Some Features Of Indian Sociology

As shown by Powell, there are two fundamentally distinct classes or stages

in human society--(1) tribal society and (2) national society. National

society characterizes civilization; primarily it is organized on a

territorial basis, but as enlightenment grows the bases are multiplied.

Tribal society is characteristic of savagery and barbarism; so far as

known, all tribal societies are organized on the basis of kinship. The
/> transfer from tribal society to national society is often, perhaps always,

through feudalism, in which the territorial motive takes root and in which

the kinship motive withers.

All of the American aborigines north of Mexico and most of those farther

southward were in the stage of tribal society when the continents were

discovered, though feudalism was apparently budding in South America,

Central America, and parts of Mexico. The partly developed transitional

stage may, for the present, be neglected, and American Indian sociology

may be considered as representing tribal society or kinship organization.

The fundamental principles of tribal organization through kinship have

been formulated by Powell; they are as follows:(55)

I. A body of kindred constituting a distinct body politic is divided

into groups, the males into groups of brothers and the females into

groups of sisters, on distinctions of generations, regardless of

degrees of consanguinity; and the kinship terms used express

relative age. In civilized society kinships are classified on

distinctions of sex, distinctions of generations, and distinctions

arising from degrees of consanguinity.

II. When descent is in the female line, the brother-group consists of

natal brothers, together with all the materterate male cousins of

whatever degree. Thus mother's sisters' sons and mother's mother's

sisters' daughters' sons, etc, are included in a group with natal

brothers. In like manner the sister-group is composed of natal

sisters, together with all materterate female cousins of whatever


III. When descent is in the male line, the brother-group is composed of

natal brothers, together with all patruate male cousins of whatever

degree, and the sister-group is composed of natal sisters, together

with all patruate female cousins of whatever degree.

IV. The son of a member of a brother-group calls each one of the group,

father; the father of a member of a brother-group calls each one of

the group, son. Thus a father-group is coextensive with the

brother-group to which the father belongs. A brother-group may also

constitute a father-group and grandfather-group, a son-group and a

grandson-group. It may also be a patruate-group and an avunculate

group. It may also be a patruate cousin-group and an avunculate

cousin-group; and in general, every member of a brother-group has

the same consanguineal relation to persons outside of the group as

that of every other member.

Two postulates concerning primitive society, adopted by various ethnologic

students of other countries, have been erroneously applied to the American

aborigines; at the same time they have been so widely accepted as to

demand consideration.

The first postulate is that primitive men were originally assembled in

chaotic hordes, and that organized society was developed out of the

chaotic mass by the segregation of groups and the differentiation of

functions within each group. Now the American aborigines collectively

represent a wide range in development, extending from a condition about as

primitive as ever observed well toward the verge of feudalism, and thus

offer opportunities for testing the postulate; and it has been found that

when higher and lower stages representing any portion of the developmental

succession are compared, the social organizations of the lower grade are

no less definite, perhaps more definite, than those pertaining to the

higher grade; so that when the history of demotic growth among the

American Indians is traced backward, the organizations are found on the

whole to grow more definite, albeit more simple. When the lines of

development revealed through research are projected still farther toward

their origin, they indicate an initial condition, directly antithetic to

the postulated horde, in which the scant population was segregated in

small discrete bodies, probably family groups; and that in each of these

bodies there was a definite organization, while each group was practically

independent of, and probably inimical to, all other groups. The testimony

of the observed institutions is corroborated by the testimony of language,

which, as clearly shown by Powell,(56) represents progressive combination

rather than continued differentiation, a process of involution rather than

evolution. It would appear that the original definitely organized groups

occasionally met and coalesced, whereby changes in organization were

required; that these compound groups occasionally coalesced with other

groups, both simple and compound, whereby they were elaborated in

structure, always with some loss in definiteness and permanence; and that

gradually the groups enlarged by incorporation, while the composite

organization grew complex and variable to meet the ever-changing

conditions. It would also appear that in some cases the corporeal growth

outran the structural or institutional growth, when the bodies--clans,

gentes, tribes, or confederacies--split into two or more fragments which

continued to grow independently; yet that in general the progress of

institutional developmentwent forward through incorporation of peoples and

differentiation of institutions. The same process was followed as tribal

society passed into national society; and it is the same process which is

today exalting national society into world society, and transforming

simple civilization into enlightenment. Thus the evoluffon of social

organization is from the simple and definite toward the complex and

variable; or from the involuntary to the voluntary; or from the

environment-shaped to the environment-shaping; or from the biotic to the


The second postulate, which may be regarded as a corollary of the first,

is that the primary conjugal condition was one of promiscuity, out of

which different forms ot marriage were successively segregated. Now the

wide range in institutional development exemplified by the American

Indians affords unprecedented opportunities for testing this postulate

also. The simplest demotic unit found among the aborigines is the clan or

mother-descent group, in which the normal conjugal relation is essentially

monogamous,(57) in which marriage is more or less strictly regulated by a

system of prohibitions, and in which the chief conjugal regulation is

commonly that of exogamy with respect to the clan; in higher groups, more

deeply affected by contact with neighboring peoples, the simple clan

organization is sometimes found to be modified, (1) by the adoption and

subsequent conjugation of captive men and boys, and, doubtless more

profoundly, (2) by the adoption and polygamous marriage of female

captives; and in still more highly organized groups the mother-descent is

lost and polygamy is regular and limited only by the capacity of the

husband as a provider. The second and third stages are commonly

characterized, like the first, by established prohibitions and by clan

exogamy; though with the advance in organization amicable relations with

certain other groups are usually established, whereby the germ of tribal

organization is implanted and a system of interclan marriage, or tribal

endogamy, is developed. With further advance the mother-descent group is

transformed into a father-descent group, when the clan is replaced by the

gens; and polygamy is a common feature of the gentile organization. In all

of these stages the conjugal and consanguineal regulations are affected by

the militant habits characteristic of primitive groups; more warriors than

women are slain in battle, and there are more female captives than male;

and thus the polygamy is mainly or wholly polygyny. In many cases civil

conditions combine with or partially replace the militant conditions, yet

the tendency of conjugal development is not changed. Among the Seri

Indians, probably the most primitive tribe in North America, in which the

demotic unit is the clan, there is a rigorous marriage custom under which

the would-be groom is required to enter the family of the girl and

demonstrate (1) his capacity as a provider and (2) his strength of

character as a man, by a year's probation, before he is finally

accepted--the conjugal theory ofr the tribe being monogamy, though the

practice, at least during recent years, has, by reason of conditions,

passed into polygyny. Among several other tribes of more provident and

less exclusive habit, the first of the two conditions recognized by the

Seri is met by rich presents (representing accumulated property) from the

groom to the girl's family, the second condition being usually ignored,

the clan organization remaining in force; among still other tribes the

first condition is more or less vaguely recognized, though the voluntary

present is commuted into, or replaced by, a negotiated value exacted by

the girl's family, when the mother-descent is commonly vestigial; and in

the next stage, which is abundantly exemplified, wife-purchase prevails,

and the clan is replaced by the gens. In this succession the development

of wife-purchase and the decadence of mother-descent maybe traced, and it

is significant that there is a tendency first toward partial enslavement

of the wife and later toward the multiplication of wives to the limit of

the husband's means, and toward transforming all, or all but one, of the

wives into menials. Thus the lines of development under militant and civil

conditions are essentially parallel. It is possible to project these lines

some distance backward into the unknown, of the exceedingly primitive,

when they, are found to define small discrete bodies--just such as are

indicated by the institutional and linguistic lines--probably family

groups, which must have been essentially, and were perhaps strictly,

monogamous. It would appear that in these groups mating was either between

distant members (under a law of attraction toward the remote and repulsion

from the near, which is shared by mankind and the higher animals), or the

result of accidental meeting between nubile members of different groups;

that in the second case and sometimes in the first the conjugation

produced a new monogamic family; and that sometimes in the first case (and

possibly in the second) the new group retained a more or less definite

connection with the parent group--this connection constituting the germ of

the clan. In passing, it may be noted merely that this inferential origin

of the lines of institutional development is in accord with the habits of

certain higher and incipiently organized animals. From this hypothetic

beginning, primitive marriage may be traced through the various observed

stages of monogamy and polygamy and concubinage and wife-subordination,

through savagery and barbarism and into civilization, with its curious

combination of exoteric monogamy and esoteric promiscuity. Fortunately the

burden of the proof of this evolution does not now rest wholly on the

evidence obtained among the American aborigines; for Westermarck has

recently reviewed the records of observation among the primitive peoples

of many lands, and has found traces of the same sequence in all.(58) Thus

the evolution of marriage, like that of other human institutions, is from

the simple and definite to the complex and variable; i.e., from

approximate or complete monogamy through polygamy to a mixed status of

undetermined signification; or from the mechanical to the spontaneous; or

from the involuntary to the voluntary; or from the provincial to the


As implied in several foregoing paragraphs, and as clearly set forth in

various publications by Powell, tribal society falls into two classes or

stages--(1) clan organization and (2) gentile organization, these stages

corresponding respectively to savagery and barbarism, strictly defined.

At the time of discovery, most of the American Indians were in the upper

stages of savagery and the lower stages of barbarism, as defined by

organization; among some tribes descent was reckoned in the female line,

though definite matriarchies have not been discovered; among several

tribes descent was and still is reckoned in the male line, and among all

of the tribes thus far investigated the patriarchal system is found.

In tribal society, both clan and gentile, the entire social structure is

based on real or assumed kinship, and a large part of the demotic devices

are designed to establish, perpetuate, and advertise kinship relations. As

already indicated, the conspicuous devices in order of development are the

taboo with the prohibitions growing out of it, kinship nomenclature and

regulations, and a system of ordination by which incongruous things are

brought into association.

Among the American Indians the taboo and derivative prohibitions are used

chiefly in connection with marriage and clan or gentile organization.

Marriage in the clan or gens is prohibited; among many tribes a vestige of

the inferential primitive condition is found in the curious prohibition of

communications between children-in-law and parents-in-law; the clan taboos

are commonly connected with the tutelar beast-god, perhaps represented by

a totem.

The essential feature of the kinship terminology is the reckoning from

ego, whereby each individual remembers his own relation to every other

member of the clan or tribe; and commonly the kinship terms are classific

rather than descriptive (i.e., a single term expresses the relation which

in English is expressed by the phrase My elder brother's second son's

wife). The system is curiously complex and elaborate. It was not

discovered by the earlier and more superficial observers of the Indians,

and was brought out chiefly by Morgan, who detected numerous striking

examples among different tribes; but it would appear that the system is

not equally complete among all of the tribes, probably because of immature

development in some cases and because of decadence in others.

The system of ordination, like that of kinship, is characterized by

reckoning from the ego and by adventitious associations. It may have been

developed from the kinship system through the need for recognition and

assignment of adopted captives, collective property, and other things

pertaining to the group; yet it bears traces of influence by the taboo

system. Its ramifications are wide: In some cases it emphasizes kinship by

assigning members of the family group to fixed positions about the

camp-fire or in the house; this function develops into the placement of

family groups in fixed order, as exemplified in the Iroquoian long-house

and the Siouan camping circle; or it develops into a curiously exaggerated

direction-concept culminating in the cult of the Four Quarters and the

Here, and this prepares the way for a quinary, decimal, and vigesimal

numeration; this last branch sends off another in which the cult of the

Six Quarters and the Here arises to prepare the way for the mystical

numbers 7, 13, and 7x7, whose vestiges come down to civilization; both the

four-quarter and the six-quarter associations are sometimes bound up with

colors; and there are numberless other ramifications. Sometimes the

function and development of these curious concepts, which constitute

perhaps the most striking characteristic of prescriptorial culture, are

obscure at first glance, and hardly to be discovered even through

prolonged research; yet, so far as they have been detected and

interpreted, they are especially adapted to fixing demotic relations; and

through them the manifold relations of individuals and groups are

crystallized and kept in mind.

Thus the American Indians, including the Siouan stock, are made up of

families organized into clans or gentes, and combined in tribes, sometimes

united in confederacies, all on a basis of kinship, real or assumed; and

the organization is shaped and perpetuated by a series of devices

pertaining to the plane of prescriptorial culture, whereby each member of

the organization is constantly reminded of his position in the group.