The History of Human Marriage

Date: 1901

PART IV

Sex and Marriage

Sex and Marriage

THE ORIGIN AND ANTIQUITY OF HUMAN MARRIAGE

. . . . We can no more stop within the limits of our own species, when trying to find the root of our psychical and social life, than we can understand the physical condition of the human race without taking into consideration that of the lower animals. I must, therefore, beg the reader to follow me into a domain which many may consider out of the way, but which we must, of necessity, explore in order to discover what we seek.

It is obvious that the preservation of the progeny of the lowest animals depends mainly upon chance. In the great sub-kingdom of the Invertebrata, even the mothers are exempted from nearly all anxiety as regards their offspring. In the highest orders, the Insects, the eggs are hatched by the heat of the sun, and the mother in most cases, does not even see her young. Her care is generally limited to seeking out an appropriate place for laying the eggs, and to fastening them to some proper object and covering them, if this be necessary for their preservation.

Again, to the male’s share nothing falls, but the function of propagation.

In the lowest classes of the Vertebrata, parental care is likewise almost unheard of. In the immense majority of species, young fishes are hatched without the assistance of their parents, and have, from the outset, to help themselves. Many Teleostei form, however, an exception; and, curiously enough, it is the male on which, in these cases, the parental duty generally devolves. In some instances he constructs a nest, and jealously guards the ova deposited in it by the female; while the male of certain species of Arius carries the ova about with him in his capacious pharynx. Most of the Reptiles place their eggs in a convenient and sunny spot between moss and leaves, and take no further trouble about them. But several of the larger serpents have a curious fashion of laying them in a heap, and then coiling themselves around them in a great hollow cone. And female Crocodiles, as also certain aquatic snakes of Cochin China, observed by Dr. Morice, carry with them even their young.

Among the lower Vertebrata it rarely happens that both parents jointly take care of their progeny. M. Milne Edwards states, indeed, that in the Pipa, or Toad of Surinam, the male helps the female to disburthen herself of her eggs; and the Chelonia are known to live in pairs. "La femelle," says M. Espinas, "vient sur les plages sablonneuses au moment de la ponte, accompagnée du mâle, et construit un nid en forme de four où la chaleur du soleil fair éclore les œufs." But it may be regarded as an almost universal rule that the relations of the sexes are utterly fickle. The male and female come together in the pairing time; but having satisfied their sexual instincts, they part again, having nothing more to do with one another.

The Chelonia form, with regard to their domestic habits, a transition to the Birds, as they do also from a zoological and, particularly, from an embryological point of view. In the latter class, parental affection has reached a very high degree of development, not only on the mother’s side, but also on the father’s. Male and female help each other to build the nest, the former generally bringing the materials, the latter doing the work. In fulfilling the numberless duties of the breeding season, both birds take a share. Incubation rests principally with the mother, but the father, as a rule, helps his companion, taking her place when she wants to leave the nest for a moment, or providing her with food and protecting her from every danger. Finally, when the duties of the breeding season are over, and the result desired is obtained, a period with new duties commences. During the first few days after hatching, most birds rarely leave their young for long, and then only to procure food for themselves and their family. In cases of great danger, both parents bravely defend their offspring. As soon as the first period of helplessness is over, and the young have grown somewhat, they are carefully taught to shift for themselves; and it is only when they are perfectly capable of so doing that they leave the nest and the parents.

There are, indeed, a few birds that from the first day of their ultra-oval existence lack all parental care; and in some species, as the ducks, it frequently happens that the male leaves family duties wholly to the female. But, as a general rule, both share prosperity and adversity. The hatching of the eggs and the chief part of the rearing-duties belong to the mother, whilst the father acts as protector, and provides food,&c.

The relation of the sexes are thus of a very intimate character, male and female keeping together not only during the breeding season, but also after it. Nay, most birds, with the exception of those belonging to the Gallinaceous family, when pairing, do so once for all till either one or the other dies. And Dr. Brehm is so filled with admiration for their exemplary family life, that he enthusiastically declares that "real genuine marriage can only be found among birds."

This certainly cannot be said of most of the Mammals. The mother is, indeed, very ardently concerned for the welfare of her young, generally nursing them with the utmost affection, but this is by no means the case with the father. There are cases in which he acts as an enemy of his own progeny. But there are not wanting instances to the contrary, the connections between the sexes, though generally restricted to the time of the rut, being, with several species, of a more durable character. This is the case with whales, seals, the hippopotamus, the Cervus campestris, gazelles, the Neotragus Hemprichii and other small antelopes, rein-deer, the Hydromus corpus, squirrels, moles, the ichneumon, and some carnivorous animals, as a few cats and martens, the yaguarundi in South America, the Canis Brasiliensis, and possibly also the wolf. Among all these animals the sexes remain together even after the birth of the young, the male being the protector of the family.

What among lower Mammals is an exception, is among the Quadrumana a rule. The natives of Madagascar relate that in some species of the Prosimii, male and female nurse their young in common—a statement, however, which has not yet been proved to be true. The mirikina (Nyctipithecus trivirgatus) seems, according to Rengger, to live in pairs throughout the whole year, for, whatever the season, a male and a female are always found together. Of the Mycetes Caraya, Cebus Azarae, and Ateles paniscus, single individuals are very seldom, or never, seen, whole families being generally met with. Among the Arctopitheci, the male parent is expressly said to assist the female in taking care of the young ones.

The most interesting to us are, of course, the man-like apes. Diard was told by the Malays, and he found it afterwards to be true, that the young Siamangs, when in their helpless state, are carried about by their parents, the males by the father, the females by the mother. Lieutenant C. de Crespigny, who was wandering in the northern part of Borneo in 1870, gives the following description of the Orang-utan: "They live in families—the male, female, and a young one. On one occasion I found a family in which were two young ones, one of them much larger than the other, and I took this as a proof that the family tie had existed for at least two seasons. They build commodious nests in the trees which form their feeding-ground, and, so far as I could observe, the nests, which are well lined with dry leaves, are only occupied by the female and young, the male passing the night in the fork of the same or another tree in the vicinity. The nests are very numerous all over the forest, for they are not occupied above a few nights, the mias (or Orang-utan) leading a roving life." According to Dr. Mohnike, however, the old males generally live with the females during the rutting-season only; and Dr. Wallace never saw two full-grown animals together. But as he sometimes found not only females, but also males, accompanied by half-grown young ones, we may take for granted that the offspring of the Orang-utan are not devoid of all paternal care.

More unanimous are the statements which we have regarding the Gorilla. According to Dr. Savage, they live in hands, and all his informants agree in the assertion that but one adult male is seen in every band. "It is said that when the male is first seen he gives a terrific yell that resounds far and wide through the forest. . . . . The females and young at the first cry quickly disappear; he then approaches the enemy in great fury, pouring out his horrid cries in quick succession." Again, M. du Chaillu found "almost always one male with one female, though sometimes the old male wanders companionless;" and Mr. Winwood Reade states likewise that the Gorilla goes "sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by his female and young one." The same traveller was told that, when a family of Gorillas ascend a tree and eat a certain fruit, the old father remains seated at the foot of the tree. And when the female is pregnant, he builds a rude nest, usually about fifteen or twenty feet from the ground; here she is delivered, and the nest is then abandoned.

For more recent information about the Gorilla we are indebted to Herr yon Koppenfells. He states that the male spends the night crouching at the foot of the tree, against which he places his back, and thus protects the female and their young, which are in the nest above, from the nocturnal attacks of leopards. Once he observed a male and female with two young ones of different ages, the elder being perhaps about six years old, the younger about one.

When all these statements are compared, it is impossible to doubt that the Gorilla lives in families, the male parent being in the habit of building the nest and protecting the family. And the same is the case with the Chimpanzee. According to Dr. Savage, "it is not unusual to see ’the old folks’ sitting under a tree regaling themselves with fruit and friendly chat, while ’their children’ are leaping around them and swinging from branch to branch in boisterous merriment." And Herr yon Koppenfells assures us that the Chimpanzee, like the Gorilla, builds a nest for the young and female on a forked branch, the male himself spending the night lower down in the tree.

Passing from the highest monkeys to the savage and barbarous races of man, we meet with the same phenomenon. With the exception of a few cases in which certain tribes are asserted to live together promiscuously—almost all of which assertions I shall prove further on to be groundless—travellers unanimously agree that in the human race the relations of the sexes are, as a rule, of a more or less durable character. The family consisting of father, mother, and offspring, is a universal institution, whether founded on a monogamous, polygynous, or polyandrous marriage. And, as among the lower animals having the same habit, it is to the mother that the immediate care of the children chiefly belongs, while the father is the protector and guardian of the family, Man in the savage state is generally supposed to be rather indifferent to the welfare of his wife and children, and this is really often the case, especially if he be compared with civilized man. But the simplest paternal duties are, nevertheless, universally recognized. If he does nothing else, the father builds the habitation, and employs himself in the chase and in war.

Thus, among the North American Indians, it was considered disgraceful for a man to have more wives than be was able to maintain. Mr. Powers says that among the Patwin, a Californian tribe which ranks among the lowest in the world, "the sentiment that the men are bound to support the women—that is, to furnish the supplies—is stronger even than among us." Among the Jroquois it was the office of the husband "to make a mat, to repair the cabin of his wife, or to construct a new one." The product of his hunting expeditions, during the first year of marriage, belonged of right to his wife, and afterwards he shared it equally with her, whether she remained in the village, or accompanied him to the chase. Azara states that among the Charruas of South America, "du moment où un homme se marie, il forme une famille à part, et travaille pour la nourrir;" and among the Fuegians, according to Admiral Fitzroy, "as soon as a youth is able to maintain a wife, by his exertions in fishing or bird-catching, he obtains the consent of her relations." Again, among the utterly rude Botocudos, whose girls are married very young, remaining in the house of the father till the age of puberty, the husband is even then obliged to maintain his wife, though living apart from her.

To judge from the recent account of Herr Lumholtz, the paternal duties seem to be scarcely recognized by the natives of Queensland. But with reference to the Kurnai in South Australia, Mr. Howitt states that "the man has to provide for his family with the assistance of his wife. His share is to hunt for their support, and to fight for their protection." As a Kurnai once said to him, "A man hunts, spears fish, fights, and sits about." And in the Encounter Bay tribe the paternal care is considered so indispensable, that, if the father dies before a child is born, the child is put to death by the mother, as there is no longer any one to provide for it.

Among the cannibals of New Britain, the chiefs have to see that the families of the warriors are properly maintained, and "should a man neglect his family," says Mr. Angas, "a mode of punishment very similar to one practised by school-boys amongst civilized nations is adopted." Speaking of the marriage of the Tonga Islanders, Martin remarks "A married woman is one who cohabits with a man, and lives under his roof and protection;" and in Samoa, according to Mr. Pritchard, "whatever intercourse may take place between the sexes, a woman does not become a man’s wife unless the latter take her to his own house." In Radack, as we are informed by Chamisso, even natural children are received by the father into his house, as soon as they are able to walk.

The Rev. D. Macdonald states that, in some African tribes, "a father has to fast after the birth of his child, or take some such method of showing that he recognizes that he as well as the mother should take care of the young stranger." Certain Africans will not even go on any warlike expedition when they have a young child; and the South American Guaranies, while their wives are pregnant, do not risk their lives in hunting wild beasts. In Lado the bridegroom has to assure his father-in-law three times that he will protect his wife, calling the people present to witness. And among the Touaregs, according to Dr. Chavanne, a man who deserts his wife is blamed, as he has taken upon himself the obligation of maintaining her.

The wretched Rock Veddahs in Ceylon, according to Sir J. Emerson Tennent, "acknowledge the marital obligation and the duty of supporting their own families." Among the Maldivians, "although a man is allowed four wives at one time, it is only on condition of his being able to support them." The Nagas are not permitted to marry, until they are able to set up house on their own account. The Nairs, we are told, consider it a husband’s duty to provide his wife with food, clothing, and ornaments; and almost the same is said by Dr. Schwaner with reference to the tribes of the Barito district, in the south-east part of Borneo A Burmese woman can demand a divorce, if her husband is not able to maintain her properly. Among the Mohammedans, the maintenance of the children devolves so exclusively on the father that the mother is even entitled to claim wages for nursing them And among the Romans, manus implied not only the wife’s subordination to the husband, but also the husband’s obligation to protect the wife.

The father’s place in the family being that of a supporter and protector, a man is often not permitted to marry until he has given some proof of his ability to fulfil these duties.

The Koyúkuns believe that a youth who marries before he has killed a deer will have no children. The aborigines of Pennsylvania considered it a shame for a boy to think of a wife before having given some proof of his manhood. Among the wild Indians of British Guiana, says Mr. Im Thurn, before a man is allowed to choose a wife he must prove that he can do a man’s work and is able to support himself and his family. Among the Dyaks of Borneo, the Nagas of Upper Assam, and the Alfura of Ceram, no one can marry unless he has in his possession a certain number of heads. The Karmanians, according to Strabo, were considered marriageable only after having killed an enemy. The desire of a Galla warrior is to deprive the enemy of his genitals, the possession of such a trophy being a necessary preliminary to marriage. Among the Bechuana and Kafitribes south of the Zambesi, the youth is not allowed to take a wife until he has killed a rhinoceros. In the Marianne Group, the suitor had to give proof of his bodily strength and skill. And among the Arabs of Upper Egypt, the man must undergo an ordeal of whipping by the relations of his bride, in order to test his courage. If he wishes to be considered worth having, he must receive the chastisement, which is sometimes exceedingly severe, with an expression of enjoyment.

The idea that a man is bound to maintain his family is, indeed, so closely connected with that of marriage and fatherhood, that sometimes even repudiated wives with their children are, at least to a certain extent, supported by their former husbands. This is the case among the Chukchi of North-Western Asia, the Sotho Negroes in Southern Africa, and the Munda Kols in Chota Nagpore. Further, a wife frequently enjoys her husband’s protection even after sexual relations have been broken off. And upon his death, the obligation of maintaining her and her children devolves on his heirs, the wide-spread custom of a man marrying the widow of his deceased brother being, as we shall see in a subsequent chapter, not only a privilege belonging to the man, but, among several peoples, even a duty. We may thus take for granted that in the human race, at least at its present stage, the father has to perform the same function as in other animal species, where the connections between the sexes last longer than the sexual desire.

In encyclopedical and philosophical works we meet with several different definitions of the word marriage. Most of these definitions are, however, of a merely juridical or ethical nature, comprehending either what is required to make the union legal, or what, in the eye of an idealist, the union ought to be. But it is scarcely necessary to say how far I am here from using the word in either of these senses. It is the natural history of human marriage that is the object of this treatise; and, from a scientific point of view, I think there is but one definition which may claim to be generally admitted, that, namely, according to which marriage is nothing else than a more or less durable connection between male and female, lasting beyond the mere act of propagation till after the birth of the offspring. This definition is wide enough to include all others hitherto given, and narrow enough to exclude those wholly loose connections which by usage are never honoured with the name of marriage. It implies not only sexual relations, but also living together, as is set forth in the proverb of the Middle Ages, "Boire, manger, coucher ensemble est mariage, ce me semble." And, though rather vague, which is a matter of course, it has the advantage of comprehending in one notion phenomena essentially similar and having a common origin.

Thus, as appears from the preceding investigation, the first traces of marriage are found among the Chelonia. With the Birds it is an almost universal institution, whilst, among the Mammals, it is restricted to certain species only. We observed, however, that it occurs, as a rule, among the monkeys, especially the anthropomorphous apes, as well as in the races of men. Is it probable, then, that marriage was transmitted to man from some ape-like ancestor and that there never was a time when it did not occur in the human race? These questions cannot be answered before we have found out the cause to which it owes its origin.

It is obvious that where the generative power is restricted to a certain season, it cannot be the sexual instinct that keeps male and female together for months or years. Nor is there any other egoistic motive that could probably account for this habit. Considering that the union lasts till after the birth of the offspring, and considering the care taken of this by the father, we may assume that the prolonged union of the sexes is, in some way or other, connected with parental duties. I am, indeed, strongly of opinion that the tie which joins male and female is an instinct developed through the powerful influence of natural selection. It is evident that, when the father helps to protect the offspring, the species is better able to subsist in the struggle for existence than it would be if this obligation entirely devolved on the mother. Paternal affection and the instinct which causes male and female to form somewhat durable alliances, are thus useful mental dispositions, which, in all probability, have been acquired through the survival of the fittest.

But how, then, can it be that among most animals the father never concerns himself about his progeny? The answer is not difficult to find. Marriage is only one of many means by which a species is enabled to subsist. Where parental care is lacking, we may be sure to find compensation for it in some other way. Among the Invertebrata, Fishes, and Reptiles, both parents are generally quite indifferent as to their progeny. An immense proportion of the progeny therefore succumbs before reaching maturity; but the number of eggs laid is proportionate to the number of those lost, and the species is preserved nevertheless. If every grain of roe, spawned by the female fishes, were fecundated and hatched, the sea would not be large enough to hold all the creatures resulting from them. The eggs of Reptiles need no maternal care, the embryo being developed by the heat of the sun; and their young are from the outset able to help themselves, leading the same life as the adults. Among Birds, on the other hand, parental care is an absolute necessity. Equal and continual warmth is the first requirement for the development of the embryo and the preservation of the young ones. For this the mother almost always wants the assistance of the father, who provides her with necessaries, and sometimes relieves her of the brooding. Among Mammals, the young can never do without the mother at the tenderest age, but the father’s aid is generally by no means indispensable. In some species, as the walrus, the elephant, the Bos americanus, and the bat, there seems to be a rather curious substitute for paternal protection, the females, together with their young ones, collecting in large herds or flocks apart from the males. Again, as to the marriage of the Primates, it is, I think, very probably due to the small number of young, the female bringing forth but one at a time; and among the highest apes, as in man, also to the long period of infancy. Perhaps, too, the defective family life of the Orang-utan, compared with that of the Gorilla and Chimpanzee, depends upon the fewer dangers to which this animal is exposed. For "except man," Dr. Mohnike says, "the Orang-utan in Borneo has no enemy of equal strength." In short, the factors which the existence of a species depends upon, as the number of the progeny, their ability to help themselves when young, maternal care, marriage,&c., vary indefinitely in different species. But in those that do not succumb, all these factors are more or less proportionate to each other, the product always being the maintenance of the species.

Marriage and family are thus intimately connected with each other: it is for the benefit of the young that male and female continue to live together. Marriage is therefore rooted in family, rather than family in marriage. There are also many peoples among whom true conjugal life does not begin before a child is born, and others who consider that the birth of a child out of wedlock makes it obligatory for the parents to marry. Lieutenant Holm states that, among the Eastern Greenlanders, marriage is not regarded as complete till the woman has become a mother. Among the Shawanese and Abipones, the wife very often remains at her father’s house till she has a child. Among the Khyens, the Ainos of Yesso, and one of the aboriginal tribes of China, the husband goes to live with his wife at her father’s house, and never takes her away till after the birth of a child. In Circassia, the bride and bridegroom are kept apart until the first child is born; and among the Bedouins of Mount Sinai, a wife never enters her husband’s tent until she becomes far advanced in pregnancy. Among the Baele, the wife remains with her parents until she becomes a mother, and if this does not happen, she stays there for ever, the husband getting back what he has paid for her. In Siam, a wife does not receive her marriage portion before having given birth to a child; whilst among the Atkha Aleuts, according to Erman, a husband does not pay the purchase sum before he has become a father. Again, the Badagas in Southern India have two marriage ceremonies, the second of which does not take place till there is some indication that the pair are to have a family; and if there is no appearance of this, the couple not uncommonly separate. Dr. Bérenger-Féraud states that, among the Wolofs in Senegambia, "ce n’est que lorsque les signes de la grossesse sont irrécusables chez la fianceé, quelquefois même ce n’est qu’après la naissance d’un ou plusieurs enfants, que la cérémonie du mariage proprement dit s’accomplit." And the Igorrotes of Luzon consider no engagement binding until the woman has become pregnant.

On the other hand, Emin Pasha tells us that, among the Mádi in Central Africa, "should a girl become pregnant, the youth who has been her companion is bound to marry her, and to pay to her father the customary price of a bride." Burton reports a similar custom as prevailing among peoples dwelling to the south of the equator. Among many of the wild tribes of Borneo, there is almost unrestrained intercourse between the youth of both sexes; but, if pregnancy ensue, marriage is regarded as necessary. The same, as I am informed by Dr. A. Bunker, is the case with some Karen tribes in Burma. In Tahiti, according to Cook, the father might kill his natural child, but if he suffered it to live, the parties were considered to be in the married state. Among the Tipperahs of the Chittagong Hills, as well as the peasants of the Ukraine, a seducer is bound to marry the girl, should she become pregnant. Again, Mr. Powers informs us that, among the Californian Wintun, if a wife is abandoned when she has a young child, she is justified by her friends in destroying it on the ground that it has no supporter. And among the Creeks, a young woman that becomes pregnant by a man whom she had expected to marry, and is disappointed, is allowed the same privilege. . . . .

If it be admitted that marriage, as a necessary requirement for the existence of certain species, is connected with some peculiarities in their organism, and, more particularly among the highest monkeys, with the paucity of their progeny and their long period of infancy,—it must at the same time be admitted that, among primitive men, from the same causes as among these animals, the sexes in all probability kept together till after the birth of the offspring. Later on, when the human race passed beyond its frugivorous stage and spread over the earth, living chiefly on animal food, the assistance of an adult male became still more necessary for the subsistence of the children. Everywhere the chase devolves on the man, it being a rare exception among savage peoples for a woman to engage in it. Under such conditions a family consisting of mother and young only, would probably, as a rule, have succumbed.

It has, however, been suggested that, in olden times, the natural guardian of the children was not the father, but the maternal uncle. This inference has been drawn chiefly from the common practice of a nephew succeeding his mother’s brother in rank and property. But sometimes the relation between the two is still more intimate. "La famille Malaise proprement dite—le Sa-Mandei,—" says a Dutch writer, as quoted by Professor Giraud-Teulon, "consiste dans la mère et ses enfants; le père n’en fair point partie. Les liens de parenté qui unissent ce dernier à ses frères et sœurs sont plus étroits que ceux qui le rattachent à sa femme et à ses propres enfants. Il continue même après son mariage à vivre dans sa famille maternelle; c’est là qu’est son véritable domicile, et non pas dans la maison de sa femme: il ne cesse pas de cultiver le champ de sa propre famille, à travailler pour elle, et n’aide sa femme qu’accidentellement. Le chef de la famille est ordinairement le frère aîné du côté maternel (le mamak ou avunculus). De par ses droits et ses devoirs, c’est lui le vrai père des enfants de sa sœur." As regards the mountaineers of Georgia, especially the Pshaves, M. Kovalevsky states that, among them, "le frère de la mère prend la place du père dans toutes les circonstances où il s’agit de venger le sang répandu, surtout au cas de meurtre commis sur la personne de son neveu." Among the Goajiro Indians, the Negroes of Bondo, the Barea, and the Bazes, it is the mother’s brother who has the right of selling a girl to her suitor. Touching the Kois, the Rev. John Cain says, "The maternal uncle of any Koi girl has the right to bestow her hand on any one of his sons, or any other suitable candidate who meets with his approval. The father and the mother of the girl have no acknowledged voice in the matter. A similar custom prevails amongst some of the Komâti () caste." Among the Savaras in India, the bridegroom has to give a bullock not only to the girl’s father, but to the maternal uncle; whilst among the Creeks, the proxy of the suitor asked for the consent of the uncles, aunts, and brothers of the young woman, "the father having no voice or authority in the business."

But such cases are rare. Besides, most of them imply only that the children in a certain way belong to the uncle, not that the father is released from the obligation of supporting them. Even where succession runs through females only, the father is nearly always certainly the head of the family. Thus, for instance, among the Australians, with whom the clan of the children is, as a rule, determined by that of the mother, the husband is, to quote Mr. Curr, almost an autocrat in his family, and the children always belong to his tribe. Nor is there any reason to believe that it was generally otherwise in former times. A man could not of course be the guardian of his sister’s children if he did not live in close connection with them. But except in such a decidedly anomalous case as that of the Malays, just referred to, this could scarcely happen, as a general rule, unless marriages were contracted between persons living closely together. Nowadays, however, such marriages are usually avoided, and I shall endeavour later on to show that they were probably also avoided by our remote ancestors.

It might, further, be objected that the children were equally well or better provided for, if not the fathers only, but all the males of the tribe indiscriminately were their guardians. The supporters of the hypothesis of promiscuity, and even other sociologists, as for instance Herr Kautsky, believe that this really was the case among primitive men. According to them, the tribe or horde is the primary social unit of the human race, and the family only a secondary unit, developed in later times. Indeed, this assumption has been treated by many writers, not as a more or less probable hypothesis, but as a demonstrated truth. Yet the idea that a man’s children belong to the tribe, has no foundation in fact. Everywhere we find the tribes or clans composed of several families, the members of each family being more closely connetted with one another than with the rest of the tribe. The family, consisting of parents, children, and often also their next descendants, is a universal institution among existing peoples. And it seems extremely probable that, among our earliest human ancestors, the family formed, if not the society itself, at least the nucleus of it. As this is a question of great importance, I must deal with it at some length.

Mr. Darwin remarks, "Judging from the analogy of the majority of the Quadrumana, it is probable that the early ape-like progenitors of man were likewise social." But it may be doubted whether Mr. Darwin would have drawn this inference, had he taken into consideration the remarkable fact that none of the monkeys most nearly allied to man can be called social animals.

The solitary life of the Orang-utan has already been noted. As regards Gorillas, Dr. Savage states that there is only one adult male attached to each group; and Mr. Reade says expressly that they are not gregarious, though they sometimes seem to assemble in large numbers. Both M. du Chaillu and Herr yon Koppenfels assure us likewise that the Gorilla generally lives in pairs or families.

The same is the case with the Chimpanzee. "It is seldom," Dr. Savage says, "that more than one or two nests are seen upon the same tree or in the same neighbourhood; five have been found, but it was an unusual circumstance. They do not live in ’villages.’ . . . . They are more often seen in pairs than in gangs. . . . . As seen here, they cannot be called gregarious." This statement, confirmed or repeated by M. du Chaillu and Professor Hartmann, is especially interesting, as the Chimpanzee resembles man also in his comparatively slight strength and courage, so that a gregarious life might be supposed to be better suited to this animal.

Mr. Spencer, however, has pointed out that not only size, strength, and means of defence, but also the kind and distribution of food and other factors must variously co-operate and conflict to determine how far a gregarious life is beneficial, and how far a solitary life. Considering, then, that, according to Dr. Savage, the Chimpanzees are more numerous in the season when the greatest number of fruits come to maturity, we may almost with certainty infer that the solitary life generally led by this ape is due chiefly to the difficulty it experiences in getting food at other times of the year.

Is it not, then, most probable that our fruit-eating human or half-human ancestors, living on the same kind of food, and requiring about the same quantities of it as the man-apes, were not more gregarious than they? It is likely, too, that subsequently, when man became partly carnivorous, he continued, as a rule, this solitary kind of life, or that gregariousness became his habit only in part. "An animal of a predatory kind," says Mr. Spencer, "which has prey that can be caught and killed without help, profits by living alone: especially if its prey is much scattered, and is secured by stealthy approach or by lying in ambush. Gregariousness would here be a positive disadvantage. Hence the tendency of large carnivores, and also of small carnivores that have feeble and widely-distributed prey, to lead solitary lives." It is, indeed, very remarkable that even now there are savage peoples who live rather in separate families than in tribes, and that most of these peoples belong to the very rudest races in the world.

"The wild or forest Veddahs," Mr. Pridham states, "build their huts in trees, live in pairs, only occasionally assembling in greater numbers, and exhibit no traces of the remotest civilization, nor any knowledge of social rites." According to Mr. Bailey, the Nilgala Veddahs, who are considered the wildest, "are distributed through their lovely country in small septs, or families, occupying generally caves in the rocks, though some have little bark huts. They depend almost solely on hunting for their support, and hold little communication even with each other."

In Tierra del Fuego, according to Bishop Sterling, family life is exclusive. "Get outside the family," he says, "and relationships are doubtful, if not hostile. The bond of a common language is no security for friendly offices." Commander Wilkes states likewise that the Fuegians "appear to live in families and not in tribes, and do not seem to acknowledge any chief;" and, according to M. Hyades, "la famille est bien constituée, mais la tribu n’existe pas, à proprement parler." Each family is perfectly independent of all the others, and only the necessity of common defence now and then induces a few families to form small gangs without any chief. With reference to the Yahgans of the southern part of Tierra del Fuego, the Rev. T. Bridges writes to me, "They live in clans, called by them Ucuhr, which means a house. These Ucuhr comprise many subdivisions, and the members are necessarily related. But," he continues, "the Yahgans are a roving people, having their districts and moving about within these districts from bay to bay and island to island in canoes, without any order. The whole clan seldom travels together, and only occasionally and then always incidentally is it to be found collected. The smaller divisions keep more together. . . . . Occasionally, as many as five families are to be found living in a wigwam, but generally two families." Indeed, in ’A Voice for South America,’ Mr. Bridges says that "family influence is the one great tie which binds these natives together, and the one great preventive of violence."

Speaking of the West Australians, who are probably better known to him than to any other civilized man, Bishop Salvado says that they "au lieu de se gouverner par tribus, paraissent se gouverner à la manière patriarchale: chaque famille, qui généralement ne compte pas plus de six à neuf individus, forme comme une petite société, sous la seule dépendance de son propre chef. . . . . Chaque famille s’approprie une espèce de district, dont cependant les families voisines jouissent en commun si l’on vit en bonne harmonie."

Mr. Stanbridge, who spent eighteen years in the wilds of Victoria, tells us that the savages there are associated in tribes or families, the members of which vary much in number. Each tribe has its own boundaries, the land of which is parcelled out amongst families and carefully transmitted by direct descent; these boundaries being so sacredly maintained that the member of no single family will venture on the lands of a neighbouring one without invitation. And touching the Gournditch-mara, Mr. Howitt states that "each family camped by itself."

The Bushmans of South Africa, according to Dr. Fritsch, are almost entirely devoid of a tribal organization. Even when a number of families occasionally unite in a larger horde, this association is more or less accidental, and not regulated by any laws. But a horde commonly consists of the different members of one family only, at least if the children are old and strong enough to help their parents to find food. "Sexual feelings, the instinctive love to children, or the customary attachment among relations," says Lichtenstein, "are the only ties that keep them in any sort of union."

The like is stated to be true of several peoples in Brazil. According to v. Martius, travellers often meet there with a language "used only by a few individuals connected with each other by relationship, who are thus completely isolated, and can hold no communication with any of their other countrymen far or near." With reference to the Botocudos, v. Tschudi says that "the family is the only tie which joins these rude children of nature with each other." The Guachís, Manhés, and Guatós for the most part live scattered in families, and the social condition of the Caishánas, among whom each family has its own solitary hut, "is of a low type, very little removed, indeed, from that of the brutes living in the same forests." The Marauá Indians live likewise in separate families or small hordes, and so do some other of the tribes visited by Mr. Bates. According to Mr. Southey, the Cayáguas or Wood-Indians, who inhabited the forests between the Paraná and the Uruguay, were not in a social state; "one family lived at a distance from another, in a wretched hut composed of boughs; they subsisted wholly by prey, and when larger game failed, were contented with snakes, mice, pismires, worms, and any kind of reptile or vermin." Again, speaking of the Coroados, v. Spix and v. Martius say that "they live without any bond of social union, neither under a republican nor a patriarchal form of government. Even family ties are very loose among them."

The Togiagamutes, an Eskimo tribe, never visited by white men in their own country until the year 1880, who lead a thoroughly nomadic life, wandering from place to place in search of game or fish, appear, according to Petroff, "to live in the most perfect state of independence of each other. Even the communities do not seem bound together in any way; families and groups of families constantly changing their abode, leaving one community and joining another, or perhaps forming one of their own. The youth, as soon as he is able to build a kaiak and to support himself, no longer observes any family ties, but goes where his fancy takes him, frequently roaming about with his kaiak for thousands of miles before another fancy calls him to take a wife, to excavate a miserable dwelling, and to settle down for a time."

The ancient Finns, too, according to the linguistic researches of Professor Ahlqvist, were without any kind of tribal organization. In his opinion, such a state would have been almost impossible among them, as they lived in scattered families for the sake of the chase and in order to have pastures for their reindeer.

That the comparatively solitary life which the families of these peoples live, is due to want of sufficient food, appears from several facts. Lichtenstein tells us that the hardships experienced by the Bushmans in satisfying the most urgent necessities of life, preclude the possibility of their forming larger societies. Even the families that form associations in small separate hordes are sometimes obliged to disperse, as the same spot will not afford sufficient sustenance for all. "The smaller the number, the easier is a supply of food procured."

"Scarcity of food, and the facility with which they move from one place to another in their canoes," says Admiral Fitzroy, "are, no doubt, the reasons why the Fuegians are always so dispersed among the islands in small family parties, why they never remain long in one place, and why a large number are not seen many days in society."

The natives of Port Jackson, New South Wales, when visited a hundred years ago by Captain Hunter, were associated in tribes of many families living together, apparently without a fixed residence, the different families wandering in different directions for food, but malting on occasions of disputes with another tribe. The Rev. A. Meyer assures us likewise, as regards the Encounter Bay tribe, that "the whole tribe does not always move in a body from one place to another, unless there should be abundance of food to be obtained at some particular spot; but generally they are scattered in search of food." Again, with reference to the Australians more generally, Mr. Brough Smyth remarks that "in any large area occupied by a tribe, where there was not much forest land, and where kangaroos were not numerous, it is highly probable that the several families composing the tribe would withdraw from their companions for short periods, at certain seasons, and betake themselves to separate portions of the area, . . . . and it is more than probable—it is almost certain— that each head of a family would betake himself, if practicable, to the portion which his father had frequented."

Finally, from Mr. Wyeth’s account in Schoolcraft’s great work on the Indian Tribes of the United States, I shall make the following characteristic quotation with reference to the Snakes inhabiting the almost desert region which extends southward from the Snake River as far as the southern end of the Great Salt Lake, and eastward from the Rocky to the Blue Mountains. "The paucity of game in this region is, I have little doubt, the cause of the almost entire absence of social organization among its inhabitants; no trace of it is ordinarily seen among them, except during salmon-time, when a large number of the Snakes resort to the rivers, chiefly to the Fishing Falls, and at such places there seems some little organization. . . . . Prior to the introduction of the horse, no other tribal arrangement existed than such as is now seen in the management of the salmon fishery. . . . . The organization would be very imperfect, because the remainder of the year would be spent by them in families widely spread apart, to eke out the year’s subsistence on the roots and limited game of their country. After a portion of them, who are now called Bonacks, had obtained horses, they would naturally form bands and resort to the Buffalo region to gain their subsistence, retiring to the most fertile places in their own, to avoid the snows of the mountains and feed their horses. Having food from the proceeds of the Buffalo hunt, to enable them to live together, they would annually do so, for the protection of their horses, lodges,&c.,&c. These interests have caused an organization among the Bonacks, which continues the year through, because the interests which produce it continue; and it is more advanced than that of the other Snakes."

Here, I think, we have an excellent account of the origin of society, applicable not only to the Snakes, but in its main features, to man in general. The kind of food he subsisted upon, together with the large quantities of it that he wanted, probably formed in olden times a hindrance to a true gregarious manner of living, except perhaps in some unusually rich places. Man in the savage state, even when living in luxuriant countries, is often brought to the verge of starvation, in spite of his having implements and weapons which his ruder ancestors had no idea of. If the obstacle from insufficient food-supply could be overcome, gregariousness would no doubt be of great advantage to him. Living together, the families could resist the dangers of life and defend themselves from their enemies much more easily than when solitary,—all the more so, as the physical strength of man, and especially savage man, is comparatively slight. Indeed, his bodily inferiority, together with his defencelessness and helplessness, has probably been the chief lever of civilization.

"He has," to quote Mr. Darwin, "invented and is able to use various weapons, tools, traps,&c., with which he defends himself, kills or catches prey, and otherwise obtains food. He has made rafts or canoes for fishing or crossing over to neighbouring fertile islands. He has discovered the art of making fire, by which hard and stringy roots can be rendered digestible, and poisonous roots or herbs innocuous." In short, man gradually found out many new ways of earning his living, and more and more emancipated himself from direct dependence on surrounding nature. The chief obstacle to a gregarious life was by this means in part surmounted, and the advantages of such a life induced families or small gangs to unite together in larger bodies. Thus it seems that the gregariousness and sociability of man sprang, in the main, from progressive intellectual and material civilization, whilst the tie that kept together husband and wife, parents and children, was, if not the only, at least the principal social factor in the earliest life of man. I cannot, therefore, agree with Sir John Lubbock that, as a general rule, as we descend in the scale of civilization, the family diminishes, and the tribe increases, in importance. This may hold good for somewhat higher stages, but it does not apply to the lowest stages. Neither do I see any reason to believe that there ever was a time when the family was quite absorbed in the tribe. There does not exist a single well established instance of a people among whom this is the case.

I do not, of course, deny that the tie which bound the children to the mother was much more intimate and more lasting than that which bound them to the father. But it seems to me that the only result to which a critical investigation of facts can lead us is, that in all probability there has been no stage of human development when marriage has not existed, and that the father has always been, as a rule, the protector of his family. Human marriage appears, then, to be an inheritance from some ape-like progenitor.—E. Westermarck n/a, , 9–24; 39–50 (Macmillan, 1901).

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options


Title: The History of Human Marriage

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: The History of Human Marriage

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: The History of Human Marriage 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), 447–461. Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JL4CFHXR8HS71G6.

MLA: . The History of Human Marriage, 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. 447–461. Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JL4CFHXR8HS71G6.

Harvard: , The History of Human Marriage. 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.447–461. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=JL4CFHXR8HS71G6.