[In this series, “Marriage, Sex and Us”, we are trying to understand if there is any relationship between human sexual control and advancement of their tribe. In the previous article, we have discussed different concepts of human sexual opportunities that existed in human history. In the next few articles in this series I will show you how different sexual regulations led to different cultural conditions in different tribes, with anthropological evidence provided by Prof J D Unwin, in his book Sex and Culture.]
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How did regulations on human sexual freedom actually lead to different cultural conditions? Before we proceed to understand that we need to understand the cultural conditions first.
Definition of Cultural Conditions
Historian J D Unwin has classified these conditions broadly into six categories. Three, for the uncivilized societies and three for the civilized ones.
The cultural conditions displayed by the uncivilized societies are of lesser energy compared to that of the civilized societies. These are the cultural conditions as classified by Unwin –
- Zoistic (Z)
- Manistic (M)
- Deistic (D)
He has also mentioned a fourth condition –
- Rationalistic (R)
Unwin found that that only a few civilized societies displayed rationalistic characteristics. All uncivilized societies can be placed in one of the other three social conditions.
In this context, it is also important to understand what J D Unwin has termed as Human Entropy. He said if a rationalistic cultural stratum can retain its cultural energy for about one generation, it’s cultural tradition augments due to the factor he termed as Human Entropy. As long as the stratum displays the energy, it’s cultural behaviour changes in the direction of the cultural process. Or in other words, enriches the tribe culturally.
Now let’s understand what these cultural conditions as defined by Prof Unwin.
A society is known to be in deistic cultural condition (D), if they built temples (shows energy, innovation and trying to do something new) and maintained a close relationship with the powers of the nature through an agency of priests. Building temples showed their creative energy and hard-working abilities other than hunting skills.
Societies that did not build temples or maintained a close connection with the natural forces but paid some kind of post-funeral attention to their dead are termed to be in manistic cultural condition (M).
The uncivilized societies that didn’t show either of deistic or manistic cultural conditions, were termed as zoistic cultural condition (Z).
How Melanesian Tribes Treated Pre-nuptial Chastity
Different uncivilized societies treated pre-nuptial chastity requirements in different ways.
The Loyalty Islanders and Tannese people didn’t condemn pre-marital sex but pre-marital children were condemned. As the anthropological evidences suggest abortion and infanticide in these societies.
The New Britons (New Britain was used as an inclusive name to denote the whole of the Bismarck Archipelago by historian Dr. Brown) imposed ban on promiscuous sexual intercourse of betrothed women (webat) and men around her. They killed natural children as well. However, for the girls who were not betrothed, such sexual guidelines were not in place.
Historian Romilly said, the girls in New Briton had the freedom to reject a boy even if her parents have selected him and he had paid for the girl from the produce of his hard labour. Historian Dr. Brown also mentioned that a boy could directly approach a girl, and if she consented, she was called ‘webat’ and was prohibited to have sex with anyone else. Historians also said that the male members of the New Briton society were also prohibited from having unnecessary sex that Tannese men would not have understood.
South-Eat Solomon Islanders strangled the betrothed women to death if they had promiscuous sex. Even their future husbands could not have sex with them before marriage. They even accepted a bride-price or dowry after the bride was selected. After selection of the bride, she needed to visit the mother of the lad occasionally and was observed for some time for her behaviour. If she was found to be lazy then the marriage was called off. Otherwise, the marriage was finalized.
At a latter part of Melanesia we find that Fijian virgin girls wore two plaits of hair, called tombe in Fijian, that hung down behind their heads. These were symbols that they didn’t have sex before and once she is chosen for marriage; she was carefully examined by the women of the bridegroom’s side to confirm her virginity. If these girls were found not to be virgins, their family was shamed in public. Sometimes these girls were killed in public as well.
It was also noted by the historians that offsprings of the irregular unions (like runway brides or eloping couples) were often despised by the society. Their children were not allowed to voice their opinion on any matter.
JD Unwin described the pre-nuptial sexual restrictions in this way –
To explain the above table, he showed that pre-nuptial chastity was more important in the downward order shown above.
Cultural Conditions in different Melanesian islands
Loyalty Islands –
Loyalty islanders didn’t have any temples or paid any homage to the dead. Therefore, they belonged to zoistic cultural condition. Even though they didn’t believe in god, they believed in some magical power in men. They believed in a power called as Haze behind the power of the universe. They believed their old men created natural things like flowers.
They didn’t build any temples and also didn’t worship their dead bodies. They also believed in some kind of magical power called ‘uhngen’ (or uhgen) behind the universe. It is similar to what the Loyalty Islanders have called Haze. They believed that some men possessed a magic stone that could multiply world’s fruits. They believed that everything in nature was controlled by the magic stone. Like rain, sunshine etc.
New Britons also didn’t build any temples but they believed in ghosts and also believed that ghosts often paid visits to the places they loved in their lifetime. Also, there were sacrifices made to the dead. If the dead was killed by anyone from a warring tribe, offering used to be either the killer or anyone else from that tribe. Before offering, the men of the New Briton tribe ate some of the offerings and left the other part.
South-east Solomon islanders
They also didn’t have any temples but they did believed in complicated rituals compared to that of New Britons. They decorated their sacred places by building altars and walls. Anthropologist Dr Cordington observed that they believed in supernatural powers and also believed that these ghosts could be manipulated for their own benefits. The concept of the dead was different in different islands. Some worshipped the dead as spirits (that could reincarnate) and some other island inhabitants believed only in ghosts. These islanders have differentiated between different types of ghosts and spirits and also had different types of importance and rituals placed for them. Thus their rituals were more complex than any other cultures in Melanesia.
Fijians have built their m(bure) or temple in almost every city they lived. They built these temples in a mound and took all kinds of pain to built these temples. Even though they didn’t have a schedule for worship, they had maintained right relation with all important powers of the nature. They believed that divine inspiration could only take place in a (m)bure (temple) and no one should approach the god without the agency of (m)bete or the priest. That is why each of their temples had one or multiple (m)bete.
Normally a priest treated the sick or someone with a magical power. Also, another interesting fact about Fijians were they didn’t worship to same god or went to same temple. People in different districts worshipped to different gods.
Sexual Freedom and Culture in Melanesia
It is observed from the above table that Fijians who followed strict sexual control could erect temples and channelize their energy in other creative work.
…To be continued
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