Anthropology was founded by Morgan, Tylor, and other nineteenth-century evolutionists, who defined the new science as a study of prehistoric society and its origins. The two most important of the numerous discoveries they made were: Primitive society was a collectivise egalitarian system having none of the inequities of modern society, which is founded upon the patriarchal family, private property, and the state. It was likewise a matriarchal society in which women occupied positions of leadership in productive and social life and were held in high esteem.
These features stood in such sharp contrast to the conditions which prevail in patriarchal society that they soon gave rise to controversies which brought about a deep division in anthropological circles. After the turn of the century new trends of thought arose, led by Boas, Radcliffe-Brown, and others, who rejected the method and principal findings of the founding scholars .
These schools abandoned a comprehensive evolutionary approach and substituted in its place empirical and descriptive field studies of contemporary primitive peoples surviving in various parts of the globe. They discarded Morgan's three stages of social evolution - from savagery through barbarism to civilisation - without offering any pattern of progression of their own.
As anthropology became more trivialised, further explorations into the matriarchal epoch and the hidden history of women virtually came to a halt. Students in the universities were taught that Morgan and the other founders of anthropology were "old-fashioned" and "out-of-date." In academic circles the matriarchy became a non-subject.
To justify this discrediting of the pioneers it is usually contended that there was "insufficient" documentation on the prior existence of the matriarchy, and, in any case, no one could ever draw any "universal" conclusions about a remote period that was forever closed off from view. This contention is highly ironical since the opponents of the evolutionists have not hesitated to set forth some "universal" theories of their own.
The claim that there is insufficient documentation on the prior existence of the matriarchy is unfounded. The pioneer scholars brought forth a wealth of materials derived from different avenues of investigation. They assembled this data from literary sources as well as from actual observations and field studies on the matrilineal structure still surviving in many regions of the globe. They noticed that wherever matriliny was still in force patriarchal institutions were either nonexistent or only feebly developed. And they drew cogent conclusions from their studies of primitive customs, traditions, myths, and rituals which had survived from the former matriarchal epoch.
Let me pose three most important queries:
Opponents of the matriarchy do not deny the presence of the matrilineal kinship system, since it exists to the present day in many primitive regions. Where did this matrilineal structure come from if not from the ancient matriarchal epoch?
Why has the passage from matrilineal to patrilineal kinship always been in that direction, never the other way around?
Why is the ancient system of matrilineal kinship and descent found nowadays only in primitive regions and never in the advanced patriarchal nations, which have long lost and forgotten their matriarchal origins?
Such is the sad state of anthropology today in the hands and heads of confused and despairing men. They frankly admit that, one by one, the most significant subjects have been degraded to non-subjects and their books reduced to non-books. Are we now to look forward to the final admission that anthropology itself is bankrupt and a non-science?
This is the end result of the wrong course taken more than half a century ago by the anti-evolutionists. It has brought about the stagnation and demoralisation of a once - vigorous branch of social science. What is needed to rescue anthropology from its blind alley? It must return, although on a higher level, to the evolutionist and materialist approach of the pioneer scholars.
That is precisely what I have tried to do in my book Woman's Evolution, which begins with the basic premise of the priority of the maternal clan system or matriarchy. Upon this foundation 1 have been able to develop new theories that explain the meaning and purpose of certain enigmatic institutions of savage society, including the ones so cavalierly disqualified as non-subjects - totemism and kinship.
My own theory on totemism came about, somewhat accidentally, through a closer examination of taboo, which is indissolubly connected with totemism. I could not accept the standard reason given for the primitive taboo - that it was directed against incest. Primitive peoples were ignorant of the most elementary biological facts of life, including how babies are conceived and the inevitability of death. How, then, could they have understood the concept of incest?
Moreover, the taboo was a double taboo, applying to food as well as to sex. In fact, the clause applying to food was the more elaborate and stringent prohibition. Most investigators were aware of this twofold character of the taboo, but because the food prohibition seemed inexplicable, they focused their attention on the sex clause.
Since the taboo is regarded as the oldest prohibition in human history, going back to the primeval epoch, the thought entered my mind that it must have been directed against cannibalism. There was a logic to this surmise which was confirmed by my subsequent researches. Apes in nature are vegetarians; our branch of the primates became meat-eaters only after they became hominids. How could they know, at a time when they were still part ape, that all hominids belonged to a species distinct from all other animals?"
In other words, the earliest hunters had to learn what flesh they could not eat at the very time they were learning how to hunt, kill, and eat flesh foods. This dilemma, stemming from biological ignorance, could only be solved through social and cultural means. To my mind, this explains how the first social regulation in human history - totemism and taboo - developed. It was first and foremost a prohibition against cannibalism, and it began as a protection of the totem-kin.
Totem-kinship marked the dividing line between human flesh that could not be killed or eaten and animal flesh that could. Those who were born of the same horde of mothers and who lived and worked together in the same community were the totem-kin; that is, the human beings, the "people." Outsiders and strangers were non-kin and therefore non-human; they were "animals" which could be killed and eaten. Thus, while totem-kinship began on a small and limited scale, it furnished protection for the in-group, or kin - group - the primal horde.
Subsequently this protection against cannibalism became broader in scope. This was accomplished through the interchange system, usually called "gift-giving," by which different groups began exchanging food and other things with one another. These acts converted them from strangers and enemies (or "animals" in the most primitive concept) into new kinds of kinsmen and friends. These linkages created a network of affiliated clans which ultimately became the large tribe. On this higher cultural level cannibalism dwindled to an occasional ritual until it vanished altogether.
The other clause of the taboo was simply a sex taboo, having nothing whatever to do with incest. As many scholars have pointed out, male sexuality in the animal world - where males fight one another for access to females - is a violent force. Such individualism and competitiveness had to be suppressed since human survival depended upon the closest cooperation of all the members of the group. Thus, it became imperative to overcome animal sexuality and to convert fighting males into the human brotherhood.
This goal was also achieved through totemism and taboo. All males in the totem-kin group were forbidden access to any females of that group. All the older women were classified as the mothers (or older sisters); the women of a man's own generation were his sisters, and the female children were his younger sisters. In this way the antisocial characteristics of animal sexuality were suppressed, and the foundation for the tribal brotherhood was laid. The clan system of social organisation arose as a non-sexual, economic and social association of mothers, sisters, and brothers.
The two clauses of the taboo have an interlocking relationship. Food and sex represent the most imperative hungers in human and animal life; they are the twin driving forces behind the survival of the species. The hunger for food must be satisfied if the organism is to maintain itself., the hunger for sex must be satisfied if the species is to reproduce itself. The double taboo on food and sex therefore represents the earliest social controls over these imperative needs. And without these controls, human organisation could not have gained its start.
Far from being a figment of the imagination of early anthropologists or a non-subject, totemism is in fact one of the most important subjects to be investigated in reconstructing our most ancient history. Totemism and taboo represent the means by which humankind elevated itself out of animality.
Those who have turned away from the matriarchy, however, fail to understand totemism because it was the female sex that instituted it. In the beginning the females were the advantaged sex; they were the mothers, responsible for the survival of the species. Unlike males, who suffered from the biological handicap of incessant striving for dominance over other males, females could band together for the protection of themselves and their offspring. This nurturing, cooperative trait enabled the females to make the great advance from the maternal brood in the animal world to the maternal clan system in the human world.
Then, through the institution of totemism and taboo, the females were able to correct the biological deficiencies of the males. They began by socialising the two basic hungers. They expelled all internal hunting - whether for food or mates - from the group composed of totem-kin mothers, sisters, and brothers. By this means, both cannibalism and fights for dominance were overcome, and males were brought together as the clan brothers. This cooperative association of men - the fratriarchy, as I call it - has no counterpart in the animal world. It represents the crowning achievement of the totemic system, which was instituted by the women.
The kinship system in its mature form grew up out of the totem-kinship system. The difference in development lies in the fact that the totem-kin included certain animals along with humans, whereas the mature system was restricted to humans alone. Lewis Morgan called this system the "classificatory" kinship system to distinguish it from the kinship system which exists today.
Classificatory kinship was a system of social kinship embracing all the members of the community. In other words, all the members of the clans and affiliated clans were social mothers, sisters, and brothers, their biological relationships being unknown or irrelevant. Like its predecessor the totem-kinship system, the classificatory system was also matrilineal. However, the male line of kinship and descent in the matriarchal period was traced through the "fraternal" line, i.e., the mothers' brothers.
In the course of time, patrilineal kinship also became recognised when the man who married the mother became the father of her child. About eight thousand years ago, what Morgan called the "pairing family" (the father living under the same roof with the mother and her child) came into existence. Gradually the father and patrilineal kinship crowded out the mother's brother and fratrilineal kinship. However, it was not until the fully developed patriarchal family displaced the pairing family that the classificatory system of kinship was overturned and replaced by the family system of kinship.
Patrilineal kinship in the period of the matriarchy was no more than a paternal relationship between two matrilineal clans in which the mother-brother relationship remained pre-eminent and decisive. In other words, every so-called patrilineal clan was also and more fundamentally a matrilineal clan with the mothers' brothers occupying a more important and permanent status than the newly emerging husbands and fathers.
As the anthropological record shows, the mothers' brothers were the guardians and tutors of their sisters' sons - and the male line of descent, succession, and inheritance accordingly passed from maternal uncle to nephew. This line of descent prevailed throughout the entire epoch of the matrilineal clan system, even after patrilineal kinship was recognised. However, while it was possible to assimilate patrilineal kinship into the mother-brother clan without altering its basic structure, the same was not true of patrilineal descent. Changing the line of male descent from mother's brother to father shattered the fratriarchy - and that, in turn, brought down the matriarchy. Both were replaced by the patriarchy.
In my book I explain that the matri-family (my term for Morgan's "pairing family") was the last stage in the evolution of the matri-clan system. Because it recognised the father and patrilineal kinship, it was a "divided family.' It was torn between two functional fathers - the mother's brother and her husband. However, the mother's brother held the fixed, permanent, and traditional ties to his sister's son, while the father had only ephemeral kinship ties to his wife's child. The "divided family" and was a serious obstacle in the path of the full development of a unified one-father family.
To us, in hindsight, it may seem like the easiest, most logical concession in the world for the mother's brother to resign his place in his sister's family, give up his matrilineal fathership of his sister's son, and move on to become the patrilineal father of his wife's son. But that is not the way it worked out at that historical turning point in the transition from the divided family to the one-father family.
The chains of tradition and custom bound the participants of that period. They did not know how or why they had inherited their one-sided matrilineal kinship system, nor did they know how to liberate themselves from it once it became outworn and obsolete.
The result was a protracted and bloody struggle between the contending categories of men - the matrilineal and the patrilineal fathers. I describe this transition in Woman's Evolution, which details the extremely painful process by which the divided family finally was replaced by the patriarchal one-father family. In the same process the family system of kinship replaced the former classificatory, or social, system of kinship.
My book ends with a fresh analysis of three great Greek tragedies about the myth-histories of Medea, Oedipus, and Orestes. All reflect in dramatic terms the terrible cost paid to achieve the victory of the patriarchal family.