By Max Stirner
Since my last article about Dr. Wilhelm Reich the psychiatrist, ex-communist and dedicated rainmaker, the Marxist dream of a matriachial society has been occupying my thoughts a lot lately. The dislike of patriarchy represents a common part of a liberal world view. Although Reich distanced himself from Marxist doctrine in his later years after emigrating to the US, he always had a soft spot for women. After resigning from revolutionary politics, he writes about the human notion to look out for a scapegoat in other social groups and calls the communist movement a red version of fascism.
Still the tendency to associate men or patriarchy with the existence of evil on earth and to believe in a ancient golden age of matriarchy prevails in Neo-Reichian circles. In his book “Sarahasia” James deMeo, another orgone scientist, blames desertification of planet earth for turning a peaceful matrist humanity into a bunch of violent patrist tribes 6000 years ago.
But let us take a short look at the beginnings of the communist movement in the 19th century. Here we find an important work of Karl Marx’s closest friend Friedrich Engels, published in 1884, called “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” . Here, Engels tries to show that humanity developed out of communist matrilinear tribes into an evil capitalist patriarchy. Engels wanted to find an alternative to a a society where people could become enslaved and impoverished, but while attacking division of labor, money as a medium of exchange and private property, he is practically criticizing every development that led humanity from barbarism into civilization. Should it be a mere coincidence that “tribal communism” ended after the iron age? Is it a coincidence that the monogamous family and the state came into existence at the same time, as humanity was making its biggest cultural, technical and economical progress?
In this book Engels, at least between the lines, provides us with a sexual perspective for a future communist society, in which the compulsory monogamous chains of our capitalist society will be broken. Or at least, he gives us the impression that the social development from a matrilinear communist society into patriarchal monogamy was a big mistake. Or, to put it in another way: Engels thought that civilization was a bad idea from the start, a sentiment we can nowadays find in feminist literature. Engels himself sounds pretty much like a contemporary feminist author, seeing women and men as enemies in a historical class struggle. Still the weakest point of the Marxist/feminist critique of the so called “patriarchy” is its economic naivety and blindness towards female sexual preferences that provide the groundwork for a hierarchical society. It comes to my mind that Roissy the infamous pick up artist used to subsume the connection between matriarchy and poverty with the picture of a primitive mud hut with a roof of palm leaves.
Speaking of palm leaves, I would like to take a closer look now at a primitive society that, until the beginnings of the 20th century, was organized in matrilinear tribes, the people of the Trobriand Islands east of Papua New Guinea. Renowned ethnologist Bronislav Malinovski got stranded for several years on the Trobriand Islands during the first world war. He gained extensive knowledge of the social structures of these savage tribes. One of his books “The Sexual Life of Savages in North Western Melanesia” made a big impression on Dr. Reich who saw two of his main theses explained: that sexual suppression of children and sexual starvation was the cause of most mental disorders in patriarchal societies and that compulsive monogamy was the result of cross cousin marriage, and indirectly of male greed. As I am getting bored by simplistic answers for complex problems, I have read Malinovskis book about the sex life of the Trobriand tribes. For the the readers of The Spearhead I will shed a light on the life of men and women in matrilinear tribes. I hope that in doing so we will come to the conclusion matriliniarity does not have to go along with an egalitarian society. Second, I want to point out that it was to a great part the fact of biological fatherhood and its economic interference with matrilineage that put an end to the matrilinear societies.
That humanity in ancient times was partially organized in matrilinear clans has been documented by Lewis Morgan, who already thought in terms of a historical class struggle between men and women. It is a bold assumption that mankind before reaching a certain intellectual level and understanding of nature had no idea of female conception. At least, for the tribes of the Trobriand Islands, the idea that sex led to pregnancy was a very alien concept. In their world view women just gave birth to babies. Keeping that in mind, it is easily understood how matrilinear clans could have evolved on earth on the first place.
If sex and pregnancy are not connected, men cannot contribute to the birth of a child, and therefore the only “biological” connection in a clan is the female blood line. This blood concept has dramatic consequences for society as whole, economics, sexual taboos and marriage restrictions. It comes as a surprise that marriage on the Trobriand Islands is a well established institution, though the idea of the biological fatherhood is nonexistent. The word “father” has therefore only a social meaning. It is the man married to the mother. The man who builds the house, in which the family lives. Sometimes he is called “tomakawa” – a stranger – because he comes from an alien clan. For a better understanding, we should not speak of “fathers” in matrilinear tribes, and only call them husbands or “social dads”. On the Trobriand islands, marriage is patrilocal. That means that a wife moves into the village and the house of her husband. For the kids another male figure plays an important role: the mother-brother. “Mother-brother” is not just another word for uncle, but in a matrilinear clan, the uncle(s) are responsible for the economic well-being of their sister(s), because they share the same matrilinear blood line. Only the “mother-brother”, as a caretaker of the clan’s wealth and can inherit wealth and status, therefore kids grow up with two male figures – the social dad and the mother-brother. And on the other hand a man has two roles, he is a “social dad” for the “kids of his wife” and a male authority for his matrilinear clan – his sisters and the kids of his sisters. The problems that arise from this split role for males in matrilinear clans will be discussed later on. The assumption that in matrilinear societies, men play a more feminine role than in a “patriarchy”, must be refuted, at least what we know from Malinowki’s studies. The social dad is in theory the authority at home, but male and female responsibilities are more or less evenly distributed. Trobriand men for example hate to cook, and only do so when making a trip to other islands or while going out hunting. Calling someone “a cook” is considered an insult. There are serveral rituals that are reserved for one sex only. Getting water is a typical female dominion. On the other side taking care of babies is a typical male duty, which may function as a replacement for the lack of biological fatherhood. Second, this male duty is the reason why the children of his wife are obliged to take care of him, when he is old. Children of single mothers without a social dad are regarded as “unhappy”. Single-motherhood is generally regarded as a bad thing. In the household, wife and husband have their own belongings. Women usually have 12-20 bask skirts for different occasions, make-up, and the ritual water bottles. Men own weapons, tools, and jewelery and drums for dancing. Immobile goods like farming land, trees, houses, boats and life stock belong to men, or generally speaking it belongs to the clan. Sexual activity starts at an early age, but is not tolerated in the family hut. The sexual activity evolves from a chaotic intercourse during infancy into stable relationships during puberty.
An important institution for stabilizing relationships in the Trobriand village is the “bukumatula” the Bachelors’ house, a place where teenage couples move in before getting married. The bukumatula belongs to a group of boys and has a scarce interior which in Malinowskis opinion obviously “lacks the female touch”. A Bachelors’ house is usually inhabited by 3-4 couples and in a typical Trobriand village about 15 to 20 of these huts can be found. If one of these unmarried couples separate, it is always the woman who moves out – into another bachelor hut to her new lover.
Though sexuality before marriage is not regulated, it comes as a surprise that adultery after marriage is not socially tolerated at all. While the institution of marriage itself is not a necessity to legalize a sexual relationship, it is socially required in order to get accepted as a full member of society. Beside of the handicapped, mentally retarded, albinos and old widowers all adult men are married. Malinowski points out that another important motivational factor for marriage comes from economic reasons. It is the clan of the woman who has to support the new husband. Especially for the chief of a village taking a wife from a rich clan with many brothers is a must. By the way – on the Trobriand Islands every village has a chief, who is always male and lives – as you might have already guessed- in polygamy, a privilege that is reserved for chiefs only. For women the financial gain of a marriage is not that important as for men because they are already being supported by the men of her matrilinear bloodline. Only a man not being afraid of poverty will woo for a girl with several sisters and only one brother. A social-dad is supported by the clan of his wife in several ways. They help him with the construction of his house, or his boats, join him on the hunt, or help him against magical attacks or real enemies.
If a man wants to marry a woman he has to seek the allowance from the bride’s social dad and also her mother-brother as a representative of her clan. As in every other society envy and adultery are the most severe burdens for a marriage. Adultery is met with the same social disrespect as in prewar Europe, but when it comes down to fidelity the Trobrianders are no better than any other society. If a woman commits adultery with another man, it is not rare that she will get a beating by her husband, or that in a dispute the husband will smash her water pots. Likewise, women often destroy the belongings of their husbands as revenge for infidelity.
Divorce is not a rare thing on the Trobriand islands and it is more likely that women vote for divorce than men, because they have less to lose. The formalities concerning divorce are simple. The wife leaves her husband’s house, takes her belongings with her and moves into her mother’s or her sister’s hut. She will take the kids with her — they don’t have a biological father anyway. If she is young enough she will start a love affair or two and move into one of the Bachelors’ houses.
There are several rituals that can be considered a replacement for the lack of biological fatherhood. If a man dies, his widow is obliged to follow a very strict mourning ceremony for several months, including cannibalism of parts of the corpse. Real responsibility for the well-being of a man can only be expected form his own matrilinear tribe. This might explain why the strict mourning ceremonies are supervised by the husband’s clan. Another fatherhood ersatz can be found in the idea that the love a social-dad gives to “his” children will make these children look like him.
Malinowski couldn’t answer the question why few children were born out of wedlock, while sexual intercourse normally started long before marriage. Either frequent sexual activity with changing partners prevents conception – an unlikely phenomenon – or the herbal “magic” of the natives was better than Malinowski expected. Sex was not permitted before marriage for all young Trobrianderss. Children designated for a cross-cousin marriage were kept under strict supervision and excluded from going on love trips to other villages or moving to the Bachelors’ houses. A married man with a niece at the age of his own son, by enforcing the marriage of both children, had the chance to pass his wealth (the wealth of his matrilinear clan) on to his own biological son. He could accomplish this, because as a mother-brother he had the authority over his niece. This is the meaning of the cross-cousin marriage.
Dr. Reich dedicated a whole book to the cross-cousin marriage and its significance for the sexual suppression in patriarchal societies. In his opinion the sexual suppression of these children served to stabilize the arranged marriage and glue the young couple together. He points out that it was the cross-cousin marriage that made the transformation of matrilinear clans to monogamous patriarchy possible. Between the lines we can read two smears on men here: first, men were responsible for sexual suppression, and second the motive was – greed. (Keep in mind that Marxism knows at least two deadly sins: greed and egoism). Friedrich Engels plays a similar tune “In family, private property and the state” though he puts more emphasis on the clash of clan and state organization. It comes as a surprise to me that both authors ignore the most significant trigger for the end of the matrilinear clans: the fact of biological fatherhood and its interference with matrilinearity. Second, another issue that is consequently ignored by Reich, Engels et al.: the influence of female sexual preferences on the genetic structure of these clans.
The establishment of matrilineage and patrilineage came at the price of man’s economic responsibility not only for a wife and his real biological children but also for children that were not his “own”. Let us quote stone-age loving Engels himself:
“With monogamous marriage, two constant social types, unknown hitherto, make their appearance on the scene – the wife’s attendant lover and the cuckold husband. The husbands had won the victory over the wives, but the vanquished magnanimously provided the crown. Together with monogamous marriage and hetaerism, adultery became an unavoidable social institution – denounced, severely penalized, but impossible to suppress. At best, the certain paternity of the children rested on moral conviction as before, and to solve the insoluble contradiction the Code Napoleon, Art- 312, decreed: “L’enfant confu pendant le marriage a pour pere le mari,” (the father of a child conceived during marriage is the husband). Such is the final result of three thousand years of monogamous marriage.”
Though we have to agree with Engels that the cuckold husband was nonexistent in former matrilinear clans – the children became the economic problem of the matrilinear clan, we can assume from Malinowskis studies: the attendant lover is always around the corner and – adultery is a phenomenon not at all limited to the so called “patriarchy”. Ignoring the fact of biological fatherhood does come with emotional advantages for men. Malinovsky cites the story of a Trobriand man who went on an expedition for one year and after returning home found his woman with a newborn baby. He was overwhelmed with joy.
I have never mentioned the term “matriarchy” and only talked about matrilinearity, because in my opinion feminist historians confuse female status with female power. Who cares if a clan has a female chief? Do female priests really matter? Did Queen Victoria stop the expansion of the British Empire?
The society of the Trobriand natives does not live outside of history. And it cannot be taken for granted that societies in ancient times resembled the matrilinear society structure of the Trobriand Islands. But still the ethnographic studies of Malinowski give us an insight into the problems that arise from matrilinearity. Given the paucity of historical evidence of ancient social structures, ethnographic studies leave less room for speculation than anthropology itself. What more is still left from the ancient past of humanity, than some rocks, cave paintings, smashed water pots and spearheads?
There is still no proof that an advanced civilization can exist without patriarchy.