Primitive Love and Love-Stories
by Henry Theophilus Finck
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Quickly the father mounted his fleet horse and followed the fugitives. He gained on them until his horse's head touched the camel's tail. At that moment the youth reached his home, jumped off the camel and carried the bride into the house. He closed the door so violently that one foot of the pursuing horse caught between the posts. The father drew it out with difficulty and returned to the four disappointed suitors.


A king had a beautiful daughter and many desired to marry her. But all failed, because none could answer the King's question: "What is enclosed in my amulet?" Undismayed by the failure of men of wealth and rank, Tamba, who lived far in the East and had nothing to boast of, made up his mind to win the princess. His friends laughed at him but he started out on his trip, taking with him some chickens, a goat, rice, rice-straw, millet-seed, and palm-oil. He met in succession a hungry porcupine, an alligator, a horned viper, and some ants, of all of whom he made friends by feeding them the things he had taken along. He reserved some of the rice, and when he arrived at the King's court he gave it to a hungry servant who in turn told him the secret of the amulet. So when he was asked what the amulet contained, he replied: "Hair clipped from the King's head when he was a child; a piece of the calabash from which he first drank milk; and the tooth of the first snake he killed."

This answer angered the King's minister, and Tamba was put in chains. He was subjected to various tests which he overcame with the aid of the animals he had fed on his trip. But again he was fettered and even lashed.

One day the King wanted to bathe, so he sent his four wives to fetch water. A young girl accompanying them saw how all of them were bitten by a horned viper and ran back to tell the news. The wives were brought back unconscious, and no one could help them. The King then thought of Tamba, who was brought before him. Tamba administered an antidote which the viper he had fed had given him, the wives recovered, the wicked minister was beheaded and Tamba was rewarded with the hand of the princess.


The third tale is herewith translated verbatim:

"There was a man who had a most beautiful daughter, the favorite of all the young men of the place; two, especially, tried to win her regard. One day these two came together and begged her to choose one of them. The young girl called her father; when the young men had told him that they were suing for his daughter's hand, he requested them to come there the next day, when he would set them a task and the one who got through with it first should have the girl.

"Meanwhile the father bought in the market a piece of cloth and cut it up for two garments. Now when the two rivals appeared the next morning he gave to each the materials for a garment and told them to sew them together, promising his daughter to the one who should get done first. The daughter he ordered to thread the needles for both the men.

"Now the girl knew very well which of the two young men she would rather have for a husband; to him, therefore, she always handed needles with short threads, while the other was always supplied with long threads. Noon came and neither of them had finished his garment. After awhile, however, the one who always got the short threads finished his task.

"The father was then summoned and the young man showed him the garment; whereupon the father said: 'You are a quick worker and will therefore surely be able to support your wife. Take my daughter as your wife and always do your work rapidly, then you will always have food for yourself and your wife.'

"Thus did the young man win his beloved by means of her cunning. Joyfully he led her home as his wife."


This tale reveals the existence of individual preference, but does not hint at any other ingredient of love, while the father's promise of the girl to the fastest worker shows a total indifference to what that preference might be. In the following tale (also from Koelle) the girl again is not consulted.

"A certain man had a most beautiful daughter who was beset by many suitors. But as soon as they were told that the sole condition on which they could obtain her was to bale out a brook with a ground-nut shell (which is about half the size of a walnut shell), they always walked away in disappointment. However, at last one took heart of grace, and began the task. He obtained the beauty; for the father said, 'Kam ago tsuru baditsia tsido—he who undertakes whatever he says, will do it.'"


The last two tales I have cited were gathered among the Bornu people in the Soudan. In Burton's Wit and Wisdom from West Africa we find a few proverbs about women that are current in the same region.

"If a woman speaks two words, take one and leave the other." "Whatever be thy intimacy, never give thy heart to a woman." "If thou givest thy heart to a woman, she will kill thee." "If a man tells his secrets to his wife, she will bring him into the way of Satan." "A woman never brings a man into the right way." "Men who listen to what women say, are counted as women."

It is significant that in the four hundred and fifty-five pages of Burton's book, which includes over four hundred proverbs and tales, there are only half a dozen brief references to women, and those are sneers.


As I have had occasion to remark before, African women lack the finer feminine qualities, both bodily and mental, wherefore even if an African man were able to feel sentimental love he could not find an object to bestow it on. An incident related by Du Chaillu (Ashango Land, 187) illustrates the martial side of African femininity. A married man named Mayolo had called another man's wife toward him. His own wife, hearing of this, got jealous, told him the other must be his sweetheart, and rushed out to seek her rival. A battle ensued:

"Women's fights in this country always begin by their throwing off their dengui—that is, stripping themselves entirely naked. The challenger having thus denuded herself, her enemy showed pluck and answered the challenge by promptly doing the same; so that the two elegant figures immediately went at it literally tooth and nail, for they fought like cats, and between the rounds reviled each other in language the most filthy that could possibly be uttered. Mayolo being asleep in his house, and no one seeming ready to interfere, I went myself and separated the two furies."

In Dahomey, as everybody knows, the bellicose possibilities of the African woman have been utilized in forming bands of Amazons which are described as "the flower of the army." They are made up of female captives and other women, wear special uniforms, and in battle are credited with even greater ferocity than the men. These women are Amazons not of their own accord but by order of the king. But in other parts of Africa there is reason to believe that bands of self-constituted female warriors have existed at various times. Diodorus Siculus, who lived in the time of Julius Caesar, says that on the western coast of Libya (Africa) there used to live a people governed by women, who carried on wars and the government, the men being obliged to do domestic work and take care of the children. In our time Livingstone found in the villages of the Bechuanas and Banyas that men were often badly treated by the women, and the eminent German anthropologist Bastian says(S.S., 178) that in "the Soudan the power of the women banded together for mutual protection is so great that men are often put under ban and obliged to emigrate." Mungo Park described the curious bugaboo(mumbo-jumbo)by means of which the Mandingo negroes used to keep their rebellious women in subjection. According to Bastian, associations for keeping women in subjection are common among men along the whole African West Coast. The women, too, have their associations, and at their meetings compare notes on the meanness and cruelty of their husbands. Now it is easy to conceive that among tribes where many of the men have been killed off in wars the women, being in a great majority, may, for a time at least, turn the tables on the men, assume their weapons and make them realize how it feels to be the "inferior sex." For this reason Bastian sees no occasion to share the modern disposition to regard all the Amazon legends as myths.


If we now return from the West Coast to Eastern Africa we find on the northern confines of Abyssinia a strange case of the subjection of men, which Munzinger has described in his Ostafrikanische Studien (275-338). The Beni Amer are a tribe of Mohammedan shepherds among whom "the sexes seem to have exchanged roles, the women being more masculine in their work." Property is legally held in common, wherefore the men rarely dare to do anything without consulting their wives. In return for this submission they are treated with the utmost contempt:

"For every angry word that the husband utters he is compelled to pay a fine, and perhaps spend a whole rainy night outdoors till he has promised to give his weaker half a camel and a cow. Thus the wife acquires a property of her own, which the husband never is allowed to touch; many women have in this way ruined their husbands and then left them. The women have much esprit de corps; if one of them has ground for complaint, all the others come to her aid.... Of course the man is always found in the wrong; the whole village is in a turmoil. This esprit de corps demands that every woman, whether she loves her husband or not, must conceal her love and treat him contemptuously. It is considered disgraceful for her to show her love to her husband. This contempt for men goes so far that if a wife laments the death of her husband who has died without issue, her companions taunt her.... One often hears women abuse their husbands or other men in the most obscene language, even on the street, and the men do not dare to make the least retort." "The wife can at any time return to her mother's house, and remain there months, sending word to her husband that he may come to her if he cares for her."


The causes of this singular effeminacy of the men and masculinity of the women are not indicated by Munzinger; but so much is clear that, although the tables are turned, Cupid is again left in the cold. Nor is there any romance in the courtship which leads to such hen-pecked conjugal life:

"The children are often married very early, and engaged earlier still. The bridegroom goes with his companions to fetch his bride; but after having talked with her parents he returns without having seen her. The bride thereafter remains another whole year with her parents. After its expiration the bridegroom sends women and a camel to bring her to his home; she is taken away with her tent, but the bridal escort is often fooled by the substitution in the bride's place of another girl, who allows herself to be taken along, carefully veiled, and after the village has been left behind betrays herself and runs away."

These Beni Amer are of course far superior in culture to the Bushmen, Hottentots, Kaffirs, and West Coast peoples we have been considering so far, having long been in contact with Oriental influences. It is therefore as strange as it is instructive to note that as soon as a race becomes civilized enough to feel a kind of love exalted above mere sensuality, special pains are taken to interpose fresh obstacles, as in the above case, where it is good form to suppress all affection, and where a young man may not see his bride even after engagement. This last custom seems to be of common occurrence in this part of Africa. Munzinger (387) says of the Kunama: "As among the border peoples engagements are often made at a very early age, after which time bride and bridegroom avoid each other;" and again (147) concerning the region of Massua, on the Red Sea:

"From the day of the engagement the young man is obliged to carefully avoid the bride and her mother. The desire to see her after the engagement is considered very improper, and often leads to a breaking-up of the affair. If the youth meets the girl accidentally, she veils her face and her friends surround her to cover her from the bridegroom's sight."


These attachments are so shallow that if the fortune-teller who is always consulted gives an unfavorable forecast, the engagement is forthwith broken off. It is instructive to note further that the rigid separation of a man from his betrothed serves merely to stifle legitimate love; its object cannot be to prevent improper intimacies, for before engagement the girls enjoy perfect liberty to do what they please, and after engagement they may converse with anyone except the lover. As Parkyns (II., 41) tells us, he is never allowed to see his intended wife even for a moment, unless he can bribe some female friend to arrange it so he can get a peep at her by concealing himself; but if the girl discovers him she covers her face, screams, runs away, and hides. This "coyness" is a pure sham. In reality the Abyssinian girl is anything but coy. Munzinger thus describes her character:

"The shepherd girls in the neighborhood of Massua always earn some money by carrying water and provisions to the city. The youngest girls are sent there heedlessly, and are often cheated out of more than their money, and therefore they do not usually make the best of wives, being coquettish and very eager for money. The refinements of innocence must not be sought for in this country; they are incompatible with the simple arrangement of the houses and the unrestrained freedom of conversation. No one objects to this, a family's only anxiety being that the girl should not lose the semblance of virginity.... If a child is born it is mercilessly killed by the girl's grandmother."

Sentimental admirers of what they suppose to be genuine "pastoral love poetry" will find further food for thought in the following Abyssinian picture from Parkyns (II., 40):

"The boys are turned out wild to look after the sheep and cattle; and the girls from early childhood are sent to fetch water from the well or brook, first in a gourd, and afterward in a jar proportioned to their strength. These occupations are not conducive to the morality of either sex. If the well be far from the village, the girls usually form parties to go thither, and amuse themselves on the road by singing sentimental or love songs, which not unfrequently verge upon the obscene, and indulge in conversation of a similar description; while, during their halt at the well for an hour or so, they engage in romps of all kinds, in which parties of the other sex frequently join. This early license lays the foundation for the most corrupt habits, when at a later period they are sent to the woods to collect fuel."

James Bruce, one of the earliest Europeans to visit the Abyssinians, describes them as living practically in a state of promiscuity, divorce being so frequent that he once saw a woman surrounded by seven former husbands, and there being hardly any difference between legitimacy and illegitimacy. Another old writer, Rev. S. Gobat, describes the Abyssinians as light-minded, having nothing constant but inconstancy itself. A more recent writer, J. Hotten (133-35), explains, in the following sentence, a fact which has often misled unwary observers:

"Females are rarely gross or immodest outwardly, seeing that they need in no way be ashamed of the freest intercourse with the other sex," "Rape is venial, and adultery regards only the husband."

The Christian Abyssinians are in this respect no better than the others, regarding lewd conduct with indifference. But the most startling exhibition of Abyssinian grossness is given by the Habab and Mensa concerning whom Munzinger says (150), that whenever a girl decides to give herself up to a dissolute life "a public festival is arranged, cows are butchered and a night is spent amid song and dances."

The four volumes of Combes and Tamisier on Abyssinia give a vivid idea of the utter absence of sexual morality in that country. With an intelligence rare among explorers they distinguish between love of the senses and love of the heart, and declare that the latter is not to be found in this country. "Abyssinian women love everybody for money and no one gratis." They do not even suspect the possibility of any other kind of love, and the only distinction they make is that a man who pleases them pays less.

"But what one never finds with anyone in Abyssinia is that refined and pure sentiment which gives so much charm to love in Europe. Here the heart is seldom touched; tender words are often spoken, but they are banal and rarely sincere; never do these people experience those extraordinary emotions of which the very remembrance agitates us a long time, those celestial feelings which convert an atheist into a believer. In this country love has all its existence in a moment, having neither a past nor a future."

The authors go so far as to doubt a story they heard of a girl who was said to have committed suicide to escape a hated suitor forced on her; but there is nothing improbable in this, as we know that a strong aversion may exist even where there is no capacity for true love, and the former by no means implies the latter. Jealousy, they found further,

"is practically unknown in Abyssinia," "If jealousy is manifested occasionally by women we must not deceive ourselves regarding the nature of this feeling; when an Abyssinienne envies the love another inspires she is jealous only of the comfort which that love may insure for the other" (II., Chap. V.).


Abyssinian women are not deficient in a certain sensual kind of beauty. Their fine figures, large black eyes, and white teeth have been admired by many travellers. But Parkyns (II., 5) avers that "though flowers of beauty nowhere bloom with more luxuriance than in Aethiopia, yet, alas! there shines on them no mental sun." They make use of their eyes to great advantage—but not to express soul-love. What flirtation in this part of the world consists in, may be inferred from Donaldson Smith's amusing account (245, 270) of a young Boran girl who asked permission to accompany his caravan, offering to cook, bring wood, etc. She was provided with a piece of white sheeting for a dress, but when tired from marching, being unused to so much clothing, she threw the whole thing aside and walked about naked. Her name was Ola. Some time afterward one of the native guides began to make love to Ola:

"I oversaw the two flirting and was highly amused at the manner in which they went about it. It consisted almost entirely in tickling and pinching, each sally being accompanied by roars of laughter. They never kissed, as such a thing is unknown in Africa."


South of Abyssinia there are three peoples—the Galla, Somali, and Harari—among some of whom, if we may believe Dr. Paulitschke, the germs of true love are to be found. Let us briefly examine them in turn, with Paulitschke's arguments. Hartmann (401) assigns to the Gallas a high rank among African races, and Paulitschke (B.z.E., 51-56) describes them as more intelligent than the Somali, but also more licentious. Boys marry at sixteen to eighteen, girls at twelve to sixteen. The women are compelled to do most of the hard work; wives are often badly treated, and when their husbands get tired of them they send them away. Good friends lend each other their wives, and they also lend them to guests. If a man kills his wife no one minds it. Few Schoa girls are virgins when they marry (Eth. N. Afr., 195), and the married women are easily led from the path of virtue by small presents. In other parts girls take a pride in preserving their purity, but atone for it by a dissolute life after marriage. Brides are subjected to an obscene examination, and if not found pure are supposed to be legally disqualified from marriage. To avoid the disgrace, the parents bribe the bridegroom to keep the secret, and to assert the bride's innocence. A curious detail of Galla courtship consists in the precautions the parents of rich youths have to take to protect them from designing poor girls and their mothers. Often, when the parents of a rich youth are averse to the match, the coy bride goes to their hut, jumps over the surrounding hedge, and remains there enduring the family's abuse until they finally accept her. To prevent such an invasion—a sort of inverted capture, in which the woman is the aggressor—the parents of rich sons build very high hedges round their houses to keep out girls! Not infrequently, boys and girls are married when only six or eight years old, and forthwith live together as husband and wife.


It is among the neighbors of these Gallas that Paulitschke (30) fancied he discovered the existence of refined love:

"Adult youths and maidens have occasion, especially while tending the cattle, to form attachments. These are of an idealized nature, because the young folks are brought up in a remarkably chaste and serious manner. The father is proud of his blooming daughter and guards her like a treasure.... In my opinion, marriages among the Western Somals are mostly based on cordial mutual affection. A young man renders homage to his beloved in song. 'Thou art beautiful,' he sings, 'thy limbs are plump, if thou wouldst drink camel's milk thou wert more beautiful still.' The girl, on her part, gives expression to her longing for the absent lover in this melancholy song: 'The camel needs good grazing, and dislikes to leave it. My beloved has left the country. On account of the children of Sahal (the lover's family), my heart is always so heavy. Others throw themselves into the ocean, but I perish from grief. Could I but find the beloved.'"

What evidence of "idealized" love is there in these poems? The girl expresses longing for an absent man, and longing, as we have seen, characterizes all kinds of love from the highest to the lowest. It is one of the selfish ingredients of love, and is therefore evidence of self-love, not of other-love. As for the lover's poem, what is it but the grossest sensualism, the usual African apotheosis of fat? Imagine an American lover saying to a girl, "You are beautiful for you are plump, but you would be more beautiful still if you ate more pork and beans"—would she regard this as evidence of refined love, or would she turn her back and never speak to him again? Anthropologists are sometimes strangely naive. We have just seen what kind of "attachments" are formed by African youths and girls while tending cattle; Burton adds to the evidence (F.F., 120) by telling us that among the Somali "the bride, as usual in the East, is rarely consulted, but frequent tete-a-tetes at the well and in the bush when tending cattle effectually obviate this inconvenience." "At the wells," says Donaldson Smith (15), "you will see both sexes bathing together, with little regard for decency." They are indeed lower than brutes in their impulses, for the only way parents can save their infant girls from being maltreated is by the practice of infibulation, to which, as Paulitschke himself tells us, the girls are subjected at the early age of four, or even three; yet, even this, he likewise informs us, is not always effectual.

As for the father's great pride in his daughter, and his guarding her like a treasure, that is, by the concurrent testimony of the authorities, not a token of affection or a regard for virtue, but a purely commercial matter. Paulitschke himself says (30) that while the mother is devoted to her child, "the father pays no attention to it." On the following page he adds:

"The more well-to-do the father is, and the more beautiful his daughter, the longer he seeks to keep her under the paternal roof, for the purpose of securing a bigger price for her through the competition of suitors."

Of the Western Somali tribes at Zayla, Captain J.S. King says[148] that when a man has fixed his choice on a girl he pays her father $100 to $800. After that

"the proposer is entitled (on payment of $5 each time) to private interviews with his fiancee to enable him by a closer inspection to judge better of her personal charms. But it frequently happens that the young man squanders all his money on these 'interviews' before paying the dafa agreed upon. The girl then (at her parents' instigation) breaks off the match, and her father, when expostulated with, replies that he will not force his daughter's inclinations. Hence arise innumerable breach-of-promise-of-marriage suits, in which the man is invariably the plaintiff. I have known instances of a girl being betrothed to three or four different men in about a year's time, their father receiving a certain amount of dafa from each suitor."[149]

Donaldson Smith remarks (12) that Somali women "are regarded merely as goods and chattels. In a conversation with one of my boys he told me that he only owned five camels, but that he had a sister from whom he expected to get much money when he sold her in marriage." The gross commercialism of Somali love-affairs is further illustrated by the Ogaden custom (Paulitschke, E.N.A., 199) of pouring strong perfumes over the bride in order to stimulate the ardor of the suitor and make him willing to pay more for her—a trick which is often successful. How, under such circumstances, Somal marriages can be "mostly based on cordial mutual affection" is a mystery for Dr. Paulitschke to explain. Burton proved himself a keener observer and psychologist when he wrote (F.F., 122), "The Somal knows none of the exaggerated and chivalrons ideas by which passion becomes refined affection among the Arab Bedouins and the sons of civilization." I may add what this writer says regarding Somal poetry:

"The subjects are frequently pastoral; the lover, for instance, invites his mistress to walk with him toward the well in Lahelo, the Arcadia of the land; he compares her legs to the tall, straight Libi tree, and imprecates the direst curses on her head if she refuses to drink with him the milk of his favorite camel."


The Harari, neighbors of the Somals, are another people among whom Paulitschke fancied that he discovered signs of idealized love (B.E.A.S., 70). Their youthful attachments, he says, are intense and noble, and in proof of this he translates two of their poems on the beauty of a bride.

I. "I tell thee this only: thy face is like silk, Aisa; I say it again, I tell thee nothing but that. Thou art slender as a lance-shaft; thy father and thy mother are Arabs; they all are Arabs; I tell thee this only."

II. "Thy form is like a burning lamp, Aisa; I love thee. When thou art at the side of Abrahim, thou burnest him with the light of thy beauty. To-morrow I shall see thee again."

In a third (freely translated and printed in the appendix of the same volume) occur these lines:

"The honey is already taken out and I come with it. The milk is already drawn and I bring it. And now thou art the pure honey, and now thou art the fresh milk. The gathered honey is very sweet, and therefore it was drunk to thy health. Thine eyes are black, dyed with Kahul. The fresh milk is very sweet and therefore it was drunk to thy health. I have seen Sina—oh, how sweet was Sina.... Thine eyes are like the full moon, and thy body is fragrant as the fragrance of rose-water. And she lives in the garden of her father and the garments on her body become fragrant as basil.... And thou art like a king's garden in which all perfumes are united."

It is easy to note Arabic influences in these poems. The Harari are largely Arabic; their very language is being absorbed in the Arabic; yet I cannot find in these poems the least evidence of amorous idealism or "noble" sentiment. To have a lover compare a girl's face to silk, her form to a lance-shaft or a burning lamp, her eyes to the full moon, may be an imaginative sort of sensualism, but it is purely sensual nevertheless. If an American lover told a girl, "I bought some delicious candy and ate it, thinking of you; I ordered a glass of sweet soda-water and drank it to your health"—would she regard that as evidence of "noble" love, or of any kind of love at all, except a kind of cupboard love?

No, not even here, where Arabian influences prevail, do we come across the germs of true love. It is the same all over Africa. Nowhere do we find indications that men admire other things in women except, at most, voluptuous eyes and plump figures; nowhere do the men perform unselfish acts of gallantry and self-sacrifice; nowhere exhibit sympathy with their females, who, far from being goddesses, are not even companions, but simply drudges and slaves to lust. A whole volume would be required to demonstrate that this holds true of all parts of Africa; but the present chapter is already too long and I must close with a brief reference to the Berbers of Algeria (Kabyles) to show that at the northern extremity of Africa, as at the southern, the eastern, the western, love spells lust. Here, too, man is lower than animals. Camille Sabatier, who was a justice of the peace at Tizi-Ouzan, speaks[150] of "la brutalite du male qui, souvent meme chez les Kabyles, n'attend pas la nubilite pour deflorer la jeune enfant." The girls, he adds,

"detest their husbands with all their heart. Love is almost always unknown to them—I mean by love that ensemble of refined sentiments, which, among civilized peoples, ennoble the sexual appetite."


A guileless reader of Chavanne's book on the Sahara is apt to get the impression that there is, after all, an oasis in the desert of African lovelessness and contempt for women. Touareg women, we are told therein (208-10), are allowed to dispose of their hands and to eat with the men, certain dishes being reserved for them, others (including tea and coffee) for the men. In the evening the women assemble and improvise songs while the men sit around in their best attire. The women write mottoes on the men's shields, and the men carve their chosen one's name in the rocks and sing her praises. The situation has been compared to mediaeval chivalry. But when we examine it more critically than the biassed Chavanne did, we find, using his own data, more of Africa than appeared to be there at first sight. The woman, we are informed, owes the husband obedience, and he can divorce her at pleasure. When a woman talks to a man she veils her face "as a sign of respect." And when the men travel, they are accompanied by those of their female slaves who are young and pretty. Their morals are farther characterized by the fact that descent is in the female line, which is usually due to uncertain paternity. The women are ugly and masculine, and Chavanne does not mention a single fact or act which proves that they experience supersensual, altruistic love.

So far as the position of Touareg women is superior to that of other Africans, it is due to the fact that slaves are kept to do the hard work and to certain European and Christian influences and the institution of theoretical monogamy. Possibly the germs of a better sort of love may exist among them, as they may among the Bedouins; they must make a beginning somewhere.


T.J. Hutchinson declares that the gentle god of love is unknown in the majority of African kingdoms: "It in fact seems to be crawling into life only in one or two places where our language is the established one." He prints a quaint love-letter addressed by a Liberian native to his colored sweetheart. The substance of the letter, it is true, is purely egotistic; it might be summed up in the words, "Oh, how I wish you were here to make me happy." Yet it opens up vistas of future possibilities. I cite it verbatim:

"My Dear Miss,—I take my pen in hand to Embrac you of my health, I was very sick this morning but know I am better but I hope it may find you in a state of Enjoying good health and so is your Relation. Oh my dear Miss what would I give if I could see thy lovely Face this precious minnit O miss you had promis me to tell me something, and I like you to let you know I am very anxious to know what it is give my Respect to the young mens But to the young ladys especially O I am long to see you O miss if I don't see you shortly surely I must die I shut my mouth to hold my breath Miss don't you cry O my little pretty turtle dove I wont you to write to me, shall I go Bound or shall I go free or shall I love a pretty girl a she don't love me give my Respect all enquiring Friend Truly Your respectfully,


"Nothing more to say O miss."


The founders of the Australian race, Curr believes, were Africans, and may have arrived in one canoe. The distance from Africa to Australia is, however, great, and there are innumerable details of structure, color, custom, myth, implements, language, etc., which have led the latest authorities to conclude that the Australian race was formed gradually by a mixture of Papuans, Malayans, and Dravidians of Central India.[151] Topinard has given reasons for believing that there are two distinct races in Australia. However that may be, there are certainly great differences in the customs of the natives. As regards the relations of the sexes, luckily, these differences are not so great as in some other respects, wherefore it is possible to give a tolerably accurate bird's-eye view of the Australians as a whole from this point of view.


Once in awhile, in the narrative of those who have travelled or sojourned among Australians, one comes across a reference to the symmetrical form, soft skin, red lips, and white teeth of a young Australian girl. Mitchell in his wanderings saw several girls with beautiful features and figures. Of one of these, who seemed to be the most influential person in camp, he says (I., 266):

"She was now all animation, and her finely shaped mouth, beautiful teeth, and well-formed person appeared to great advantage as she hung over us both, addressing me vehemently,"

etc. Of two other girls the same writer says (II., 93):

"The youngest was the handsomest female I had ever seen amongst the natives. She was so far from black that the red color was very apparent in her cheeks. She sat before me in a corner of the group, nearly in the attitude of Mr. Bailey's fine statue of Eve at the fountain, and apparently equally unconscious that she was naked. As I looked upon her for a moment, while deeply regretting the fate of her mother, the chief, who stood by, and whose hand had been more than once laid upon my cap, as if to feel whether it were proof against the blow of a waddy, begged me to accept of her in exchange for a tomahawk!"

Eyre, another famous early traveller, writes on this topic (II., 207-208):

"Occasionally, though rarely, I have met with females in the bloom of youth, whose well-proportioned limbs and symmetry of figure might have formed a model for the sculptor's chisel. In personal appearance the females are, except in early youth, very far inferior to the men. When young, however, they are not uninteresting. The jet black eyes, shaded by their long dark lashes, and the delicate and scarcely formed features of incipient womanhood give a soft and pleasing expression to a countenance that might often be called good-looking—occasionally pretty."

"Occasionally, though rarely," and then only for a few years, is an Australian woman attractive from our point of view. As a rule she is very much the reverse—dirty, thin-limbed, course-featured, ungainly in every way;[152] and Eyre tells us why this is so. The extremities of the women, he says, are more attenuated than those of the men; probably because "like most other savages, the Australian looks upon his wife as a slave," makes her undergo great privations and do all the hard work, such as bringing in wood and water, tending the children, carrying all the movable property while on the march, often even her husband's weapons:

"In wet weather she attends to all the outside work, whilst her lord and master is snugly seated at the fire. If there is a scarcity of food, she has to endure the pangs of hunger, often, perhaps, in addition to ill-treatment and abuse. No wonder, then, that the females, and especially the younger ones (for it is then they are exposed to the greatest hardships), are not so fully or so roundly developed in person as the men."

The rule that races admire those personal characteristics which climate and circumstances have impressed on them is not borne out among Australians. An arid soil and a desiccating climate make them thin as a race, but they do not admire thinness. "Long-legged," "thin-legged," are favorite terms of abuse among them, and Grey once heard a native sing scornfully

Oh, what a leg,

* * * * *

You kangaroo-footed churl!

Nor is it beauty, in our sense of the word, that attracts them, but fat, as in Africa and the Orient. I have previously quoted Brough Smyth's assertion that an Australian woman, however old and ugly, is in constant danger of being stolen if she is fat. That women have the same standard of "taste," appears from the statement of H.E.A. Meyer (189), that the principal reason why the men anoint themselves with grease and ochre is that it makes them look fat and "gives them an air of importance in the eyes of the women, for they admire a fat man however ugly." But whereas these men admire a fat woman for sensual reasons, the women's preference is based on utilitarian motives. Low as their reasoning powers are, they are shrewd enough to reflect that a man who is in good condition proves thereby that he is "somebody"—that he can hunt and will be able to bring home some meat for his wife too. This interpretation is borne out by what was said on a previous page (278) about one of the reasons why corpulence is valued in Fiji, and also by an amusing incident related by the eminent Australian explorer George Grey (II., 93). He had reproached his native guide with not knowing anything, when the guide replied:

"I know nothing! I know how to keep myself fat; the young women look at me and say, 'Imbat is very handsome, he is fat'—they will look at you and say, 'He not good—long legs—what do you know? Where is your fat? What for do you know so much, if you can't keep fat?"


Eyre was no doubt right in his suggestion that the inferiority of Australian women to the men in personal appearance was due to the privations and hardships to which the women were subjected. Much as the men admire fat in a woman, they are either too ignorant, or too selfish otherwise, to allow them to grow fat in idleness. Women in Australia never exist for their own sake but solely for the convenience of the men. "The man," says the Rev. H.E.A. Meyer (11), "regarding them more as slaves than in any other light, employs them in every possible way to his own advantage." "The wives were the absolute property of the husband," says the Rev. G. Taplin (XVII. to XXXVII.),

"and were given away, exchanged, or lent, as their owners saw fit." "The poor creatures ... are always seen to a disadvantage, being ... the slaves of their husbands and of the tribes." "The women in all cases came badly off when they depended upon what the men of the tribes chose to give them."

"The woman is an absolute slave. She is treated with the greatest cruelty and indignity, has to do all laborious work, and to carry all the burthens. For the slightest offence or dereliction of duty, she is beaten with a waddy or a yam-stick, and not unfrequently speared. The records of the Supreme Court in Adelaide furnish numberless instances of blacks being tried for murdering their lubras. The woman's life is of no account if her husband chooses to destroy it, and no one ever attempts to protect or take her part under any circumstances. In times of scarcity of food, she is the last to be fed and the last considered in any way. That many of them die in consequence cannot be a matter of wonder.... The condition of the women has no influence over their treatment, and a pregnant female is dealt with and is expected to do as much as if she were in perfect health.... The condition of the native women is wretched and miserable in the extreme; in fact, in no savage nation of which there is any record can it be any worse."

And again (p. 72):

"The men think nothing of thrashing their wives, knocking them on the head, and inflicting frightful gashes; but they never beat the boys. And the sons treat their mothers very badly. Very often mere lads will not hesitate to strike and throw stones at them."

"Women," says Eyre (322), "are frequently beaten about the head with waddies, in the most dreadful manner, or speared in the limbs for the most trivial offences."

There is hardly one, he says, that has not some frightful scars on the body; and he saw one who "appeared to have been almost riddled with spear-wounds." "Does a native meet a woman in the woods and violate her, he is not the one to feel the vengeance of the husband, but the poor victim whom he has abused" (387). "Women surprised by strange blacks are always abused and often massacred" (Curr, I., 108). "A black hates intensely those of his own race with whom he is unacquainted, always excepting the females. To one of these he will become attached if he succeeds in carrying one off; otherwise he will kill the women out of mere savageness and hatred of their husbands" (80). "Whenever they can, blacks in their wild state never neglect to massacre all male strangers who fall into their power. Females are ravished, and often slain afterward if they cannot be conveniently carried off."

The natives of Victoria "often break to pieces their six-feet-long sticks on the heads of the women" (Waitz, VI., 775). "In the case of a man killing his own gin [wife], he has to deliver up one of his own sisters for his late wife's friends to put to death" (W.E. Roth, 141). After a war, when peace is patched up, it sometimes happens that "the weaker party give some nets and women to make matters up" (Curr, II., 477). In the same volume (331) we find a realistic picture of masculine selfishness at home:

"When the mosquitoes are bad, the men construct with forked sticks driven into the ground rude bedsteads, on which they sleep, a fire being made underneath to keep off with its smoke the troublesome insects. No bedsteads, however, fall to the share of the women, whose business it is to keep the fires burning whilst their lords sleep."

Concerning woman in the lower Murray tribes, Bulmer says[153] that "on the journey her lord would coolly walk along with merely his war implements, weighing only a few pounds, while his wife was carrying perhaps sixty pounds."

The lives of the women "are rated as of the less value than those of the men." "Their corpses are often thrown to dogs for food" (Waitz, VL, 775). "These poor creatures," says Wilkinson of the South Australian women (322),

"are in an abject state, and are only treated with about the same consideration as the dogs that accompany them; they are obliged to give any food that may be desired to the men, and sit and see them eat it, considering themselves amply repaid if they are rewarded by having a piece of gizzle, or any other leavings, pitched to them."

J.S. Wood (71) relates this characteristic story:

"A native servant was late in keeping his appointment with his master, and, on inquiry, it was elicited that he had just quarrelled with one of his wives, and had speared her through the body. On being rebuked by his master, he turned off the matter with a laugh, merely remarking that white men had only one wife, whereas he had two, and did not mind losing one till he could buy another."

Sturt. who made two exploring expeditions (1829-1831), wrote (II., 55) that the men oblige their women to procure their own food, or they "throw to them over their shoulders the bones they have already picked, with a nonchalance that is extremely amusing." The women are also excluded from religious ceremonies; many of the best things to eat are taboo to them; and the cruel contempt of the men pursues them even after death. The men are buried with ceremony (Curr, I., 89), but "as the women and children are held to be very inferior to the men whilst alive, and their spirits are but little feared after death, they are interred with but scant ceremony... the women alone wailing." Thus they show their contempt even for the ghosts of women, though they are so afraid of other ghosts that they never leave camp in the dark or have a nocturnal dance except by moonlight or with big fires!


Such is the Australian's treatment of woman—a treatment so selfish, so inconsistent with the altruistic traits and impulses of romantic love—sympathy, gallantry, and self-sacrificing affection, not to speak of adoration—that it alone proves him incapable of so refined a sentiment. If any doubt remained, it would be removed by his utter inability to rise above the sensual sphere. The Australian is absolutely immoral and incredibly licentious. Here, however, we are confronted by a spectre with which the sentimentalists try to frighten the searchers for truth, and which must therefore be exorcised first. They grant the wantonness of savages, but declare that it is "due chiefly to the influence of civilization." This is one of the favorite subterfuges of Westermarck, who resorts to it again and again. In reference to the Australians he cites what Edward Stephens wrote regarding the former inhabitants of the Adelaide Plains:

"Those who speak of the natives as a naturally degraded race, either do not speak from experience, or they judge them by what they have become when the abuse of intoxicants and contact with the most wicked of the white race have begun their deadly work. As a rule to which there are no exceptions, if a tribe of blacks is found away from the white settlement, the more vicious of the white men are most anxious to make the acquaintance of the natives, and that, too, solely for purposes of immorality. ... I saw the natives and was much with them before those dreadful immoralities were well known ... and I say it fearlessly, that nearly all their evils they owed to the white man's immorality and to the white man's drink."

Now the first question a conscientious truth-seeker feels inclined to ask regarding this "fearless" Stephens who thus boldly accuses of ignorance all those who hold that the Australian race was degraded before it came in contact with whites, is, "Who is he and what are his qualifications for serving as a witness in this matter?" He is, or was, a simple-minded settler, kindly no doubt, who for some inscrutable reason was allowed to contribute a paper to the Journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales (Vol. XXXIII.). His qualifications for appearing as an expert in Australian anthropology may be inferred from various remarks in his paper. He naively tells a story about a native who killed an opossum, and after eating the meat, threw the intestines to his wife. "Ten years before that," he adds, "that same man would have treated his wife as himself." Yet we have just seen that all the explorers, in all parts of the country, found that the natives who had never seen a white man treated their women like slaves and dogs.


If the savage learned his wantonness from the whites, did he get all his other vicious habits from the same source? We know on the best authorities that the disgusting practice of cannibalism prevailed extensively among the natives. "They eat the young men when they die, and the young women if they are fat" (Curr, III., 147). Lumholtz entitled his book on Australia Among Cannibals. The Rev. G. Taplin says (XV.):

"Among the Dieyerie tribe cannibalism is the universal practice, and all who die are indiscriminately devoured ... the mother eats the flesh of her children, and the children that of their mother," etc.

"If a man had a fat wife," says the same writer (2), "he was always particularly careful not to leave her unprotected, lest she might be seized by prowling cannibals." Among the wilder tribes few women are allowed to die a natural death, "they being generally despatched ere they become old and emaciated, that so much good food may not be lost."[154] Would the "fearless" Stephens say that the natives learned these practices from the whites? Would he say they learned from the whites the "universal custom ... to slay every unprotected male stranger met with" (Curr, I., 133)?

"Infanticide is very common, and appears to be practised solely to get rid of the trouble of rearing children," wrote Eyre (II., 324). Curr (I., 70) heard that "some tribes within the area of the Central Division cut off the nipples of the females' breasts, in some instances, for the purpose of rendering their rearing of children impossible." On the Mitchell River, "children were killed for the most trivial offences, such as for accidentally breaking a weapon as they trotted about the camp" (Curr, II., 403). Twins are destroyed in South Australia, says Leigh (159), and if the mother dies "they throw the living infant into the grave, while infanticide is an every-day occurrence." Curr (I., 70) believes that the average number of children borne by each woman was six, the maximum ten; but of all these only two boys and one girl as a rule were kept, "the rest were destroyed immediately after birth," as we destroy litters of puppies. Sometimes the infants were smothered over a fire (Waitz, VI., 779), and deformed children were always killed. Taplin (13) writes that before his colony was established among them infanticide was very prevalent among the natives. "One intelligent woman said she thought that if the Europeans had waited a few more years they would have found the country without inhabitants." Strangulation, a blow of the waddy, or filling the ears with red-hot embers, were the favorite ways of killing their own babies.

Did the whites teach the angelic savages all these diabolical customs? If so, they must have taught them customs invented for the occasion, since they are not practised by whites in any part of the world. But perhaps Stephens would have been willing to waive this point. Sentimentalists are usually more or less willing to concede that savages are devils in most things if we will only admit in return that they are angels in their sexual relations. For instance, if we may believe Stephens, no nun was ever more modest than the native Australian woman. Once, he says, he was asked to visit a poor old black woman in the last stages of consumption:

"Her case was hopeless, and when she was in almost the last agony of mortal dissolution I was astounded at her efforts at concealment, indicative of extreme modesty. As I drew her opossum rug over her poor emaciated body the look of gratitude which came from her dying eyes told me in language more eloquent than words that beneath that dark and dying exterior there was a soul which in a few hours angels would delight to honor."

The poor woman was probably cold and glad to be covered; if she had any modesty regarding exposure of the body she could have learned it from no one but the dreadful, degraded whites, for the Australian himself is an utter stranger to such a feeling. On this point the explorers and students of the natives are unanimous. Both men and women went absolutely naked except in those regions where the climate was cold.


"They are as innocent of shame as the animals of the forest," says E. Palmer; and J. Bonwick writes: "Nakedness is no shame with them. As a French writer once remarked to a lady, 'With a pair of gloves you could clothe six men.'" Even ornaments are worn by the men only: "females are content with their natural charms." W.E. Roth, in his standard work on the Queensland natives, says that "with both sexes the privates are only covered on special public occasions, or when in close proximity to white settlements." With the Warburton River tribe (Curr, II, 18) "the women go quite naked, and the men have only a belt made of human hair round the waist from which a fringe spun of hair of rats hangs in front." Sturt wrote (I., 106): "The men are much better looking than the women; both go perfectly naked."

At the dances a covering of feathers or leaves is sometimes worn by the women, but is removed as soon as the dance is over. Narrinyeri girls, says Taplin (15), "wear a sort of apron of fringe, called Kaininggi, until they bear their first child. If they have no children it is taken from them and burned by their husbands while they are asleep." Meyer (189) says the same of the Encounter Bay tribe, and similar customs prevailed at Port Jackson and many other places. Summing up the observations of Cook, Turnbull, Cunningham, Tench, Hunter, and others, Waitz remarks (VI., 737):

"In the region of Sydney, too, the natives used to be entirely nude, and as late as 1816 men would go about the streets of Paramatta and Sydney naked, despite many prohibitions and attempts to clothe them, which always failed"

—so ingrained was the absence of shame in the native mind.

Jackman, the "Australian Captive," an Englishman who spent seventeen months among the natives, describes them as being "as nude as Adam and Eve" (99). "The Australians' utter lack of modesty is remarkable," writes F. Mueller (207):

"it reveals itself in the way in which their clothes are worn. While an attempt is made to cover the upper, especially the back part of the body, the private parts are often left uncovered."

One early explorer, Sturt (II., 126), found the natives of the interior, without exception, "in a complete state of nudity."

The still earlier Governor Philipps (1787) found that the inhabitants of New South Wales had no idea that one part of the body ought to be covered more than any other. Captain Flinders, who saw much of Australia in 1795, speaks in one place (I., 66) of "the short skin cloak which is of kangaroo, and worn over the shoulders, leaving the rest of the body naked." This was in New South Wales. At Keppel Bay (II., 30) he writes: "These people ... go entirely naked;" and so on at other points of the continent touched on his voyage. In Dawson (61) we read: "They were perfectly naked, as they always are." Nor has the Australian in his native state changed in the century or more since whites have known him. In the latest book on Central Australia (1899) by Spencer and Gillen we read (17) that to this day a native woman "with nothing on except an ancient straw hat and an old pair of boots is perfectly happy."


The reader is now in a position to judge of the reliability of the "fearless" Stephens as a witness, and of the blind bias of the anthropologist who uses him as such. It surely ought not to be necessary to prove that races among whom cannibalism, infanticide, wife enslavement and murder, and other hideous crimes are rampant as unreproved national customs, could not possibly be refined and moral in their sexual relations, which offer the greatest of all temptations to unrestrained selfishness. Yet Stephens tells us in his article that before the advent of the whites these people were chaste, and "conjugal infidelity was almost if not entirely unknown;" while Westermarck (61, 64, 65) classes the Australians with those savages "among whom sexual intercourse out of wedlock is of rare occurrence." On page 70 he declares that "in a savage condition of life ... there is comparatively little reason for illegitimate relations;" and on page 539, in summing up his doctrines, he asserts that "we have some reason to believe that irregular connections between the sexes have, on the whole, exhibited a tendency to increase along with the progress of civilization." The refutation of this libel on civilization—which is widely believed—is one of the main objects of the following pages—is, in fact, one of the main objects of this whole volume.

There are a few cities in Southern Europe where the rate of illegitimacy equals, and in one or two cases slightly exceeds, the legitimate births; but that is owing to the fact that betrayed girls from the country nearly always go to the cities to find a refuge and hide their shame. Taking the countries as a whole we find that even Scotland, which has always had a somewhat unsavory reputation in this respect, had, in 1897, only 6.98 per cent of illegitimate births—say seven in a hundred; the highest rate since 1855 having been 10.2. There are, of course, besides this, cases of uncertain paternity, but their number is comparatively small, and it certainly is much larger in the less civilized countries of Europe than in the more civilized. Taking the five or six most advanced countries of Europe and America, it is safe to say that the paternity is certain in ninety cases out of a hundred. If we now look at the Australians as described by eye-witnesses since the earliest exploring tours, we find a state of affairs which makes paternity uncertain in all cases without exception, and also a complete indifference on the subject.


One of the first explorers of the desert interior was Eyre (1839). His experiences—covering ten years—led him to speak (378) of "the illicit and almost unlimited intercourse between the sexes." "Marriage is not looked upon as any pledge of chastity; indeed, no such virtue is recognized" (319). "Many of the native dances are of a grossly licentious character." Men rarely get married before they are twenty-five, but that does not mean that they are continent. From their thirteenth year they have promiscuous intercourse with girls who abandon themselves at the age of ten, though they rarely become mothers before they are sixteen.[155]

Another early explorer of the interior (1839), T.L. Mitchell, gives this glimpse of aboriginal morality (I., 133):

"The natives ... in return for our former disinterested kindness, persisted in their endeavors to introduce us very particularly to their women. They ordered them to come up, divested of their cloaks and bags, and placed them before us. Most of the men appeared to possess two, the pair in general consisting of a fat plump gin and one much younger. Each man placed himself before his gins, and bowing forward with a shrug, the hands and arms being thrown back pointing to each gin, as if to say, Take which you please. The females, on their part, evinced no apprehension, but seemed to regard us as beings of a race so different, without the slightest indication of either fear, aversion, or surprise. Their looks were rather expressive of a ready acquiescence in the proffered kindness of the men, and when at length they brought a sable nymph vis-a-vis to Mr. White, I could preserve my gravity no longer, and throwing the spears aside, I ordered the bullock-drivers to proceed."

George Grey, who, during his two exploring expeditions into Northwestern and Western Australia, likewise came in contact with the "uncontaminated" natives, found that, though "a spear through the calf of the leg is the least punishment that awaits" a faithless wife if detected, and sometimes the death-penalty is inflicted, yet "the younger women were much addicted to intrigue" (I., 231, 253), as indeed they appear to be throughout the continent, as we shall see presently.

Of all Australian institutions none is more characteristic than the corrobborees or nocturnal dances which are held at intervals by the various tribes all over the continent, and were of course held centuries before a white man was ever seen on the continent; and no white man in his wildest nightmare ever dreamt of such scenes as are enacted at them. They are given preferably by moonlight, are apt to last all night, and are often attended by the most obscene and licentious practices. The corrobboree, says Curr (I., 92), was undoubtedly "often an occasion of licentiousness and atrocity"; fights, even wars, ensue, "and almost invariably as the result of outrages on women." The songs heard at these revels are sometimes harmless and the dances not indecent, says the Rev. G. Taplin (37),

"but at other times the songs will consist of the vilest obscenity. I have seen dances which were the most disgusting displays of obscene gesture possible to be imagined, and although I stood in the dark alone, and nobody knew I was there, I felt ashamed to look upon such abominations.... The dances of the women are very immodest and lewd." John Mathew (in Curr, III., 168) testifies regarding the corrobborees of the Mary Eiver tribes that

"the representations were rarely free from obscenity, and on some occasions indecent gestures were the main parts of the action. I have seen a structure formed of huge forked sticks placed upright in the ground, the forks upward, with saplings reaching from fork to fork, and boughs laid over all. This building was part of the machinery for a corrobboree, at a certain stage of which the males, who were located on the roof, rushed down among the females, who were underneath and handled them licentiously."[156]


The lowest depth of aboriginal degradation remains to be sounded. Like most of the Africans, Australians are lower than animals inasmuch as they often do not wait till girls have reached the age of puberty. Meyer (190) says of the Narrinyeri: "They are given in marriage at a very early age (ten or twelve years)." Lindsay Cranford[157] testifies regarding five South Australian tribes that "at puberty no girl, without exception, is a virgin." With the Paroo River tribes "the girls became wives whilst mere children, and mothers at fourteen" (Curr, II., 182). Of other tribes Curr's correspondents write (107):

"Girls become wives at from eight to fourteen years." "One often sees a child of eight the wife of a man of fifty." "Girls are promised to men in infancy, become wives at about ten years of age, and mothers at fourteen or fifteen" (342).

The Birria tribe waits a few years longer, but atones for this by a resort to another crime: "Males and females are married at from fourteen to sixteen, but are not allowed to rear children until they get to be about thirty years of age; hence infanticide is general." The missionary O.W. Schuermann says of the Port Lincoln tribe (223): "Notwithstanding the early marriage of females, I have not observed that they have children at an earlier age than is common among Europeans." Of York district tribes we are told (I., 343) that "girls are betrothed shortly after birth, and brutalities are practised on them while mere children." Of the Kojonub tribe (348): "Girls are promised in marriage soon after birth, and given over to their husbands at about nine years of age." Of the Natingero tribe (380): "The girls go to live with their husbands at from seven to ten years, and suffer dreadfully from intercourse." Of the Yircla Meening tribe (402):

"Females become wives at ten and mothers at twelve years of age." "Mr. J.M. Davis and others of repute declare, as a result of long acquaintance with Australian savages, that the girls were made use of for promiscuous intercourse when they were only nine or ten years old." (Sutherland, I., 113.)

It is needless to continue this painful catalogue.


Eyre's assertion regarding chastity, that "no such virtue is recognized," has already been quoted, and is borne out by testimony of many other writers. In the Dieyerie tribe "each married woman is permitted a paramour." (Curr, II., 46.) Taplin says of the Narrinyeri (16, 18) that boys are not allowed to marry until their beard has grown a certain length; "but they are allowed the abominable privilege of promiscuous intercourse with the younger portion of the other sex." A.W. Howitt describes[158] a strange kind of group marriage prevalent among the Dieri and kindred tribes, the various couples being allotted to each other by the council of elder men without themselves being consulted as to their preferences. During the ensuing festivities, however, "there is for about four hours a general license in camp as regards" the couples thus "married." Meyer (191) says of the Encounter Bay tribes that if a man from another tribe arrives having anything which a native desires to purchase, "he perhaps makes a bargain to pay by letting him have one of his wives for a longer or shorter period." Angas (I., 93) refers to the custom of lending wives. In Victoria the natives have a special name for the custom of lending one of their wives to young men who have none. Sometimes they are thus lent for a month at a time.[159] As we shall presently see, one reason why Australian men marry is to have the means of making friends by lending their wives to others. The custom of allowing friends to share the husband's privileges was also widely prevalent.

In New South Wales and about Riverina, says Brough Smyth (II., 316),

"in any instance where the abduction [of a woman] has taken place by a party of men 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."

Curr informs us (I., 128) that if a woman resist her husband's orders to give herself up to another man she is "either speared or cruelly beaten." Fison (303) believes that the lending of wives to visitors was looked on not as a favor but a duty—a right which the visitor could claim; and Howitt showed that in the native gesture language there was a special sign for this custom—"a peculiar folding of the hands," indicating "either a request or an offer, according as it is used by the guest or the host."[160] Concerning Queensland tribes Roth says (182):

"If an aboriginal requires a woman temporarily for venery he either borrows a wife from her husband for a night or two in exchange for boomerangs, a shield, food, etc., or else violates the female when unprotected, when away from the camp out in the bush. In the former case the husband looks upon the matter as a point of honor to oblige his friend, the greatest compliment that can be paid him, provided that permission is previously asked. On the other hand, were he to refuse he has the fear hanging over him that the petitioner might get a death-bone pointed at him—and so, after all, his apparent courtesy may be only Hobson's choice. In the latter case, if a married woman, and she tells her husband, she gets a hammering, and should she disclose the delinquent, there will probably be a fight, and hence she usually keeps her mouth shut; if a single woman, or of any paedomatronym other than his own, no one troubles himself about the matter. On the other hand, death by the spear or club is the punishment invariably inflicted by the camp council collectively for criminally assaulting any blood relative, group-sister (i.e., a female member of the same paedomatronym) or young woman that has not yet been initiated into the first degree."

The last sentence would indicate that these tribes are not so indifferent to chastity as the other natives; but the information given by Roth (who for three years was surgeon-general to the Boulia, Cloncurry and Normanton hospitals) dispels such an illusion most radically.[161]


In Central Australia, says H. Kempe,[162] "there is no separation of the sexes in social life; in the daily camp routine as well as at festivals all the natives mingle as they choose." Curr asserts (I., 109) that

"in most tribes a woman is not allowed to converse or have any relations whatever with any adult male, save her husband. Even with a grown-up brother she is almost forbidden to exchange a word."

Grey (II., 255) found that at dances the females sat in groups apart and the young men were never allowed to approach them and not permitted to hold converse with any one except their mother or sisters. "On no occasion," he adds,

"is a strange native allowed to approach the fire of the married." "The young men and boys of ten years of age and upward are obliged to sleep in their portion of the encampment."

From such testimony one might infer that female chastity is successfully guarded; but the writers quoted themselves take care to dispel that illusion. Grey tells us that (in spite of these arrangements) "the young females are much addicted to intrigue;" and again (248):

"Should a female be possessed of considerable personal attractions, the first years of her life must necessarily be very unhappy. In her early infancy she is betrothed to some man, even at this period advanced in years, and by whom, as she approaches the age of puberty, she is watched with a degree of vigilance and care, which increases in proportion to the disparity of years between them; it is probably from this circumstance that so many of them are addicted to intrigues, in which if they are detected by their husbands, death or a spear through some portion of the body is their certain fate."

And Curr shows in the following (109) how far the attempts at seclusion are from succeeding in enforcing chastity:

"Notwithstanding the savage jealousy, varied by occasional degrading complaisance on the part of the husband, there is more or less intrigue in every camp; and the husband usually assumes that his wife has been unfaithful to him whenever there has been an opportunity for criminality.... In some tribes the husband will frequently prostitute his wife to his brother; otherwise more commonly to strangers visiting his tribe than to his own people, and in this way our exploring parties have been troubled with proposals of the sort."

Apart from the other facts here given, the words I have italicized above would alone show that what makes an Australian in some instances guard his females is not a regard for chastity, or jealousy in our sense of the word, but simply a desire to preserve his movable property—a slave and concubine who, if young or fat, is very liable to be stolen or, on account of the bad treatment she receives from her old master, to run away with a younger man.[163]

If any further evidence were needed on this head it would be supplied by the authoritative statement of J.D. Wood[164] that

"In fact, chastity as a virtue is absolutely unknown amongst all the tribes of which there are records. The buying, taking, or stealing of a wife is not at all influenced by considerations of antecedent purity on the part of the woman. A man wants a wife and he obtains one somehow. She is his slave and there the matter ends."


Since this chapter was written a new book on Australia has appeared which bears out the views here taken so admirably that I must insert a brief reference to its contents. It is Spencer and Gillen's The Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899), and relates to nine tribes over whom Baldwin Spencer had been placed as special magistrate and sub-protector for some years, during which he had excellent opportunities to study their customs. The authors tell us (62, 63) that

"In the Urabunna tribe every woman is the special Nupa of one particular man, but at the same time he has no exclusive right to her, as she is the Piraungaru of certain other men who also have the right of access to her.... There is no such thing as one man having the exclusive right to one woman.... Individual marriage does not exist either in name or in practice in the Urabunna tribe."

"Occasionally, but rarely, it happens that a man attempts to prevent his wife's Piraungaru from having access to her, but this leads to a fight, and the husband is looked upon as churlish. When visiting distant groups where, in all likelihood, the husband has no Piraungaru, it is customary for other men of his own class to offer him the loan of one or more of their Nupa women, and a man, besides lending a woman over whom he has the first right, will also lend his Piraungaru."

In the Arunta tribe there is a restriction of a particular woman to a particular man, "or rather, a man has an exclusive right to one special woman, though he may of his own free will lend her to other men," provided they stand in a certain artificial relation to her (74). However (92):

"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."

In the southern Arunta, after a certain ceremony has been performed, the bride is brought back to camp and given to her special Unawa. "That night he lends her to one or two men who are unawa to her, and afterward she belongs to him exclusively." At this time when a woman is being, so to speak, handed over to one particular individual, special individuals with whom at ordinary times she may have no intercourse, have the right of access to her. Such customs our authors interpret plausibly as partial promiscuity pointing to a time when still greater laxity prevailed—suggesting rudimentary organs in animals (96).

Among some tribes at corrobboree time, every day two or three women are told off and become the property of all the men on the corrobboree grounds, excepting fathers, brothers, or sons. Thus there are three stages of individual ownership in women: In the first, whilst the man has exclusive right to a woman, he can and does lend her to certain other men; in the second there is a wider relation in regard to particular men at the time of marriage; and in the third a still wider relation to all men except the nearest relatives, at corrobboree time. Only in the first of these cases can we properly speak of wife "lending"; in the other cases the individuals have no choice and cannot withhold their consent, the matter being of a public or tribal nature. As regards the corrobborees, it is supposed to be the duty of every man at different times 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 taboo, her Mura. [All women whose daughters are eligible as wives are mura to a man.] Old and young men alike must give up their wives on these occasions. "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" (98).


These revelations of Spencer and Gillen, taken in connection with the abundant evidence I have cited from the works of early explorers as to the utter depravity of the aboriginal Australian when first seen by white men, will make it impossible hereafter for anyone whose reasoning powers exceed a native Australian's to maintain that it was the whites who corrupted these savages. It takes an exceptionally shrewd white man even to unravel the customs of voluntary or obligatory wife sharing or lending which prevail in all parts of Australia, and which must have required not only hundreds but thousands of years to assume their present extraordinarily complex aspect; customs which form part and parcel of the very life of Australians and which represent the lowest depths of sexual depravity, since they are utterly incompatible with chastity, fidelity, legitimacy, or anything else we understand by sexual morality. In some cases, no doubt, contact with the low whites and their liquor aggravated these evils by fostering professional prostitution and making men even more ready than before to treat their wives as merchandise. Lumholtz, who lived several years among these savages, makes this admission (345), but at the same time he is obliged to join all the other witnesses in declaring that apart from this "there is not much to be said of the morals of the blacks, for I am sorry to say they have none." On a previous page (42) I cited Sutherland's summary of a report of the House of Commons (1844, 350 pages), which shows that the Australian native, as found by the first white visitors, manifested "an absolute incapacity to form even a rudimentary notion of chastity." The same writer, who was born and brought up in Australia, says (I., 121):

"In almost every case the father or husband will dispose of the girl's virtue for a small price. When white men came they found these habits prevailing. The overwhelming testimony proves it absurd to say that they demoralized the unsophisticated savages."

And again (I., 186),

"It is untrue that in sexual license the savage has ever anything to learn. In almost every tribe there are pollutions deeper than any I have thought it necessary to mention, and all that the lower fringe of civilized men can do to harm the uncivilized is to stoop to the level of the latter, instead of teaching them a better way."[165]


As regards the promiscuity question, Spencer and Gillen's observations go far to confirm some of the seemingly fantastic speculations regarding "a thousand miles of wives," and so on, contained in the volume of Fison and Howitt[166] and to make it probable that unregulated intercourse was the state of primitive man at a stage of evolution earlier than any known to us now. Since the appearance of Westermarck's History of Human Marriage it has become the fashion to regard the theory of promiscuity as disproved. Alfred Russell Wallace, in his preface to this book, expresses his opinion that "independent thinkers" will agree with its author on most of the points wherein he takes issue with his famous predecessors, including Spencer, Morgan, Lubbock, and others. Ernst Grosse, in a volume which the president of the German Anthropological Society pronounced "epoch-making"—Die Formen der Familie—refers (43) to Westermarck's "very thorough refutation" of this theory, which he stigmatizes as one of the blunders of the unfledged science of sociology which it will be best to forget as soon as possible; adding that "Westermarck's best weapons were, however, forged by Starcke."

In a question like this, however, two independent observers are worth more than two hundred "independent thinkers." Spencer and Gillen are eye-witnesses, and they inform us repeatedly (100, 105, 108, 111) that Westermarck's objections to the theory of promiscuity do not stand the test of facts and that none of his hypotheses explains away the customs which point to a former prevalence of promiscuity. They have absolutely disproved his assertion (539) that "it is certainly not among the lowest peoples that sexual relations most nearly approach promiscuity." Cunow, who, as Grosse admits (50), has written the most thorough and authentic monograph on the complicated family relationship of Australia, devotes two pages (122-23) to exposing some of Westermarck's arguments, which, as he shows, "border on the comic." I myself have in this chapter, as well as in those on Africans, American Indians, South Sea Islanders, etc., revealed the comicality of the assertion that there is in a savage condition of life "comparatively little reason for illegitimate relations," which forms one of the main props of Westermarck's anti-promiscuity theory; and I have also reduced ad absurdum his systematic overrating of savages in the matter of liberty of choice, esthetic taste and capacity for affection which resulted from his pet theory and marred his whole book.[167]

It is interesting to note that Darwin (D.M., Ch. XX.) concluded from the facts known to him that "almost promiscuous intercourse or very loose intercourse was once extremely common throughout the world:" and the only thing that seemed to deter him from believing in absolutely promiscuous intercourse was the "strength of the feeling of jealousy." Had he lived to understand the true nature of savage jealousy explained in this volume and to read the revelations of Spencer and Gillen, that difficulty would have vanished. On this point, too, their remarks are of great importance, fully bearing out the view set forth in my chapter on jealousy. They declare (99) that they did not find sexual jealousy specially developed:

"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 language. In the one case he has merely stolen property, in the other he has offended against tribal law."

Jealousy, they sum up, "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."

The customs described by these authors show, moreover, that these savages do not allow jealousy to stand in the way of sexual communism, a man who refuses to share his wife being considered churlish, in one class of cases, while in another no choice is allowed him, the matter being arranged by the tribe. This point has not heretofore been sufficiently emphasized. It knocks away one of the strongest props of the anti-promiscuity theory, and it is supported by the remarks of Howitt,[168] who, after explaining how, among the Dieri, couples are chosen by headmen without consulting their wishes,—new allotments being made at each circumcision ceremony—and how the dance is followed by a general license, goes on to relate that all these matters are carefully arranged so as to prevent jealousy. Sometimes this passion breaks out nevertheless, leading to bloody quarrels; but the main point is that systematic efforts are made to suppress jealousy: "No jealous feeling is allowed to be shown during this time under penalty of strangling." Whence we may fairly infer that under more primitive conditions the individual was allowed still less right to assert jealous claims of individual possession.

Australian jealousy presents some other interesting aspects, but we shall be better able to appreciate them if we first consider why a native ever puts himself into a position where jealous watchfulness of private property is called for.


Since chastity among the young of both sexes is not held of any account, and since the young girls, who are married to men four or five times their age, are always ready for an intrigue with a young bachelor, why does an Australian ever marry? He does not marry for love, for, as this whole chapter proves, he is incapable of such a sentiment. His appetites need not urge him to marry, since there are so many ways of appeasing them outside of matrimony. He does not marry to enjoy a monopoly of a woman's favors, since he is ready to share them with others. Why then does he marry? One reason may be that, as the men get older (they seldom marry before they are twenty-five or even thirty), they have less relish for the dangers connected with woman-stealing and intrigues. A second reason is indicated in Hewitt's explanation (Jour. Anthr. Inst., XX., 58), that it is an advantage to an Australian to have as many wives as possible, as they work and hunt for him, and "he also obtains great influence in the tribe by lending them his Piraurus occasionally, and receiving presents from the young men."

The main reason, however, why an Australian marries is in order that he may have a drudge. I have previously cited Eyre's statement that the natives

"value a wife principally as a slave; in fact, when asked why they are anxious to obtain wives, their usual reply is, that they may get wood, water, and food for them, and carry whatever property they possess."

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