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E.B. Tylor 1889 'On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions; Applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 18 (1889), pp. 245-272

FOR years past it has become evident that the great need of anthropologyis that its methods should be strengthened and systematised. The world has not been unjust to the growing science, far from it. Wherever anthropologists have been able to show definite evidence and inference, for instance, in the development series of arts in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, at Oxford, not only specialists but the educated world generally are ready to receive the results and assimilate them into public opinion. Strict method has, however, as yet only been introduced over part of the anthropological field. There has still to be overcome a certain not unkindly hesitancy on the part of men engaged in the precise operations of mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, to admit that the problems of anthropology are amenable to scientific treatment. It is my aim to show that the development of institutions may be investigated on a basis of tabulation and classification. For this end I have taken up a subject of the utmost real as well as theoretical interest, the formation of laws of marriage and descent, as to which during many years I have been collecting the evidence found among between three and four hundred peoples, ranging from insignificant savage hordes to great cultured nations. The particular rules have been scheduled out into tables, so as to ascertain what may be called the "adhesions" of each custom, showing which peoples have the same custom, and what other customs accompany it or lie apart from it. From the recurrence or absence of these customs it will be our business to infer their dependence on causes acting over the whole range of mankind.

Years since, long before my collection of data approached its present bulk, and could be classified into the elaborate tables now presented, I became naturally anxious to know whether the labour had been thrown away, or whether this social arithmetic would do something to disclose the course of social history. The question was how to make the trial. I remembered a story I had once heard of Horace Vernet, that a friend asked him how he planned out his huge battle-pieces. The painter took the inquirer into his studio and began a picture for him by first touching in a bayonet in one corner of his canvas, then drawing the arm and sabre of the trooper slashing over the bayonet-thrust, and so on from one overlapping figure to the next till he reached the central group. It seemed to me that it would be well to begin thus in one corner of the field. The point I chose was a quaint and somewhat comic custom as to the barbaric etiquette between husbands and their wives' relatives, and vice versa: they may not look at one another, much less speak, and they even avoid mentioning one another's names. Thus, in America, John Tanner, the adopted Ojibwa, describes his being taken by a friendly Assineboin into his lodge, and seeing how at his companion's entry the old father and mother-in-law covered up their heads in their blankets till their son-in-law got into the compartment reserved for him, where his wife brought him his food. So in Australia, Mr. Howitt relates how he inadvertently told a native to call his mother-in-law, who was passing at some little distance; but the blackfellow sent the order round by a third party, saying reproachfully to Mr. Howitt, "You know I could not speak to that old woman." Absurd as this custom may appear to Europeans, it is not the outcome of mere local fancy, as appears on reckoning up the peoples practising it in various regions of the world, who are found to be about sixty-six in number, that is, more than one-sixth of the whole number of peoples catalogued,which is roughly three-hundred and fifty. Thus:--


Between H. and W.'s Rel. 45

Mutual 8

Between W. and H's Rel. 13

... Let us now turn to another custom, not less quaint-seeming than the last to the European mind. This is the practice of naming the parent from the child. When Moffat, the missionary, was in Africa among the Bechuana, he was spoken to and of, according to native usage, as Ra-Mary = father of Mary. On the otherside of the world, among the Kasias of India, Colonel Yule mentions the like rule; for instance, there being a boy named Bobon, his father was known as Pabobon. In fact there are above thirty peoples spread over the earth who thus name the father, and, though less often, the mother. They may be called, coining a name for them, teknonymous peoples. When beginning to notice the wide distribution of this custom of teknonymy, and setting myself to reckon its adhesions, I confess to have been fairly taken by surprise to find it lying in close connection with the custom of the husband's residence in the wife's family, the two coinciding twenty-two times, where accident might fairly have given eleven. It proved to be still more closely attached to the practice of ceremonial avoidance by the husband of the wife's relatives, occurring fourteen times, whereas accident might have given four.

In Australia, the native custom is described as being that the husband takes his wife to his own home, while at the same time he carries out the etiquette of cutting his mother-in-law to a ludicrous extreme, with slight traces of the avoidance of the father-in-law. It appeared to me that on the present explanation this must indicate a recent habit of residence on the wife's side, and reference showed a law of the Kurnai tribe of Gippsland, that when a native kills game, certain parts of the meat (of a kangaru, [sic] the head, neck, and part of the back) are the allotted share of the wife's parents. As the duty of supplying game to the wife's household when the husband lives there is one of the best-marked points of matriarchal law, I wrote to Mr. Howitt, as the leading authority on Australian anthropology,  suggesting that further enquiry would probably disclose evidence hitherto unnoticed as to the maternal stage of society subsisding in Australia. After examination made, Mr. Howitt replied:- "I am now satisfied that your surmises are quite correct," and therewith he sent details bearing on the question, especially an account by Mr. Aldridge, of Maryborough, Queensland, as to the practice of the tribes in his neighbourhood.This I will quote, as being a strongly marked case of residence on the wife's side. "When a man marries a woman from a distant locality, he goes to her tribelet and identifies himself with her people. This is a rule with very few exceptions. Of course, I speak of them as they were in their wild state. He becomes part of and one of the family. In the event of a war expedition, the daughter's husband acts as a blood-relation, and will fight and kill his own blood-relations if blows are struck by his wife's relations. I have seen a father and son fighting under these circunmstances, and the son would most certainly have killed his father if others had not interfered. ...

I am placing together the two institutions, exogamy and classificatory relationship, inasmuch as they are really connected, being in fact two sides of one institution. This was made out eight years ago,by the Rev. Lorimer Fison, in the work on the Kamilaroi and Kurnai tribes of Australia by him and Mr. Howitt. This important explanation is still scarcely known to anthropologists, nor indeed, have I much right to reproach others with neglecting it, for I reviewed Fison and Howitt's book without distinctly realising the bearing of this argument on the theory of exogamy, which only came round to me lately in a way which I had better now describe, as it will enable me to explain shortly and plainly the whole problem ...

The treatment of social phenomena by numerical classification will, it must be added, react on the statistical material to which the method is applied. It is in classifying the records of tribes and nations that one becomes fully aware of their imperfect and even fragmentary state. The descriptions happily tend to correct one another's errors, but the great difficulty is blank want of information. As for extinct tribes, and those whose native culture has been remodelled, there is nothing to be done. But there are still a hundred or more peoples in the world, among whom a prompt and minute investigation would save some fast vanishing memory of their social laws and customs. The quest might be followed up internationally, each civilised nation taking in hand the barbaric tribes within its purview. The future will, doubtless, be able to take care of itself as to most branches of knowledge, but there is certain work which if it is to be done at all, must be done by the present. 

Transcribed by AP August 2013.

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