Re: Incest taboos

Gil Hardwick (
Wed, 03 May 1995 06:11:55 GMT

In article <3nv2me$>, Pamela N. Lindell ( writes:
>I think this fits into Levi-Strauss' "self vs. other" explanation of the
>incest taboo as, but I think Malinowski's family structure
>argument is worth considering also -- that is, sexual relations between
>"family" memebers (whoever they might be) are not conducive to family

I hesitate to propose such a polarity, however. The complex rather
provides for a different kind of relationship between brother and
sister than it is between man and wife. In contemporary English we
would refer to the difference as licence TO, rather than a taboo
AGAINST, which likewise can be negotiated once we get away from the
obviously immediate sibling set who will simply not be in the habit
of "staring at you" at all, as the expression goes.

Here specifically the duty of care within families which must continue
long past puberty, when the rules of brother-sister "avoidance" are
invoked, is exercised through one's brother-in-law. He is the one who
has married your sister, and he is the one answerable to you if she
comes to harm, for example. Knowing who the in-laws are going to be,
you see, can be something of a problem.

If we want to get a grip on incest, we must necessarily fix a starting
point on ego, and then count through all the different categories of
relationship ego is obligated to pursue. The whole ego-indentity then
is far greater than the sum all the parts, and that needs to be taken
well into the account when considering how it is all going to work
out in practice, and how the elder women in particular are able to
arrive at a final decision on whether a particular budding liaison is
going to be allowed to proceed.

The following assumes a male ego only because I am male, but the same
can be said for the converse circumstance where a boy starts panting
too heavily after a particular girl.

For the anthropologist to arrive at any real grasp of the complexity
of the problem, they must necessarily embed themself within the kin
system itself, and take on the role of ego. Now I tell you that's a
very difficult thing to do when you are single and working alone out
there, and some very pretty young girl starts staring at you; that is,
gets the hots for your body.

If you hadn't taken time out early in the piece to get on side with
your own granny-mob, you're going to be in very big trouble indeed. It
doesn't matter if you'd actually been fooling around with her or not;
it really only matters that lust has raised its ugly head once more
and people are being distracted by it. Everyone has to stop what they
are doing to sort out how you are related before they can comment on
the matter at all.

The decision has to be made on whether she will be taken away by her
sisters for a "cold shower" (and you by your brothers), or whether
the new in-laws will set aside a place for you both. In the meantime
once it has all started she will probably be kept away well out of
sight anyway so as not to bring shame on her family with too public a
display of her intentions.

Keeping it in mind of course that people normally went naked.

Either way, managing the event takes up quite a lot of resources, and
at the very least you are probably going to have to pay the heavy fees
accumulating from such involved and time-consuming consultations among
the elders.

Levi-Strauss had unfortunately missed experiencing the social dynamic
at play during his far too brief field encounter. Kennelm Burridge as
well as Malinovski (from his diaries in particular) represent far more
useful reference.

He who refuses to qualify data is doomed to rant.
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