Primitive Love and Love-Stories
by Henry Theophilus Finck
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H. Kempe (loc. cit., 55) says that

"if there are plenty of girls they are married as early as possible (at the age of eight to ten), as far as possible to one and the same man, for as it is the duty of the women to provide food, a man who has several wives can enjoy his leisure the more thoroughly."

And Lindsay Cranford testifies (Jour. Anthrop. Inst., XXIV., 181) regarding the Victoria River natives that,

"after about thirty years of age a man is allowed to have as many women as he likes, and the older he gets the younger the girls are that he gets, probably to work and get food for him, for in their wild state the man is too proud to do anything except carry a woomera and spear."

Under these circumstances it is needless to say that there is not a trace of romance connected with an Australian marriage. After a man has secured his girl, she quietly submits and goes with him as his wife and drudge, to build his camp, gather firewood, fetch water, make nets, clear away grass, dig roots, fish for mussels, be his baggage mule on journeys, etc. (Brough Smyth, 84); and Eyre (II., 319) thus completes the picture. There is, he says, no marriage ceremony:

"In those cases where I have witnessed the giving away of a wife, the woman was simply ordered by the nearest male relative in whose disposal she was, to take up her 'rocko,' the bag in which a female carries the effects of her husband, and go to the man's camp to whom she had been given."


Thus the woman becomes the man's slave—his property in every sense of the word. No matter how he obtained her—by capture, elopement, or exchange for another woman—she is his own, as much as his spear or his boomerang. "The husband is the absolute owner of the wife," says Curr (I., 109). To cite Eyre once more (318):

"Wives are considered the absolute property of the husband, and can be given away, or exchanged, or lent, according to his caprice. A husband is denominated in the Adelaide dialect, Yongarra, Martanya (the owner or proprietor of a wife)."

A whole chapter in sociology is sometimes summed up in a word, as we see in this case. Another instance is the word gramma, concerning which we read in Lumholtz (126):

"The robbery of women, who also among these savages are regarded as a man's most valuable property, is both the grossest and the most common theft; for it is the usual way of getting a wife. Hence woman is the chief cause of disputes. Inchastity, which is called gramma, i.e., to steal, also falls under the head of theft."

Here we have a simple and concise explanation of Australian jealousy. The native knows jealousy in its crudest form—that of mere animal rage at being prevented by a rival from taking immediate possession of the object of his desire. He knows also the jealousy of property—i.e., revenge for infringement on it. Of this it is needless to give examples. But he knows not true jealousy—i.e., anxious concern for his wife's chastity and fidelity, since he is always ready to barter these things for a trifle. Proofs of this have already been adduced in abundance. Here is another authoritative statement by the missionary Schurmann, who writes (223):

"The loose practices of the aborigines, with regard to the sanctity of matrimony, form the worst trait in their character; although the men are capable of fierce jealousy if their wives transgress unknown to them, yet they frequently send them out to other parties, or exchange with a friend for a night; and, as for near relatives, such as brothers, it may almost be said that they have their wives in common."

An incident related by W.H. Leigh (152) shows in a startling way that among the Australians jealousy means nothing more than a desire for revenge because of infringement on property rights:

"A chief discovered that one of his wives had been sinning, and called a council, at which it was decided that the criminal should be sacrificed, or the adulterous chief give a victim to appease the wrathful husband. This was agreed to and he gave one of his wives, who was immediately escorted to the side of the river ... and there the ceremony was preluded by a war-song, and the enraged chief rushed upon the innocent and unfortunate victim—bent down her head upon her chest, whilst another thrust the pointed bone of a kangaroo under her left rib, and drove it upwards into her heart. The shrieks of the poor wretch brought down to the spot many colonists, who arrived in time only to see the conclusion of the horrid spectacle. After they had buried the bone in her body they took their glass-pointed spears and tore her entrails out, and finally fractured her skull with their waddies. This barbarous method of wreaking vengeance is common among them."[169]

The men being indifferent to female chastity, it would be vain to expect true jealousy on the part of the women. The men are entirely unrestrained in their appetites unless they interfere with other men's property rights, and in a community where polygamy prevails the jealousy which is based in a monopoly of affection has little chance to flourish. Taplin says (101) that

"a wife amongst the heathen aborigines has no objection to her husband taking another spouse, provided she is younger than herself, but if he brings home one older than herself there is apt to be trouble"

as the senior wife is "mistress of the camp," and in such a case the first wife is apt to run away. Vanity and envy, or the desire to be the favorite, thus appear to be the principal ingredients in an Australian woman's jealousy. Meyer (191) says of the Encounter Bay tribe:

"If a man has several girls at his disposal, he speedily obtains several wives, who, however, very seldom agree well with each other, but are continually quarreling, each endeavoring to be the favorite."

This, it will be observed, is the jealousy two pet dogs will feel of each other, and is utterly different from modern conjugal or lover's jealousy, which is chiefly based on an ardent regard for chastity and unswerving fidelity. In this phase jealousy is a noble and useful passion, helping to maintain the purity of the family; whereas, in the phase that prevails among savages it is utterly selfish and brutal. Palmer says[170] that "a new woman would always be beaten by the other wife, and a good deal would depend on the fighting powers of the former whether she kept her position or not." "Among the Kalkadoon," writes Roth (141),

"where a man may have three, four, or even five gins, the discarded ones will often, through jealousy, fight with her whom they consider more favored. On such occasions they may often resort to stone-throwing, or even use fire-sticks and stone-knives with which to mutilate the genitals."

Lumholtz says (213) the black women "often have bitter quarrels about men whom they love and are anxious to marry. If the husband is unfaithful, the wife frequently becomes greatly enraged."

George Grey (II., 312-14) gives an amusing sketch of an aboriginal scene of conjugal bliss. Weerang, an old man, has four wives, the last of whom, just added to the harem, gets all his attention. This excites the anger of one of the older ones, who reproaches the husband with having stolen her, an unwilling bride, from another and better man. "May the sorcerer," she adds, "bite and tear her whom you have now taken to your bed. Here am I, rebuking young men who dare to look at me, while she, your favorite, replete with arts and wiles, dishonors you." This last insinuation is too much for the young favorite, who retorts by calling her a liar and declaring that she has often seen her exchanging nods and winks with her paramour. The rival's answer is a blow with her stick. A general engagement follows, which the old man finally ends by beating several of the wives severely about the head with a hammer.[171]


Jealousy is capable of converting even civilized women into fiends; all the more these bush women, who have few opportunities for cultivating the gentler feminine qualities. Indeed, so masculine are these women that were it not for woman's natural inferiority in strength their tyrants might find it hard to subdue them. Bulmer says[172] that

"as a rule both husband and wife had fearful tempers; there was no bearing and forbearing. When they quarrelled it was a matter of the strongest conquering, for neither would give in."

Describing a native fight over some trifling cause Taplin says (71):

"Women were dancing about naked, casting dust in the air, hurling obscene language at their enemies, and encouraging their friends. It was a perfect tempest of rage."

Roth says of the Queensland natives that the women fight like men, with thick, heavy fighting poles, four feet long.

"One of the combatants, with her hands between her knees, supposing that only one stick is available, ducks her head slightly—almost in the position of a school-boy playing leap-frog, and waits for her adversary's blow, which she receives on the top of her head. The attitudes are now reversed, and the one just attacked is now the attacking party. Blow for blow is thus alternated until one of them gives in, which is generally the case after three or four hits. Great animal pluck is sometimes displayed.... Should a woman ever put up her hand or a stick, etc., to ward a blow, she would be regarded in the light of a coward" (141).

"At Genorminston, the women coming up to join a fray give a sort of war-whoop; they will jump up in the air, and as their feet, a little apart, touch the ground, they knock up the dust and sand with the fighting-pole, etc., held between their legs, very like one's early reminiscences in the picture-books of a witch riding a broom-stick."

"The ferocity of the women when excited exceeds that of the men," Grey informs us (II., 314); "they deal dreadful blows at one another," etc.

For some unexplained reason—possibly a vague sense of fair play which in time may lead to the beginnings of gallantry—there is one occasion, an initiation ceremonial, at which women are allowed to have their innings while the men are dancing. On this occasion, says Roth (176),

"each woman can exercise her right of punishing any man who may have ill-treated, abused, or hammered her, and for whom she may have waited months or perhaps years to chastise; for, as each pair appear around the corner at the entrance exposed to her view, the woman and any of her female friends may take a fighting-pole and belabor the particular culprit to their heart's content, the delinquent not being allowed to retaliate in any way whatsoever—the only occasion in the whole of her life when the woman can take the law into her own hands without fear or favor."


This last assertion is not strictly accurate. There are other occasions when women take the law into their hands, especially when men try to steal them, an every-day occurrence, at least in former times. Thus W.H. Leigh writes of the South Australians (152):

"Their manner of courtship is one which would not be popular among English ladies. If a chief, or any other individual, be smitten by a female of a different tribe, he endeavors to waylay her; and if she be surprised in any quiet place, the ambushed lover rushes upon her, beats her about the head with his waddy till she becomes senseless, when she is dragged in triumph to his hut. It sometimes happens, however, that she has a thick skull, and resents his blows, when a battle ensues, and not unfrequently ends in the discomfiture of the Adonis."

Similarly G.B. Wilkinson describes how the young men go, usually in groups of two or three, to capture brides of hostile tribes. They lurk about in concealment till they see that the women are alone, when they pounce upon them and, either by persuasion or blows, take away those they want; whereupon they try to regain their own tribe before pursuit can be attempted. "This stealing of wives is one cause of the frequent wars that take place amongst the natives."

Barrington's History of New South Wales is adorned with the picture of a big naked man having beside him, on her back, a beautifully formed naked girl whom he is dragging away by one arm. The monster, we read in the text, has come upon her unawares, clubbed her on the head and other parts of the body,

"then snatching up one of her arms, he drags her, streaming with blood from her wounds, through the woods, over stones, rocks, hills, and logs, with all the violence and determination of a savage," etc.

Curr (I., 237) objects to this picture as a gross exaggeration. He also declares (I., 108) that it is only on rare occasions that a wife is captured from another tribe and carried off, and that at present woman-stealing is not encouraged, as it is apt to involve a whole tribe in war for one man's sake. From older writers, however, one gets the impression that wife-stealing was a common custom. Howitt (351) remarks concerning the "wild white man" William Buckley, who lived many years among the natives, and whose adventures were written up by John Morgan, that at first sight his statements "seem to record merely a series of duels and battles about women who were stolen, speared, and slaughtered;" and Brough Smyth (77) quotes John Bulmer, who says that among the Gippsland natives

"sometimes a man who has no sister [to swap] will, in desperation, steal a wife; but this is invariably a cause of bloodshed. Should a woman object to go with her husband, violence would be used. I have seen a man drag away a woman by the hair of her head. Often a club is used until the poor creature is frightened into submission."

In South Australia there is a special expression for bride-stealing—Milla mangkondi, or force-marriage. (Bonwick, 65.)

Mitchell (I., 307) also observed that the possession of the women "seems to be associated with all their ideas of fighting." The same impression is conveyed by the writings of Salvado, Wilkes, and others—Sturt, e.g., who wrote (II., 283) that the abduction of a married or unmarried woman was a frequent cause of quarrel. Mitchell (I., 330) relates that when some whites told a native that they had killed a native of another tribe, his first thought and only remark was, "Stupid white fellows! Why did you not bring away the gins (women)?" It is unfortunate for a woman to possess the kind of "beauty" Australians admire for, as Grey says (II., 231),

"The early life of a young woman at all celebrated for beauty is generally one continued series of captivity to different masters, of ghastly wounds, of wanderings in strange families, of rapid flights, of bad treatment from other females amongst whom she is brought a stranger by her captor; and rarely do you see a form of unusual grace and elegance but it is marked and scarred by the furrows of old wounds; and many a female thus wanders several hundred miles from the home of her infancy."

It is not only from other and hostile tribes that these men forcibly appropriate girls or married women. Among the Hunter River tribes (Curr, III., 353), "men renowned as warriors frequently attacked their inferiors in strength and took their wives from them." The Queensland natives, we are told by Narcisse Peltier, who lived among them seventeen years, "not unfrequently fight with spears for the possession of a woman" (Spencer, P.S., I., 601). Lumholtz says (184) that "the majority of the young men wait a long time before they get wives, partly for the reason that they have not the courage to fight the requisite duel for one with an older man." On another page (212) he relates:

"Near Herbert Vale I had the good fortune to be able to witness a marriage among the blacks. A camp of natives was just at the point of breaking up, when an old man suddenly approached a woman, seized her by the wrist of her left hand and shouted Yongul ngipa!—that is, This one belongs to me (literally 'one I'). She resisted with feet and hands, and cried, but he dragged her off, though she made resistance during the whole time and cried at the top of her voice. For a mile away we could hear her shrieks.... But the women always make resistance, for they do not like to leave their tribe, and in many instances they have the best of reasons for kicking their lovers. If a man thinks he is strong enough, he will take hold of any woman's hand and utter his yongul ngipa. If a woman is good-looking, all the men want her, and the one who is most influential, or who is the strongest, is accordingly generally the victor."


It is obvious that when women are forcibly appropriated at home or stolen from other tribes, their inclination or choice is not consulted. A man wants a woman and she is seized, nolens volens, whether married or single. If she gets a man she likes, it is a mere accident, not likely to occur often. The same is true of another form of Australian "courtship" which may be called swapping girls, and which is far the most common way of getting a wife. Curr, after forty years' experience with native affairs, wrote (I., 107) that "the Australian male almost invariably obtains his wife or wives, either as the survivor of a married brother, or in exchange for his sisters or daughters." The Rev. H.E.A. Meyer says (10) that the marriage ceremony

"may with great propriety be considered an exchange, for no man can obtain a wife unless he can promise to give his sister or other relative in exchange.... Should the father be living he may give his daughter away, but generally she is the gift of the brother ... the girls have no choice in the matter, and frequently the parties have never seen each other before.... If a man has several girls at his disposal, he speedily obtains several wives,"

Eyre (II., 318) declares that

"the females, especially the young ones, are kept principally among the old men, who barter away their daughters, sisters, or nieces, in exchange for wives for themselves or their sons."

Grey (II., 230) says the same thing in different words:

"The old men manage to keep the females a good deal amongst themselves, giving their daughters to one another, and the more female children they have, the greater chance have they of getting another wife, by this sort of exchange."

Brough Smyth thus sums up (II., 84) the information on this subject he obtained from divers sources. A yam-stick is given to a girl when she reaches the age of marriage; with this she drives away any young man she does not fancy, for a mere "no" would not keep him at bay. "The women never initiate matches;" these are generally arranged between two young men who have sisters to exchange. "The young woman's opinion is not asked." When the young man is ready to "propose" to the girl he has bartered his sister for, he walks up to her equipped as for war—ready to parry her "love-taps" if she feels inclined that way. "After a little fencing between the pair the woman, if she has no serious objections to the man, quietly submits." If she has "serious objections," what happens? The same writer tells us graphically (76):

"By what mode soever a man procures a bride, it is very seldom an occasion of rejoicing by the female. The males engross the privilege of disposing of their female relatives, and it often happens that an old man of sixty or seventy will add to his domestic circle a young girl of ten or twelve years of age.... A man having a daughter of thirteen or fourteen years of age arranges with some elderly person for the disposal of her, and when all are agreed, she is brought out of the miam-miam, and told that her husband wants her. Perhaps she has never seen him, or seen him but to loathe him. The father carries a spear and waddy, or a tomahawk, and anticipating resistance, is thus prepared for it. The poor girl, sobbing and sighing, and uttering words of complaint, claims pity from those who will show none. If she resists the mandates of her father, he strikes her with his spear; if she rebels and screams, the blows are repeated; and if she attempts to run away, a stroke on the head from the waddy or tomahawk quiets her.... Seizing the bride by the hair the stern father drags her to the home prepared for her by her new owner.... If she attempts to abscond, the bridegroom does not hesitate to strike her savagely on the head with his waddy; and the bridal screams and yells make the night hideous.... If she is still determined to escape and makes the attempt, the father will at last spear her in the leg or foot, to prevent her from running."

No more than girls are widows allowed the liberty of choice. Sometimes they are disposed of by being exchanged for young women of another tribe and have to marry the men chosen for them (95).

"When wives are from thirty-five to forty years of age, they are frequently cast off by their husbands, or are given to the younger men in exchange for their sisters or near relatives, if such are at their disposal" (Eyre, II., 322).

In the Murray tribes "a widow could not marry any one she chose. She was the property of her husband's family, hence she must marry her husband's brother or near relative; and even if he had a wife she must become No. 2 or 3."


The evidence, in short, is unanimously to the effect that the Australian girl has absolutely no liberty of choice. Yet the astonishing Westermarck, ignoring, more suo, the overwhelming number of facts against him, endeavors in two places (217, 223) to convey the impression to his readers that she does largely enjoy the freedom of choice, placing his sole reliance in two assertions by Howitt and Mathew.[173] Howitt says that among the Kurnai, women are allowed free choice, and Mathew "asserts that, with varying details, marriage by mutual consent will be found among other tribes, also, though it is not completed except by means of a runaway match." Now Hewitt's assertion is contradicted by Curr, who, in addition to his own forty years of experience among the natives had the systematized notes of a large number of correspondents to base his conclusions on. He says (I., 108) that "in no instance, unless Mr. Howitt's account of the Kurnai be correct, which I doubt, has the female any voice in the selection of a husband." He might have added that Hewitt's remark is contradicted in his own book, where we are told that among the Kurnai elopement is the rule. Strange to say, it seems to have occurred neither to Howitt, nor to Westermarck, nor to Mathew that elopement proves the absence of choice, for if there were liberty of choice the couple would not be obliged to run away. Nor is this all. The facts prove that marriage by actual elopement[174] is of rare occurrence; that "marriage" based on such elopement is nearly always adulterous (with another man's wife) and of brief duration—a mere intrigue, in fact; that the guilty couple are severely punished, if not killed outright; and that everything that is possible is done to prevent or frustrate elopements based on individual preference or liking. On the first of these points Curr gives us the most comprehensive and reliable information (I., 108):

"Within the tribe, lovers occasionally abscond to some corner of the tribal territory, but they are soon overtaken, the female cruelly beaten, or wounded with a spear, the man in most cases remaining unpunished. Very seldom are men allowed to retain as wives their partners in these escapades. Though I have been acquainted with many tribes, and heard matters of the sort talked over in several of them, I never knew but three instances of permanent runaway matches; two in which men obtained as wives women already married in the tribe, and one case in which the woman was a stranger."

William Jackman, who was held as a captive by the natives for seventeen months, tells a similar story. Elopements, he says (174), are usually with wives. The couple escape to a distant tribe and remain a few months—rarely more than seven or eight, so far as he observed; then the faithless wife is returned to her husband and the elopers are punished more or less severely. "At times," we read in Spencer and Gillen (556, 558)

"the eloping couple are at once followed up and then, if caught, the woman is, if not killed on the spot, at all events treated in such a way that any further attempt at elopement on her part is not likely to take place."

Sometimes the husband seems glad to have got rid of his wife, for when the elopers return to camp he first has his revenge by cutting the legs and body of both and then he cries "You keep altogether, I throw away, I throw away."

It is instructive to note with what ingenuity the natives seek to prevent matches based on mutual inclination. Taplin says (11) of the Narrinyeri that "a young woman who goes away with a man and lives with him as his wife without the consent of her relatives is regarded as very little better than a prostitute." Among these same Narrinyeri, says Gason, "it is considered disgraceful for a woman to take a husband who has given no other woman for her." (Bonwick, 245.) The deliberate animosity against free choice is emphasized by a statement in Brough Smyth (79), that if the owner of an eloping female suspects that she favored the man she eloped with, "he will not hesitate to maim or kill her." She must have no choice or preference of her own, under any circumstances. It must be remembered, too, that even an actual elopement by no means proves that the woman is following a special inclination. She may be merely anxious to get away from a cruel or superannuated husband. In such cases the woman may take the initiative. Dawson (65) once said to a native, "You should not have carried Mary away from her husband"; to which the man replied, "Bael (not) dat, massa; Mary come me. Dat husband wurry bad man: he waddy (beat) Mary. Mary no like it, so it leabe it. Dat fellow no good, massa."

Obviously, Australian elopement not only gives no indication of romantic feelings, but even as an incident it is apt to be prosaic or cruel rather than romantic, as our elopements are. In many cases it is hard to distinguish from brutal capture, as we may infer from an incident related by Curr (108-9). He was sleeping at a station on the Lachlan.

"During the night I was awoke by the scream of a woman, and a general yell from the men in the camp. Not knowing what could be the matter, I seized a weapon, jumped out of bed, and rushed outside. There I found a young married woman standing by her fire, trembling all over, with a barbed spear through her thigh. As for the men, they were rushing about, here and there, in an excited state, with their spears in their hands. The woman's story was soon told. She had gone to the river, not fifty yards off, for water; the Darling black had stolen after her, and proposed to her to elope with him, and, on her declining to do so, had speared her and taken to his heels."

A pathetic instance of the cruel treatment to which the natives subject girls who venture to have inclinations of their own was communicated by W.E. Stanbridge to Brough Smyth (80). The scene is a little dell among undulating grassy plains. In the lower part of the dell a limpid spring bursts forth.

"On one side of this dell, and nearest to the spring at the foot of it, lies a young woman, about seventeen years of age, sobbing and partly supported by her mother, in the midst of wailing, weeping, women; she has been twice speared in the right breast with a jagged hand-spear by her brother, and is supposed to be dying."


Besides the three ways already mentioned of securing a wife—elopement, which is rare; capture, which is rarer still, and Tuelcha mura, in which a girl is assigned to a man before she is born, and while her prospective mother is still a girl herself—by far the commonest arrangement—there is a fourth, charming by magic. Of this, too, Spencer and Gillen have given the best description (541-44). When a man, they tell us, wants to charm a woman belonging to a distant tribe he takes a churinga, or sacred stick, and goes with some friends into the bush, where

"all night long the men keep up a low singing of Quabara songs, together with the chanting of amorous phrases of invitation addressed to the woman. At daylight the man stands up alone and swings the churinga, causing it first to strike the ground as he whirls it round and round and makes it hum. His friends remain silent, and the sound of the humming is carried to the ears of the far-distant woman, and has the power of compelling affection and of causing her sooner or later to comply with the summons. Not long ago, at Alice Springs, a man called some of his friends together and performed the ceremony, and in a very short time the desired woman, who was on this occasion a widow, came in from Glen Helen, about fifty miles to the west of Alice Springs, and the two are now man and wife."

The woman in this case need not be a widow, however. Another man's wife will do just as well, and if her owner comes armed to stop proceedings, the friends of the charmer stand by him.

Another method of obtaining a wife by magic is by means of a charmed chilara, or head-band of opossum fur. The man charms it in secret by singing over it. Then he places it on his head and wears it about the camp so that the woman can see it. Her attention is drawn to it, and she becomes violently attached to the man, or, as the natives say, "her internal organs shake with eagerness." Here, again, it makes no difference whether the woman be married or not.

Still another way of charming a woman is by means of a certain shell ornament, which a man ties to his waist-belt at a corrobboree after having charmed it.[175]

"While he is dancing the woman whom he wishes to attract alone sees the lightning flashes on the Lonka-lonka, and all at once her internal organs shake with emotion. If possible she will creep into his camp that night or take the earliest opportunity to run away with him."

Here, at last, we have come across a method which

"allows of the breaking through of the hard and fast rule which for the most part obtains, and according to which the woman belongs to the man to whom she has been betrothed, probably before her birth."

Yet these cases are rare exceptions, for, as the authors inform us, "the woman naturally runs some risk, as, if caught in the act of eloping, she would be severely punished, if not put to death;" and again: these cases are not of frequent occurrence, for they depend on the woman's consent, and she knows that if caught she will in all probability be killed, or at least very roughly handled. Hence she is "not very easily charmed away from her original possessor." Moreover, even these adulterous elopements seldom lead to anything more than a temporary liaison, as we have seen, and it would be comic to speak of a "liberty of choice" in cases where such a choice can be exercised only at the risk of being killed on the spot.


Looking back over the ground traversed in this chapter, we see that Cupid is thwarted in Australia not only by the natural stupidity, coarseness, and sensuality of the natives, but by a number of artificial obstacles which seem to have been devised with almost diabolical ingenuity for the express purpose of stifling the germs of love. The selfish, systematic, and deliberate suppression of free choice is only one of these obstacles. There are two others almost equally fatal to love—the habit of marrying young girls to men old enough to be their fathers or grandfathers, and the complicated marriage taboos. We have already seen that as a rule the old men appropriate the young girls, the younger men not being allowed to marry till they are twenty-five or thirty, and even then being compelled to take an old man's cast-off wife of thirty-five or forty summers, "It is usual," says Curr (I., 110),

"to see old men with mere girls as wives, and men in the prime of life married to widows.... Women have very frequently two husbands during their life-time, the first older and the second younger than themselves.... There are always many bachelors in every tribe."[176]

Not to speak of love, this arrangement makes it difficult even for animal passion to manifest itself except in an adulterous or illegitimate manner.

"At present," we learn from Spencer and Gillen (104, 558),

"by far the most common method of getting a wife is by means of an arrangement made between brothers or fathers of the respective men and women whereby a particular woman is assigned to a particular man."

This most usual method of getting a wife is also the most extraordinary. Suppose one man has a son, another a daughter, generally both of tender age. Now it would be bad enough to betroth these two without their consent and before they are old enough to have any real choice. But the Australian way is infinitely worse. It is arranged that the girl in the case shall be, by and by, not the boy's wife, but his mother-in-law; that is, the boy is to wed her daughter. In other words, he must wait not only till she is old enough to marry but till her daughter is old enough to marry! And this is "by far the most common method"!


The marriage taboos are no less artificial, absurd, and fatal to free choice and love. An Australian is not only forbidden to marry a girl who is closely related to him by blood—sometimes the prohibition extends to first, second, and even third cousins—but he must not think of such a thing as marrying a woman having his family name or belonging to certain tribes or clans—his own, his mother's or grandmother's, his neighbor's, or one speaking his dialect, etc. The result is more disastrous than one unfamiliar with Australian relationships would imagine; for these relationships are so complicated that to unravel them takes, in the words of Howitt (59), "a patience compared with which that of Job is furious irritability."

These prohibitions are not to be trifled with. They extend even to war captives. If a couple disregard them and elope, they are followed by the indignant relatives in hot pursuit and, if taken, severely punished, perhaps even put to death. (Howitt, 300, 66.) Of the Kamilaroi the same writer says:

"Should a man persist in keeping a woman who is denied to him by their laws, the penalty is that he should be driven out from the society of his friends and quite ignored. If that does not cure his fondness for the woman, his male relatives follow him and kill him, as a disgrace to their tribe, and the female relatives of the woman kill her for the same reason."

It is a mystery to anthropologists how these marriage taboos, these notions of real or fancied incest, could have ever arisen. Curr (I.,236) remarks pointedly that

"most persons who have any practical knowledge of our savages will, I think, bear me out when I assert that, whatever their objections to consanguineous marriages may be, they have no more idea of the advantages of this or that sort of breeding, or of any laws of Nature bearing on the question, than they have of differential calculus."[177]

Whatever may have been the origin of these prohibitions, it is obvious that, as I have said, they acted as obstacles to love; and what is more, in many cases they seem to have impeded legitimate marriage only, without interfering with licentious indulgence. Roth (67) cites O'Donnell to the effect that with the Kunandaburi tribe the jus primae noctis is allowed all the men present at the camp without regard to class or kin. He also cites Beveridge, who had lived twenty-three years in contact with the Riverina tribes and who assured him that, apart from marrying, there was no restriction on intercourse. In his book on South Australia J.D. Wood says (403):

"The fact that marriage does not take place between members of the same tribe, or is forbidden amongst them, does not at all include the idea that chastity is observed within the same limits."

Brough Smyth (II., 92) refers to the fact that secret violations of the rule against fornication within the forbidden classes were not punished. Bonwick (62) cites the Rev. C. Wilhelmi on the Port Lincoln customs:

"There are no instances of two Karraris or two Matteris having been married together; and yet connections of a less virtuous character, which take place between members of the same caste, do not appear to be considered incestuous."

Similar testimony is adduced by Waitz-Gerland (VI., 776), and others.


There is a strange class of men who always stand with a brush in hand ready to whitewash any degraded creature, be he the devil himself. For want of a better name they are called sentimentalists, and they are among men what the morbid females who bring bouquets and sympathy to fiendish murderers are among women. The Australian, unutterably degraded, particularly in his sexual relations, as the foregoing pages show him to be, has had his champions of the type of the "fearless" Stephens. There is another class of writers who create confusion by their reckless use of words. Thus the Rev. G. Taplin asserts (12) that he has "known as well-matched and loving couples amongst the aborigines" as he has amongst Europeans. What does he mean by loving couples? What, in his opinion, are the symptoms of affection? With amusing naivete he reveals his ideas on the subject in a passage (11) which he quotes approvingly from H.E.A. Meyer to the effect that if a young bride pleases her husband, "he shows his affection by frequently rubbing her with grease to improve her personal appearance, and with the idea that it will make her grow rapidly and become fat." If such selfish love of obesity for sensual purposes merits the name of affection, I cheerfully grant that Australians are capable of affection to an unlimited degree. Taplin, furthermore, admits that "as wives got old, they were often cast off by their husbands, or given to young men in exchange for their sisters or other relations at their disposal" (XXXI.); and again (121):

"From childhood to old age the gratification of appetite and passion is the sole purpose of life to the savage. He seeks to extract the utmost sweetness from mere animal pleasures, and consequently his nature becomes embruted."

Taplin does not mention a single act of conjugal devotion or self-sacrifice, such as constitutes the sole criterion of affection. Nor in the hundreds of books and articles on Australia that I have read have I come across a single instance of this kind. On the subject of the cruel treatment of women all the observers are eloquent; had they seen any altruistic actions, would they have failed to make a record of them?

The Australian's attachment to his wife is evidently a good deal like his love of his dog. Gason (259) tells us that the dogs, of which every camp has from six to twenty, are generally a mangy lot, but

"the natives are very fond of them.... If a white man wants to offend a native let him beat his dog. I have seen women crying over a dog, when bitten by snakes, as if over their own children."

The dogs are very useful to them, helping them to find snakes, rats, and other animals for food. Yet, when mealtime comes, "the dog, notwithstanding its services and their affection for it, fares very badly, receiving nothing but the bones." "Hence the dog is always in very low condition."

Another writer[178] with a better developed sense of humor, says that "It may be doubted whether the man does not value his dog, when alive, quite as much as he does his woman, and think of both quite as often and lovingly after he has eaten them."

As for the women, they are little better than the men. What Mitchell says of them (I., 307) is characteristic. After a fight, he says, the women

"do not always follow their fugitive husbands from the field, but frequently go over, as a matter of course, to the victors, even with young children on their backs; and thus it was, probably, that after we had made the lower tribes sensible of our superiority, that the three girls followed our party, beseeching us to take them with us."

The following from Grey (II., 230) gives us an idea of wifely affection and fidelity: "The women have generally some favorite amongst the young men, always looking forward to be his wife at the death of her husband." How utterly beyond the Australian horizon was the idea of common decency, not to speak of such a holy thing as affection, is revealed by a cruel custom described by Howitt (344):

"The Kurnai and the Brajerak were not intermarrying tribes, unless by capture, and in this case each man took the woman whose husband he had been the first to spear."

It would of course be absurd to suppose the widows in such cases capable of suffering as our women would under such circumstances. They are quite as callous and cruel as the men. Evidence is given in the Jackman book (149) that, like Indian women, they torture prisoners of war, breaking toes, fingers, and arms, digging out the eyes and filling the sockets with hot sand, etc.

"Husbands rarely show much affection for their wives," wrote Eyre (II., 214).

"After a long absence I have seen natives, upon their return, go to their camp, exhibiting the most stoical indifference, never taking the least notice of their wives."

Elsewhere (321) he says, with reference to the fact that marriage is not regarded as any pledge of chastity, which is not recognized as a virtue: "But little real affection consequently exists between husbands and wives, and younger men value a wife principally for her services as a slave." And in a Latin footnote, in which he describes the licentious customs of promiscuous intercourse and the harsh treatment of women, he adds (320), "It is easy to understand that there can hardly be much love among husbands and wives." He also gives this particular instance of conjugal indifference and cruelty. In 1842 the wife of a native in Adelaide, a girl of about eighteen, was confined and recovered slowly. Before she was well the tribe removed from the locality. The husband preferred accompanying them, and left his wife to die unattended. William Jackman, the Englishman who lived seventeen months as a captive among the natives, says (118) that "wife-killing, among the aborigines of Australia, is frequent and elicits neither surprise nor any sort of animadversion." By way of illustrating this remark he relates how, one day, he returned with a native from an unsuccessful hunt. The native's twelve-year-old wife had caught an opossum, roasted it, and, impelled by hunger, had begun to eat it instead of saving it for her master—an atrocious crime. For fifteen minutes the husband sat in silent rage which his features betrayed. Presently he jumped up with the air of a demon,

"scooped his two hands full of embers and burning sand, and flung the whole into the face and bosom of the naked object of his vengeance; for I must repeat that none of the natives wear any clothing, and that she was sitting there as nude as when she was born. The devil of his nature thus fairly aroused, he sprang for his spear. It transfixed his frantic but irresisting victim. She fell dead.... Save by the women of the tribe, the affair was scarcely noticed."


Suppose this young wife had saved the opossum for her husband. He would then have eaten it and, in accordance with their universal custom, have thrown her the bones to share with the dog. After that he might have rubbed her with grease and indulged in sensual caresses. Would that have proved his capacity for affection? Would you call a mother affectionate who fondled her child, but allowed it to starve while she gratified her own appetite? The only sure test of affection lies in disinterested actions of self-sacrifice; and even actions may sometimes mislead us. Thus several authors have been led into absurdly erroneous conclusions by a horrible custom prevalent among the natives, and thus described by Curr (I., 89):

"In some cases a woman is obliged by custom to roll up the remains of her deceased child in a variety of rags, making them into a package, which she carries about with her for several months, and at length buries. On it she lays her head at night, and the odor is so horrible that it pervades the whole camp, and not unfrequently costs the mother her life."

Angas (I., 75) refers to this custom and exclaims, rapturously, "Oh! how strong is a mother's love when even the offensive and putrid clay can be thus worshipped for the spirit that once was its tenant"(!!). Angas was an uneducated scribbler, but what shall we say on finding his sentimental view accepted by the professional German anthropologists, Gerland (VI., 780) and Jung (109)? Anyone familiar with Australian life must suspect at once that this custom is simply one of the horrible modes of punishment devised for women. Curr says the woman is "obliged by custom" to carry her dead child, and he adds: "I believe that this practice is insisted on when a young mother loses her first born, as the death of the child is thought to have come about by carelessness." To suppose that Australian mothers who usually kill all but two of their six or more children could be capable of such an act for sentimental reasons is to show a logical faculty on a par with the Australian's own. This point has already been discussed, but a further instance related by Dr. Moorehouse (J.D. Wood, 390), will bring the matter home:

"A female just born was thus about to be destroyed for the benefit of a boy about four years old, whom the mother was nourishing, while the father was standing by, ready to commit the deed. Through the kindness of a lady to whom the circumstances became known, and our joint interference, this one life was saved, and the child was properly attended to by the mother, although she at first urged the necessity of its death as strenuously as the father." "In other parts of the country," Wood adds, "the women do the horrible work themselves. They are not content with destroying the life of the infants, but they eat them."


Here, as in several of the alleged cases of African sentimentality, we see the great need of caution and detective sagacity in interpreting facts. To take another instance: Westermarck (503), in his search for cases of romantic attachment and absorbing passion among savages, fancies he has come across one in Australia, for he tells us that "even the rude Australian girl sings in a strain of romantic affliction—

'I never shall see my darling again.'"

As a matter of fact this line has no more to do with the "true monogamous instinct, the absorbing passion for one," than with Julius Caesar. Eyre relates (310, 70) that when Miago, the first native who ever quitted Perth, was taken away on the Beagle in 1838, his mother sang during his absence:

Whither does that lone ship wander, My young son I shall never see again.

Grosse, who often sides with Westermarck, here parts company with him, being convinced that

"what is called love in Australia ... is no spiritual affection, but a sensual passion, which is quickly cooled in the enjoyment.... The only examples of sympathetic lyrics that have been found in Australia are mourning songs, and even they relate only to relatives by blood and tribal affinity" (B.A., 244)[179].


A more subtle problem than those so far considered is presented by a courtship custom described by Bulmer (Brough Smyth, 82-84). The natives are very superstitious in regard to their hair. They carefully destroy any that has been cut off and would be greatly frightened to know it had fallen into another person's hands, as that would place their health and life in jeopardy at the other's will. Yet a girl who has a lover will not hesitate to give him a lock of her hair. It seems impossible to deny that this is a touch of true sentiment, of romantic love; and Bulmer accordingly calls this lock of hair a "token of affection." But is it a token of affection? The sequel will show. In due course of time the couple elope, in the black of the night they take to the bush. Great excitement prevails in camp when they are found missing. They are called "long-legged," "thin-legged," "squint-eyed," or "big-headed." Search is made, the pair are tracked and caught, and both are cruelly beaten. They make a promise not to repeat the offence, but do not keep it; another elopement follows, with more beatings. At last the girl becomes afraid to elope again. She alters her tactics, feigns a severe illness, and the parents are alarmed. Then she remembers that her lover has a lock of her hair. He is made to confess, and another fight follows. He is half killed, but after that he is allowed to keep the girl.

Thus we see that the lock, instead of being a "token of affection," as Bulmer would have us believe, and as it would be in our community, is not even a sentimental sign of the girl's confidence in her lover, but merely a detail of a foolish custom and stupid superstition.


As a matter of course Australian folk-lore, too, shows no traces of the existence of love. The nearest approach to such a thing I have been able to find is a quaint story about a man who wanted two wives and of how he got them. It is taken from Mrs. K. Langloh Parker's Australian Legendary Tales and the substance of it is as follows:

Wurrunnah, after a long day's hunting, came back to the camp tired and hungry. His mother had nothing for him to eat and no one else would give him anything. He flew into a rage and said: "I will go into a far country and live with strangers; my people would starve me." He went away and after divers strange adventures with a blind man and emus, who were really black fellows, he came to a camp where there was no one but seven young girls. They were friendly, gave him food, and allowed him to camp there during the night. They told him their name was Meamei and their tribe in a far country to which they would soon return.

The next day Wurrunnah went away as if leaving for good; but he determined to hide near and watch what they did, and if he could get a chance he would steal a wife from among them. He was tired of travelling alone. He saw them all start out with their yam-sticks in hand. Following them he saw them stop by the nests of some flying ants and unearth the ants. Then they sat down, threw their yam-sticks aside, and ate the ants, which are esteemed a great delicacy. While they were eating Wurrunnah sneaked up to their yam-sticks and stole two of them. When the girls had eaten all they wanted only five of them could find their sticks; so those five started off, expecting that the other two would soon find their sticks and follow them.

The two girls hunted all around the ants' nests, but could find no sticks. At last, when their backs were turned toward him, Wurrunnah crept out and stuck the lost yam-sticks near together in the ground; then he slipped back to his hiding-place. When the two girls turned round, there in front of them they saw their sticks. With a cry of joyful surprise they ran to them and caught hold of them to pull them out of the ground, in which they were firmly stuck. As they were doing so, out from his hiding-place jumped Wurrunnah. He seized both girls round their waists, holding them tightly. They struggled and screamed, but to no purpose. There was none near to hear them, and the more they struggled the tighter Wurrunnah held them. Finding their screams and struggles in vain they quietened at length, and then Wurrunnah told them not to be afraid, he would take care of them. He was lonely, he said, and wanted two wives. They must come quietly with him and he would be good to them. But they must do as he told them. If they were not quiet he would swiftly quieten them with his moorillah. But if they would come quietly with him he would he good to them. Seeing that resistance was useless the two young girls complied with his wish, and travelled quietly on with him. They told him that some day their tribe would come and steal them back again; to avoid which he travelled quickly on and on still farther hoping to elude pursuit. Some weeks passed and he told his wives to go and get some bark from two pine-trees near by. They declared if they did so he would never see them again. But he answered "Talk not so foolishly; if you ran away soon should I catch you and, catching you, would beat you hard. So talk no more." They went and began to cut the bark from the trees. As they did so each felt that her tree was rising higher out of the ground and bearing her upward with it. Higher and higher grew the pine-trees and up with them went the girl until at last the tops touched the sky. Wurrunnah called after them, but they listened not. Then they heard the voices of their five sisters, who from the sky stretched forth their hands and drew the two others in to live with them in the sky, and there you may see the seven sisters together. We know them as the Pleiades, but the black fellows call them the Meamei.

A few rather improper tales regarding the sun and moon are recorded in Woods's Native Tribes by Meyer, who thus sums up two of them (200); the other being too obscene for citation here:

The sun they consider to be a female, who, when she sets, passes the dwelling-places of the dead. As she approaches the men assemble and divide into two bodies, leaving a road for her to pass between them; they invite her to stay with them, which she can only do for a short time, as she must be ready for her journey for the next day. For favors granted to some one among them she receives a present of red kangaroo skin; and therefore in the morning, when she rises, appears in a red dress.

The moon is also a woman, and not particularly chaste. She stays a long time with the men, and from the effects of her intercourse with them, she becomes very thin and wastes away to a mere skeleton. When in this state, Nurrunduri orders her to be driven away. She flies, and is secreted for some time, but is employed all the time in seeking roots which are so nourishing that in a short time she appears again, and fills out and becomes fat rapidly.

Here we see how even such sublime and poetic phenomena as sun and moon are to the aboriginal mind only symbols of their coarse, sensual lives: the heavenly bodies are concubines of the men, welcomed when fat, driven away when thin. That puts the substance of Australian love in a nutshell.


In the absence of aboriginal love-stories let us amuse ourselves by examining critically a few more of the alleged cases of romantic love discovered by Europeans. The erudite German anthropologist Gerland expresses his belief (VI., 755) that notwithstanding the degradation of the Australians "cases of true romantic love occur among them," and he refers for an instance to Barrington (I., 37). On consulting Barrington I find the following incident related as a sample of "genuine love in all its purity." I condense the unessential parts:

A young man of twenty-three, belonging to a tribe near Paramatta, was living in a cave with two sisters, one of fourteen, the other of twenty. One day when he returned from his kangaroo hunt he could not find the girls. Thinking they had gone to fetch water or roots for supper, he sat down till a rain-storm drove him into the cave, where he stumbled over the prostrate form of the younger sister. She was lying in a pool of blood, but presently regained consciousness and told him that a man had come to carry off her sister, after beating her on the head. She had seized the sister's arm to hold her back when the brute knocked her over with his club and dragged off the sister.

It was too late to take revenge that day, but next morning the two set out for the tribe to which the girl-robber belonged. As they approached the camp, Barrington continues, "he saw the sister of the very savage who had stolen his sister; she was leaving her tribe to pick some sticks for a fire (this was indeed a fine opportunity for revenge); so making his sister hide herself, he flew to the young woman and lifted up his club to bring her to the ground, and thus satisfy his revenge. The victim trembled, yet, knowing his power, she stood with all the fortitude she could; lifting up her eyes, they came in contact with his and such was the enchanting beauty of her form (!) that he stood an instant motionless to gaze on it (!). The poor thing saw this and dropped on her knees (!) to implore his pity, but before she could speak, his revenge softened into love (!); he threw down his club, and clasping her in his arms (!) vowed eternal constancy (!!!); his pity gained her love (!), thus each procured a mutual return. Then calling his sister, she would have executed her revenge, but for her brother, who told her she was now his wife. On my hero asking after his sister, his new wife said she was very ill, but would soon be better; and she excused her brother (!) because the means he had taken were the customary one of procuring a wife (!!); 'but you,' said she, 'have more white heart' (meaning he was more like the English), 'you no beat me; me love you; you love me; me love your sisters; your sisters love me; my brother no good man.' This artless address won both their hearts, and now all three live in one hut which I enabled them to make comfortable within half a mile of my own house."

Barrington concludes with these words: "This little anecdote I have given as the young man related it to me and perhaps I have lost much of its simplicity." It is very much to be feared that he has. I have marked with, exclamation points the most absurdly impossible parts of the tale as idealized and embellished by Barrington. The Australian never told him that he "gazed motionless" on the "enchanting beauty" of the girl's form or that his "revenge softened into love;" he never clasped her in his arms, nor "vowed eternal constancy." The girl never dreamt of saying that his pity gained her love, or of excusing her brother for doing what all Australian men do. These sentimental touches are gratuitous additions of Barrington; native Australians do not even clasp each other in their arms, and they are as incapable of vowing eternal constancy as of comparing Herbert Spencer's philosophy with Schopenhauer's. Yet on the strength of such dime novel rubbish an anthropologist assures us that savages are capable of feeling pure romantic love! The kernel of truth in the above tale reduces itself to this, that the young man whose sister was stolen intended to take revenge by killing the abductor, but that on seeing his sister he concluded to marry her. These savages, as we have seen, always act thus, killing the enemy's women only when unable to carry them off.


Lumholtz relates the following story to show that "these blacks also may be greatly overcome by the sentiment of love" (213):

"A 'civilized' black man entered a station on Georgina River and carried off a woman who belonged to a young black man at the station. She loved her paramour and was glad to get away from the station; but the whites desired to keep her for their black servant, as he could not be made to stay without her, and they brought her back, threatening to shoot the stranger if he came again. Heedless of the threat, he afterward made a second attempt to elope with his beloved, but the white men pursued the couple and shot the poor fellow."

If Lumholtz had reflected for a moment on the difference between love as a sentiment and love as an appetite, he would have realized the error of using the expression "the sentiment of love" in connection with such a story of adulterous kidnapping, in which there is absolutely nothing to indicate whether the kidnapper coveted the other man's wife for any other than the most carnal reasons. It is not unusual for an Australian to risk his life in stealing a woman. He does that every time he captures one from another tribe. In men who have so little imaginative faculty as these, the possibility of being killed has no more deterrent effect than it has in two dogs or stags fighting for a female. We must not judge such indifference to deadly consequences from our point of view.


Gerstaecker, a German traveller, who traversed a part of Australia, has a tale of aboriginal love which also bears the earmarks of fiction. On his whole trip, he says, in his 514-page volume devoted to Australia, he heard of only one case of genuine love. A young man of the Bamares tribe took a fancy to a girl of the Rengmutkos. She was also pleased with him and he eloped with her at night, taking her to his hunting-ground on the river. The tribe heard of his escapade and ordered him to return the girl to her home. He obeyed, but two weeks later eloped with her again. He was reprimanded and informed that if it happened again he would be killed. For the present he escaped punishment personally, but was ordered to cudgel the girl and then send her back home. He obeyed again; the girl fell down before him and he rained hard blows on her head and shoulders till the elders themselves interceded and cried enough. The girl was chased away and the lover remained alone. For two days he refused to join in the hunting or diversions of his companions. On the third day he ascended an eminence whence the Murray Valley can be seen. In the distance he saw two columns of smoke; they had been maintained for him all this time by his girl. He took his spear and opossum coat and hastened toward the columns of smoke. He was about to commit his third offence, which meant certain death, yet on he went and found the girl. Her wounds were not yet healed, but she hastened to meet him and put her head on his bosom.

This tale is open to the same criticism as Lumholtz's. The man risks his life, not for another, but to secure what he covets. It is a romantic love-story, but there is no indication anywhere of romantic love, while some of the details are fictitiously embellished. An Australian girl does not put her head on her lover's bosom, nor could she camp alone and keep up two columns of smoke for several days without being discovered and kidnapped. The story is evidently one of an ordinary elopement, embellished by European fancy.[180]


There is some quaint local color in Australian courtship, but usually blows play too important a role to make their procedure acceptable to anyone with a less waddy-proof skull than an Australian. Spencer and Gillen relate (556) that in cases of charming, the initiative is sometimes taken by the woman,

"who can, of course, imagine that she has been charmed, and then find a willing aider and abettor in the man whose vanity is flattered by this response to his magic power, which he can soon persuade himself that he did really exercise; besides which, an extra wife has its advantages in the way of procuring food and saving him trouble, while, if his other women object, the matter is one which does not hurt him, for it can easily be settled once and for all by a stand-up fight between the women and the rout of the loser."

Quaintly Australian are the following details of Kurnai courtship given by Howitt:

"Sometimes it might happen that the young men were backward. Perhaps there might be several young girls who ought to be married, and the women had then to take the matter in hand when some eligible young men were at camp. They consulted, and some went out in the forest and with sticks killed some of the little birds, the yeerung. These they brought back to the camp and casually showed them to some of the men; then there was an uproar. The men were very angry. The yeerungs, their brothers, had been killed! The young men got sticks; the girls took sticks also, and they attacked each other. Heavy blows were struck, heads were broken, and blood flowed, but no one stopped them.

"Perhaps this light might last a quarter of an hour, then they separated. Some even might be left on the ground insensible. Even the men and women who were married joined in the free fight. The next day the young men, the brewit, went, and in their turn killed some of the women's 'sisters,' the birds djeetgun, and the consequence was that on the following day there was a worse fight than before. It was perhaps a week or two before the wounds and bruises were healed. By and by, some day one of the eligible young men met one of the marriageable young women; he looked at her, and said 'Djeetgun!' She said 'Yeerung! What does the yeerung eat?' The reply was, 'He eats so-and-so,' mentioning kangaroo, opossum, or emu, or some other game. Then they laughed, and she ran off with him without telling anyone."


Apart from magic and birds Australian lovers appear not to have been without means of communicating with one another. Howitt says that if a Kurnai girl took a fancy to a man she might send him a secret message asking, "Will you find me some food?" And this was understood to be a proposal—a rather unsentimental and utilitarian proposal, it must be confessed. According to one of the correspondents of Curr (III., 176) the natives along the Mary River even made use of a kind of love-letters which, he says, "were peculiar."

"When the writer was once travelling with a black boy the latter produced from the lining of his hat a bit of twig about an inch long and having three notches cut on it. The black boy explained that he was a dhomka (messenger), that the central notch represented himself, and the other notches, one the youth sending the message, the other the girl for whom it was intended. It meant, in the words of Dickens, 'Barkis is willin'.' The dhomka sewed up the love-symbol in the lining of his hat, carried it for months without divulging his secret to his sable friends, and finally delivered it safely. This practice appeared to be well-known, and was probably common."

Such a "love-letter," consisting of three notches cut in a twig, symbolically sums up this whole chapter. The difference between this bushman's twig and the love-letter of a civilized modern suitor is no greater than the difference between aboriginal Australian "love" and genuine romantic love.


Between the northern extremity of Australia and the southern extremity of New Guinea, about ninety miles wide, lies Torres Strait, discovered by a Spaniard in 1606, and not visited again by whites till Captain Cook sailed through in 1770. This strait has been called a "labyrinth of islands, rocks, and coral reefs," so complicated and dangerous that Torres, the original discoverer, required two months to get through.


The larger islands in this strait are of special interest to students of the phenomena of love and marriage, for on them it is not only permissible but obligatory for women to propose to the men. Needless to say that the inhabitants of these islands, though so near Queensland, are not Australians. They are Melanesians, but their customs are insular and unique. Curr (I., 279) says of them that they are "with one exception, of the Papuan type, frizzle-haired people who cultivate the soil, use the bow and arrow and not the spear, and, un-Australian-like, treat their women with some consideration."

Luckily the customs of these islanders have been carefully and intelligently studied by Professor A.C. Haddon, who published an entertaining account of them in a periodical to which one usually looks for instruction rather than amusement.[181] Professor Haddon combines the two. On the island of Tud, he tells us, when boys undergo the ordeal of initiation into manhood, one of the lessons taught them is: "You no like girl first; if you do, girl laugh and call you woman." When a girl likes a man, she tells his sister and gives her a ring of string. On the first suitable opportunity the sister says to her brother: "Brother, I have some good news for you. A woman loves you." He asks who it is, and, if willing to go on with the affair, tells his sister to ask the girl to keep an appointment with him in some spot in the bush. On receipt of the message the enamoured girl informs her parents that she is going into the bush to get some wood, or food, or some such excuse. At the appointed time the man meets her; and they sit down and yarn, without any fondling. The ensuing dialogue is given by Haddon in the actual words which Maino, chief of Tud, used:

"Opening the conversation, the man says, 'You like me proper?'

"'Yes,' she replies, 'I like you proper with my heart inside. Eye along my heart see you—you my man.'

"Unwilling to rashly give himself away, he asks,'How you like me?'

"'I like your leg—you got fine body—your skin good—I like you altogether,' replies the girl.

"After matters have proceeded satisfactorily the girl, anxious to clench the matter, asks when they are to be married. The man says, 'To-morrow, if you like.'

"Then they go home and inform their relatives. There is a mock fight and everything is settled."

On the island of Mabniag, after a girl has sent an intermediary to bring a string to the man she covets, she follows this up by sending him food, again and again. But he "lies low" a month or two before he ventures to eat any of this food, because he has been warned by his mother that if he takes it he will "get an eruption all over his face." Finally, he concludes she means business, so he consults the big men of the village and marries her.

If a man danced well, he found favor in the sight of these island damsels. His being married did not prevent a girl from proposing. Of course she took good care not to make the advances through one of the other wives—that might have caused trouble!—but in the usual way. On this island the men never made the first advances toward matrimony. Haddon tells a story of a native girl who wanted to marry a Loyalty Islander, a cook, who was loafing on the mission premises. He did not encourage her advances, but finally agreed to meet her in the bush, where, according to his version of the story, he finally refused her. She, however, accused him of trying to "steal" her. This led to a big palaver before the chief, at which the verdict was that the cook was innocent and that the girl had trumped up the charge in order to force the marriage.

If a man and a girl began to keep company, he was branded on the back with a charcoal, while her mark was cut into the skin (because "she asked the man"). It was expected they would marry, but if they did not nothing could be done. If it was the man who was unwilling, the girl's father told the other men of the place, and they gave him a sound thrashing. Refusing a girl was thus a serious matter on these islands!

The missionaries, Haddon was informed,

"discountenance the native custom of the women proposing to the men, although there is not the least objection to it from a moral or social point of view; quite the reverse. So the white man's fashion is being introduced. As an illustration of the present mixed condition of affairs, I found that a girl who wants a certain man writes him a letter, often on a slate, and he replies in a similar manner."

On the island of Tud it often happened that the girl who was first enamoured of a youth at his initiation, and who first asked him in marriage, was one who "like too many men." The lad, being on his guard, might get rid of her attentions by playing a trick on her, making a bogus appointment with her in the bush, and then informing the elder men, who would appear in his place at the trysting-place, to the girl's mortification.

Various details given in the chapter on Australia indicated that if the women on that big island did not propose, as a rule, it was not from coyness but because the selfishness of the men and their arrangements made it impossible in most cases. On these neighboring islands the women could propose; yet the cause of love, of course, did not gain anything from such an arrangement, which could serve only to stimulate licentiousness. Haddon gathered the impression that "chastity before marriage was unknown, free intercourse not being considered wrong; it was merely 'fashion along we folk.'" Their excuse was the same as Adam's: "Woman, he steal; man, how can he help it?"[182]

Nocturnal courtship was in vogue:

"Decorum was observed. Thus I was told in Tud a girl, before going to sleep, would tie a string round her foot and pass it under the thatched wall of the house. In the middle of the night her lover would come, pull the string, and so awaken the girl, who would then join him. As the chief of Mabuiag said, 'What can the father do; if she wants the man how can he stop her?'"

On Muralug Island the custom is somewhat different. There, after the girl has sent her grass-ring to the man she wants,

"if he is willing to proceed in the matter, he goes to the rendezvous in the bush and, not unnaturally, takes every advantage of the situation. Every night afterwards he goes to the girl's house and steals away before daybreak. At length someone informs the girl's father that a man is sleeping with his daughter. The father communicates with the girl, and she tells her lover that her father wants to see him—'To see what sort of man he is?' The father then says, 'You like my daughter, she like you, you may have her.' The details are then arranged."

Sometimes, if a girl was too free with her favors to the men, the other women cut a mark down her back, to make her feel ashamed. Yet she had no difficulty on this account in subsequently finding a husband.

Besides the existence of "free love," there are other customs arguing the absence of sentiment in these insular affairs of the heart. Infanticide was frequently resorted to, the babes being buried alive in the sand, for no other reason than to save the trouble of taking care of them. After marriage, in spite of the fact that the girl did the proposing, she becomes the man's property; so much so that if she should offend him, he may kill her and no harm will come to him. If her sister comes to remonstrate, he can kill her too, and if he has two wives and they quarrel, he can kill both. In that love-scene reported by Maino, the chief of Tud, the girl gives us her "sentimental" reasons why she loves him: because he has a fine leg and body, and a good skin. The "romance" of the situation is further aggravated when we read that, as in Australia, swapping sisters is the usual way of getting a wife, and that if a man has no sister to exchange he must pay for his wife with a canoe, a knife, or a glass bottle. Chief Maino himself told Haddon that he gave for his wife seven pieces of calico, one dozen shirts, one dozen singlets, one dozen trousers, one dozen handkerchiefs, two dozen tomahawks, besides tobacco, fish-lines and hooks and pearl shells. He finished his enumeration by exclaiming "By golly, he too dear!"

How did these islanders ever come to indulge in the custom, so inconsistent with their general attitude toward women, of allowing them to propose? The only hint at an explanation I have been able to find is contained in the following citation from Haddon:

"If an unmarried woman desired a man she accosted him, but the man did not ask the woman (at least, so I was informed), for if she refused him he would feel ashamed, and maybe brain her with a stone club, and so 'he would kill her for nothing.'"


The islands of the Pacific Ocean and adjacent waters are almost innumerable. To give an account of the love-affairs customary on all of them would require a large volume by itself. In the present work it is not possible to do more than select a few of the islands, as samples, preference being given to those that show at least some traces of feelings rising above mere sensualism. One of the largest and best known of these islands is Borneo, and of its inhabitants the Dyaks are of special interest from our point of view. Their customs have been observed and described by St. John, Low, Bock, H. Ling Roth and others.[183]

In some parts of Dutch Borneo the cruel custom prevails of locking up a girl when she is eight to ten years old in a small, dark apartment of the house, which she is not allowed to leave for about seven years. She spends her time making mats and doing other handiwork, but is not allowed to see anyone—not even of her own family—except a female slave. When she is free from her prison she appears bleached a light yellow, as though made out of wax, and totters along on small, thin feet—which the natives consider especially attractive.


Dyak girls are not subjected to any such restraints, and in some respects they enjoy more liberty than is good for them. As usual among the lower races, they have to do most of the hard work. "It is a sad sight," says Low (75), "to see the Dyak girls, some but nine or ten years of age, carrying water up the mount in bamboos, their bodies bent nearly double, and groaning under the weight of their burden." Lieutenant Marryat found that the mountain Dyak girls, if not beautiful, had some beautiful points—good eyes, teeth, and hair, besides good manners, and they "knew how to make use of their eyes." Denison (cited by Roth, I., 46) remarks that

"Some of the girls showed signs of good looks, but hard work, poor feeding, and intermarriage and early marriage soon told their tale, and rapidly converted them into ugly, dirty, diseased old hags, and this at an age when they are barely more than young women."

They marry sometimes as early as the age of thirteen, and in general they are inferior in looks to the men. Marryat thought he saw "something wicked in their dark furtive glances," while Earl found the faces of Dyak women generally extremely interesting, largely on account of "the soft expression given by their long eyelashes, and by the habit of keeping the eyes half closed." "Their general conversation is not wanting in wit," says Brooke (I., 70),

"and considerable acuteness of perception is evinced, but often accompanied by improper and indecent language, of which they are unaware when giving utterance to it. Their acts, however, fortunately evince more regard for modesty than their words."

Grant, in describing his tour among the Land Dyaks, remarks (97):

"It has been mentioned once or twice that we found the women bathing at the village well. Although, generally speaking, no lack of proper modesty is shown, certainly rather an Adam and Eve like idea of the same is displayed on such occasions by these simple people."


Concerning the sexual morality of the Dyaks, opinions of observers differ somewhat. St. John (I., 52) observes that "the Sea Dyak women are modest and yet unchaste, love warmly and yet divorce easily, but are generally faithful to their husbands when married." It is agreed that the morality of the Land Dyaks is superior to that of the Sea Dyaks; yet with them,

"as among the Sea Dyaks, the young people have almost unrestrained intercourse; but, if a girl prove with child a marriage immediately takes place, the bridegroom making the richest presents he can to her relatives" (I., 113). "There is no strict law,"

says Mundy (II., 2),

"to bind the conduct of young married people of either sex, and parents are more or less indifferent on those points, according to their individual ideas of right and wrong. It is supposed that every young Dyak woman will eventually suit herself with a husband, and it is considered no disgrace to be on terms of intimacy with the youth of her fancy till she has the opportunity of selecting a suitable helpmate; and as the unmarried ladies attach much importance to bravery, they are always desirous of securing the affections of a renowned warrior. Lax, however, as this code may appear before marriage, it would seem to be sufficiently stringent after the matrimonial. One wife only is allowed, and infidelity is punished by fine on both sides—inconstancy on the part of the husband being esteemed equally as bad as in the female. The breach of the marriage vows, however, appears to be infrequent, though they allow that, during the time of war, more license is given."


Brooke Low relates that the Sea Dyak girls receive their male visitors at night.

"They sleep apart from their parents, sometimes in the same room, but more often in the loft. The young men are not invited to sleep with them unless they are old friends, but they may sit with them and chat, and if they get to be fond of each other after a short acquaintance, and wish to make a match of it, they are united in marriage, if the parents on either side have no objections to offer. It is in fact the only way open to the man and woman to become acquainted with each other, as privacy during the daytime is out of the question in a Dyak village."

The same method of courtship prevails among the Land Dyaks. Some queer details are given by St. John, Crossland and Leggatt (Roth, 110). About nine or ten o'clock at night the lover goes on tiptoe to the mosquito curtains of his beloved, gently awakens her and offers her some prepared betel-nut. If she accepts it, he is happy, for it means that his suit is prospering, but if she refuses it and says "Be good enough to blow up the fire," it means that he is dismissed. Sometimes their discourse is carried on through the medium of a sort of Jew's-harp, one handing it to the other, asking questions and returning answers. The lover remains until daybreak. After the consent of the girl and her parents has been obtained, one more ordeal remains; the bridal couple have to run the gauntlet of the mischievous village boys, who stand ready with sooted hands to begrime their faces and bodies; and generally they succeed so well that bride and groom present the appearance of negroes.

Elopements also occur in cases where parental consent is withheld. Brooke Low thus describes an old custom which permits a man to carry off a girl:

"She will meet him by arrangement at the water-side and step into his boat with a paddle in her hand, and both will pull away as fast as they can. If pursued he will stop every now and then to deposit some article of value on the bank, such as a gun, a jar, or a favor for the acceptance of her family, and when he has exhausted his resources he will leave his own sword. When the pursuers observe this they will cease to follow, knowing he is cleared out. As soon as he reaches his own village he tidies up the house and spreads the mats, and when his pursuers arrive he gives them food to eat and toddy to drink, and sends them home satisfied. In the meanwhile he is left in possession of his wife."


In one of the introductory chapters of this volume a brief account was given of the Dyak head-hunters. Reference was made to the fact that the more heads a man has cut off, the more he is respected. He cannot marry until he has killed a man, woman, or child, and brought home the head as a trophy, and cases are known of men having to wait two years before they could procure the skull necessary to soften the heart of the gentle beloved. "From all accounts," says Roth (II., 163),

"there can be little doubt that one of the chief incentives to getting heads is the desire to please the women ... Mrs. McDougall relates an old Sakaran legend which says that the daughter of their great ancestor, who resides in heaven near the great Evening Star, refused to marry until her betrothed brought her a present worth her acceptance. The man went into the jungle and killed a deer, which he presented to her; but the fair lady turned away in disdain. He went again and returned with a mias, the great monkey [sic] who haunts the forest; but this present was not more to her taste. Then, in a fit of despair, the lover went abroad, and killed the first man that he met, and throwing his victim's head at the maiden's feet, he exclaimed at the cruelty she had made him guilty of; but to his surprise, she smiled, and said that now he had discovered the only gift worthy of herself."

Roth cites a correspondent who says:

"At this moment there are two Dyaks in the Kuching jail who acknowledge that they took the heads of two innocent Chinese with no other object in view when doing so than to secure the pseudo affections of women, who refused to marry them until they had thus proved themselves to be men."

Here is what a sweet Dyak maiden said to a young man who asked for her hand and heart:

"Why don't you go to the Saribus Fort and there take the head of Bakir (the Dyak chief), or even that of Tuan Hassan (Mr. Watson), and then I will deign to think of your desires with some degree of interest."

Says Captain Mundy (II., 222):

"No aristocratic youth dare venture to pay his addresses to a Dyak demoiselle unless he throws at the blushing maiden's feet a netful of skulls! In some districts it is customary for the young lady to desire her lover to cut a thick bamboo from the neighboring jungle, and when in possession of this instrument, she carefully arranges the cadeau d'amour on the floor, and by repeated blows beats the heads into fragments, which, when thus pounded, are scraped up and cast into the river; at the same time she throws herself into the arms of the enraptured youth, and so commences the honeymoon."

Another account of Dyak courtship (Roth, II., 166) represents a young warrior returning from a head-hunting expedition and, on meeting his beloved, holding in each hand one of the captured heads by the hair. She takes one of the heads, whereupon they dance round each other with the most extravagant gestures, amidst the applause of the Rajah and his people. The next step is a feast, at which the young couple eat together. When this is over, they have to take off whatever clothes they have on and sit naked on the ground while some of the old women throw over them handfuls of paddy and repeat a prayer that they may prove as fruitful as that grain.

"The warrior can take away any inferior man's wife at pleasure, and is thanked for so doing. A chief who has twenty heads in his possession will do the same with another who may have only ten, and upwards to the Rajah's family, who can take any woman at pleasure."


Though the Dyaks may be somewhat less coarse than those Australians who make a captured woman marry the man who killed her husband, an almost equal callousness of feeling is revealed by J. Dalton's statement that the women taken on the head-hunting expedition "soon became attached to the conquerors"—resembling, in this respect, the Australian woman who, of her own accord, deserts to an enemy who has vanquished her husband. Cases of frantic amorous infatuation occur, as a matter of course. Brooke (II., 106) relates the story of a girl of seventeen who, for the sake of an ugly, deformed, and degraded workman, left her home, dressed as a man, and in a small broken canoe made a trip of eighty miles to join her lover. In olden times death would have been the penalty for such an act; but she, being a "New Woman" in her tribe, exclaimed, "If I fell in love with a wild beast, no one should prevent me marrying it." In this Eastern clime, Brooke declares, "love is like the sun's rays in warmth." He might have added that it is as fickle and transient as the sun's warmth; every passing cloud chills it. The shallow nature of Dyak attachment is indicated by their ephemeral unions and universal addiction to divorce. "Among the Upper Sarawak Dyaks divorce is very frequent, owing to the great extent of adultery," says Haughton (Roth, I., 126); and St. John remarks:

"One can scarcely meet with a middle-aged Dayak who has not had two, and often three or more wives. I have heard of a girl of seventeen or eighteen years who had already had three husbands. Repudiation, which is generally done by the man or woman running away to the house of a near relation, takes place for the slightest cause—personal dislike or disappointments, a sudden quarrel, bad dreams, discontent with their partners' powers of labor or their industry, or, in fact, any excuse which will help to give force to the expression, 'I do not want to live with him, or her, any longer.'"

"Many men and women have married seven or eight times before they find the partner with whom they desire to spend the rest of their lives."

"When a couple are newly-married, if a deer or a gazelle, or a moose-deer utters a cry at night near the house in which the pair are living, it is an omen of ill—they must separate, or the death of one would ensue. This might be a great trial to an European lover; the Dayaks, however, take the matter very philosophically."

"Mr. Chalmers mentions to me the case of a young Penin-jau man who was divorced from his wife on the third day after marriage. The previous night a deer had uttered its warning cry, and separate they must. The morning of the divorce he chanced to go into the 'Head House' and there sat the bridegroom contentedly at work."

"'Why are you here?' he was asked, as the 'Head House' is frequented by bachelors and boys only; 'What news of your new wife?'"

"'I have no wife, we were separated this morning because the deer cried last night.'"

"'Are you sorry?'"

"'Very sorry.'"

"'What are you doing with that brass wire?'"

"'Making perik'—the brass chain work which the women wear round their waists—'for a young woman whom I want to get for my new wife,'" (I., 165-67; 55.)

Such is the love of Dyaks. Marriage among them, says the same keen observer, "is a business of partnership for the purpose of having children, dividing labor, and, by means of their offspring, providing for their old age;" and Brooke Low remarks that "intercourse before marriage is strictly to ascertain that the marriage will be fruitful, as the Dyaks want children," In other words, apart from sensual purposes, the women are not desired and cherished for their own sakes, but only for utilitarian reasons, as a means to an end. Whence we conclude that, high as the Dyaks stand above Australians and many Africans, they are still far from the goal of genuine affection. Their feelings are only skin deep.


Dyaks are not without their love-songs.

"I am the tender shoot of the drooping libau with its fragrant scent." "I am the comb of the champion fighting-cock that never runs away," "I am the hawk flying down the Kanyau Kiver, coming after the fine feathered fowl." "I am the crocodile from the mouth of the Lingga, coming repeatedly for the striped flower of the rose-apple."

Roth (I., 119-21) cites forty-five of these verses, mostly expressive of such selfish boasting and vanity. Not one of them expresses a feeling of tenderness or admiration of a beloved person, not to speak of altruistic feelings.


Is a Dyak capable of admiring personal beauty? Some of the girls have fine figures and pretty faces; but there is no evidence that any but the voluptuous (non-esthetic) qualities of the figure are appreciated, and as for the faces, if the men really appreciated beauty as we do, they would first of all things insist that the girls must keep their faces clean. An amusing experiment made by St. John with some Ida'an girls (I., 339) is suggestive from this point of view:

"We selected one who had the dirtiest face—and it was difficult to select where all were dirty—and asked her to glance at herself in a looking-glass. She did so, and passed it round to the others; we then asked which they thought looked best, cleanliness or dirt: this was received with a universal giggle.

"We had brought with us several dozen cheap looking-glasses, so we told Iseiom, the daughter of Li Moung, our host, that if she would go and wash her face we would give her one. She treated the offer with scorn, tossed her head, and went into her father's room. But about half an hour afterwards, we saw her come into the house and try to mix quietly with the crowd; but it was of no use, her companions soon noticed she had a clean face, and pushed her to the front to be inspected. She blushingly received her looking-glass and ran away, amid the laughter of the crowd."

The example had a great effect, however, and before evening nine of the girls had received looking-glasses.[184]


In the chapter on Personal Beauty I endeavored to show that if savages who live near the sea or river are clean, it is not owing to their love of cleanliness, but to an accident, bathing being resorted to by them as an antidote to heat, or as a sport. This applies particularly to the Melanesian and Polynesian inhabitants of the South Sea Islands, whose chief pastimes are swimming and surf riding. Thomas Williams, in his authoritative work on Fiji and the Fijians, makes some remarks which entirely bear out my views:

"Too much has been said about the cleanliness of the natives. The lower classes are often very dirty.... They ... seldom hesitate to sink both cleanliness and dignity in what they call comfort" (117).

We are therefore not surprised to read on another page (97) that

"of admiring emotion, produced by the contemplation of beauty, these people seem incapable; while they remain unmoved by the wondrous loveliness with which they are everywhere surrounded.... The mind of the Fijian has hitherto seemed utterly unconscious of any inspiration of beauty, and his imagination has grovelled in the most vulgar earthliness."

Sentimentalists have therefore erred in ascribing to the Fijian cannibals cleanliness as a virtue. They have erred also in regard to several other alleged refinements they discovered among these tribes. One of these is the custom prohibiting a father from cohabiting with his wife until the child is weaned. This has been supposed to indicate a kind regard for the welfare and health of mother and child. But when we examine the facts we find that far from being a proof of superior morality, this custom reveals the immorality of the husband, and makes an assassin of the wife. Read what Williams has to say (154):

"Nandi, one of whose wives was pregnant, left her to dwell with a second. The forsaken one awaited his return some months, and at last the child disappeared. This practice seemed to be universal on Vanua Levu—quite a matter of course—so that few women could be found who had not in some way been murderers. The extent of infanticide in some parts of this island reaches nearer to two-thirds than half."

Williams further informs us (117) that "husbands are as frequently away from their wives as they are with them, since it is thought not well for a man to sleep regularly at home." He does not comment on this, but Seeman (191) and Westermarck (151) interpret the custom as indicating Fijian "ideas of delicacy in married life," which, after what has just been said, is decidedly amusing. If Fijians really were capable of considering it indelicate to spend the night under the same roof with their wives, it would indicate their indelicacy, not their delicacy. The utterly unprincipled men doubtless had their reasons for preferring to stay away from home, and probably their great contempt for women also had something to do with the custom.


In Fiji, says Crawley (225), women are kept away from participation in worship. "Dogs are excluded from some temples, women from all." In many parts of the group woman is treated, according to Williams,

"as a beast of burden, not exempt from any kind of labor, and forbidden to enter any temple; certain kinds of food she may eat only by sufferance, and that after her husband has finished. In youth she is the victim of lust, and in old age, of brutality."

Girls are betrothed and married as children without consulting their choice. "I have seen an old man of sixty living with two wives both under fifteen years of age." Such of the young women as are acquainted with foreign ways envy the favored women who wed "the man to whom their spirit flies." Women are regarded as the property of the men, and as an incentive to bravery they are "promised to such as shall, by their prowess, render themselves deserving." They are used for paying war-debts and other accounts; for instance, "the people submitted to their chiefs and capitulated, offering two women, a basket of earth, whales' teeth, and mats, to buy the reconciliation of the Rewans."

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