August Bebel. Woman and Socialism
Woman in the Past

The Position of Woman in Primeval Society.

1. — Chief Epochs of Primeval History.

IT is the common lot of woman and worker to be oppressed. The forms of oppression have differed in successive ages and in various countries, but the oppression itself remained. During the course of historic development the oppressed ones have frequently recognized their oppression, and this recognition has led to an amelioration of their condition ; but it remained for our day to recognize the fundamental causes of this oppression, both in regard to the woman and in regard to the worker. It was necessary to understand the true nature of society and the laws governing social evolution, before an effective movement could develop for the purpose of abolishing conditions that had come to be regarded as unjust. But the extent and profoundness of such a movement depend upon the amount of insight prevailing among those strata of society affected by the unjust conditions, as also upon the freedom of action possessed by them. In both respects woman, owing to custom, education and lack of freedom, is less advanced than the worker. Moreover, conditions that have prevailed for generations finally become a habit, and heredity as well as education make them appear “natural” to both parties concerned. That explains why women accept their inferior position as a matter of course, and do not recognize that it is an unworthy one, and that they should strive to obtain equal rights with men, and to become equally qualified members of society.

But whatever similarities exist between the position Of woman and that of the workingman, woman has one precedence over the workingman. She is the first human being which came into servitude. Women were slaves before men.

All social dependence and oppression is rooted in the economic dependence of the oppressed upon the oppressor. Woman – so we are taught by the history of human development – has been in this position since an early stage.

Our understanding of this development is comparatively recent. just as the myth of the creation of the world, as taught by the Bible, could not be maintained in face of innumerable and indisputable facts founded upon modern, scientific investigation, it also became impossible to maintain the myth of the creation and development of man. Not all phases of the history of evolution have as yet been elucidated. Difference of opinion still exists among scientists in regard to one or another of the natural phenomena and their relation to each other; but, on the whole, clearness and a general consension of opinion prevails. It is certain that man has not made his appearance upon the earth as a civilized being – as the Bible asserts of the first human pair – but that in the long course of ages he gradually evolved from a mere animal condition, and that he passed through. various stages during which his social relations as well as the relations between man and woman experienced many transformations.

The convenient assertion that is resorted to daily by ignorant or dishonest people, both in regard to the relation between man and woman as also in regard to the relation between the rich and the poor – the assertion that it has always been thus and will always continue to be so – is utterly false, superficial and contrary to the truth in every respect.

A cursory description of the relations of the sexes since primeval days is of special importance for the purpose of this book. For it seeks to prove that, if in the past progress of human development, these relations have been transformed as a result of the changing methods of production and distribution, it is obvious that a further change in the methods of production and distribution must again lead to a new transformation in the relation of the sexes. Nothing is eternal, either in nature or in human life; change is the only eternal factor.

As far as we can look backward along the line of human evolution, we see the horde[1] representing the first human community.

Only when the horde increased in numbers to such an extent that it became difficult to obtain the necessary means of subsistence, which originally consisted of roots” seeds and fruit, a disbanding of the members resulted, and new dwelling places were sought for.

We have no written records of this almost animal-like stage, but studies of the various stages of civilization among extinct and living savages prove that such a stage has at one time existed. Man has not stepped into life as a highly civilized being, upon a command from the Creator, but has passed through a long, infinitely slow process of evolution, and in the ups and downs of wavering periods of development, and in a constant process of differentiation, in all climes and in all quarters of the globe, has passed through many stages until finally climbing the height of his present civilization.

And while in some parts of the globe great nations represent the most advanced stage of civilization, we find other peoples in various places representing varied stages of development. These present to us a vivid picture of our own past, and point out to us along which roads humanity has traveled in its long course of evolution. If we shall at some time succeed in establishing general and definite aspects according to which sociological investigations shall be conducted, an abundance’ of facts will result, destined to cast a new light upon the relations of men in the past and the present. Events will then seem comprehensible and natural, that at present are quite beyond our comprehension, and that superficial critics frequently condemn as irrational, sometimes even as immoral. Scientific researches, commenced by Backofen, and since continued by a considerable number of learned men as Taylor, MacLennon, Lubbock and others, have gradually lifted the veil from the earliest history of our race. These investigations were elaborated by Morgan’s able book, and to this again Frederick Engels has added a number of historic facts, economic and political in character. Recently these researches have been partly confirmed and partly corrected by Cunow.[2]

The clear and vivid descriptions given by Frederick Engels in his splendid work, that is founded upon Morgan’s investigations, have cast a flood of light upon many factors in the histories of peoples representing various stages of development; factors that until that time had seemed irrational and incomprehensible. They have enabled us to obtain an insight into the gradual upbuilding of the social structure. As a result of such insight we perceive that our former conceptions in regard to marriage, family and state, have been founded upon utterly false premises. But whatever has been proven concerning marriage, family and state, is equally true in regard to the position of woman, which, in the various stages of social development, has differed radically from what is supposed to be woman’s “eternal” position.

Morgan divides the history of mankind – and this division is also adopted by Engels – into three chief epochs: savagery, barbarism and civilization. Each of the two earlier periods he subdivides into a lower, a medium and a higher stage, because these stages differ in regard to fundamental improvements in the method of obtaining the means of subsistence. Those changes which occur from time to time in the social systems of nations as a result of improved methods of production, Morgan considers one of the chief characteristics in the progress of civilization, which is quite in keeping with the materialistic conception of history as laid down by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Thus the lowest stage in the period * of savagery represents the childhood of mankind. During this stage men still were tree-dwellers, and fruit and roots constituted their chief nourishment; but even then articulated language began to take form. The medium stage of savagery begins with the consumption of small animals such as fish, crabs, etc., for food, and with the discovery of fire. Men begin to manufacture weapons, clubs and spears made of wood and stone, and this means the inception of the hunt and probably also of war among neighboring hordes, who contended with one another for the sources of nourishment and the most desirable dwelling places and hunting grounds. At this stage also cannibalism appears, which is still met with among some tribes in Africa, Australia and Polynesia. The higher stage of savagery is characterized by the invention of the bow and arrow; the invention of the art of weaving, the making of mats and baskets from bast and reeds, and the manufacture of stone implements.

As the beginning of the lowest stage of barbarism, Morgan denotes the invention of pottery. Man learns the domestication of wild animals with the resultant production of meat and milk, and thereby obtains the use of hides, horns and furs for the most varied purposes. Hand in hand with the domestication of animals, agriculture begins to develop. In the western part of the world corn US cultivated; in the eastern part, almost all kinds of grain, with the exception of corn, is grown. During the medium, stage of barbarism we find an increasing domestication of useful animals in the East, and in the West we find an improved cultivation of nourishing plants with the aid of artificial irrigation. The use of stones and sun-dried bricks for building purposes is also originated at this time. Domestication and breeding favor the formation of herds and flocks and lead to a pastoral life, and the necessity of producing larger quantities of nourishment for both men and animals leads to increased agriculture. The result is a more sedentary mode of life with an accompanying increase in provisions and greater diversity of same, and gradually cannibalism disappears.

The higher stage of barbarism has been reached with the smelting of iron ore and the invention of alphabetical writing. The invention of the iron plough gives a new impetus to agriculture; the iron axe and spade and hoe make it easier to clear the forest and to cultivate the soil. With the forging of iron a number of new activities set in, giving life a different shape. Iron tools simplify the building of houses, ships and wagons. The malleation of metals furthermore leads to mechanical art, to an improvement in the manufacture of arms, and to the building of walled cities. Architecture is developed, and mythology, poetry and history are conserved and disseminated by means of alphabetical writing.

The Oriental countries and those situated about the Mediterranean Sea – Egypt, Greece and Italy – are the ones in which this mode of life was especially developed, and here the foundation was laid to later social transformations that have had a decisive influence upon the development of civilization in Europe and, in fact, in all the countries of the globe.

2. — Family Forms.

The periods of savagery and barbarism were characterized by singular social and sex relations, that differ considerably from those of later times.

Backofen and Morgan have thoroughly investigated these relations. Backofen carried on his investigations by a profound study of ancient writings, with the purpose of gaining an understanding of various phenomena presented in mythology and ancient history, that impress us strangely and yet show similarity with facts and occurrences of later days, even down to the present time. Morgan carried on his investigations by spending decades of his life among the Iroquois Indians in the State of New York, whereby he made new and unexpected observations of the modes of family life and system of relationship prevailing among them, and these observations served as a basis to place similar observations, made elsewhere, in the proper light.

Backofen and Morgan discovered, independently from one another, that in primeval society the relations of the sexes differed vastly from those prevalent during historic times and among modern, civilized nations. Morgan discovered, furthermore, as a result of his long sojourn among the Iroquois of North America, and his comparative studies to which these observations led him, that all existing primitive peoples have family relations and systems of relationship that differ markedly from our own, but which must have prevailed generally among all peoples at a remote period of civilization.

At the time when Morgan lived among the Iroquois, he found that among them existed a monogamous marriage, easily dissolved by either side, termed by him the “pairing family.” But he also found that the terms of relationship as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, although there could be no doubt in our minds as to whom such terms should apply, were not used in their ordinary sense. The Iroquois addresses as sons and daughters not only his own children, but also those of all his brothers, and these – his brothers’ children – call him father. On the other hand, the Iroquois woman does not only call her own children sons and daughters, but also those of all her sisters, and again all her sisters’ children call her mother. But the children of her brothers she calls nephews and nieces, and these call her aunt. Children of brothers call one another brothers and sisters, and so do children of sisters. But the children of a woman and her brother call each other cousins. The curious fact then presents itself that the terms of relationship are not determined by the actual degrees of relationship, but the sex of the relative.

This system of kinship is not only fully accepted by all American Indians as well as by the aborigines of India, the Dravidian tribes of Deckan and the Gaura tribes of Hindostan, but similar systems must have existed everywhere primarily, as has been proven by investigations that were undertaken since those of Backofen. When these established facts shall be taken as a basis for further investigations among living savage or barbaric tribes, similar to the investigations made by Backofen among various peoples of the ancient world, by Morgan among the Iroquois and by Cunow among the Australian Negroes, it will be shown that social and sex relations constituted the foundation for the development of all nations of the world.

Morgan’s investigations have revealed still other interesting facts. While the “pairing family” of the Iroquois is in contradiction to the terms of relationship employed by them, it was shown that in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) there existed up to the first half of the nineteenth century a family form which actually corresponded to that system of kinship that among the Iroquois existed only in name. But the Hawaiian system of kinship again did not agree with the family form prevailing there at the time, but pointed to another form of the family, still more remote, and no longer in existence. There all the children of brothers and sisters, without exception, were regarded as brothers and sisters, and were considered the common children, not only of their mother’s and her sisters’ or their father’s and his brothers’, but of all the brothers and sisters of both their parents.

The Hawaiian system of kinship then corresponded to a degree of development that was still lower than the prevailing family form. We are thus confronted by the peculiar fact, that in Hawaii as among the North American Indians, two different systems of kinship were employed that no longer corresponded to existing conditions, but had been superseded by a higher form. Morgan expresses himself on this phenomenon in the following manner: “The family is the active element; it is never stationary, but progresses from a lower to a higher form in the same measure in which society develops from a lower to a higher stage. But the systems of kinship are passive. Only in long intervals they register the progress made by the family in course of time, and only then are they radically changed when the family has done so.”

The prevalent conception that the present family form has existed since times immemorial and must continue to exist lest our entire civilization be endangered – a conception that is vehemently defended by the upholders of things as they are – has been proven faulty and untenable by the researches of these scientists. The study of primeval history leaves no doubt as to the entirely different relation of the sexes at an early period of human development from their present relation, and when viewed in the light of our present-day conceptions, they seem a monstrosity, a mire of immorality. But as each stage in social development has its own methods of production, thus each stage also has its own code of morals, which is only a reflection of its social conditions. Morals are determined by custom, and customs correspond to the innermost nature, that is, to the social necessities of any given period.

Morgan arrives at the conclusion that in the lowest stage of savagery unrestricted sexual intercourse existed within the tribe, so that all the women belonged to all the men and all the men belonged to all the women; that is, a condition of promiscuity. All men practice polygamy, and all women practice polyandry; there is a common ownership of wives and husbands as also a common ownership of the children. Strabo relates (66 B. C.) that among the Arabs brothers have sexual intercourse with their sisters and sons with their mothers. Incest was originally a requirement, to make it possible for human beings to multiply. This explanation must especially be resorted to if we accept the biblical story of the origin of man. The Bible contains a contradiction in regard to this delicate subject. It relates that Cain, having killed his brother Abel, fled from the presence of the Lord and lived in the land of Nod. There Cain knew his wife and she conceived and bore a son unto him.

But whence came his wife? Cain’s parents were the first man and woman. According to the Hebrew tradition, two sisters were born to Cain and Abel, with whom they begot children. The Christian translators of the Bible appear to have suppressed this unpleasant fact. That promiscuity prevailed in a prehistoric stage, that the primeval horde was characterized by unrestricted sexual intercourse, is also shown in the Indian myth that Brama wedded his own daughter Saravasti. The same myth is met with among the Egyptians and in the Norse “Edda.” The Egyptian god Ammon was the husband of his mother and boasted of the fact, and Odin, according to the “Edda” was the husband of his own daughter Frigga.[3]

Dr. Adolf Bastian relates: “In Swaganwara the daughters of the Rajah enjoyed the privilege of freely, choosing their husbands. Four brothers who settled in Kapilapur made Priya, the eldest of their five sisters, queen mother and married the others.”[4]

Morgan assumes that from the state of general promiscuity, a higher form of sexual relation gradually developed, the consanguine family. Here the marriage groups are arranged by generations; all the grandfathers and grandmothers within a certain family are mutually husbands and wives; their children constitute another cycle of husbands and wives, and again the children of these when they have attained the proper age. In differentiation then from the promiscuity prevailing at the lowest stage, we here find one generation excluded from sexual intercourse with another generation. But brothers and sisters and cousins of the first, second and more remote grades are all brothers and sisters and also husbands and wives. This family form corresponds to the system of kinship that during the first half of the last century still existed in Hawaii in name but no longer in fact. According to the American and Indian system of kinship, brother and sister can never be father and mother to the same child, but according to the Hawaiian system they may. The consanguine family also prevailed at the time of Herodotus among the Massagetes. Of these he wrote: “Every man marries a woman but all are permitted to have intercourse with her.”[5]

Similar conditions Backofen proves to have existed among the Lycians, Etruscans, Cretans, Athenians, Lesbians and Egyptians.

According to Morgan, the consanguine family is succeeded by a third, higher form of family relations, which he calls the “Punaluan family” — “ pun aluan” meaning “dear companion.”

Morgan’s conception that the consanguine family, founded upon the formation of marriage classes according to generations, which preceded the Punaluan family, was the original form of family life, is opposed by Cunow in his book referred to above.’ Cunow does not consider the consanguine family the most primitive form of sexual intercourse discovered, but deems it an intermediary stage leading to the true gentile organization, in which stage the generic classification in strata of different ages belonging to the so-called consanguine family, runs parallel for a while with the gentile order.[6]

Cunow says, furthermore: The class division – every man and every woman bearing the name of their class and their totem – does not prevent sexual intercourse among relations on collateral lines, but it does prevent it among relations of preceding and succeeding lines, parents and children, aunts and nephews, uncles and nieces. Terms as uncle, aunt, etc., denote entire groups.

Cunow furnishes proof in regard to the points in which he differs from Morgan. But though he differs from Morgan in many respects, he clearly defends him against the attacks of Westermarck and others. He says: “Although some of Morgan’s theories may be proven to be incorrect, and others partly so, to him still is due the credit of having been the first to discover the identity existing between the totem-groups of the North American Indians and the gentile organizations of the Romans. He, furthermore, was the first to show that our present family form and system of relationship is the outcome of a lengthy process of evolution. We, therefore, are indebted to him for having made further research possible, for having laid the foundation upon which we may continue to build.” In the introduction to his book he also states explicitly that his work is partly a supplement to Morgan’s book on ancient society.

Westermarck and Starcke, to whom Dr. Ziegler especially refers, will have to accept the fact that the origin and evolution of the family are not in keeping with their bourgeois prejudices. Cunow’s refutations should enlighten the most fanatical opponents of Morgan as to the value of their opposition.

3. — The Matriarchate.

According to Morgan, the Punaluan family begins with the exclusion of brothers and sisters on the mother’s side. Wherever a woman has several husbands, it becomes impossible to determine paternity. Paternity becomes a mere fiction. Even at present, with the institution of monogamous marriage, paternity — as Goethe said in his “Apprenticeship,” “depends upon good faith.” But if paternity is dubious in monogamous marriage

even, it is surely beyond the possibility of determination where polyandry prevails. Only descent from the mother can be shown clearly and undeniably; therefore, children, during the term of the matriarchate, were termed “spurii,” seed. As all social transformations are consummated infinitely slow upon a low stage of development, thus also the transition from the consanguine family to the Punaluan family must have extended through a great length of time, and many retrogressions must undoubtedly have occurred that could still be perceived in later days. The immediate, external cause for the development of the Punaluan family may have the necessity of dividing the greatly increased group for the purpose of finding new soil for agricultural purposes and for the grazing of herds. But it is also probable that with increasing development, people gradually came to understand the harmfulness and the impropriety of sexual intercourse between brother and sister and close relatives, and that this recognition led to a different arrangement of marriage relations. That this was the case is shown by a pretty legend that, as Cunow tells us, was related to Gason among the Dieyeris, a tribe of Southern Australia. This legend describes, the origin of the “Murdu,” the gentile organization, in the following manner:

“After the creation fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and other closely related persons married indiscriminately among themselves, until the evil consequences of -such marriages were clearly seen. Thereupon the leaders held a council to consider what could be done, and finally they begged Muramura, the great spirit, to bid them what to do. Muramura bade them divide the tribe into many branches and to name these after animals and inanimate objects to distinguish them from one another; for instance, Mouse, Emu, Lizzard, Rain, etc. The members of each group should not be permitted to marry among themselves, but should choose their mates from another group. Thus the son of an Emu should not marry the daughter of an emu, but he might marry the daughter of a Mouse, a Lizard, a Rain, or any other family.” This tradition is more plausible than the biblical one, and shows the origin of gentile organization in the simplest manner.

Paul Lafargue showed in an article published in the German periodical, “Neue Zeit,” that names like Adam and Eva did not originally denote individual persons, but were the names of gentes in which the Jews were constituted in prehistoric days. By his argumentation Lafargue elucidates a number of otherwise obscure and contradictory points in the first book of Moses. In the same periodical M. Beer calls attention to the fact that among the Jews a superstition still prevails according to which a man’s mother and his fiancée must not have the same name, lest misfortune, disease and death be brought upon the family. This is a further proof of the correctness of Lafargue’s conception. Gentile organization prohibited marriage between persons belonging to the same gens. According to the gentile conception, then, the fact that a man’s mother and his fiancée had the same name, proved their belonging to the same gens. Of course, present-day Jews are ignorant of the connection existing between their superstition and the ancient gentile organization which prohibited such marriages. These prohibitory laws had the purpose of avoiding the evils resulting from close intermarriage, and though gentile organization among the Jews has gone out of existence thousands of years ago, we still see traces of the ancient tradition preserved. Early experiences in the breeding of animals may have led to a recognition of the dangers of inbreeding.

How far such experiences had been developed may be seen from the first book of Moses, chapter 30, 32 stanza, where it is told how Jacob cheated his father-in-law Laban by providing for the birth of spotted lambs and goats that were to be his, according to Laban’s promise. Thus ancient Israelites were applying Darwin’s theories in practice long before Darwin’s time.

Since we are discussing conditions that existed among the ancient Jews, it will be well to quote a few further facts which prove that in antiquity maternal law actually prevailed among them. Although in the first book of Moses’ 3, 16, is written in regard to woman: “And thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee,” in the first book of Moses, 2, 24, we find the lines: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.” The same wording is repeated in Matthew, 19, 5; Mark, 10, 7, and in the epistle to the Ephesians, 5, 31. This command then is rooted in maternal law, for which interpreters of the Bible had no explanation and, therefore, presented it incorrectly.

Maternal law is likewise shown to have existed in the fourth book of Moses, 32, 41. There it is said that Jair had a father of the tribe of Juda, but his mother came from the tribe of Manasseh, and Jair is explicitly called the son of Manasseh and became heir to that tribe. In Nehemiah, 7,63, we find still another example of maternal law among the ancient Jews. There the children of a priest who married one of the daughters of Barzillai, a Jewish clan, are called the children of Barzillai. They are, accordingly, not called by their father’s but by their mother’s name.

In the Punaluan family, according to Morgan, one or more series of sisters of one family group married one or more series of brothers of another family group. A number of sisters or cousins of the first, second and more remote degrees were the common wives of their common husbands) who were not permitted to be their brothers. A number of brothers or cousins, of various degrees were the common husbands of their common wives, who were not permitted to be their sisters. As inbreeding was thereby prohibited, this new form of marriage was favorable to higher and more rapid development, and gave those tribes that had adopted this family form an advantage over those who maintained the old form of sex relations.

The following system of kinship resulted from the Punaluan family: The children of my mother’s sisters are her children, and the children of my father’s brothers are his children, and all are my brothers and sisters. But the children of my mother’s ‘brothers are her nephews and nieces and the children of my father’s sisters are his nephews and nieces, and all are my cousins. The husbands of my mother’s sisters are still her husbands and the wives of my father’s brothers are still his wives, but the sisters of my father and the brothers of my mother are excluded from the family group, and their children are my cousins.[7]

With increasing civilization sexual intercourse among brothers and sisters is put under the ban, and this is gradually extended to all collateral relatives on the mother’s side. A new consanguine family, the gens, is evolved that originally consists of natural and remote sisters and their children, together with their natural or remote brothers on the mother’s side. The gens has a common ancestress to whom the groups of female generations trace their descent. The men do not belong to the gens of their wives, but to the gens of their sisters. But the children of these men belong to the gens of their mothers, because descent is traced from the mother. The mother is considered the head of the family. Thus the matriarchate was evolved that for a long time constituted the foundation of family relations and inheritance. While the maternal law prevailed, women had a voice and vote in the councils of the gens, they helped to elect the sachems and leaders and to depose them. When Hannibal formed an alliance with the Gauls against the Romans, he decided that in case disputes should arise among the allies, the Gallic matrons should be intrusted with the mission of arbitrating; so great was his confidence in their impartiality.

Of the Lycians who recognized maternal law Herodotus tells us: “Their customs are partly Cretan and partly Carian. But they have one custom that distinguishes them from all other nations in the world. If you ask a Lycian who he is, he will tell you his name, his mother’s name, and so on in the line of female descent. Moreover, when a free woman marries a slave, her children remain free citizens. But if a man marries a foreign woman or takes unto himself a concubine, his children are deprived of all civic rights, even though he be the most eminent man in the state.”

At that time “matrimonium” was spoken of instead of “patrimonium,” “mater familias” was said instead of “pater familias,” and one’s native country was referred to as the motherland. just as the earlier family forms, the gens was founded on the common ownership of property, that is, it was a communistic form of society. Woman was the leader and ruler in this kinship organization and was highly respected, her opinion counting for much in the household as well as in the affairs of the tribe. She is peacemaker and judge, and discharges the duties of religious worship as priestess.

The frequent appearance of queens and women rulers in antiquity, and the power wielded by them even when their sons were the actual rulers, which was the case in Egypt, for instance, was an outcome of the matriarchate. During that period mythological characters are chiefly feminine, as seen from the godesses Astarte, Demeter, Ceres, Latona, Iris, Frigga, Freya, Gerda, and many others. Woman is invulnerable; matricide is deemed the most dreadful crime that calls upon all men for vengeance. It is the common duty of all the men of the tribe, to avenge an injury inflicted upon any member of their kinship by a member of any other tribe. Defense of the women incites the men to highest bravery. Thus the influence of the matriarchate was perceived in all social relations of the ancient peoples, among the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Greeks before the heroic age, the Italic tribes before the founding of Rome, the Scythians, the Gauls, the Iberians, the Cantabrians, the Germans, and others. At that time woman held a position in society as she has never held since. Tacitus says in his Germania The Germans believe that within every woman dwells something holy and prophetic; therefore they honor woman’s opinion and follow her advice.” Diodorus, who lived at the time of Caesar, was quite indignant over the position of women, in Egypt. He had heard that in Egypt not sons but daughters supported their aged parents. He therefore spoke disparagingly of the hen-pecked men at the Nile, who granted rights and privileges to the weaker sex that seemed outrageous to a Greek or a Roman.

Under maternal law comparatively peaceful conditions prevailed. Social relations were simple and narrow and the mode of life was a primitive one. The various tribes kept aloof from one another and respected each other’s domain. If one tribe was attacked by another the men took up arms for defense and were ably supported by the women. According to Herodotus, the women of the Scythians took part in battles; virgins – so he claims – were not permitted to marry until they had slain an enemy. Taken all in all, the physical and mental differences between man and woman were not nearly as great in primeval days as they are at present. Among almost all savage and barbarian tribes, the differences in the size, and weight of brains taken from male and female individuals, are smaller than among civilized nations. Also the women of these tribes are not inferior to the men in physical strength and skill. Proof of this is furnished not only by the writers of antiquity in regard to peoples living under maternal law, but also by the Amazon regiments of the Ashantis and the King of Dahome in Western Africa, that excel in ferocity and courage. What Tacitus relates in regard to the women of the ancient Germans, and Caesar’s opinion of the women of the Iberians and the Scots, furnish additional proof. Columbus was attacked near Santa Cruz by a troop of Indians in a small sloop in which the women fought as bravely as the men. This conception is furthermore confirmed by Havelock Ellis: “Among the Audombies on the Congo, according to Mr. H. H. Johnstone, the women, though working very hard as carriers and as laborers in general, lead an entirely happy existence; they are often stronger than the men and more finely developed, some of them, he tells us, having really splendid figures. And Parke, speaking of the Manyuema of the Arruwimi in the same region, says that they are fine animals and the women very handsome; they carry loads as heavy as those of the men and do it quite as well. In North America again an Indian chief said to Hearne: Women were made for labor; one of them can carry or haul as much as two men can do. Schellong, who has carefully studied the Papuans in the German protectorate of New Guinea from the anthropological point of view, considers that the women are more strongly built than the men. In Central Australia again, the men occasionally beat the women through jealousy, but on such occasions it is by no means rare for the woman, single-handed, to beat the man severely. At Cuba, the women fought beside the men and enjoyed great independence. Among some races of India, the Pueblos of North America, the Patagonians, the women areas large as the men. So among the Afghans, with whom the women in certain tribes enjoy a considerable amount of power. Even among the Arabs and Druses, it has been noted that the women are nearly as large as the men. And among Russians the sexes are more alike than among the English or French.[8]

In the gens women sometimes ruled with severity, and woe to the man who was too lazy or too clumsy to contribute his share to the common sustenance. He was cast out and was obliged either to return to his own gens, where he was not likely to be received kindly, or to gain admission into another gens where he was judged less harshly.

That this form of matrimony has been maintained by the natives of Central Africa to this very day was experienced by Livingstone, to his great surprise, as related by him in his book, “Missionary Travels and Researches in Southern Africa.” At the Zambesi he encountered the Balonda, a strong and handsome Negro tribe, engaged in agricultural pursuits, and was soon able to confirm the reports made to him by. Portuguese, which he had at first declined to believe, that the women held a superior position among them. They are members of the tribal council. When a young man marries, he must migrate from his village into the one in which his wife resides. He must at the same time pledge himself to provide his mother-in-law with kindling wood for lifetime. The woman, in turn, must provide her husband’s food. Although minor quarrels between man and wife occasionally occurred, Livingstone found that the men did not rebel against female supremacy. But he found, on the other hand, that when men had insulted their wives, they were severely punished – by their stomachs. The man – so Livingstone relates – comes home to eat, but is sent from one woman to another and is not given anything. Tired and hungry, he finally climbs upon a tree in the most populous part of the village and exclaims, with a woe-begone voice: “Hark, hark! I thought I had married women, but they are witches! I am a bachelor; I have not a single wife! Is that just and fair to a lord like myself?!”


1. “The theory of natural rights and the doctrine of the social contract, which places an isolated human being at the beginnings of human development, is an invention utterly foreign to reality, and is therefore worthless for the theoretical analysis of human institutions as it is for a knowledge of history. Man should, on the contrary, be classed with gregarious animals; that is, with those species whose individuals are combined into permanent groups.” (Edw. Meyer: “The Origin of the State, in Its Relation to Tribal and National Association.” 1907.)

2. Dr. Ziegler. professor of zoology at the university of Freiburg, ridicules the idea of attaching any historical importance to myths. This conception only proves the biased judgment of the scientist. The myths contain a profound meaning, for they have sprung from the soul of the people and are founded upon ancient customs and traditions that have gradually disappeared but continue to survive in the myths glorified by the halo of religion. If facts are met with that explain the myth. there is good ground for attaching historical importance to the ‘same.

3. Dr. Adolf Bastian, “Travels in Singapore, Batavia, Manila and Japan.”

4. Backofen’s book was published in 1861. It was entitled, “The Matriarchate; Studies of the Gynocratic Customs of the Old World in Their Religious and Legal Aspects.” Publishers, Krais & Hoffmann, Stuttgart. Morgan’s fundamental work, “Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization,” was published in 1877 by Henry Holt & Bo. “he Origin of the Family,” by Frederick Engels, founded upon Morgan’s investigations, was published by J. H. W. Dietz, Stuttgart, as was also “Relationship Organizations of the Australian Negro; a Contribution to the History of the Family,” by Henry Cunow, which appeared in 1894.

5. Backhofen: “The Matriarchate.”

6. In the gentile order each gens has its totem, as lizard, opossum, emu, wolf, bear, etc., from which the gens derives its name. The totem animal is held sacred, and members of the gens may not kill it or eat its flesh. The significance of the totem was similar to that of the patron saint among the medieval guilds.

7. Frederick Engels: “Origin of the Family.”

8. Havelock Ellis: “Man and Woman.”