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Descent of Man [ 1871]

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Author Topic: Descent of Man [ 1871]  (Read 5937 times)
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« Reply #195 on: February 10, 2009, 01:28:42 pm »

Early Betrothals and Slavery of Women.- With many savages it is
the custom to betroth the females whilst mere infants; and this
would effectually prevent preference being exerted on either side
according to personal appearance. But it would not prevent the more
attractive women from being afterwards stolen or taken by force from
their husbands by the more powerful men; and this often happens in
Australia, America, and elsewhere. The same consequences with
reference to sexual selection would to a certain extent follow, when
women are valued almost solely as slaves or beasts of burden, as is
the case with many savages. The men, however, at all times would
prefer the handsomest slaves according to their standard of beauty.
  We thus see that several customs prevail with savages which must
greatly interfere with, or completely stop, the action of sexual
selection. On the other hand, the conditions of life to which
savages are exposed, and some of their habits, are favourable to
natural selection; and this comes into play at the same time with
sexual selection. Savages are known to suffer severely from
recurrent famines; they do not increase their food by artificial
means; they rarely refrain from marriage,* and generally marry
whilst young. Consequently they must be subjected to occasional hard
struggles for existence, and the favoured individuals will alone

  * Burchell says (Travels in S. Africa, vol. ii., 1824, p. 58),
that among the wild nations of southern Africa, neither men nor
women ever pass their lives in a state of celibacy. Azara (Voyages
dans l'Amerique Merid., tom. ii., 1809, p. 21) makes precisely the
same remark in regard to the wild Indians of South America.

  At a very early period, before man attained to his present rank in
the scale, many of his conditions would be different from what now
obtains amongst savages. Judging from the analogy of the lower
animals, he would then either live with a single female, or be a
polygamist. The most powerful and able males would succeed best in
obtaining attractive females. They would also succeed best in the
general struggle for life, and in defending their females, as well
as their offspring, from enemies of all kinds. At this early period
the ancestors of man would not be sufficiently advanced in intellect
to look forward to distant contingencies; they would not foresee
that the rearing of all their children, especially their female
children, would make the struggle for life severer for the tribe. They
would be governed more by their instincts and less by their reason
than are savages at the present day. They would not at that period
have partially lost one of the strongest of all instincts, common to
all the lower animals, namely the love of their young offspring; and
consequently they would not have practised female infanticide. Women
would not have been thus rendered scarce, and polyandry would not have
been practised; for hardly any other cause, except the scarcity of
women seems sufficient to break down the natural and widely
prevalent feeling of jealousy, and the desire of each male to
possess a female for himself. Polyandry would be a natural
stepping-stone to communal marriages or almost promiscuous
intercourse; though the best authorities believe that this latter
habit preceded polyandry. During primordial times there would be no
early betrothals, for this implies foresight. Nor would women be
valued merely as useful slaves or beasts of burden. Both sexes, if the
females as well as the males were permitted to exert any choice, would
choose their partners not for mental charms, or property, or social
position, but almost solely from external appearance. All the adults
would marry or pair, and all the offspring, as far as that was
possible, would be reared; so that the struggle for existence would be
periodically excessively severe. Thus during these times all the
conditions for sexual selection would have been more favourable than
at a later period, when man had advanced in his intellectual powers
but had retrograded in his instincts. Therefore, whatever influence
sexual selection may have had in producing the differences between the
races of man, and between man and the higher Quadrumana, this
influence would have been more powerful at a remote period than at the
present day, though probably not yet wholly lost.

  The Manner of Action of Sexual Selection with Mankind.- With
primeval man under the favourable conditions just stated, and with
those savages who at the present time enter into any marriage tie,
sexual selection has probably acted in the following manner, subject
to greater or less interference from female infanticide, early
betrothals, &c. The strongest and most vigorous men- those who could
best defend and hunt for their families, who were provided with the
best weapons and possessed the most property, such as a large number
of dogs or other animals,- would succeed in rearing a greater
average number of offspring than the weaker and poorer members of
the same tribes. There can, also, be no doubt that such men would
generally be able to select the more attractive women. At present
the chiefs of nearly every tribe throughout the world succeed in
obtaining more than one wife. I hear from Mr. Mantell that, until
recently, almost every girl in New Zealand who was pretty, or promised
to be pretty, was tapu to some chief. With the Kaffirs, as Mr. C.
Hamilton states,* "the chiefs generally have the pick of the women for
many miles round, and are most persevering in establishing or
confirming their privilege." We have seen that each race has its own
style of beauty, and we know that it is natural to man to admire
each characteristic point in his domestic animals, dress, ornaments,
and personal appearance, when carried a little beyond the average.
If then the several foregoing propositions be admitted, and I cannot
see that they are doubtful, it would be an inexplicable circumstance
if the selection of the more attractive women by the more powerful men
of each tribe, who would rear on an average a greater number of
children, did not after the lapse of many generations somewhat
modify the character of the tribe.

  * Anthropological Review, Jan., 1870, p. xvi.
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