty to land, it would be a stigma on his character if he so much as drew a seal ashore, and, generally, it is regarded as scandalous for a man to interfere with what is the work of women. In British Guiana cooking is the province of the women; on one occasion when the men were perforce compelled to bake, they were only persuaded to do so with the utmost difficulty, and were ever after pointed at as old women. Exactly the same feelings subsist in the highest civilisations.

The chief occupations of the male sex in those stages of culture with which we have principally to deal are hunting and war. The supreme importance of these occasions has been referred to above, and is expressed by such terms as the Polynesian tabu. These terms generally imply rules and precautions intended to secure the safety and success of the warrior or hunter, which form sometimes a sort of system of "training." Among these regulations the most constant is that which prohibits every kind of intercourse with the female sex. Thus in New Zealand a man who has any important business on hand, either in peace or war, is tapu and must keep from women. On a war party men are tapu to women, and may not go near their wives until the fighting is over. In South Africa before and during an expedition men may have no connection with women. Nootka Indians before war abstain from women. In South-East New Guinea for some days before fighting the men are "sacred," helega, and are not allowed to see or approach any woman. A Samoyed woman is credited with the power of spoiling the success of a hunt. Amongst the Ostyaks harm befalls the hunter either from the ill-wishes of an enemy or the vicinity of a woman. Amongst the Ahts whale-fishers must abstain from women. A Motu man before hunting or fishing is helega; he may not see his wives, else he will have no success. North American Indians both before and after war refrain "on religious grounds" from women. "Contact with females makes a warrior laughable, and injures, as they believe, his bravery for the future." Accordingly the chiefs of the Iroquois, for instance, remain as a rule unmarried until they have retired from active warfare. The Damaras may not look upon a lying-in woman, else they will become weak and consequently be killed in battle. In the Booandik tribe if men see women’s blood they will not be able to fight. In some South American tribes the presence of a woman lately confined makes the weapons of the men weak, and the same belief extends amongst the Tschutsches to hunting and fishing implements. Amongst the Zulus women may not go near the army when about to set out. Old women, however, who are past child-bearing may do so; for such "have become men" and "no longer observe the customs of hlonipa in relation to the men."

Woman has generally been debarred more or less from the public life and civil rights of men. This is an extension of the biological difference of occupation, sometimes exaggerated into seclusion amongst polygamous races, and into somewhat of inferiority in martial and feudal societies. We may instance, to go no further, the Australian natives, the Fijians, who have religious grounds for exclusion, the Sumatrans, the Hindus and Muhammadans, and most civilised nations.

Again, women are more often than not, excluded from the religious worship of the community. The Arabs of Mecca will not allow women religious instruction, because "it would bring them too near their masters." According to some theologians of Islam, they have no place in Paradise. The Ansayrees consider woman to be an inferior being without a soul, and "therefore compel her to do all the drudgery and exclude her from religious services." In the Sandwich Islands women were not allowed to share in worship or festivals, and their touch "polluted" offerings to the gods. If a Hindu woman touches an image, its divinity is thereby destroyed and it must be thrown away. The Australians are very jealous lest women or strangers should intrude upon their sacred mysteries: it is death for a woman to look into a bora. In Fiji women are kept away from all worship; dogs are excluded from some temples, women from all. In the Gilbert and Marshall Islands and in Tonga, women are excluded from worship. The women of the hill tribes near Rajmahal may not sacrifice nor appear at shrines, nor take part in religious festivals. Amongst the Tschuwashes women dare not assist at sacrifices. Bayeye women may not enter the place of sacrifice, which is the centre of tribal life. Amongst the Gallas women may not go near the sàcred woda-tree where worship is celebrated. On the east of the Gulf of Papua women are not allowed to approach the temple. In New Ireland women may not enter the temples. In the Marquesas Islands the hoolah-hoolah ground, where festivals are held, is tabu to women who are killed if they enter or even touch with their feet the shadow of the trees.

Festivals and feasts, dances and entertainments of various character, are similarly often prohibited to women. In the Schingú tribes of Brazil women may not be present at the dances and feasts. In New Britain women are not allowed to be present at the festivals, and when men are talking of things which women may not hear, the latter must leave the hut. Amongst the Ahts women are never invited to the great feasts. Amongst the Aleuts the women have dances from which the men are excluded; the men have their dances and exclude women. It is regarded as a fatal mischance to see on these occasions one of the opposite sex. Similar exclusion of women from what is regarded as not being their sphere is indeed very widely spread, and is of course found in the highest civilizations. . . . .

In the next place we have to consider the very widely spread rule which insists upon the separation of the sexes, so far as is possible, at those functional crises with which sex is concerned. It is a special result of the ideas of sexual taboo applied to the most obvious sexual differences, primary sexual characters.

During pregnancy there is sometimes avoidance between the wife and the husband, as in the Caroline Islands, where men may not eat with their wives during pregnancy, and in Fiji where a pregnant woman may riot wait upon her husband.

At birth, though there are a few cases where the husband attends or assists his wife, the general rule throughout the peoples of the world is that only the female sex may be present. Thus in Buru only old women may be in the room. In South Africa the husband may not see his wife while she is lying-in. Amongst the Basutos the father is separated from mother and child for four days, and may not see them until the medicine man has performed the religious ceremony of "absolution of the man and wife." If this were neglected, it is believed that he would die when he saw his wife.

At puberty it is a widespread rule that neither sex may see the other. Amongst the Narrinyeri boys during initiation are called narumbe, i. e. sacred from the touch of women, and everything that they possess or obtain becomes narumbe also. Amongst the Basutos no woman may come near the boys during initiation. In New Ireland girls may not be seen by any males except relatives from puberty to marriage, during which time they are kept in cages. . . . .

Even at marriage there is a good deal of separation of the sexes, and actually of the bride and bridegroom for as long as possible. Thus in Amboina none but women may enter the room where the bride sits in state. In the Watubella Islands the men stand on one side with the groom and the women on the other with the bride. The feast is in two parts; the groom and the men eat their "breakfast" separately, and then the bride and the women fall to. At marriage-feasts amongst the Jews of Jerusalem the men sit on one side with the bridegroom, while the bride and the women occupy the opposite side of the room. And generally, at marriage, the bride is escorted by women, and the bridegroom by men.

In these cases there is avoidance between the sexes at sexual crises, as a rule more emphasised than that during ordinary life. The question may be asked—is the latter prohibition merely an extension of the former? When we penetrate to the ideas lying behind both, we shall find these to be identical, and of such a specific character and universal extension that we must suppose the sex-taboos imposed at sexual crises to be simply emphasised results of these ideas, though, as always, such results become through the very continuance of the phenomena to which they apply, further causes for the support of these ideas. Not to anticipate what will be treated of later, it may be pointed out first that perhaps the most widely spread and the most stringent of all sex-taboos has nothing to do with sexual functions—this is the prohibition against eating together. In the second place, in order rightly to estimate the whole of the evidence, it must be borne in mind that these sexual functions are parallel to the various occupations of the respective sexes: in biology and in primitive thought child-bearing is as much a feminine occupation as is the preparation of meals, and the confirmation of a boy as much of a male occupation as is warfare or the chase. Also, it is clear from a survey of the various cases of sexual taboo, first, that the avoidance is of the religious and taboo character; secondly, that men and women are afraid of dangerous results from each other—the fact that we see more of the man’s side of the question is an instance of the way in which the male sex has practically monopolised the expression of thought; and thirdly, that where one sex or the other is particularly liable to danger, as men at war, or women at child-birth, more care is naturally taken to prevent injury from the other sex.

In the taboos against eating together, we shall see an expression of that almost universal preference for solitude, while important physiological functions are proceeding, due ultimately to the instinct of self-preservation in the form of subconscious physiological thought arising from those functions; and in the taboos against one or the other sex in sexual crises the same preference is seen, commuted by sexual solidarity to a preference for the presence of the same sex; and in all forms of the taboo it is evident that to a religious regard for personal security, there has been applied a religious diffidence concerning persons who are more or less unknown, different from what is normal, different from one’s self.

So far, then, we may take it that the complementary difference of sex, producing by physiological laws a certain difference of life no less than of function, came in an early stage of mental development to be accentuated by religious ideas, which thus enforced more strongly such separation as is due to nature. The separation thus accentuated by religious conceptions as to sexual difference, is assisted by the natural solidarity of each sex, until there is, as we find so very generally, a prohibition or sex-taboo more or less regularly imposed throughout life. . . . .

. . . . If we compare the facts of social taboo generally or of its subdivision, sexual taboo, we find that the ultimate test of human relations, in both genus and species, is contact. . . . . Throughout the world, the greeting of a friend is expressed by contact, whether it be nose-rubbing, or the kiss, the embrace, or the clasp of hands; so the ordinary expression of friendship by a boy, that eternal savage, is contact of arm and shoulder. More interesting still, for our purpose, is the universal expression by contact, of the emotion of love. . . . .

On the other hand, the avoidance of contact, whether consciously or subconsciously presented, is no less the universal characteristic of human relations, where similarity, harmony, friendship, or love is absent. This appears in the attitude of men to the sick, to strangers, distant acquaintances, enemies, and in cases of difference of age, position, sympathies or aims, and even of sex. Popular language is full of phrases which illustrate this feeling.

Again, the pathology of the emotions supplies many curious cases, where the whole being seems concentrated upon the sense of touch, with abnormal desire or disgust for contact; and in the evolution of the emotions from physiological pleasure and pain, contact plays an important part in connection with functional satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the environment.

In the next place there are the facts, first, that an element of thought inheres in all sensation, while sensation conditions thought; and secondly, that there is a close connection of all the senses, both in origin, each of them being a modification of the one primary sense of touch, and in subsequent development, where the specialised organs are still co-ordinated through tactile sensation, in the sensitive surface of organism. Again, and here we can see the genesis of ideas of contact, it is by means of the tactile sensibility of the skin and membranes of sense-organs, forming a sensitised as well as a protecting surface, that the nervous system conveys to the brain information about the external world, and this information is in its original aspect the response to impact. Primitive physics, no less than modern, recognises that contact is a modified form of a blow. These considerations show that contact not only plays an important part in the life of the soul, but must have had a profound influence on the development of ideas, and it may now be assumed that ideas of contact have been a universal and original constant factor in human relations, and that they are so still. The latter assumption is to be stressed, because we find that the ideas which lie beneath primitive taboo are still a vital part of human nature, though mostly emptied of their religious content; and also because, as I hold, ceremonies and etiquette such as still obtain, could not possess such vitality as they do, unless there were a living psychological force behind them, such as we find in elementary ideas which come straight from functional processes. . . . .—E. n/a CRAWLEY, , 33–58; 76–78 (Macmillan, 1902).


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Chicago: "[Sexual Antagonism and Taboo]," The Mystic Rose in Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, ed. Thomas, William I. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1909), 513–526. Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024,

MLA: . "[Sexual Antagonism and Taboo]." The Mystic Rose, in Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, edited by Thomas, William I., Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1909, pp. 513–526. Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: , '[Sexual Antagonism and Taboo]' in The Mystic Rose. cited in 1909, Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, ed. , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.513–526. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from