Ancient Society. Lewis H. Morgan 1877

Chapter XV
Gentes in Other Tribes of the Human Family

Having considered the organization into Gentes, phratries and tribes in their archaic as Well as later form, it remains to trace the extent of its prevalence in the human family, and particularly with respect to the gens, the basis of the system.

The Celtic branch of the Aryan family retained, in the Scottish clan and Irish sept, the organization into gentes to a later period of time than any other branch of the family, unless the Aryans of India are an exception. The Scottish clan in particular was existing in remarkable vitality in the Highlands of Scotland in the middle of the last century. It was an excellent type of the gens in organization and in spirit, and an extraordinary illustration of the power of the gentile life over its members. The illustrious author of Waverley has perpetuated a number of striking characters developed under clan life, and stamped with its peculiarities. Evan Dhu, Torquil, Rob Roy and many others rise before the mind as illustrations of the influence of the gens in moulding the character of individuals. If Sir Walter exaggerated these characters in some respects to suit the emergencies of a tale, they had a real foundation. The same clans, a few centuries earlier, when clan life was stronger and external influences were weaker, would probably have verified the pictures. We find in their feuds and blood revenge, in their localization by gentes, in their use of lands in common, in the fidelity of the clansman to his chief and of the members of the clan to each other, the usual and persistent features of gentile society. As portrayed by Scott, it was a more intense and chivalrous gentile life than we are able to find in the gentes of the Greeks and Romans, or, at the other extreme, in those of the American aborigines. Whether the phratric organization existed among them does not appear, but at some anterior period both the phratry and the tribe doubtless did exist. It is well known that the British government were compelled to break up the Highland clans, as organizations, in order to bring the people under the authority of law and the usages of political society. Descent was in the male line, the children of the males remaining members of the clan, while the children of its female members belonged to the clans of their respective fathers.

We shall pass over the Irish sept, the phis or phrara of the Albanians, which embody the remains of a prior gentile organization, and the traces of a similar organization in Dalmatia and Croatia; and also the Sanskrit gamas, the existence of which term in the language implies that this branch of the Aryan family formerly possessed the same institution. The communities of Villeins on French estates in former times, noticed by Sir Henry Maine in his recent work, may prove to be, as he intimates, remains of ancient Celtic gentes. ‘Now that the explanation has once been given,’ he remarks, ‘there can be no doubt that these associations were not really voluntary partnerships, but groups of kinsmen; not, however, so often organized on the ordinary type of the Village-Community as on that of the House- Community, which has recently been examined in Dalmatia and Croatia. Each of them was what the Hindus call a Joint-Undivided family, a collection of assumed descendants from a common ancestor, preserving a common hearth and common meals during several generations. [1]

A brief reference should be made to the question whether any traces of the gentile organization remained among the German tribes when they first came under historical notice. That they inherited this institution, with other Aryan tribes, from the common ancestors of the Aryan family, is probable. When first known to the Romans, they were in the Upper Status of barbarism. They could scarcely have developed the idea of government further than the Grecian and Latin tribes, who were in advance of them, when each respectively became known. While the Germans may have acquired an imperfect conception of a state, founded upon territory and upon property, it is not probable that they had any knowledge of the second great plan of government which the Athenians were first among Aryan tribes to establish. The condition and mode of life of the German tribes, as described by Caesar and Tacitus, tend to the conclusion that their several societies were held together through personal relations, and with but slight reference to territory; and that their government was through these relations. Civil chiefs and military commanders acquired and held office through the elective principle, and constituted the council which was the chief instrument of government. On lesser affairs, Tacitus remarks, the chiefs consult, but on those of greater importance the whole community. While the final decision of all important questions belonged to the people, they were first maturely considered by the chiefs.[2] The close resemblance of these to Grecian and Latin usages will be perceived. The government consisted of three powers, the council of chiefs, the assembly of the people, and the military commander.

Caesar remarks that the Germans were not studious of agriculture, the greater part of their food consisting of milk, cheese and meat; nor had any one a fixed quantity of land, or his own individual boundaries, hut the magistrates and chiefs each year assigned to the gentes and kinsmen who had united in one body (gentibus congnationibusque hominum qui una coerint) as much land, and in such places as seemed best, compelling them the next year to remove to another place.[3] To give effect to the expression in parenthesis, it must be supposed that he found among them groups of persons, larger than a family, united on the basis of kin, to whom, as groups of persons, lands were allotted. It excludes individuals, and even the family, both of whom were merged in the group thus united for cultivation and subsistence. It seems probable, from the form of the statement, that the German family at this time was syndyasmian; and that several related families were united in households and practiced communism in living.

Tacitus refers to a usage of the German tribes in the arrangement of their forces in battle, by which kinsmen were placed side by side. It would have no significance, if kinship were limited to near consanguinei. And what is an especial excitement of their courage, he remarks, neither chance nor a fortuitous gathering of the forces make up the squadron of horse, or the infantry wedge; but they were formed according to families and kinships (familiae et propinquitates).[4] This expression, and that previously quoted from Caesar, seem to indicate the remains at least of a prior gentile organization, which at this time was giving place to the mark or local district as the basis of a still imperfect political system.

The German tribes, for the purpose of military levies, had the mark (markgenossenshchaft), which also existed among the English Saxons, and a larger group, the gau, to which Caesar and Tacitus gave the name of pagus.[5] It is doubtful whether the mark and the gau were then strictly geographical districts, standing to each other in the relations of township and county, each circumscribed by bounds, with the people in each politically organized. It seems more probable that the gau was a group of settlements associated with reference to military levies. As such, the mark and the gau were the germs of the future township and county, precisely as the Athenian naucrary and trittys were the rudiments of the Cleisthenean deme and local tribe. These organizations seemed transitional stages between a gentile and a political system, the grouping of the people still resting on consanguinity.[6]

We naturally turn to the Asiatic continent, where the types of mankind are the most numerous, and where, consequently, the period of human occupation has been longest, to find the earliest traces of the gentile organization. But here the transformations of society have been the most extended, and the influence of tribes and nations upon each other the most constant. The early development of Chinese and Indian civilization and the overmastering influence of modern civilization have wrought such changes in the condition of Asiatic stocks that their ancient institutions are not easily ascertainable. Nevertheless, the whole experience of mankind from savagery to civilization was worked out upon the Asiatic continent, and among its fragmentary tribes the remains of their ancient institutions must now be sought.

Descent in the female line is still very common in the ruder Asiatic tribes; but there are numerous tribes among whom it is traced in the male line. It is the limitation of descent to one line or the other, followed by the organization of the body of consanguinei, thus separated under a common name which indicates a gens.

In the Magar tribe of Nepaul, Latham remarks, “there are twelve thums. All individuals belonging to the same thum are supposed to be descended from the same male ancestor; descent from the same mother being by no means necessary. So husband and wife must belong to different thums. Within one and the same there is no marriage. Do you wish for a wife? If so, look to the thum of your neighbour; at any rate look beyond your own. This is the first time I have found occasion to mention this practice. It will not be the last; on the contrary, the principle it suggests is so common as to be almost universal. We shall find it in Australia; we shall find it in North and South America; we shall find it in Africa; we shall find it in Europe; we shall suspect and infer it in many places where the actual evidence of its existence is incomplete."[7] In this case we have in the thum, clear evidence of the existence of a gens, with descent in the male line.

The Munnieporees, and the following tribes inhabiting the hills round Munniepore — the Koupooes, the Mows, the Murams, and the Murring — are each and all divided into four families — Koomul, Looang, Angom, and Ningthaja. A member of any of these families may marry a member of any other; but the intermarriage of members of the same family is strictly prohibited.[8] In these families may be recognized four gentes in each of these tribes. Bell, speaking of the Telsuh of the Circassians, remarks that “the tradition in regard to them is, that the members of each and all sprang from the same stock or ancestry; and thus they may be considered as so many septs or clans.... These cousins German, or members of the same fraternity, are not only themselves interdicted from intermarrying, but their serfs, too, must wed with serfs of another fraternity."[9] It is probable that the telush is a gens.

Among the Bengalese the four castes are subdivided into many different sects or classes, and each of these is again subdivided; for instance, I am of Nundy tribe [gens?], and if I were a heathen I could not marry a woman of the same tribe, although the caste must be the same. The children are of the tribe of their father. Property descends to the sons. In case the person has no sons, to his daughters; and if he leaves neither, to his nearest relatives. Castes are subdivided, such as Shuro, which is one of the first divisions; but it is again sub- divided, such as Khayrl, Tilly, Tamally, Tanty, Chomor, Kari, etc. A man belonging to one of these last named subdivisions cannot marry a woman of the same.[10] These smallest groups number usually about a hundred persons, and still retain several of the characteristics of a gens.

Mr. Tyler remarks, that “in India it is unlawful for a Brahman to marry a wife whose clan-name or ghotra. (literally ‘cow-stall’) is the same as his own, a prohibition which bars marriage among relatives in the male line indefinitely. This law appears in the code of Manu as applying to the first, three castes, and connexions on the female side are also forbidden to marry within certain wide limits."[11] And again: “Among the Kols of Chota- Nagpur, we find many of the Oraon and Munda clans named after animals, as eel, hawk, crow, heron, and they must not kill or eat what they are named after."[12] The Mongolians approach the American aborigines quite nearly in physical characteristics. They are divided into numerous tribes. “The connection,” says Latham, “between the members of a tribe is that of blood pedigree, or descent; the tribe being, in some cases, named after a real or supposed patriarch. The tribe, by which we translate the native name aimauk, or aimak, is a large division falling into so many kokhums, or banners.[13] The statement, is not full enough to show the existence of gentes. Their neighbours, the Tungusians are composed of subdivisions named after animals, as the horse, the dog, the reindeer, which imply the gentile organizations, but it cannot be asserted, without further particulars.

Sir John Lubbock remarks of the Kalmucks that according to De Hell, they are divided into hordes, and no man can marry a woman of the same horde; and of the Ostiaks, that they “regard it as a crime to marry a woman of the same family or even of the same name; and that “when a Jakut (Siberia) wishes to marry, he must choose a girl from another clan."[14] We have in each of these cases evidence of the existence of a gens, one of the rules of which, as has been shown, is the prohibition of intermarriage among its members. The Yurak Samoyeds are organized in gente. Klaproth, quoted by Latham, remarks that, “this division of the kinsmanship is so rigidly observed that no Samoyed takes a wife from the kinsmanship to which he himself belongs. On the contrary, he seeks her in one of the other two."[15]

A peculiar family system prevails among the Chinese which seems to embody the remains of an ancient gentile organization. Mr. Robert Hart, of Canton, in a letter to the author remarks, “that the Chinese expression for the people is Pih-sing, which means the Hundred Family Names; but whether this is mere word-painting, or had its origin at a time when the Chinese general family consisted of one hundred subfamilies or tribes [gentes?] I am unable to determine. At the present day there are about four hundred family names in this country, among which I find some that have reference to animals, fruits, metals, natural objects, etc; and which may be translated as Horse, Sheep, Ox, Fish, Bird, Phoenix, Plum, Flower, Leaf, Rice, Forest, River, Hill, Water, Cloud, Gold, Hide, Bristles, etc., etc. In some parts of the country large villages are met with, in each of which there exists but one family name; thus in one district will be found, say, three villages, each containing two or three thousand people, the one of the Horse, the second of the Sheep, and the third of the Ox family name.... Just as among the North American Indians husbands and wives are of different tribes [gentes], so in China husband and wife are always of different families, i.e., of different surnames. Custom and law alike prohibit intermarriage on the part of people having the same family surname. The children are of the father’s family, that is, they take his family surname.... Where the father dies intestate the property generally remains undivided, but under the control of the oldest son during the life of the widow. On her death he divides the property between himself and his brothers, the shares of the juniors depending entirely upon the will of the elder brother.

The family here described appears to be a gens, analogous to the Roman in the time of Romulus; but whether it was reintegrated, with other gentes of common descent, in a phratry does not, appear. Moreover, the gentiles are still located as an independent consanguine body in one area, as the Roman gentes were localized in the early period, and the names of the gentes are till of the archaic type. Their increase to four hundred by segmentation might have been expected: but their maintenance to the present time, after the period of barbarism has long passed away, is the remarkable fact, and an additional proof of their immobility as a people. It may be suspected also that the monogamian family in these villages has not attained its full development, and that communism in living, and in wives as well, may not be unknown among them. Among the wild aboriginal tribes, who still inhabit the mountain regions of China and who speak dialects different from the Mandarin, the gens in its archaic form may yet be discovered. To these isolated tribes, we should naturally look for the ancient institutions of the Chinese. In like manner the tribes of Afghanistan are said to be subdivided into clans; but whether these clans are true gentes has not been ascertained.

Not to weary the reader with further details of a similar character, a sufficient number of cases have been adduced to create a presumption that the gentile organization prevailed very generally and widely among the remote ancestors of the present Asiatic tribes and nations.

The twelve tribes of the Hebrews, as they appear in the Book of Numbers, represent a reconstruction of Hebrew society by legislative procurement. The condition of barbarism had then passed away, and that of civilization had commenced. The principle, on which the tribes were organized, as bodies of consanguinei, presupposes an anterior gentile system, which had remained in existence and was now systematized. At this time they had no knowledge of any other plan of government than a gentile society formed of consanguine groups united through personal relations. Their subsequent localization in Palestine by consanguine tribes, each district named after one of the twelve sons of Jacob, with the exception of the tribe of Levi, is a practical recognition of the fact that they were organized by lineages and not into a community of citizens. The history of the most remarkable nation of the Semitic family has been concentrated around the names of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the twelve sons of the latter.

Hebrew history commences essentially with Abraham the account of whose forefathers is limited to a pedigree barren of details. A few passages will show the extent of the progress then made, and the status of advancement in which Abraham appeared. He is described as very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold.[16] For the cave of Machpelah “Abraham weighed to Ephron the silver, which he had named in the audience of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant."[17] With respect to domestic life and subsistence, the following passage may be cited: “And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal; knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth."[18] And he took butter and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them.[19] With respect to implements, raiment and ornaments: “Abraham took the fire in his hand and a knife."[20] “And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things."[21] When she met Isaac, Rebekah “took a veil and covered herself."[22] In the same connection are mentioned the camel, ass, ox, sheep and goat, together with flock and herds; the grain mill, the water pitcher, earrings, bracelets, tents, houses and cities. The bow and arrow, the sword, corn and wine, and fields sown with grain are mentioned. They indicate the Upper Status of barbarism for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Writing in this branch of the Semitic family was probably then unknown. The degree of development shown corresponds substantially with that of the Homeric Greeks.

Early Hebrew marriage customs indicate the presence of the gens, and in its archaic form. Abraham, by his servant, seemingly purchased Rebekah as a wife for Isaac; the ‘precious things’ being given to the brother, and to the mother of the bride, but not to the father. In this case the presents went to the gentile kindred, provided a gens existed, with descent in the female line. Again, Abraham married his half-sister Sarah. “And yet indeed,” he says, “she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” [23]

With an existing gens and descent in the female line Abraham and Sarah would have belonged to different gentes, and although of blood kin they were not of gentile kin, and could have married by gentile usage. The case would have been reversed in both particulars with descent in the male line. Nahor married his niece, the daughter of his brother Haran;[24] and Amram, the father of Moses, married his aunt, the sister of his father, who became the mother of the Hebrew lawgiver.[25] In these cases, with descent in the female line, the persons marrying would have belonged to different gentes; but otherwise with descent in the male line. While these cases do not prove absolutely the existence of gentes, the latter would afford such an explanation of them as to raise a presumption of the existence of the gentile organization in its archaic form.

When the Mosaic legislation was completed the Hebrews were a civilized people, but not far enough advanced to institute political society. The scripture account shows that they were organized in a series of consanguine groups in an ascending scale, analogous to the gens, phratry and tribe of the Greeks. In the muster and organization of the Hebrews, both as a society and as an army, while in the Sinaitic peninsula, repeated references are made to these consanguine groups in an ascending series, the seeming equivalents of a gens, phratry and tribe. Thus, the tribe of Levi consisted of eight gentes organized in three phratries, as follows:

Tribe of Levi.

Sons of Levi:

I. Gershon. 7,500 males. II. Kohath 8,600 males. III. Merari 6,200 males

I; Gershonite Phratry.

Gentes.- 1. Libni. 2. Shmei.

II. Kohathite Phratry.

Gentes.- l. Amram. 2. Izhar. 3. Hebron. 4. — Uzziel

III. Merarite Phratry.

Gentes.- 1. Mahli. 2. Mushi.

“Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families..... And these were the sons of Levi by their names; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari. And these were the names of the sons of Gershon by their families; Libni, and Shimei. And the sons of Kohath by their families; Amram, and Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. And the sons of Merari by their families; Mahli, and Mushi. These are the families of the Levites by the house of their father.[26]

The description of these groups sometimes commences with the upper member of the series, and sometimes with the lower or the unit; Thus: of the children of Simeon, by their generation, after their families, by the house of their fathers.[27] Here the children of Simeon, with their generations, constitute the tribe: the families are the phratries; and the house of the father is the gens. Again: And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.[28] Here we find the gen first, and then the phratry and last the tribe. The person named was the chief of the phratry. Each house of the father also had its ensign or banner to distinguish it from others. Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father’s house.[29] These terms describe actual organizations; and they show that their military organization was by gentes, by phratries and by tribes.

With respect to the first and smallest of these groups, the house of the father, it must have numbered several hundred persons from the figures given of the number in each phratry. The Hebrew term bethab, signifies paternal house, house of the father, and family house. If the Hebrews possessed the gens, it was this group of persons. The use of two terms to describe it would leave a doubt, unless individual families under monogamy had then become so numerous and so prominent that this circumlocution was necessary to cover the kindred. We have literally, the house of Amram, of Izhar, of Hebron, and of Uzziel; but as the Hebrews at that time could have had no conception of a house as now applied to a titled family, it probably signified, as used, kindred or lineage.[30] Since each division and subdivision is headed by a male, and since Hebrew descents are traced through males exclusively, descent among them, at this time, was undoubtedly in the male line. Next in the ascending scale is the family, which seems to be a phratry. The Hebrew term far this organization, mishpacah, signifies union, clanship. It was composed of two or more houses of the father, derived by segmentation from an original group, and distinguished by a phratric name. It answers very closely to the phratry. The family or phratry had an annual sacrificial feast.[31] Lastly, the tribe called in Hebrew matteh, which signifies a branch, stem, or shoot, is the analogue of the Grecian tribe.

Very few particulars are given respecting the rights, privileges and obligations of the members of these bodies of consanguinei. The idea of kin which united each organization from the house of the father to the tribe, is carried out in a form much more marked and precise than in the corresponding organizations of Grecian, Latin or American Indian tribes. While the Athenian traditions claimed that the four tribes were derived from the four sons of Ion they did not pretend to explain the origin of the gentes and phratries. On the contrary, the Hebrew account not only derives the twelve tribes genealogically from the twelve sons of Jacob, but also the gentes and phratries from the children and descendants of each. Human experience furnishes no parallel of the growth of gentes and phratries precisely in this way. The account must be explained as a classification of existing consanguine groups, according to the knowledge preserved by tradition, in doing which minor obstacles were overcome by legislative constraint. The Hebrews styled themselves the “People of Israel,” and also a Congregation.[32] It is a direct recognition of the fact that their organization was social, and not political. In Africa we encounter a chaos of savagery and barbarism. Original arts and inventions have largely disappeared through fabrics and utensils introduced from external sources; but savagery in its lowest forms, cannibalism included, and barbarism in its lowest forms prevail over the greater part of the continent; Among the interior tribes, there is a nearer approach to an indigenous culture and to a normal condition; but Africa, in the main, is a barren ethnological field.

Although the home of the Negro race, it is well known that their numbers are limited and their areas small. Latham significantly remarks that “the negro is an exceptional African."[33] The Ashiras, Aponos, Ishogos and Ashangos, between the Congo and the Niger, visited by Du Chaillu, are the true negro type. “Each village,” he remarks, “had its chief, and further in the interior the villages seemed to be governed by elders, each elder with his people having a separate portion of the village to themselves. There was in each clan the ifoumou, fumou, or acknowledged head of the clan (ifoumou meaning the source, the father). I have never been able to obtain from the natives a knowledge concerning the splitting of their tribes into clans; they seemed not to know how it happened, but, the formation of new clans does not take place now among them.... The house of a chief or elder is not better than those of his neighbour. The despotic form of government is unknown..... A council of the elders is necessary before one is put to death.... Tribes and clans intermarry with each other, and this brings about a friendly feeling among the people. People of the same clan cannot intermarry with each other. The least consanguinity is considered an abomination; nevertheless the nephew has not the slightest objection to take his uncle’s wives, and, as among the Balakai, the son takes his father’s wives; except his own mother .... Polygamy and slavery exist everywhere among the tribes I have visited..... The law of inheritance among the Western tribes is, that the next brother inherits the wealth of the eldest (women, slaves, etc.), but that if the youngest dies the eldest inherits his property, and if there are no brothers that the nephew inherits it. The headship of the clan or family is hereditary, following the same law as that of the inheritance of property. In the case of all the brothers having died, the eldest son of the eldest sister inherits, and it goes on thus until the branch is extinguished, for all clans are considered as descended from the female side."[34]

All the elements of a true gens are embodied in the foregoing particulars, namely, descent is limited to one line, in this case the female, which gives the gens in its archaic farm. Moreover, descent is in the female line with respect to office and to property, as well as the gentile name. The office of chief passes from brother to brother, or from uncle to nephew, that nephew being the son of a sister, as among the American aborigines; whilst the sons are excluded because not members of the gens of the deceased chief. Marriage in the gens is also forbidden. The only material omission in these precise statements is the names of some of the gentes. The hereditary feature requires further explanation.

Among the Banyai of the Zambezi river, who are a people of higher grade than the negroes, Dr. Livingstone observed the following usages: “The government of the Banyai is rather peculiar; being a sort of feudal republicanism. The chief is elected, and they choose the son of a deceased chief’s sister in preference to his own offspring. When dissatisfied with one candidate, they even go to a distant tribe for a successor, who is usually of the family of the late chief, a brother, or a sister’s son, but never his own son or daughter .... All the wives, goods, and children of his predecessor belong to him."[35] Dr. Livingstone does not give the particulars of their social organization; but the descent of the office of chief form brother to brother, or from uncle to nephew, implies the existence of the gens with descent in the female line.

The numerous tribes occupying the country watered by the Zambezi, and from thence southward to Cape Colony, are regarded by the natives themselves, according to Dr. Livingstone, as one stock in three great divisions, the Bechuanas, the Basutos, and the Kafirs.[36] With respect to the former, he remarks that the Bechuana tribes are named after certain animals, showing probably that in ancient times they were addicted to animal worship like the ancient Egyptians. The term Bakatla means ‘they of the Monkey’; Bakuona, ‘they of the Alligator’; Batlapi, ‘they of the Fish’; each tribe having a superstitious dread of the animal after which it is called.... A tribe never eats the animal which is its namesake..... We find traces of many ancient tribes in individual members of those non extinct; as Batiau, ‘they of the Lion’; Banoga, ‘they of the Serpent,’ though no such tribes now exist."[37] These animal names are suggestive of the gens rather than the tribe. Moreover, the fact that single individuals are found, each of whom was the last survivor of his tribe, would be more likely to have occurred if gens were understood in the place of tribe. Among the Bangalas of the Cassange Valley, in Argola, Livingstone remarks that “a chief’s brother inherits in preference to his sons. The sons of a sister belong to her brother; and he often sells his nephews to pay his debts.[38] Here again we have evidence of descent in the female line; but his statements are too brief and general in these and other cases to show definitely whether or not they possessed the gens.

Among the Australians the gentes of the Kamilaroi have already been noticed. In ethnical position the aborigines of this great island are near the bottom of the scale. When discovered they were not only savages, but in a low condition of savagery. Some of the tribes were cannibals. Upon this last question Mr. Fison, before mentioned, writes as follows to the author: “Some, at least, of the tribes are cannibals. The evidence of this is conclusive. The Wide Bay tribes eat not only their enemies slain in battle, but their friends also who have been killed, and even those who have died a natural death, provided they are in good condition. Before eating they skin them, and preserve the skins by rubbing them with mingled fat and charcoal These skins they prize very highly, believing them to have great medicinal value.”

Such pictures of human life enable us to understand the condition of savagery, the grade of its usages, the degree of material development, and the low level of the mental and moral life of the people. Australian humanity, as seen in their cannibal customs, stands on as low a plane as it has been known to touch on the earth. And yet the Australians possessed an area of continental dimensions, rich in minerals, not uncongenial in climate, and fairly supplied with the means of subsistence. But after an occupation which must be measured by thousands of years, they are still savages, of the grade above indicated. Left to themselves they would probably have remained for thousands of years to come, not without any, but with such slight improvement as scarcely to lighten the dark shade of their savage state.

Among the Australians, whose institutions are normal and homogeneous, the organization into gentes is not, confined to the Kamilaroi, but seems to be universal. The Narrinyeri of South Australia, near Lacepede Bay are organized in gentes named after animals and insects. Rev. George Taplin, writing to my friend Mr. Fison, after stating that, the Narrinyeri do not marry into their own gens, and that the children were of the gens of their father, continues as follows: “There are no castes, nor are there any classes, similar to those of the Kamilaroi-speaking tribes of New South Wales. But each tribe or family (and a tribe is a family) has its totem, or ngaitye; and indeed some individuals have this ngaitye. It is regarded as the man’s- tutelary genius. It is some animal, bird, or insect. . ... The natives are very strict in their marriage arrangements. A tribe [gens] is considered a family, and a man never marries into his own tribe.

Mr. Fison also writes, “that among the tribes of the Maranoa district, Queensland, whose dialect is called Urghi, according the information communicated to me by Mr, A. S. P. Cameron, the same classification exists as among the Kamilaroi-speaking tribes, both as to the class names and the totems.” With respect to the Australians of the Darling River, upon information communicated by Mr. Charles G. N. Lockwood, he further remarks, that “they are subdivided into tribes (gentes), mentioning the Emu, Wild Duck, and Kangaroo, but without saying whether there are others, and that the children take both the class name and totem of the mother.[39] From the existence of the gentile organization among the tribes named its general prevalence among the Australian aborigines is rendered probable; although the institution, as has elsewhere been pointed out, is in the incipient stages of its development.

Our information with respect to the domestic institutions of the inhabitants of Polynesia, Micronesia and the Papuan Islands is still limited and imperfect. No traces of the gentile organization have been discovered among the Hawaiians, Samoans, Marquesas Islanders or New Zealanders. Their system of consanguinity is still primitive, showing that their institutions have not advanced as far as this organization presupposes.[40] In some of the Micronesian Islands the office of chief is transmitted through females;[41] but, this usage might exist independently of the gens. The Fijians are subdivided into several tribes speaking dialects of the same stock language; One of these, the Rewas, consists of four subdivisions under distinctive names, and each of these is again subdivided. It does not seem probable that the last subdivisions are gentes, for the reason, among others, that its members are allowed to intermarry. Descent is in the male line. In like manner the Tongans are composed of divisions, which are again subdivided the same as the Rewas.

Around the simple ideas relating to marriage and the family, to subsistence and to government, the earliest social organizations were formed; and with them an exposition of the structure and principle of ancient society must commence. Adopting the theory of a progressive development of mankind through the experience of the ages, the insulation of the inhabitants of Oceanica, their limited local areas, and their restricted means of subsistence predetermined -a slow rate of progress. They still represent a condition of mankind on the continent of Asia in times immensely remote from the present; and while peculiarities, incident to their insulation, undoubtedly exist, these island societies represent one of the early phases of the great stream of human progress. An exposition of their institutions, inventions and discoveries, and mental and moral traits, would supply one of the great needs of anthropological science.

This concludes the discussion of the organization into gentes, and the range of its distribution. The organization has been found among the Australians and African Negroes, with traces of the system in other African tribes. It has been found generally prevalent among that portion of the American aborigines who when discovered were in the Lower Status of barbarism; and also among a portion of the Village Indians who were in the Middle Status of barbarism. In like manner it existed in full vitality among the Grecian and Latin tribes in the Upper Status of barbarism; with traces of it in several of the remaining branches of the Aryan family. The organization has been found, or traces of its existence, in the Turanian; Uralian and Mongolian families; in the Tungusian, and Chinese, stocks, and in the Semitic family among the Hebrews. Facts sufficiently numerous and commanding have been adduced to claim for it an ancient universality in the human family, as well as a general prevalence through the latter part of the period of savagery, and throughout the period of barbarism.

The investigation has also arrayed a sufficient body of facts to demonstrate that this remarkable institution was the origin and the basis of Ancient Society. It was the first organic principle, developed through experience, which was able to organize society upon a definite plan, and hold it in organic unity until it was sufficiently advanced for the transition into political society. Its antiquity, its substantial universality and its enduring vitality are sufficiently shown by its perpetuation upon all the continents to the present time. The wonderful adaptability of the gentile organization to the wants of mankind in these several periods and conditions is sufficiently attested by its prevalence and by its preservation. It has been identified with the most eventful portion of the experience of mankind.

Whether the gens originates spontaneously in a given condition of society, and would thus repeat itself in disconnected areas; or whether it had a single origin and was propagated from an original centre, through successive migrations, over the earth’s surface, are fair questions for speculative consideration. The latter hypothesis, with a simple modification, seems to be the better one, for the following reasons: We find that two forms of marriage, and two forms of the family preceded the institution of the gens. It required a peculiar experience to attain to the second form of marriage and of the family, and to supplement this experience by the invention of the gens. This second form of the family was the final result, through natural selection, of the reduction within narrower limits of a stupendous conjugal system which enfolded savage man and held him with a powerful grasp. His final deliverance was too remarkable and too improbable, as it would seem, to be repeated many different times, and in widely separated areas. Groups of consanguinei, united for protection and subsistence, doubtless, existed from the infancy of the human family; but the gens is a very different body of kindred. It takes a part and excludes the remainder; it organized this part on the bond of kin, under a common name, and with common rights and privileges. Intermarriage in the gens was prohibited to secure the benefits of marrying out with unrelated persons. This was a vital principle of the organism as well as one most difficult of establishment. Instead of a natural and obvious conception, the gens was essentially abstruse; and, as such, a product of high intelligence for the times in which it originated. It required long periods, of time, after the idea was developed into life, to bring it to maturity with its uses evolved. The Polynesians had this punaluan family, but failed of inventing the gens; the Australians had the same form of the family and possessed the gens. It originates in the punaluan family, and whatever tribes had attained to it possessed the elements out of which the gens was farmed. This is the modification of the hypothesis suggested. In the prior organization, on the basis of sex, the germ of the gens existed. When the gens had become fully developed in its archaic form it would propagate itself over immense areas through the superior powers of an improved stock thus created. Its propagation is more easily explained than its institution. These considerations tend to show the improbability of its repeated reproduction in disconnected areas. On the other hand, its beneficial effects in producing a stock of savages superior to any then existing upon the earth must be admitted. When migrations were flights under the law of savage life, or movements in quest of better areas, such a stock would spread in wave after wave until it covered the larger part of the earth’s surface. A consideration of the principal facts now ascertained bearing upon this question seems to favour the hypothesis of a single origin of the organization into gentes, unless we go back of this to the Australian classes, which gave the punaluan family out of which the gens originated, and regard these classes as the original basis of ancient society. In this event wherever the classes were established, the gens existed potentially.

Assuming the unity of origin of mankind, the occupation of the earth occurred through migrations from an original centre. The Asiatic continent must then be regarded as the cradle-land of the species, from the greater number of original types of man it contains in comparison with Europe, Africa and America. It would also follow that the separation of the Negroes and Australians from the common stem occurred when society was organized on the basis of sex, and when the family was punaluan; that the Polynesian migration occurred later, but with society similarly constituted; and finally, that the Ganowanian migration to America occurred later still, and after the institution of the gentes. These inferences are put forward simply as suggestions.

A knowledge of the gens and its attributes, and of the range of its distribution, is absolutely necessary to a proper comprehension of Ancient Society. This is the great subject now requiring special and extended investigation. This society among the ancestors of civilized nations attained its highest development in the last days of barbarism. But there were phases of that same society far back in the anterior ages, which must, now be sought among barbarians and savages in corresponding conditions. The idea of organized society has been a growth through the entire existence of the human race; its several phases are logically connected, the one giving birth to the other in succession, and that form of it we have been contemplating originated in the gens. No other institution of mankind has held such an ancient and remarkable relation to the course of Harman progress. The real history of mankind is contained in the history of the growth and development of institutions, of which the gens is but one. It is, however, the basis of those which have exercised the most material influence upon human affairs.


1. “Early History of Institutions,” Holt’s ed., p. 7.

2. “Germania,” c. ii.

3. “De Bell. Gall.,” vi, 22.

4. “Germania,” cap. 7. The line of battle, this author remarks is formed by wedges. “Acies per cuneos componitur. — “Ger.” 6. Kohlrausch observes that “the confederates of one mark or hundred, and of one race or sept, fought united.” — “History of Germany,” Appleton’s ed., trans, by J. D. Haas, p. 28.

5. “De Bell Gall.” iv. I. ‘Germania,’ cap. 6.

6. Dr. Freeman, who has studied this subject specially, remarks: “The lowest unit in the political system is that which still exists under various, names, as the ‘mark,’ the ‘gemeinde,’ the ‘commune,’ or the ‘parish.” This, as we have seen, is one of many forms of the ‘gens’ or clan, that in which it is no longer a wandering or a mere predatory body, but when, on the other hand, it has not joined with others to form one component element of a city commonwealth. In this stage the ‘gens’ takes the form of an agricultural body, holding its common ands — the germ of the ‘ager publicus’ of Rome, and of the ‘folkland’ of England. This is the ‘markgenossenschaft,’ the village community of the West. This lowest political unit, this gathering of real or artificial kinsmen, is made up of families, each living under the rule, the ‘mund’ of its own father, that ‘patria potestas’ which survived at Rome to form so marked and lasting a feature of Roman law. As the union of families forms the ‘gens,’ and as the ‘gens’ in its territorial aspect forms the ‘markgenossenschaft,’ so the union of several such village communities and their ‘marks’ or common lands forms the next. higher political union, the hundred, a name to be found in one shape or another in most lands into which the Teutonic race has spread itself.... Above the hundred comes the ‘pagus,’ the ‘gau,’ the Danish ‘syssel,’ the English ‘shire,’ that is the tribe looked at as occupying a certain territory. And each of these divisions, greater and smaller, had its chiefs.... The hundred is made up of villages, marks, gemeinden whatever we call the lowest unit; the ‘shire,’ the ‘gaud,’ the ‘pages,’ is made up of hundreds.” — Comparative Politics, McMillan & Co.s ed., p. 116.

7. “Descriptive Ethnology,” i, 80.

8. McLennan’s “Primitive Marriage,” p, 1I8.

9. Quoted in “Primitive Marriage.” p. 101.

10. “Letter to the Author,” by Rev. Gopenath Nundy, a native Bengalese, India.

11. “Early History of Mankind,” p. 282.

12. “Primitive Culture,” Holt & Co.s ed,. ii, 235.

13. “Descriptive Ethnology,” I, 290.

14. “Origin of Civilization,” 96.

15. “Descriptive Ethnology,” i, 475.

16. “Genesis,” xiii, Z.

17. “Ib.,” xxiii, 16.

18. Ib., xviii, 6

19. Ib., xviii, 8.

20. lb., xxii, 6.

21. lb., xxiv, 53.

22. lb., xxiv, 65.

23. lb., xx, 12.

24. Ib., xi, 29.

25. “Exodus,” vi, 20.

26. “Numbers,” iii, 15-20.

27. lb., i, 22.

28. lb., iii, 30.

29. lb., ii, 2.

30. Kiel and Delitzschs, in their commentaries on Exodus vi, 14, remark that “father’s houses” was a technical term applied to a collection of families called by the name of a common ancestor,” This is a fair definition of a gens.

31. “I Samuel,” xx, 6, 2P.

32. Numbers” i. 2.

33. “Descript Eth.,” ii. 184

34. “Ashango Land,” Appletons’ ed., p. 425, et seq.

35. “Travels in South Africa,” Appletons’ ed., ch. 30, p. 660. “When a young man takes a liking for a girl of another village, and the parents have no objection to the match, he is obliged, to come and live at their village. He has to perform certain services for the mother-in-law.... If he becomes tired of living in this state of vassalage, and wishes to return to his own family, he is obliged to leave all his children behind — they belong to his wife.” — lb., p. 667.

36. “Travels in South Africa,” p. 219.

37. Ib., p. 471.

38. lb., p. 471.

39. See also Taylor’s “Early History of Mankind,” p. 284.

40. “System of Consanguinity,” etc., loc. cit., pp. 451, 482.

41. “Missionary Herald,” 1853, p. 90.