The Native Tribes of North Central Australia, by Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen , at sacred-texts.com
Marriage ceremony in the northern Arunta and Ilpirra tribes—Ceremony in the southern Arunta—Ceremony in the Kaitish, Warramunga, Iliaura, Waagai, Bingongina, Walpari and Luritcha tribes—On these occasions men standing in a definite relationship to the woman have access to her—Ceremonies are of the nature of those described by Sir John Lubbock as indicative of “expiation for marriage”—To be regarded as rudimentary customs—Sexual license during corrobborees in the Arunta, Kaitish, Iliaura and Warramunga tribes—This is not, strictly speaking, the lending of wives, as it is obligatory—Feeling of sexual jealousy not strongly enough developed amongst these tribes to prevent the occurrence of general intercourse or lending of wives—The putting of a man to death for wrongful intercourse is no proof of the existence of sexual jealousy—Term lending of wives restricted to private and voluntary lending by one man to another—Discussion of certain parts of Westermarck's criticism of the theory of promiscuity so far as concerns the tribes now dealt with—Customs at marriage and at certain other times afford evidence of the former existence of a time when there existed wider marital relations than now obtain.
WHILST under ordinary circumstances in the Arunta and other tribes one man is only allowed to have marital relations with women of a particular class, there are customs which allow, at certain times, of a man having such relations with women to whom at other times he would not on any account be allowed to have access. We find, indeed, that this holds true in the case of all the nine different tribes with the marriage customs of which we are acquainted, and in which a woman becomes the private property of one man.
The following is the custom amongst the Arunta and Ilpirra tribes. When a girl arrives at marriageable age, which is usually about fourteen or fifteen, the man to whom she has been allotted speaks to his Unkulla men, and they, together with men who are Unkulla and Unawa to the girl, but not p. 93 including her future husband, take her out into the bush and there perform the operation called Atna-ariltha-kuma (atna, vulva; kuma, cut. 1 The operation is conducted with a stone knife and the operator who is, except in the southern Arunta, a man who is Ipmunna to the girl, carries with him one of the small wooden Churinga called Namatwinna with which before operating he touches the lips of the vulva, so as to prevent too great a loss of blood. When the operation has been performed, the Ipmunna, Unkulla and Unawa have access to her in the order named. This ceremony is often performed during the progress of an Altherta or ordinary corrobboree when, during the day time, the men habitually assemble at the corrobboree ground. When it is over the woman's head is decorated, by the Ipmunna man who operated, with head bands and tufts of Alpita, 2 the neck with necklaces, the arms with bands of fur string, and her body is painted all over with a mixture of fat and red ochre. Thus decorated, she is taken to the camp of her special Unawa by the men who have taken part in the ceremony and who have meanwhile painted themselves with charcoal. 3 On the day following the husband will most likely—though there is no obligation for him to do so—send her to the same men, and after that she becomes his special wife, to whom no one else has right of access; though at times a man will lend his wife to a stranger as an act of courtesy, always provided that he belongs to the right class, that is, to the same as himself. After wearing the decorations for a few days, the woman returns them to her Ipmunna man.
By reference to the tables already given, it will be clearly seen that on this occasion men of forbidden groups have access to the woman. Suppose, for example, that she is a Purula. Her proper Unawa will be a Panunga man, and such an one is normally the only one with whom she may have
marital relations. The woman's Ipmunna is an Ungalla man, that is, a man who belongs to her own moiety of the tribe; her Unkulla are Uknaria, that is, they belong to the half of her husband's class into which she may not marry. In addition to these forbidden men, there are the Unawa or men who are her lawful husbands, so far as their class is concerned, but whose general right of access to her is lost when she is allotted to some special individual amongst them.
In the southern Arunta the operation is performed by a man who is Nimmera to the woman, that is, a man of the same class as the father of her future husband. For example, if she be again a Purula the man will be a Bulthara. The ceremony is performed when a considerable number of men are together in camp, and the details vary somewhat from those in the northern part. A brother of the woman who has been told by the man that he, the latter, intends to claim his alloted Unawa takes the initiative and tells those who are not participating in the ceremony to remain in camp. Individuals who stand in the relationship to her of Mia, Oknia, Okilia, Ungaraitcha, Gammona, Ipmunna and the particular Unawa to whom she is allotted, sit down in camp, the woman being amongst them. Then a man who is Nimmera to her comes up behind, and, touching the woman on the shoulder, tells her to follow him. He goes away accompanied by perhaps two other Nimmera, one or two who are Unkulla to her, and one or two who are Unawa, that is, are of the same class as her future husband. After the ceremony has been performed, she is decorated and brought back to the camp, and told to sit down immediately behind her special Unawa whom, after a short time, she accompanies to his camp. That night he lends her to one or two men who are Unawa to her, and afterwards she belongs exclusively to him.
Amongst the Kaitish tribe the operation is performed by an Arari or elder sister of the woman, and men of the following relationship have access in the order indicated. Atmini, the equivalents of the Ipmunna amongst the Arunta; Atinkilia mothers' brothers' sons; Alkiriia and Achirri, elder and younger brothers (but not in blood); Gammona and Umbirniia the equivalent of the Unawa amongst the Arunta. It will be p. 95 seen that in the Kaitish tribe, the usual restrictions are even more notably broken than in the Arunta, for right of access is granted to men who are tribal brothers.
Amongst the Warramunga tribe the operation is performed either by a man who is Turtundi, the equivalent of Ipmunna in the Arunta, or, as amongst the Kaitish, by an elder sister. Men of the following relationship subsequently have access in the order named. Turtundi or Ipmunna; Wankili, father's sisters' sons; Papirti and Kukatcha, elder and younger brothers (not in blood); Kullakulla, the equivalents of the Unawa in the Arunta.
Amongst the Iliaura tribe the operation is performed by an Ipmunna man and the following, using the equivalent terms of the Arunta, have access in the order named; Ipmunna, Unkulla, Okilia, Itia, and Unawa.
In the Waagai and Bingongina tribes the ceremony is the same as in the Warramunga.
In the Walpari tribe the ceremony, as amongst the southern Arunta, is performed by a man who belongs to the same class as the woman's father-in-law, and is called Kulkuna; and men of the following relationship have access in the order named. Kulkuna; Thathana, the equivalents of the Ipmunna; Wankillina or mothers' brothers' sons; Papertina and Kukernina, elder and younger brothers; and Kullakulla, the equivalents of the Unawa of the Arunta.
In the Luritcha tribe the operation is performed by a man who is Sthamu to the woman, that is, grandfather on the father's side; and men of the following relationship have access in the order named—Sthamu; Watchira, mothers' brothers' sons; Ukari, sisters' sons; Kuri, the equivalents of the Unawa of the Arunta.
It will be seen that in the nine tribes referred to there is a substantial agreement in the ceremonies concerned with marriage. It must of course be understood that they refer to the marriage of men and women who have been allotted to one another in one or other of the various ways which obtain amongst the tribes dealt with. In all these tribes we find that individual marriage exists, though in none of them is there a special term applied to the special wife, apart from the p. 96 general one given in common to her and other women of her group whom it is lawful for a man to marry and outside of whom he may not marry.
In each tribe, again, we find at this particular time when a woman is being, so to speak, handed over to one particular man, that special individuals representing groups with which at ordinary times she may have no intercourse, have the right of access to her. In the majority of tribes, even tribal brothers are included amongst them. The individuals who are thus privileged vary from tribe to tribe, but in all cases the striking feature is that, for the time being, the existence of what can only be described as partial promiscuity can clearly be seen. By this we do not mean that marital rights are allowed to any man, but that for a time such rights are allowed to individuals to whom at other times the woman is ekirinja, or forbidden. The ceremonies in question are of the nature of those which Sir John Lubbock has described as indicative of “expiation for marriage,” and it is at least very probable that the customs are to be regarded as pointing back to the former existence of an exercise of wider marital rights than those which now obtain in the various tribes. They may in fact be best described as rudimentary customs in just the same way in which we speak of rudimentary structures amongst animals and plants. Just also as the latter are regarded as representative of parts which were once functional in ancestral forms, so also may we regard these rudimentary customs as lingering relics of a former stage passed through in the development of the present social organisation of the various tribes in which they are found.
In addition to the ceremonies which are concerned with marriage, there is another custom of somewhat the same nature, to which reference may be made here. In the eastern and north-eastern parts of the Arunta, and in the Kaitish Iliaura, and Warramunga tribes, considerable license is allowed on certain occasions, when a large number of men and women are gathered together to perform certain corrobborees. When an important one of these is held, it occupies perhaps ten days or a fortnight; and during that time the men, and especially the elder ones, but by no means exclusively p. 97 these, spend the day in camp preparing decorations to be used during the evening. Every day two or three women are told off to attend at the corrobboree ground, and, with the exception of men who stand in the relation to them of actual father, brother, or sons, they are, for the time being, common property to all the men present on the corrobboree ground. In the Arunta tribe the following is exactly what takes place: a man goes to another who is actually or tribally his son-in-law, that is, one who stands to him in the relationship of Gammona, and says to the latter: “You will take my Unawa into the bush 1 and bring in with you some undattha altherta” (down used for decorating during ordinary corrobborees). The Gammona then goes away, followed by the woman who has been previously told what to do by her husband. This woman is actually Mura to the Gammona, that is, one to whom under ordinary circumstances he may not even speak or go near, much less have anything like marital relations with. After the two have been out in the bush they return to the camp, the man carrying undattha and the woman following with green twigs, which the men will wear during the evening dance, tied round their arms and ankles. There will be perhaps two or three of these women present on each day, and to them any man present on the ground, except those already mentioned, may have access. During the day they sit near to the men watching but taking no part in the preparation of decorations. The natives say that their presence during the preparations and the sexual indulgence, which was a practice of the Alcheringa, prevents anything from going wrong with the performance; it makes it impossible for the head decorations, for example, to become loose and disordered during the performance. At evening the women are painted with red ochre by the men, and then they return to the main camp to summon the women and children to the corrobboree.
In connection with this subject, a curious custom concerned with messengers may be noticed here. In the case of the Urabunna tribe it is usual to send as messengers, when
summoning distant groups, a man and a woman, or sometimes two pairs, who are Piraungaru to each other. The men carry as evidence of their mission bunches of cockatoo feathers and nose bones. After the men have delivered their message and talked matters over with the strangers, they take the women out a short distance from the camp, where they leave them. If the members of the group which they are visiting decide to comply with their request, all men irrespective of class have access to the women; but, if it be decided not to comply with the request, then the latter are not visited. In much the same way, when a party of men intent on vengeance comes near to the strange camp of which they intend to kill some member, the use of women may be offered to them. If they be accepted, then the quarrel is at an end, as the acceptance of this favour is a sign of friendship. To accept the favour and then not to comply with the desire of the people offering it, would be a gross breach of tribal custom.
So far, then, as the marital relations of the tribes are concerned, we find that whilst there is individual marriage, there are, in actual practice, occasions on which the relations are of a much wider nature. We have, indeed, in this respect three very distinct series of relationships. The first is the normal one, when the woman is the private property of one man, and no one without his consent can have access to her, though he may lend her privately to certain individuals who stand in one given relationship to her. The second is the wider relation in regard to particular men at the time of marriage. The third is the still wider relation which obtains on certain occasions, such as the holding of important corrobborees.
The first of these is purely a private matter, and it is only to this that the term lending of wives can be properly applied, and to it we restrict the term in the following pages. The second and third are what we may call matters of public nature, by which we mean that the individuals concerned have no choice in the matter, and the women cannot be withheld by the men whose individual wives they either are to be, or already are.
In the case of the women who attend the corrobboree, it is supposed to be the duty of every man at different times p. 99 to send his wife to the ground, and the most striking feature in regard to it is that the first man who has access to her is the very one to whom, under normal conditions, she is most strictly tabu, that is, her Mura. This definite way of breaking through the rules of tabu appears to show that the custom has some very definite significance more than can be explained by merely referring it to a feeling of hospitality, and the fact that every man in turn is obliged by public custom to thus relinquish, for the time being, his possession of the woman who has been allotted to him, strengthens the idea. At the same time, as young and old men alike have to do so at some time or other, it is impossible to regard it as a right which is forcibly taken by strong men from weaker ones. It is a custom of ancient date which is sanctioned by public opinion, and to the performance of which neither men nor women concerned offer any opposition.
In connection with this, it may be worth while noting that amongst the Australian natives with whom we have come in contact, the feeling of sexual jealousy is not developed to anything like the extent to which it would appear to be in many other savage tribes. For a man to have unlawful intercourse with any woman arouses a feeling which is due not so much to jealousy as to the fact that the delinquent has infringed a tribal custom. If the intercourse has been with a woman who belongs to the class from which his wife comes, then he is called atna nylkna (which, literally translated, is vulva-thief); if with one with whom it is unlawful for him to have intercourse, then he is called iturka, the most opprobrious term in the Arunta tongue. In the one case he has merely stolen property, in the other he has offended against tribal law.
Now and again sexual jealousy as between a man and woman will come into play, but as a general rule this is a feeling which is undoubtedly subservient to that of the influence of tribal custom, so far as the latter renders it obligatory for a man to allow other men, at certain times, to have free access to his wife, or so far as it directs him to lend his wife to some other individual as a mark of personal favour to the latter.
Whilst jealousy is not unknown amongst these tribes, the point of importance in respect to the matter under discussion is that it is not strongly enough developed to prevent the occurrence of general intercourse on certain occasions, or the lending of wives at other times; it is, indeed, a factor which need not be taken into serious account in regard to the question of sexual relations amongst the Central Australian tribes. A man in these tribes may be put to death for wrongful intercourse, but at the same time this is no proof of the fact that sexual jealousy exists; it is a serious offence against tribal laws, and its punishment has no relation to the feelings of the individual.
We may now pass on to discuss briefly the customs relating to marriage which have already been enumerated, and in so doing, as we have often to refer to the lending of wives, it must be remembered that we use this term only as applying to the private lending of a woman to some other individual by the man to whom she has been allotted, and do not refer to the custom at corrobborees which has just been dealt with, and which, as it is in reality obligatory and not optional, cannot be regarded as a lending in the same sense in which the term is used in connection with the former custom.
In his well-known work dealing with human marriage, Westermarck 1 has brought together, from various sources, facts relating to similar customs, and, while discussing the hypothesis of promiscuity from an adverse point of view, has endeavoured to explain them as due to various causes. These we may conveniently discuss, examining each briefly in the endeavour to ascertain whether it will or will not serve to explain the marriage customs as we find them in Australian tribes, of which those quoted above may be taken as typical examples. It must be understood that we are here simply dealing with this question so far as the evidence derived from these Australian tribes is concerned.
The first explanation offered is that in certain instances the practice is evidently associated with phallic worship, as, for example, when in the valley of the Ganges, the virgins had to offer themselves up in the temples of Juggernaut. This
implies a state of social development very different from, and much more advanced than, anything met with amongst the Australian natives, and the two customs are evidently quite distinct from one another. It is doubtful how far phallic worship can be said to exist amongst the Australian natives.
In other cases where the bride is for a night considered the common property of the guests at a wedding feast, Westermarck suggests that “It may have been a part of the nuptial entertainment—a horrible kind of hospitality no doubt, but quite in accordance with savage ideas, and analogous to another custom which occurs much more frequently—I mean the practice of lending wives.” This presupposes, and in fact is co-existent with, what does not take place in Australian tribes, and that is a more or less regular marriage ceremony at which guests assemble, and such an organised proceeding cannot be said to exist amongst the tribes with which we are dealing; moreover, apart from this, which is not perhaps a very serious objection, though it seems to imply a state of development considerably in advance of that of the Australian natives, there still remains what appears to us to be the insuperable difficulty of accounting, on this hypothesis, for the fact that this “hospitality” amongst Australian tribes is only allowed to a limited number of individuals, all of whom must stand in some particular relationship to the woman.
Westermarck further suggests that it is analogous to the custom of lending wives. Now, amongst the Australian natives wives are certainly lent, but only under strict rules; in the Arunta tribe for example no man will lend his wife to any one who does not belong to the particular group with which it is lawful for her to have marital relations—she is in fact, only lent to a man whom she calls Unawa, just as she calls her own husband, and though this may undoubtedly be spoken of as an act of hospitality, it may with equal justice be regarded as evidence of the very clear recognition of group relationship, and as evidence also in favour of the former existence of group marriage.
It is quite true, on the other hand, that a native will sometimes offer his wife, as an act of hospitality, to a white man; but this has nothing to do with the lending of wives which p. 102 has just been dealt with, and the difference between the two acts is of a radical nature. The white man stands outside the laws which govern the native tribe, and therefore to lend him a wife of any designation does not imply the infringement of any custom. This is purely and simply, as Westermarck points out, an act of hospitality, but the very fact that he will only lend his wife, if he does so at all, to another native of a particular designation, seems to at once imply that we are dealing with a custom at the root of which lies something much more than merely an idea of hospitality. The lending of women to men outside the tribe who are not amenable to its laws and customs is one thing, to lend them to men who are members of the tribe is quite another thing, and the respective origins of the customs in these two radically different cases are probably totally distinct—one is no doubt to be explained on the hypothesis of hospitality, the other is not. The hypothesis of hospitality does not, in short, appear to us to be capable of explaining the fact that both at marriage and at certain other times, it is only particular men who are allowed access to particular women. 1
A third hypothesis suggested to account for certain customs such as the “jus primae noctis,” accorded to chiefs and particular individuals, is that “it may be a right taken forcibly by the stronger, or it may be a privilege voluntarily given to the chief man as a mark of esteem; in either case it depends upon his authority.” 2 It will be generally admitted that here again no such explanation will account for the customs as met with amongst Australian tribes. In the first place, while the elder men are undoubtedly accorded certain privileges, there is not in any Australian tribe any one individual
to whom the term chief can, with strict propriety, be applied, and in the second place the privilege with which we are dealing is by no means enjoyed wholly by the elder men. 1 Unless the leading man in any group stands in a particular relationship to the woman, he has no more right of access to her than the most insignificant man in the group.
A fourth hypothesis is suggested in connection with the right of access granted to men who have assisted the bridegroom in the capture of the woman. “In such cases the ‘jus primae noctis’ is a reward for a good turn done, or perhaps, as Mr. McLennan suggests, a common war right, exercised by the captors of the woman.” 2 There is undoubtedly much to be said in favour of this, but there are objections applying to it as to the second hypothesis dealt with. In the first place, so far as Australia is concerned, it is founded upon such vague statements as that quoted by Brough Smyth upon the authority of Mr. J. M. Davis. 3 Mr. Davis says, “when a young man is entitled to have a lubra, he organises a party of his friends, and they make a journey into the territories of some other tribe, and there lie in wait, generally in the evening, by a waterhole, where the lubras come for water. Such of the lubras as may be required are then pounced upon, and, if they attempt to make any resistance, are struck down insensible and dragged off. There is also this peculiarity, that in any instance where the abduction has taken place for the benefit of some one individual, each of the members of the party claims, as a right, a privilege which the intended husband has no power to refuse.”
Before it is safe, or indeed possible, to draw any conclusion from this, we require to know exactly who the men were, that is in what relationship they stood to the man whom
they were assisting. The more detailed is the information acquired in respect to the Australian tribes, the more clearly is it made apparent that on expeditions such as this, when the object in view is the obtaining of a wife, the man only asks the assistance of men who stand in certain definite relationships to himself. It does not at all follow, that, because a man forms a member of a party which captures a woman, he is therefore allowed to have access to her. In the tribes which we have investigated, marriage customs regulate the whole proceedings; the equivalent classes in the tribes are well known and, supposing for example, a party consists of men belonging to two classes, which we will call A and B, and a woman is captured belonging, say, to a third class C, which intermarries with Class A, but not with Class B, then no man in the party, if there be any such present, who belongs to Class B will be allowed, or will attempt, to have access to her. When we have merely such general statements as that quoted above from the report of Mr. Davis, it may look very much as if there did exist such a thing as “a common war-right, exercised by the captors of a woman,” but the more detailed our information becomes, the less evidence of any such “common war-right” do we find, and in the Australian tribes generally it may be regarded as very doubtful if any such right really exists. Amongst the tribes with which we are acquainted it certainly does not.
Marriage by capture is again, at the present day, whatever it may have been in the past, by no means the rule in Australian tribes, and too much stress has been laid upon this method. It is only comparatively rarely that a native goes and seizes upon some lubra in a neighbouring tribe; by far the most common method of getting a wife is by means of an arrangement made between brothers or fathers of the respective men and women, whereby a particular woman is assigned to a particular man. Marriage by capture may indeed be regarded as one of the most exceptional methods of obtaining a wife amongst the natives at the present day. We are not of course referring here to customs which may, in many tribes, be explained as indicative of a former existence of the practice; whether, in the remote past, p. 105 capture was the prevailing method can only be a matter of conjecture, but the customs at marriage in the tribes here dealt with—and it may be pointed out that these occupy a very large area in the centre of the continent, so that we are by no means dealing with an isolated example—do not seem to indicate that they owe their origin to anything like the recognition of the right of captor, as captor.
The fifth hypothesis is that of promiscuity. Certainly at the present day, so far as we can tell, there is some definite system of marriage in all Australian tribes and promiscuity, as a normal feature, does not exist. At the same time none of the hypotheses put forward by Westermarck will serve to explain the curious and very strongly marked features of the marriage customs, the essential points in which are, (1) that men have access to women who are strictly forbidden to them at ordinary times, and (2) that it is only certain definite men standing in-certain particular relationships to the woman who thus have access.
To make use of the same analogy again, it seems that in the evolution of the social organisation and customs of a savage tribe, such features as those which we are now discussing are clearly comparable to the well known rudimentary organs, which are often of great importance in understanding the phylogeny of the animal in which at some time of its development they are present. Such rudimentary structures are emblematic of parts which are perhaps only transient or, at most, imperfectly developed in the animal, but their presence shows that they were, at some past time, more highly developed and functional in ancestral stages.
It is thus perhaps permissible to speak of “rudimentary customs,” in just the same way, and with just the same significance attached to them, in which we speak of “rudimentary organs” and we may recognise in them an abbreviated record of a stage passed through in the development of the customs of the tribe amongst which they are found. 1 Such
rudimentary customs, like those which are associated with the Maypole for example, point back to a time when they were more highly developed than they are at present, and when the customs were more or less widely different from those now prevailing.
The origin of the marriage customs of the tribes now dealt with cannot possibly, so it seems to us, be explained as due either to a feeling of hospitality, or to the right of captors; nor can they be explained, as in certain cases the “jus primae noctis” can, as a right forcibly taken by the stronger from the weaker. There can be no reasonable doubt but that at one time the marriage arrangements of the Australian tribes were in a more primitive state than they are at the present day, and the customs with which we are dealing can be most simply explained as rudimentary ones serving, possibly in a very abbreviated way, to show the former existence of conditions which are no longer prevalent.
In regard to the marriage customs of the tribes now dealt with, we have the following facts. In the first place we have a group of women who are, what is called Unawa, to a group of men and vice versa, that is, all of these men and women are reciprocally marriageable. This, it may be observed, is not a matter of assumption but of actual fact. In the Arunta tribe for example a Panunga man will call the Purula whom he actually marries Unawa, but he has no name to distinguish her from all the other Purula women whom he does not actually marry, but any one of whom he might lawfully marry. 1 Further than this, while he has no actual right of access to any woman, except his own special Unawa woman or women, there are times, as, for example, during special ceremonies, or when he is visiting a distant group, when a woman is lent to him, but that woman must be one who is
Unawa to him. In other words, we have individual marriage in which a man is limited in his choice to women of a particular group, each one of whom stands to him in the relationship of a possible wife, and with whom it is lawful for him, with the consent of her special Unawa man, to have marital relations. However hospitably inclined a man may feel, he will never lend his wife to a man who does not belong to a group of men to each of whom she stands in the relationship of Unawa or possible wife. A Panunga man may lend his wife to another Panunga, but for a man of any other class to have marital relations with her would be a gross offence.
In the second place, we have certain customs concerned with marriage which are of what we may call a transient nature. Taking the Kaitish tribe as an example, we find that, when marriage actually takes place, the operation of Atna-ariltha-kuma is performed by the elder sister of the woman, and that men of the following relationship have access to her in the order named: Ipmunna, that is individuals of the same moiety of the tribe as her own; mothers' brothers' sons; tribal elder and younger brothers; and lastly, men whom she might lawfully marry, but who have no right to her when once she becomes the property of a member of the group to which they belong. By referring to the tables already given, it will be seen that these men, if we take a particular example, say a Panunga woman, are Ungalla, Uknaria, Purula and Panunga. In other words, both men of her own, and of the moiety of the tribe to which she does not belong, have access to her, but only for a very limited time, and the same holds true in the case of all the tribes examined.
It will therefore be seen that (1) for a given time a woman has marital relations with men of both moieties of the tribe, and (2) that she may during her life, when once she has become the special wife of some individual man, have lawfully, but dependent always upon the consent of the latter, marital relations with any of the group of men to each and all of whom she stands in the relationship of Unawa.
These are the actual facts with which we have to deal, and the only possible explanation of them appears to us to lie p. 108 along the following lines. We are here of course only dealing with those tribes in which descent is counted in the male line, the remaining tribe—the Urabunna—in which descent is counted in the female line, will be referred to subsequently. It appears to us that, in the present customs relating to marriage amongst this section of the Australian natives, we have clear evidence of three grades of development. We have (1) the present normal condition of individual marriage with the occasional existence of marital relations between the individual wife and other men of the same group as that to which her husband belongs, and the occasional existence also of still wider marital relations; (2) we have evidence of the existence at a prior time of actual group marriage; and (3) we have evidence of the existence at a still earlier time of still wider marital relations.
The evidence in favour of the hypothesis, that the present marriage system of such a tribe as the Arunta is based upon the former actual existence of group marriage, seems to us to be incontestable. The one most striking point in regard to marriage at the present day is that a man of one group is absolutely confined in his choice of a wife to women of a particular group, and that it is lawful for him to marry any woman of that group. When once he has secured a woman she is his private property, but he may, and often does, lend her to other men, but only if they belong to his own group. Further still, the natives have two distinct words to denote on the one hand surreptitious connection between a man and a woman who is not his own wife, but belongs to the proper group from which his wife comes, and, on the other hand, connection between a man and a woman belonging to forbidden groups. The first is called Atna-nylkna, the second is Iturka. In the face of the facts which have been brought forward, we see no possible explanation other than that the present system is derived from an earlier one in which the essential feature was actual group marriage.
When we turn to the Urabunna tribe we find the evidence still clearer. Here we have only two classes, viz., Matthurie and Kirarawa. A Matthurie man marries a Kirarawa woman, and vice versa. There is no such thing as an
individual wife. Every Matthurie man stands in the relationship of Nupa to a group of Kirarawa women, and they are, in the same way, Nupa to him. Every man has, or at least may have, one or more of these Nupa women allotted to him as wives, and to whom he has the first but not the exclusive right of access. To certain Nupa women other than his own wives he stands in the relationship of Piraungaru, and they to him. These Piraungaru are the wives of other men of his own group, just as his own wives are Piraungaru to some of the latter men, and we thus find in the Urabunna tribe that a group of women actually have marital relations with a group of men. Westermarck 1 has referred in his work to what he calls “the pretended group-marriages” of the Australians. In the case of the Urabunna there is no pretence of any kind, and exactly the same remark holds true of the neighbouring Dieri tribe.
The matter can be expressed clearly in the form of a diagram used by Mr. Fison in explaining the marriage system of the Dieri tribe: 2
It must be remembered, of course, that any one woman may be Piraungaru to a larger number of men than the two who are represented in the diagram. The relation of Piraungaru is established between any woman and men to whom she is Nupa—that is, to whom she may be lawfully married
by her Nuthie or elder brothers. If a group be camped together, and, as a matter of fact groups of individuals who are Piraungaru to one another do usually camp together, then in the case of F1, her special Nupa man M1 has the first right to her, but if he be absent then M2 and M3 have the right to her; or, if M1 be present, the two have the right to her subject to his consent, which is practically never withheld.
It is difficult to see how this system can be regarded otherwise than as an interesting stage in the transition from group to individual marriage. Each woman has one special individual who has the first right of access to her, but she has also a number of individuals of the same group who have a right to her either, if the first man be present, with his consent or, in his absence, without any restriction whatever.
In this tribe, just as in all the others, connection with women of the wrong group is a most serious offence, punishable by death or very severe treatment.
The evidence in favour of the third grade, that is the existence of wider marital relations than those indicated by the form of group marriage which has just been discussed, is naturally more indefinite and difficult to deal with. Westermarck, after having discussed at length the hypothesis of promiscuity, says: 1 “Having now examined all the groups of social phenomena adduced as evidence for the hypothesis of promiscuity, we have found that, in point of fact, they are no evidence. Not one of the customs alleged as relics of an ancient state of indiscriminate cohabitation of the sexes or ‘communal marriage’ presupposes the former existence of that state,” and further on he says: 2 “It is not, of course, impossible that, among some people, intercourse between the sexes may have been almost promiscuous. But there is not a shred of genuine evidence for the notion that promiscuity ever formed a general stage in the social history of mankind.”
It need scarcely be pointed out how totally opposed this conclusion of Mr. Westermarck's is to that arrived at by other workers, and we think there can be little doubt but that Mr. Westermarck is in error with regard to the question of group marriage amongst the Australian natives.
We are here simply concerned with the question as to whether there is any evidence in favour of the supposition that in former times there existed wider marital relations amongst the Australian natives than is indicated in the system of group marriage, the evidence in favour of which has been dealt with. If any were forthcoming, there can be little doubt but that, a priori, we should expect to find it in the nature of what we have called a rudimentary custom, such as might be met with at the actual time of marriage, that is, when a woman is handed over to become the possession of one man. None of the hypotheses brought forward by Westermarck to explain the customs on this occasion can, we think, be considered as at all satisfactory in regard to those of the tribes with which we are dealing. The one striking feature of the marriage customs is that particular men representative of the woman's own moiety, and of the half of the tribe to which she does not belong, have access to her, and always in a particular order, according to which those who, in the present state of the tribe, have lawfully the right to her come last.
These customs, together with the one already dealt with, referring to a general intercourse during the performance of certain corrobborees are, it appears to us, only capable of any satisfactory explanation on the hypothesis that they indicate the temporary recognition of certain general rights which existed in the time prior to that of the form of group marriage of which we have such clear traces yet lingering amongst the tribes. We do not mean that they afford direct evidence of the former existence of actual promiscuity, but they do afford evidence leading in that direction, and they certainly point back to a time when there existed wider marital relations than obtain at the present day—wider, in fact, than those which are shown in the form of group marriage from which the present system is derived. On no other hypothesis yet advanced do the customs connected with marriage, which are so consistent in their general nature and leading features from tribe to tribe, appear to us to be capable of satisfactory explanation.
93:1 As this ceremony has important bearings upon the question now under discussion, it is dealt with here; but it must be remembered that it is, strictly speaking, an initiation ceremony, equivalent in the case of woman to that of sub-incision or pura-ariltha-kuma amongst the men.
93:2 Alpita is the name given to the tail tips of the rabbit-bandicoot (Peragale lagotis): they are constantly used for personal decoration.
93:3 It is worth noting that charcoal is specially used for decorative purposes, firstly in connection with magic, and secondly in connection with avenging parties.
97:1 The bush is a term used in Australia to denote country more or less covered with a growth of natural trees and shrubs.
100:1 The History of Human Marriage, pp. 51–133.
102:1 It may perhaps be advisable to point out that in many cases in which apparently women are lent (in the sense in which we use the word, which is the sense in which it is generally used in this connection) indiscriminately, a knowledge of details would show that this was not so. In regard to Australian tribes it is very difficult, in most cases, to find out anything like exact details from accounts already published, and general statements such as that a party of men have the privilege of access to a woman are valueless unless we know the exact conditions or relative status of the individual men and the woman. In the nine tribes examined by us we have found that intercourse of this nature is strictly regulated by custom.
102:2 Westermarck, op. cit., p. 78.
103:1 The term chief or even king of a tribe is not seldom used in writings of a somewhat popular nature, which deal with Australia. Travellers will often find in up-country parts a native of appropriate age decorated with a brass plate whereon is inscribed some such legend as “King Billy, chief of the Gurraburra tribe.” The individual in question may possibly have been, though it is just as likely that he was not, the head of a local group or even tribe, but the natives have no term which can be correctly rendered by the word “chief.”
103:2 Westermarck, op. cit., p. 76.
103:3 Aborigines of Victoria, vol. ii., p. 316.
105:1 Since the above was written we have seen the essays by Professor Karl Pearson dealing with the same subject, in his work The Chances of Death. In these Mr. Pearson has used the term “fossil,” but though the term “rudimentary custom” has the disadvantage of length, we prefer to retain it as it appears to us to draw attention to a striking analogy.
106:1 By lawfully marry we mean that though the woman may be betrothed to another man, he would not break any tribal law by marrying her. If the woman belonged to a different local group from his own, and he obtained her by one of the recognised methods of charming, then the members of his own group would assist him in retaining her, whereas if he obtained by charming any woman of a forbidden class, then, not only would he receive no help from his own group, but they would either put him to death themselves, or else they would request some neighbouring group to do so.
109:1 Op. cit., p. 95, footnote.
109:2 Classificatory System of Relationship, Bril. Ass. Adv. Sci., Oxford, 1894, p. 360.
110:1 Op. cit., p. 113.
110:2 Op. cit., p. 133.