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Descent of Man [ 1871]

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Author Topic: Descent of Man [ 1871]  (Read 3094 times)
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« Reply #195 on: February 10, 2009, 01:28:27 pm »

Although savages are now extremely licentious, and although communal
marriages may formerly have largely prevailed, yet many tribes
practise some form of marriage, but of a far more lax nature than that
of civilised nations. Polygamy, as just stated, is almost
universally followed by the leading men in every tribe. Nevertheless
there are tribes, standing almost at the bottom of the scale, which
are strictly monogamous. This is the case with the Veddahs of
Ceylon: they have a saying, according to Sir J. Lubbock,* "that
death alone can separate husband and wife." An intelligent Kandyan
chief, of course a polygamist, "was perfectly scandalised at the utter
barbarism of living with only one wife, and never parting until
separated by death." It was, he said, "just like the Wanderoo monkey."
Whether savages who now enter into some form of marriage, either
polygamous or monogamous, have retained this habit from primeval
times, or whether they have returned to some form of marriage, after
passing through a stage of promiscuous intercourse, I will not pretend
to conjecture.

  * Prehistoric Times, 1869, p. 424.

  Infanticide.- This practice is now very common throughout the world,
and there is reason to believe that it prevailed much more extensively
during former times.* Barbarians find it difficult to support
themselves and their children, and it is a simple plan to kill their
infants. In South America some tribes, according to Azara, formerly
destroyed so many infants of both sexes that they were on the point of
extinction. In the Polynesian Islands women have been known to kill
from four or five, to even ten of their children; and Ellis could
not find a single woman who had not killed at least one. In a
village on the eastern frontier of India Colonel MacCulloch found
not a single female child. Wherever infanticide*(2) prevails the
struggle for existence will be in so far less severe, and all the
members of the tribe will have an almost equally good chance of
rearing their few surviving children. In most cases a larger number of
female than of male infants are destroyed, for it is obvious that
the latter are of more value to the tribe, as they will, when grown
up, aid in defending it, and can support themselves. But the trouble
experienced by the women in rearing children, their consequent loss of
beauty, the higher estimation set on them when few, and their
happier fate, are assigned by the women themselves, and by various
observers, as additional motives for infanticide.

  * Mr. M'Lennan, Primitive Marriage, 1865. See especially on
exogamy and infanticide, pp. 130, 138, 165.
  *(2) Dr. Gerland (Uber das Aussterben der Naturvolker, 1868) has
collected much information on infanticide, see especially ss. 27,
51, 54. Azara (Voyages, &c., tom. ii., pp. 94, 116) enters in detail
on the motives. See also M'Lennan (ibid. p. 139) for cases in India.
In the former reprints of the 2nd edition of this book an incorrect
quotation from Sir G. Grey was unfortunately given in the above
passage and has now been removed from the text.

  When, owing to female infanticide, the women of a tribe were few,
the habit of capturing wives from neighbouring tribes would
naturally arise. Sir J. Lubbock, however, as we have seen,
attributes the practice in chief part to the former existence of
communal marriage, and to the men having consequently captured women
from other tribes to hold as their sole property. Additional causes
might be assigned, such as the communities being very small, in
which case, marriageable women would often be deficient. That the
habit was most extensively practised during former times, even by
the ancestors of civilised nations, is clearly shewn by the
preservation of many curious customs and ceremonies, of which Mr.
M'Lennan has given an interesting account. In our own marriages the
"best man" seems originally to have been the chief abettor of the
bridegroom in the act of capture. Now as long as men habitually
procured their wives through violence and craft, they would have
been glad to seize on any woman, and would not have selected the
more attractive ones. But as soon as the practice of procuring wives
from a distinct tribe was effected through barter, as now occurs in
many places, the more attractive women would generally have been
purchased. The incessant crossing, however, between tribe and tribe,
which necessarily follows from any form of this habit, would tend to
keep all the people inhabiting the same country nearly uniform in
character; and this would interfere with the power of sexual selection
in differentiating the tribes.
  The scarcity of women, consequent on female infanticide, leads,
also, to another practice, that of polyandry, still common in
several parts of the world, and which formerly, as Mr. M'Lennan
believes, prevailed almost universally: but this latter conclusion
is doubted by Mr. Morgan and Sir J. Lubbock.* Whenever two or more men
are compelled to marry one woman, it is certain that all the women
of the tribe will get married, and there will be no selection by the
men of the more attractive women. But under these circumstances the
women no doubt will have the power of choice, and will prefer the more
attractive men. Azara, for instance, describes how carefully a Guana
woman bargains for all sorts of privileges, before accepting some
one or more husbands; and the men in consequence take unusual care
of their personal appearance. So amongst the Todas of India, who
practise polyandry, the girls can accept or refuse any man.*(2) A very
ugly man in these cases would perhaps altogether fail in getting a
wife, or get one later in life; but the handsomer men, although more
successful in obtaining wives, would not, as far as we can see,
leave more offspring to inherit their beauty than the less handsome
husbands of the same women.

  * Primitive Marriage, p. 208; Sir J. Lubbock, Origin of
Civilisation, p. 100. See also Mr. Morgan, loc. cit., on the former
prevalence of polyandry.
  *(2) Azara, Voyages, &c., tom. ii., pp. 92-95; Colonel Marshall,
Amongst the Todas, p. 212.
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