From Mother-Right to Father-Right
By A. W. HOWITT, R.G.S., and the Rev. L. FISON, M.A.

[Extracted from Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. 12 (1883), pp. 30-46.]

Three statements may be made without fear of contradiction concerning the line of descent among savage and barbaric tribes of the present day:

1. That many tribes reckon descent through females, while many others reckon it through males.
2. That of the latter class most if not all bear evident traces of the former regulation.
3. That in all tribes in which traces appear, uterine descent preceded descent through males.

The wider conclusion that all now existing races have passed through the same experience is open to controversy; and though perhaps a strong probability in its favour may be shown, it may be held as doubtful whether it can ever be established as an absolute certainty. Be this as it may, there is a question of scarcely inferior interest to which we may address ourselves with a good hope of success. How was the change of descent effected in those tribes of the present day who are known to have made the change, and what were the causes of the movement?

From what we know of savage tribes, and especially of their reverential obedience to the "customary law," it may be safely asserted that no such movement could be the result of mere caprice. For such a result there must have been an adequate cause, and for such a cause there must have been a sufficient motive.

Supposing a tribe to have descent through females, we can imagine two probable causes of change to the other line of descent—firstly, external impulse, and secondly, a change of circumstances within the tribe, such as would compel the adoption of new arrangements.

External impulse resulting from the coming in from without of a tribe having the more advanced system and the amalgamation of the two tribes by intermarriage, might have this effect. This can be shown to have occurred in some instances, but it does not solve the present question, because the incoming tribe itself may bear evident traces of former uterine succession, and so present the old question for solution. Even if such traces are not to be observed, we cannot accept external impulse as the [p.31] sole primary cause of the movement, unless we take for granted that the immigrants never reckoned descent otherwise than through males, an assumption which cannot be proved.

As far, therefore, as our present purpose is concerned, external impulse of this kind may be set aside. It may have effected the change in particular instances, but it does not effect a solution of the general question.

The second cause advanced (a change of circumstances within the tribe compelling new arrangements) can be shown to have been active and effectual, but the question still remains, "What disturbing element was it that arose within the tribe, upsetting the old regulations, and how did it arise?"

The process under which the change of circumstances was effected may be classed under two heads—(1) orderly movements, (2) disorderly movements. By orderly movements is meant a gradual and peaceful change, resulting from the rise and growth of new ideas accepted by the whole community. By disorderly movement is meant a rebellion against law (i.e., custom) successfully establishing itself and working out its own results: or the enforced segregation of a part of the tribe, resulting in circumstances under which the old regulations can no longer be obeyed.

The working of what we have called orderly movements is plainly seen among agricultural tribes. As long as a tribe of savages continues to be mere hunters and nomadic within certain boundaries which limit the tribal territory, uterine succession works smoothly enough. The entire domain is a hunting-ground common to the tribe, and there is nothing to call for its parcelling out among the tribal subdivisions into which it has broken up by force of its own expansion. It is not asserted that no such tribes reckon descent through males. On the contrary, not a few within our knowledge have this line of descent Our contention is, that if a savage tribe have uterine succession the ancient rule is not likely to be disturbed by disputes among the tribal divisions as to land inheritance. Say, for instance, that a tribe of hunting savages is divided into two exogamous intermarrying classes called respectively A and B. The members of A and of B are distributed over the whole tribal territory, and collectively form the tribe. It is manifest that with exogamous marriage and uterine descent the children of A fathers are B, and the children of B fathers are A. Consequently, where any form of actual inheritance of the land exists, the son cannot inherit from the father, because father and son cannot be of the same class division. The inheritance must go to the sister's son. This arrangement, however, causes no trouble as to land, for the hunting-grounds are common to the whole com- [p.32] munity. Among such tribes the real property is in the game on the land rather than in the land itself.1

But if such a tribe settles down to agriculture, uterine succession soon becomes extremely inconvenient. Property does not now consist in game which roams over the entire common territory. It consists chiefly in agricultural produce grown in particular localities. Residence becomes fixed, the tribe which formerly migrated, either as a whole, or in parts, from one place to another of the common hunting-grounds, dwelling in mere temporary huts, now takes to living in villages which have to be fortified against invaders; and since invasion has to be continually guarded against, the lands in the neighbourhood of the stronghold are the most highly valued. It is dangerous to farm at a distance; thus the valuable land becomes limited in extent, and a fertile plot is a valuable possession, and the tendency is to the division and subdivision of the planting-grounds. Moreover, residence being fixed, it becomes worth while to build more or less substantial houses instead of mere temporary huts, which served the nomad hunters, and to accumulate articles of use and value far more numerous than they could previously afford to encumber themselves with. Under these circumstances we find a growing disinclination on the part of the heirs of a man's body to surrender the inheritance to his sister's children, which, as already pointed out, is the necessary arrangement under uterine succession. Thus in some agricultural tribes who still retain that line of descent, the agnates redeem the inheritance by payment to the sister's children; other tribes meet the difficulty in other ways, so as to enable the son to take his father's land, and it may be laid down as a general rule that when property becomes fixed and localised, the tendency is to inheritance from father to son,2 or at least to inheritance by a group of agnates, and ultimately to the abandonment of uterine succession.

This, however, cannot be the only cause of change in the line of descent among tribes who are known to have advanced from uterine succession to descent through males, for were it so, we [p.33] should find the change effected by those tribes only who have taken to agriculture and settled habitations. But this is not the case. In Australia, for instance, we find side by side with tribes who retain uterine succession, other tribes who are still nomad hunters, ignorant of agriculture, but who reckon descent through males. The supposition that they may have always followed this arrangement is negatived by the fact that they bear numerous and unmistakable traces of the former prevalence of uterine succession among them. Here then we have hunting tribes differing from their neighbours no otherwise than in the feet that they have adopted the higher line of descent and certain modifications of the intersexual relations consequent upon their change of circumstances, and we have now to inquire how that change was effected.

The Australian tribe (or community) presents itself under two aspects, and it is very necessary to see clearly, and to keep well in view, the distinction between them. We may view the tribe as a whole made up of certain exogamous intermarrying classes, or we may study it as a whole made up of certain local divisions, each of which may contain members of all classes aforesaid. The former may be called its social aspect, the latter we may speak of as its local and physical aspect. The two are co-existent and conterminous; they cover and interpenetrate each other, and yet the classes of the one are distinct from the divisions of the other, excepting in rare cases to be mentioned by-and-by, and are subject to quite different organic laws.

Let us for the sake of convenience call the former the social organisation of the tribe, and the latter its local organisation. Let us also (for convenience of distinction) call the subdivisions of the former classes, and those of the latter clans.

Social organisation.—The tribe is generally divided into two or more exogamous intermarrying classes distinguished by titles (badges) which are certainly in some cases, possibly in all, the names of animals. As a general rule each class is again divided into smaller segments also distinguished by animal names.3 These we may call totems since the more convenient term gens is forbidden to us. The individuals bearing these names are scattered throughout the whole tribe, and the classes and totems have perpetual succession through the women who transmit their class and totemic names to their children. This is the [p.34] case where uterine succession prevails; it will be seen, by-and-by, that there are also tribes in whose social organisation the classes and totems are perpetuated through the men, who in these cases transmit their class and totemic names to their children.

Local organisation.—The tribe is also made up of a number of clans or local groups, each of which has a local position in some part of the tribal territory. Its name is usually derived from the locality it occupies, or from certain qualities attributed to it. It has perpetual succession through the males, who hunt over the same tracts of country over which their fathers hunted before them. Its daughters have to become the wives of men belonging to other clans, whose sisters, in turn, come to it as wives. The name of the clan does not change with the successive generations, being in most cases local, but there are instances where being named, as in three of the Gippsland clans, after prominent men, a change would take place when these died, while in the other cases no change would take place unless the name of the locality became altered, or unless the clan changed its location. Such an instance has been mentioned to me by Mr. J. C. Muirhead, of Elgin Downs, in Queensland, where one of the tribal groups changed its location, abandoned its former name, Duringbura, and in its new territory assumed the name of Wandalibura from Wandali, meaning to leave or to throw away.

Each clan is made up of individuals of many or of all the classes and totems; hence, while the clan has perpetual succession through males, and its local name remains constantly the same, the class and totem names of its members, being transmitted through females, change with each generation. In other words, the sons occupy their fathers' hunting-grounds, but they inherit their mothers' names, and therewith the right to certain women for wives—if they can get them.

Thus we see that the social organisation permeates the local. It rules in many cases the assemblies and ceremonial of the tribe; it regulates marriage, descent, and relationship; it orders blood-feud, it prescribes the rites of hospitality, and it even determines the sides to be taken at the ball-play. Nevertheless, the tendency of the local organisation is directly hostile to the social—that is to say, it tends to modification and to change of its rules. It tends to create local interests which may clash with the general, it facilitates separation, and we shall see that in the end it becomes paramount, discarding uterine succession and establishing itself as the local clan with descent through the father, and even perhaps with hereditary chieftainship.4


The distinction between the social organisation and the local is dearly seen when we compare a number of instances, and their differences point very significantly to changes which have been brought about by some cause or other in both organisations. This may be shown by comparing the two extremes of a series of tribes arranged in the subjoined tables. The type nearest to the divided commune with which we are acquainted, is that of which the Kunandaburi tribe may be taken as an instance.5

As a tribe, the Kunandaburi occupied a certain tract of country which was portioned out among its various clans. The authority of the tribe was in the hands of the elder men. What this authority may have amounted to we may fairly conjecture from the known case of a neighbouring and kindred tribe, the Dieri, whose elders ordered the times at which the tribal ceremonies were to be held, and at which certain periodical expeditions should start to the south for red ochre and slabs of freestone, used for grinding seeds, and to the north-west for the narcotic herb Pitcheri. They tried offences against tribal custom, and even, if requisite, ordered the death of the offender at the hands of an armed party (Pinya) selected for the purpose. But as far as we have been able to ascertain, they had no recognised headman or chief.

The tribe, in its social organisation, was divided into two exogamous classes, Mattara and Yungo. These were again divided into two groups of totems, and these totems had the names of animals. The law of marriage was that any totem of Mattara might marry with any totem of Yungo, and vice versa. In practice, the theoretical communal marriage of Mattara with Yungo was thus modified: the parents say of a Mattara girl promised (betrothed her), while she was yet an infant, to some eligible Yungo man outside of certain prohibited degrees.6 When the girl became marriageable, her promised husband, accompanied by his Yungo male contemporaries of his own totem, fetched her from her parents, and then and there the marriage was consummated, not by the husband, but by his confreres, the jus primæ noctis, including all his totemic brethren.7


From this time forward the woman cohabited with the man to whom she had been betrothed, but, with his knowledge, she had also a number of accessory husbands, all of the same class as himself. As, therefore, each of these men was also a unit in other similar combinations, and as their wives were in like case, we have clearly before us the marriage of a group of Tungo men to a group of Mattara women, and vice versa, with habitual cohabitation of pairs of these men and women selected by betrothal. This custom still exists in parts of Australia besides the Cooper's Creek district, and is well known to the settlers, who call the accessory husbands "paramours."8 Descent is here necessarily through the mothers.

Let us now compare with the Kunandaburi a tribe standing at the other and nearer end of the series. For this purpose we may take the Narrinyeri,9 who live at the Murray river mouth, at the Lakes Alexandrina and Albert, and along the Coorong.

The Narrinyeri tribe was made up of a number of clans occupying defined localities. Each clan had a name, derived either from its locality or from some supposed qualities belonging to it. Authority in the tribe was in the hands of a council of elders, under the direction of an elected headman (Rupuli). This council summoned before it offenders, tried them, and inflicted upon them various degrees of punishment. The tribe was also divided in its social organisation into a number of totems, but it had not two primary classes like those of the Kunandaburi, nor were the totems otherwise divided into two distinct intermarrying groups. As a rule, each clan had its own totem or totems, but in rare cases the same totem was found in two different clans. Marriages within the totem and within the clan were forbidden. Women were bartered as wives by their male relatives for goods, such as skin rugs, weapons, &c., and a perpetual reproach lay against a woman if she went to her husband for nothing. Marriage was strictly of individual to individual, and the jus primæ noctis was only exercised in the rare cases of elopement where the parents' consent could not be obtained. In such cases it was exercised by the totemic brethren of the man. Descent was counted through the father only.

The contrast of these two tribes shows only a comparatively slight change in the local organisation, but a very great advance in the social. In the former the principal change has been in the direction of tribal government by an elected chieftain. In the latter there has been a complete advance from group marriage to individual marriage, with only a trace of the earlier [p.37] communal right10 in the usage before noted as accompanying the rare cases of elopement. The two intermarrying classes have disappeared, and in their place the totems have not only acquired greater prominence, but have become organically changed. Under the influence of descent through the father they have become fixed and localised, for the sons not only perpetuate the local clan as before; they now perpetuate the totems also, taking their father's totem, and not their mother's, while their sisters go as wives to other local clans, but do not transmit their totem to their children. In short, mother-right has been supplanted by father-right.

It seems that under this change certain totems have died out. How this process of extinction has operated is not quite clear, but it is evident that when a tribe has adopted father-right and forbids its local clans to marry within themselves, a law which prevents marriage within the clan, no totem whose males have become extinct, either by war or natural decay, can ever revive.

Hence we may assume that the process has been one of "natural selection," with the ultimate result that each clan would come in the end to have one totem, and one only; in other words, the clan would become a localised totemic clan. This result would then have brought the Narrinyeri into the position of many other tribes which have clans with descent through the father and clansmen all of the same blood, and bearing the same "crest" or "badge."

In the annexed Table A are shown, in comparison, the main local and social characteristics of seven tribes, the two already described being at the extremes. The particulars shown may almost be said to be an epitome of the Australian tribal system.

In endeavouring to trace the causes which have produced the change of descent from the mother to the father, we must not overlook the facts that what we have called the local organisation has not altered materially, and that it is in the social organisation that the change has been effected. In the localised clans we have the germ of descent through the father, which only required some favourable and fostering influence to force it into growth, and as it grew, the idea of descent through the mother would wane. Such an influence would be supplied by the custom of betrothal, which is an evident modification of the full communal right, and the local organisation shows us how that custom may have arisen. The nature of the country is [p.38] such that any large permanent assembly is impossible, excepting in unusual circumstances of abundant food. In the usual condition of the country only comparatively few individuals wander in company. The man, by his physical superiority, is the protector of the females and the young children. He is the hunter and the warrior. The fact that his children do not bear his class name or his totem does not do away with the fact of his parental relation to them, and even in the tribes which have group marriage, he claims as his own the children of the woman with whom he habitually cohabits,11 whence we see that even under group marriage the idea of individual right to children can exist. As the girls grow up, the man with whom their mother habitually lives, naturally claims a greater interest in them than can be claimed by the mere "accessory husbands," and it is only natural that he, together with their mother, should settle the difficult question as to whom out of all the "tribal husbands" they should be betrothed. In this matter self-interest would influence the decision, and the plain tendency would be to the establishment of individual marriage. In the Kunandaburi tribe we see it partially established with preliminary "expiation," and subsequent assertion of the communal right on the part of the accessory husbands. But even this is a great step towards strictly individual marriage, the husband by betrothal being what we may call the special husband of the woman, and having an interest in her and her children greater than that which those others can have. We may reasonably suppose that the special husband's claim would grow stronger and stronger, that in the course of time the so-called "paramours" would disappear, and that the real husband would eventually insist—as we find to be the case in many tribes—on the strict infidelity of his wife to himself under severe penalties; and when this point is reached a change is effected in the conception of descent.

If we may judge from the case of the Narrinyeri, the change appears to have first affected the primary classes. But it seems to have followed two courses. With the Narrinyeri the two primary classes disappeared, but with the Kulin tribe of aborigines, who occupy the country surrounding Melbourne, it was the two primary classes which survived, while all the totems but one disappeared. These and other interesting particulars as to the class divisions and totems are shown in Table B. It is also important to note that the change of descent to the male line in the class divisions and totems is shown by the [p.39] Turra tribe, which has still the two primary classes, each with its group of totems, but all having paternal descent, though the marks of the older line are plainly visible upon them.

Hitherto we have been considering what may be called orderly movement, that is to say, not a sudden overturning of tribal law, but a gradual modification of it, arising out of the springing up and the growth of new ideas brought in by a gradual change of circumstances. But we have also to consider the possibility of breaches of the tribal law, and of a sudden change of circumstances necessarily resulting in change of organisation.

From what has been already advanced it is evident that anything which disturbs the social organisation tends to radical change, and there can be no complete showing of the probable causes of the change in the line of descents, without a consideration of those disturbing causes. Prominent among them is the custom of elopement, which has become so frequent as to have grown up into a custom of widespread prevalence; among the Gippsland Kurnai it is even the recognised form of marriage. There can be little doubt that the monopoly of the women by the older men, which is found in many tribes, has been a great stimulus to elopement, though perhaps not so effective in reality as it appears at first sight likely to be. For, as we have pointed out elsewhere, "the monopoly is an assertion of the old men of property in the women, not of exclusive marital rights over them. It claims the right of regulating their intercourse with the younger men who are their husbands by hereditary status."

It seems clear that elopement must have been, in the first instance at least, a breach of the law: for if it were not so, why should the parties elope and why should their elopement be punished as an offence? Among the Kurnai elopement was the recognised and most frequent form of marriage, yet here both parties, if caught, were severely—the woman savagely— punished. Among their Eastern neighbours, the Yuin, where marriage was arranged by the fathers of the parties, elopement of the girl with a preferred suitor was also severely punished—the man having to stand up in an arranged fight with clubs, until either he had been knocked down four times, when he was free, but lost the girl, or until he had knocked down all "her men" when he kept her. These instances refer to cases where there was not any disability to marry consequent upon nearness of degree of kindred or sameness of class. Many, probably most of the tribes, inflict a death penalty if the parties be of the forbidden degrees; while some others condone the offence, after inflicting cruel punishment. Is it then unreasonable to suppose that such condonation may have led to the establishment of a [p.40] precedent which would be followed in other cases, resulting in a modification of the intersexual law? This is no mere hypothesis. In one, at least, of the Kamilaroi tribes we find, an evident innovation on the ancient marriage custom, now fully established a law. The old rule is that no Ipai, for instance, can marry an Ipatha; that is to say, a woman of the class to which he himself belongs. But the Ipai class, having subdivided into smaller totemic subdivisions, Ipai now claims for himself the right of marrying an Ipatha who is of a totem other than his own. Many years ago the late Mr. T. E. Lance, of Bungawalbyn, suggested to the writers that this innovation probably resulted from "the rebellion of some powerful Ipai against the ancient law," and subsequent investigation has gone far to confirm the surmise of that acute observer.12 This innovation, however, makes no difference in the line of descent, the children of such marriage taking their mother's class name and totem, precisely as if their father had been Kilbi, that is a man of the clan which marries the Ipathas. Hence, when the runaway couple return and submit to punishment, though the marriage law may become relaxed to a certain extent, it does not appear that the line of descent in that case would be affected.

But we have also to take into consideration the possibility of such a couple, or a number of such couples, successfully establishing themselves beyond the reach of their tribe, and forming a new community. It must be extremely difficult for a savage to free himself from the tribal obligations, and escape beyond the reach of the tribal vengeance; and yet there are instances within our knowledge where this has been successfully accomplished, even though a death penalty awaited the offenders, had their retreat been discovered by the infuriated tribe. Moreover, the difficulty here must have been considerably less in the early times, when the aborigines were gradually spreading themselves over the continent. In those days the runaways would have an open country before them, and would find the means of sustenance wherever game and water were to be procured. They would have no fear of hostile treatment as trespassers on the hunting-grounds of other tribes. Their only danger would be from the men of their own community, and there would be no obstacle in the way of their pressing onward from day to day, thus putting as wide a tract of country as possible between themselves and those that might pursue them.

The breaking off of a fragment of a tribe might be effected in other ways; such as the expulsion of offenders by decision of [p.41] the tribal council, quarrels arising from the refusal of atonement for blood-shedding, a break-up of the tribe by hostile invasion, or any other cause which might result in the separation from the rest of the community of men belonging to the same class, and whenever this may have been effected, by whatsoever cause, whether by rebellion against the customary law, or by enforced separation, we have a set of circumstances under which the old law, underlying the entire social fabric, could no longer be obeyed.

Take, for instance, the case recorded by the Rev. George Taplin ("Aborigines of Australia," p. 60), of two Narrinyeri hunters, who with their wives and children "went off into the desert to the south-east of Wellington on the Murray river." They were not discovered by their tribe until they had grown old and decrepit, and their children had become men and women, "who had got used to their adopted country," and refused to return to the tribe. The Narrinyeri have descent through males; but let us suppose a similar case of secession from a tribe which has descent through females.

In this case, if the men belong to Class A their wives must belong to Class B, and with uterine succession all the children must be of the latter class. Hence, it is evident that the old law of exogamy must be disobeyed in the second generation, and uterine succession be at least partially discontinued. Such a case has been suggested by us as having been that of the Kurnai ancestors.13 Further information which has since then been accumulated, but which is too extended for insertion in this paper, has greatly strengthened the hypothesis then put forward. It suggests that the Kurnai ancestors belonged to that great tribal group in Victoria whose men called themselves Kulin; that they were thrown into a set of conditions necessitating a departure from customary law; and that these conditions were brought about by their voluntary or involuntary separation from the parent tribe. It seems probable that the Kurnai ancestors were of a totem belonging to the class Bunjil (Eaglehawk), and that their wives were of a totem belonging to the class Waa (Crow). This exodus of the remnant or of part of the totem (Emu-wren) seems to have occurred before the Melbourne Kulin reached the complete stage of descent in the male line with local totem clans, which they had when extinguished by the whites, and before the partly agnatic, and partly uterine rule of descent had been reached, which is found among the Gippsland Kurnai. In other words, this exodus of the Emu-wren totem of the Eaglehawk class seems to have occurred when the parent community had [p.42] the social organisation of which the Kamilaroi class divisions are the type, and of which strong traces are apparent in the totems of another tribe kin to the Melbourne Kulin, namely, the Mukjaranaint of the Wimmera district.

Thus it seems that, in certain cases, the change from mother-right to father-right may have been brought about not only by orderly processes, but also by the violent action of impulses within the community itself.


Table A.





Tribal Name Divided into Authority by Divided into And having With totems Marriages Usually by Line of descent Example of customs
Turra, Yorke Peninsula Clans Elder men Two primary classes Subclasses; nil Two sets of totems Individual to individual ........... Paternal On ceremonial occasions the men of the two classes temporarily exchange wives
Narinyeri, South Australia Clans having individual and local names Council of elder men, elected under headman Nil Nil A number of totems,  usually one in each clan; exceptionally a totem in two clans Strictly individual to individual Purchase from parents for goods Paternal Jus primæ noctis, only in cases of elopement to men of bridegroom's totem
Kulin, Western port, Melbourne, Somburn river, Victoria Clans having local names Elder men, but headman not elected Two primary classes Nil One totem only, belonging to one of the two primary classes Individual to individual Gift by the woman's father Paternal ...............
Wakelbura, Belyando river, Queensland Clans having local names Elder men Two primary classes Subclasses; four Two sets of totems Group to group Betrothal of woman as infant Maternal .............
Kunandaburi, Cooper's Creek, Queensland Clans having local names Elder men Two primary classes Nil Two sets of totems Group to group As above Maternal Jus primæ noctis, to all males
Mukjarawaint, Wimmera river, Victoria Clans having local names Council of elder men, elected under headman Nil Nil One set of totems, and one for males, one for females Individual to individual (any totem may marry any other totem, but not within itself) Consent of parents Maternal as to set of totem, one for boys, one for girls Jus primæ noctis, by totem, or by capture, or by war
Kurnai, Gippsland, Victoria Clans having local names Elder men, but headman not elected Nil Nil One totem for all males, one for all females Strictly individual to individual Elopement, rarely by exchange of female relative Maternal for girls
Paternal for boys
Jus primæ noctis,, by elopement or by capture


Table B.


Wakelbura tribe, Belyandi River, Queensland.

Two primary classes Divided into And having totems. Line of descent.

Opossum, scrub turkey, water small honey-bee, kangaroo, &c,
Carpet-snake, gidea-tree, large honey-bee, emu, black duck, &c.

Kunandaburi tribe, Cooper's Creek, Queensland.


Not known

Not known
Opossum, brown snake, emu, frilled lizard, kangaroo rat, small bandicoot, bush rat, speckled brown snake.
Kangaroo, carpet-snake, crow, frog, toad, rat, teal, dog, native companion, iguana, blue crane.

Mukjarawaint tribe, Wimmera, Western Victoria.

Nil Nil Bat, to which all males belong; small night jar, to which all females belong.
All the following having male and female members:—
White cockatoo, black cockatoo, iguana, buff-coloured snake, crow, eagle-hawk, a Aquilæ native cat, black snake.
Male as boys.
Female as to girls.


Kurnai tribe, Gippsland, Victoria.

Nil Nil Emu-wren, to which all males belong.
Superb warbler, to which all females belong.
Male as to boys.
Female as to girls.

Turra tribe, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia.

Wietu (eagle-hawk)

Malta (seal)
Not known

Not known
Wombat, wallaby, kangaroo, iguana, bandicoot, crow, emu, &c.
Wild goose, butter-fish, mullet, schnapper, shark, salmon.
Male line.


Narinyeri tribe, Murray mouth, South Australia.

Two primary classes. Divided into And haying totems. Line of descent.
Nil Nil Black duck, black snipe, black swan, teal, leech, cat-fish, whip-snake, mullet, wild dog, mountain dock, kangaroo rat, butter-fish, coot, tern, bull ant, whale, pelican, musk duck, wattle gum. Male line.

Kulin tribe, Victoria.

Waa (crow)
Bunjil (eaglehawk)
Small hawk.


Note.—We are indebted to the following correspondents for the above information:—
Wakelbura—Mr. J. C. Muirhead, Elgin Downs, Queensland.
Kunandaburi—Mr. W. J. O'Donnell, Cooper's Creek, Queensland.
Turra—Rev. Julius Kuhn, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia.
Narrinyeri—Mr. F. Taplin, Port Macleay, South Australia.


1 So also among pastoral tribes the property is in the stock rather than in the land. Thus Sir Henry Maine remarks concerning the Saer and Daer tenancy: "The rent .... did not in its earliest form correspond in anyway to the value of the tenant's land, but solely to the value of the chief^ property (cattle) deposited with the tenant" ("Early Institutions," p. 160). The Irish peasantry at the present day estimate land not by acreage, but by "cows' grass": so many cows' grass is so much land, while a "goat's grass" is a contemptuous expression for a small or barren tract.

2 Even among hunting tribes we find this tendency with regard to property which is localised. Thus the eggs of wild fowl (e.g., swans), in well known breeding places, are claimed by certain families of the Gippsland Kurnai, and even by a few individuals, to the exclusion of the rest of the community.

3 But in some tribes the names are such as the following:—Bunjil = the star a Aqnilæ (Mukjarawaint tribe, Western Victoria); Tallara = rain, (Dieri tribe, South Australia, according to H. Vogelsang); 'Uberu = gidea-tree (Wakelbura tribe, Beljando river, Queensland, according to Mr. J. C. Muirhead, Elgin Downs). The star a Aquilæ was pointed out to me as Bunjil; I observe that Mr. Dawson gives it as Fomalhaut ("Australian Aborigines," p. 100).

4 The presence of hereditary chieftainship, in a few tribes, is affirmed by several of our correspondents; but further investigation is needed to make the matter fully clear.

5 Informant, Mr. W. J. O'Donnell, of Cooper's Creek.

6 Mr. O'Donnell tells us that among the Kunandaburi, as among other Australian and Fijian tribes, all actual first cousins, according to our reckoning, an excluded from intermarriage.

7  Mr. O'Donnell even states that it included for several days all the males present in the camp, without exception "of class, totem, or kin." This is highly suggestive of a survival of ancient customs, but we have not yet been able to verify the statement by special inquiry, according to our rule of working. There it, however, no a priori improbability about it. It falls in with customs already ascertained by us in other Australian tribes, and in Fiji.

8 Here we find the explanation of the so-called polyandry among the Nairs.

9 Informants, Rev. E. Taplin and Mr. Frederick Taplin.

10 Mr. F. Taplin, the superintendent of the Point Macleay Mission, made farther inquiries at our request. He says: "Youths of the Narrinyeri were not permitted to take a wife during the time of initiation or subsequent probation, but during the latter they were permitted complete license as regarded those of the other sex (unmarried) who were, not only such as they might lawfully marry, but even those of their own clan and totem."

11 This has come under my own personal observation among the Cooper's Creek tribes, Dieri, Tantruwunta, &c.—A. W. H.

12 To Mr. Lance belongs the credit of discovering the four classes of the Kamilaroi. The Rev. Mr. Ridley himself acknowledged to us that his attention was first directed to them by Mr. Lance.

13 "Kamilaroi and Kurnai," p. 296.