The Father in Primitive Psychology

Chapter I. Kinship and Descent in a Matrilineal Society

Trobriand Islands: coral archipelago north-east of New Guinea
• Natives belong to Papupo-Melanesian race
• Matrilineal society

Mother is who builds up the child’s body while the man does not in any way contribute to its production.
• “Mother feeds infant in her body, when it comes out she feeds it with her milk.”
• “Mother makes child out of her flesh, brother and sister are of same flesh.”

Descent, kinship and all social relations are reckoned by mother only.
• Social positions handed on in the mother-line from a man to his sister’s children
• Exclusively matrilineal conception of kinship
• Women lead in tribal life with economic, ceremonial, and magical activities
• Deeply influences erotic life and institution of marriage
Man does not contribute to child’s production- Most important factor of social organization
Social rules underlying burial, lamentation, mourning and certain very elaborate food distribution are based on the people united by a maternal kinship bond form, a closely knit bound by identity of feelings, interests, and flesh.
• All others (marriage and father to children relations) stand sharply outside and have no natural share in bereavement.
Kadagu lives in child’s village.
• Has his property and other rights of citizenship, his future prospects, and natural allies and associates.
Key Terms
Father-man married to the mother who lives in same house and forms part of the household
Tomakava- A stranger or outsider

Chapter II. The Male and Female Organism and the Sexual Impulse in Native Belief
• Natives’ ideas about the nature of sexual functions
• Extensive vocabulary for various parts of human body and for internal organs – often cut up animals and had a custom of dissection of corpses
• Have flawed physiological theories
• Sex organs are for pleasure and for excretion
• Don’t believe testes are important, for reproduction or otherwise
• Ideas about sexual functions of genitals – more complex and systematic
• Eyes are seat of desire and lust (word for male organ is same as word for eye); eyes are linked to kidney
• Male and female discharge are called by same name, same origin (kidney)
• Sexual function of kidneys, importance of eyes, parallel of male and female organs; consistent throughout the island
• Native experts and witchdoctors are main source of information
• Native canons have three elements found in cultural systems of classification (u’ulo – “eye”, tapwana – “middle”, and matala – “tip”); this is system used for description of sexual impulse
• Love and affection stems from intestines and skin of the belly and arms, only to a certain extinct in the eyes
• Menstruation is connected with pregnancy in vague manner; different words for general blood and menstruation blood
• Author views island through a Western European filter where males are the dominant sex; describes testes as “most important organs”

Chapter III. Reincarnation and the Way to Life from the Spirit World
The Trobrianders believe in reincarnation and with that the new life begins with death.
After death the spirit moves to Tuma, the Island of the Dead, where it leads a much happier existence – here perpetual youth exists thanks to the powers of rejuvenation — this was a power once enjoyed by all of humanity when all still lived underground and had not yet emerged to the surface. This power was kept even after humans moved to the surface but it was eventually lost. (baloma = spirit)

When the spirit is tired of rejuvenation it finds its way back into a child born from a Trobriand woman from the same clan that they once belonged to.
Spirits have to bathe in salt water before they become babies again – this is also part of the rejuvenation process that the spirit goes through – in a spring called Sopiwina (washing water).

Once the spirit is in the body of the pre-incarnated infant, they float along the Tuma coast on a seaweed or the like until a woman swims in the water. On this woman the spirit will place the pre-incarnated child on the mother’s head/hair. She will in turn suffer from headaches and vomiting. Eventually the child will drift down to the mother’s belly making the woman officially pregnant.

To the Trobrianders there is an active control of any other spirit behind the baby and the whole pregnancy process. The “father” is not viewed as having anything to do with this, thus is not considered related to the child by the flesh.

There were inconsistencies with their stories; according to the region or tribe, some claimed the baby entered the mother from the head, others from the belly, yet others from the vagina. Still, all the principal points of the various versions and descriptions seem to overlap, agree and fortify one another which then creates a composite picture.

The main identical points were:
1. All spirits rejuvenate; 2. All children are incarnated spirits; 3. The identity of the sub-clan is preserved throughout the cycle; 4. The real cause of childbirth is the spirit initiative from Tuma.

Reincarnation to the Trobriands is a doctrine that lead a quiet and passive existence in folklore and doesn’t exercise a great influence over their social life. They don’t believe that identity of personality is preserved through reincarnation. The only thing that is continuous to them is the preservation of the clan and the sub-clan.

* Spirit (baloma) after death moves to Tuma (Island of the Dead)
* On Tuma one feature: Perpetual youth (shedding of skin)
* Once tired of rejuvenation, spirit finds a way back into the baby (fetus) from the same clan they once belonged to before.
* Spirits have to bathe in salt water before they become babies again.
* Once the spirit is in the pre-incarnated baby it floats along the Tuma on a seaweed until a woman swims in the water.
* On the woman, the spirit will place the pre-incarnated child on the mother’s head/hair.
* Eventually the child will drift down to the mother’s belly making the woman officially pregnant.
* The end of menstruation is perceived as the blood being used to nourish the baby.
* The “father” is not viewed as having anything to do with the pregnancy process, thus is not considered related to the child by the flesh.
* There were inconsistencies with their stories, yet the main identical points were:

1. All spirits rejuvenate
2. All children are incarnated spirits
3.The identity of the sub-clan is preserved throughout the cycle
4. The real cause of childbirth is the spirit initiative from Tuma

* The Trobrianders don’t believe that identity of personality is preserved through reincarnation.
* The only thing that is continuous to them is the preservation of the clan and the sub-clan.

Chapter IV. The Ignorance of Physiological Paternity
Proposed question- “Are the natives really entirely ignorant of physiological fatherhood? Is it not a fact of which they are more or less aware, though it may be overlaid and distorted by mythological and animistic beliefs?”
– Facts-
– They recognize that virgins cannot be pregnant (called Nakapatu meaning small entrance. Bulabola for large orifice that can conceive)
– They believe spirits are responsible for childbirth. Once a woman has been “opened” up she can have children, there is no need for male and female intercourse to have a child after that
– Mankind was created through the emergence of underground men and women, a couple (bro and sis)
– Stories were told that women lose their virginity by exposing their bodies to falling rain or water from a stalactite in one example, again…as long as the vagina has been “opened” through such means, they may be impregnated by a spirit
– Unattractive women were outcasts, and men secretly slept with them
– A Key passage- “when asked directly how it was that they bore children without having a man, the natives more or less coarsely or jestingly mentioned some means of perforation, which they could easily have used, and obviously that was necessary.”

Author’s point-
– Their psychological views go back several generations. They have stories about how women bore children without the assistance of any male organs and they sincerely believe that. They believe women were put into this world first. The facts in this chapter demonstrate why Trobrand is a matrilineal society
– the point the author is making is that no matter how much you present the natives facts about conception a patriarchal society will continue to practice and argue for their beliefs as they have spent generations with them in practice.
– How do they not understand that a man needs to impregnate a woman after several generations of child birth

Side note
-Why would they hide sleeping with the ugly women, especially considering those who bore children ( I suppose they could have stepped into the rain and lost their V card!) , if they weren’t at least somewhat aware of the fact that semen impregnates women…?

Chapter V. Words and Deeds in Testimony
Christian missionaries came and discussed the cause of conception and they had different view points

The whole Christian morality, moreover is strongly associated with the institution of a patrilineal and patriarchal family, with the father as progenitor and master of the household

If we consider that the dogma of God the Father and God the Son, the sacrifice of the only son, the filial love of man to his maker-that all this falls somewhat flat in a matrilineal society, where the relation between father and son is decreed by tribal law to be that of two strangers where all personal unity between them is denied and only duties is associated with the mother lines.

We cannot wonder that paternity must be the first new truth to be implicated by proselyting Christians.

Unmarried girls lead much more intensive sexual lives than married women.

Gap between the understanding of how children are conceived.

The missionary people ask what the cause of pregnancy is: “ blood on the head makes child. The seminal fluid does not make the child. Spirits bring at night time the infant put on women’s heads it makes blood then after two or three months when the blood [that is monstrous blood] does not come out they know oh I am pregnant”

In a way of testing the theory that sex has nothing to do with reproduction, the castrate the domesticated pigs. When they let the female pigs roam free, they are impregnated by the wild boars. The people do not realize this so therefore they do not make the connection of sex and reproduction.

Chapter VI. Fatherless Children in a Matrilineal Society

“In all this the role of the husband is strictly laid down by custom and is considered indispensable”

The main idea is that basically that the Trobriands don’t recognize the biological relationship between the father and the child but he is still considered an indispensable part of the construction of the family. Illegitimate children are considered to be “reprehensible”.

• Sex out of wedlock is free from censure unless it offends the special taboos of exogamy and incest
• Cases of illegitimate children are extremely low
• When such cases occur its concealed with the use of elastic kinship terms
• In their society a woman always needs a man as a defender or a provider (brother or husband)
• A brother is not a sufficient guardian when a woman is pregnant because she needs a husband to protect her sex
• Illegitimate child and its mother goes against tribal customs
• Every member of the Trobriands tribe has a rigidly defined part to play
• Fertility in married women is praised
• Sterility in women is considered unfortunate but is nothing to be ashamed of

Chapter VII. The Singular Claims of Sociolocial Paternity
• Matrilineal and patriarchal influences : Matrilineal is through the mothers brother to the children . Patriarchal is male is the family head and title is traced through the male line.
• Chapter 7 is about how the children are of the same flesh of the mother but the appearance of the father.
o Children are not supposed to look like the mother, brother or sister.
o “Taputaki migila”- to defile by comparison to a kinsman his face, act of comparing faces of brothers/ sisters
o “Migim lumuta”- thy face thy sisters: , worst kind of insult to man- similar to saying to have intercourse w/ ones’ sister.
o Trobriands where all maternal relatives are considered to be of the “same body” and the father to be a “stranger”
o After a man’s death, people will come to see his children to “see his face in theirs”
o “ mould theory” hand w/ “soft mush” in it. Fathers remains in mother hand, child=mush, the mush molds to replicate hand
o Even though the father has no “real” status within the community, he holds power/influence in: sexual activity with his wife, and influence on the child and benefiting from the wife’s family.
o When interviewed, many of the men used the word “Kuli”, to coagulate. These men learned a socially fixed view that their father had influenced their physique.

Our Critique of the Chapter
• The goal of an anthropologist is to observe and annotate what he has learned. He is there to be the student, not the teacher. Malinowski does the complete opposite. He can’t understand why they believe what they believe and it read as if he did not want to. He also argued with the natives about how they were wrong and called their ideologies “primitive and simple”. As a reader I’m supposed to create my own opinion, not reflect more on a bias observation.


About Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is a project cataloger at The Mariners' Museum library. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and was formerly a professor at ODU. You can find him on Twitter @m4ttTh0mps0n.
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