Monthly Archives: July 2013

Origin and Meaning of the Family

Two Mothers

The family does not exist in the abstract, it exists in society. Just like society the family exists in history, and as a human institution it not only has a past and a present but a future too. The family is, and always has been, the most intimate, the most important of human groups. It can be said to be universal. The human family is centred around a so-called biological prerequisites and needs – such as mating, begetting, and rearing, the necessity of providing for the manifold needs of all its members.

Therefore, as a natural grouping, the family is rooted in fundamental instincts, emotions and needs, that serve important biological and social functions. The family is socially necessary. It exists in all societies, regulating sexual and parental behaviour. It acts, or is supposed to act, to achieve all relationships and qualities of character that are considered desirable. The natural and social aspects are complimentary to each other. In human terms natural propensities require regulation. The family is a form of association, both for the fulfilment and achievement of regulation and combination. As a group the family entails both fulfilment and the limiting factor for its members. Hence the family acts as a factor of social regulation.

Family structure is extremely variable. The major items of the variations consist in terms of spouse number, authority, strength of bond, choice of spouse, and residence. Of fundamental importance too are factors of parent child relationships. A broad distinction can be made in family classification, which reflect the nature of the socio-economic circumstances of the development of family types. At least they indicate the level to which particular societies have reached in given historical epochs. Firstly there is the so-called nuclear family, possible an unscientific term, which is relatively independent, and the non-nuclear family which is subordinate to and incorporated within a larger group. This latter type is a part of what known as the polygamous or extended family. The nuclear family is a characteristic of modern industrial societies and its predominance is due to the growth of individualism, which is supposedly reflected in law, property and social ideals. These ideals reputedly are concerned with individual happiness and fulfilment. The existence of the modern nuclear family is also due, it has been claimed, to geographical and social mobility. Studies in mate selection do not however bear out these theories of sociological and geneticist peers.

The solidarity of the family depends upon such factors as sexual attraction, companionship between spouses, companionship between siblings, and between parents and children. A wider complex of rights and obligations exist in extended families.

Many sociologists claim that the individual ‘nuclear family’ is a universal phenomenon, consisting of husband and wife with immature children. It is supposedly a unit apart from the remainder of the community. Questions that beg an answer are those that demand: (1) is the family extinct upon offspring maturity?; (2) does the family exist outside of society in a vacuum?. The so-called universality of the ‘nuclear family’ is accounted for on the basis of reputed indispensable functions it performs. It is thought that it is difficult to ensure the performance of these functions in any other group. Four functions carried out by all families are however those that are indispensable to human social life. These are sexual, the reproductive and weaning, the economic, and the educational. A true analysis cannot be correct  without an understanding of the ideological. Distinctions are made between social and psychological functions of the family. Other social functions have been postulated which have been termed reproduction, maintenance, placement, and socialisation. Again, the point is raised as to what the purpose of socialisation is for? The idea of psychological function is expressed in the satisfaction of sexual needs, and the need for affection and security.

Other functions of the family is that as a firm constellation it acts as a centre of religious worship. The family in certain circumstances also acts as the primary unit in landholding, in vengeance and in recreation. The family is also involved in considerations of social status. The family possesses economic functions in primitive societies. A major factor is economic cooperation. In this family organisation there exists a division of labour between sexes, a strengthening of ties between parents and the children, and between children. The significant feature of the so-called ‘nuclear family’ however is the loss of its productive functions involving cooperative labour by the family.

Considering the development of the family Engels, when discussing the primitive household regarded it as a matriarchal institution. In such a situation it was claimed that the status of women did not involve the dependence of the wife and children upon the man. Food was shared between a group of families, and the division of labour between the sexes was of a reciprocal nature. Engels therefore developed Morgan’s idea of matrilineal descent. The subjugation of the woman and the wife therefore was a development of the emergence of private property relations. Domesticated animals were used for barter and trade, with the growth of private property in animals the individual family developed into the basic economic unit of society. Hence woman passed from community service to private servitude. Both women and children became dependent upon the individual man. Man, once in the economic position as head of the family then substituted patrilineal for matrilineal descent. Hence monogamy was instituted as a means to retain property within an individual family. The result over a period of time was the break-up of communal kin groups plus the basic single family. Therefore the family became relatively isolated and economically responsible to maintain itself.

The development of the family is molecular not nuclear. The concept exists, which fits with the notion of the dominant male, of the ‘nuclear family’. This is a mechanical and unscientific, and thus an untenable description. As it implies, the nuclear concept views the family as a number of satellites revolving around a nucleus. The nucleus being a body around which something accumulates. For clarity it is best to substitute ‘nuclear’ with ‘molecular’. The ‘molecular’ family being a stable combination of components, with definite inter-relationships and inter-dependencies.

With the development of property there come to exist within class society two types of institution. One for the exploiters and another for the exploited. Under feudalism marriage was a political act for the exploiters, it not being decided by the two principal parties. The major considerations in such arrangements were those of land, money, and power. The family under capitalism continued under the rise of the bourgeoisie, the economic factors and property relations being those of land, money and trade. These were the principal influences on marriage for the capitalist class. Under capitalism, we have to clarify, there exist two types of family. The bourgeois family and the working class family. Prior to the industrial revolution the home was the basic economic unit, consisting of agricultural labourers and cottage industries. With the industrial revolution there came the exploitation of men, women, and children in the factories, with the ensuing break-up of the old family system. This was the result of the impact of large scale capitalist industry.

The bourgeois family in modern times has shown no extensive changes, it still being influenced by economic and property considerations. The working class family had achieved a family life with accentuation of the sex roles and the oppression of women. However, since recent times, the working class family has demonstrated great changes. These can be seen as an improvement in the status of women in the form of political equality, legal near equality, higher education opportunities, a social production role, and fertility control. There exists a more free and equal partnership between husband and wife, as well as a more equal relationship between parents and children. There has been a loss of economic independence and a reduction of positions of inferiority/superiority.

Changes in the family situation have altered the family and the place of women within it. The modern family is smaller. There are less offspring. The grandparents and other relatives tend to be less available for support. The reasons for this being both geographical and more tend to work up until their retirement. There tends to be isolation due to families moving further and more frequently due to population pressures and growth, as well as the housing situation. Coupled with this is the property developers ideology of housing families in ‘little boxes’.

When the family moved out of the communal group in prehistory it became more vulnerable. The smaller families became, the more vulnerable to social and economic pressures they became. The constant factor in modern family break-up is that capitalist, class society, tends to dehumanise and attack the family unit. This is done through attacks on the health services, child care, and homes, as well as through rising prices, rents, and declining living standards. Therefore we can see that in a class society, where private property is based in male supremacy, dehumanisation is at its worst in man/woman relationships. Yet despite this the family remains the bulwark structure of society.

Concerning women and the family it has to be recognised that half the population are women. It is they who feel the burden of the family within the individual household. Oppression of women takes economic, cultural and social forms. Mass media techniques still impress upon us all the so-called passive role of women, trying to create feelings of guilt if this concept is challenged. At the centre of oppression therefore is the family. The present family form has arisen out of the demands of capitalist society. The family is the means of accumulating and safeguarding private property, the woman is delegated to the social job of child rearing and household work. Such economic pressures can only have a destructive effect.

The family as an economic unit is a complex institution and is the result of the interplay of economic, super-structural and ideological factors. The family is the institutional site of particular forms of social consciousness. Family structure is the result of the economic structure, its function being the reproduction of the potential labour force. Hence the role of women in the family has become one of a primary role in reproducing and servicing the future labour force. This leads to home isolation for many women. Even today those women who work still tend to be employed in service industries. Women in the family have thus become economically, psychologically, and socially dependent upon the husband. The wife is synonymous with the proletariat, and the man in his home has become synonymous with the bourgeoisie.

Personal relationships are a fact of life. Whether close or loose knit, marriage and the family are dependent upon the type of society in which they occur. This is obvious if we remember that the primitive communal household equated with the era of primitive production. Selective and permanent marriage was a development of private property. Hence feudal marriage equated with feudal relations, whereas contemporary monogamy is equated with the private ownership of the means of production.

The family as an organisational framework of people is a complex product of society. The family of today developed under the formative pressures of this society. his is exemplified by the fact that the family does not cut across class, nor class across the family. Each family is embedded in its own class. The family as we have seen is the instrument for the production of workers. This is not a biological function but a social one. Hence the family is involved in conception, birth, nourishment, clothing, housing, upbringing, education and training. This applies at each stage from infancy, through childhood and adolescence until the mature worker enters the labour market. Then through the family there is the exploitation over and above that from profits, taxes, rents and interest. This is derived from the family cash paid for the requisites of upbringing – a further subsidy to capitalism.

The social function of the family is becoming increasingly ideological. Its general function is the reproduction of the social relations of production. This reproduction is minimally biological, procreation being only one aspect. Important is the process of socialisation within the family as well as the servicing of the labour force. Individuals are born into social classes and are then socialised into their class position. Consciously or unconsciously the values of the bourgeois family and society are perpetuated within the family. We can see therefore that the family ideologically reproduces itself.

The maintenance of the bourgeois family is realised through ideology. Differences exist between the families of the workers and those of the bourgeoisie. The central feature of all bourgeois families is its general form of the monogamous unit, with sex inequality and living as an economic unit. Important as an ideological feature is the oppression of women. The world of the woman being defined in terms of her home, her man, her children. By privatising the life of a woman the bourgeois family repeats the general contradictions of society. This contradiction is that between the socialised production and private appropriation. Family functions are socialised but the relations within it become increasingly private. The relationship between man and woman within the family being deified as ‘love’.

The oppression of women is reinforced on the sexual and psychological levels. There is created a female stereotype with a passive, dependent image. The role of this stereotype is defined as trivial, undemanding, surrounded by the creation of the mystique of ‘motherhood’. Such an ideology creates feelings of inadequacy, uselessness, and dependence. Sexism is an ideological force that divides and weakens the working class as a whole. The interests of men and women are seen as different. The result is that the family de-socialises, and isolates its members within the home, and thereby reinforces individualistic attitudes.

Alienated relationships are a general feature of capitalist society. The family is presented as a counterbalance to alienated lives. The family stands for security, but security in an insecure society. The family stands for love, but love in an unloving society, acting as a refuge from and an escape from the reality of alienation. Modern ideological fashions using the invalid extrapolations of Konrad Lorenz and Desmond Morris to popularise the myths of sexual fidelity and nonogamy. As well as this there are theories of attachment, imprinting, and alienation at birth. The truth is human beings are not ‘naked apes’, not ‘sex occupied apes’, not ‘pair-banded apes’, not ‘super aggressive apes’, nor any other kind of ape.

Bourgeois monogamy is the accepted norm for the expression and fulfilment of human love. For the majority of women marriage is profoundly economic. Love is only partial where economic dependence leads to social and psychological subservience. The subservience where women are possessed by the man. Love thus becomes the apotheosis of bourgeois individualism. An experience that should be enriching and socially valuable is separated and pitted against the social world. Love thus becomes introspective and claustrophobic. Thus we can see that the cult of the individual against the collective is essential to the maintenance of class society. Bourgeois ideology thus separates men from men, women from men, women from women, and generations from generations. In its contradictions it glorifies and falsifies love. Love becomes a panacea for the ills of a distorted society.

Contemporary bourgeois society elevates sexuality, and yet at the same time represses it as possessive and exclusive. At the other extreme sexuality is objectivised and dehumanised. Sanctified sexual relationships mirror the active role of men and the passive role of women. The call to ‘abolish monogamy’ therefore, as a protest, all too readily becomes the advocacy of what is equally alienated and dehumanised. In contemporary society the family has both human and inhuman qualities. It is a human response to an inhuman world, and as such it of necessity reflects that inhumanity in it.




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A Samian Ware Bowl

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Samian Ware bowl in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. 

Photograph taken by Andrew Maclellan, the Museum’s Education Officer,

1.  Introduction

In the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, there is displayed on the Middle Gallery a Samian Ware bowl found in 1880 at Richmond Castle, Kent. Samian ware can be described as the ‘Wedgewood’ of Roman table-ware. Typically it is red in colour and comprises some of the finest Roman pottery. Most vessels are plain but a low relief decoration is common. Samian ware comes in a variety of forms of mass-produced pottery that is characterised by its red-glazed-like slip. The ware is mould made, in both decorated and plain forms, with the vessels usually bearing the stamp of individual potters or workshops (Darvill, 2002; Bahn, 2001). two principal types are recognised and numerous production centres recognised. The Arretine was produced at Arrezo (Arretium) in northern Italy between 30 BC and 50 AD. Samian was produced in several areas of Gaul from 20 AD until the late second century.

2.  Samian ware – its provenance

With regard to the provenance of Samian ware it always shows the same forms, density, and colour. The “…beautiful red coralline Samian ware…” (Rosenthal, 1949) is a red-gloss pottery, often referred to as terra sigillata or provincially produced equivalent of Arretine ware. It is table-ware made from a fine red clay with a glossy surface that was used throughout areas of Roman influence from the late 1st century BC until the early 4th century AD (Johns, 1977). However, Attetine ware itself is extremely rare in Britain. Samian ware  – terra sigillata – moulds and kilns have been found in Italy, France and Germany. In Britain the red slip Samian table-ware of Gaul has bee found in most Roman forts, towns, settlements, and in modest graves (Bedoyere, 2000).

The earliest Samian ware was produced in southern Gaul from where it spread northwards to central and east Gaul and then Britain. Important factories in south Gaul were at La Granfesenque, Montans, Banassac (Johns, 1977), and Lyon (Darvill, 2002). South Gaulish ware entered Britain on an unprecedented scale during the 1st century AD and, much of which came from La Granfesenque, eventually dominated the entire fine-ware market (Bedoyere, 2000). By 100 AD central Gaulish ware from Les Martyres-de-Veyre had taken over but, by 120 to 125 AD the nearby Lezoux factories had gained control of the market and then declined by 190-210 AD. The industry was effectively dead by 230 AD. Other central Gaulish ware came from the Clermont-Ferrand (Johns, 1977) with Les Martyres-de-Veyre and Lezoux active during the 2nd century AD.

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Major Samian ware pottery sites in Gaul

Important sites for British importation were at Trier and Rheinzarben. Romano-British Samian ware, around 160 AD, was attempted at Colchester and resembled that of east Gaul (Bedoyere, 2000) but disappeared after little impact. Nonetheless some 30 kilns were found at Colchester (Bahn, 2001) Derivative forms of Samian ware, such as the late Roman Argonne and Marne wares, influenced African red slip ware and eastern red wares (Darvill, 2002). Samian ware was first classified by H. Dragendorff (Webster, 1996), in 1895-96. Samian forms are still referred to by their ‘Dr’ or ‘Drag’ number. The Ritterling Classification, prefixed by ‘R’ is based on his studies at the Roman fort at Hofheim (Oswald, 1920; Webster, 1996). The Pitt Rivers bowl is a hemispherical decorated bowl of Dragendorf classification Type 37.


 A terra sigillata Samian ware bowl similar to the one in in the Pitt Rivers Museum.

From 1st century AD, South Gaul (type Dr.37).

3.  Samian ware – its production

The pottery is characterised not only by its colour but also by its variety of standard shapes, some plain, some decorated (Johns, 1977). The most common form of decoration is a moulded relief depicting figures and other motifs on bowls, dishes, cups, and vases. Even though decoration techniques included the incised, barbotine  (a piping technique using soft clay), and applied, the most common and characteristic was the bas-relief moulding using stamps or punches called poincons (Johns, 1977). The Pitt Rivers Museum bowl is an example of relief moulding.

Samian ware was made in moulds that involved many specialists – mould makers, decorative stamp makers, the actual potters. Some mould makers may have been independent artisans or worked for an individual potter or workshop. Quite often the name of the mould maker and potter appear stamped on the finished vessels. Some stamps consist of just a name whereas others are accompanied by either prefixes or suffixes. For example, F or FEC for fecit or ‘made it’. M or MA for manu or ‘by the hand or’. and OF for officina or workshop. Even handwritten signatures have been seen.

Firstly the clay mould is thrown and turned on a potter’s wheel to create the desired form. Secondly, whilst still soft, the decoration is impressed into the vessel’s inner wall with roulettes or stamps, after which the mould is dried and fired. The fired mould then has clay pressed onto the decorated inner wall and the interior is then finely finished. Thirdly, partial drying shrinks the pot away from the mould whereby it can be removed for finishing – addition of foot-rings, handles, etc. At this stage the vessel is immersed in slip.

Large amounts of manganese and iron oxides give the body of Samian ware its brilliant red or brownish-red colour (Rosenthal, 1949) though more magnesium is also added than done nowadays. The red body colour results during cooling (slowly) with consequent re-oxidising of the iron compounds in the clay. It is assumed that the glaze mixture is the same as that for the body, but with the addition of large amounts of iron and manganese to which have been added flux alkalis to enable the mixture to melt during firing (Rosenthal, 1949). Firing temperature in the kilns was around 1000 degrees C (2200 F) and this secured the red glaze. Kiln records from south Gaul indicate some 20-30,000 vessels comprised a single kiln load.

4.  The Richborough Castle bowl in the Pitt Rivers Museum

The Accession Book IV (Accession Number 1884.37.26) states that the bowl is from Richmond Castle in Kent and was previously owned by a Mr Ready of the British Museum and donated by General Pitt Rivers in 1884. The vessel is described as an ancient wheel made piece of pottery similar to another bowl, Accession Number 1884.37.25), and has an undulating floral design and similar fringe border. The Museum’s delivery catalogue simply records that it is a bowl of red ware found at Richmond Castle in 1880. The Pitt Rivers Museum ‘Green Book’ entry mentions the South Kensington Receipts of 13.5.1880 as one red Samian bowl repaired by Mr Ready of the British Museum. Moreover, it was displayed in the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), having been previously broken and then repaired with added material and coloured to match the original ware. Examination of the bowl indicated that the portion bearing a stamp was missing, replaced during repair. Richborough Castle (or Ritupiae) in east Kent was the major Roman port and fort in Britain., founded on invasion in 43 AD.


Map of Kent showing location of Ritupiae (Richmond Castle).

The bowl in the Museum has an upper border known as an ovolo or ‘egg-and-dart’ or ‘egg-and-tongue’ design (Webster, 1996), commonly used in decorating Samian ware

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Ovolo design.

bowls type number 37. The terms ‘egg and tongue’ and ‘egg and dart’ are self-explanatory but are rarely mentioned in reports about Samian ware. The design is commonly used as a design on the upper border on Dragendorf 37.  Note the Note the undulating vegetation the bead row and ovolo which are a feature of imported Samian ware. The slip is less glossy and show quality decline of southern Gaul ware during the 2nd century AD. Type 37 bowls were not imported into Britain after the 2nd century AD.The bowl in the Pit Rivers Museum, which is typical of the Antonine period, can be compared to a Samian ware bowl found from an East Gaulish centre at Rhenzabern and found at London Wall. Again, the bowl in the Pitt Rivers Museum can be compared with a Form 37 bowl from Lezoux (by the potter Paternus ) and found at Wingham in Kent.

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Cross section of a type 37 bowl.

The Wingham bowl is dated as early as Antonine. Decorative schemes used by the Potter called Pertenus II, see Figure 5 and Figure 6, were the popular bold winding scroll with a lower freestyle floral design (Webster, 1996). Other type 37 bowls were closely modelled on central Gaulish ware and possibly by the potter Respectus, and dated to the 2nd century AD (Webster, 1996). This brings us back to the bowl in the Pitt Rivers Museum. The bas-relief ovolo design is evident as is the freestyle floral design.

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An example of freestyle floral design.

The bowl was found at Richborough Castle (Ritupiae) in Kent, a site occupied throughout the Roman period with a wide range of Samian ware (Bush-Fox, 1926; 1928; 1932; 1949; Cunliffe, 1968). Another similar Form 37 bowl, found in Kent at Plaxtol, showed ovolo and freestyle decoration by a certain Cinnamus of Lezoux. It is possible, which requires further research and confirmation, is that the Pit Rivers Museum bowl could possibly be provenance as early Antonine and from Lezoux, bearing in mind the similarity to other designs. Antonine period Samian ware would date the from the Emperors Antoninus Pius, 138-161 AD, and Marcus Aurelius, 161-180 AD (Johns, 1977). Cinnamus worked in Ad 145 to 170, and Patemus was at Lezoux during the early Antonine period as well.

5.  Summary

Arretine and Samian wares were exported throughout the Roman Empire on a very large scale and, as a result, the forms and decoration, the potters stamps, allow archaeologists to determine a detailed chronology (Bahn, 2001). Samian ware in Europe and Britain functions as an accurate chronological indicator of Roman occupation and influence. This especially true because the Roman army had access to a wide range of Samian ware types and forms (Bedoyere, 2000). Samian ware production shows the existence of a highly organised industry with a vast network of export and trade links from Britain, Germany, and France. Prior and after manufacture packers, carriers, wholesale and retail dealers, were all involved in the economics of the Samian ware trade.

Economically and socially Samian ware centres were established near major rivers for ease of and safety of transport. In addition production centres had to be close sources of appropriate materials because only iron bearing clays could be used. Samian ware production was a highly organised industry, with potteries only located in certain areas of the empire, and became on of the more common exports beyond the actual borders of the empire (Johns, 1977). Another aspect is that Samian ware conferred status in the sense that it became “…a fashion which almost everyone aspired to own, according to means.” (Bedoyere, 2000), and this became the art of mass production reached a high state of perfection in Roman times.

The bowl in the Pitt Rivers Museum reflects this not only in its form and decoration but also in its provenance – though found in Kent it was almost certainly made in Gaul and purchased by the Roman army or by a Roman civilian who could afford its purchase. Embodied in the bowl is not only its craft but also its trade and its status. Its date range is AD 70 to late 2nd to 3rd century thus post AD 70.

Originally a contribution for the OUDCE certificate course in archaeology (2002-2004).


Bahn, P.  (2001).  Penguin Archaeology Guide.  Allen Lane, Harmondsworth.

Bedoyere, G de la.  (2000).  Pottery in Roman Britain.  Shire, Bucks.

Bushe-Fox.  (1926).  First report on the excavation of the Roman fort at Richborough, Kent.  Rep. Res. Comm. Soc. Antiq.  London (6).

Bushe–Fox.  (1928).  Second report on the excavation of the Roman fort at Richborough, Kent.  Rep. Res. Comm. Soc. Antiq.  London (7).

Bushe-Fox.  (1932).  Third report on the excavation of the Roman fort at Richborough, Kent.  Rep. Res. Comm. Soc. Antiq.  London (10).

Bushe-Fox.  (1949).  Fourth report on the excavation of the Roman fort at Richborough, Kent.  Rep. Res. Comm. Antiq.  London (16).

Cunliffe, B.  (1968).  Fifth report on the excavation at the Roman fort at Richborough, Kent.  Rep. Res. Comm. Soc. Antiq.  London (23).

Darvill, T.  (2002).  Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. OUP, Oxford.

Johns, C.  (1977).  Arretine and Samian Pottery.  British Museum, London.

Oswald, F. Pryce & Davies, T.  (1920).  An introduction to the study of terra sigillata.  London.

Rosenthal, E.  (1949).  Pottery and Ceramics.  Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Webster, P.  (1996).  Roman Samian Pottery in Britain.  Council for British Archaeology, York.

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Mate Selection, Marriage, and Social Class


Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward (1874).  S. L. Fildes.

This contribution is an attempt to examine whether such factors as biological related ness, spatial nearness, and class structure, have any effect on the patterns of marriage in society. If they do, then in what proportion are these factors relevant? Can we assume that physical characteristics and genetic factors are operating in the determination of choice of marital partner? If biological determinants are factors to be considered it has to be established their relevant importance or unimportance. To what extent is the particular social an cultural background of marital partners a factor in establishing marriage patterns? To what extent is geographical nearness or propinquity a determining factor? In essence, do like tend to marry like? Finally, if it is argued that class structure is a prime factor to consider, can it be deduced from society in terms of social mobility – therefore movement up and down via the institution of marriage.

We can examine mate selection and mating patterns from both the biological and sociological points of view. Certainly we must, and can, determine certain regularities when basing our analysis on mate selection on the prevailing class relationships of a society. Unlike the theories of reductionist orientated population geneticists and the ‘statistics is an ends rather than a means’ brigade of social analysts, we can elucidate the main causative factor in the patterns of marriage in society. Reference to social mobility studies show that marital patterns and opportunities (with few exceptions) are determined by one’s position in society. More accurately – by one’s relationship to the means of production, one’s class position. In terms of social class or strata there is a tendency for like to may like, but we shall see that biological undertones are not of importance because, even though they have some validity, they are only secondary to class determinants. Marriage is a social institution, and shall remain so despite the efforts of some population geneticists to drown class relations and human development in a ‘gene pool’.

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Much work has been done on the study of totemism by reference to the Australian Aboriginal people by Elkin, Spencer, Gillen, and Radcliffe-Brown. Totemism is a system that provides the identity of a social group. It is dependent upon certain intimate and exclusive relationship towards a particular animal or plant. It is a worldwide phenomenon from Africa to North America. Durkheim regarded totemism as the basic principle of all religious and social life. Totem was taken to stand for the unity and solidarity of the group to which it is attached. The totemic group is usually exogamous. The particular animal is not, in the developed forms, an item of diet of the group.

Totemic rituals are thought of as maintaining the species, to provide food for another group. At the same time the totem animal is maintained and multiplied to provide food for the first group. Durkheim opined that totemic belief and ritual strengthened and symbolised the solidarity of the group. Therefore of considerable survival value. Radcliffe-Brown declared the totem animal was important to the tribe. This is so in Australia. In Africa it appears no more than as an arbitrary symbol of the social unit. Totemism provides a common body of values, beliefs, and customs, by which every individual in a particular society learns, lives, accepts, and transmits such universal, unquestionable values and assumptions that are termed by Durkheim as collective representations. Levy-Bruhl described totemism as a system of classification which is mentally necessary.

In regard to totemic classification Claude Levi-Strauss described totemism as a classificatory system. He claimed it was necessary. Totemism divided man into clans, the practice of exogamy being another method of exchange, women being the commodity. Totemism is a widely spread and important form of division, but it does not involve a real relationship between man and animals – it is an intellectual scheme in order to grasp the natural, social universe as a whole. Levi-Strauss postulated the concept of the superstructure and totemism. A system of classification that had a superstructure that was linguistic and logical in character. Name and nature were constitutive. The constitution of things were made real and recognisable for us by the act of thought. Using an apparatus of names and classes by which we thus organise our world. This gives meaning to existence and the objective world. The superstructure was the mediator between matter and the intelligible factual entities. Levi-Strauss was emphatic that the system of thinking and the superstructure were not final. Levy-Bruhl regarded that several simultaneous systems existed in different parts of the world, and that such a system was a process of change and development. At the same time the conservative superstructure resisted change. The symbolic systems of magic, religion, and totemism are therefore natural to primitive man.

A religious significance of totemism can be seen in the ‘intichiuma’ ceremony of the Australian Aborigines. This is ‘Regeneration of the Kangaroo’ is held at the sacred ceremonial stone that represents where the original, ancestral kangaroo descended into the earth ages ago. The purpose of the ceremony is to drive out in all directions the spirits of kangaroos, and thus increase their umber. The young men then hunt the kangaroos. The flesh is then divided. The ceremony therefore provides more than food. It penetrates and is penetrated by quickenings of sacrifices, prayer, communion.

With reference to the totem and tribal unity totemic religion is an expression of social solidarity. Religion is social. Its significance is the social group. Entities and gods are the tribe divinised. God and society are thus one. Rites express the collective sentiment. This sentiment is expressed in every thing that is done, such as tribal dances and meals. This expression strengthens the group.

In regards to the individual and the totem, it is seen than humans get all that makes them human from society. Religious cult and totemic ritual recreates them, imbues them, with life and it is the life of the tribe. Simultaneously the tribe is regenerated. The individual is raised above him or herself, and this makes them lead a life superior to that which they would lead as individuals. The totemites receive manhood or womanhood and their individual essence from the tribal spirit. The tribal spirit possesses them in the ceremonies and rites in this form of religion.

As for the totem and the clan Radcliffe-Brown wrote that “Whenever a society is divided into groups and there is a special relation between each group and one or more classes of objects that are usually natural species of animals or plants but may be artificial objects or parts of an animal.” The totemic groups are of various kinds. Totemism is not animal or plant worship, but more the affiliation of a group with an animal or plant species. The totemic clan is named after its totem. Members are descended from the same ancestors. The clans of the Iroquois are animal totems, such as bears, turtles, and eels. The classic examples come from Australia. The Arunta tribe has the totemic groups of Kangaroos, and the Witchetty Grubs. Radcliffe-Brown stated further that “…the wider unity and solidarity of the whole totemic group, society, as a whole through its segments stands in a ritual relation to nature as a whole.”

In New South Wales there exists sex totemism. The bat is a male totem and the tree creeper is a female totem. There exists a common relationship between totem and clan, but not all clans are totemic. Among the Australian Aborigines, where field work was carried out by Elkin, Spencer, Gillen and Radcliffe-Brown, totemism was seen to be a religious system whereby the group depended upon an intimate and exclusive relationship with an animal or plant for its identity. The totem provided the social group with its name, for example, kangaroo. The name tends to give an outward, visible sign, of supernatural force that binds the tribe together. The totem is the ancestor of the tribe, and functions as a fund of life force. It is not a one way process of dependence upon the supernatural. The totem requires sacred rituals that give strength and fecundity. Rituals maintain the life force of the totemic animal and also ensure multiplication and availability of food for other tribes.

The Kangaroo totemic group refrains from killing kangaroos, unless solemn and sacramental procedures are employed. Other tribes have their own sacred animals. This ensures that a wide range of insects, plants and animals are available. When a plentiful supply exists a ceremony is held to allow the eating of the totem. The sacredness that is inherent in the totem is therefore transferred to the people of the totemic group. Every clan member contains a mystic substance within, of which his or her soul consists, and therefore obtains a social as well as a religious status. The totem as the sacramental meal is a communion feast. The worshipper partakes of food and drink, entering into fellowship with some supernatural force. This establishes a union between man and the divine, mediated by the victim as eaten by the worshippers. Sacrifice and totemic ritual takes many forms. The men of the tribe periodically strive to enter into sacramental relations with the fountain and source of their tribal life. This is obtained by the assimilation of the sacred flesh of the species.

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Ritual and Symbolism

Simpler technology peoples are no mean technicians. They can perform many activities of social life and social labour. They can sow, reap, build and create. They possess a wide knowledge of plants and animals, can use and make metal implements and pottery. However, there are limits to what can be achieved with simpler technology. Hence they cannot prevent crop failures, cannot guarantee to feed themselves securely, and cannot prevent starvation and disease.

originally it was thought that the concepts of imitation and contagion, which are inter-related with primitive man’s concepts of religion, supernatural and magical ideas, were his sole motives in his life of rituals and taboo. However, primitive man is not so illogical as this. Unlike modern religious and mythical preoccupations, primitive man does not regard the supernatural and natural worlds as dichotomies. In his need to supplement all known ways of dealing with the external world primitive man makes use of whatever forces there are that he cannot handle in a practical way. Thus, as a result, he does not divide his world into natural and supernatural, especially if in his use of these forces he recognises them as part of his natural world.

There is a strong belief that symbolic activity is very effective when it expresses deep and passionate desires. In other words a symbol represents something. Symbolism as a means of expression can be powerful and dramatic, and that belief in symbolism can be effective in the reinforcement and supplementation of what people do. What they do as practical people is that according to their ability, with their known ways and means, is organise their life in their society.

Symbolic rites are not ineffective – ritualism and symbolism, art, and religion being related. Symbolic ritual has strong psychological and social consequences. The ritual conveys to the participants ideas and feelings of putting heart and luck into their efforts. The symbolic rituals serving to order and co-ordinate their everyday practical activities. One of the main functions of this aspect of primitive religion is that it expresses certain important social sentiments, today they are called ‘values’. These sentiments are such concepts as the need for mutual support and solidarity between community members. Further to this, unless enough people held and acted on these values the society would not survive. The performance of ritual keeps constantly in the minds of the participants these sentiments. Ritual reinforces the ideas and aim of securing the maintenance of the social order.

Rituals are all stereotyped modes of behaviour, being highly traditional, organised and formalised. These rites are primarily concerned with the issues of agriculture, marriage, birth, death, tribal feasts and initiation festivals. The significance of rituals are that they are essentially public, and overtly collective activities. As can be seen in clan feasts and harvest festivals. They are occasions of reunions, community gatherings, times of happiness and social harmony. Rituals take place in an atmosphere of fellowshio and benevolence. These activities help bind people together, to raise them above the subjective concepts of individual and self, so that the participants lead a life superior to that which they would if they pursued their own individual ideas.

Beliefs and myths, embodied in ritual, symbolise life. Rituals organise that life and regulate its workings. Ceremonial gatherings lend a solemn and collective expression to those social sentiments within the community. This religious activity and faith fix and enhance all the valuable attitudes of the participants. These sentiments of value to the social group are affirmed, strengthened and renewed by ritualistic experiences, and instil a reverence for tradition, harmony, courage, and confidence. Encouraging them in their struggles with difficulties, with their efforts to control their environment. These beliefs and the accompanying feelings are embodied in the cult of the ceremonial activities – and as such are of great social value.

Levi-Strauss stated, in his book Totemism, that symbolism exists in order to maintain the social order, that it gives society a sense of permanence and solidity. That this is based upon individual sentiments and that the efficacy and expression of symbols demands a collective expression that is fixed upon concrete objects – hence there is a definite place assigned to symbols within the ideas of the community. This structural outlook attempts to argue that symbolism is the means that gives society permanence – but if society is in a constant state of flux and change, then symbolism can only be part of an attempt to maintain the status quo – disregarding that symbolism can also play a role in the pressures for social change.

Max Gluckman in discussing the analysis – Essays on the Ritual of Social Relations – of Van Gennep’s  Rites of Passage, gives another insight into the rituals and symbolisation, recognising the developmental nature of society.  Rituals deal with movements, hence they are reflective of social changes, and that these rituals exhibit a common order. Hence we have the concept of separation, a marginal period, followed by an aggregation. This aggregation being either anew order or a re-aggregation of the old order. These concepts have been expressed as rites of separation, rites of transition, and rites of incorporation.

Van Gennep stated that changes in social relations that involve movements between groups, or alterations in status, in semi-civilised societies with their conceptions of magico-religious bases for groups, disturbed not only the life of the individual but also the life of society as well. Thus the functions of the rites of passage was to reduce the harmful effects of these disturbances. The interpretation put  on the rituals by Van Gennep was not based upon a construct that bore no relationship to reality, but expresses the relationship between the activity of ritual and the ends towards which it was directed. That is the inter-relationship between social necessities and social action.

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