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Base Camp

The Delight Makers

Chapter I. Excerpts on matrilineal social structure

When Europeans began to colonize American in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the social organization of its inhabitants presented a picture such as had disappeared long before on the continent of Europe. Everywhere there prevailed linguistic segregation - divisions into autonomous groups called tribes or stocks, and within each of these, equally autonomous clusters, whose mutual alliance for purposes of sustenance and defense constituted the basis of tribal society. The latter clusters were the clans, and they originated during the beginnings of the human family.

Every clan formed a group of supposed blood-relatives, looking back to a mythical or traditional common ancestor. Decent from the mother being always plain, the clan claimed decent in the female line even if every recollection of the female ancestor were lost, and theoretically all the members of the clan were so many brothers and sisters. This organization still exists in the majority of tribes; the members of one clan cannot inter-marry, and, if all the women of a clan die, that clan dies out also, since there is nobody left to perpetuate it.

Each clan managed its own affairs, of which no one outside of its members needed to know anything. Since the husbands always belonged to a different consanguine group from their wives, and the children followed their mother's line of descent, the family was permanently divided. There was really no family in our sense of the word. The Indian was an individual in name only. He is, in addition, distinguished by the name of his clan, which in turn has its proper cognomen. The affairs of the father's clan did not concern his wife or his children, whereas a neighbor might be his confidant on such matters. The mother, son, and daughter spoke among themselves of matters of which the father was not entitled to know, and about which he scarcely ever felt enough curiosity to inquire. Consequently there grew a habit of not caring about other people's affairs unless they affected one's own, and of confiding secrets to those only whom they should concern, and who were entitles to know them. In the course of time the habit became a rule of education.