Kinship Organisations and Group Marriage in Australia
by Northcote W. Thomas
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[] Dagger symbol [] Double dagger symbol ['] Open single quote, used within a word ī i with macron ō o with macron ṣ s with dot below ū u with macron ŭ u with breve [alpha] Greek letter alpha [beta] Greek letter beta

This text has many tables, which are best viewed using a fixed-width font.

Table I a and the Arunta: Eight-class Table were printed on fold-out pages. These have been split into sections (3 and 2 sections, respectively) to fit within the display boundaries.

The original book had a number of words with inconsistant hyphenation or spelling, as well as a small number of typographical errors. These have been maintained in this version. The inconsistencies and errors are detailed at the end of the present text. ————————————————————————————————————

The Cambridge Archaeological and Ethnological Series is supervised by an Editorial Committee consisting of WILLIAM RIDGEWAY, M.A., F.B.A., Disney Professor of Archaeology, A.C. HADDON, Sc.D., F.R.S., University Lecturer in Ethnology, M.R. JAMES, Litt. D., F.B.A., Provost of King's College and C. WALDSTEIN, Litt. D., Slade Professor of Fine Art.







NORTHCOTE W. THOMAS, M.A. Diplome de l'Ecole des Hautes-Etudes, Corresponding Member of the Societe d'Anthropologie de Paris, etc.

CAMBRIDGE: at the University Press 1906



Leipzig: F.A. BROCKHAUS. New York: G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS. Bombay and Calcutta: MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD.

[All Rights reserved.]



It is becoming an axiom in anthropology that what is needed is not discursive treatment of large subjects but the minute discussion of special themes, not a ranging at large over the peoples of the earth past and present, but a detailed examination of limited areas. This work I am undertaking for Australia, and in the present volume I deal briefly with some of the aspects of Australian kinship organisations, in the hope that a survey of our present knowledge may stimulate further research on the spot and help to throw more light on many difficult problems of primitive sociology.

We have still much to learn of the relations of the central tribes and their organisations to the less elaborately studied Anula and Mara. I have therefore passed over the questions discussed by Dr Durkheim. We have still more to learn as to the descent of the totem, the relation of totem-kin, class and phratry, and the like; totemism is therefore treated only incidentally in the present work, and lack of knowledge compels me to pass over many other interesting questions.

The present volume owes much to Mr Andrew Lang. He has read twice over both my typescript MS, and my proofs; in the detection of ambiguities and the removal of obscurities he has rendered my readers a greater service than any bald statement will convey; for his aid in the matter of terminology, for his criticisms of ideas already put forward and for his many pregnant suggestions, but inadequately worked out in the present volume. I am under the deepest obligations to him; and no mere formal expression of thanks will meet the case. I have been more than fortunate in securing aid from Mr Lang in a subject which he has made his own.

I do not for a moment suppose that the information here collected is exhaustive. If any one should be in a position to supplement or correct my facts or to enlighten me in any way as to the ideas and customs of the blacks I shall be obliged if he will tell me all he knows about them and their ways. Letters may be addressed to me c/o the Anthropological Institute, 3 Hanover Sq., W.


BUNTINGFORD, Sept. 11th, 1906.








Social Organisation. Associations in the lower stages of culture. Consanguinity and Kinship. The Tribe. Kinship groups: totem kins; phratries Pages 1-11



Descent of Kinship, origin and primitive form. Matriliny in Australia. Relation to potestas, position of widow, etc. Change of rule of descent; relation to potestas, inheritance and local organisation 12-28



Definitions: tribe, sub-tribe, local group, phratry, class, totem kin. "Blood" and "shade." Kamilaroi type. History of Research in Australia. General sketch 29-40



TABLES I, I a. Class Names 42, 47

TABLE II. Phratry Names 48

TABLE III. Comparison of "blood" and phratry names 50

TABLE IV. Relations of Class and phratry organisations 51



The Phratriac Areas. Borrowing of Names. Their Meanings. Antiquity of Phratry Names. Eaglehawk Myths. Racial Conflicts. Intercommunication. Tribal Migrations 52-62



Mr Lang's theory and its basis. Borrowing of phratry names. Split groups. The Victorian area. Totems and phratry names. Reformation theory of phratriac origin 63-70



Classes later than Phratries. Anomalous Phratry Areas. Four-class Systems. Borrowing of Names. Eight-class System. Resemblances and Differences of Names. Place of Origin. Formative Elements of the Names: Suffixes, Prefixes. Meanings of the Class Names 71-85



Effect of classes. Dr Durkheim's Theory of Origin. Origin in grouping of totems. Dr Durkheim on origin of eight classes. Herr Cunow's theory of classes 86-92



Descriptive and classificatory systems. Kinship terms of Wathi-Wathi, Ngerikudi-speaking people and Arunta. Essential features. Urabunna. Dieri. Distinction of elder and younger 93-101



Terminology of Sociology. Marriage. Classification of Types. Hypothetical and existing forms 102-109



Passage from Promiscuity. Reformatory Movements. Incest. Relative harmfulness of such unions. Natural aversion. Australian facts 110-118



Mother and Child. Kurnai terms. Dieri evidence. Noa. Group Mothers. Classification and descriptive terms. Poverty of language. Terms express status. The savage view natural 119-126



Theories of group marriage. Meaning of group. Dieri customs. Tippa-malku marriage. Obscure points. Pirrauru. Obscure points. Relation of pirrauru to tippa-malku unions. Kurnandaburi. Wakelbura customs. Kurnai organisation. Position of widow. Piraungaru of Urabunna. Pirrauru and group marriage. Pirrauru not a survival. Result of scarcity of women. Duties of Pirrauru spouses. Piraungaru; obscure points 127-141



Wife lending. Initiation ceremonies. Jus primae noctis. Punishment for adultery. Ariltha of central tribes. Group marriage unproven 142-149



Decay of class rules in South-East. Descent in Central Tribes. "Bloods" and "Castes" 150-152


* * * * *


PAGE I. Rule of Descent 40 II. Class Organisations to follow 40 III. Phratry Organisations " 40


Class Names of Eight-Class Tribes between pp. 46 and 47


1. Allgemeine Missionszeitschrift. Gutersloh, 1874 etc., 8^o.

2. American Anthropologist. Washington, 1888 etc., 8^o.

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5. Das Ausland. Munich, 1828-1893, 4^o.

6. Bulletins of North Queensland Ethnography. Brisbane, 1901 etc., fol.

7. BUNCE, D., Australasiatic Reminiscences of Twenty-three Years Wanderings. Melbourne, 1857, 8^o.

8. Colonial Magazine. London, 1840-1842, 8^o.

9. CUNOW, H., Die Verwandtschaftsorganisationen der Australneger. Leipzig, 1894, 8^o.

10. CURR, E.M., The Australian Race. 4 vols., London, 1886, 8^o and fol.

11. DAWSON, J., Australian Aborigines. Melbourne, 1881, 4^o.

12. FISON, L. and HOWITT, A.W., Kamilaroi and Kurnai. Melbourne, 1880, 8^o.

13. Folklore. London, 1892 etc., 8^o.

14. Fortnightly Review. London, 1865-1889, 8^o.

15. FRAZER, J.G., Totemism. Edinburgh, 1887, 8^o.

16. GERSTAECKER, F., Reisen von F. Gerstaecker. 5 vols., Stuttgart, 1853-4, 8^o.

17. Globus. Hildburghausen etc., 1863 etc., 4^o.

18. GREY, Sir G., Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North-West and West Australia. 2 vols., London, 1841, 8^o.

19. GRIBBLE, J.B., Black but Comely. London, 1874, 8^o.

20. HODGSON, C.P., Reminiscences of Australia. London, 1846, 12^o.

21. HOWITT, A.W., Native Tribes of South-East Australia. London, 1904, 8^o.

22. Internationales Archiv fur Ethnographie. Leyden, 1888 etc., 4^o.

23. Journal of the Anthropological Institute. London, 1871 sq., 8^o.

24. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. London, 1832-1880, 8^o.

25. Journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales. Sydney, 1877 etc., 8^o.

26. Journals of Several Expeditions in West Australia. London, 1833, 12^o.

27. LAHONTAN, H. DE, Voyages. Amsterdam, 1705, 12^o.

28. LANG, A. and ATKINSON, J., Social Origins; Primal Law. London, 1903, 8^o.

29. LANG, A., Secret of the Totem. London, 1905, 8^o.

30. LEICHARDT, F.W.L., Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia. London, 1848, 8^o.

31. LUMHOLTZ, C., Among Cannibals. London, 1889, 8^o.

32. MACLENNAN, J.F., Studies in Ancient History. 2nd Series, London, 1886, 8^o.

33. Man. London, 1901 sq., 8^o.

34. MATHEW, J., Eaglehawk and Crow. London, 1898, 8^o.

35. MATHEWS, R.H., Ethnological Notes. Sydney, 1905, 8^o.

36. Mitteilungen des Seminars fur orientalische Sprachen. Berlin, 1898 etc., 8^o.

37. Mitteilungen des Vereins fur Erdkunde. Halle, 1877-1892, 8^o.

38. MOORE, G.F., Descriptive Vocabulary of the Language in Common Use among the Aborigines of Western Australia. London, 1842, 8^o.

39. MORGAN, Lewis H., Ancient Society. New York, 1877, 8^o.

40. NEW, C., Travels. London, 1854, 8^o.

41. OWEN, Mary A., The Musquakie Indians. London, 1905, 8^o.

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49. Reports of the Cambridge University Expedition to Torres Straits. Cambridge, 1903 etc., 4^o.

50. ROTH, W.E., Ethnological Studies. Brisbane, 1898, 8^o.

51. SCHUeRMANN, C.W., Vocabulary of the Parnkalla Language. Adelaide, 1844, 8^o.

52. Science of Man. Sydney, 1898 etc., 4^o.

53. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge. Washington, 1848 etc. 4^o.

54. SPENCER, B. and GILLEN, F.J., Native Tribes of Central Australasia. London, 1898, 8^o.

55. SPENCER, B. and GILLEN, F.J., Northern Tribes of Central Australia. London, 1904, 8^o.

56. STOKES, J.L., Discoveries in Australia. 2 vols., London, 1846, 8^o.

57. TAPLIN, G., Folklore, Manners, Customs and Language of the South Australian Aborigines. Adelaide, 1878, 8^o.

58. Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of South Australia. Adelaide, 1878 etc., 8^o.

59. VAN GENNEP, A., Mythes et Legendes. Paris, 1906, 8^o.

60. West Australian. Perth, 1886 etc., fol.

61. WESTERMARCK, E., History of Human Marriage. 3rd Edition, London, 1901, 8^o.

62. Wiener Medicinische Wochenschrift. Vienna, 1851 etc., 4^o.

63. WILSON, T.B., Narrative of a Voyage round the World. London, 1835, 8^o.

64. Zeitschrift fur vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft. Stuttgart, 1878 etc., 8^o.


Allg. Miss. Zts., 1 Am. Anth., 2 Am. Phil. Soc., 44 Ann. Soc., 3 Aust. Ass. Adv. Sci., 45 Col. Mag., 8 C.T., 54 Ethn. Notes, 35 Fort. Rev., 14 J.A.I., 23 J.R.G.S., 24 J.R.S.N.S.W., 25 J.R.S. Vict., 48 Nat. Tr., 54 Nor. Tr., 55 N.Q. Ethn. Bull., 6 N.T., 21 Proc. Am. Phil. Soc., 44 Proc. R.G.S. Qn., 46 Proc. R.S. Vict., 48 R.G.S. Qn., 47 Sci. Man, 52 T.R.S.S.A., 58 West. Aust., 60 Zts. vgl. Rechtsw., 64



Social organisation. Associations in the lower stages of culture. Consanguinity and Kinship. The Tribe. Kinship groups; totem kins; phratries.

The passage from what is commonly termed savagery through barbarism to civilisation is marked by a change in the character of the associations which are almost everywhere a feature of human society. In the lower stages of culture, save among peoples whose organisation has perished under the pressure of foreign invasion or other external influences, man is found grouped into totem kins, intermarrying classes and similar organised bodies, and one of their most important characteristics is that membership of them depends on birth, not on the choice of the individual. In modern society, on the other hand, associations of this sort have entirely disappeared and man is grouped in voluntary societies, membership of which depends on his own choice.

It is true that the family, which exists in the lower stages of culture, though it is overshadowed by the other social phenomena, has persisted through all the manifold revolutions of society; especially in the stage of barbarism, its importance in some directions, such as the regulation of marriage, often forbidden within limits of consanguinity much wider than among ourselves, approaches the influence of the forms of natal association which it had supplanted. In the present day, however, if we set aside its economic and steadily diminishing ethical sides, it cannot be compared in importance with the territorial groupings on which state and municipal activities depend.

If the family is a persistent type the tribe may also be compared to the modern state; it is, in most parts of the world, no less territorial in its nature; membership of it does not depend among the Australians on any supposed descent from a common ancestor; and though residence plus possession of a common speech is mentioned by Howitt as the test of tribe, it is possible in Australia, under certain conditions[1], to pass from one tribe to another in such a way that we seem reduced to residence as the test of membership. This change of tribe takes place almost exclusively where tribes are friendly, so far as is known; and we may doubt whether it would be possible for a stranger to settle, without any rite of adoption, in the midst of a hostile or even of an unknown tribe; but this is clearly a matter of minor importance, if adoption is not, as in North America, an invariable element of the change of tribe. Although membership of a tribe is thus loosely determined, tribesmen feel themselves bound by ties of some kind to their fellow-tribesmen, as we shall see below, but in this they do not differ from the members of any modern state.

But in Australia the importance of the tribe, save from an economic point of view, as joint owner of the tribal land, is small compared with the part played in the lives of its members by the intratribal associations, whose influence is recognised without, as within the tribe. These associations are of two kinds in the lowest strata of human society; in each case membership is determined by birth and they may therefore be distinguished as natal associations. In the one case, the kinship groups such as totem kins, phratries, etc., an individual remains permanently in the association into which he is born, special cases apart, in which by adoption he passes out of it and joins another by means of a legal fiction[2]. The other kind of association, to which the name age-grades is applied, is composed of a series of grades, through which, concomitantly with the performance of the rites of initiation obligatory on every male member of the community, each man passes in succession, until he attains the highest. In the rare cases where an individual fails to qualify for the grade into which his coevals pass, and remains in the grade of "youth" or even lower grades, he is by birth a member of one class and does not remain outside the age-grades altogether.

In the element of voluntary action lies the distinction between age-grades and secret societies, which are organised on identical or similar lines but depend for membership on ceremonies of initiation, alike in the lowest as in the highest grade. Such societies may be termed voluntary. The differentia between the natal and the voluntary association lies in the fact that in the former all are members of one or other grade, in the latter only such as have taken steps to gain admission, all others being simply non-members.

Although prima facie all these forms of association are equally entitled to be classed as social organisations, the use of this term is limited in practice, at any rate as regards Australia, and is the accepted designation of the kinship form of natal associations only; for this limitation there is so far justification, that though they perhaps play a smaller part in the daily life of the people than the secret societies of some areas, with their club-houses and other features which determine the whole form of life, the kinship associations are normally regulative of marriage and thus exercise an influence in a field of their own.

Marriage prohibitions in the various races of mankind show an almost endless diversity of form; but all are based on considerations either of consanguinity or kinship or on a combination of the two. The distinction between consanguinity and kinship first demands attention; the former depends on birth, the latter on the law or custom of the community, and this distinction is all-important, especially in dealing with primitive peoples. With ourselves the two usually coincide, though even in civilised communities there are variations in this respect. Thus, according to the law of England, the father of an illegitimate child is not akin to it, though ex hypothesi there is a tie of blood between them. In England nothing short of an Act of Parliament can make them akin; but in Scotland the subsequent marriage of the father with the mother of the child changes the legal status of the latter and makes it of kin with its father. These two examples make it abundantly evident that kinship is with us a matter of law.

Among primitive peoples kinship occupies a similar position but with important differences. As with us, it is a sociological fact; custom, which has among them far more power than law among us, determines whether a man is of kin to his mother and her relatives alone, or to his father and father's relatives, or whether both sets of relatives are alike of kin to him. In the latter case, where parental kinship prevails, the limits of the kin are often determined by the facts of consanguinity. In the two former cases, where kinship is reckoned through males alone or through females alone, consanguinity has little or nothing to do with kinship, as will be shown more in detail below.

Kinship is sociological, consanguinity physiological; in thus stating the case we are concerned only with broad principles. In practice the idea of consanguinity is modified in two ways and a sociological element is introduced, which has gone far to obscure the difference between these two systems of laying the foundations of human society. In the first place, custom determines the limits within which consanguinity is supposed to exist; or, in other words, at what point the descendants of a given ancestor cease to be blood relations. In the second place erroneous physiological ideas modify the ideas held as to actually existing consanguine relations, as we conceive them. The latter peculiarity does not affect the enquiry to any extent; it merely limits the sphere within which consanguinity plays a part, side by side with kinship, in moulding social institutions. If an Australian tribe, for example, distinguishes the actual mother of a child from the other women who go by the same kinship name, they may or may not develop on parallel lines their ideas as to the relation of the child and his real father. Some relation will almost certainly be found to exist between them; but it by no means follows that it arises from any idea of consanguinity. In other communities potestas and not consanguinity is held to determine the relations of the husband of a woman to her offspring; and it is a matter for careful enquiry how far the same holds good in Australia, where the fact of fatherhood is in some cases asserted to be unrecognised by the natives. In speaking of consanguinity therefore, it must be made quite clear whether consanguinity according to native ideas or according to our own ideas is meant.

The customary limitations and extensions of consanguinity, on the other hand, cause more inconvenience. They are of course sometimes combined with the other kind, which we may term quasi-physiological, but with this combination we need not deal, as we are concerned to analyse only on broad lines the nature of these elements. Just as, with us, kinship and consanguinity largely coincide, so with primitive peoples are the kinship organisations immense, if one-sided, extensions of blood relationship, at all events in theory. In many parts of the world a totem kin traces its descent to a single male or female ancestor; and even where, as in Australia, this is not the case, blood brotherhood is expressly asserted of the totem kin[3].

Entry into the totem kin may often be gained by adoption, though not apparently in Australia, and the blood relationship thus becomes an artificial one and partakes, even if the initial assumption be accepted as true, far more of the nature of kinship than of consanguinity. In Australia, and possibly in other parts of the world, there is a further extension of natal kinship. Although the tribe is not regarded as descended from a single pair, its members are certainly reckoned as of kin to each other in some way; the situation may be summarised by saying that under one of the systems of kinship organisation (the two-phratry), half of the members of the tribe in a given generation are related to a given man, A, and the other half to his wife. More than one observer assures us that there is a solidarity about the tribe, which regards some, if not all other tribes as "wild blacks," though it may be on terms of friendship and alliance with certain neighbours, and feel itself united to them by a bond analogous to, though weaker than, that which holds its own members together.

If however a homonymous totem kin exists even in a hostile or absolutely unknown tribe, a member of it will be regarded, as we learn from Dr Howitt, as a brother. How this view is reconciled with the belief that the tribe in question is alien and in no way akin to that in which the other totem kin is found, is a question of some interest for which there appears to be no answer in the literature concerning the Australian aborigines.

Even if, therefore, we had reason to believe that all totem kins in a given tribe or group of tribes could make out a good case for their descent from single male or female ancestors, which is far from being the case, we should still have to recognise that kinship and not consanguinity is the proper term to apply to the relationship between members of the same group. For, as we have seen, it may be recruited from without in some cases, while in others, persons who are demonstrably not of the same blood, are regarded as totem-brethren by virtue of the common name.

Enough has now been said to make clear the difference between consanguinity and kinship and to exemplify the nature of some of the transitional forms. As we have seen, it is on considerations of either consanguinity or kinship that many marriage prohibitions are based.

Marriage prohibitions depend broadly on three kinds of considerations: (1) Kinship, intermarriage being forbidden to members of the same kinship group; a brief introductory sketch of the nature and distribution of kinship groups will be found below. (2) Locality. In New Guinea, parts of Australia, Melanesia, Africa, and possibly elsewhere, local exogamy is found. By this is meant that the resident in one place is bound to go outside his own group for a mate, and may perhaps be bound to seek a spouse in a specified locality. This kind of organisation is in Australia almost certainly an offshoot of kinship organisation (see p. 10), and is prima facie due to the same cause in other areas. (3) (a) consanguinity, and (b) affinity. The first of these considerations is regulative of marriage even in Australia, where the influence of kinship organisations is in the main supreme in these matters. We learn from Roth and other authorities that blood cousins, children of own brother and sister, may not marry in North-West Central Queensland, although the kinship regulations designate them as the proper spouses one for the other. (b) Considerations of affinity, the relations set up by marriage, do not affect the status of the parties, so far as the legality of marriage is concerned, till a somewhat higher stage is reached.

In the present work we are concerned with kinship groups and the marriage regulations based on them. A kinship group, whether it be a totem kin, phratry, class, or other form of association, is a fraction of a tribe; and before we proceed to deal with kinship organisations, it will be necessary to say a few words on the nature of the tribe and the family. In Australia the tribe is a local aggregate, composed of friendly groups speaking the same language and owning corporately or individually the land to which the tribe lays claim. A change of tribe is effected by marriage plus removal, and possibly by simple residence; children belong to the tribe among which their parents reside. In the ordinary tribe each member seems to apply to every other member one or other of the kinship terms; and this no doubt accounts for the feeling of tribal solidarity already mentioned. There are however certain tribes in which the marriage regulations, as with the Urabunna, so split the intermarrying fractions, that the tribe is, as it were, divided into water-tight compartments; how far kinship terms are applied under these circumstances our information does not say.

The tribe is defined by American anthropologists as a union of hordes or clans for common defence under a chief. The American tribe differs in two respects, at least, from the Australian tribe; in the first place, marriage outside the tribe is exceptional in America and common in Australia; in the second place, the stranger gains entrance to the American tribe only by adoption; and we may probably add, thirdly, that the American tribe does not invariably lay claim to landed property or hunting rights.

The tribe is subdivided in various ways. In addition to the various forms of natal and other associations, there is, at any rate in Australia, a local organisation; the local group is often the owner of a portion of the tribal area. This local group again falls into a number of families (in the European sense), and the land is parcelled out among them in some cases, in others it may be the property of individuals. But there is a great lack of clearness with regard to the bodies or persons in whom landed property is vested. The composition of the local group varies according to the customs of residence after marriage, and the rules by which membership of the kinship organisation is determined. These two forces acting together may produce two types of local group: (1) the mixed group, in which persons of various kinship organisations are scattered at random; (2) the kin group, in which either all the males or all the females together with the children are members of one kinship organisation.

Save in the rare instances of non-exogamous kinship groups, the family necessarily contains one member, at least, whose kin is not the same as that of the remainder; this is either the husband or the wife, according as descent is reckoned in the female or the male line; where polygyny is practised, this unity may go no further than the phratry or the class, each wife being of a different totem kin.

Although it frequently happens that the children belong to the kin which through one of the parents or otherwise exercises the supreme authority in the family, it is far from being the case that there is invariable agreement between the principles on which kinship and authority are determined. Three main types of family may be distinguished: (1) patripotestal, (2) matripotestal, (a) direct, and (b) indirect, in which the authority is wielded by the father, mother, and mother's relatives, in particular her brothers, respectively. Innumerable transitional forms are found, some of which will be mentioned in the next chapter, which deals with the rule of descent by which membership of natal groups is determined.

Turning now to kinship organisations, we find that the most widely distributed type is the totem kin, in fact, if we except the Hottentots and a few other peoples among whom no trace of it is found, it is difficult to say where totemism has not at one time or another prevailed. It is found as a living cult to-day among the greater part of the aborigines of North and South America, in Australia, and among some of the Bantu populations of the southern half of Africa. In more or less recognisable forms it is found in other parts of Africa, New Guinea, India, and other parts of the world. In the ancient world its existence has been maintained for Rome (clan Valeria etc.), Greece, and Egypt, but the absence of information as to details of the social structure renders these theories uncertain.

Aberrant cases apart, totemism is understood to involve (1) the existence of a body of persons claiming kinship, who (2) stand in a certain relation to some object, usually an animal, and (3) do not marry within the kin.

Passing over the classes, which are peculiar to Australia and will be fully dealt with below, we come to a more comprehensive form of kinship organisation in the phratries. These are a grouping of the community in two or more exogamous divisions, between which the totem kins, where they exist, are distributed. The essential feature of a phratry is that it is exogamous; its members cannot ordinarily marry within it, and, where there are more than two phratries, there may exist rules limiting their choice to certain phratries.[4]

This dual or other grouping of the kins is widely found in North America, the number of phratries ranging from two among the Tlinkits, Cayugas, Choctaws, and others, to ten among the Moquis of Arizona. As in Australia, the totem kins bearing the same eponymous animal as the phratry are usually, e.g. among the Tlinkits, found in the phratry in question. Exceptions to this rule are found among the Haida, where both eagle and raven are in the eagle phratry.

The Mohegan and Kutchin phratries call for special notice. The kins of the former are arranged in three groups: wolf, turtle, and turkey; and the first phratry includes quadrupeds, the second turtles of various kinds and the yellow eel, and the third birds. We find a parallel to these phratries in the groups of the Kutchin, but in the latter case our lack of knowledge of the tribe precludes us from saying whether totem kins exist among them, and, if so, how far the grouping is systematic; the Kutchin groups, according to one authority, are known by the generic names of birds, beasts, and fish. As a rule, however, no classification of kins is found, nor are the phratry names specially significant.

Dual grouping of the kins is also found in New Guinea, the Torres Straits Islands, and possibly among the ancient Arabs[5]; but evidence in the latter case has not been systematically dealt with.

Other peoples have a similar dichotomous organisation; but it is either not based on the totem kins or they have fallen into the background.

In various parts of Melanesia we find the people divided into two groups, each associated with a single totem or mythological personage, and sexual intercourse, whether marital or otherwise, is strictly forbidden between those of the same phratry[6]. In India the Todas have a similar organisation[7], and the Wanika in East Africa[8].

Customs of residence and descent affect the distribution of the phratries within the tribe, no less than the composition of the local group. With patrilineal descent they tend to occupy the tribal territory in such a way that each phratry becomes a local group. With the disappearance of phratry names this would be transformed into a local exogamous group, which is, however, indistinguishable from the local group of the same nature which is the result of the development of a totem kin under similar conditions.

As a rule kinship organisations descend in a given tribe either in the male line or in the female. Among the Ova-Herero, however, and other Bantu tribes, there are two kinds of organisation, one—the eanda—descending in female line and regulative of marriage, is clearly the totem kin; property remains in the eanda, and consequently descends to the sister's son. The other—the oruzo—descends in the male line; it is concerned with chieftainship and priesthood, which remain in the same oruzo, and the heir is the brother's son.[9]

This dual rule of descent brings us face to face with the question of how membership of kinship groups is determined.


[1] Howitt, N.T., p. 225.

[2] Cf. Owen, Musquakie Indians, p. 122; Lahontan, Voyages, II, 203-4; Morgan, Ancient Society, p. 81.

[3] Two kinds of kinship are recognised in Australian tribes—(a) totem and (b) phratry or class—but the precise relationship of one to the other is far from clear. Nor is there much information as to what terms of kinship are used within the totem kin. It is certain that neither set of terms includes the other, for the totem kin extends beyond the tribe or may do so, and there is more than one in each phratry.

[4] For the facts see Frazer, Totemism, and cf. p. 31 infra.

[5] MS. note from Dr Seligmann's unpublished Report of Cook-Daniels Expedition; Camb. Univ. Torres Sts Exped., V, 172; Man, 1904, no. 18.

[6] J.A.I. XVIII, 282.

[7] Man, 1903, no. 97.

[8] New, Travels, p. 274.

[9] Ausland, 1856, p. 45, 1882, p. 834; Allg. Miss. Zts. V, 354; Zts. Vgl. Rechtswiss. XIV, 295; Mitt. Orient. Seminar, III, 73, V, 109. The recent work of Irle is inaccurate and confused.



Descent of kinship, origin and primitive form. Matriliny in Australia. Relation to potestas, position of widow, etc. Change of rule of descent; relation to potestas, inheritance and local organisation.

In discussions of the origin and evolution of kinship organisations, we are necessarily concerned not only with their forms but also with the rules of descent which regulate membership of them. Until recently the main questions at issue were twofold: (1) the priority or otherwise of female descent; (2) the causes of the transition from one form of descent to another. Of late the question has been raised whether in the beginning hereditary kinship groups existed at all, or whether membership was not rather determined by considerations of an entirely different order. Dr Frazer, who has enunciated this view, maintains that totemism rests on a primitive theory of conception, due to savage ignorance of the facts of procreation.[10] But his theory is based exclusively on the foundation of the beliefs of the Central Australians and seems to neglect more than one important point which goes to show that the Arunta have evolved their totemic system from the more ordinary hereditary form. Whether this be so or not, it is difficult to see how any idea of kinship could arise from such a condition of nescience. If we take the analogous case of the nagual or "individual totem" there seems to be no trace of any belief in the kinship of those who have the same animal as their nagual, but are otherwise bound by no tie of relationship. Yet if Dr Frazer's theory were correct, this is precisely what we ought to find.

This is, however, no reason for rejecting the general proposition that kinship, at its origin, was not hereditary; or, more exactly, that the beginnings of the kinship groups found at the present day may be traced back to a point at which the hereditary principle virtually disappears, although the bond of union and perhaps the totem name already existed. If, as suggested by Mr Lang, man was originally distributed in small communities, known by names which ultimately came to be those of the totem kins, we may suppose that daily association would not fail to bring about that sense of solidarity in its members which it is found to produce in more advanced communities. In the case of the tribe an even feebler bond, the possession of a common language, seems to give the tribesmen a sense of the unity of the tribe, though perhaps other explanations may be suggested, such as the possession in common of the tribal land, or the origin of the tribe from a single blood-related group. However this may be, it seems reasonable to look for one factor of the first bond of union in the influence of the daily and hourly association of group-mates. On the other hand, if, as Mr Lang supposes, the original group was a consanguine one, the claims of the factor of consanguinity and perhaps of foster brotherhood and motherhood cannot be neglected. It may be true, as Dr Frazer argues, that man was originally and still is in some cases ignorant of physiological facts. But all races of man and a great part of the rest of the animal kingdom show us the phenomena of parental affection, of care for offspring and sometimes of union for their defence. This does not, it may be noted, imply any predominance of the mother.[11]

We may suppose that the idea of kinship or the recognition of consanguinity, whichever be the more correct term to apply to these far-off developments of the factors of human society, extended only by degrees beyond the limits of the group. First, perhaps, came the naming of the group, already, it may be, exogamous; then came the recognition of the fact that those members of it, viz. the women, who passed to community B after being born and having resided for years in community A, were in reality, in spite of their change of residence, still in fact the kin of community A; finally came the step of assigning to their children the group names which were retained by their mothers from the original natal groups. This brings us face to face with the first of the fundamental questions of descent, to which allusion has been made.

It is commonly assumed by students of primitive social organisation that matrilineal descent is the earlier and that it has everywhere preceded patrilineal descent; but the questions involved are highly complicated and it can hardly be said that the subject has been fully discussed.

Much of what has been said on the point has been vitiated by the introduction of foreign factors. Thus, the child belongs to the tribe of the father where the wife removes to the husband's local group or tribe. But though it may be taken as a mark of matrilineal institutions, often associated with matria potestas or its analogue the rule of the mother's brother, that the husband should remove and live with the wife, we are by no means entitled to say that the removal of the wife to the husband implies a different state of things. Customs of residence are no guide to the principles on which descent is regulated. Consequently it is entirely erroneous to import into the discussion with which we are concerned, viz. the rules by which kinship is determined, any considerations based on the rules by which membership of a tribe is settled.

Similarly, no proof of the existence of paternal authority in the family throws any light on the question of whether the children belong to the kin of the father rather than of the mother. Where the mother or mother's brother is the guardian, we are usually safe in assuming that descent is or has been until recently matrilineal. But from the undisputed existence of patria potestas no similar inference can be drawn.

Again, as will be shown below, not even the tie of blood between parent and child, confined though it may be in the opinion of the people whose institutions are in question, to a single parent, is an index to the way in which is determined the kinship organisation to which the child belongs.

It is therefore clear that the utmost discrimination is necessary in dealing with these questions; rules of descent must be kept apart from matters which indeed influence the evolution of the rules but are in no way decisive as to their form at any given moment.

Returning now to the alleged priority of matrilineal descent in determining the kinship organisation into which a child passes, it may be said that whereas evidences of the passage from female to male reckoning may be observed,[12] there is virtually none of a change in the opposite direction. In other words, where kinship is reckoned in the female line, there is no ground for supposing that it was ever hereditary in any other way. On the other hand, where kinship is reckoned in the male line, it is frequently not only legitimate but necessary to conclude that it has succeeded a system of female kinship. But this clearly does not mean that female descent has in all cases preceded the reckoning of kinship through males. Patrilineal descent may have been directly evolved without the intermediate stage of reckoning through females.

The problem is probably insoluble. No decisive data are available, for the mere absence of traces of matrilineal descent does not necessarily prove more than that it had long been superseded by reckoning of kinship through males. All that can be said is that in the kinship organisations known to us female descent seems to have prevailed in the vast majority of cases and probably existed in the residual class of indeterminable examples.

With patria potestas it is, of course, different. There can be little doubt that it might and probably did develop in the absence of kinship organisations and in a state of society where consanguinity is no real bond after the children have reached puberty. If therefore under such circumstances a kinship organisation were to come into existence, either independently or by transmission, it might well be that patrilineal principles prevailed from the first. But of such a case we have no knowledge. It may perhaps be questioned whether the actually existing peoples who appear to have no kinship organisations, such as the Hottentots, the Bushmen, the Veddahs and perhaps the Fuegians, are not in this state rather as a result of the break-up of their former organisation than because they have never evolved kinship groups. But our knowledge in these matters is lamentably small and the problem is not one which calls for discussion here.

The second fundamental problem relating to rules of descent is that of the cause of the transition from matrilineal to patrilineal descent. The subject needs to be discussed in detail for each particular area before general conclusions can be formulated; it is quite possible that the causes will be found to differ widely; for no general rule can be laid down as to the relations between matrilineal descent and other cultural conditions.

All that can be attempted here is an examination of the various elements in the problem so far as it affects Australia. To this may be prefixed a further discussion of the origin of matrilineal descent with especial reference to Australian conditions.

It is commonly assumed that in a pure matrilineal community, the husband removes to the wife's local group (matrilocal marriage), or if not that, that at any rate the authority in the family rests in the hands of the mother's brothers, who are also the heirs to the exclusion of the children. But of any such custom of removal there is but the very slenderest evidence in Australia. According to Howitt it occurs occasionally in Victoria and among the Dieri; among the Wakelbura it is done only if a man elopes with a betrothed woman and the man to whom she was betrothed dies; among the Kuinmurbura it seems to have been a recognised thing for a man who married a woman of another tribe to remove, but in this case he took no part in intertribal warfare[13]. In all these cases, the Kurnai excepted, descent is reckoned in the female line.

If however Dr Howitt's informant, who does not seem to have been particularly accurate in many cases, is to be relied on, the removal of the husband to the wife's group is also found among the patrilineal Maryborough tribes, though only if the woman belonged to a distant tribelet, whatever that may be[14]. To this information is added the statement that in such cases the husband joined his wife's tribe for purposes of hostilities also and that it has happened that a son has come into conflict with his father under these circumstances and endangered his life with full knowledge of what he was doing. There is, it is true, no definite statement to the effect that children in these tribes take their totems from the father, but we may assume that it is the case. If therefore the statement in question is accurate, it is a pretty clear proof of the break-up of the social system; for under no circumstances does the totem-kinsman, as a rule, violate the sacro-sanctity of his own flesh. It cannot therefore be argued that the fact of removal in the Maryborough tribes is any very strong evidence of the primitive nature of the custom. In the other tribes, on the other hand, it is distinctly stated that the practice prevails only when marriage takes place between members of two different tribes, and among the Wakelbura only exceptionally even when the wife is of an alien folk. Whatever else the custom proves in these cases, it certainly evidences the existence of friendly relations between the tribes in question; for if it were otherwise the man would hardly be disposed to give up the security of his own people for the perils of a strange community; on the other hand it is hardly likely that the man's tribe would allow him to pass over to the ranks of the strangers, nor would they view with equanimity the loss of effective fighting strength which would result from the fact that his children too would be numbered against them, not for them, if it came to hostilities. The custom is therefore clear evidence of fairly permanent friendly relations in the district in question; and it is plain that we cannot assume these to have existed in more primitive times. It is therefore difficult to see in what way the present day practices lend support to the theory that the original usage was for the husband to remove to his wife's group. For, be it noted, there is not a single case, unless we include the anomalous Kurnai, in which the husband removes to his wife's group within his own tribe; but clearly this is the custom to which the removal theory applies. So far, therefore, as Australia is concerned, the removal theory falls to the ground; it cannot of course be disproved, but we are not justified in assuming that matrilineal descent and matria potestas are due to a custom of removal.

Inasmuch as patrilocal[15] marriage involves descent of group and tribal property rights in the male line, it might appear that in rejecting the hypothesis of a prior stage of matrilocal marriage, we are involving ourselves in difficulties; for it is clearly not easy to see how descent could come to be reckoned through the mother, while property descended through the father. But it is obviously unnecessary in the first place to regard the individual rights of property as originating simultaneously or under the same conditions as the rules as to kinship or even communal property; there is nothing to show how long the present system of land tenure in Australia has held good, and it is clearly one which points to a certain growth of population; for if the local group were remote from their neighbours, there would be little need to encroach; moreover, the exact delimitation of territory now in practice is a thing of long growth.

Further consideration however shows that it is only by a confusion of thought that we can speak of land descending in the male line (that is, of course, in respect of group rights, not private property, to which we return later); strictly speaking the descent of landed property is neither in the male nor the female line but local. A man who removes to his wife's tribe is, so far as we can see, as truly part owner of the tribal land as if he were himself a member of the tribe by birth within its limits. The suggested difficulty, therefore, does not exist, and the conclusion as to removal customs holds good.

We may now examine the relation of matriliny to the seat of authority in the family. Questions of potestas naturally range themselves under more than one head. We have (1) the relation of the husband (a) to the wife and (b) to the children; (2) the relation of the mother to the children, and closely connected with this the influence of the mother's brother; finally (3) we have the position of the widow, a matter indeed more intimately connected with inheritance from a legal point of view but in Australia more closely connected with potestas than in countries where slavery is a recognised institution.

Small as is our information on Australian jurisprudence, it is certain that the husband enjoys practically unrestricted rights over the person of his wife, pirrauru and similar customs apart. He may at will lend her or hire her out to strangers; he may punish her infidelity, disobedience or awkwardness by chastisement, not stopping short of the infliction of spear or club wounds; he may even, according to Roth[16], go so far as to kill her and yet get off scot free, his only duty in such a case being to provide a sister for the brothers of his dead wife to kill in retaliation.

This custom suggests that the kin to which the woman belongs claim a certain property in her even after she is married, and this partial proprietorship naturally implies a slight protecting influence; for it would clearly not be in every case easy for the homicidal male to find a sister ready to go out and be killed as a set-off to his murdered wife. We should not, it is true, overlook the fact that the customs of the Pitta-Pitta differ from those of many of the Australian tribes, in that exchange of sisters is not practised. Otherwise it would be tempting to argue that this proprietorship in the women of their kin may go back to the time of Mr Lang's connubial groups and help to explain the reckoning of descent through females. For clearly, if a woman still belongs in a sense to the group she has left, so may her children belong to the same group, inasmuch as their relationship to her is, to us at any rate, unmistakeable. If any evidence could be produced for the widespread existence of the custom (found in various parts of the globe, though not, up to the present, in Australia), according to which the widow and her children remove to her own district, some probability would be imparted to this hypothesis.

The ordinary rule as regards punishment inflicted by the husband on the wife seems to be that he may go any length short of doing her a mortal injury, without being liable to be called to account. The punishment of death however may only be inflicted for adultery and certain specified offences without incurring a blood-feud with the woman's relatives.

It is by no means improbable that under the influence of the custom of exchanging sisters there may be a tendency for the control of the kin in this respect to diminish; in fact the Boulia example is only explicable on this hypothesis. At the same time we cannot overlook the fact that elopement, or real marriage by capture, as distinguished from formal abduction, would, so far as we can see, have a similar effect, and the rise of the custom of exchange of sisters would in that case tend to re-establish rather than weaken the power of the woman's kin, at any rate in the first instance.

However this may be, the woman's kin exercises, prima facie, some kind of protectorship. At the present day the kinship may be matrilineal or patrilineal without affecting their right. But if, before kinship was reckoned at all, this protectorship were exercised for the benefit of the children, we clearly have a possible cause of matriliny.

For a discussion of the question of the inheritance of the deceased's wife by his brother we have more facts at our disposal. As a matter of fact it is a not infrequent custom in Australia for the widow to pass to the deceased husband's brother[17]; or if she does not become his wife, he decides to whom she shall be allotted[18]. In no case do the woman's kin seem to have a voice in the selection of her new husband. On the whole therefore the proprietary rights found in the Boulia district seem to be the product of exceptional local conditions. If this is so, it is clear that in the matter of potestas the rights of the woman's kin are now absolutely restricted to protecting her from a death which she has not according to native law deserved and to avenging such a death when it is inflicted by the husband.

The so-called levirate, or right of succession to the widow, is clearly of much importance, so far as questions of dominion are concerned; but as regards the problems of descent the evidence is less easily interpreted. It has sometimes been assumed that the succession of the brother and not the son is a mark of matriliny; but it is clear that where the right of appropriating the widow is concerned, this is very far from being the case, for the simple reason that the real matria potestas would put her at the disposal of the kin from whom she originally came; on the other hand, inasmuch as the son is naturally debarred from marrying his own mother or his tribal mother, who commonly belongs to a class into which he does not marry, there might easily arise in a purely patripotestal and patrilineal tribe a custom of handing over the widow to the father's brother.

On the whole however it seems simplest to regard the matter as one in which the rights are determined by no considerations of inheritance or descent but simply by the rule that the property in the woman remains vested in the body of purchasers. For it must be remembered that not only an own but also a tribal sister may be given in exchange for a wife. From this it follows that, theoretically at any rate, the contracting parties are corporations rather than individuals, and in this case the death of the individual on whose behalf the transaction has been effected does not extinguish the proprietary rights acquired by handing over a woman, standing in the relation of sister to the one corporation, in exchange for another woman standing in the relation of sister to the other corporation.

If this solution is correct, it is unnecessary to go into the complicated question of the relation of brother-inheritance to matriliny and patriliny. For it is by no means clear that it is an exemplification of the former rather than the latter principle. It may, of course, be argued that brothers succeed as children of the same mother; but against this must be set the fact that they are also children of the same father; for uncertain paternity can only be a vera causa where pirrauru and similar customs are found; and even here the pre-eminence of the primary husband might well be held to determine the legal paternity of the children, which is, of course, especially in Africa, a matter of potestas rather than procreation. However this may be, the position of the widow does not appear to invalidate the guardianship origin of matriliny.

We now turn to the question of why male tends to take the place of female descent. The possible factors are (1) authority in the family, (2) the rise of chieftainship and inheritance generally, and (3) the organisation of the family group. Of the authority of father or mother over the children, there is not much trace in Australia except in the most youthful period of the pre-adult life. It is for example exceptional for a parent to correct a child. As to who decides in cases of infanticide we have unfortunately too little information to be able to generalise. Only in one important step—that of betrothal—have we anything like adequate information, and the interrelations between rule of descent and potestas are found to be in this case sufficiently clear, though it is not clear on what principle it is decided who shall exercise the right.

Taking first tribes with matrilineal descent, we find that the Barkinji, the Wakelbura, the Dieri, and in some cases the Wollaroi, assign the right of betrothal to the mother or mother's brother[19]. In other cases, transitional forms, the father, his elder brother, or the girl's brothers decide, or else the parents or two of these persons jointly[20]. Among the Mukjarawaint the betrothal rested in part with the paternal grandparents[21]; it may be noted that the grandfather had to decide also whether a child should be brought up or killed. Among the Kuinmurbura it falls to the mother's brother's son or the father's sister's son, who is, apparently, entitled to marry the girl himself[22].

Turning now to tribes with male descent, we find that the father, his brother, or the parents, almost invariably make the decision[23]. Among the eight-class tribes, Spencer and Gillen assert in one place[24] that the mother's brother betroths a girl; but this is contradicted in two other passages[25], and cannot be regarded as reliable.

On the whole therefore it appears that while there are some survivals of matria potestas into patrilineal descent, and in the matrilineal stage transitional forms are found, the right of betrothal tends to pass from the mother's to the father's side, when the rule of descent changes; but there is little to show how far a change in the right of betrothal tends to cause a change in the rule of descent.

A curious fact may be noted here, which goes far to demonstrate the absolutely heterogeneous nature of kinship and consanguinity, and suggests that descent is not reckoned in the female line on account of any supposed specially close connection between the mother and her offspring. Of the four tribes among which, according to Howitt, the child is regarded as the offspring of the father alone[26], the mother being only its nurse, two, the Yuin and Kulin, have male descent; two, however, the Wolgal and Tatathi, have female descent, and among the latter, in addition, the right of betrothal lies with the mother or mother's brother.

On the whole, therefore, it may be said that no questions of potestas seem to have exercised any influence in bringing about the transition from matrilineal to patrilineal descent. It does not appear necessary, therefore, to do more than allude in passing to a fact which may well have had something to do with the decay of matria potestas, at any rate, so far as the mother's brother is concerned, even if it did not actively hasten the coming of patria potestas. This fact is the considerable size of the area over which, with the rise of the so-called nations, it is possible to select a wife. The more remote geographically the mother's relatives, the less their influence. Allowance must of course be made for the opportunities of discussion afforded by the great gatherings of the tribes; but the wider area of bride-choice must have shaken the authority of the brother.

It has been remarked above that there is no well-established case of the right of betrothal being assigned on patrilineal principles in a matrilineal tribe. The influence of the father's brother is not necessarily a mark of patrilineal tendencies, except in so far as all patria potestas is such. That the elder brother has authority in this case is no more decisive than that the elder brother has authority in cases of betrothal; it is no more an exemplification of the simple patria potestas, which has already been shown to be universal and under but slight limitations so far as the wife is concerned. From the point of view of potestas, it is a great advance that the father should be able to dispose of his own daughter in marriage; but if we may judge by the survival of matria potestas into patriliny, the cases of patria potestas under matriliny cannot have exercised an important influence in bringing about a change in the rule of descent.

The case of the power of the girl's own brother is somewhat different. Prima facie it appears to owe its origin to the fact that it is the brothers who are mainly interested in the transaction, inasmuch as it is to them that wives come in exchange for the sisters given in marriage. Consequently we cannot, as has already been the case with the so-called levirate, assign the practice definitely either to matripotestal or patripotestal customs, for father's and mother's authority are alike overruled.

It has already been stated that we have but few data for estimating the influence of the right of betrothal on the rule of descent. Clearly the father has little to gain from the fact that his daughter follows him rather than the mother, when the inevitable effect of the marriage regulations is to make her children of the phratry and totem of her husband, and consequently to make them of a different phratry and totem from her father. Under matriliny on the other hand there is nothing to prevent the grandchildren from being of the same totem as the grandfather, and they are necessarily of the same class in a four-class tribe. If considerations with regard to the phratry and totem of the grandchildren played any part in bringing about a change in the rule of descent, this must have been based on a review of the changes that would be brought about in the position of the son's and not the daughter's offspring. But this is unlikely.

But on the other hand the father's disposal of the daughter's hand is indirectly a means of increasing his influence both with his son and in general. If the son gains his wife by an exchange of sisters, the father's authority is obviously increased. But we do not know how far this factor of the right of betrothal has operated.

Turning now to questions of inheritance, we find that properly speaking the hereditary chief is unknown in Australia. There is a tendency for the son of the tribal headman to succeed his father, but it is subject to exceptions. Moreover, it is by no means a universal rule for the tribe to have an over-headman; it may be ruled by the council of district headmen. In any case the influence of the quasi-hereditary character of the over-headmanship upon the rule of descent cannot but have been comparatively slight.

It is, on the other hand, usual for the local group and the totem kin to have headmen. In the case of the latter, age is often the qualification, as among the Dieri[27]; in such cases there is no possible effect on the rule of succession. But among some of the Victorian tribes with matrilineal descent the rule is for the son to follow the father in the headmanship[28]; and the same is the case, as we should expect, among the patrilineal eight-class tribes[29]. The most important tribe in which hereditary headmanship is combined with female descent is the Wiradjeri[30]; their neighbours, the Kamilaroi, showed marked respect to the son of a headman, if he possessed ability, though they did not, apparently, make him his father's successor[31].

On the whole, then, we cannot assign much weight to this element in the list of possible causes of the transition.

Of inheritance of chattels or land and fixtures we know little. From Spencer and Gillen we learn that among the Warramunga the mother's brother, or daughter's husband, succeeds to the boomerangs, and other moveable property[32]. Among the Kulin and the Kurnai inheritance in the male line seems to have been the rule. In the Adelaide district, as we learn from Gerstaecker[33], individual property in land was known; it descended in the male line. Among the Turribul there was individual property in bunya-bunya trees; these too devolved from father to son[34].

On the other hand on the Bloomfield property in zamia nut grounds has vested in women and descends from mother to daughter[35]; but in this remarkable variant we see, of course, not the influence of the mother's kin, but female influence or rather the right of females to the produce of their labour. In respect of other property, inheritance in North Queensland is in the male line, for it descends to blood brothers and remains in the same exogamous group from generation to generation.

This brings us to the question of the part played by the local group in causing the change from female to male descent. Under ordinary circumstances, with female descent, the local group is made up of persons of different phratries and totems; in any case, just as the phratry and totem of the members of the individual family change from generation to generation, the complexion of the local group is liable to be completely changed; though in practice the changes in one direction are no doubt counterbalanced by changes in the other, so that the net result may be nil, when the original differences were small. But we cannot suppose that the group was often evenly balanced; and a change in the rule of descent would in that case have important results for the local group and in any case for the individual family.

The importance of the difference in the constitution of the local group under descent in the male line is seen when we reflect that in the normal tribe the totem kin is practically the unit for many purposes. If, for example, an emu man has killed, let us say, an iguana man, it is the duty of the iguana men to avenge the death of their kinsman. Their vengeance need not, however, fall on the original perpetrator of the deed; according to the rules of savage justice all the emu men are equally responsible with the culprit; consequently it suffices to kill the first emu person whom they can find. Conversely, those to whom an emu man looks for defence, when he is attacked, or assistance, when he wishes to abduct a wife or anything of that sort, are his fellow emu men. It is therefore clear that the rule of male descent gives far greater security to the members of a local group; for they are surrounded by kinsmen. Under the rule of female descent, on the other hand, they probably have some kinsmen in the same group but equally a considerable number of members of other totem kins.

Self-interest therefore, no less than the natural sympathy between fathers and children, as well as between members of the same group (quite apart from forays and fighting), must have tended to bring about a change in the laws of descent.

The late Major J.W. Powell has already described the transition from matria potestas to patria potestas among the Pueblo peoples. He put it down to economic conditions, which lead the groups to scatter, each under the headship of a male, who is also the husband; this naturally resulted in a weakening of the influence of the mother's brother. It is, however, less clear that it would bring about the decay of the power of the mother herself, which in Australian tribes, at any rate, seems to be independent of the support she obtains from her male relatives.

In Australia, as we have seen, the change from matria to patria potestas had but little influence in bringing about a change in the rule of descent. Here, too, the change in the rule of descent may be put down in the main to economic causes also in a broad sense. Dumping was not in those days a question of practical politics; the problem was to prevent the neighbours from pursuing the policy of the free and open port. The necessity of protecting tribal and group property in land and game would naturally tend to bind men closer and closer, in proportion as the pressure from without became greater. It is perhaps hardly accidental that the main area of male descent is that which has also developed the Intichiuma ceremonies.

If Prof. Gregory's view[36] that the occupation of Victoria by the natives dates back no more than 300 years is correct, we may perhaps see in the migration one cause of the rise of patriliny. Anything which tended to shake the influence of the mother's kin would increase the father's power; and the need of protecting newly established groups from the incursions of their neighbours would be more urgent than in older districts. As we have seen, the first mentioned cause has elsewhere had little direct effect; but it may well have played a larger part under the novel conditions of migration and occupation of fresh territory.

In South Queensland the fractionation of tribes seems to have gone further than elsewhere, unless we suppose that we have here an area, where, as in California, pressure from without has crowded together the remnants of many tribes. Although it is not obvious how the multiplication of distinct tribes has favoured patrilineal descent, we may, at any rate, say that the conditions in the area are exceptional; possibly it was more fruitful than the greater part of the continent; if so personal property in the shape of trees, etc., which we have already seen in existence in this area, would play a more important role here, and may well have determined the transition to patrilineal descent.


[10] Fortn. Rev. Sept. 1905, cf. van Gennep, Mythes et Legendes.

[11] It cannot be said that the ordinary theory of the development of kinship in the female line is satisfactory. The consanguine relation of mother and child does not appear to be a complete answer to the question why kinship—an entirely different thing—was reckoned through the mother; the alleged uncertainty of fatherhood is in the first place closely connected with an unproven stage of promiscuity and consequently hardly a vera causa, until further evidence of such a stage has been produced; and again among the Arunta, it is rather potestas than physical fatherhood which, on their theory, determines the kinship of the child so far as the class is concerned. For the primitive group therefore we cannot assert any predominant interest of the mother in the children nor yet admit that it would necessarily be important if it were shown to exist.

[12] Annee Sociologique V, 104 sq.; VIII, 132 sq.; Tylor in J.A.I. XVIII, 245-272.

[13] Howitt, pp. 220, 225, 234, 248; cf. 159, 269.

[14] ib. p. 234.

[15] P. 30 infra.

[16] Ethnological Studies, p. 141.

[17] Howitt, pp. 193, 224, 227, 236.

[18] ib. p. 248, cf. 227.

[19] Howitt, pp. 195, 221, 177, 217.

[20] ib. pp. 210, 227, 252, 216, 177, 260.

[21] ib. p. 243.

[22] ib. p. 219.

[23] ib. pp. 232, 257, 236.

[24] Nor. Tr. p. 603.

[25] ib. pp. 77 n., 114.

[26] Howitt, pp. 263, 255, 198, 195.

[27] Howitt, p. 298.

[28] ib. pp. 306, 308 sq.

[29] Nor. Tr. p. 23.

[30] Howitt, p. 303.

[31] ib. p. 302.

[32] Nor. Tr. p. 524.

[33] Reisen. IV, 347.

[34] Petrie's Reminiscences, p. 117.

[35] N.Q. Ethn. Bull. VIII.

[36] Proc. R.S. Vict. XVII, 120.



Definitions: tribe, sub-tribe, local group, phratry, class, totem kin. "Blood" and "shade." Kamilaroi type. History of Research in Australia. General sketch.

Before proceeding to deal with the Australian facts it will be well to define the terminology to be employed, and give a brief survey of a typical organisation. Looking at the population from the territorial point of view in the first place, we find aggregates of tribes; these may be termed nations. The component tribes are friendly, one with another; they may and often do hold initiation ceremonies and other ceremonials in common; although the language is usually syntactically the same, and though they contain many words in common, the vocabularies differ to such an extent that members of different tribes are not mutually intelligible. How far the occurrence of identical kinship organisation and nomenclature should be taken as indicating a still larger unity than the nation is a difficult question. Prima facie the nation is a relatively late phenomenon; but the distribution of the names of kinship organisations, as will be shown later, indicates that communication, if not alliance, existed over a wide area at some periods, which it is difficult to suppose were anything but remote.

The idea of the tribe has already been defined. It is a community which occupies a definite area, recognises its solidarity and possesses a common speech or dialects of the same.

Between the tribe and the family occur various subdivisions, known as sub-tribes, hordes, local groups, etc., but without any very clear definition of their nature. It appears, however, that the tribal area is sometimes so parcelled out that property in it is vested, not in the tribe as a whole, but in the local group, which welcomes fellow-tribesmen in times of plenty, but has the right of punishing intruders of the same tribe who seek for food without permission; for a non-tribesman the penalty is death. In some cases the local group is little more than an undivided family including three generations; it may then occupy and own an area of some ten miles radius. In other cases the term is applied to a larger aggregate, the nature and rights of which are not strictly defined; it may number some hundreds of persons and form one-third of the whole tribe; it seems best to denominate such an aggregate by the name of sub-tribe.

The term family may be retained in its ordinary sense.

Superposed on the tribal organisation are the kinship organisations, which, in the case of most Australian tribes, are independent of locality. Leaving out of account certain anomalous tribes, it may be said broadly that an Australian tribe is divided into two sets, called phratries, primary classes, moieties, etc. by various authors; the term used in the present work for these divisions is phratry. Membership of a phratry depends on birth and is taken directly from the mother (matrilineal descent) or father (patrilineal descent).

In Queensland and part of N.S. Wales the phratry is again subdivided, and four intermarrying classes (sometimes called sub-phratries) are formed, two of which make up each phratry. In North Australia and Queensland a further subdivision of each of these classes is found, making eight in all. Descent in the classes is indirect matrilineal or indirect[37] patrilineal, the child belonging to the mother's or father's phratry as before, but being assigned to the class of that phratry to which the mother or father does not belong. The classes of father and son together are called a couple. The parent from whom the phratry and class name are thus derived is said to be the determinant spouse.

These phratries and classes regulate marriage. It is forbidden to marry within one's own phratry. This custom is termed exogamy. When the husband removes and lives in his wife's group the marriage is matrilocal; if the wife removes it is patrilocal.

In addition to the division into classes each phratry is further divided into a number of totem kins. A totem is usually a species of animals or plants; a body of human beings stands in a certain peculiar relation to the totem species and is termed the totem kin; each member of a totem kin is termed a kinsman. Membership of the totem kin usually descends directly from parent to child.

The existence of these kinship organisations is universally recognised. Mr R.H. Mathews has recently asserted the existence of yet another form and at the same time controverted the accepted views as to the operation and meaning of those described above. He distinguishes in certain tribes of New South Wales kinship organisations running across the phratries; these are of two kinds, according to the author, but they do not seem to differ in function. They are termed by Mr Mathews "blood" and "shade" divisions, and are held by him to be the names of the really exogamous groups. The subject is discussed in detail below.

In order to make the working of these regulations plain, let us take as an example the Kamilaroi tribe of N.S. Wales, with two phratries, four classes and various totem kins. The phratries are named Dilbi and Kupathin; Dilbi is divided into two classes, Muri and Kubi; Kupathin into Kumbo and Ipai. The Dilbi totems, which may belong to either of the classes, are kangaroo, opossum and iguana; those of Kupathin are emu, bandicoot and black snake. Every member of the tribe has his own phratry, class and totem; these all come to him by descent.

We have little or no information as to the local grouping of the Kamilaroi tribes, but it was possibly not unlike that of some of the tribes to the north-west. In the case of the latter the tribal area was some 3000 sq. miles in extent, it was split up into smaller areas, thirty or more in number, which were the property of the local groups; a local group consisted frequently of three generations of relatives. When we come to deal below with marriage regulations it will be shown that husband, wife and child under the four-class system all belong to different classes; there were therefore in each group at least three classes, if not four, and consequently members of two phratries. If we assume that the same conditions prevailed among the Kamilaroi, the local groups would then be made up of members of both the Dilbi and Kupathin phratries; and probably all four classes, Muri, Kubi, Ipai and Kumbo, would be found in each group, which in Australia varied in size according to local conditions from 20 or 30 to 200; under special conditions, such as prevailed in the neighbourhood of Lake Alexandrina, the number might run up to 600 or more, but this was exceptional.

From the fact that the totems are divided between the phratries it is clear that the local group may also have members of all the six totem kins mentioned above, among its members.

The rules by which marriage and descent are regulated are apparently very complicated but practically very simple. Taking the Kamilaroi tribe again, the rule is that Muri marries Butha (a female Kumbo) and their children are Ipai and Ipatha: Kubi marries Ipatha and their children are Kumbo and Butha; in each case the children belong to the same phratry as the mother but to the other class in that phratry. This is termed indirect matrilineal descent.

The rule of descent for the totem among the Kamilaroi was simpler; membership of a totem kin descends directly from a mother to her child. The combined effect of these rules is that if, for example, a male Dilbi of the Muri class and iguana totem wants to marry, he must choose a wife of the Kupathin phratry, the Kumbo class, and either the emu, bandicoot, or black snake totems; suppose he marries an emu woman; then his children are of the Kupathin phratry, the Ipai (or Ipatha) class, and the emu totem. These regulations are naturally more complicated among the eight-class tribes; on the other hand, where only phratries and totems are found, but no classes, descent is much simpler; for in each case the child takes the phratry and totem of its mother, where matrilineal descent prevails, or of its father, where patrilineal descent is found.

The general rule in Australia is that the wife goes to live with her husband; in other words, she leaves the local group in which she was born and becomes a member of her husband's local group. The effect of this is very different according as descent is reckoned through the mother or through the father. Taking the Kamilaroi again, the Muri-iguana man brings into his group a Butha-emu woman; their children are Ipatha-emu. If, therefore, a local group is made up of the descendants of a single family, the phratry, class, and totem names vary from generation to generation; for the girls go to other groups, and the men bring in wives of a phratry, class, and totem different, as a rule, from their own; the children of the next generation take their kinship names directly or indirectly from the mother.

If, on the other hand, descent is reckoned through the father, the phratry and totem names are always the same from generation to generation; from this it follows that the phratry of the wife, who comes from without, is also the same from generation to generation, though her totem name does not of necessity remain the same. The class name alternates both in the case of the family and of the wives in successive generations. It has already been pointed out that reckoning of descent in the male line tends to bring about local grouping of the kinship organisations. In the eight-class tribes, and in parts of Victoria, the phratries, elsewhere the totem kins, tend to be or are actually limited to certain portions of the tribal area.

Our knowledge of these matters has not, of course, been gained at a bound. Before indicating the present extent of our information, it may be well to give an historical sketch of early discoveries in this field.

Some seventy years ago the attention of students of primitive social institutions was drawn to the marriage regulations of the Indian tribes of North America by an article in Archaeologia Americana[38]; in which the author, drawing his conclusions partly from earlier writers, partly from his own investigations, showed that the totem kin was an exogamous group, while in some cases the kin bearing the name of a given totem were not only exogamous, but not even permitted to choose their wives from any of the other kins at will, being restricted in their choice to certain groups or, in many cases, to a single group of totem kins, according as the tribe was arranged in two or more phratries.

At least two observers had detected the existence of Australian organisations of the same nature as the American phratries, so far as our scanty information from West Australia goes, even before the publication of Archaeologia Americana. The honour of being the first to publish information on the subject belongs to Nind, who had spent some time in the neighbourhood of King George's Sound in 1829, and published his observations on native customs in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society[39] for 1832. Close on his heels came the authors of Journals of Explorations in West Australia, which appeared in 1833, and described journeys undertaken between 1829 and 1832.

The phratries were discovered in South Australia by the Rev. C.W. Schuermann, whose Vocabulary[40], published in 1844, contains a mention of the Parnkalla phratries, without, however, any indication of their connection with marriage customs and exogamy. Five years earlier, however, Lieutenant, afterwards Sir George Grey, had observed institutions of the nature of totem kins, phratries, or intermarrying classes in West Australia, and had detected their connection with the marriage laws of the natives[41].

In 1841 and 1842, G.F. Moore[42] called attention to the grouping of the native divisions or kins, and anticipated Schuermann, as will be shown later. Grey, before the publication of his Journal, had read the Archaeologia; but though he mentions the naming of "families" after animals, he makes no mention of any grouping, but merely distinguishes between "families" and "local names." Some of the names which he gives seem to be those of phratries, and if he had been led by his study of Archaeologia Americana to the discovery of exogamic regulations dealing with the relations of individual totem kins to one another, it seems on the whole probable that he would not have overlooked the grouping of the kins which is, with certain exceptions, of a more or less local character, common to the whole of Australia, so far as our information goes. Singularly enough this information, very full, relatively, for the eastern and central tribes, has, so far as South-West Australia is concerned, only just been completed, although more than sixty years have elapsed since Grey wrote, the last twenty of which have seen much additional light thrown on the organisation of the tribes of the remainder of the continent.

The American tribes, where simple totemic exogamy is not the rule, are organised in two and sometimes three or more, up to ten, phratries. It is possible that Grey, in spite of his attention having been drawn to the bi- or trichotomous organisation of American totem kins, failed to understand the Australian system owing to the presence of an element, discovered a few years later at a point remote from the scene of Grey's researches, to which no American analogue exists. In addition to the grouping of the kins into phratries, the Australian tribes over a large part of the continent subdivide each phratry into two or four classes or "castes," as they were frequently termed by the early investigators. The effect of the class system is to further limit the choice of a given individual, restricted to one-half of the women of the tribe under the simple phratry system, to one-fourth of them or one-eighth, as the case may be. Probably the first person to publish the fact of the existence of these classes, which he regarded as differing in rank, was C.P. Hodgson[43], who found them in 1846 among the blacks of Wide Bay. From a letter of Leichardt's however it appears that the discovery must have been made nearly simultaneously by several observers. Writing in 1847[44], he says that the castes are the most interesting and most obscure feature among the tribes to the northward, and mentions F.N. Isaacs as having noticed the existence of the classes among the natives of Darling Downs, adding that Capt. Macarthur had also found them among the Monobar tribes of the Coburg Peninsula. "These castes," he adds, "are probably intimately connected with the laws of intermarriage."

If Leichardt's words mean, as apparently they do, that the Monobar classes are regulative of marriage, and if his information was correct, the first mention of classes in Australia is found, not in Hodgson's work, but in Wilson's account[45]. Neither he, however, nor Stokes[46], who mentions them as existing among the Limba Karadjee, makes any mention of their connection with marriage regulations. And Earl, at a later period, omits in like manner to say what constituted membership of a caste, though he states that they differed in rank. The names—Manjarojally (fire people), Manjarwuli (land people), and Mambulgit (makers of nets, perhaps, therefore, water people), as well as the anomalous number of the classes, seem to indicate that they are of a somewhat different nature to the real intermarrying classes found elsewhere[47]. It is of course well known that the initiation ceremonies and totemic system of the northern tribes on both sides of the Gulf of Carpentaria differ somewhat widely from the normal Australian form.

None of the observers hitherto mentioned can be said however to have applied himself to the scientific study of the questions raised by the facts which they recorded. Anthropology was in those days in its infancy. The first to make a really serious effort to clear up the many difficult questions, some of them still matters of controversy, which a closer study of the native marriage customs brought to the surface, was a missionary anthropologist, a class of which England has produced all too few. In 1853 the Rev. William Ridley published the first of many studies of the Kamilaroi speaking tribes, and, thanks to the impetus given to the investigation of systems of relationship and allied questions by Lewis Morgan, was the pioneer of a series of efforts which have rescued for us at the nick of time a record of the social organisation of many tribes which under European influence are now rapidly losing or have already lost all traces of their primitive customs, if indeed they have not, like the tribes formerly resident at Adelaide and other centres of population, been absolutely exterminated by contact with the white man with his vices and his civilisation, or by the less gentle method euphemistically termed "dispersion," which, if other nations were the offenders, we should term massacre.

After Mr Ridley, Messrs Fison and Howitt turned their attention to the Kamilaroi group of tribes. The progress of these investigations is traced, historically and controversially, in the second series of Maclennan's Studies in Ancient History, and it is unnecessary to deal with it in detail. More and more light was thrown on totemism, marriage regulations, and intermarrying classes by the persistent efforts of Mr Howitt, by Dr Frazer's little work on Totemism, and by other students, until it seemed that the main features of Australian social organisation had been clearly established, when in 1898 the researches of Messrs Spencer and Gillen seemed to do much to overthrow all recognised principles, so far as the totemic regulation of marriage was concerned. How far this is actually the case it is unnecessary to consider here. It may be said however that the work of these two investigators and the enquiries of Dr Roth in North Queensland make it more than ever a matter for regret that the British Empire, the greatest colonial power that the world has ever seen, will not afford the few thousand pounds needed to put such researches on a firm basis.

Having defined the various terms, and shown the actual working of the system by the aid of the best known example, we may now pass, after this brief historical sketch of the development of our knowledge, to the task of giving the broad outlines of the phratry and class organisations.

If our knowledge of Australian phratries and classes is far from exhaustive, we have at any rate a fair knowledge of the distribution of the various types whose existence is generally recognised; that is to say, we can delimit the greater part of the continent according to whether the tribes show two phratries only, or two phratries, which may be anonymous, with the further subdivision into four classes, or into eight classes. We also know approximately the limits of the matrilineal and patrilineal systems. New South Wales, Victoria, the southern portion of Queensland and Northern Territory, the eastern part of South Australia, and the coastal regions of West Australia, are now known with more or less accuracy from the point of view of kinship organisations. On the other hand, from the Cape York Peninsula, and the part of Northern Territory north of Lat. 15 deg., we have little if any information. The south coast and its hinterland from 135 deg. westwards, as far as King George's Sound, is virtually a terra incognita; in fact beyond the south-western corner and the fringe which lies along the coast we know little of the West Australian blacks, and the frontiers between the various systems must in these areas be regarded as purely provisional.

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