History of Human Marriage,

Date: 1891

Marriage by Purchase and Liberty of Choice

. . . . Among most existing uncivilized peoples a man has, in some way or other, to give compensation for his bride. Marriage by capture has been succeeded by marriage by purchase.

The simplest way of purchasing a wife is no doubt to give a kinswoman in exchange for her. "The Australian male," says Mr. Curt, "almost invariably obtains his wife or wives, either as the survivor of a married brother, or in exchange for his sisters, or later on in life for his daughters." A similar exchange is sometimes effected in Sumatra.

Much more common is the custom of obtaining a wife by services rendered to her father. The man goes to live with the family of the girl for a certain time, during which he works as a servant. This practice, with which Hebrew tradition has familiarized us, is widely diffused among the uncivilized races of America, Africa, Asia, and the Indian Archipelago. Often it is only those men who are too poor to pay cash that serve in the father-in-Iaw’s house till they have given an equivalent in labour; but sometimes not even money can save the bridegroom from this sort of servitude. In some cases he has to serve his time before he is allowed to marry the girl; in others he gets her in advance. Again, among several peoples, already mentioned, the man goes over to the woman’s family or tribe to live there for ever; but Dr. Starcke suggests that this custom has a different origin from the other, being an expression of the strong clan sentiment, and not a question of gain.

According to Mr. Spencer, the obtaining of wives by services rendered, instead of by property paid, constitutes a higher form of marriage and is developed along with the industrial type of society. "This modification," he says, "practicable with difficulty among rude predatory tribes, becomes more practicable as there arise established industries affording spheres in which services may be rendered." But it should be noticed that, even at a very low stage of civilization, a man may help his father-in-law in fishing and hunting, whilst industrial work promotes accumulation of property, and consequently makes it easier for the man to acquire his wife by real purchase. We find also the practice of serving for wives prevalent among such rude races as the Fuegians and the Bushmans; and, in the ’Eyrbyggja Saga,’ Vigstyr says to the berserk Halli, who asked for the hand of his daughter Asdi, "As you are a poor man, I shall do as the ancients did and let you deserve your marriage by hard work." It seems, then, almost probable that marriage by services is a more archaic form than marriage by purchase; but generally they occur simultaneously.

The most common compensation for a bride is property paid to her owner. Her price varies indefinitely. A pretty, healthy, and able-bodied girl commands of course a better price than one who is ugly and weak; a girl of rank, a better price than one who is mean and poor; a virgin, generally a better than a widow or a repudiated wife. Among the Calfornian Karok, for instance, a wife is seldom purchased for less than half a string of dentalium shell, but "when she belongs to an aristocratic family, is pretty, and skilful in making acorn-bread and weaving baskets, she sometimes costs as high as two strings. The bride-price, however, varies most according to the circumstances of the parties, and according to the value set on female labour. In British Columbia and Vancouver Island, the value of the articles given for the bride ranges from £20 to £40 sterling. The Indians of Oregon buy their wives for horses, blankets, or buffalo robes. Among the Shastika in California, "a wife is purchased of her father for shell-money or horses, ten or twelve cayuse ponies being paid for a maid of great attractions." Again, the Navajos of New Mexico consider twelve horses so exorbitant a price for a wife, that it is paid only for "one possessing unusual qualifications, such as beauty, industry, and skill in their necessary employments;" and the Patagonians give mares, horses, or silver ornaments for the bride.

In Africa, not horses but cattle are considered the most proper equivalent for a good wife. Among the Kafirs, three, five, or ten cows are a low price, twenty or thirty a rather high; but, according to Barrow, a man frequently obtained a wife for an ox or a couple of cows. The Demaras are so poor a people that they are often glad to take one cow for a daughter. Among the Banyai, many heads of cattle or goats are given to induce the parents of the girl "to give her up," as it is termed, i.e., to forego all claim on her offspring, for if nothing is given, the family from which she comes can claim the children as part of itself. In Uganda, the ordinary price of a wife is either three or four bullocks, six sewing needles, or a small box of percussion caps, but Mr. Wilson was often offered one in exchange for a coat or a pair of shoes. In the Mangoni country, two skins of a buck are considered a fair price, and among the Negroes of Bondo, a goat; whereas, among the Mandingoes, as we are told by Caillié, no wife is to be had otherwise than by the presentation of slaves to the parents of the mistress.

The Chulims paid from five to fifty roubles for a wife, the Turalinzes usually from five to ten. Rich Bashkirs pay sometimes even 3,000 roubles, but the poorest may buy a wife for a cart-load of wood or hay. In Tartary, parents sell a daughter for some horses, oxen, sheep, or pounds of butter; among the Samoyedes and Ostyaks, for a certain number of reindeer. Among the Indian Kisáns, "two baskets of rice and a rupee in cash constitute the compensatory offering given to the parents of the girl." Among the Mishmis, a rich man gives for a wife twenty mithuns (a kind of oxen), but a poor man can get a wife for a pig. In Timor-laut, according to Mr. Forbes, "no wife can be purchased without elephants’ tusks." In the Caroline Islands, "the man makes a present to the father of the girl whom he marries, consisting of fruits, fish, and similar things;" in Samoa, the bride-price included canoes, pigs, and foreign property of any kind which might fall into their hands; and, among the Fijians, "the usual price is a whale’s tooth, or a musket."

Among some peoples marriage may take place on credit, though, generally, the wife and her children cannot leave the parental home until the price is paid in full. In Unyoro, according to Emin Pasha, when a poor man is unable to procure the cattle required for his marriage at once, he may, by agreement with the bride’s father, pay them by instalments; the children, however, born in the meantime belong to the wife’s father, and each of them must be redeemed with a cow.

Marriage by exchange or purchase is not only generally prevalent among existing lower races; it occurs, or formerly occurred, among civilized nations as well. In Central America and Peru, a man had to serve for his bride. In China, a present is given by the father of the suitor, the amount of which is not left to the goodwill of the parties, as the term "present" would suggest, but is exactly stipulated for by the negotiators of the marriage; hence, as Mr. Jamieson remarks, it is no doubt a survival of the time when the transaction was one of ordinary bargain. In Japan, the proposed husband sends certain prescribed presents to his future bride, and this sending of presents forms one of the most important parts of the marriage ceremony. In fact, when once the presents have been sent and accepted, the contract is completed, and neither party can retract. Mr. Küchler says he has been unable to find out the exact meaning of these presents: the native books on marriage are silent on the subject, and the Japanese themselves have no other explanation to give than that the custom has been handed down from ancient times. But from the facts recorded in the next chapter it is evident that the sending of presents is a relic of a previous custom of marrying by purchase.

In all branches of the Semitic race men had to buy or serve for their wives, the "mohar" or "mahr" being originally the same as a purchase sum. In the Books of Ruth and Hosea, the bridegroom actually says that he has bought the bride; and the modern Jews, according to Michaelis, have a sham purchase among their marriage ceremonies, which is called "marrying by the penny." In Mohammedan countries marriage differs but little from a real purchase. The same custom prevailed among the Chaldeans, Babylonians, and Assyrians.

Speaking of the ancient Finns, the Finnish philologist and traveller, Castrén, remarks, "There are many reasons for believing that a cap full of silver and gold was one of the best proxies in wooing among our ancestors." Evident traces of marriage by purchase are, indeed, found in the ’Kalevala’ and the ’Kanteletar;’ and, in parts of Finland, symbols of it are still left in the marriage ceremony. Among the East Finnish peoples, marriage by purchase exists even now, or did so till quite lately.

Among the Aryan nations, too, marriage was based on the purchase of the wife. The Hindu bride, in Vedic times, had to be won by rich presents to the future father-in-law; and one of the eight forms of marriage mentioned, though disapproved of, by Manu—the Asura form—was marriage by purchase. According to Dubois, to marry and to buy a wife are in India synonymous terms, as almost every parent makes his daughter an article of traffic. Aristotle tells us that the ancient Greeks were in the habit of purchasing wives, and in the Homeric age a maid was called i.e., one "who yields her parents many oxen as presents from her suitor." Among the Thracians, according to Herodotus, marriage was contracted by purchase. So also throughout Teutonic antiquity. The ancient Scandinavians believed that even the gods had bought their wives. In Germany, the expression "to purchase a wife" was in use till the end of the Middle Ages, and we find the same term in Christian IV.’s Norwegian Law of 1604. As late as the middle of the sixteenth century the English preserved in their marriage ritual traces of this ancient legal procedure; whilst in Thuringia, according to Franz Schmidt, the betrothal ceremony even to this day indicates its former occurrence.

Purchase, as Dr. Schrader remarks, cannot with equal certainty be established as the oldest form of marriage on Roman soil. But the symbolical process of coemptio—the form of marriage among the plebeians—preserved a reminiscence of the original custom in force, if not at Rome, at least among the ancestors of the Romans. In Ireand and Wales, in ancient times, the bride-price consisted usually of articles of gold, silver, and bronze, sometimes even land. The Slavs, also, used to buy their wives; and, among the South Slavonians, the custom of purchasing the bride still partially prevails, or recently did so. In Servia, at the beginning of the present century, the price of girls reached such a height that Black George limited it to one ducat.

In spite of this general prevalence of marriage by purchase, we have no evidence that it is a stage through which every race has passed. It must be observed, first, that in sundry tribes the presents given by the bridegroom are intended not exactly to compensate the parents for the bride, but rather to dispose them favourably to the match. Colonel Dalton says, for example, that, among the Pádams, one of the lowest peoples of India, it is customary for a lover to show his inclinations whilst courting by presenting his sweetheart and her parents with small delicacies, such as field mice and squirrels, though the parents seldom interfere with the young couple’s designs, and it would be regarded as an indelible disgrace to barter a child’s happiness for money. The Ainos of Yesso, says Mr. Bickmore, "do not buy their wives, but make presents to the parents of saki, tobacco, and fish;" and the amount of these gifts is never settled before-hand. The game and fruits given by the bridegroom immediately before marriage, among the Puris, Coroados, and Coropos, seem to v. Martius to be rather a proof of his ability to keep a wife than a means of exchange; whereas the more civilized tribes of the Brazilian aborigines carry on an actual trade in women.

Speaking of the Yukonikhotana, a tribe of Alaska, Petroff states that the custom of purchasing wives does not exist among them. The CaliforniUm Wintun, who rank among the lower types of the race, generally pay nothing for their brides. The Niam-Niam and some other African peoples, most of the Chittagong Hill tribes, the aboriginal inhabitants of Kola and Kobroor, of the Aru Archipelago, who live in trees or caves, and apparently also the Andamanese are in the habit of marrying without making any payment for the bride. Among the Veddahs, according to M. Le Mesurier, no marriage presents are given on either side, but Mr. Hartshorne states that "a marriage is attended with no ceremony beyond the presentation of some food to the parents of the bride."

In Ponapé, says Dr. Finsch, marriage is not based on purchase; but this is contrary to the general custom in the Carolines, as also in the adjacent Pelew Islands, where women are bought as wives by means of presents to the father. In the Kingsmill Group, according to Wilkes, "a wife is never bought, but it is generally supposed that each party will contribute something towards the household stock." With regard to the Hawaiians, Ellis remarks, "We are not aware that the parents of the woman received anything from the husband, or gave any dowry with the wife." And Mr. Angas even asserts that the practice of purchasing wives is not generally adopted in Polynesia. But this statement is doubtful, as, at least in Samoa, Tahiti, Naukahiva, the bridegroom gains the bride by presents to her father. And in Melanesia marriage by purchase is certainly universal. Among the South Australian Kurnai, according to Mr. Howitt, marriages were brought about "most frequently by elopement, less frequently by capture, and least frequently by exchange or by gift."

Purchase of wives may, with even more reason than marriage by capture, be said to form a general stage in the social history of man. Although the two practices often occur simultaneously, the former has, as a rule, succeeded the latter, as barter in general has followed upon robbery. The more recent character of marriage by purchase appears clearly from the fact that marriage by capture frequently occurs as a symbol where marriage by purchase occurs as a reality. Moreover, there can be little doubt that barter and commerce are comparatively late inventions of man.

Dr. Peschel, indeed, contends that barter existed in those ages in which we find the earliest signs of our race. But we have no evidence that it was in this way that the cave-dwellers of Périgord, of the rein-deer period, obtained the rock crystals, the Atlantic shells, and the horns of the Polish Saiga antelope, which have been found in their settlements; and we may not, in any case, conclude that "commerce has existed in all ages, mad among all inhabitants of the world." There are even in modern times instances of savage peoples who seem to have a very vague idea of barter, or perhaps none at all. Concerning certain Solomon Islanders, Labillardière states, "We could not learn whether these people are in the habit of making exchanges; but it is very certain that it was impossible for us to obtain anything from them in this way; . . . . yet they were very eager to receive everything we gave them." For some time after Captain Weddell began to associate with the Fuegians, they gave him any small article he expressed a wish for, without asking any return; but afterwards they "acquired an idea of barter." Nor did the Australians whom Cook saw, and the Patagonians visited by Captain Wallis in 1766, understand traffic, though they now understand it. Again, with regard to the Andamanese Mr. Man remarks, "They set no fixed value on their various properties, and rarely make or procure anything with the express object of disposing of it in barter. Apparently they prefer to regard their transactions as presentations, for their mode of negotiating is to give such objects as are desired by another in the hope of receiving in return something for which they have expressed a wish, it being tacitly understood that, unless otherwise mentioned beforehand, no ’present’ is to be accepted without an equivalent being rendered. The natural consequence of this system is that most of the quarrels which so frequently occur among them originate in failure on the part of the recipient in making such a return as had been confidently expected." It must also be noted that those uncivilized peoples among whom marriage by purchase does not occur are, for the most part, exceedingly rude races.

As M. Koenigswarter and Mr. Spencer have suggested, the transition from marriage by capture to marriage by purchase was probably brought about in the following way: abduction, in spite of parents, was the primary form; then there came the offering of compensation to escape vengeance, and this grew eventually into the making of presents beforehand. Thus, among the Ahts, according to Mr. Sproat, when a man steals a wife, a purchase follows, "as the friends of the woman must be pacified with presents." In New Guinea, and Bali, as also among the Chukmas and Araucanians, it often happens that the bridegroom carries off, or elopes with, his bride, and afterwards pays a compensation-price to her parents. Among the Bodo and Mech, who still preserve the form of forcible abduction in their marriage ceremony, the successful lover, after having captured the girl, gives a feast to the bride’s friends and with a present conciliates the father, who is supposed to be incensed. The same is reported of the Maoris, whilst among the Tangutans, according to Prejevalsky, the ravisher who has stolen his neighbour’s wife pays the husband a good sum as compensation, but keeps the wife.

It is a matter of no importance in this connection that, among certain peoples, the price of the bride is paid not to the father, but to some other nearly related person, especially an uncle, or to some other relatives as well as to the father. In any case the price is to be regarded as a compensation for the loss sustained in the giving up of the girl, and as a remuneration for the expenses incurred in her maintenance till the time of her marriage. Sometimes, as among several negro peoples, daughters are trained for the purpose of being disposed of at a profit; but this is a modern invention, irreconcilable with savage ideas. Thus, among the Kafirs, the practice of making an express bargain about women hardly prevailed in the first quarter of this century, and the verb applied to the act of giving cattle for a girl, according to Mr. Shooter, involves not the idea of an actual trade, but rather that of reward for her birth and nurture.

To most savages there seems nothing objectionable in marriage by purchase. On the contrary, Mr. Bancroft states that the Indians in Columbia consider it in the highest degree disgraceful to the girl’s family, if she is given away without a price; and, in certain tribes of California, "the children of a woman for whom no money was paid are accounted no better than bastards, and the whole family are contemned." It was left for a higher civilization to raise women from this state of debasement. In the next chapter we shall consider the process by which marriage ceased to be a purchase contract, and woman an object of trade.

It would be easy to adduce numerous instances of savage and barbarous tribes among whom a girl is far from having the entire disposal of her own hand. Being regarded as an object of property, she is treated accordingly.

Among many peoples the female children are usually "engaged" in their earliest youth. Concerning the Eskimo to the north of Churchill, Franklin states that, "as soon as a girl is born, the young lad who wishes to have her for a wife goes to her father’s tent and proffers himself. If accepted, a promise is given which is considered binding, and the girl is delivered to her betrothed at the proper age." Early betrothals are among the established customs of the Chippeways, Columbians, Botocudos, Patagonians, and other American peoples. Among the African Marutse, the children "are often affianced at an early age, and the marriage is consummated as soon as the girl arrives at maturity." The Negroes of the Gold Coast, according to Bosman, often arranged for the marriage of infants directly after birth; whilst, among the Bushmans, Bechuanas, and Ashantees, children are engaged when they are still in the womb, in the event of their proving to be girls.

In Australia, too, girls are frequently promised in early youth, and sometimes before they are born. The same is the case in New Guinea, New Zealand, Tahiti, and many other islands of the South Sea, as also among several of the tribes inhabiting the Malay Archipelago. Mariner supposed that, in Tonga, about one-third of the married women had been thus betrothed. In British India infant-marriage has hitherto been a common custom; and all peoples of the Turkish stock, according to Professor Vátmbéry, are in the habit of betrothing babies. So also are the Samoyedes and Tuski; and, among the yews of Western Russia, parents betroth the children whom they hope to have.

Among some peoples, it is the mother, brother, or maternal uncle, who has the chief power of giving a girl in marriage. In Timor-laut, Mr. Forbes says, "nothing can be done of such import as the disposal of a daughter without the advice, assistance, and witness of all the villagers, women and youths being admitted as freely to speak as the elder males;" and in West Australia, according to Mr. Oldfield, the consent of the whole tribe is necessary for a girl’s marriage. Yet such cases are no doubt rare exceptions, and give us no right to conclude that there ever was a time when children were generally considered the property of the tribe, or of their maternal kinsfolk.

It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that, among the lower races, women are, as a rule, married without having any voice of their own in the matter. Their liberty of selection, on the contrary, is very considerable, and, however down-trodden, they well know how to make their influence felt. Thus, among the Indians of North America, numberless instances are given of woman’s liberty to choose her husband. Schoolcraft asserts that their marriages are brought about "sometimes with, and sometimes against, the wishes of the graver and more prudent relatives of the parties," the marital rite consisting chiefly in the consent of the parties. Heckewelder quotes instances of Indians who committed suicide because they had been disappointed in love, the girls on whom they had fixed their choice, and to whom they were engaged, having Changed their minds, and married other lovers. Among the Kaniagmuts, Thlinkets, and Nutkas, the suitor has to consult the wishes of the young lady. Among the Chippewas, according to Mr. Keating, the mothers generally settle the preliminaries to marriage without consulting the children; but the parties are not considered husband and wife till they have given their consent. The Atkha Aleuts occasionally betrothed their children to each other, but the marriage was held to be binding only after the birth of a child. Among the Creeks, if a man desires to make a woman his wife "conformably to the more ancient and serious custom of the country," he endeavours to gain her own consent by regular courtship. Among the Pueblos, &c., "no girl is forced to marry against her will, however eligible her parents may consider the match."

As to the South American Guanás, Azara states, "Aucune femme ne consent à se marier, sans avoir fair ses stipulations préliminaires très-détaillées avec son prétendu, et avec son père et ses parents, à l’égard de leur genre de vie réciproque." In Tierra del Fuego, according to Lieutenant Bore, the eagerness with which the women seek for young husbands is surprising, but even more surprising is the fact that they nearly always attain their ends. Speaking of the same people, Mr. Bridges says, "It frequently happens that there is insuperable aversion on the girl’s part to her husband, and she leaves him, and if she persists in hating him she is then given to one she likes." It is, indeed common in America for a girl to run away from a bridegroom forced upon her by the parents; whilst, if they refuse to give their daughter to a suitor whom she loves, the couple elope. Thus, among the Dacotahs, as we are told by Mr. Prescott, "there are many matches made by elopement, much to the chagrin of the parents."

In Australia it is the rule that a father alone can give away his daughter, and, according to Mr. Curr, the woman herself, has no voice in the selection of her husband. But, with reference to the Narrinyeri, Mr. Taplin states that, "although the consent of a female is not considered a matter of the first importance, as, indeed is the case in many uncivilized nations, yet it is always regarded as desirable." Among the Kurnai, according to Mr. Howitt, she decidedly enjoys the freedom of choice. Should the parents refuse their consent, she goes away with her lover, and if they can remain away till the girl is with child she may, it is said, expect to be forgiven. Otherwise it may become necessary for them to elope two or three times before they are pardoned, the family at length becoming tired of objecting. Mr. Mathews asserts that, with varying details, marriage by mutual consent will be found among other tribes also, though it is not completed except by means of a runaway match. Elopement undertaken with the consent of the woman is, indeed, and has been, a recognized institution among at least some of the aboriginal tribes in Australia. Among the Kurnai it is the rule.

The Maoris have a proverb, "As a kahawai (a fish which is very particular in selecting the hook that most resembles its food) selects the hook which pleases it best out of a great number, so also a woman chooses one man out of many." Mariner supposed that, in Tonga, perhaps two-thirds of the girls had married with their own free consent. Concerning the natives of Arorae, Mr. Turner says, "In choosing a husband the lady sat in the lower room of the house, and over her head were let down through the chinks of the floor of the upper room two or three cocoa-nut leaflets, the ends of which were held by her lovers. She pulled at one, and asked whose it was. If the reply was not in the voice of the young man she wished to have, she left it and pulled at another leaf, and another, until she found him, and then pulled it right down. The happy man whose leaf she pulled down sat still, while the others slunk away." In the Society Islands, the women of the middle and lower ranks had the power to choose husbands according to their own wishes; and that the women of the highest class sometimes asserted the same right appears from the addresses a chief of Eimeo had to pay to the object of his attachment before she could be induced to accept his offer. In Radack, "marriages depend on a free convention," as seems to be generally the case in Micronesia. In the New Britain Group, according to Mr. Romilly, after the man has worked for years to pay for his wife, and is finally in a position to take her to his house, she may refuse to go, and he cannot claim back from the parents the large sums he has paid them in yams, cocoa-nuts, and sugar-canes. With reference to the New Caledonian girl, M. Moncelon remarks, "Elle est consultée quelquefois, mais souvent est forcée l’obéir. Alors elle fuit à chaque instant pour rejoindre l’homme qu’elle préfère."

In the Indian Archipelago, according to Professor Wilken, most marriages are contracted by the mutual consent of the parties. Among the Dyaks, "the unmarried girls are at perfect liberty to choose their mates." In some parts of Java, much deference is paid to the bride’s inclinations, and, among the Minahassers of Celebes, courtship or love-making "is always strictly an affair of the heart and not in any way dependent upon the consent or even wish of the parents." Similar statements are made by Riedel with reference to several of the smaller islands. Among the Rejangs of Sumatra, if a young man runs away with a virgin without the consent of her father, he does not act contrary to the laws of the country; and, if he is willing to make the usual pay ments afterwards, the woman cannot be reclaimed by her father or other kinsfolk.

In Burma, "the choice of marriageable girls is perfectly free," and marriages are occasionally contracted even in direct opposition to the parents. Among the Shans, mutual consent is required to constitute a valid union, and, regarding the Chittagong Hill tribes, Captain Lewin says that the women’s "power of selecting their own husband is to the full as free as that enjoyed by our own English maidens." The same is the case with many, perhaps mast, of the uncivilized tribes of India. The young couple often settle the affair entirely between themselves, even though marriages are ostensibly arranged by the parents, or the parents, before they give their children in marriage, consult them, and, as a rule, follow their likings. In case of parental abjection, elopements frequently take place. Among the Kukis, a girl who runs away from a husband she does not like is not thought to act wrongly in doing so. Among the aboriginal tribes of China, the Ainos, Kamchadales, Jakuts, Ossetes, &c., the daughter’s inclinations are nearly always consulted. And, in Cores, mutual choice was the ancient custom of the country.

Turning to Africa, we find that, among the Touaregs, a girl may select out of her suitors the one whom she herself prefers. As to the West African negroes, Mr. Reade informed Mr. Darwin that "the women, at least among the more intelligent Pagan tribes, have no difficulty in getting the husbands whom they may desire, although it is considered unwomanly to ask a man to marry them." The accuracy of this statement is confirmed by several travellers, and it seems to hold good for other parts of Africa. Among the Shulis, according to Dr. Felkin, the women have a voice in the selection of their husbands. The Mádi girls, says Emin Pasha, enjoy great freedom, and are able to choose companions to their liking. Among the Marutse, "free women who have not been given away or sold as slaves are allowed to choose what husbands they please." The young Kafirs endeavour generally at first to gain the consent of the girls, for it is, as Mr. Leslie remarks, "a mistake to imagine that a girl is sold by her father in the same manner, and with the same authority, with which he would dispose of a cow." And, among the Hottentots and Bushmans, when a girl has grown up to womanhood without having previously been betrothed, her lover must gain her approbation, as well as that of the parents.

In works by ancient writers we find statements of the same kind. Among the Cathæi, according to Strabo, the girls chose their husbands, and the young men their wives; and the same is said by Herodotus of the women of Lydia. In Indian and old Scandinavian tales virgins are represented as having the power to dispose of themselves freely. Thus it was agreed that Skade should choose for herself a husband among the Asas, but she was to make her choice by the feet, the only part of their persons she was allowed to see.

In view of such facts it is impossible to agree with M. Letourneau that, during a very long period, woman was married without her wishes being at all consulted. There can be no doubt that, under more primitive conditions, she was even more free in that respect than she is now among most of the lower races. At present a daughter is very commonly an object of trade, and the more exclusively she is regarded from this point of view, the less, of course, are her own likings taken into account. Among the Bedouins of Mount Sinai, who have marriage by purchase, no father thinks it necessary to consult his daughter before selling her, whereas, among the Arabs of the eastern plain, the Aenezes, &c., according to Burckhardt, "the father never receives the price of the girl, and therefore some regard is paid to her inclinations." But it will be shown that marriage by purchase forms a comparatively late stage in the history of the family relations of mankind, owing its origin to the fact that daughters are valuable as labourers, and therefore not given away for nothing. Speaking of the Gippsland natives, Mr. Fison says, "The assertion that women ’eat and do not hunt,’ cannot apply to the lower savages. On the contrary, whether among the ruder agricultural tribes or those who are dependent on supplies gathered from ’the forest and the flood,’ the women are food-providers, who supply to the full as much as they consume, and render valuable service into the bargain. In times of peace, as a general rule they are the hardest workers and the most useful members of the community." Now, the Australians, although a very rude race, have advanced far beyond the original state of man. There is no reason to doubt that, among our earliest human ancestors, the possession of a woman was desired only for the gratification of the man’s passions. It may be said generally that in a state of nature every grown-up individual earns his own living. Hence there is no slavery, as there is, proper ly speaking, no labour. A man in the earliest times had no reason, then, to retain his full-grown daughter; she might go away, and marry at her pleasure. That she was not necessarily gained by the very first male, we may conclude from what we know about the lower animals. As Mr. Darwin remarks, the female generally, or at least often, exerts some choice. She can in most cases escape, if wooed by a male who does not please her, and when pursued, as commonly occurs, by several males, she seems often to have the opportunity, whilst they are fighting with one another, of going away with, or at least of temporarily pairing with, some one male.

It might be supposed that at a later stage, when family ties grew stronger, and bride-stealing became a common way of concluding a marriage, the consent of the woman in the event of capture would be quite out of the question. Certainly it must generally have been so when she fell as a booty into the hands of an enemy. But women thus captured may in malay cases have been able to escape from the husbands forced on them, and to return to their own, or some friendly neighbouring, tribe. Very frequently, however, bride-stealing seems to have taken place with the approval of the girl, there being no other way in which the match could be concluded if her parents were unwilling to agree to it. It is a common mistake, as Mr. Howitt remarks, to confound marriage by capture and marriage by elopement. They are essentially different, the one being effected without, the other with, the woman’s consent. Thus, among the Australians, many, perhaps most, cases of so-called bride-stealing come under the head of elopements.

Something remains to be said as to the position of sons among uncivilized peoples. When young, they are everywhere as much dependent on the parents, or at least on the father, as are their sisters. A boy may be sold, bartered away, or even killed, if his father thinks proper. That the power of life and death, under certain circumstances, rests with the tribe is a matter of little importance in this connection. But as soon as the young man grows up, the father, as a rule, has no longer any authority over him, whereas a woman is always more or less in a state of dependence, marriage implying for her a change of owner only. Among the Australians, says Mr. Curr, "sons become independent when they have gone through the ceremonies by which they attain to the status of manhood." The full-grown man is his own master; he is strong enough not to be kept in check by his father, and, being able to shift for himself, he may marry quite independently of the old man’s will.

It often happens, indeed, as we have seen, that parents betroth their children when they are young. But, if such an engagement is not always binding even for the woman, it is of course all the less so for the man. "The choice among the Kalmucks," Liadov says, "belongs entirely to the parents. Still, there is no constraint upon this point, and, if the son declares that the selection of his parents displeases him, there is no further question about the matter."

Moreover, marriage contracts are concluded among certain peoples by the parents of the parties, even when these are full-grown. Among the Iroquois, according to Mr. Morgan, the mother, when she considered her son of a suitable age for marriage, looked about for a maiden whom she thought likely to accord with him in disposition and temperament, and remonstrance or objection on the part of the children was never attempted. Among the Basutos, the choice of "the great wife" is generally made by the father. And, in many of the uncivilized tribes of India, parents are in the habit of betrothing their sons. In certain cases, the parents merely go through a form of selection, the matter having already been really settled by the parties concerned; and usually a man who has been induced to marry a woman he does not like, may divorce her and choose another according to his taste. Yet, speaking of the Kisáns, Colonel Dalton says that "there is no instance on record of a youth or maiden objecting to the arrangement made for them." The paternal authority among these tribes of India implies, indeed, a family system of higher type than we are accustomed to find among wild races; it approaches the patria potestas of the ancient Aryan nations. Thus, among the Kandhs, in each family the absolute authority rests with the house-father; the sons have no property during the father’s lifetime, and all the male children, with their wives and descendants, continue to share the father’s meal, prepared by the common mother. The father chooses a full-grown woman as a wife for his young son. "In the superior age of the bride," says Colonel Macpherson, "is seen a proof of the supremacy of the paternal authority amongst this singular people. The parents obtain the wives of their sons during their boyhood, as very valuable domestic servants, and their selections are avowedly made with a view to utility in this character."

Among savages the father’s power depends exclusively, or chiefly, upon his superior strength. At a later stage, in connection with a more highly developed system of ancestor-worship, it becomes more ideal, and, at the same time, more extensive and more absolute. Obedience to the father is regarded as a sacred duty, the transgression of which will be punished as a crime against the gods. Indeed, so prevalent has this strengthened authority of the father been among peoples who have reached a relatively high degree of civilization, that it must be regarded as marking a stage in all human history.

The family system of the savage Indians differs widely, in this respect, from that which was established among the ancient inhabitants of Mexico and Peru. Concerning the Mexicans, Clavigero says that "their children were bred to stand so much in awe of their parents, that, even when grown up and married, they hardly durst speak before them." The following was an exhortation of a Mexican to his son:—"Honour all persons, particularly thy parents, to whom thou owest obedience, respect, and service. Guard against imitating the example of those wicked sons, who, like brutes that are deprived of reason, neither reverence their parents, listen to their instruction, nor submit to their correction; because whoever follows their steps will have an unhappy end, will die in a desperate or sudden manner, or will be killed and devoured by wild beasts." A youth was seldom allowed to choose a wife for himself; he was expected to abide by the selection of his parents. Hence it rarely happened that a marriage took place without the sanction of parents or other kinsfolk, and he who presumed to marry without such sanction had to undergo penance, being looked upon as ungrateful, ill-bred, mad apostate. The belief was, according to Torquemada, that an act of that kind would be punished by some misfortune. In a province of the Mexican empire, it was even required that a bridegroom should be carried, that he might be supposed to marry against his inclinations. Touching the Guatemalans, Mr. Bancroft says, "It seems incredible that the young men should have quietly submitted to having their wives picked out for them without being allowed any voice or choice in the matter. Yet we are told that so great was their obedience and submission to their parents, that there never was any scandal in these things." In the greater part of Nicaragua, matches were arranged by the parents; though there were certain independent towns in which the girls chose their husbands from among the young men, while the latter sat at a feast. Again, in Peru, Inca Pachacutec confirmed the law that sons should obey and serve their fathers until they reached the age of twenty-five, and that none should marry without the consent of the parents, and of the parents of the girl, a marriage without this consent being invalid and the children illegitimate.

Similar ideas formerly prevailed, and to some extent are still found, among the civilized nations of the Old World. The Chinese have a maxim that, as the Emperor should have a father’s love for his people, so a father should have a sovereign’s power over his family. From earliest youth the Chinese lad is imbued with such respect for his parents that it becomes at last a religious sentiment, and forms, as he gets older, the basis of his only creed—the worship of ancestors. Disobedience to parents is looked upon as a sin to be punished with death, whether the offender be an infant or a full-grown son or daughter. And in everything referring to the marriage of the children parents are omnipotent. "From all antiquity in China," Navarette says, "no son ever did, or hereafter will, marry without the consent of his parents." Indeed, according to Mr. Medhurst, it is a universally acknowledged principle in China that no person, of whatever age, can act for himself in matrimonial matters during the lifetime or in the neighbourhood of his parents or near senior kinsfolk. The power of these guardians is so great that they may contract a marriage for a junior who is absent from home, and he is bound to abide by such engagement even though already affianced elsewhere without their privity or consent. The consequence of this system is that, in many cases, the betrothed couple scarcely know each other before marriage, the wedding being the first occasion on which the man catches a glimpse of his wife’s face. In some parts of the Empire children are affianced in infancy.

In Japan, according to Professor Rein, a house-father enjoyed the same extensive rights as the Roman paterfamilias—an unlimited power over the person and property of his children. Filial piety is considered the highest duty of man, and not even death or the marriage relation weakens, to any great extent, the hold of a father on a child. "With affection on the one hand, and cunning on the other," says Mr. Griffis, "an unscrupulous father may do what he will. . . . . The Japanese maiden, as pure as the purest Christian virgin, will, at the command of her father, enter the brothel to-morrow, and prostitute herself for life. Not a murmur escapes her lips as she thus filially obeys." Marriages are almost invariably arranged by the parents or nearest kinsfolk of the parties, or by the parties themselves with the aid of an agent or middleman known as the "nakōdo," it being considered highly improper for them to arrange it on their own account. Among the lower classes, such direct unions are not unfrequent; but they are held in contempt, and are known as "yagō," i.e., "meeting on a moor,"—a term of disrespect showing the low opinion entertained of them. The middleman’s duty consists in acquainting each of the parties with the nature, habits, good and bad qualities, and bodily infirmities of the other, and in doing his utmost to bring the affair to a successful conclusion. It seldom happens that the parties immediately interested communicate directly with the middleman; if they have parents or guardians, it is done by these, and, if not, by the nearest relation. The middleman has to arrange for a meeting between the parties, which meeting is known as the "mi ai," literally "see meeting," and, if either party is dissatisfied with the other after this introduction, the matter proceeds no further. But formerly, says Mr. Küchler, "this ante-nuptial meeting was dispensed with in the case of people of very exalted rank, who consequently never saw each other until the bride removed her veil on the marriage day."

Among the ancient Arabs and Hebrews, fathers exercised very great rights over their families. According to the old law of Jahveism, a father might sell his child to relieve his own distress, or offer it to a creditor as a pledge. Death was the penalty for a child who struck a parent, or even cursed one; though the father himself could not inflict this penalty on his children, but had to appeal to the whole community. How important were the duties of the child to the parents, is shown in the primitive typical relation of Isaac to Abraham, and may, as Ewald remarks, be at once learned from the placing of the law on the subject among the Ten Commandments, and from its position there in immediate proximity to the commands relating to the duties of man towards God. According to Michaelis, there is nowhere the slightest trace of its having been the will of Moses that paternal authority and the subjection of sons should cease after a certain age. A Hebrew father not only disposed of his daughter’s hand, but chose wives for his sons,—the selection, however, being sometimes made by the mother.

Herodotus tells us that, in Egypt, if a son was unwilling to maintain his parents, he was at liberty to refuse, whereas a daughter was compelled to assist them, and, on refusal, was amenable to law. But, according to Sir Gardner Wilkinson, the truth of this statement may be questioned. Judging from the marked severity of filial duties among the Egyptians, some of which are distinctly alluded to in the inscriptions at Thebes, we may conclude that, in Egypt, much more was expected from a son than in any civilized nation of the present day. Among the modern Egyptians it is considered highly indecorous for a son to sit down in the presence of his father without permission. . . . .—E. n/a WESTERARCK, 290–402; 213–29 (Macmillan, 1891).

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Chicago: 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), 490–504. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VZ2BVJ2IET1AFJU.

MLA: . 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. 490–504. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VZ2BVJ2IET1AFJU.

Harvard: , 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.490–504. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VZ2BVJ2IET1AFJU.