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F., J.C. (1922). Primitive Society, the Beginnings of the Family and the Reckoning of Descent: By Edwin Sidney Hartland, LL.D., F.S.A., Hon. F.R.S.A. (Ireland). (Methuen & Co., London, 1921. Pp. 180. Price 6s.). Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 3:113-114.
(1922). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 3:113-114
Primitive Society, the Beginnings of the Family and the Reckoning of Descent: By Edwin Sidney Hartland, LL.D., F.S.A., Hon. F.R.S.A. (Ireland). (Methuen & Co., London, 1921. Pp. 180. Price 6s.)
Review by: J. C. F.
This book is a vindication of the priority of matrilineal descent in early forms of human society. As the author says, the work of Spencer and Gillen in Australia and of Morgan in America has of recent years somewhat shaken the belief in this priority, which up to the end of the nineteenth century had been gradually gaining ground among anthropologists. 'The time therefore seems to have arrived for a brief restatement in popular form of the facts and arguments leading to the conclusion that the earliest ascertainable systematic method of deriving human kinship is through the woman only, and that patrilineal reckoning is a subsequent development.'
After a brief consideration of the most primitive forms of society, as exemplified by Bushmen, Fuegians, Andamanese, Eskimo and (the now extinct) Tasmanians, and an exposition of the principal characteristics of 'Mother-right', Dr. Hartland passes in review all the chief populations of the world (with special emphasis of course on those whose culture is still relatively primitive), showing in a few cases the actual existence of pure matrilineal descent, in a number of others a state of transition between matrilineal and patrilineal descent, in many more the remnants of matrilineal descent (such as matrilocal marriage and a preponderating influence on the part of the maternal uncle) persisting among patrilineal institutions. His general conclusion is that matrilineal descent has everywhere been the primitive method of reckoning kinship, but that for a variety of reasons (chief among which are economic factors and the effects of conquest and immigration, the mere knowledge of the nature of paternity being comparatively unimportant) this method tends nearly always to be supplanted in the course of evolution by the system of reckoning descent by the father which is now in use among all the more cultured races.
It is perhaps to be regretted (especially as the volume is intended as an exposition of the subject 'in popular form') that Dr. Hartland has not given a clearer and more detailed summary of his views as to the different mechanisms that are operative in producing this change, as these views actually emerge from the facts he passes in review.
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