XM118 A L P Cameron to Howitt 3 August 1882



Mulurulu Balranald [July-crossed out] August 3rd 1882

A.W. Howitt Esq Sale, Gipsland [sic]

Sir Yours of 22nd ult. is to hand as well as the M.S. for which accept my best thanks. I read the latter great interest and as you asked me to express my view freely I will do so.

My essay was finished before I received the M.S. but it would not have altered any views I had formed because in most of what you say I concur. As you are aware I always looked upon the sub divisions into four classes as an extension of a reformatory movement having for its object the prohibition of consan-guinous marriages and this I have mentioned in my paper. I scarcely think it can be showed that the cause of prohibitions of intercourse between son in law and mother in law arises in the manner indicated in your paper. You commenced your argument by saying "I take first the more ancient system having only two classes with uterine descent"; but your argument is confined to this system as you do not refer afterwards to any other system.

[written perpendicularly at top of page] Do you think that the legend concerning the Bukumuru is connected with the totem system I have an idea that certain groups say kindred having totem names believe that they are descended from an ancestor who at the general transformation was changed into the animal wholse name they now bear.

Last edit 8 days ago by ALourie


Even were all tribes divided into two classes only I don't think the argument would hold good

In brief the argument is this.

1st Mother in Law and Son in Law are connected by marriage and it would therefore be polution[sic] for any intercourse to take place

2nd The class laws are unable to guard against this polution[sic] because the mother in law belongs to a class from which her son in law might take a wife

3rd It was therefore resolved to promulgate a social edict prohibiting intercourse of any kind between mother in law and son in law

Now if this were the reason should there not also be a social edict against intercourse between father and daughter or between uncle and niece or any other pairs that might marry but for the relationship that already exists.

1st Father and daughter are related by blood and it would therefore be polution [sic] for any intercourse to take place between them.

2nd The class laws are unable to guard against this polution [sic] because a man's daughter belongs to a class from which he may lawfully take a wife

3rd Not withstanding this it was not considered necessary to promulgate a social edict against intercourse between them.

Last edit over 1 year ago by ALourie


You say that you do not think the social prohibition a whit stronger that the class law that prohibits intermarriage of brother + sister: In this I concur. Further as you say that although this is the case " the inability in a man to marry a woman of the same class name as himself does not appear either when he is single or married, unless upon enquiry; the prohibition between a man and his wife's mother instantly stands out in bold relief when he obtains a mother in law by his marriage." But I think the prohibition between Father and daughter stands out quite as prominently if not more so.

The argument does not apply in any way to tribes divided with 4 classes because in such cases the mother in law is not of a class from which her [mother - crossed out] son in law could take a wife. Again in tribes having agnatic descent according to your rules the prohibition should be between a man and his son's wife because she is then of a class from which he might take a wife.

It may be said that the prohibition came into existence before a agnatic descent was the law of this tribe and before the tribe was subdivided into four classes, but if this were the case I think that the custom would have fallen

Last edit over 1 year ago by ALourie


into disuetude when it became no longer necessary. We do not however find that the prohibition is any stronger or any weaker among tribes divided into four classes. I cannot say whether it is less so among tribes having agnatic descent as I have not come in contact with any, but as you say the prohibition is universal throughout Australia It is fair to conclude that it is not.

I find it impossible to obtain any reason for it from the natives. Our very intelligent fellow with whom I was conversing on the subject said "You will never find it out because we don't know it ourselves" and added that he believed the law was handed down to them from the Būkūmŭru who first inhabited the earth and were afterwards transformed into animals.

I think very little of Mr McLennan's style of criticism which appears to be based upon a misconception if not ignorance of the Australian class laws. I would be much obliged by your forwarding me any papers on the subject when you are done with them.

I will try to get you the word for man among the Darling River tribe. The Darling tribe about Pooncarie and I think nearby to Wilcannia is called Barkingi Did you get Taplin's book safely. I return manuscript by this post and thanking you very much for your kind offer to aid me. My dear Sir Yours sincerely Cameron|A L P Cameron

Last edit 3 months ago by ALourie
Displaying all 4 Page