Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877

Part II
Growth of the Idea of Government

Chapter I
Organization of Society upon the Basis of Sex

In treating the subject of the growth of the idea of government, the organization into gentes on the basis of kin naturally suggests itself as the archaic framework of ancient society; but there is a, still older and more archaic organization, that into classes on the basis of sex, which first demands attention. It will not be taken up because of its novelty in human experience, but for the higher reason that it seems to contain the germinal principle of the gens. If this inference is warranted by the facts it will give to this organization into male and female classes, now found in full vitality among the Australian aborigines, an ancient prevalence as widespread, in the tribes of mankind, as the original organization into gentes.

It will soon be perceived that low down in savagery community of husbands and wives, within prescribed limits, was the central principle of the social system. The marital rights and privileges, (jura conjugialia,)[1] established in the group, grew into a stupendous scheme, which became the organic principle on which society was constituted. From the nature of the case these rights and privileges rooted themselves so firmly that emancipation from them was slowly accomplished through movements which resulted in unconscious reformations. Accordingly it will be found that the family has advanced from a lower to a higher form as the range of this conjugal system was gradually reduced. The family, commencing in the consanguine, founded upon the intermarriage of brothers and sisters in a group, passed into the second form, the punaluan, under a social system al in to the Australian classes, which broke up the first species of marriage by substituting groups of brothers who shared their wives in common, and groups of sisters who shared their husbands in common, — marriage in both cases being in the group. The organization into classes upon sex, and the subsequent higher organization into gentes upon kin, must be regarded as the results of great social movements worked out unconsciously through natural selection. For these reasons the Australian system, about to be presented, deserves attentive consideration, although it carries us into a low grade of human life. It represents a striking phase of the ancient social history of our race.

The organization into classes on the basis of sex, and the inchoate organization into gentes on the basis of kin, now prevail among that portion of the Australian aborigines who speak the Kamilaroi language. They inhabit the Darling River district north of Sydney. Both organizations are also found in other Australian tribes, and so wide spread as to render probable their ancient universal prevalence among them. It is evident from internal considerations that the male and female classes are older than the gentes: firstly, because the gentile organization is higher than that into classes; and secondly, because the former, among the Kamilaroi, are in process of overthrowing the latter. The class in its male and female branches is the unit of their social system, which place rightfully belongs to the gens when in full development. A remarkable combination of facts is thus presented; namely, a sexual and a gentile organization, both in existence at the same time, the former holding the central position. and the latter inchoate but advancing to completeness through encroachments upon the former.

This organization upon sex has not been found, as yet, in any tribes of savages out of Australia, but the slow development of these islanders in their secluded habitat, and the more archaic character of the organization upon sex than that into gentes, suggests the conjecture, that the former may have been universal in such branches of the human family as afterwards possessed the gentile organization. Although the class system, when traced out fully, involves some bewildering complications, it will reward the attention necessary for its mastery. As a curious social organization among savages it possesses but little interest; but as the most primitive form of society hitherto discovered, and more especially with the contingent probability that the remote progenitors of our own Aryan family were once similarly organized, it becomes important, and may prove instructive.

The Australians rank below the Polynesians, and far below the American aborigines. They stand below the African negro and near the bottom of the scale. Their social institutions, therefore, must approach the primitive type as nearly as those of any existing people[2].

Inasmuch as the gens is made the subject of the succeeding chapter, it will be introduced in this without discussion, and only for the necessary explanation of the classes. The Kamilaroi are divided into six gentes, standing with reference to the right of marriage, in two divisions, as follows:

I. Iguana, (Duli). 2. Kangaroo, (Murriira). 3. Opossum, (Mute).

II .4. Emu, (Dinoun). 5. Bandicoot, (Bilba), 6. Blacksnake, (Nurai).

Originally the first three gentes were not allowed to intermarry with each other, because they were subdivisions of an original gens; but they were permitted to marry into either of the other gentes, and vice versa. This ancient rule is now modified, among the Kamilaroi, in certain definite particulars but not carried to the full extent of permitting marriage into any gens but that of the individual. Neither males nor females can marry into their own gens, the prohibition being absolute, Descent is in the female line, which assigns the children to the gens of their mother. These are among the essential characteristics of the gens, wherever this institution is found in its archaic form. In its external features, therefore, it is perfect and complete among the Kamilaroi.

But there is a further and older division of the people into eight classes, four of which are composed exclusively of males, and four exclusively of females. It is accompanied with a regulation in respect to marriage and descent which obstructs the gens, and demonstrates that the latter organization is in process of development into its true logical form. One only of the four classes of males can marry into one only of the four classes of females. In the sequel it will be found that all the males of one class are, theoretically, the husbands of all the females of the class into which they are allowed to marry. Moreover, if the male belongs to one of the first three gentes the female must belong to one of the opposite three. Marriage is thus restricted to a portion of the males of one gens, with a portion of the females of another gens, which is opposed to the true theory of the gentile institution, for all the members of each gens should be allowed to marry persons of the opposite sex in all the gentes except their own.

The classes are the following:

Male Female
1. Ippai. 1. Ippata.
2. Kumbo. 2. Buta.
3. Murri. 3. Mata
4. Kubbi. 4. Kapota.

All the Ippais of whatever gens, are brothers to each other. Theoretically, they are descended from a supposed common female ancestor. All the Kumbos are the same; and so are all the Murris and Kubbis, respectively, and for the same reason. In like manner, all the Ippatas, of whatever gens, are sisters to each other, and for the same reason; all the Butas are the same, and so are all the Matas and Kapotas, respectively. In the next place, all the Ippais and Ippatas are brothers and sisters to each other, whether children of the same mother or collateral consanguinei, and in whatever gens they are found. The Kumbos and Butas are brothers and sisters; and so are the Murris and Matas, and the Kubbis and Kapotas respectively. If an Ippai and Ippata meet, who have never seen each other before, they address each other as brother and sister. The Kamilaroi, therefore, are organized into four great primary groups of brothers and sisters, each group being composed of a male and a female branch; but intermingled over the areas of their occupation. Founded upon sex, instead of kin, it is older than the gentes, and more archaic, it may be repeated, than any form of society hitherto known.

The classes embody the germ of the gens, but fall short of its realization. In reality the Ippais and Ippatas form a single class in two branches, and since they cannot intermarry they would form the basis of a gens hut for the reason that they fall under two names, each of which is integral for certain purposes, and for the further reason that their children take different names from their own. The division into classes is upon sex instead of kin, and has its primary relation to a rule of marriage as remarkable as it is original.

Since brothers and sisters are not allowed to intermarry, the classes stand to each other in a different order with respect, to the right of marriage, or rather, of cohabitation, which better expresses the relation. Such was the original law, thus:

Ippai can marry Kapota, and no other.
Kumbo can marry Mata, and no other.
Murri can marry Buta, and no other.
Kubbi can marry Ippata, and no other.

This exclusive scheme has been modified in one particular, as will hereafter be shown: namely, in giving to each class of males the right of intermarriage with one additional class of females. In this fact, evidence of the encroachment of the gens upon the class is furnished, tending to the over throw of the latter.

It is thus seen that each male in the selection of a wife, is limited to one-fourth part of all the Kamilaroi females. This, however, is not the remarkable part of the system. Theoretically every Kapota is the wife of every Ippai; every Mata is the wife of every Kumbo; every Buta is the wife of every Murri; and every Ippata of every Kubbi. Upon this material point the information is specific. Mr. Fison, before mentioned, after observing that Mr. Lance had had much intercourse with the natives, having lived among them many years on frontier cattle-stations on the Darling River, and in the trans-Darling country, quotes from his letter as follows: “If a Kubbi meets a stranger Ippata, they address each other as Goleer=Spouse.... A Kubbi thus meeting an Ippata, even though she were of another tribe, would treat her as his wife, and his right to do so would be recognized by her tribe.” Every Ippata within the immediate circle of his acquaintance would consequently be his wife as well.

Here we find, in a direct and definite form, punaluan marriage in a, group of unusual extent; but broker, up into lesser groups, each a miniature representation of the whole, united for habitation and subsistence. Under the conjugal system thus brought to light one-quarter of all the males are united in marriage with one-quarter of all the females of the Kamilaroi tribes. This picture of savage life need not revolt the mind, because to them it was a form of the marriage relation, and therefore devoid of impropriety. It is but an extended form of polygyny and polyandry, which, within narrower limits, have prevailed universally among savage tribes. The evidence of the fact still exists, in unmistakable form, in their systems of consanguinity and affinity, which have outlived the customs and usages in which they originated. It will be noticed that this scheme of intermarriage is but a step from promiscuity, because it is tantamount to that with the addition of a method. Still, as it is made a subject of organic regulation, it is far re- moved from general promiscuity. Moreover, it reveals an existing state of marriage and of the family of which no adequate conception could have been formed apart from the facts. It affords the first direct evidence of a state of society which had previously been deduced, as extremely probable, from systems of consanguinity and affinity[3].

Whilst the children remained in the gens of their mother, they passed into another class, in the same gens, different from that of either parent. This will be made apparent by the following table:

Male. Female Male.         Female.
Ippai marries Kapota. Their children are Murri and Mata.
Kumbo marries Mata. Their children are Kubbi and Kapota.
Murri marries Buta. Their children are Ippai and Ippata.
Kubbi marries Ippata. Their children are Kumbo and Buta.

If these descents are followed out it will be found that, in the female line, Kapota is the mother of Mata, and Mata in turn is the mother of Kapota; so Ippata is the mother of Buta, and the latter in turn is the mother of Ippata. It is the same with the male classes; but since descent is in the female line, the Kamilaroi tribes derive themselves from two supposed female ancestors, which laid the foundation for two original gentes. By tracing these descents still further it will be found that the blood of each class passes through all the classes.

Although each individual bears one of the class names above given, it will be understood that each has in addition the single personal name, which is common among savage as well as barbarous tribes. The more closely this organization upon sex is scrutinized, the more remarkable it seems as the work of savages. When once established, and after that transmitted through a few generations, it would hold society with such power as to become difficult of displacement It would require a similar and higher system, and centuries of time, to accomplish this result; particularly if the range of the conjugal system would thereby be abridged.

The gentile organization supervened naturally upon the classes as a higher organization, by simply enfolding them uncapped That it was subsequent in point of time, is shown by the relations of the two systems, by the inchoate condition of the gentes, by the impaired condition of the classes through encroachments by the gens, and by the fact that the class is still the unit of organization. These conclusions will be made apparent in the sequel.

From the preceding statements the composition of the gentes will be understood when placed in their relations to the classes. The latter are in pairs of brothers and sisters derived from each other; and the gentes themselves, through the classes, are in pairs, as follows:

Gentes. Male. Female. Male. Female.
1. Iguana:All are Murri&Mata,orKubbi&Kapota.
2. Emu:All are Kumbo&Buta,orIppai& Ippata.
3: Kangaroo: All are Murri& Mata,orKubbi&Kapota.
4. Bandicoot:All are Kumbo& Buta,orIppai&Ippata.
5. Opossum:All are Murri&Mata,orKubbi&Kapota.
6. Blacksnake:All are Kumbo& Buta,orIppai&Ippata.

The connection of children with a particular gens is proven by the law of marriage. Thus, Iguana-Mata must marry Kumbo; her children are Kubbi and Kapota, and necessarily Iguana in gens, because descent is in the female line. Iguana-Kapota must marry Ippai; her children are Murri and Mata, and also Ipuana in gens, for the same reason. In like manner Emu-Buta must marry Murri; her children are Ippai and Ippata, and of the Emu gens. So Emu-Ippata must marry Kubbi; her children are Kumbo and Buta, and also of the Emu gens. In this manner the pens is maintained by keeping in its membership the children of all its female members. The same is true in all respects of each of the remaining gentes. It will be noticed that each gens is made up, theoretically, of the descendants of two supposed female ancestors, and contains four of the eight classes. It seems probable that originally there were hut two male, and two female classes, which were set opposite to each other in respect to the right of marriage; and that the four afterward subdivided into eight. The classes as an anterior organization were evidently arranged within the gentes, and not formed by the subdivision of the latter.

Moreover, since the Iguana, Kangaroo and Opossum gentes are found to be counterparts of each other, in the classes they contain, it follows that they are subdivisions of an original gens. Precisely the same is true of Emu, Bandicoot and Blacksnake, in both particulars; thus reducing the six to two original gentes, with the right in each to marry into the other, but not into itself. It is confirmed by the fact that the members of the first three gentes could not originally intermarry; neither could the members of the last three. The reason which prevented intermarriage in the gens, when the three were one, would follow the subdivisions because they were of the same descent although under different gentile names. Exactly the same thing is found among the Seneca-Iroquois, as will hereafter be shown.

Since marriage is restricted to particular classes, when there were but two gentes, one-half of all the females of one were, theoretically, the wives of one-half of all the males of the other. After their subdivision into six the benefit of marrying out of the gens, which was the chief advantage of the institution, was arrested, if not neutralized, by the presence of the classes together with the restrictions mentioned. It resulted in continuous in-and-in marriages beyond the immediate degree of brother and sister. If the gens could have eradicated the classes this evil would, in a great measure have been removed. The organization into classes seems to have been directed to the single object of breaking up the intermarriage of brothers and sisters, which affords a probable explanation of the origin of the system. But since it did not look beyond this special abomination it retained a conjugal system nearly as objectionable, as well as cast it in a permanent form.

It remains to notice an innovation upon the original constitution of the classes, and in favour of the gens, which reveals a movement, still pending, in the direction of the true ideal of the gens. It is shown in two particulars: firstly, in allowing each triad of gentes to intermarry with each other, to a limited extent; secondly, to marry into classes not before permitted. Thus, Iguana-Murri can now marry Mata in the Kangaroo gens, his collateral sister, whereas originally he was restricted to Buta in the opposite three. So Iguana-Kubbi can now marry Kapota, his collateral sister. Emu-Kumbo can now marry Buta, and Emu-Ippai can marry Ippata in the Blacksnake gens, contrary to original limitations. Each class of males in each triad of gentes seems now to be allowed one additional class of females in the two remaining gentes of the same triad, from which they were before excluded. The memoranda sent by Mr. Fison, however, do not show a change to the full extent here indicated[5].

This innovation would plainly have been a retrograde movement but that it tended to break down the classes. The line of progress among the Kamilaroi, so far as any is observable, was from classes into gentes, followed by a tendency to make the gens instead of the class the unit of the social organism. In this movement the overshadowing system of cohabitation was the resisting element. Social advancement was impossible without diminishing its extent, which was equally impossible so long as the classes, with the privileges they conferred, remained in full vitality. The jura conjugialia, which appertained to these classes, were the dead weight upon the Kamilaroi, without emancipation from which they would have remained for additional thousands of years in the same condition, substantially, in which they were found.

An organization somewhat similar is indicated by the punalua of the Hawaiians which will be hereafter explained. Wherever the middle or lower stratum of savagery is uncovered, marriages of entire groups under usages defining the groups, have been discovered either in absolute form, or such traces as to leave little doubt that such marriages were normal throughout this period of man’s history. It is immaterial whether the group, theoretically, was large or small, the necessities of their condition would set a practical limit to the size of the group living together under this custom. If then community of husbands and wives is found to have been a law of the savage state, and, therefore, the essential condition of society in savagery, the inference would be conclusive that our own savage ancestors shared in this common experience of the human race.

In such usages and customs an explanation of the low condition of savages is found. If men in savagery had not been left behind, in isolated portions of the earth, to testify concerning the early condition of mankind in general, it would have been impossible to form any definite conception of what it must have been. An important inference at once arises, namely, that the institutions of mankind have sprung up in a progressive connected series. each of which represents the result of unconscious reformatory movements to extricate society from existing evils The wear of ages is upon these institutions, for the proper understanding of which they must be studied in this light. It cannot be assumed that the Australian savages are now at the bottom of the scale, for their arts and institutions, humble as they are, show the contrary; neither is there any ground for assuming their degradation from a higher condition, because the facts of human experience afford no sound basis for such a hypothesis. Cases of physical and mental deterioration in tribes and nations may be admitted, for reasons which are known, but they never interrupted the general progress of mankind. All the facts of human knowledge and experience tend to show that the human race, as a whole, have steadily progressed from a lower to a higher condition. The arts by which savages maintain their lives are remarkably persistent. They are never lost until superseded by others higher in degree. By the practice of these arts, and by the experience gained through social organizations, mankind have advanced under a necessary law of development, although their progress may have been substantially imperceptible for centuries. It was the same with races as with individuals, although tribes and nations have perished through the disruption of their ethnic life.

The Australian classes afford the first, and, so far as the writer is aware, the only case in which we are able to look clown into the incipient stages of the organization into gentes, and even through it upon an interior organization so archaic as that upon sex, It seems to afford a glimpse at society when it verged upon the primitive. Among other tribes the gens seems to have advanced in proportion to the curtailment of the conjugal system. Mankind rise in the scale and the family advances through its successive forms, as these rights sink down before the efforts of society to improve its internal organization,

The Australians might not have effected the overthrow of the classes in thousands of years if they had remained undiscovered; while more favoured continental tribes had long before perfected the gens, then advanced it through its successive phases, and at last laid it aside after entering upon civilization. Facts illustrating the rise of successive social organizations, such as that upon sex, and that upon kin, are of the highest ethnological value. A knowledge of what they indicate is eminently desirable, if the early history of mankind is to be measurably recovered.

Among the Polynesian tribes the gens was unknown; but traces of a system analogous to the Australian classes appear in the Hawaiian custom of punalua. Original ideas, absolutely independent of previous knowledge and experience, are necessarily few in number. Were it possible to reduce the sum of human ideas to un-derived originals, the small numerical result would be startling. Development is the method of human progress.

In the light of these facts some of the excrescences of modern civilization, such as Mormonism, are seen to be relics of the old savagism not yet eradicated from the human brain. We have the same brain, perpetuated by reproduction, which worked in the skulls of barbarians and savages in by-gone ages; and it has come down to us laden and saturated with the thoughts, aspirations and passions, with which it was busied through the intermediate periods. It is the same brain grown older and larger with the experience of the ages. These outcrops of barbarism are so many revelations of its ancient proclivities. They are explainable as a species of mental atavism.

Out, of a few germs of thought, conceived in the early ages, have been evolved all the principal institutions of mankind. Beginning their growth in the period of savagery, fermenting through the period of barbarism, they have continued their advancement through the period of civilization. The evolution of these germs of thought has been guided by a natural logic which formed an essential attribute of the brain itself. So unerringly has this principle performed its functions in all conditions of experience, and in all periods of time, that its results are uniform, coherent and traceable in their courses. These results alone will in time yield convincing proofs of the unity of origin of mankind. The mental history of the human race, which is revealed in institutions, inventions and discoveries, is presumptively the history of a single species, perpetuated through individuals, and developed through experience. Among the original germs of thought, which have exercised the most powerful influence upon the human mind, and upon human destiny, are these which relate to government, to the family, to language, to religion, and to property. They had a definite beginning far back in savagery, and a logical progress, but can have no final consummation, because they are still progressing, and must ever continue to progress.


1. The Romans made a distinction between ‘connubium,’ which related to marriage considered as a civil institution, and ‘conjugium,’ which was a mere physical union.

2. For the detailed facts of the Australian system I am indebted to the Rev. Lorimer Fison, an English missionary in Australia, who received a portion of them from the Rev. W. Ridley, and another portion from T. E. Lance, Esq., both of whom had spent many years among the Australian aborigines, and enjoyed excellent opportunities for observation. The facts were sent by Mr. Fison with a critical analysis and discussion of the system, which, with observations of the writer were published in the ‘Proceedings of the Am. Acad. of Arts and Sciences for 1872. See vol. viii, p. 412. A brief notice of the Kamilaroi classes is given in McLennan’s “Primitive Marriage,” p. 118; and in Tylor’s “Early History of Mankind,” p, 288.

3. “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, (Smithsonian Contributions to knowledge),” vol. xvii p. 42O, ‘et seq.’

4. If a diagram of descents is made, for example, of Ippai and Kapota, and carried to the fourth generation, giving to each intermediate pair two children a male and a female, the following results will appear. The children of Ippai and Kapota are Murri and Mata. As brothers and sisters the latter cannot marry. At the second degree, the children of Murri, married to Buta, are Ippai and Ippata, and of Mata married to Kumbo, are Kubbi and Kapota. Of these, Ippai marries his cousin Kapota; and Kubbi marries his cousin Ippata. It will be noticed that the eight classes are reproduced from two in the second and third generations, with the exception of Kumbo and Buta. At the next or third degree, there are two Murris, two Matas, two Kumbos, and two Butas; of whom the Murris marry the Butas, their second cousins, and the Kubbis the Matas their second cousins. At the fourth generation there are four each of Ippais Kapotas Kubbis and Ippatas, who are third cousins. Of these, the Ippais marry the Kapotas, and the Kubbis the Ippatas; and thus it runs from generation to generation. A similar chart of the remaining marriageable classes will produce like results. These details are tedious, but they make the fact apparent that in this condition of ancient society they not only intermarry constantly, but are compelled to do so through this organization upon sex. Cohabitation would not follow this invariable course because an entire male and female class were married in a group; but its occurrence must have been constant under the system. One of the primary objects secured by the gens, when fully matured, was thus defeated: namely, the segregation of moiety of the descendants of supposed common ancestor under a prohibition of intermarriage, followed by a right of marrying into any other gens.

5. “Proc. Am. Acad. Arts and Sciences,” viii, 436.