ACADEMY & GALLERY
A Thermodynamic Interpretation of History
The Elementary Structures of Kinship
2. The Origin of Male-Domination in Tribal Societies: The Male Reversal of Matriliny and the Exchange of Women
Copyright © 2005 by Lawrence C. Chin. All rights reserved.
The reversal of matriliny into patriliny and the institution of "true" male dominance in tribal societies involve three themes: (1) the male reversal (or some might call it "usurpation") of female ritual; (2) the change from matriliny to patriliny; (3) the institution of male-oriented exchange network (of meat and women).
The problem of the male symbolic counter-revolution revisited: The re-interpretation of female efforts at synchrony within the framework of male-dominance to result in the mechanisms for oppression of women. Let us start with the last first. To understand how this work, we must first lay out the structure of the sacred, good, and evil. Elsewhere we have tried to understand this structure in terms of the primitive experience of thermodynamics (see "The Origin of the Sacred," "The Structure and Typology of Sacrifice", and "Review of 'A Small Treatise of True Religion'"):
destructive excessively energetic ----------------- maximally entropic (order-dis- (sacred -) | (disorder: simply -) soluting) | | | | | | | order-pre- "wholesome" servative (sacred +) (good) taboo ------------------------------- evil
In this context "blood" simply, i.e. whether it be women's menstrual blood or the hunted animal's blood, corresponds to the sacred in raw, excessively energetic, hence dangerous form, whereas air is the sacred in the thinnest, depository, least dangerous form, and food (when finally cooked) the most nourishing. Blood is the sacré sauvage, as said (Ftnt. 7, "The Origin of the Sexual Division of Labor"). The more general belief in blood's raw, energetic sacredness explains on the experiential axis (in addition to Knight's material axis: women's imposition of customs according to their material interests) the widespread prohibition on raw meat: "Among these Indians, most health practices are connected with the view that the 'spirit' or 'blood' or 'life-force' (the terms are interchangeable) of an animal should never be eaten. 'Meat, for example, is thoroughly boiled to the point of tastelessness to ensure that the slightest trace of blood is removed... Writing of the Eastern Timbira or Ramko'Kamekra of the eastern highlands of Brazil, Lévi-Strauss... notes 'the violent abdominal pains that follow the consumption of roast meat, when it is eaten with fingers stained with blood from the hunt..." (Blood Relations, p. 406), i.e. when it is still too energetic as to "burn". This is why menstrual blood is dangerous, why menstruating women must not be touched, and why there is menstrual taboo in the very beginning (since the beginning of the sex-strike): "Where [menstrual] taboos are strong, the avoidances are enforced through spectacular institutions buttressed by often extravagant beliefs in the supranatural potencies of women's blood. It is the draconic powers of menstrual blood -- powers which can be used for good or ill, and which may be thought to influence not only the entire earth but the cosmos, too -- which stand out in traditional mythologies" (p. 375). Hence "the Siouan Dakota term for 'taboo' is wakan, defined in Rigg's Dakota-English Dictionary as meaning 'spiritual, consecrated; wonderful, incomprehensible; said also of women at the menstrual period'... According to an Oglala informant, the power of woman 'grows with the moon and comes and goes with it'" (p. 381). Now, to understand the working of male symbolic counter-revolution, consider the contemporary case of female-initiation rituals among the Temne of Sierra Leone. "Initiation ritualism was and remains very important in Temne traditional life, both for men and for women. Women are organized into an immense, community-wide association known as 'Bondo', which is under the control of a hierarchy of female officials. The details of young women's initiation ordeals are secret, but they are known to include genital operations ranging from labial scarification in some cases up to clitoridectomy in others, all the operations being performed by women. In this ultimately male-dominated culture, severe and oppressive female collective control over each individual girl's sexuality, then, seems to be the basic theme..." (p. 352). What feminists nowadays consider as the patriarchal mechanisms in mutilating the female (especially sexual) body-parts during initiation so as to enhance male control of women, originally were probably what adult women (i.e. already coalitionarily entrenched) did to their younger ones in order to synchronize their actions with the female coalition's and thus entrench these new "additions" within the established political coalitionary structure, so as to organize the sex-strike as a means to exploit the males of the other clan. Camilla Power has provided an example of this among the matrilineal, uxorilocal Bemba. As to "why the female puberty rite, chisunga, had to be performed": "No one would want to marry a girl who had not had her chisunga danced. She would not know what her fellow women knew. She would not be invited to other chisunga feasts. She would just be a piece of rubbish; an uncultivated weed; an unfired pot; a fool; or just 'not a woman'." She continues: "Until the final stage when the bridegroom arrived, men were respectful onlookers, averting their eyes as the chisunga procession passed their huts... The celebrants were women, observing a strict, ritually rehearsed hierarchy under the authority of the mistress of ceremonies (nacimbusa)... Candidates were expected to be humble at all times, even when subjected to torment and abuse... An elderly woman, often of royal lineage, who was proven as a midwife and had special ritual knowledge, the nacimbusa, made the chisunga through her energy and charisma; she worked 'magic of attraction' by attention to costly detail. Particularly important was a series of pottery models -- sacred emblems (mbusa) -- which were time-consuming and elaborate in construction, yet destroyed or discarded once they had been used for specific ritual actions... Throughout the ceremony, a three-week event in 1931, the primary cosmetic material was red camwood powder mixed with oil as a paint that made vivid crimson splashes... On four climatic occasions, the candidates and the main actors were daubed in this mixture..." ("Beauty Magic: The Origin of Art", in The Evolution of Culture, ed. Robin Dunbar, Chris Knight, and Camilla Power, p. 92.) The red color is used of course to advertise "imminent fertility of the initiate, but the cosmetics also provide mechanisms for marking reciprocal relations and obligations among the women. These costly, lengthy, often traumatic rituals appear to be critical in mate choice; girls who failed to undergo initiation were traditionally unmarriageable -- 'fools' or 'weeds'. Much of the most elaborate art belonging to these cultures was produced either in the context of, or with reference to, female initiation" (p. 93, emphasis added). Remember that sham menstruation dance would not work unless all women did it together -- simultaneously all saying No -- otherwise the man who was refused sexual access would simply go to another imminently fertile woman. "Within any coalition, the strategy [of cosmetic manipulation of menstrual signal] is well-designed for a reciprocal altruistic alliance, since any female must prove her commitment to the alliance when she is cycling before she can derive any benefits when she is not cycling" (p. 99). Any female who did not participate in the sham menstruation dance-procession would be a threat to the attempt of the coalition of women to establish the sexual division of labor to force men to provide meat for child-rearing women; hence the coalition of women would force her to, and hence the coercive and traumatic nature of these female initiations for the initiate, who was basically forced to learn that, from now on, she must "blend into the group", both for her welfare and for that of every other woman (no woman could get free meat from men unless all women get meat from them at the same time). Initiation ritual is for the initiation into the group. Hence Lamp's assessment of the Temne case of female initiation ("Heavenly Bodies: Menses, Moon, and Rituals of License among the Temne of Sierra Leone" in T. Buckley et al ed. Blood Magic, 1988) is mostly correct: "In initiation, which involves not so much practical as cultural and religious instruction [including how to do a synchronized sex-strike!] through participation in ritual arts, the young learn to act cooperatively, to synchronize their behavior patterns, and to work toward a harmonious relationship with the cosmos [e.g. menstruation in synchrony with moon-phases] as well as with society" (cited by Knight, p. 353). These female initiation rituals used for women's empowerment later become transformed into the mechanisms for their oppression when the over-all context has been changed from the matrilineal, reciprocal prostitution to patrilineal, exchange of women. This contextual change, effected by the male symbolic counter-revolution, also transforms women's menstrual blood from "sacred (-)" to "simply (-)", i.e. from the sacré sauvage (potentially nourishing or order-conducive but needing to be domesticated) to evil pure-and-simple (order-dissoluting and nothing else). (It is like the change from the energetic sunlight or electricity which, when too concentrated on one's body or un-conducted by wires, burns and destroys it, but which, when well-controlled, and allowed to shine on life, or kept well-channeled in wires, in continuous small bits (i.e. when domesticated), nourishes it and makes it possible and powers everything, to the pure eroding effect of Time [the second law] which at this time is confusedly identified as destroying one's body without ever the potential for nourishing it even when properly domesticated.) Thus the Temne's female initiation rites appear oppressive of women today simply because their original women-empowering function has been lost due to the over-all change of context. From then on, here as elsewhere, a women's menstruation becomes a shameful event, indicating her inferiority (evilness, entropy), rather than an empowering event indicating her superiority or sacredness (energy flux that has the potential to combat entropy-increase when domesticated, when "cooked"). What we are going to understand below, then, is some of the historical details of this contextual transformation -- according to Chris Knight.
Knight's exemplary case is the Australian Aborigines. As mentioned, there seems to be a direct correlation between environmental degradation -- at this earliest time, the extinction of animal species -- and women's menstrual synchrony: women's effort to obtain meat through sex-strike has induce men to engage in cooperative, logistic long distance hunt: they would now systematically stalk and ambush particular species of animals in order to satisfy the female appetite at home -- in contrast to the Archaic Homo sapiens' technique, "get whatever animal one happens to run into" -- resulting in the quick extinction of these species. In Eurasia, it is the mammoth, for example. In the Americas, it is the large mammals. In the case of Australia, it is the large marsupials. When the last ice-age ended and sea level rose, the human-inhabited coastal regions of Australia disappeared and the interior of the continent dried up. Men's hunting action combined with natural climate change to end the hunters-menstruating women's paradise. "Humans' use of fire in grass-burning and in driving game almost certainly had profound consequences... It was this which must have led to the relatively recent supplanting of fire-sensitive shrubs and trees by fire-resistant eucalypts over much of the continent. The early giant marsupials were browsers, needing large quantities of foliage, and it seems likely that many of the trees and plants they ate were drastically reduced by human use of the fire-stick" (p. 450). "[I]t seems likely that wherever game became scarce, the temptation would have been to chase after prey animals wherever they were encountered -- regardless of what women or the moon were doing. Women, moreover, may have been forced to disperse for much of each year in relatively small, loosely organized bands or family units, isolated from one another as they attempted to maximize their foraging success by covering wide areas" (p. 451). Thus "the Aborigines' myths are in essence correct. Women once manifested synchrony, and then lost it" (ibid.). What is more important, we hypothesize, is that men were now forced to concentrate their energy on specific lands favorable to the extraction of energy the group needed to survive, thus giving rise to sedentary territoriality passed along through the paternal lines. (More below.) The environmental, ecological condition was by then set for a male symbolic counter-revolution.
The Rainbow Snake. Knight thinks that this mysterious Australian mythic being refers in fact metaphorically to -- that is, is a mythic codification of -- menstrual solidarity itself (p. 456). We would have to disagree. As we argue elsewhere that human spirituality is a function of the pre-scientific, functional intuition of the law of Conservation, the Rainbow Snake in fact just is the Australian way of conceptualizing the "sacred," i.e. the undifferentiated energetic substratum of being from which all individual beings crystallize and emerge -- like mana, maat, Dao, hupokeimenon: "Maddock... suggests that 'what is called the Rainbow Serpent is but a visually striking image of force or vitality [i.e. "energy" as the real substance of material being], a conception that cannot adequately be given figurative expression'. As evidence, he cites the Dalabon term bolung, which signifies not only 'rainbow', 'snake' and 'the mother of all' but also 'ambiguity in form, creativity, power, and time long past'" (p. 455). As the substratum of being the Rainbow Snake is, just like the other primitive concepts of the sacred, air, the atmosphere, the sea, the water... and blood -- that which runs through all beings as their underlying substance; this is why the Rainbow Snake is spoken of as "the mother of all". And it is as such that it naturally incorporates the notion of cyclicity because the cycles of nature (seasons, moon phases, etc.) are simply its internal metabolic rhythm: "As a first approach to an understanding of the Dalabon (central Arnherm Land) term for rainbow snake, bolung, [Maddock] suggests that we should 'lay stress on the cyclicity embedded in the concept and... draw attention to the role of cyclical thinking in Aboriginal thought generally'" (p. 456). As at this time the human society is considered as an integral component of the entire cosmos itself conceived as an organism, social cyclicity -- rituals at definite intervals, which we show elsewhere to be the primitive attempt to fight the natural entropy-increase and which therefore is understood as society's eating (full of energy - gradual starvation - the need to eat again: and this is the entropic meaning, as understood by the primitives, behind Knight's concept of social rhythm as binarily structured around a ritual-production phase and an orgy-consumption phase) -- follows from natural cyclicity: "Stanner confirms that Aboriginal 'social time' is 'bent' into cycles or circles, each cycle being in essence 'a principle for dealing with social inter-relatedness'. He adds that this social cyclicity is integral to the concept of 'the Dreaming', a concept usually inseparable from 'Rainbow' and/or 'Snake'. Certainly it is the case that Aboriginal paintings and depictions of Snake/ Rainbow/ Dreaming mythic powers and personnages recurrently take the form of circles, concentric circles and curvilinear motifs of all kinds, often in association with women's bodies..." (ibid.). The parallel of the European Upper Paleolithic cave art with this (this to be considered later) reveals that such "ideology" is not just a local phenomenon, but "human" in general.
Of course, though lacking reference to the ultimate foundation for the human experience of the sacred (the primitive experience of thermodynamics), Knight's insight into the Rainbow Snake is otherwise quite insightful or even correct. Underlying the Rainbow Snake symbolism is the universal human association of the snake-like creature -- the raw/savage sacred or source of being which consists essentially in a sort of cyclicity -- with (in addition to that cyclicity) wetness, hence with menstrual blood and blood in general, with incest, kinship, night, raw meat, meat-sharing, stormy and rainy weather, stream, river, "that which flows", and sea -- and consequently its universal opposition to marital sex, cooked meat, fire. This comes about through the role played by the primitive experience of the sacred in the primordial sex-strike of women. "Etymology in some instances seems to confirm this. In the Khoekhoe language, for example, the words for 'snake' -- |aub -- and 'fountain' -- |aus -- are etymologically almost identical, the difference being that the first ends with the feminine suffix, -s, while the second takes its masculine counterpart, -b. Sharing the common root, |au, both terms originally meant 'the flowing one' or 'the flow-er'. Animal or human blood is 'the flowing one' in a similar sense; in Khoekhoe, the color red, |ava, takes its origin from |au, 'to bleed'; hence |ava or |aua, blood-like, blood-colored - i.e. red" (p. 485). Originally, it seems then, women's sex-strike, that is, their experience of each individual woman's being synchronized and so submerged into a single collectivity, of solidarity, of supraorganismic formation, is symbolized by the mythic language of their being swallowed up by or melted into a giant snake symbolizing (cyclical) un-differentiation -- primordially, therefore, women's synchronous menstruation "should be depictable as a snake-mother's or rainbow's drawing of women into a watery [i.e. undifferentiated] world", "as 'snake women', with half of their being or their time spent in a 'wet' element or phase [i.e. during menstruation and when they were untouchable], and half in the 'dry' [i.e. menses ending and women ready for cooking and marital sex]" (p. 458), this "snake" corresponding to the primordial form of the Guardian Spirit of the Game Animals, or the Master or Mistress of Game (p. 459; le Maître des animaux) -- and this claim of Knight's means here also that this sex-strike is since the beginning a part of, and receives its ideological justification by means of, the first-awakened human experience of the sacred, of spirituality. This primordial myth, perhaps first conceived in Southern Africa 100,000 years ago within the context of the first sex-strike and sham menstruation ritual, then survives until the present day in distorted form in the folklorist stories about the "Dragon" found all over the world: distorted because it has usually been inverted in its meaning by patriarchal counter-revolution: "In most of the world's great patriarchal foundation myths -- Perseus and Andromeda, Heracles and the Hydra, Zeus and Typhon, Marduk and Tiamat, Indra and Vritra, St. George and the Dragon and so forth... -- a coiling, wet, reptilian, blood-red, fire-breathing 'plumed' or 'winged' Serpent with its multiple heads and all-seeing eyes carries off marriageable maidens to the world beyond men's reach, doing so periodically and to the accompaniment of flood tides and storms" (p. 491). In this mythic logic is hidden the primordial scene of bleeding women's periodically (during every new moon) merging into a single undifferentiated flowing entity (snake, dragon) and going out-of-reach of men (sex-strike). But after the "patriarchal inversion" the logic changes as men re-establish their right to take women: "Women are considered to be in need of male rescue from this fate, a task which is accomplished by the patriarchal hero only after an immense struggle in which the cords or coils binding the earth to the heaven are cut and the magical potencies of the dragon -- including above all its power over women -- are triumphantly stolen for the benefit of mankind" (p. 491 - 2). But do not misunderstand: this "usurpation" or the break-up of women's sex-refusing solidarity is not about getting sex anyway (like "rape"), but corresponds to the "customers'" becoming triumphant over the "pimps-prostitutes" in getting sex, i.e. getting sex on the former's terms rather than the other way round such as in traditional matriliny, i.e. the establishment of patriliny with the exchange of women at the expense of matriliny with prostitution, and this patriliny is now the "cultural mode", this being symbolized in myths by the masculine hero's slaying of the dragon. (What we are specifically learning from Knight's theory is that, contrary to the patriarchal ideology which many feminists have also adopted, the original, women's power was the power of prostitution -- in the beginning women used men's need for their body to command men's action and extract meat from them -- and that men took this power away from women precisely by denying women the power to prostitute themselves -- by exchanging them instead. The contemporary re-flourishing of prostitution or commercial sex in post-industrialized societies, therefore, far from being an index of women's continuous oppression, actually points to women's recovery of their primordial power. )
In Australia the "Dragon" or "Serpent" myth, although also "patriarchally tempered with", is however purer than among the classical civilizations. Knight selects the story of "The Two Wawilak Sisters" (p. 462; prevalent in the northern and western regions of Australia) as the ideally representative:
At the beginning of time, two sisters were traveling across the landscape giving names to the features of a previously unnamed world. One carried a child; the other was pregnant. They had both committed incest in their own country, the country of the Wawilak. One carried the child of her brother; the other carried the child of her father in her womb. [I.e. sisters and their male kin pimps = solidarity = kinship = incest.] Carrying spears and stones of the men of their country, they carried food and hunted game, prophesying that everything they collected would soon become set apart (sacred/taboo).
At last, having traversed many countries, they arrived at a waterhole in which, unknown to them, dwelt the great Rainbow snake. This snake was a kinsperson to the sisters. [I.e. the snake = the kin collective as a single undifferentiated unit.] As the pregnant sister felt she was about to give birth, the other sister began to help her. They camped by the waterhole and lit a fire on which to cook their hunted game.
As the sister, helped by her companion, began to give birth, afterbirth blood began flowing into the sacred pool, polluting it and arousing the Rainbow snake. A rain cloud, lightning flashes and a rainbow appeared in the sky: the snake was emerging in anger from its hole, unleashing the season of rain, floods and storms. [I.e. the waters, etc., as the symbols of streaming undifferentiation.] The night was dark except for the thin curve of the moon. As the woman's genital blood flowed, the cooking fire became suddenly ineffective. The plants and game, which the women had collected for food refused to cook, jumped up alive from the fire on which they had been placed and dove like men into the nearby blood-streaked waterhole. [I.e. menstruation = anti-cooking and anti-fire = starvation = dark moon.] The well waters began to rise.
"Go away! Go away!," the sisters cried, as they became aware of the immense snake in the sky. They did not know, that the snake was their kinsperson. Seized with fear, they danced to make the snake go away. But the dancing brought on the second sister's menstrual flow, attracting the snake even more. The waterhole began overflowing, flooding the dry land all around them. [I.e. solidarity is accomplished through sham-menstruation dance.]
Now, filled with foreboding and despair, the sisters fled into a menstrual hut that they had built. Inside the hut, they were both shedding blood [i.e. menstrual seclusion, refusal of sex.], and as they sang "Yurlunggur and menstrual blood" -- the most taboo and potent of the songs known to them -- the angry snake thrust its nose into the hut and swallowed the women and their children alive. [I.e. solidarity is firstly constructed by the sisters' synchronized bleeding -- their blood combines (p. 460) -- and then symbolized by all kin's being swallowed or "melted" into the streaming cyclical snake.]
Black clouds now blotted out the sky, and rain crashed down in a fierce storm. As the waters enveloped the world, the women continued to bleed. Inside the snake, the women began to undergo a transformation, moving into another realm, beyond death. The two sisters became the snake. [I.e. solidarity is achieved.] In a voice of thunder, the great snake roared. It was the spirits of the two sisters who were speaking out of the snake's mouth. "We are here now," the sisters said. "The snake has eaten us. We are the Marraian, the sacred knowledge of Wittee (the snake). Our spirits talk through Wittee for another world." The snake became erect, like a tree, its head stretching high into the clouds, and the sisters in this way continued to give names to the world.
The story captures all the details of the symbolism of the sex-strike, and, as such, must be the most primitive. We will presently see how new details get added to it and its meaning thence modified when males succeed in their symbolic counter-revolution.
When the ecological and material pre-condition (below) is present for men to take over the female initiative (through sex-strike rituals) in the organization of "the mode and relations of production and consumption", shall we say, men take over women's ritual initiative as well ("male usurpation of female rituals"). It is then that women's (or women's blood's) sacred rawness or raw sacredness which dissolves order when un-controlled changes into pure entropic forces which dissolve anyway and all the time. Originally, women refused sex to men -- imposed ceremonial chastity -- during the dark moon in order to concentrate men's mind on the impending hunt. So, "if women were on sex strike, then men had to be doing something in that period, too -- something which did not involve sex" (p. 405) but which concentrated their energy and internal order in preparation for the upcoming challenge. This, according to Knight, was how such ritual practice as the Amerindian sweat-lodge tradition developed, where, for example, "[i]n preparation for all important undertakings, Yurok men went into their specially heated lodges to sweat and to train spiritually for ten days -- precisely the period of time that women stayed in menstrual seclusion" (p. 404). The primitives, as we explain elsewhere, because of their functional experience with thermodynamics, use sweating or blood-letting (more below) or fasting as the purification technique to concentrate their order by either expelling the residues of entropic disorder from their body or by not squandering their order and energy on pleasure -- on food and sex! Thus even during this early stage just before the impending counter-revolution men had already re-interpreted women's refusal of sex as sexual abstinence they themselves had initiated in order to not squander away their energy and order on pleasures before important undertakings that would require heavy energetic investment. So, after the male take-over of the female ritual initiatives, the meaning of ceremonial chastity before hunting is completely reversed to now become a necessary male initiative because "women are simply harmful to hunting" (p. 390), i.e. they are pure entropic forces that will dissipate away men's concentrated order. Blood by this time however remains somewhat in the ambiguous, intermediate zone between raw sacredness and pure entropic forces. In the case that (among the societies of northerly latitudes) "hunters [will] lose all their luck when they allow a menstruant to come into even the slightest possibility of contact with their hunting gear" (p. 397) or that (among the Cuiva Indians of eastern Columbia) "[c]ontact with women during these periods [i.e. menstruation and postpartum] is considered dangerous for men, since it would result in awapa, an illness which makes one vomit all one's food", men's internal order seems to be dissipated away just as much by an excess of energy as by pure dissoluting forces. But the more the interpretation leans toward the latter the more women's menstruation and child-birth activities become tabooed because they are shameful rather than too awe-inspiring.
Much of the "religious" aspects of the daily activities of the primitives take off from this point, such as that "just as a woman should separate herself carefully from her own baby, so a man should separate himself from his kills" (p. 395), because game blood has by now become (ambiguously) polluting to men's order and bloody woman, to the baby's order. Coupled with the relics of sex-strike habits (no meat and sex during the new moon, and meat-eating and orgy during the full moon), the degraded meaning of bleeding woman then leads to the prohibition not only against men's touching their own bloody hunt but also against menstruating women's touching that bloody hunt -- because the meat must be reserved for cooking during the full moon, and not before: Hence "[t]he most common colloquial expression for menstruation [among the Eastern Chewong, a small Malay group] is 'I don't want meat'; other terms for the condition are 'moon's children' and 'moon blood'", resulting in the "injunction against [menstruating women's] eating meat... on the ground that 'blood may not be mixed with blood'" (p. 395), which is an instance of Alain Testart's "ideology of blood" -- the counter-position of menstrual blood at the one hand and the blood of the animal on the other (Essai ur les fondements de la division sexuelle du travail chez les chasseurs-cueilleurs, 1986) -- "at the root of all human symbolic-cultural traditions" (p. 396). Further analogy then not only results in the prevalent ritual need to keep menstruating women away from cooking, fire, and sunlight in general and so in seclusional darkness but also in men's identification of prohibited menstruating women as "raw" and of sexually available blood-free women as "cooked", like Lévi-Strauss' formula in Mythologiques, "raw is to cooked as kinship is to marriage" (cited by Knight, p. 407).
Knight's hypothesis for the next stage was that males usurped the female initiative in rituals specifically through an artificially induced, "male symbolic menstruation" while simultaneously downgrading the natural female menstruation from raw sacredness to evil-polluting. Typologically intermediate between the sweating rituals of purification and the male symbolic menstruation is the blood-letting means of purification.
When a Wogeo Islander (Papua New Guinea) has been dogged by bad hunting luck for a period, he soon begins to suspect the cause: it is an excess of sex [i.e. "women" have dispersed his order, polluted his being]. For this weakness there is only one remedy... an immediate gashing of the penis to make it bleed and thereby remove the "impurities" arising from contact with women. "The salutary effects of penile surgery", Hogbin... writes, "are said to be immediately observable. The man's body loses its tiredness, his muscles harden, his step quickens, his eyes grow bright, and his skin and hair develop a luster.... This belief provides a means whereby the success of all perilous or doubtful undertakings can be guaranteed. Warriors make sure to menstruate before setting out on a raid, traders before carving an overseas canoe or refurbishing its sails, hunters before weaving a new net for trapping pigs (p. 429).
We show elsewhere that human rituals are all causal (means-and-ends) in intentions, and that they can be categorized as either ergonic-consumptive (endergonic and exergonic) or defecative means to restore order (either of oneself or of the cosmos) from entropic exhaustion. These purification means just seen are the "defecative" kind.
From this then the male initiation rites through symbolic menstruation -- kept secret from women in men's Lodge -- develop, and are found in the Native Americas and in Africa, but especially in Australia and Papua New Guinea. By this, men's "menstrual blood" becomes sacred (not just [-] but also [+] !), life-giving, order-restoring, and phallic, and women's, polluting and order-dissoluting (evil [-]), "the first symbolizing solidarity and power, the second, isolation and exclusion from power" (p. 431).
In a general way, the completed usurpation has left its signs in the myths, prevalent among the hunter-gatherers in the Americas, Australia, and Papua New Guinea, about a dark, "matriarchy" past before the establishment of the present, "good" form. For example, "The Origin of the Kina", among the Yamana of Tierra del Fuego:
In the beginning, women had sole power. They gave orders to the men, who obeyed just as women do today. The men took care of the children, tended the fire, and cleaned the skins, while the women did no work in the hut at all. That was the way it was always to be. The women invented the Great Kina Hut and everything which goes on inside it, and then fooled the men into thinking they were spirits. They stepped out of the Great Hut, painted all over, with masks on their heads. [No-dance: menstruating animals!] The men did not recognise their wives, who, simulating the spirits, beat the earth with dried skins so that it shook. Their yells, howls and roars so frightened the men that they hastened into their huts and hid, full of fear. [The No-dance has succeeded.]
But one day, the Sun-man, who supplied the women-spirits in the Kina hut with an abundance of game, overheard the voices of two girls while he was passing a lagoon. Being curious, he hid in the bushes and saw the girls washing off painting which was characteristic of the spirits when they appeared. They had also been practising their imitations of the voices of the spirits. Suddenly, the Sun-man confronted them, insisting that they reveal to him what went on in the Kina hut. Finally, they confessed to him: "It is the women themselves who paint themselves and put on masks; then they step out of the hut and show themselves to the men. There are no other spirits there. It is the women themselves who yell and howl; in this way they frighten the men." The Sun-man then returned to the camp and exposed the fraudulent women. In revenge the men stormed the Kina hut, and a great battle ensued in which the women were either killed or transformed into animals. From that time on, the men have performed in the Kina hut; they do this in the same manner as the women before them.
The counter-revolution having succeeded, women's transformation into animal has also been degraded to a form of punishment. The "male symbolic menstruation" in all places usually constitutes the main content of boys' initiation ritual just as girls used to be initiated into women's "sex-strike union" when they had their first period. "Where hunter-gatherers focused mainly on female initiation rites (as was generally the case among the San and some other African groups), then the mythico-ritual structures were not necessarily oppressive of women" but in fact preserved the hints of the female prostitutive power in the initial sex-strike situation (p. 41). "But when hunter-gatherers -- as in much of Australia -- put the major emphasis on male initiation ritualism", though gender segregation remained effected by "menstrual blood", this "menstrual blood" was now that of men, which the boys shed for the first time during their initiation (ibid.). Knight, thus again, focuses on the Australian Aborigines as having most developed and preserved the "male symbolic menstruation", usually in the form of circumcision, during initiations to create male solidarity. "The process typically involves seizing frightened boys from the arms of their mothers in the women's camp and then carrying them off to be swallowed by the Snake within the men's sacred ground. There follow procedures such as cutting the boy's fresh, anointing their bodies with 'menstrual' blood, placing them in a pit or other encircled space symbolizing an immense womb or women's hut, blindfolding them, declaring that the Snake/ Mother/ Rainbow has now swallowed them [such to indicate their being melted into the male patrilineal collective] -- and finally, releasing them back for their mothers to see, now covered in red ochre and/or blood and 'reborn'" (p. 475). The interclan circumcision ceremony of the Yolngu, the Djungguan, is specifically mentioned as the ritual re-enactment of the Wawilak Sisters myth (p. 470), and the natives themselves interpret the blood running from the incision as the menses of the Wawilak women. When this reversal or replacement or usurpation has thus succeeded, the previous myth of the sisters acquires a new ending about men:
The sun went down. They left the blood till morning. They slept, and while they were in deep sleep they dreamed of what the two women sang and danced when they were trying to keep Yurlunggur from swallowing them. The Wawilak women came back as spirits and taught the two men...
The two sisters said to men "This is all now. We are giving you this dream so you can remember these important things. You must never forget these things we have told you tonight. You must remember every time each year these songs and dances. You must paint with blood and feathers for Marndiella, Gunabibi, and Djungguan. You must dance all the things we saw and named on our journey, and which ran away into the well" (p. 466).
Through this addition men became the rightful owner of the whole Dreaming business -- the Sisters themselves had wanted men to keep the Dreaming rituals -- and "[t]he very same 'All Mother', 'Snake Woman' or 'Dragon' which, as a collective construct, had crystallized women's consciousness of their reproductive/ menstrual solidarity, now became progressively inverted, to the point at which this blood-empowered monster could be represented as periodically 'angered' by the smell of menstruating women. It was now stated that the Rainbow Snake... demanded and insisted upon the marginalization and isolation of menstruating women" (p. 522). Furthermore, women now must give birth alone (p. 474). All meaning had been inverted, from sacred (-) to simply (-), so that "the nub of the story" had become that "the Two Sisters supposedly 'pollute' a waterhole said to be 'sacred'... women in real life are often told not to approach sacred waterholes on account of their polluting [i.e. entropic (-)] blood" (p. 469). This is why men's initiation rituals must be kept secret from women, resulting in the division between an "insider's meaning" -- "what men said in secret among themselves", i.e. "that if the waterhole of Yurlunggur the Great Snake is sacred at all, it is actually because of having been 'polluted' in this way" (p. 469): the Truth -- and an "outsider's meaning" which men told to women: the surface meaning of that "symbolic system in which menstruation and birth were rendered disempowering to women" (p. 522) but which empowered men: "when the dancing men approach the women and children, they discriminate against the women and girls, resolving to swallow only male offspring, on the paradoxical grounds that their womenfolk are not bloody whereas their sons are... men and boys can be swallowed because they do menstruate and do smell of blood" (p. 478).
The material precondition for patriliny, the exchange of women, and tribal male-domination. Knight notes that Mary Douglas has "linked patriliny with area-intensive foraging patterns, [and] matriliny with area-extensive ones." (p. 304). "Comparing numerous African cultures of different kinds, [Douglas] found that matriliny flourishes wherever there is an expansionist economy demanding flexibility of association, but in which despite material abundance 'the value of material goods is much less than the value of persons.' Matriliny collectivises and distributes male labour widely across space. This is because (unlike patriliny) it splits the nuclear family, making a woman (for example) remain dependent upon her brothers even when she is married. A man's 'own' child is his sister's, not his wife's, and a woman is given numerous real and classificatory brothers on whom she can call for support - not just a husband. Douglas... established that this is adaptive wherever collective male labour is very productive, highly valued and must be mobilised in situations requiring loyalties to be distributed across space:
To sum up the argument so far: matriliny provides the framework of a corporate descent group without making exclusive demands on the loyalties of males. It even forces men, whichever pattern of residence is adopted, to move from their natal village to another. It forces the local unit to accept newcomers within its bounds. It requires all males to accept conflicting responsibilities. In short it is a more dilute form of corporate grouping, less exacting than patrilineal descent. The latter merely permits weak female links between descent groups. Where residence harmonises with descent it is at the cost of wider forms of allegiance. Matriliny is a form of kinship organisation which creates in itself cross-cutting ties of a particularly effective kind. This is not to suggest that societies with patrilineal systems do not have such ties; they can produce them by means of cult or other associations, but matrilineal descent produces them by itself. This is in its nature. If there is any advantage in a descent system which overrides exclusive, local loyalties, matriliny has it [Douglas, "Is matriliny doomed in Africa?" in Douglas & Kaberry (eds) Man in Africa, 1969, p. 12).]
These space-embracing, non-territorial, gender-segregating, coalition-forming characteristics of matriliny would have emerged directly from women's sex-strike action as specified in this [Knight's] work" (Knight, p. 304 - 5).
The beginning state of kinship as predicted by the sex-strike model, however, Knight specifies further, is not necessarily purely matrilineal but could be somewhat ambiguous. "Only if the sex-strike pattern became permanent and unremitting would all traces of patrilineal kinship-solidarity be eliminated from life. Conversely, only if what we might term the 'marginal conjunction' (post-sex-strike) phase were permitted to stabilize and become permanent would cognatic and/or patrilineal forms of kinship solidarity begin to assume primacy in place of the former state of balance or alternation" (p. 306; emphasis added). Matriliny (where the pimps-prostitutes predominate over the "customers") can be recast as the beginning "sexual selection process" where females select males and patriliny as the later reversed process (males selecting females, i.e. customers now attaining mastery over the pimps and prostitutes: "the denial of prostitution"). The intense focus on a limited area (whether for hunting or for cultivation) tends to stabilize post-sex-strike (conjunction) phase into a permanent institution -- and so patriliny -- such that authoritative males (as "customers") can reverse the original sexual selection process and select females of the other moiety as mates instead of being selected by females (i.e. being practically enslaved by the latter in order to obtain sex, as in pride-services). This is why the extensive (formative) phase of both the hunting-gathering and the agricultural mode tends to associate with matriliny and sexual selection by females (and/or women with their male kin prostituting themselves for the meat of the men of the other matrilineal clan) and the intensive phase of both, with patriliny and sexual selection by males (and/or men of different patrilineal clans exchanging their sisters or daughters; the "patriarchal" mode: see diagram below). We will learn more about this reversal of sexual selection process (which corresponds to the "male destruction of female prostitution") later by considering Andrew Lehman's theory. But it must furthermore be noted that each of the two intensive phases, with the greater development of territoriality, corresponds also to the formation of an interaction sphere. We have thus the correlation between patriliny, sexual selection by males, intensive subsistence or territoriality, and an interaction sphere.
extensive -------- intensive matriliny -------> patriliny (hunting-gathering) / / / / / / matriliny -------> patriliny (agriculture)
In the Australian case, the deterioration of the ecological environment, as mentioned, must have induced the males of the Aborigines to switch to the mode of intensive exploitation of particular locales, which led not only to the imposition of patrilineal divisions upon the matrilineal ones (below), but also to the just-described replacement of the female initiation ritualism by the male initiation order which in fact served as the ideological complement to patrilineal territoriality. The need to maintain the metabolism of the supraorganism (i.e. of the whole human group) in face of environmental changes made such transition to tribal male-dominance necessary, and the natives' assessment that "without male intervention to sustain synchrony on another level, all ritual structure would simply have been lost" (p. 451) refers essentially to the same necessity. Once again, the thesis of our thermodynamic interpretation of history with regard to the origin of male-domination: the exigency and primacy of supraorganismic metabolism.
Once the material precondition for patriliny (the intensive mode of exploitation) is there and the male "usurpation" of the female ritual order has been accomplished, the elementary structure of kinship can go through changes also. Either the dualist system of opposite sexes from its two matrilineal moieties marrying each other gets modified into a dualist system of two patrilineal moieties doing the same, or a patrilineal dualist dichotomy gets super-imposed upon an original matrilineal dualist dichotomy to result in a system with four sections. And "the same process can repeat itself, and the group will comprise eight sections instead of four" (Les structures élémentaires de la parenté, p. 170). This superposition type thus becomes, as mentioned, the "bilineal" instead of the "unilineal descent". The prescription of cross-cousin marriage thus results, not only from Knight's sex-strike principle of "conjoint only in the same generation so as to maximize exploitation of male muscle power", but also from this superpostion of patriliny upon matriliny. Such superposition is for example most clearly illustrated in Ashanti terminology: where the patrilineal division is signified by ntoro or "spirit" -- clearly reflecting a male spiritual birth characterizing a male ancestor-cult (see the same in the case of China later) -- and the matrilineal, by mogya "blood", or abusua "clan" (ibid., p. 124) -- obviously reflecting Knight's sex-strike solidarity. The "blood" division is evidently the original, and the "spiritual" posterior.
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